Dark houses
Cinemagoing in the early months of the war
in Cinemas and cinemagoing in wartime Britain, 1939–45
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At the start of the war, all British cinemas were subject to enforced closure, a decision that George Bernard Shaw described as ‘an act of unimaginable stupidity’. When the anticipated German air raids failed to immediately materialise, the cinemas reopened, but not all at the same time, and not for their pre-war trading hours. Shorter opening hours, evacuation of children and the blackout combined to bring about financial losses within the exhibition sector. The blackout dictated that cinemas switch off external lighting designs that had been installed to attract attention and custom. The blackout remained in place for most of the war and proved a particular bugbear for the British people. The reluctance that many people felt to head out after dark led to a contraction of both time and space, forcing Britons to reimagine the urban nightscape and their place in it. The blackout’s association with the war was so great that the switching on of streetlights, and especially cinema lights, was understood as being symbolic of victory.

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