The creative tension

The British broadcasting service was set up in 1922 with a monopoly and finance from a licence fee following negotiations between the Post Office, which controlled the air waves, and the radio industry, which manufactured the equipment. John Reith, Director-General of the BBC from 1923 to 1938, provided a manifesto for public service broadcasting in his book Broadcast Over Britain, published in 1924. His definition of democracy, however, was freedom of access rather than freedom of choice. The BBC monopoly was challenged directly by the growth of commercial broadcasting. The situation regarding drama in the United Kingdom was completely different from that in the United States. The symbiosis was not between radio and cinema but between radio and theatre. The Second World War became a radio war, leading to a revolution in the nature of radio entertainment.

in Cinema and radio in Britain and America, 1920–60
Abstract only

By common consent, the most popular and the best produced dramatic show on American radio was The Lux Radio Theatre. The first programme was broadcast on the NBC network on 14 October 1934. What happened was that in 1944 the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA) decided to fight Proposition 12 which was due to appear on the Californian Election Ballot. Proposition 12 allowed every Californian as of right to obtain a job without first joining a union. Something else we can learn from Lux is the comparative popularity of British films in the United States. Another development which had no parallel in the United States was the broadcasting of adapted film soundtracks. In 1948 there were three radio versions of films, two of them British. The number of film adaptations diminished during the 1950s as the emphasis remained squarely on the theatre as the primary source of radio drama.

in Cinema and radio in Britain and America, 1920–60

The importance of films in the cultural and social life of both Britain and the United States has long been recognized. Although radio survived in Britain more or less intact, by 1960 it too had taken second place to television as the prime domestic medium. This book begins by analysing the very different relationships between cinema and radio that emerged in Britain and the United States. It moves on to examine the ways in which cinema adapted radio programmes in the fields of comedy and detective fiction and then how radio dramatized films. When radio first took off in the United States in the late 1920s, it was regarded by the film industry as a rival, something to keep people at home and away from the cinema. But during the 1930s, Hollywood began to appreciate the value of radio in publicizing and promoting its films. The British broadcasting service was set up in 1922 with a monopoly and finance from a licence fee following negotiations between the Post Office, which controlled the air waves, and the radio industry, which manufactured the equipment. Radio in wartime was informational and inspirational. It provided news, entertainment, and propaganda. The book concludes with a look in detail at the ways in which the two media have dealt with three popular fictional characters, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes.

The 1930s was a period when the mass media began to develop into the forms that we are familiar with today. This chapter traces the growth of cinema as a mode of mass entertainment, beginning with the early picture palaces and the 'super cinema' developments in the early 1930s. The audience was attracted to watching films along with a newsreel and a cartoon which gave them a respite from the grim reality of life, and the major cinema circuits were anxious to encourage greater attendance amongst the middle classes. The chapter discusses the legislative and other government interventions, notably the Cinematograph Films Act 1927, and highlights the specific concerns regarding the morally corrupting influence of cinema and its effects. It also documents the establishment of the Commission on Educational and Cultural Films and the debates about the role and function of the cinema as a leisure activity.

in From silent screen to multi-screen

Comedy was consistently the most popular genre of radio programme. The primacy of verbal comedy put paid to any radio career for Harpo Marx, who never spoke in the Marx Brothers' films. So on radio in shows like Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel the Marx Brothers were reduced to two: Chico with his malapropisms and cod-Italian accent and Groucho with his quickfire gag routines. There was also strict censorship, with sex, politics, race, religion, profanity and bodily functions all banned. The popularity of the domestic sitcom format was such that it revitalized the radio careers of George Burns and Gracie Allen. The comic domestic sitcom on British radio was the creation of the multitalented Mabel Constanduros. Radio picked up the series from the cinema and created Meet the Huggetts, a light-hearted family series which ran from 1952 to 1961 and starred Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison as Joe and Ethel Huggett.

in Cinema and radio in Britain and America, 1920–60

Detective stories were popular on radio: the suspense, the puzzle (pitting your wits against the detective), the exposition, all made for engaging radio drama. But crime stories in which the law always triumphed and evil was always exposed and punished provided audiences with a recurrent sense of reassurance in troubled times (the Depression, the wars, the Cold War). During the 1930s and early 1940s the emphasis was on realistic police and law enforcement dramas, catering to the need to allay the anxiety of the public about the threat to civil society from gangsters and racketeers. Alongside the realistic docudramas were a series of detective stories derived from pulp fiction. The leading pulp publishers were Street and Smith and they had a weekly mystery show on radio in which their thriller stories were dramatized. Alongside the films, radio played its part in dramatizing the Charlie Chan stories.

in Cinema and radio in Britain and America, 1920–60

The immediate post-war period saw the zenith of cinema-going in Britain but in the 1950s the audience began to shrink, slowly at first and then more rapidly. There was a complementary decline in the number of cinemas in Britain. All of the major cinema chains ran organised Saturday morning clubs after the war in order to stimulate the cinema-going habit amongst children. The end of the 1940s, in the aftermath of the Second World War, once again witnessed the government intervening in the film industry and in doing so it continued a pattern established with the Cinematograph Act 1909. During this Golden Age the working class lived and worked in integrated communities, the families who played together stayed together, and cinemas were pleasure domes where the British could live out their fantasies.'

in From silent screen to multi-screen
A history of cinema exhibition in Britain since 1896

The exhibition of films has developed from a lowly fairground attraction in the 1890s to the multi-million pound industry of today. This book charts the development of cinema exhibition and cinema-going in Britain from the first public film screening in February 1896 through to the opening of 30-screen 'megaplexes'. It recounts the beginnings of cinema and in particular its rapid development, by the eve of the Great War, as the pre-eminent mass entertainment. The book considers developments of cinema as an independent entertainment, the positioning of cinemas within the burgeoning metropolitan spaces, the associated search for artistic respectability, the coming of sound and a large-scale audience. The period from 1913 to 1930 was one in which the cinema industry underwent dramatic restructuring, new chains, and when Hollywood substantially increased its presence in British cinemas. Cinema-going is then critically analysed in the context of two powerful myths; the 'Golden Age' and the 'universal audience'. The book also considers the state of cinema exhibition in Britain in the post-war period, and the terminal decline of cinema-going from the 1960s until 1984. It looks at the development of the multiplex in the United States from the 1960s and examines the importance of the shopping mall and the suburb as the main focus for these cinema developments. Finally, the book discusses the extent to which the multiplex 'experience' accounts for the increase in overall attendance; and how developments in the marketing of films have run in tandem with developments in the cinema.

This chapter charts the development of cinema exhibition in Britain, from the period of screening films in fairgrounds through to picture palaces. It first presents a discussion of the technological developments in the "pre-cinema" days starting with the Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope followed by other inventors in Europe and the USA including Robert Paul and the Skladanowsky brothers. The chapter then discusses early sites of public exhibition of moving pictures, the legitimate theatre and the music hall. The structuring of the film industry into the levels of producer, distributor and exhibitor took some fifteen years to emerge in Britain, while the division of labour characteristic of film production was largely absent. The chapter also highlights the screening of cinemas at the picture palaces, which emerged because the Cinematograph Act 1909 had resulted in the closure of many penny shows due to the introduction of licensing.

in From silent screen to multi-screen

This chapter explores the future of film screening at home and in cinema houses in the digital age with developments such as of back-projection, plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD) television sets; five, six and seven-channel surround sound, such as Dolby Digital and Dynamic Theater Sound; digital broadcast technology offering High Definition Television (HDTV); and the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD). It first provides the reasons for the popularity of multiplexes among the audiences in Britain when cinema had been declining prior to their inception. The chapter examines the myth of "choice" of the movies or product as it is known in the production, distribution and exhibition industries. The arthouse or specialised cinema represents an alternative site of consumption to the multiplex, both spatially and in terms of capital, though the relationship is characterised by a dynamic interplay in which their identities are specified in relation to each other.

in From silent screen to multi-screen