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'The Whole of These People Were Behaving in a Disgusting Manner'

Indecent behaviour Finsbury’s Rink Cinema during the Great War as recorded by the local police and do-gooders and uncovered by CATH’s Alex Rock from police files at the National Archives.

Alex Rock, a PhD research student based at the CATH Centre, DMU, will be speaking at the forthcoming British Silent Film Festival to be held at the Barbican Centre in the City of London., a PhD research student based at the CATH Centre, DMU, will be speaking at the forthcoming to be held at the Barbican Centre in the City of London.

The Festival, which is now in its 14th year, will this year take as its focus the actual experience of cinemagoing in the silent era in Britain. The Festival – curated by DMU’s Laraine Porter in collaboration with the BFI, the Cinema Museum and the Barbican – will feature screenings of rarely-seen British silent films alongside fully-recreated original orchestral scores, and will also feature a variety of speakers discussing the role of audiences in British cinema of the period.

Alex’s paper makes use of recently-released police reports sourced from the National Archives to relay the experiences of cinemagoers during the First World War. The paper, entitled ‘The whole of these people were behaving in a disgusting manner’, uses the 2,500 capacity Rink Cinema in Finsbury Park as a case study. The cinema, which opened in 1913, was kept under observation intermittently throughout the First World War following allegations of indecent behaviour.

The ensuing police reports, populated with amorous soldiers and ‘loose’ young women, bring to life the experience of sitting on the back row, or the dimly-lit balcony, in the First World War. As one undercover police officer remarked: “The film which was being shown on the screen at the time... was very interesting, but many of the couples were taking no interest whatever in the picture.”

The police reports are not only of relevance for their status as rare accounts of audience activities in the silent era. Following the anonymous tip-offs regarding the amorous activities of the Rink’s audience members, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner directly instructed Mrs Sofia Stanley, leader of an unofficial Women Police Patrol group, to visit the cinema with a plain-clothes male officer and to record their observations. Mrs Stanley would go on to become the first official female police officer in the Metropolitan Police in 1919 upon the founding of the Metropolitan Women Police, and the prosecution of the Rink Cinema, Finsbury Park, is one of the earliest cases brought to court in which a female police officer – albeit working in an unofficial capacity – was involved.


Posted on Tuesday 1st March 2011

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