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Saturday is cinema day for half a million children (1966)

1966-10-29 Times.jpg

[edit]

Weekend at home

Saturday is cinema day for half a million children

Gordon Flemyng directs a new film for children about two ineffectual ghosts.

Every Saturday about half a million British' children troop to their local cinemas for their special morning film show,

This country's production and distribution network for children's films is unique ... and the children form the most critical, uninhibited and in many ways most terrifying audience in the world.

They come by choice because they know they will be honestly entertained and not priggishly educated. Admission is 6d. and each child averages another 5d. on candy bars.

Gaining admission is not easy : adults are Fanned to safeguard the children from undesirables. Even parents are dissuaded from accompanying their children to spare cinema managers the embarrassment and responsibility of deciding the legitimate adults in attendance

After the preliminaries of contests, beat groups and lectures on road safety, health and hygiene, the house settles to the first part of the programme—a serial episode supported by an interest short, a cartoon and perhaps a two-reel comedy. This is followed by a main feature.

At any point a film may be greeted by applause, sustained jeering or a chilling rondo of foot-stamping.

Often the main feature is a revival of a U-certificate feature film cut and reedited to an average running time of 65 minute. Holding the child's interest beyond the hour is difficult business and the cuts are mostly of superfluous dialogue or the judicious pruning of the love theme. Close-ups of violence and cruelty are cut in favour of general views of a free-for-all. Any fighting involving domestically available weapons (for example, choppers, knives or even catapults) is seriously considered for fear of imitation.

The British Board of Film Censors, in awarding its certificate, works to the general age of 16, but does issue a C-list detailing films thought by their examiners to be particularly suited to all-child audiences. The average age of Saturday club audiences has fallen recently from 9.3 to 8.8.

The new features made specifically for children's matinees are sponsored by the Children's Film Foundation, a non-profit organization set up by the industry in 1951 to continue work pioneered and later abandoned by the Rank Organisation.

During the war (matinees were continued in areas thought safe from bombing danger) the programmes excited the personal attention of Mr. J. Arthur Rank (as he was then).

Asking what kind of films the children were shown he was cautiously told: Well, they don't do them any harm." Snapped Mr. Rank "Then let, make some that will do them some good.' A division for Children's Entertainment Films (The C.E.F.) was established in 1944 with Mary Field as executive officer. Miss Field was later award. the O.B.E. for her work.

Early C.E.F. films tended to convey moral messages without sugaring the pill too generously. A slide was shown anouncing that: " I'm going to Sunday School tomorrow. Aren't you 7 " Mr. Rank financed the films until the industry's big. postwar slump and production was finally abandoned in 1950. But the rumblings of conscience had begun within the industry Itself and the Children's Film Foundation was established the following year.

Henry Geddes is now executive producer and William Thom secretary and business manager: under their administration the C.F.F. is a healthy infant. Two million pounds have been spent in the past 15 years. Fifty-two feature films have been made (five more in production), 20 serials (two in production) and several shorts including one (A Film for Maria) made by the matinee audience at the Wimbledon Odeon I

The total annual grant is £192,000: about seven films are made each year with shooting schedules between four and five weeks.

Because of its sturdy reputation, well-known producers, directors and writers will work for the foundation. One said he is working for about 30 per cent of the money he would have got from a commercial company, but is attracted by the freedom and lack of outside pressures. The foundation and its script committees work in close collaboration with the Censor's office.- Confrontations are avoided and the C.F.F. is able to make its own alterations and suggestions from a dossier built by its members who regularly observe reactions at children, shows... .

A junior audience enjoys a gun fight. but is terrified by knives. Insanity and torture, snakes and scorpions breed lingering horrors and are thus by-passed.

Though there are rules to obey the results are far from formularized: each director is perfectly able to retain his individuality and many profess that their best films have been made for the C.F.F. With the current poverty of new children's feature films and serials, the product is received with equal enthusiasm by club organizers and members. New C.F.F. films are premiered alternately at A.B.C.'s Minors' Club and Rank's Saturday Club.

One picture its preparation is Hermitage Haunt, a comedy about two ineffectual ghosts, which Gordon Flemyng will direct. Flemyng is the man who made Dr. Who and the Daleks and its sequel, Daleks, Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., both of which were squarely aimed at the junior market.

He saw than in preview, at a West End showing and on a wet afternoon at his local cinema, and studied the audience, reactions.

A tall, earnest Glaswegian in his early 30s, Flemyng graduated via radio and television to make "the worst film made anywhere, ever"—a pop package called Just For Fun—before taking what he considered an unlikely plunge into children's cinema.

"I remember directing a stage play", he says, "and there was a child actor in the cast. I was totally unable to communicate with him and as a result it was very bad and the fault was mine. I know when the change happened: it was while I was directing a document, about kids in an East End slum. I was raised in a slum myself and I was able to talk to those children. The birth of my own child helped, too...."

The maxim is that a child will only readily identify with another child on the screen, and Flemyng bore this in mind while watching the Dalek films with a typical audience. His child star in both pictures, Roberta Tovey, had a small and negative part though she was used to implement dangerous sitations. Audiences tended to ignore the character and—perhaps not surprisingly —cheer the Daleks and boo the pedantic old Dr. Who.

Flemyng also maintains that a young audience, interest is quartered as soon as the characters sit down, so whenever dialogue is necessary fora plot point he keeps the actors occupied and mobile. Many of Flemyng's suspicions are endorsed by the Carnegie Experiment, conducted in England and copied all over the world. Individual reports of audience reactions were clashing so regularly that a national review was instigated with the use of infra-red photography.

The results were in the form of a set of photographs, of the image on the screen and the face of the viewer. Apart from giving pointers to producers and directors on how to win and keep a fickle audience's interest, the experiment indicated the possibilities of "unsafe pleasure" when the less intelligent children identified to, closely with scenes of violence and cruelty.

Mass exposure to television has evidently affected the Saturday matinee audience u this undoubtedly accounts for the decline in popularity of the western and the child's further education in the language of films. Scenes can now move much faster, characters be less solidly introduced and much more can be left to the intelligence or the imagination.

Fantasy is still very popular but there is a greater emphasis on logic (that is to say that three children can lift a dragon's flying saucer in a new CFF serieal, but it has to explained that there is an anti-gravity device on the machine).

Children's Film Foundation pictures are not shown to the national or magazine press, but reports from critics in the trade press are uniformly good and the suggestion that the 60-minute futures be used as supporting films in general release programmes is not uncommon.

But, says Mr. Geddes, this would immediately mean the compromise of writing for an adult audience. Children will laugh with themselves, but they cannot stand being laughed at or thought cute. Added to which, if the foundation were a profit-making organization directors and writers would no longer work for the low fees which have made the continuity of quality work possible.

Whether or not their films remain beyond the grasp of the adults who confidently deposit their children every Saturday morning, one thing is sure. The children like them.

"Otherwise", remarked Mr. Geddes with impeccable logic, "they would spend 11d. on sweets".

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Castell, David (1966-10-29). Saturday is cinema day for half a million children. The Times p. 11.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Castell, David. "Saturday is cinema day for half a million children." The Times [add city] 1966-10-29, 11. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Castell, David. "Saturday is cinema day for half a million children." The Times, edition, sec., 1966-10-29
  • Turabian: Castell, David. "Saturday is cinema day for half a million children." The Times, 1966-10-29, section, 11 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Saturday is cinema day for half a million children | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Saturday_is_cinema_day_for_half_a_million_children | work=The Times | pages=11 | date=1966-10-29 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 November 2017 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Saturday is cinema day for half a million children | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Saturday_is_cinema_day_for_half_a_million_children | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 November 2017}}</ref>