100 years ago

Back to our series of pieces from the original film journal The Bioscope, published 100 years ago to the day. Today we consider the dreadful crime of having music at a film show, and on a Sunday too…

The Camden Case


Some months ago, itwill be remembered, Mr. Robert Arthur, Mr. Walter Gibbons, and Mr. W.H. Terrell were bound over at Clerkenwell Sessions, a jury finding them guilty of having carried on a music-hall entertainment at the Camden Theatre without having a license from the London County Council.

At the Sessions on Tuesday, it was alleged that the terms of the recognisances of the parties had been broken, and notice had been served upon them to attend the court to show why they should not be forfeited.

Mr. Horace Avory said the house was closed after the conviction until Monday 14th September, when without any license being obtained from the L.C.C., the theatre was opened with an animated picture entertainment, along with music. There were also Sunday performances.

The music, counsel argued, was not incidental to or subsidiary to the entertainment, but was independent and substantial. This was shown by the fact that so soon as the selections ceased, the gallery became noisy, and quieted down again when it re-started.

Mr. Muir said his client, Mr. Robert Arthur had absolutely nothing to do with the place at all since the early days of the former proceedings.

Mr. George Elliott did not dispute the facts, but disputed that what was done was an infringement of the Act.

Mr. Barnes, solicitor for the prosecution, said the music was supplied by an electrical orchestral piano. The entertainment would have been a dull one with no music, because the intervals were very long. People joined in the choruses, and sang.

Mr. Muir asked that, as Mr. Arthur had no desire to offend, he might be allowed to go.

Mr. Wallace, K.C.: Certainly.

Mr. Walter Gibbons called on his own behalf, said he was not conscious at any time of having violated his recognisances. The public came to see the bioscope.

Mr. Wallace, K.C., items of the Sunday program as follows:-

The Pneumatic Policeman. (Laughter.)
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
“The Sign of the Cross.”
The Reluctant Dog.
Yachting on the Solent.

Is that a Sunday program?

The Witness: Yes, they are all pictures which no one can object to on a Sunday.

Mr. Wallace, K.C., found that defendants (Messrs. Gibbons and Terrell) had violated their recognisances.

He fined them 40s. each, requiring an undertaking that there should be no music at week-day performances, and no performances at all on Sunday.

Mr. Wallace intimated that he did not think defendants deliberately intended to violate their obligations.

The Bioscope, 30 October 1908

Before the Cinematograph Act of 1910, there was no licensing scheme for moving picture shows in Britain, something which exercised the authorities greatly. The London County Council, which oversaw the licensing of entertainments in the capital, could licence public shows under three categories: music, music and dancing, or stage. Film shows fitted none of these per se, so had to obtain a licence for music or music and dancing if they were not to be in danger of being closed down by the L.C.C for having failed to conform to the Disorderly Houses Act of 1751. Most complied, but quite a number prefered (or had no option but) to risk it, or even in some cases put on film shows without music.

Sunday film shows were another vexed issue for the L.C.C., it being considered that entertainments of any kind on a Sunday were unwelcome, but friviolous and doubtless immoral bioscope shows especially so. Venues liked show films on Sundays, because they drew the crowds, but to keep sweet with the L.C.C. suitably ‘harmless’ programmes were concocted for Sunday shows.

The Cinematograph Act, introduced in January 1910, was established to monitor this mushrooming new public entertainment by establishing a licensing scheme specifically tailored towards it. It was the first piece of legislation in the UK which recognised the film business.

Walter Gibbons (1871-1933) had been in the film exhibition business for a decade by this point. He inherited a music hall empire and in 1910 built the London Palladium as his flagship venue. He would be knighted for his services to British variety theatre, but ended his life bankrupt.

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