Came the dawn : memories of a film pioneer (1951)

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was compelled to share its audiences with the largest one of all —up to this present writing. This sort of thing was going on all over the country. First the fair-ground and the travelling exhibitor at the mechanics' institute and the like. Then the converted shop or two shops knocked into one, with benches for seats and very little ventilation. Next, the small hall rigged up as a palace; followed by the specially-built theatre, and then a much larger competitor; and finally a 'Super.' As all the earlier ones were infested by fleas—and infested is a mild word—they soon became known as 'flea-pits,' and some of them retain that pet-name still. There must have been a peculiarly voracious variety of flea, specialising in picture-houses, a Pulex Irritans Pictorialis, breeding with great exuberance in the cultural atmosphere of their chosen habitat. Luckily they have disappeared now from all except the least reputable of their haunts. It was outside the village hall at Walton, before it was raised to the status of a picture-house, that there occurred a little incident which is worth recording. We were filming some sort of story in which a street accident was concerned, probably a running-down by a motor-car, for that was the usual butt in those days. A dummy of a man was lying propped up against the wall of the building and there was a large crowd watching, for our activities were the great free entertainment of the day. A local doctor—a rather unpopular man as it happened—was cycling down a side-street and he quickened his pace when he saw the crowd. Then, noticing the injured man, as he thought, for he was a little short-sighted, he jumped quickly off his bike, un- strapped his bag of instruments, pushed aside the two 'policemen' bending over the body and—realised his mistake! He saw the camera but he tried to look unconcerned and at his ease as he mounted and rode away, followed by the laughter and cheers of the unsympathetic crowd. It was, I think, while the small picture-houses were gradually giving way to larger and ever larger ones, that our films—and those of our competitors too, of course—were slowly growing longer and bigger. I don't think we consciously visualised this change in advance; it marched so slowly and insidiously upon us that we scarcely noticed its coming. The half a dozen smaller producers continued to be small and to turn out small pictures. Fitzhamon was bigger and made bigger and longer films as he 7i