School Cinema Club. Gone But Not Forgotten.
Memories of an original pupil at a 1950s New Town School.
By Alan French
The following has also been forwarded to Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers. Although it is for my blogspot on our website ( www.hemelmoviemakers.org ) I think it will also be of interest for Herts Memories and Our Dacorum. A copy is also being forwarded seperately to the Longdean Archive. Hope you enjoy the article.
Cinema Club. Gone But Not Forgotten.
As recorded elsewhere, film projection was not strictly confined to the cinemas. During my schooldays, still films, and sometimes epidiascope projection, was utilised during the mainly halcyon days of my schooling. Usually, for educational purposes, but not always.
I have, in another article given reference to an exception, when Belswains School showed two still films, Pilgrim’s Progress and Sinbad The Sailor. (Mind you, I have never heard of anyone sinning good.)
At Bennetts End Secondary Modern School, the practice of still projection continued. I do not recall any of these film strips being shown for entertainment, but motion pictures were. I do not think any entertainment movies were shown at Belswains; their projector was for educational reasons, whereas Bennetts End was for both.
I left Belswains in 1955, and started at Bennetts End shortly after. Not only was I one of the original pupils, I found that my colleagues were very much the pioneer corps. The school and neighbouring Apsley Grammar School were still being built. There were still forbidden zones due to them being still under some construction. On occasion, there were shared facilities between the two schools. So when in 1970 they merged and became Longdean School, technically it could be argued that there was sign of what was to come in 1955.
In addition, many clubs and societies were formed within Bennetts End’s complex. One of them was The Cinema Club. The school during its educational administration did use its projector for lessons, but surprisingly, to our delight, it was to be used for cinema films. Like most of the other clubs, it met after school. I remember that early screenings were in the Science Room. In fact, I do not think it was A Cinema Club meeting, but some films were shown in this room during the school’s first Christmas party held in the Art Room, so we all had to evacuate to the Science Room to see them.
There was one occasion when the cinema style film was not shown at one meeting, and an educational production was projected instead. There were a few pupils who were disappointed and promptly left.
Progress with the buildings in 1956 saw some of our out of bound areas being opened up. This included the the main assembly hall. This part of the building was much better for film shows, so it was inevitable that it became the new venue for The Cinema Club. I cannot recall how frequent the meetings were.
Irrespective how regular or irregular, the screenings proved popular. If my memory serves me correctly, the productions were on 16mm. The projectionist was usually Mr. Thompson, the science teacher. I am not sure if anyone else helped him. Some of the films that were screened were: John of The Fair, Tarzan The Ape Man, O’Rourke of the Mounties etc. Among the stars seen were Johnny Weismuller, Maureen O’Sullivan, Alan Ladd, Shelly Winters, Abbot and Costello and many more. When Treasure Island was shown, we were told that it featured actors who may not be too familiar with us, as it was an old version.
Projection on the educational scene was sometimes enhanced by films. Although usually the standard documentary that was shown in schools of the era, we had fun when we discovered that Walt Disney had made some documentaries. These proved entertaining as well as informative, such as a film about vaccination which involved art work based on the characters in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Another, involving live action and animated cartoon, demonstrated what happens in your body when attacked by germs, and what happens to the germs when the body is vaccinated. It was all compared to a battle. This was highly amusing, and yet we learned something during that science lesson.
I am not sure if it was a Cinema Club presentation, or a school presentation, but it was decided that one evening, in 1956, the new hall would be used for a showing of Sir Laurence Olivier, in a film version of William Shakespeare’s Henry V. Mrs. Carver, the history teacher, helped the build-up, during a lesson, by giving us the historical facts and figures about what we would see. The whole school could attend the screening. People from the neighbouring grammar school were also welcomed. I believe admission was by ticket. The Headmaster, Mr. Cyril Fowler, was proud of his school, and wanted to show how good it was. Certainly, the atmosphere captured within the confines of the hall did the venue proud. Apart from no ice cream girl, the presentation was as good as that which was experienced at the local cinemas, The Luxor and The Princess, in Hemel Hempstead’s town centre. There was even compatible music. But then the rot embarrassingly set in. The projector broke down during the show. It was fixed. I am not sure how many times this happened. But as The Battle of Agincourt was in process of commencing, with the famous speech made by the King, followed by the charge, the projector broke down and this time could not be fixed.
It was announced that those in attendance would qualify for another showing, date to be confirmed; and of course the announcement incorporated an apology. However, at the later date, they changed their minds, for whatever reason, and showed a feature film about Christopher Columbus with Derek Bond as one of the stars. There was still a sense of occasion, but this time, pleasingly, no breakdowns.
I do recall seeing, years later, in the geography room, a combined epidiascope which was combined with facilities to show slides. In its capacity as an epidiascope, it was able to project images of pages from books and , of course, still photographic prints etc.
Belswains School used its still film strips for educational, limited entertainment, and projected photographic images of the school events, its movie projector for education – at least while I was there – whereas Bennetts End used its movie projector for both educational and entertainment, everything else for education.
However, Bennetts End’s still projector did cause concern in one history lesson. We were 11-12 year olds. It was a more innocent era. Mrs. Carver informed us how pre-historic people lived. She had decided to enhance the lesson by demonstrating by film strip. The still film consisted of, not illustrated artwork, but photographs of a tribe of people still living in a remote jungle today, as our pre-historic ancestors had in ages gone by. Unfortunately, for the lesson, they still dressed as our forbears. This caused the obvious sniggers and hushed comments from us pupils. Eventually, notwithstanding further comments, Mrs. Carver angrily turned the projector off. She stated that there was nothing be ashamed of in their style of minimal dress. Unfortunately, in so doing, utilised the terms that we are all built the same. If I was built like some of the people in the film, I think my parents would have sent me to our doctor.
I did not bear the fruits of Bennetts End’s purchase of a Bell and Howell cine camera, and whatever make of standard 8mm. projector, as I left to go out in the big wide world. Having said that, I may be in one of the school’s films, when Mr. Fowler captured moving images of a hobbies exhibition held there during the latter part of my school career.
I cannot remember if The Cinema Club was still in existance when I left, or whether it had folded up. Great if it is still going! Perhaps there could be a comparison argument that it was the first film club that I joined. If so, what was the other? Hemel Hempstead Cine Society of course. Still going strong today as Hemel Hempstead Movie Makers.
Ah! Halcyon days!
Bennetts End Secondary Modern School has appeared in at least two documentaries and one BBC Children’s Newsreel.
During a radio broadcast, John Lennon read a poem sent in by pupil/s from Bennetts End Secondary Modern. It is available on an album The Beatles Live At The BBC. After the poem, The Beatles perform a song titled Clarabella.
Copyright Alan French August 2011.