What can this extract tell us about wartime cinema-going in Exeter?
For our primary source we will be examining the picture and information surrounding the Odeon cinema. The Odeon cinema in Sidwell street has been a constant in Exeter since 1937, even through the struggles of British wartime. The continued perseverance of the cinemas presence in exeter, including the reconstruction of the Odeon, tells us a lot about the atmosphere towards cinema-going in Exeter. Especially cinema going in Exeter during the wartime. That atmosphere being one of perseverance and continued interest. in this essay we will discuss just that.
During the wartime blitz, The Germans bombers mainly targeted cities and considering that Devon was mostly a rural county, it meant the cities of Devon, such as Exeter and Plymouth, became much more visible targets and this meant Exeter suffered a huge amount of damage throughout World War 2. In 1942 the Odeon cinema in Exeter suffered bomb damage, yet another victim of the relentless raids on Britain. Even with this raid it was only closed temporarily. This shows that there was still profit to be made through screening films in Exeter. Otherwise it would have remained shut like many of the other shops that fell victim to the blitz . Having the source provide a picture of exeter during that time and with the added information on the bombing is helpful to a historian looking at wartime cinema going in exeter. The Odeon being photographed at the time, and also being reconstructed shows that the public in exeter had invested their time and money into this cinema. A historian researching this can look at this continued interest in the odeon and make the assumption that this meant cinema going was frequent in exeter during the war time.
The extract also tells us that cinema was used patriotically as it states the ‘Mayor of Exeter’s Welcome to The Boys’. Soldiers were allowed free entrance into The Odeon as a sign of respect and gratitude for their services. This shows that Exeter were using all forms of entertainment, not just the Radio, as ways to honour those fighting for the country, such as the ‘Services Nigh at Odeon’. The manager of The Odeon also adapted the Mickey Mouse Club to be accessible to wounded soldiers coming back from the War, and not just children. This showed the cinema was used as a way to keep those who were wounded busy and distracted from the horrors of war and give them a purpose since they were unable to fight. By allowing them to attend these sessions, they had something to do, The Odeon even ‘enlisted the help of motorists’ to transport the wounded soldiers to and from. This suggests there was a strong sense of community in Exeter during the War.
We chose the Odeon source as it was more appealing because we found the story of this cinema being pre-war, and surviving the war with minimal damage. It still screened films throughout the war to help people find a reality to escape to as real life was so miserable during WW2. And to see that it wasn’t closed down, unlike the Gaumont which was closed in 1967, and is still showing films today has made itself a unique part of Exeter’s history, as well as some film history.
The presence of a cinema in Exeter dating back to the original Odeon chain is a reminder of the widespread commercial expansion of British 1930s Cinema. This particular cinema is a clear example of the early stylised branding of Odeon – its ‘Art-Deco’ architecture reflecting the design commissioned by Odeon creator, Oscar Deutsch of the modernist architect; Harry W Weedon. In 2014, David Cornforth wrote in his blog, Exeter Memories; ‘The exterior is immediately recognised as an Odeon cinema, with its three vertical windows between four ribbed columns. The modern facade still has flashing blue neon lighting running up the front of the building.’ Here we may note the effectiveness of Deutsch’s design plan, the immediately recognisable and nationally uniform branding (as well as its almost unchanged style today), marks Odeon as a successful enterprise – one able to successfully monetise the arrival of film as a relatively new art form, whilst bringing the growing industry to the hearts of even the smallest cities.