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Popular Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: A Choice of Pleasures

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In the 1930s there were close to a billion annual admissions to the cinema in Britain and it was by far the most popular paid-for leisure activity. This book is an exploration of that popularity. John Sedgwick has developed the POPSTAT index, a methodology based on exhibition records which allows identification of the most popular films and the leading stars of the period, and provides a series of tables which will servce as standard points of reference for all scholars and specialists working in the field of 1930s cinema. The book establishes similarities and differences between national and regional tastes through detailed case study analysis of cinemagoing in Bolton and Brighton, and offers an analysis of genre development. It also reveals that although Hollywood continued to dominate the British market, films emanating from British studios proved markedly popular with domestic audiences.

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Editorial Reviews

Business History

“Sedgwick’s attempt to bring about a new kind of synthesis of economic and cultural history, offering in the process a new way of assessing the relative popularity of the films that were available to the enormous cinema-going public in the Britain of the 1930s, is a resounding success. It should be essential reading for business historians, because it starts from the premise that the making and distribution of films is above all a business . . . a book which deserves to dominate its field for years to come, generating valuable follow-up research in the process.” –Business History, 2002

Contemporary British History

“The book brings a valuable new economist’s perspective to our understanding of cinema and a strong argument that British cinema enjoyed good health in the 1930s.” –Contemporary British History, 2002


“Thorough and engaging . . . fascinating to a wide range of scholars and students . . . a terrific bibliography that will allow any scholar or reader wishing to delve into the motion picture industry an easy leg up on the literature . . . while the rich data set that Sedgwick uses is from 1930s Britain, the points he highlights are general and should appeal to anyone with an interest in the economic or social history of the movies . . . The theories he proposes and the models he creates to test them are general in scope and leave lots of room for future scholars to follow his path and extend his research. In the end, he has produced a top-notch study of an industry that is under-explored in the economics literature. While focusing on a narrowly defined data set, he manages to produce a volume that cuts a wide swath through the history of the motion picture industry. It is a highly recommended read.” –EH.NET, August 2001

Society for the Study of Popular British Cinema Newsletter

“Sedgwick's work on popular film preferences constitutes probably the most thoroughgoing revisionist challenge to many of the accepted wisdoms of British cinema history at the present moment. His book will be eagerly awaited by historians.” –James Chapman, Open University, Society for the Study of Popular British Cinema Newsletter, Autumn 1999

— James Chapman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780859896603
  • Publisher: University of Exeter Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Series: Studies in Film History
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.53 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

John Sedgwick is Principal Research Fellow at the University of North London.
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Table of Contents


CHAPTER 1: A Simple Theory of Film Choice

CHAPTER 2: The Context Film in 1930s Britain

CHAPTER 3: Measuring Popularity

CHAPTER 4: Shares in the British Market

CHAPTER 5: Popular Films and their Stars in Bolton (Worktown)

CHAPTER 6: Comparative Cinemagoing Preferences, 1934-1935: National, Bolton and Brighton audiences

CHAPTER 7: Profits, Film Budgets and Popularity

CHAPTER 8: Genres, Generic Lineages and 'Hits'

CHAPTER 9: Stardom and 'Hits'

CHAPTER 10: Michael Balcon's Close Encounter with the American Market

CHAPTER 11: Difficulties Facing the Production Sector of the British Film Industry during the late 1930s

CHAPTER 12: Conclusion

APPENDIX 1: The national sample cinema set

APPENDIX 2: 126 London West End 'hits' screened between 1 January 1932 and 31 March 1938

APPENDIX 3: POPSTAT Top 100 films in Britain, 1932-1937

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