28th April 2011
Anonymous tip-offs alerting police to 'disgraceful conduct' at the Rink Cinema in 1916 rediscovered by PhD student
Back in 1916, the thrills and spills on the screen of the London cinema billing itself as the largest in the world were nothing compared with the goings-on in the back row – particularly the 1s 6d reclining seats in the shadows under the dark balcony.
"It is," one anonymous correspondent wrote to Holloway police station, "nothing but a place of resort for young loose women and disgraceful scenes take place there."
A file of complaints about the Rink Cinema, Finsbury Park, north London has been rediscovered after almost a century at the National Archives in Kew by Alex Rock, a PhD student at De Montford University's Cinema and Television Research Centre, who was researching the relationship between the law, crime and cinema in a later period.
"I knew immediately I had struck gold. They are really, really rare, a unique insight into the behaviour of cinema audiences almost a century ago," he said.
When the police went in plain clothes they certainly did see things, but struggled to prove that the management must have known exactly what was going on. "The whole of these people were behaving in a disgusting manner throughout the whole performance", one wrote.
Holloway police station was close to the cinema. Another correspondent suggested darkly, very close. The cinema management, they wrote, was "too friendly" with the local constabulary. Another suggested that manager William Evans had deliberately arranged for the balcony to be painted a darker colour, to provide better concealment.
The cinema, converted from a roller skating rink on the site of an old tram depot, opened in 1913. The complaints really got going in 1916, the year the balcony added hundreds more seats to an already vast cinema. The letters continued throughout both world wars as the area – on the edge of a notorious red light district – was flooded with young soldiers on leave with money in their pockets. If they came into the cinema with clinking pockets, they could be quite certain they would not be leaving that way. "I thought it is my duty to inform the police of a notorious place called 'Rink Cinema', Finsbury Park, where gambling is going on very openly," one anonymous tipoff read. "A lot of young men, of whom a person I know, lost a lot of money. This particular person lost £20 in three days. I think it is a disgrace and these places should come to a stop."An Eye Witness" as the correspondent signed off, only got around to other kinds of misbehaviour on the second of a three page letter: Another thing is the disgraceful manner in which young couples behave. Young girls not more than 13 or 14 run about in this place looking for other men to treat them & so on."
The Rink survives as a bowling alley today – where the behaviour is undoubtedly irreproachable.