Safety Last in Cinemas

BioscopeSnippets 207. The following quote, concerning the safety of children in cinemas, is taken from the 25th February 1909 edition of The Bioscope:

In the meantime there is the question of the Children Act, 1908, which those concerned in entertainment houses will do well to consider. The Act comes into operation on April 1st next, and under Section 121, County Councils and local authorities will be responsible for the safety of children in any building licensed by the Lord Chamberlain or the Council. Summarised shortly, the section provides that where an entertainment is given which is attended by more than 100 children, and access to any part of the building in which the children are is by stairs, the person providing the entertainment is to station a sufficient number of adult attendants to prevent more people being admitted than the building can properly accommodate and generally to control the movements of the audience when entering or leaving the building. Furthermore, the section confers on a constable the right of entry to a building with a view to seeing whether the provisions of the law are being complied with. No such right, however, is conferred upon officers of the Council. This new law does not at present touch many of the regular bioscope theatres, but in view of the possibility of new legislation, regulating and controlling all places of amusement, it must be borne in mind. No one, we think, will be found to deny the usefulness of such provision, and those who have had any experience in handling large groups of children will know how necessary the section is. The bioscope theatre is already a great favourite with children, and in years to come the part it will play in the amusement and instruction of the young will be much greater. Accidents to children strike the public mind with even more horror than disaster in which the lives of adults are imperilled or lost. It is the duty, therefore, of those responsible for the entertainments where children gather to see that the chances of accident are reduced to a minimum, and Many bioscope theatres might with advantage adopt the provisions of the Children Act at once, whether they can be legally compelled to do. so or not.

It did appear that some legislation was necessary, because not all managers were prioritising the safety of children who came to see their films.  From the same issue, the following quote illustrates the extent of the problem:

A gentleman who has been visiting the provinces writes to tell of a certain hall he visited in a town about fifty miles from London. There he met a manager, whom he describes thus picturesquely: “A showman and a manager, I don’t think!”

Then he goes on: “Now, all good showmen know that they require at least two men for checking, keeping order, etc. But his checkers were boys about 14 years of age. At the matinee on Saturday for the children, this man did not even provide men for the guidance of the 800 little mites who came to witness the show. The secretary had to send some half-dozen shop assistants to see the 800 children safely off the premises.

“What I wish to point out is this, if men like this are allowed to go about the country and engage halls and work them under these appalling conditions, which spells trouble for respectable showmen in the moving picture world, it is time someone blew his trumpet against these kind of showmen.”

The issue discussed in The Bioscope represents just one small aspect of the wide ranging Children Act of 1908, which also sought to end the abuse of children in workhouses, protect them from dangerous trades, stop them from buying alcohol and cigarettes, and send criminally convicted children to borstals instead of adult prisons, where they tended to learn criminal skills from the other inmates, along with other reforms such as the registration of foster parents and the establishment of juvenile courts.

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 20th Century, Britain, Crime, History, Magazines, Newspapers, Politics, Snippets and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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