Even though Manchester and Salford Film Society is the oldest continuing British film society, it was not the first to open in the country. That honour went to the Film Society of London, set up in 1925 by such luminaries as Ivor Montagu, H.G.Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and John Maynard Keynes. Their aim was to show films of the avant-garde as well as foreign films which had no outlet in the commercial cinema. In its wake, film societies were set up in the early 1930s in other parts of the country.
One of which was Manchester and Salford Film Society (MSFS). By comparison, it had quite modest beginnings in 1930. On February 23 outside the Salford Palace Cinema a group of young men had got involved in an animated discussion. They had just attended a Trades Council meeting where a documentary film on The Vienna Congress of International Youth had been shown. So fired up were they by the idea that Film could educate and politicise, and not simply entertain, that,by May 20 they had set up a committee to show just such films in the city. After a number of false starts they found a suitable venue in the Prince’s Cinema, in Liverpool Street in Salford. Despite having virtually no experience in the field, and very little money, they managed to put on the first showing of the Salford Workers’ Film Society.*
As it began to put down firm roots, the Manchester and Salford Workers’ Film Society decided that its chief purpose
“...to cater for those who are dissatisfied with the average productions of the commercial cinema, with their shallowness and divorce from reality, and to offer in their stead films more closely in sympathy with the life and thought of this age.”.
Such a non-commercial mission deterred quite a few cinema managers and in 1937 the Society (which had now dropped the word “Workers” from its title) settled at the Rivoli in Rusholme. Shows were now held on a Sunday afternoon, when cinemas were not open to the public. Also in 1937 the Society became a founder member of the British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS). In the late 1930s the Society was growing to such an extent that it had to move to the bigger Essoldo in Chorlton. By the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 MSFS had gained an impressive and enviable membership of fourteen hundred.
Nonetheless, after the war, the ideal venue which met the particular needs of a Film Society was becoming more difficult to find. Consequently for a number of years the MSFS led a nomadic existence, pitching temporary tents in a wide range of commercial and cultural locations that ran from the Gas Showrooms Theatre, through the Library Theatre, the Midland Hotel theatre, Manchester YMCA, the United States Information Service and the Green Room Theatre behind Cross Street Chapel. This last venue was so small it necessitated the use of back projection onto a screen little bigger than a 1950s TV set. On the other hand the more common availability of 16mm copies did make things a little easier for the Society.
*To see a replica of our very first programme click here
Essoldo Chorlton 1950s
Princes Cinema Salford in 1930
getting established established
a moment for reflection
Perhaps at this point we should remind ourselves that no organisation can function for very long without a team of highly committed members to keep it running through their enthusiasm and hard work. The MSFS had many members who put in years, often decades, of devoted helping out with the variety of required tasks such as collecting the film, setting out the chairs, erecting the screen, operating the projector, serving refreshments, writing and printing the notes; then reversing all these jobs at the end of a session, tidying up and leaving the place as neat as before. Over the past fifty years such stalwart members have included Vincent Walmsley, a spot-on music provider, Lance Middleton, electrics and technical consultant, Eric Giles, treasurer, Harry Iball, Claire Brayshaw, and Tom and Marjorie Ainsworth.
Hon.President Reg Cordwell cutting the celebratory cake at our 60th anniversary event in 1990 in Buile Hill Park , Salford.
the first show
Setting up the new cinema screen at the Little Theatre, Altrincham 2008