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Americanisation in 20th Century Europe: business, culture, politics. Volume 2

 | 
Nick Tiratsoo
, 
Mathias Kipping

Pushing back Hollywood: the impact of protection on the British film industry during the 1930s

John Sedgwick

Résumé

En réponse à la domination écrasante du marché par les studios principaux d Hollywood, la Cinematograph Act promulgué en 1927 par le gouvernement britannique transforma l’environnement des risques des producteurs indigènes. Elle l’effectua en réservant pour eux exclusivement une part croissante du marché intérieur au moyen d’un système de quotas de distribution et de présentation qui augmentèrent en plusieurs étapes jusqu’à 20 per cent du temps de projection en 1936. Tout en faisant du bien à l’ensemble des producteurs britanniques, la loi laissa aux tendances du marché le soin de préciser les films à être faits et projetés. En raison de : a) l’omniprésence et la qualité du produit américain, et b) le grand choix entre les programmes des salles disponible aux citadins, les films britannique eut besoin d’être aussi populaire que ceux qui provenaient d’Hollywood pour éviter l’endommagement financier chez les distributeurs et les exploitants. Cette recherche présente une nouvelle méthode d’évaluer la popularité de films (POPSTAT) faute de l’information sur les recettes de guichet. Elle a découvert qu’il n’était pas seulement que le nombre de films britannique a augmenté, il est aussi qu’un grand nombre de ceux-ci était vraiment populaire chez le public britannique.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Jarvie, Hollywood's Overseas Campaign: the North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920-1950, Cambridge, Cambri (...)
  • 2 See J. Sedgwick, Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: a Choice of Pleasures, Exeter, Exeter University Press (...)

1The Cinematograph Act of 1927 progressively tilted access to the British film entertainment market in favour of domestic producers during the next decade. By requiring distributors and exhibitors to take a rising quota of British productions, the legislation changed at a stroke the risk environment under which films were made. Although it led to the production of a volume of cheaply made films - most of which were of poor quality, and collectively known as ‘quota quickies’, made for the most part by a plethora of short-lived companies - the principal effect of the legislation was to encourage indigenous investment in British production, manifest in the emergence of a small number of domestic quality producers. The latter transformed film production in Britain from a moribund State in the mid-1920s to a level of activity, a decade later, such that approximately 60 British films per annum were achieving above average box office returns. Jarvie has referred to this process as one of “pushing back” the ubiquitous Hollywood product.1 With the advantage of hindsight it is clear that the rapid advance made by British production was not sustained in the late 1930s. In particular the size of the domestic market was not sufficient to enable domestic producers to recoup the considerable production costs necessary to compete with the top end of the Hollywood product: such films had also to sell well in the US market.2 The reduction of risks occasioned by the 1927 legislation was not in the end sufficient to outweigh those associated with hit production. Its replacement, the Cinematograph Act of 1938, encouraged American big budget production in Britain at the expense of indigenous production. Nevertheless, investment in the industry made during the 1930s meant that an infrastructure of human and physical investment was in place come the Second World War, which enabled the production side to generate, and allowed audiences to appreciate, a body of British films over the next ten years, commonly referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of British cinema.

analytical framework

2Before giving a detailed account of how the Quota worked in Britain during the 1930s and its effects upon the production and consumption of films, it is important to be clear concerning the analytical framework to be employed. Carroll has given the following functional definition of mass art work:

  • 3 N. Carroll, A Philosophy of Mass Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.196.

x is a mass artwork if, and only if, 1. x is a multiple instance or type artwork, 2. produced and distributed by a mass technology, 3. which artwork is intentionally designed to gravitate in its structural choices (for example, its narrative forms, symbolism, intended affect, and even its content) toward those choices that promise accessibility with minimum effort, virtually on first contact, for the largest number of untutored (or relatively untutored) audiences.3

3Carroll’s work is important because it provides a means of formally distinguishing between avant-garde, popular and mass art. For Carroll, accessibility is the key to reception. He writes that mass art “is made with the intention that it be assimilated with minimum effort” (p. 35) but which none-the-less requires that audiences are actively engaged in interpreting “narrative meaning” (p. 45). Drawing on the work of Walter Benjamin, Carroll goes on to argue that mass artworks are made possible by technologies of production and distribution “capable of delivering multiple instances or tokens of mass artworks” (p. 188) to “populations that are mass in that they cross national, class, religious, political, ethnic, racial and gender boundaries” (p. 185).

  • 4 A fuller account of the ontology of film as a commodity can be found in J. Sedgwick, “The Nature of (...)

4Film as a commodity corresponds exactly to the criteria laid down by Caroll, but to understand how it does so requires an exploration of the ontological characteristics that distinguish film as a commodity from other commodity types, including other mass art commodities.4 I identify five. These are:

- the non-diminishable, indivisible, indefinitely enlargeable, infinitely reproducible, but excludable nature of the film image.

- the slow physical deterioration of the means of producing the film image.

- the rapidity with which pleasure derived from consumption declines relative to the anticipation of new pleasures

- rapidly diminishing marginal utility.

- uniqueness.

- the dedicated expenditure of time and attention on the part of consumers which could be put to alternative uses.

5Between them these characteristics have given substance to a System of popular film provision that evolved during the Twentieth Century and from which a series of analytical propositions can be made.

  1. Film as a commodity has two aspects. Firstly, as the material subject of the supply-side transactions between producers, distributors and exhibitors that occur as a result of the negotiated contractual rights to handle and screen the strips of celluloid that make up a film print. Secondly, as the immaterial subject of the manifold transactions between exhibitors and audiences by which the latter purchase the right to view the audio-visual images made possible by the mechanical process of the projection of the film print. These are illustrated in Figure 1.

  2. Producers, distributors and exhibitors are rent-seekers. They are motivated by the prospect of earning net receipts over and above the minimum necessary to keep them in the business. Furthermore, they are engaged in a zero-sum game whereby the gains of one party are at the expense of the other (s).

  3. Consumers are utility-seekers. They go to the cinema with the expectation of receiving pleasure, however defined, but it is only after the experience that they can know how much pleasure they have enjoyed. Hence, whilst audiences choose between films, preferring the prospect of higher quality, this choice is made under conditions of uncertainty. Consumption entails entering into a discovery process.

    • 5 See J. Sedgwick and M. Pokorny, “The Risk Environment of Film-Making: Warners in the Inter-War Peri (...)

    The uncertainty experienced by filmgoers is necessarily shared by producers, distributors and exhibitors since they cannot know exactly ex ante the extent to which audiences will be pleased by the films they make and handle.5

Figure 1: Production and Consumption Relations

Figure 1: Production and Consumption Relations

6Consider a film industry in which there are no vertical links so that producers, distributors and exhibitors are independent of one another. Further, assume that the contractual relationship between producer and distributor is such that distributor possesses the exclusive distribution rights to a film commodity for a particular territory. In that territory let there be a large number of cinemas, each of which is independently owned, and a small number of distributors. Finally, suppose that the price charged by any single cinema is invariant between films: that is, admission prices do not respond to levels of popularity. Under these conditions it is likely that distributors will hold monopoly power advantages over an exhibitor as a result of asymmetries in the industrial concentration of the two sectors of the supply chain, leading to a long run equilibrium in which exhibitors earn normal profits only. These relations between distributor and exhibitor are described by equations 1) and 2):

7Where, 0<$<1.

  • 6 It is quite simple to make the equations more complex reflecting more the detailed composition of t (...)

8The revenue Rit generated at the box-office for the ith film in time period t (typically one week) is shared between the exhibitor and the distributor. Let Ft be the exhibitor's fixed costs, including a normal profit margin, and assume that are no marginal costs associated with exhibition: in this particular game the incentive for the exhibitor to show films that are more, rather than less, popular is derived from the sale of concession/confectionery goods. The share absorbed by the distributor is the residual. Given Ft, this can be expressed as $Rit, since it varies proportionately with revenue. It is clear from equation 2 that the greater the popularity of film I, the higher the value of $ and the greater the incentive for the distributor to diffuse it widely. $ thus represents the price at which distributors contract with exhibitors. It is a price that reflects the scarcity value of a film, conceived of solely in terms of the demand for it.6

9These relations are illustrated in Figure 2 in which the box-office revenues of two films are R1 and R2 respectively, leading to differing distributor rental prices of $1 and $2. The depiction of the exhibition sector of the industry as a set of independent suppliers of film images does not allow for the horizontal combination of cinemas in the form of chains and with this the practice of monopsonic buying. It further fails to recognise the existence of vertical links backwards to the points of production and distribution. Both of these factors are likely to affect the power relations between agents in the market and lead to a game in which those exhibitors which are horizontally and/or horizontally and vertically integrated are able to negotiate contracts with distributors that allow them some share of the box-office over and above a fixed payment. In such cases the value of $ will be lower than it otherwise would have been. The array of forces in this market suggest the likelihood of a Nash equilibrium in which the primary factors affecting the relative bargaining position of the two parties given exclusive distribution rights are: a) the anticipated popularity of the principal film attraction; b) the box-office potential of any particular cinema; c) the temporal proximity to the film's release date; and d) the horizontal and vertical relations associated with each cinema.

Figure 2: The Rental Price of Films

Figure 2: The Rental Price of Films

the british market and the 1927 quota

  • 7 See Sedgwick 2000: table 2.1.
  • 8 S. Rowson, “Statistical Survey of the Cinema Industry in Great Britain in 1934”, Journal of the Roy (...)
  • 9 Film Daily Yearbooks and Motion Picture Almanacs for the period. The same source counted the number (...)
  • 10 S. Rowson, “Value of Remittances Abroad for Cinematograph Films”, journal of the Royal Statistical (...)
  • 11 See H.M. Glancy, When Hollywood Loved Britain, Manchester, Manchester University Press. 1999; Jarvi (...)

10The British market for film entertainment was in size second only to that of the US during the 1930s. It was the dominant paid-for leisure activity in Britain, as in the US, with close to one billion admissions annually throughout the 1930s.7 Rowson estimated that there were 4,305 cinemas wired for Sound in Britain in 19348 with the figure rising to 5,000 by the end of the decade.9 With the emergence of sound technology in the late 1920s - making English language films less accessible in non-English-speaking markets - coupled with the gradual loss of market share in Germany following the accession of Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933, the British market became evermore important to Hollywood producers as the decade wore on.10 Accordingly, British protection legislation was taken very seriously by the American producers, through their trade organisation - the MPPDA (Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America) - and the US State Department.11 Hollywood film finances show that the principal studios covered their production and distribution costs in the North American market and relied on the rest of the world, primarily meaning Britain, for their profits.

  • 12 The parent organisation of each of the principal Hollywood producers - MGM, Paramount, Warners, Fox (...)

11The market for films in Britain at the time of the 1927 Act was dominated by the Hollywood product to the extent that those indigenous productions that attracted popular attention from audiences were something of a rarity. Since the late teens the principal Hollywood studios had put into place an in-house distribution network that was global in reach. In Britain they formed the core of the distributors’ trade association (the Kinematograph Renters’ Society) and through it assertively pursued collusive practices, leading to conflict with the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association and the threat of withdrawal of supply on several occasions during the 1930s. For their major film attractions the KRS members typically negotiated rental agreements that absorbed between 25 to 60 per cent of exhibitors’ box-office gross on the basis of anticipated popularity.12

  • 13 Higher order cinemas showed films earlier, charged higher prices and offered greater standards of c (...)
  • 14 See Sedgwick 2000: 103-107.

12The System of distribution in Britain, as in the US, was based on price discriminatory practices whereby films were diffused, in a cascade-like pattern, through time and space from higher order to lower order cinemas, allowing distributors to maximise revenues.13 Bands between geographic districts and between subsequent run cinemas within a locality were sealed through temporal and spatial zoning practices. In this way, films that were popular with local audiences appeared time and again in the cinemas of a locality. For example, in Bolton in 1934 the popular British film Good Companions (Gaumont British, 1933) starring Jessie Matthews played on nine separate occasions at nine different cinemas during the four months following its premier in the town, filtering down during that period from first to fifth-run cinemas.14

13Film was sufficiently popular and well supplied in Britain to give urban audiences considerable choice. In the comparably sized towns of Bolton and Brighton, each with a population of approximately 180,000, audiences had 20 cinemas, each with a different programme, from which to make their choices. Although habitual cinemagoing was common, regular and occasional cinemagoers typically chose between programmes on the basis of the anticipated pleasures. Indeed, the market for film may be seen as a proto-type vertically differentiated mass market in which consumers assessed products on the basis of perceived quality, serviced by a distribution mechanism that was able to supply particular films to local markets anywhere in response to an effective demand for them.

  • 15 Low 1985: appendix, tables 1 to 6.
  • 16 See F. Capie, “Effective Protection and Economic Recovery in Britain, 1932-1937”, Economic History (...)

14The 1927 Act stipulated that distributors and exhibitors operating in the domestic market should handle a growing proportion of British films, measured in footage and foot-screenings respectively, rising to a ceiling of 20 per cent by 1936.15 The legislation was passed at a time when Britain was still a free trade nation16 and indicates the concern on the part of leading figures in the British establishment that the absence of an indigenous film industry endangered the distinctiveness of the British way of life. Dickinson and Street have written:

  • 17 M. Dickinson and S. Street, Cinema and State: The British Industry and the British Government, 1927 (...)

Although the Films Act was formulated in a context of heightened official awareness and concern about the propaganda of film and its general importance in national life, the mechanism adopted to combat the ‘Hollywood invasion’ was not really appropriate as a means of establishing a British film industry which would be independent of American economic and cultural influence.17

  • 18 Low 1985: appendix, table 1.
  • 19 With the exception of perfectly inelastic demand conditions, a tariff induced price increase would (...)
  • 20 Rowson 1936: 77; H. Browning and A. Sorrell, “Cinema and Cinema-going in Great Britain", Journal of (...)

15In devising legislation to encourage the production of British films the Board of Trade officials were acting in line with the largely non-interventionist stance of the British State in matters of industry and commerce. Although this policy may not have produced the culturally distinctive films that Dickinson and Street perhaps wished for, it certainly did produce films; domestic production expanded from 96 in the 1929-30 season to 228 in 1937-38.18 By being defined in terms of quantity control, rather than price control through a tariff, the film quota in effect sealed for indigenous producers an incrementally expanding section of the slowly expanding domestic market. Furthermore, this was done without directly injuring exhibitors, as would have happened in the case of a tariff.19 However, the protected environment established by the legislation applied only to the supply side of the industry outside of production; namely distribution and exhibition, but not to consumption. Accordingly, whilst exhibitors were compelled to take a rising proportion of indigenous films over time, customers enjoyed a growing choice over what to watch.20 On the basis that: a) audiences preferred high to low quality films - they were able to vertically differentiate films; b) the price of admission to any cinema was invariant between films; and c) the choice between programmes at similar prices was widespread, so that any British film exhibited in an urban locality would be competing directly against industry standard products emanating from the studios that collectively made up Hollywood, exhibitors would have lost revenue had the quota of British films screened been less popular on average with audiences than the Hollywood alternatives foregone.

  • 21 i.e. between 1928 and 1935-6 the area of stage floor space in Britain increased by a factor of 7.5, (...)
  • 22 The films of Gaumont British were either marketed under the same name or as Gainsborough Pictures w (...)

16From these premises it is clear that British producers, if they were to succeed, needed to make films which were popular with domestic audiences: they had to attract audiences from alternative uses of their time, including watching Hollywood films. The quota, with its built-in expansion factor served to encourage British producers to make the investments necessary to this end.21 The demand for successful British films was enhanced by the legislation: since all exhibitors were compelled to show an increasing number of British films it follows that they would wish to show those that competed successfully with rival cinema programmes within any locality. Given the value of the assets tied up in cinema real estate, this became a commercial imperative for the two British vertically integrated combines - Gaumont British (GB) and Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC)22 - which emerged in the wake of the 1927 legislation, spurring them into large scale film production.

  • 23 Dickinson and Street 1985; Jarvie 1992; Low 1985.

17Undoubtedly, protection legislation led to the production of many very poor quality British films by firms whose life span was short and whose product was typically made-for the distribution wings of the principal Hollywood studios for quota fulfilment purposes only. When coupled with: a) the crises in domestic production in 1936-38, caused by the retraction of the production plans of the leading British studios and the growth in the speculative financing of film production; and b) the sheer quality and quantity of Hollywood studio output, the orthodox view put by historians is that the 1927 legislation was poorly conceived and encouraged volume rather than quality.23 In revising this argument it needs to be shown that significant numbers of British films and the stars who appeared in them were genuinely popular with British audiences. Further, it is argued that in the absence of the 1927 legislation doubt must be expressed as to how much of the body of work that goes to make up British Cinema in the 1930s would have been made. It is further argued that tastes were not uniform in the British market, and that distinctive patterns of film going preferences can be detected across region and social class.

popstat- measure of film popularity

  • 24 These cinemas and their programmes were listed weekly in the trade journal, Kim Weekly. The cinemas (...)

18Information concerning the box-office performance of films distributed in Britain during this period is extremely thin. In order to establish a proxy measure of what audiences paid to watch, an index of film popularity (POPSTAT) has been constructed from the programmes of a sample of 90 leading London West End and provincial city cinemas of Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, and Sheffield for the period 1 January 1932 to 31 December 1937.24 The popularity of each film is given as:

where,

POPSTAT = Popularity Statistic,

t = exhibition period

i = ith film

j = jth cinema

n = number of cinemas in the sample set

  • 25 The weight for each cinema is given by its potential gross box office revenue, obtained by multiply (...)

a = the box-office weighting of each cinema around a mean value of 1.025

b = the weighting of the exhibition status where 0.5 represents a shared and 1.0 a single billing

l = the length of exhibition at each cinema in weeks and half-weeks

  • 26 For a detailed account of this venture, see Sedgwick 2000: ch. 10.
  • 27 Low 1985: 229-234. John Maxwell’s rationale for ABPC's strategy is also explained in Sedgwick 2000: (...)

19Table 1 summarises the performance of the leading Hollywood and British production studios derived from the diffusion of films within the sample of cinemas. It is apparent that the market shares are quite widely dispersed, with only Paramount, MGM and Warners achieving more than a 10 per cent share of the domestic market. Together the 13 British and American A production studios absorbed approximately 80 per cent share of market demand, but, the scale of Hollywood production was such that the output of its major studios was two to three times that of the largest British concerns. Indeed British A studios account for only one third of domestic production which helps to explain the concern over ‘quota quickies’. However, this needs to be tempered by the fact that two thirds of the 25 per cent share of the domestic market taken by British producers is attributable to the same companies. Accordingly, the mean POPSTAT of the British A studios is almost twice that of all British producers, and interestingly exceeds that calculated for Hollywood A Studios. Perhaps the most significant performance on view is that of the Gaumont British organisation, of which Michael Balcon was production chief until late 1936. Not only is its mean POPSTAT considerably higher than that of any other volume producer but also the number of Top 50 and Top 100 successes marks it out ahead of all Hollywood studios other than Paramount and MGM. In 1934 and 1935 Gaumont British put out 21 and 22 films respectively with mean POPSTAT scores of over 17. Its success in the domestic market led the organisation into a serious attempt to penetrate the American market from late 1934-1936 in an effort to significantly improve the box office performance of its major productions.26 In contrast, the films of British International Pictures - the production wing of ABPC - performed less well, the consequence of a more limited strategy of producing low to medium budget films designed for the greater part to occupy the lower half of double bill cinema programmes.27 Goldwyn in the US and Alexander Korda’s London Films in Britain can be classified as low volume hit producers, concentrating on the production of a relatively small number of big budget productions during any season. Over the six years of the sample, British producers were responsible for 167 Top 100 films, 96 of which were placed in the Top 50 rankings.

Table 1. Market shares in the British market, 1932-37

Table 1. Market shares in the British market, 1932-37

Notes: col. 3 measures the supply share of films registered with the Board of Trade, whereas col.4 measures the demand share as measured by POPSTAT
a Warners merged with First National Pictures during the 1929-30 season. The two trade names were used to market the products of the studio during the 1930s.

b Includes the films of Fox and 20th century Fox. Fox merged with 20th century to become 20th century Fox in 1935.

c The largest B studios were Monogram with 120 productions and Republic with 91.

d Includes the associated productions of Denham Films, Pendennis Films and Saville Productions made at the Denham studios
e The largest quota producers were Warners British (102 films with a mean POPSTAT of 2.21, Real Art (45 films with a mean POPSTAT of 2.92) and Fox British (52 films with a mean POPSTAT of 1.0)
Sources. Kine Weekly, local evening newspapers.

  • 28 Sedgwick 2000: chs. 5and 6.
  • 29 Browning and Sorrell, 1954, scaled down Rowson’s 1936 estimation of 963 million.
  • 30 Kine Weekly Year Books give a detailed breakdown the seating capacity, price structure and ownershi (...)
  • 31 See J. Richards, “Cinemagoing in Worktown: Regional Film Audiences in 1930s Britain”, Historical Jo (...)

20In extending the study of film popularity to the large English towns of Bolton and Brighton the findings of the national survey of higher level cinemas are broadly confirmed, albeit with some distinctive regional variations.28 The national survey might be taken to represent middle-class British cinemagoing in that the admission prices of these cinemas are significantly greater than the 10.25d mean price, estimated by Rowson, for all admissions (903 million) into British cinemas in 19 34.29 This was particularly true of London West End cinemas, where prices were as high as 1 l/6d for a top price admission.30 In contrast, the Bolton and Brighton surveys include all cinemas in the two towns, making it possible to monitor the exhibition progress of all films as they trickled down from higher to lower level cinemas as part of the wider cascade System of distribution and exhibition. Although the two town surveys may be described as regional, in that they reflect a complete micro-system of distribution and exhibition within a locality with a strong sense of local and regional identity31, the fact that they monitor films exhibited at each level in this distribution chain also provides evidence of working-class preferences when compared with the results from the national survey. These outcomes confirm Richards’ view, based upon the Worktown Mass-Observation Study, that distinct regional and social class film preferences existed in Britain during the period, themselves reflecting differences in lifestyle expectation and aspiration. He writes:

  • 32 J. Richards 1994:164.

The evidence from Bolton suggests that Lancashire and national taste in the 1930s were in close alignment, that cinema was in fact nationalising taste and outlook and attitude. It remains true nevertheless that gender and regional identities could be maintained within an overall national identity and the most popular stars achieved their popularity by appealing to all of these multiple identities.32

conclusion

  • 33 See Sedgwick 2000: ch. 11.
  • 34 A. Higson, Waving the Flag. Constructing a National Cinema, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995, (...)
  • 35 Jarvie 1992:143.

21This evidence was a problem for British film entrepreneurs. As a general rule the size of the British market was not sufficiently large to enable big budget productions films to recoup their costs solely from domestic distribution.33 Yet expensive productions, popular in the upper reaches of the cinema hierarchy, were not always as successful in lower order cinemas, whilst films with strong regional/working-class appeal were unlikely to receive extended runs in box-office rich cinemas.34 Ultimately the intention of every popular filmmaker is to produce hits that transcend the heterogeneous nature of film audiences both at home and abroad. For its principal producers the history of film making in Britain during the 1930s can be characterised as an exercise in understanding the nature of the market for films. In contrast “Hollywood and its pictures... set the standard for what was required to make really big money”35, with the national and regional surveys reflecting the dominance of the Hollywood product in British cinemas and the esteem in which so many of its stars were held by the British people. Although Gaumont British between 1934 and 1936, and London Films from 1933onwards, adopted the strategy of producing films which they hoped would prove attractive to the American market, the bulk of British production was targeted at the domestic market. The Cinematograph Act of 1927 made that activity less risky than otherwise would have been the case and hence, in part, can be held responsible for a body of films which make-up a national cinema for the period as well as a stock of human and physical capital which constitute the industry from which those films were derived.

  • 36 Stone and D. Rowe, The Measurement of Consumers' Expenditure in the UK, 1920-38, Cambridge, Cambrid (...)
  • 37 Rowson 1936: table x.

22Although not a major economic activity in 1930s Britain, cinemagoing was the dominant form of entertainment measured by paid admissions, absorbing approximately two-thirds of all entertainment expenditure.36 Its significance is, accordingly, not to be found in national income statistics but rather in the lifestyle of the people and their domains of pleasure. Rowson has shown that cinemagoing was universally popular throughout Britain, particularly amongst the urban city population.37 Popular film is an early example of a heterogeneous mass distributed commodity about which regular filmgoers made choices on the basis of quality. Given invariant prices and a cascade-like System of distribution/exhibition, which ensured that popular films returned time and again to a locality following general release, audiences were not required to pay more for their preferences. The consequence of this was that the most popular films played to fuller houses, on single billed programmes, for longer periods. It was not sufficient for British films to be made and to be shown as specified by the legislation. They needed to be popular with audiences if distributors and exhibitors were not to be financially damaged. The evidence presented here, derived from the POPSTAT methodology, was that British film entrepreneurs made significatif inroads into the domestic market during the 1930s, ‘pushing back the Hollywood product for a period during the middle years of the decade. The Quota legislation was critical to this process in that it stimulated British entrepreneurs to produce films on an industrial basis by ameliorating the risks ex ante that they faced. However, the legislation only privileged British entrepreneurs ex post if they were able to produce films that were sought out by audiences in sufficient numbers so as to make them popular. In making such films - Table 1 shows that 96 of the 300 top 50 films released between 1932 and 1937 were made by British production companies - on a systematic basis during the 1930s, a body of work came into being which was culturally distinctive from the Hollywood product, even though the latter continued to set the standards of popular entertainment.

Bibliographie

Browning. H and A. Sorrell 1954. “Cinema and Cinema-going in Great Britain”, journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 117, p. 133-165.

Carroll N. 1988. A Philosophy of Mass Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Capie F. 1991. “Effective Protection and Economic Recovery in Britain, 1932-1937”, Economic History Review, 44, p.339-42.

De Vany A. and W. Walls 1996. “Bose-Einstein Dynamics and Adaptive Contracting in the Motion Picture Industry”, Economic journal, 106, p.1493-1514.

Departmental Committee appointed by the Board of Trade to consider the Position of British Films 1936. Minutes of Evidence, London, HMSO.

Dickinson M. and S. Street 1985. Cinema and State: The British Industry and the British Government, 1927-84, London, BFI.

Dimsdale N. 1981. “British Monetary Policy and the Exchange Rate”, Oxford Economie Papers, 33, p.306-49.

Eyles A. and K. Skone 1991. London's West End Cinemas, Sutton, Keystone Publications.

Glancy H. M. 1999. When Hollywood Loved Britain, Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Higson A. 1995. Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Jarvie: I. 1992. Hollywood's Overseas Campaign: the North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920-1950, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Low R. 1985. Film Making in 1930s Britain, London, Allen and Unwin.

Richards J. 1994. “Cinemagoing in Worktown: Regional Film Audiences in 1930s Britain”, Historical journal of Film, Radio and Television, 14, p. 147-166.

Richards J. 1997. Films and British National Identity, Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Rowson S. 1934. “Value of Remittances Abroad for Cinematograph Films”, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 97, p.588-611.

Rowson S. 1936. “Statistical Survey of the Cinema Industry in Great Britain in 1934”, journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 99, p.67-129.

Sedgwickj. 2000. Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: a Choice of Pleasures, Exeter, Exeter University Press.

Sedgwick J. 2001. “The Nature of Popular Film as a Commodity: the Diffusion of Film in Britain during the mid-1930s”. Homo Oeconomicus, 17, p.427-440

Sedgwick J. and M. Pokorny 1998. “The Risk Environment of Film-Making: Warners in the Inter-War Period”, Explorations in Economic History, 35, p.l96-220.

Stone R. and D. Row 1966. The Measurement of Consumers' Expenditure in the UK, 1920-38, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Vasey R. 1997.The World According to Hollywood, 1918-1939, Exeter, Exeter University Press.

Woods L. 1986. (ed.), British Films 1927-1939, London, BFI.

Notes

1 Jarvie, Hollywood's Overseas Campaign: the North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920-1950, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.

2 See J. Sedgwick, Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: a Choice of Pleasures, Exeter, Exeter University Press, 2000, p. 240-255.

3 N. Carroll, A Philosophy of Mass Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.196.

4 A fuller account of the ontology of film as a commodity can be found in J. Sedgwick, “The Nature of Popular Film as a Commodity: the Diffusion of Film in Britain during the mid1930s”, Homo Oeconomicus, 17, 2001, p. 427-40.

5 See J. Sedgwick and M. Pokorny, “The Risk Environment of Film-Making: Warners in the Inter-War Period”, Explorations in Economic History, 35, 1998, p.196-220.

6 It is quite simple to make the equations more complex reflecting more the detailed composition of the contract between exhibitors and distributors. For instance, the exhibitor is likely to have some bargaining power, especially in the case of horizontally integrated chains of cinemas, and hence would expect some share of box-office revenue. In practice this will is considerable lower than the distributor’s share and hence does not detract from the main point that $ will increase directly with box-office revenue. See A. De Vany and W. Walls, “Bose-Einstein Dynamics and Adaptive Contracting in the Motion Picture Industry”’ Economic Journal, 106, 1996, p.1493-1514.

7 See Sedgwick 2000: table 2.1.

8 S. Rowson, “Statistical Survey of the Cinema Industry in Great Britain in 1934”, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 99, 1936, p. 67-129.

9 Film Daily Yearbooks and Motion Picture Almanacs for the period. The same source counted the number of wired for sound cinemas in Germany, with its much bigger population, rising from 4,000 to 5,395 between 1934-38, whilst the numbers in the US actually fell from 19,000 to 16,228. However, the size of German cinemas appears to have been much smaller, with another source listing their combined seating capacity as 2,100,000 in 1937, compared with 3,200,000 in Britain. This information is usefully collected in L. Woods, (ed.), British Films 1927-1939, London, BFI, 1986, p. 28-130.

10 S. Rowson, “Value of Remittances Abroad for Cinematograph Films”, journal of the Royal Statistical Society; 97, 1934, p. 588-611, estimated box office receipts in Britain to be in the order of £40 million in 1934. This compares with Film Daily Yearbook/Motion Picture Almanac comparable estimates for the US of $518 million. Using the exchange rate of $4.5 = £1 it would appear that the British market for films was approximately one third the size of the American market. See N. Dimsdale, “British Monetary Policy and the Exchange Rate” Oxford Economic Papers, 33, 1981, p. 306-49.

11 See H.M. Glancy, When Hollywood Loved Britain, Manchester, Manchester University Press. 1999; Jarvie 1992; R. Vasey, The World According to Hollywood, 1918-1939, Exeter, Exeter University Press, 1997.

12 The parent organisation of each of the principal Hollywood producers - MGM, Paramount, Warners, Fox (20th century Fox from 1935), RKO, Columbia and Universal - controlled the distribution of their film products, negotiating contracts with exhibitors which guaranteed a lump sum payment together with a proportion of the gross. The latter, in effect constituted the film’s price, and ranged typically from 25-60 % of the box-office depending on any single film’s anticipated appeal to a potential cinema audience. Minutes of Evidence taken before the Departmental Committee appointed by the Board of Trade to consider the Position of British Films, London, HMSO, paragraph 57, p.9. Also see R. Low, Film Making in 1930s Britain, London, Allen and Unwin, 1985, on industry arrangements.

13 Higher order cinemas showed films earlier, charged higher prices and offered greater standards of comfort to audiences than lower order cinemas.

14 See Sedgwick 2000: 103-107.

15 Low 1985: appendix, tables 1 to 6.

16 See F. Capie, “Effective Protection and Economic Recovery in Britain, 1932-1937”, Economic History Review, 44, 1991, p. 339-42.

17 M. Dickinson and S. Street, Cinema and State: The British Industry and the British Government, 1927-84, London, BFI, 1985, p. 33.

18 Low 1985: appendix, table 1.

19 With the exception of perfectly inelastic demand conditions, a tariff induced price increase would have reduced demand and hence the box office revenue net of the tariff.

20 Rowson 1936: 77; H. Browning and A. Sorrell, “Cinema and Cinema-going in Great Britain", Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 117, 1954, p.133-165.

21 i.e. between 1928 and 1935-6 the area of stage floor space in Britain increased by a factor of 7.5, from 105,211 to 769,557 square feet. See Sedgwick 2000 : 243-245.

22 The films of Gaumont British were either marketed under the same name or as Gainsborough Pictures whilst those of Associated British Picture Corporation, were traded under the name of British International Pictures. The commercial histories of the two organisations can be found in Low 1985.

23 Dickinson and Street 1985; Jarvie 1992; Low 1985.

24 These cinemas and their programmes were listed weekly in the trade journal, Kim Weekly. The cinemas make up almost a complete set of ‘upper level’ venues in the named cities. I was only able to find six additional cinemas whose mid-range price was above 3/-in London, or l/6d in the provincial cities. Missing records were made up from the advertisements found in appropriate city evening newspapers.

25 The weight for each cinema is given by its potential gross box office revenue, obtained by multiplying its mid-range price by the number of seats, and expressed as a proportion of the mean potential box office revenue of the sample cinema set. Hence the weights reflect the relative commercial status of each cinema, with the box office revenue capacity of the Empire, Leicester Square, for example, being twice that of the Davis cinema, Croydon, four times that of the Piccadilly, Manchester and eight times that of the Regent, Glasgow.

26 For a detailed account of this venture, see Sedgwick 2000: ch. 10.

27 Low 1985: 229-234. John Maxwell’s rationale for ABPC's strategy is also explained in Sedgwick 2000: 235-237.

28 Sedgwick 2000: chs. 5and 6.

29 Browning and Sorrell, 1954, scaled down Rowson’s 1936 estimation of 963 million.

30 Kine Weekly Year Books give a detailed breakdown the seating capacity, price structure and ownership of almost all British cinemas. A. Eyles and K. Skone, London's West End Cinemas, Sutton, Keystone Publications, 1991, and Sedgwick 2000: ch. 3 provide accounts of London’s principal ‘flagship’ cinemas.

31 See J. Richards, “Cinemagoing in Worktown: Regional Film Audiences in 1930s Britain”, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 14, 1994, p.147-166. See also J. Richards, Films and British National Identity, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1997, ch. 9.

32 J. Richards 1994:164.

33 See Sedgwick 2000: ch. 11.

34 A. Higson, Waving the Flag. Constructing a National Cinema, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 155.

35 Jarvie 1992:143.

36 Stone and D. Rowe, The Measurement of Consumers' Expenditure in the UK, 1920-38, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1966, tables 36 and 39. Cinema admissions accounted for only 1 per cent of consumer expenditure in Britain. For a fuller depiction of cinemagoing statistics see Sedgwick 2000: table 2.1.

37 Rowson 1936: table x.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Production and Consumption Relations
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/1957/img-1.jpg
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URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/1957/img-2.jpg
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Titre Figure 2: The Rental Price of Films
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/1957/img-3.jpg
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URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/1957/img-4.jpg
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Titre Table 1. Market shares in the British market, 1932-37
Légende Notes: col. 3 measures the supply share of films registered with the Board of Trade, whereas col.4 measures the demand share as measured by POPSTATa Warners merged with First National Pictures during the 1929-30 season. The two trade names were used to market the products of the studio during the 1930s.
URL http://books.openedition.org/irhis/docannexe/image/1957/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 54k

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