Newspaper advertisements from a pre-war Worthing Christmas

Few things carry a stronger sense of the past than old advertisements.

Thursday, 11th December 2014, 12:00 pm
Christmas films at Worthing in 1937 featured several actors whose names are still well-known today  such as Vivien Leigh, Rex Harrison, and Gary Cooper  as well as others whose names are long forgotten

The ads reproduced on this page – which all come from the Worthing Gazette of Wednesday December 22, 1937 – give us a flavour of the ways in which Worthingers of 77 years ago were bring tempted to spend their money at Christmas.

At that time the Worthing Gazette was a 16-page broadsheet, with the front page occupied not by news, but by advertisements. This was the case for most newspapers of that era.

The front-page ads were mainly small classified advertisements, in categories such as Births, Marriages and Deaths; Furnished Flats; and Domestic Servants Wanted.

Christmas films at Worthing in 1937 featured several actors whose names are still well-known today  such as Vivien Leigh, Rex Harrison, and Gary Cooper  as well as others whose names are long forgotten

Christmas 1937 was a year of relative peace and stability. Although the Great War had ended less than 20 years earlier, the trauma of it had begun to fade.

Events in Europe were, however, beginning again to give cause for concern.

Germany had been re-arming for several years under Adolf Hitler, and only six weeks before Christmas Italy had joined the Anti-Comintern pact, already signed a year before by Germany and Japan – with the result that the alliance that became known as the Axis Powers was now in place.

But in Britain’s towns and villages most people were just getting on with their lives and preparing for Christmas.

The ads in the Gazette seem mainly to have been aimed at people with modest but steady incomes, for whom house and car ownership were not out of reach.

The most prominent advertisement – at the top right of the front page which, as already indicated, otherwise consisted mainly of classified ads – was for renting a radio for Christmas; and it reminds us how pampered we are today.

With television available to only 12,000-15,000 people living in London, a visit to the cinema was the only “moving picture” entertainment generally available – and in towns such as Worthing many people went to the cinema once or even twice a week.

There were three large cinemas in Worthing in 1937 – the 1,700-seat Rivoli in Chapel Road (which had opened in 1924); the 2,012-seat Plaza in Rowlands Road (1933); and the 1,600-seat Odeon in Liverpool Road (1934).

In addition there was the main auditorium at the Dome, which had become a 950-seat cinema in 1922 – and which, although the smallest of the four cinemas, is the only one that survives today.

The Plaza is now Gala Bingo; the Rivoli closed in 1960 after a catastrophic fire, with Rivoli Court standing on the site today; and the Odeon closed in 1986 and was demolished two years later.

The three large cinemas featured jointly in a prominent advertisement at the top of the entertainments page of the Gazette, reproduced here; while the Dome had a smaller and cheaper advertisement elsewhere on the same page.

In those days, cinema programmes consisted of the main feature film, together with a so-called B movie – a principle that remained in place well into the 1970s.

Members of the audience were usually able to enter the cinema at any time, but most people arrived before the start of the B movie and then ended their visit with the main attraction.

The advertisement for the Rivoli indicates that, curiously, this cinema showed films the “wrong way round”.

Obviously you could still turn up and see the B Movie first if you chose. But if you arrived when the cinema opened – or opted for the final session of the night – the second film you saw was not the main feature but the B movie. In the week after Christmas these were, respectively, ‘Mr Deeds Goes to Town’ and ‘Concert Party’, starring the Windmill Girls.

Elsewhere in the December 22 issue of the Gazette, readers were encouraged to consider the purchase of a Fiat 500 for £126; a smart new bungalow in Lancing for £620; or a neat three-bedroom detached house in Pines Avenue, north of Upper Brighton Road, for £875.

It is difficult to assess what the prices that appear in old advertisements represent in today’s money, because very different results are obtained, depending on whether the calculations are based on the changing retail price index, the purchasing power of money, or the value of a commodity.

Those interested in attempting to make the calculations may wish to visit the website. It is an excellent site – but quite complicated, so not for the faint-hearted!

n Antony Edmonds’s books ‘Worthing: The Postcard Collection’ and ‘Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon’ are for a limited time available at Worthing Library at the special price of £2-50 off RRP.