Portsmouth Ciné Club and Film Societies

The Portsmouth Ciné club (by 1938 the ‘Portsmouth Film Society’) was developed from around 1935 by a group of friends interested in making short narrative films. It originated as a sub-interest of the ‘Portsmouth Camera and Ciné Club’ as early as October 1930 (one of the earliest sub groups to be formed as part of a long-standing photographic club) and though talked about at times, no practical work in creating narrative films seems to have been taken until 1936/37. It was referred to as the ‘Cinematograph Section of the Portsmouth Camera and Ciné Club’ from May 1936 in order to reflect the growing interests of practically-minded Ciné enthusiasts. These included Clifford Worley (1909-1980), who was a leading light for cinematography from 1933, along with Antony Scott Clover (1917-1998) Rex Verry F.R.P.S., Frank Taylor and Eric Shotter, till 1939 when the war intervened. It was not revived after the war ended and the last project, ‘The Doctor Vanishes’, remains obscure and unfinished. Hon. Secs. in the period were Clifford Worley, Antony S. (Tony) Clover and Rex Verry A.R.P.S.

A.S. Clover writes in his (unpublished) personal memoir:

In 1936, ASC (Antony Scott Clover) was introduced by his school friend Eric Shotter to the Portsmouth Ciné Club (later its name changed to Portsmouth Film Society), the prime mover in which was Clifford Worley, who ran footwear shops in the City and who later became Lord Mayor. The Club had an approximately equal number of male and female members, about 30 or 50 altogether. It was decided to pool the talents of the members and produce films, with some collaborating in writing stories and from them preparing shooting scripts, some taking the acting parts (ASC was always cast as a shady character!) and others working the cameras, studio lights, and continuity records. Some scenes were shot in the open air, some in one or other of the member’s houses and some in the “studio” which was a small rather dilapidated upper floor of a small warehouse at 1a Hudson Road, Southsea. For three years, the Society put on a show of amateur films on the South Parade Pier, the programme consisting of the previous year’s production plus films of local events and holiday film taken by individual members. In 1937, the one-reel 16 mm production film was “She who laughs last” (which can now be seen on a videotape made by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive at Winchester). In 1938 the two-reeler production film was “Recorded Evidence” (about a crooked bookkeeper and his accomplices being trapped by their nefarious conversation being recorded on an old cylinder-type Dictaphone). This film disappeared at some time after the outbreak of war in 1939 and the 1939 three-reel production entitled “What’s in a Name” (a comedy) has also disappeared. A fourth production “The Doctor Vanishes” was about half-way towards completion in 1939 when the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939 brought the Film Society’s activities to an end, never to be restarted after the war, although the survivors renewed their acquaintance by forming a Badminton Club (given the name of “Battery Badminton Club” because Cliff and Molly Worley, at whose suggestion the club was formed, lived in Battery House, Battery Row, Old Portsmouth).

A competing society is formed

In 1935-36 An unrelated organisation, the ‘Portsmouth Film Society’ was formed to show and appreciate films rather than to make them. It had no connection with the Ciné enthusiasts. The Society was formed under the chairmanship of the Lord Mayor (Councillor F. J. Spickernell) “himself prominent in the cinema world”. (Spickernell owned several cinemas including the Tivoli at Copnor Road Colonnade from 1930). Opening on 1 July 1936 it closed again in March 1937 after a few showings of continental films.

Whilst it was running, the new Film Society used the Palace Cinema in Commercial Road, but unlike the Ciné group which had practical ambitions to make films, it only watched them with the film-loving, cinema-owning, Lord Mayor privately on Sunday afternoons after paying a season’s 5/- membership fee. A performance planned for November 22nd 1936 was cancelled by the Portsmouth Watch Committee which did not permit films to be shown on Sundays.

The Society was formally closed in March 1937 through lack of support. (Evening News 04 March 1937 P. 2)

There was further press discussion in The Portsmouth Evening News under ‘Letters to the Editor’ in August 1937 about restarting the failed Film Society for viewing more non-commercial films but it did not lead to any results. The bizarre, perhaps, confected, exchange below may well have been made ‘tongue in cheek’ to raise further interest in the project.

FILM SOCIETY Reader protests: We reply

LAST week’s article on Film Societies brought this strong letter from a Southsea reader: ” I am surprised to see in your columns that once again a Film Society is being mooted. A Society where, by paying the nominal sum of 5s. one can see in privacy on a Sunday afternoon films that will never be shown in public. The Film Trade in this country has never yet been under Government censorship, because the Trade have themselves honourably censored their own goods, with all good credit due to them. ” Now it is proposed to form a local Society for showing films (mostly of alien origin) that the Censor will not pass. “When a film is not shown by the Trade to the public, it is for two reasons: (a) It is so poor entertainment that it is not worth showing; (b) it Is either such strong political meat or too disgusting or vulgar. In either case, as I have said above the Trade, with all credit due to them, do not show it. Yet we are asked to welcome and support Society in our midst for the purpose of showing these films in private. “What is not fit for a man’s wife, children, mother, or fiancee to see, is not fit for him. “The line between political propaganda, indecency, and so-called ART. is very fine, and too delicate to be handled. Especially when your own article quotes ‘ Virtuous Isadore ‘as an example. If too bad for the London Censor, it is too bad to be shown in PRIVATE on a Sunday afternoon. “This is surely a matter for the Free Church Council, Watch Committee, and all bodies of moral control. – B.M./E.P.H.E.”

THIS attack on Film Societies calls for an answer. The cinema people are not in the industry for their health—but to make money. And you don’t make money with Continental films in foreign tongues with English sub-titles. The average cinema-audience would boo such a presentation off the screen. Remember when the original “Dreaming Lips” and Emil Jannings in “ The Monarch” were shown here? They were billed for a week and lasted a night They weren’t political, indecent, or poor—just foreign. In fact, “Dreaming Lips” has such an appeal from the story point of view that it was recently made again in England. Our correspondent must not imagine that because you subscribe to a Film Society you are going to see something which would shock the Censor. You will merely see a French, Italian, Russian, or German film, made by some of the finest experts in the cinema world—gems you would otherwise miss, because the public has not been educated in these foreign languages. These Societies exist for the connoisseurs of the cinema . . . and people who pay five bob for four shows and think they are going to See Something will be disappointed. That sort of programme costs more like five guineas. THERE do exist many people who want something more than a non-stop programme of popular films made here or in Hollywood—they seek something which usually more intelligent. And even if Virtuous Isadore wouldn’t get by the Censor, that doesn’t mean it’s immoral. We know the Board of Censors … A Government institution, B.M./E.P.H.E.! (Portsmouth Evening News – Tuesday 7 September 1937 p. 7)

First Public Perfomance

The first mention of a public performance of films actually made by members of the ‘Portsmouth Ciné Club’ appears in the Evening News for 27 March 1937. The films were shown on April 20th at the South Parade Pier. They included a compilation of films taken during the year called ‘The Southsea Review’. The title, containing events filmed in 1938, including some impressive sequences filmed by Clifford Worley of preparations for war in the wake of the ‘Munich Crisis’ of September 1938. This film, which has survived, was one of the highlights of the last ever (March 1939) show.

“Portsmouth has in Its midst a film producing company. Nothing pretentious – the conditions under which they work would turn the hair of our film magnates grey –but some of their work is first-class. The Portsmouth Cine Club has about 20 members, and in their studio In Hudson Road, Southsea. on Thursday night the members held a preview of films with a view to selecting a programme for their first public show on the South Parade Pier on April 20. The members have filmed all the Important local events in black end white and natural colour, and with the co- operation of the Bognor Regis Film Society, who have lent two of their works “Room 17” and “Symphonies of the Season”, Portsmouth will see a show that will surprise them with Its high quality. The centre-piece of the Portsmouth Club’s show will be their own production “She Who Laughs Last”, and It is well worth seeing. Some of the natural colour work of these motion picture enthusiasts is splendid, and the Bognor Regis film of the seasons Is an ambitious work well carried out The Cine Club Is not yet wealthy enough to afford talkie filming apparatus, but Mr. L. Peake, a young man still at school, has made an ingenious device with two gramophones, for the super- imposition of the sound effects.

Portsmouth Evening News 27/03/1937

She Who Laughs Last

The film stock is held by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive at Winchester.

The Southsea Review

The film stock is held by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive at Winchester.

THE EVENING NEWS, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21 1937, PORTSMOUTH CINE CLUB First Public Performance. The human mind being rather forgetful, it is often difficult to recall exactly what is desired at a certain moment. For the lucky person who possesses a cine camera, however, the limited world of memory infinitely widened to embrace any happening which may make a special appeal. At the first public performance given by the Portsmouth Cine Club on the South Parade Pier last evening a large and enthusiastic audience witnessed once again many of the exciting events which have taken place in the City during the last year or two, details of which they had probably quite forgotten. Entitled “Southsea Review.” the film was taken by various camera men belonging to the Club, a commentary having been supplied by Messrs. A. S. Clover and J. Waite. Among the happenings depicted were scenes at the Naval Review last summer, the opening of the Hilsea Swimming Pool, and the visit of the Duke of Windsor, as King Edward. A slightly less serious film but in a similar vein was entitled “Portsmouth Crackers.” The Bognor Regis Film Society supplied two additions to the programme, one particularly beautiful one being in full colour, while “A Day In London,” (photography by Rex Verry, A.R.P.S Hon. Sec. of the Club) and “Polperro”, (photography by Clifford Worley, the Hon. Business Manager), were short but interesting features. The main attraction of the evening, however, was the first production of the Portsmouth Cine Club, an amusing film, entitled ” She Who Laughs Last.” Parts were played Molly Goodyear. Anthony Clover, Kathleen Hooper, Norman Fletcher, Tom Hooper. Clifford Worley and Betty McQuire, and the performance was directed by Frank W. Taylor. (Evening News 21 April 1937 p. 2)

A change of name

In 1938 It was decided at a meeting to change the name of the ‘Portsmouth Ciné Club’ to the ‘Portsmouth Film Society’ as the name had been safely released from its previous association in showing foreign films to the Lord Mayor at the Palace Cinema.

“The scenario for the next film was also discussed, and preparations were made for work to begin almost immediately. The Secretary outlined the proposed interest film to be made in colour. Dogs are to be the theme of this film and all members were asked to co-operate by supplying useful Information and suggestions. The Chairman welcomed many new members and later film tests were made to assist the Casting Committee in choosing characters for the next production.” (Evening News 30 March 1938 p2)

Thereafter the meetings had an exclusively ‘Cine’ aspect.

“Mr. Clifford Worley gave the first of a series of monthly lectures on the principles of cinematography at the headquarters of Portsmouth Film Society Illustrating his words with practical demonstrations. He gave a clear interesting explanation of the working of a cinema camera and of the use of various types of lenses.” (Hampshire Telegraph 27 May 1938 p18)

Social activity and outtakes

The Society frequently met socially, and filmed themselves in this reel on Hayling Beach and at Seaview in the Isle of Wight. It includes poor quality ‘outtakes’ from their second film then in production ‘What’s in a Name?’

The original 8mm film stock is held privately in the Clover Collection. The film shows enthusiastic and highly sociable members enjoying themselves as a cohesive group of young people.

Third Annual Show at South Parade Pier

In March 1939, The Portsmouth Film Society presented its third annual show and its last complete feature film at the South Parade Pier over three nights, March 8, 9 and 10. It depicted a newsreel, the completed drama “What’s in a name?”, two full-colour interest films, and a short 4 minute historical film depicting scenes from the life of John Pounds. ADMISSION: 1/6 & 1/- CHILDREN 9d.

‘The Southsea Review’ (Wessex Film and Sound Archive) includes film of the preparations for war during the ‘Munich Crisis’ of that year and the premature (as we know now) local celebrations to mark Neville Chamberlain’s declaration on 30 September 1938 of ‘Peace in Our Time‘.

‘What’s in a Name?’ is shown in full below along with ‘The Southsea Review’ of 1938. The short film by Clifford Worley about the work of John Pounds is held by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive at Winchester.

John Pounds Centenary Commemoration (History)

What’s in a Name? (Comedy)

The original film stock is held by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive in Winchester.

The Southsea Review (Documentary)

he original film stock is held by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive at Winchester

The Portsmouth Evening News reported:

FILM SHOW’S GOOD SUPPORT AT SOUTHSEA For the third year in succession the Portsmouth Film Society, formerly known as Portsmouth Cine Club, presented an excellent and varied programme of films on the South Parade Pier, yesterday evening. A similar show will be given to-night and to-morrow night. The films thoroughly deserved the good support which they received, and were indicative of the steady progress of the Club since its inception. The main item on the programme was a full-length comedy, the first to be attempted by the Society, entitled “What’s In a Name?” Directed by Nathaniel Walker, the plot concerned two young American women of different social levels travelling in England for the first time, who arrived at the wrong destinations, with most amusing consequences. The main characters were played by Frieda Walker, Elizabeth Legras, Leslie Waite. Arthur Goodchild. Anthony Clover, and Leon Tomsen.

(Portsmouth Evening News, 9 March 1939 p. 6)
Ticket for the final show at The South Parade Pier

Surviving films…

The surviving film material created by the club is now deposited by David Clover and Frank Worley at the Wessex Film and Sound Film Archive in Winchester from where high-quality versions may be available.

Paillard Bolex G3 Trifilm Projector

The Projector

In 1936, A.S. Clover (1917-1998) then aged 19, bought a new Paillard Bolex G3 Trifilm projector for £60 (The equivalent of £4,270 in 2019 – the price then and now of a small second hand car). It’s likely that this projector was used at the three shows given by the society and at meetings.

The projector was the top of range model from Swiss manufacturer Paillard Bolex and had fittings that allowed it to show the three main gauges of 9.5mm centre perf, 16mm double perf and 8mm single perf, renamed ‘Standard 8’ after the introduction of Kodak’s enhanced ‘Super 8’ format in 1965. (It is hoped to be able to donate this projector to a suitable museum or collector in due course. Please contact us for details)

The complete Projector kit – Resistance box, Projector, Lens and exchangeable Fittings for the three film gauges. (Picture Taken from eBay listing (Offers of £289 required as at 07 Sep, 2020 )

Key members of the Society

A.S. (Tony) Clover (1917-1998). A grandson of Alfred J. West F.R.G.S. the successful commercial film maker of ‘Our Navy’ from 1897 to 1913. In 1939, he was training as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court with Lyndhurst Groves. He joined the Royal Navy in 1940 as a Sub-Lieutenant Paymaster in C-class light cruiser D59 H.M.S. Ceres patrolling to the Far East and then off the coast of East Africa. He then went ashore from 1942 at the Admiralty Depot in Milford Haven, taking over the duties of ‘Confidential Book Officer’, concerned with the issue of code and cypher books to ships based in the port including the run-up to D-Day. He completed his legal training after the war was over and formed partnerships in 1945 at 10, Landport Terrace with C.B. Pinnock practicing as ‘Pinnock and Clover’ and then from 1960 with Bob Mew as Coffin Mew and Clover.

Clifford Worley was an early Ciné pioneer from 1930, and made many amateur films with the Ciné Club and Film Society. Worley served as a City Councillor in Portsmouth for a total of 24 years. For 2 years as City Councillor for St Thomas (1951-53), and then as City Councillor for St Paul between 1953-67 (14 years). He became Lord Mayor of Portsmouth in 1966 and after this role became an Alderman for St Paul from 1967-74, afterwards served as an Alderman for St Thomas in 1974-75. The films were deposited with Wessex Film and Sound Archive by the his son, Cllr. Frank Worley.

Worley made a number of films including this remarkable extract ‘The Crisis’ showing preparations for Civil Defence at the Guildhall in 1938 during the ‘Munich Crisis’ shown publicly in the March 1939 show. More can be seen at the Wessex Film and Sound Archive YouTube channel.

Eric Shotter was a member of the Society and made films under his own name. This was his in 1937. The intertitle typeface is the same as that used by the Portsmouth Ciné Society (and also by Clifford Worley) in its 1937 colour film of the same subject linked above.

Eric Shotter’s films are held by the Wessex Film and Sound Archive at Winchester.

Uncompleted Film Society work

Work went on through 1939 to film another drama ‘The Doctor Vanishes’. A baffling fragment remains (below), but the story is completely obscure. Details can be found in the Wessex Film and Sound Archive. The work was stopped by the start of the war. A summary of ‘Lecture Notes’ may exist at Winchester to help explain it, but at present no synopsis is available. There are sections where characters speak in a courtroom direct to camera. A good lip-reader may be able to glean something of the plot from these.

The film was never completed by the group, and though it didn’t re-form after the war, other Portsmouth Groups continued the tradition of making their own films when hostilities were over.

This is the only picture we have we have of the production team on ‘What’s in a Name?’ (Hampshire Telegraph – Friday 10 March 1939)