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VE Day Wartime Entertainment

Birmingham Remembers VE Day

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Wartime Entertainment

Salute the soldier

With the declaration of war in September, 1939 and the fear of immediate bombing, cinemas and theatres throughout the country were closed although within a few weeks they had re-opened. In Birmingham, as elsewhere, Sunday opening of cinemas, theatres and music halls had always been restricted and in October, 1940 these were changed from 2.30pm - 8pm to 4pm - 9pm by the Public Entertainment Committee.

However, within a month the old hours were restored because of complaints from cinema managers that they were losing half of their revenue as people were only attending afternoon screenings.

All-Star boxing at the Big Top

Throughout the war people lives were uplifted by them trying to live as normal a life as possible so entertainment provided a very important function in doing this.

Light entertainment by popular comedians and singers of the day flourished -dances were held in dance and community halls shows and plays continued at the city theatres and in the summers at Cannon Hill Park a series of lays in the Park was put on - the Town Hall and the Birmingham and Midland Institute saw concerts of classical music well attended boxing matches, cricket games and football matches all continued.

Scala Cinema invitation

On the night of 9 April, 1941 Birmingham underwent its really last heavy air raid when 650 high explosive bombs and 170 sets of incendiaries were showered on the city by 250 bombers. The most significant destruction was wrought in the city centre and included the Prince of Wales theatre in Broad Street, which was finished for good and all according to its Managing Director, Emile Littler. Bombs made a direct hit on the roof and exploded in the auditorium and the interior (save for the boxes) was completely destroyed. Luckily the auditorium was empty so no-one was killed. It is ironic, however, that the city fathers were already thinking of demolishing it before the bombs struck. It was also ironical that the production that was on at the time it was bombed was the Anglo-Polish Ballet. This most popular theatre which played home to musicals, opera and ballet, had been built as the Royal Music Hall Operetta Housein 1856 and continued under that name until 1862 when it was acquired by a Mr Swanborough and licensed for theatrical performances.

This was the second theatre in Birmingham to have been bombed the Empire in Hurst Street had been attacked the year previously in 1940, the year in which on 25 October, 19 people were killed in the Carlton Cinema, Taunton Road, Sparkhill when a bomb exploded in front of the screen.

In 1944 the city still had five theatres, five city centre cinemas and over seventy suburban cinemas.

More images of Wartime Entertainment
'Lest We Forget' Exhibition