Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vere Hodgson (three). At the Pictures 1

Poster’s note: The bulk of Vere’s work has to do with the war and its impact. Captured in these extracts is the part of each entry dealing primarily with a film she saw. Sidelights about food in the same, or nearby entries, are often included. Vere Hodgson was certainly more interested in onions than in Olivier. Film was but a diversion. Yet we might reflect on what one of those who came before us watched, and thought about, in dark buildings when film was in its Golden Age and the world on a death watch.

“One can only go to bed and trust to wake in the morning” … Vere Hodgson

(Vere Hodgson’s first entry)

June 25, 1940: Tuesday. Last night at about 1 a.m. we had the first air raid of the war on London. My room is just opposite the police station, so I got the full benefit of the sirens. It made me leap out of the bed half way across the room. I shook all over …


September 5, 1940: Thursday (At Brum, i.e., Birmingham). Mother and I are off to Sutton Coldfield to see Ariel and Cecilia. Hope they will come with us to Pinocchio tomorrow. It is warm here. All theatres in Brum are over by a quarter to nine, to let people get home before warnings.

September 7, 1940: Saturday (At Brum, i.e., Birmingham). Much enjoyed Pinocchio. All came back to tea.

The Great Dictator

March 1, 1941: Saturday. Went to see The Dictator today. How I enjoyed it! Superb satire! For all its tomfoolery written with a profundity of serious purpose. The speeches of Hynkel, half-German, half-English are there. People who understood German were even more convulsed than I was. How Dr Remy would enjoy it … and Aunt Emy too. The palace scenes, where Hynkel did not waste a moment, were all in the spirit of German thoroughness. But Mussolini in real life does not smile so much. All done by an East End Jew! How Hitler would writhe if he could see us laughing at him –and the Italians would flash with fury. Last speech was good, but Chaplin has not the magnetic elocution that Charles Laughton had for that kind of appeal.

Goodbye, Mr Chips

June 24, 1941: Tuesday. Went to see Goodbye, Mr Chips. How I enjoyed it. We sat round it twice. Have an idea the boys were from Rugby.

(And on food): Shopping last Saturday I was behind a dear old lady who had been in her prime under the regime of the late Queen Victoria. She asked for salad oil, and was amazed to be told she could not have any – and moreover would not be likely to have any in the future, as it was unobtainable! 'What are we going to do?' She asked, much puzzled. The shop assistant sweetly replied: ‘We will just have to go without Madam.’ The old lady turned away amazed.
Tomatoes are to be 1 /4d a pound on Monday, although I doubt if we will see any. Sardines are getting scarce. I was charged 10½d for a tin containing four.


August 5, 1941: Tuesday. Monday we did Disney’s Fantasia. The idea is that every musical sound makes a pattern and a colour … these were thrown on the screen. Lovely classical music. One composer wrote The Creation, and Disney pictured it all – chaos and earthquakes. Then life appeared with the amoeba, and finally prehistoric beasts who moved in the rhythm of the music. There was a glorious mythological one, where the Flying Horses were among the loveliest creatures I have ever seen. A work of genius.

(And on food): Returned to Auntie’s flat for tea, and opened a tin of pineapple we found among Auntie’s treasures. Also a tin of prawns to go with our salad.

(August 17, 1941: Sunday.) Macaroni seems unobtainable now. A nuissance! Perhaps a shipload will come in. I asked for it the other day, and a man behind me said: ‘Can I have three bowls of gold dust, please ...’ However, there are some figs which is an agreeable change. And we can get green apples. We all have to register for milk this week – but how much we are going to be allowed, I don’t know. I take half a pint a day – but it may not be that much.

[It Started With Eve] and Bombay Clipper

January 11, 1942: Sunday. Even had the energy to go to the Pictures. Managed to get a packet of soap powder. Clutching this began to wait in the queue. My feet as cold as ice; but after waiting half an hour, felt I must wait the other half. Lovely and warm inside. Saw Mr. Churchill giving part of his speech. Looked old, though and I am afraid when the need is over the string will break suddenly. Charles Laughton with Deanna Durbin [It Started With Eve]– very good show. Also Bombay Clipper. But these American films go too fast. In the end I did not know how the villains were defeated, nor on which side they were.

Poster’s note on Bombay Clipper: Directed by John Rawlins. 1941. With William Gargan, Irene Hervey and Maria Montez.

How Green Was My Valley

June 21, 1942: Sunday. Mabel Lucy and I thoroughly enjoyed How Green Was My Valley. Cheapest seat was 2/6d. Enormous price for a film, but is result of Government tax. But it was worth it – all about a Welsh mining valley – feel much more interested in the Welsh now.

(And on food): June 7, 1941: Sunday. Did some cooking for those staying the night. Bought gigantic cauliflowers, and with a piece of cheese sent from S. Africa and a tin of milk, made four dishes of cauliflower au gratin.

Petrified Forest

April 18, 1943: Sunday. Saturday night Marie and I went to Petrified Forest. Setting in Arizona. All very exciting. Came out in daylight. Piccadilly is a thrilling place these days.
(And on food): A confession about a bottle of Lemon Cordial! Brought me by Kit some time ago – rare, so I determined to save it for my visitors. In this I failed utterly. Each night arriving back have felt cruelly thirsty, and this glorious bottle reposing on my shelf was too much. Little by little I have drunk the lot. The craving for lemon juice by the British Public is almost an obsession – we feel we could drink it neat by the gallon.

(Note: These entries will conclude in the next posting.)

For those so inclined:

First editions of Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976) are somewhat difficult to come by. A reprint edition in paperback is currently available from the publisher: Persephone Books, London at 59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB. Recommended.


  1. Fascinating. Strange to think of those at the outbreak of a struggle for civilisation being diverted by Disney but then I suppose, on reflection, what better?
    I find myself in accord with Vere throughout. Exactly right about Great Dictator: Chaplin's delivers his speech well but not as an actor, rather as a lecturer. A more instinctive dialogue performer would give it more rhythm and trajectory, and thus more power. Laughton is a perfect suggestion. Wonderful, though, to think of this film making a difference, and inspiring hope, right where it was intended, and needed most.

  2. Thank you Matthew. Pleased you find merit in Vere, who was more inclined to theatre than film. Have not seen end of “The Great Dictator” in ages, but after the comment by both of you, will do so. And it has been ages since I rewatched the Disney’s. I do remember seeing the propaganda intended “Victory Through Air Power" when it was released. Vere was virtually a committed pacifist leading up to the war, saw the light when the bombs started, and later admitted in the entries that she was wrong, and those crying out to stop Hitler were right. Best. Gerald.

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