Almost, If Not Quite, As Good as the W.E.: On Sound Apparatus, 1929-1930
1929 and 1930 were years of concentrated change within the British film exhibition industry. Sound cinema had quickly established itself as the essential attraction of the time, and cinemas throughout the country swiftly mobilised to equip for sound, lest they fall behind the tide. During these years, numerous companies – both domestic and international – vied for control of the nation’s sound apparatus market, with the large resources behind companies such as Western Electric and R.C.A competing with smaller British concerns, as well as established domestic manufacturers such as British Thomson-Houston and British Talking Pictures. Taking the apparatus choices of Birmingham as an example, this paper looks at the various methods by which different manufacturers attempted to distinguish themselves on the sound equipment market, including pricing and advertising strategies. Beyond these aspects, this paper will discuss the potential effects of national and local pride in the choices made by both exhibitors and apparatus vendors, including various “Buy British” or “Buy Local” strategies employed; it also discusses the efforts made by the market leader Western Electric to justify their high prices through the attempted creation of community amongst its customers. Through these lenses, this paper hopes to shed some light on how and why exhibitors installed the apparatus they did, and some oft-overlooked the idiosyncrasies of the British transition to sound.
Citation:Sibanda, N. (2017) Almost, If Not Quite, As Good as the W.E.: On Sound Apparatus, 1929-1930. British Silent Film Festival Symposium, King's College London, April 2017.
Research Group:Cinema and Television History Research Centre
- Leicester Media School