No Chocolate, No Houses
Interested in the initial reception of ‘Brief Encounter’, I did a bit of digging around in the British Newspaper Archive. I read somewhere, so long ago that I can’t remember the source, that Britain was divided by the film. This division seems to have been along class lines – the middle classes thought it wonderful while the working classes were incredulous. Something tells me that there were catcalls in some cinemas along the lines of “Oh why don’t he just give her one and get it over with.” We were at the end of a war where a lot of people had seized life where they could get it, resulting in a plethora of illegitimate babies.
I could find nothing along these lines in the Newspaper Archive. I think that the above is the kind of reminiscence told after the event, and not the stuff for the much more staid newspapers of the 1940s. But I did find two reports that interested me. Firstly, the following appeared in the Nottingham Journal on 4th March 1946:
“Audiences in London suburban cinemas have been having a brief encounter with balmier days provided by Noel Coward’s film of that title. Reaction to the wittiest comedy lines has been negligible compared with the gasps of astonishment and roars of laughter which have greeted the apparently prosaic requests in the station refreshment room for bars of chocolate at 6d and 1 shilling…a small brandy and the demand of 7d for 2 cups of tea and 2 Bath buns.”
You would think that the reaction to this reminder of a pre-rationing Britain would be greeted wistfully…the roars of laughter seem to me to be an almost hysterical reaction. No doubt people were really fed up that rationing was worse than ever yet the war had been over for months.
Another interesting article came from the Lancashire Evening Post on 13th June 1946:
A Leyland man tenderly handed an obviously indignant girl into my compartment. She held her wrath until just before she alighted at Chorley. Then out it came. “Call this married life?” she declared to the world in general. “A husband living at Leyland and his wife at Chorley, all because we can’t find a house or room to live in!”
It all added up to yet another tragedy of the housing problem. Here were two people married during the war, both demobbed from the services in December and still seeking somewhere to live. Until their problem is solved, they must meet each evening and then leave each other on a railway platform. A real life ‘Brief Encounter’ except that unlike Noel Coward’s couple they are married to each other!
Another insight into the audience for the film; and into how unsatisfactory life was for people back then, especially those who had been in the armed forces.
It is easy to fall into the trap of imagining that a film reflects contemporary life when we view it from a distance. As Noel himself said at the beginning of another of his films…”We are QUITE wrong!”