INTRODUCTION "FULFILLING THE PROMISE"
In 1964 the managing director of the Compton Cinema Club, Tony
Tenser, gave an interview to the cinema trade journal Kinematograph
Weekly. Tenser began with the following declaration:
This demonstrates Tenser's approach to working within the
British film industry during the early 1960s and the importance to him
of showmanship, marketing and the promotion of a film as a saleable
product. Tenser, along with his business partner, Michael Klinger, saw
the importance of taking advantage of the many avenues available to the
company in the marketing of their films. And they would approach the
business of exhibiting, distributing and producing films in Britain in a
way very different from the mainstream British film industry.
The early critical and scholarly narrative of the history of
British cinema was (and sometimes continues to be) described in
disparaging terms. British cinema is regularly compared poorly to its
counterparts in the American, French or Italian industries, prompting
Alan Lovell to write in 1969 of "The British Cinema: the Unknown
Cinema" (Lovell 5). Several attempts have been made since then to
re-evaluate British cinema and to repudiate Francois Truffaut's
oft-cited remark that there was "a certain incompatibility between
the terms 'cinema' and 'Britain'" (Barr 1986
1). Perhaps the most succinct reply to Truffaut has been made by the
British director Stephen Frears, "Well, bollocks to Truffaut"
(Lovell 5). A re-evaluation has led academics such as Ian Aitken to
argue for the importance of the British documentary movement and how it
"can be considered a touchstone for debates on the nature and
achievement of British cinema" (177). (1) Other important aspects
of British cinema include the relationship between literary adaptations
and cinema and British Social Realism, which are explored in John
Hill's excellent introduction, Sex, Class and Realism.
This early academic emphasis on establishing a British cinema that
is comparable to, for example, Italian Neo-Realism, the French New Wave
or classical Hollywood cinema has invariably led to an incomplete
interpretation of the British film industry. These discourses are of
course complex and outside the scope of this essay, but they give an
indication of the struggle that British industry has had, and continues
to have, in terms of an understanding of a national cinema and the
contribution that British films have made to society, culture and
The desire to view British cinema as an industry worthy of critical
and artistic consideration has therefore resulted in a privileging of a
certain type of film and the elevation of a small group of filmmakers,
directors and producers. For example, a great deal of critical and
scholarly attention has been paid to the relatively small output of
films that became known as kitchen-sink dramas, films that heralded the
British New Wave of the late 1950s and early '60s. The British New
Wave embraced narrative social realism matched with the authenticity of
a documentary visual aesthetic, an emphasis on explicit sexual themes,
location shooting and naturalistic dialogue.
Peter Hutchings has argued that the first film of the New Wave was
Room at the Top (Clayton 1959) which was based on the best-selling book
by John Braine. The film became an instant success on both sides of the
Atlantic (Hutchings 305) and was quickly followed by an adaptation of
Alan Silitoe's account of Northern England working class life in
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Reisz 1960). Other films in the cycle
include, A Taste of Honey (Richardson 1960) A Kind of Loving
(Schlesinger 1962) and This Sporting Life (Anderson 1963); however,
despite the successes of these films, the cycle was fading by 1965. The
kitchen-sink dramas were either adaptations of famous novels of based on
successful stage plays; the films brought to British cinema previously
taboo subjects like abortion, illegitimacy and unmarried mothers, as
well as a franker approach to the depiction of adult sexual
Recent scholarly work has led to the exploration of films and
filmmakers that had previously been largely ignored, for example the
horror films of Hammer Studios, the 1940s' melodramas of
Gainsborough Studios and the broad, ribald comedies of the Carry On ...
series that ran from the late 1950s to the mid-'70s. (2) Despite
this re-evaluation, the primary dominant critical discourses remain tied
to social realism and the literary aesthetic, resulting in the
marginalization of other filmmakers and filmmaking practices in Britain.
This essay is therefore an attempt to shed light onto an area of the
British film industry that has been previously ignored, shunned or
forgotten. It will examine how two men, Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger,
established an independent cinema club in the heart of London and how
they developed and exploited the British market place, it will also
analyze the development of Compton from an independent distributor of
low budget British and European films into an independent exhibitor and
producer of films that blurred the line between art cinema and popular
cinema, between prestige or worthy cinema and low budget exploitation
cinema. Compton Cinema reflects a less-aired aspect of the British
cinema-going experience during the 1960s.
"QUOTA QUICKIES" AND THE EADY LEVY
The British film industry prior to World War I had flourished and
although, as Charles Barr has argued, "there was no such thing yet
as a 'national cinema' ... the new medium was explored as
energetically and imaginatively in Britain as anywhere in the
world" (2009 145). However, shortage of investment in the British
film industry and the wide-scale distribution of films from Hollywood
prompted a crisis within the industry. By the mid-1920s the once vibrant
British film industry was "facing oblivion" (Glancy 59), the
lowest point being 1926 when only thirty-six British films were made--in
comparison to the release of six-hundred and twenty American films. In
order to protect the British film industry, the UK Government passed
dedicated Acts in 1927 and 1938.
The 1927 Cinematograph Films Act was designed to stimulate
production in the British industry; it stipulated that "a certain
proportion of films distributed and exhibited in Britain had to be
British in origin" (Chibnall 1). In effect a quota was established
(the Act was subsequently known as the "Quota Act"). Initially
a quota of 5 per cent British product was set for exhibitors and 7.5 per
cent for distributors, eventually rising to 20 per cent for both
exhibitors and distributors within ten years.
The unintended consequences of the Act continue to be the subject
of academic and critical debate. On the one hand American studios
increased their investment in the production of British films; however,
these films were often made quickly and cheaply in order to fulfill the
terms of the Act. The resulting films were often deemed to be of low
quality, lacking "any artistic or technical merit" (Glancy
58), they were pejoratively referred to as quota quickies. Nevertheless,
Steve Chibnall has argued that the Act "did unlock American finance
for the uncertain business of British film production and stimulate a
mushroom growth of indigenous film companies" (Chibnall 2). Working
on quota quickies also provided work and a training environment for
young British filmmakers, perhaps the most prominent being Michael
Powell. Intended to address these quality issues, the 1938 Cinematograph
Films Act introduced a minimum cost test to encourage Hollywood to
invest in more expensive films.
After the Second World War, British cinema faced a drastic fall in
audiences. The UK Government responded by introducing the Eady Plan--or
Eady Levy--which was an entertainment tax on the purchase price of
cinema tickets. Money from the Eady Levy was made available for the
production of British films. Although the Eady Levy was intensely
disliked by cinema exhibitors, the financial assistance to film
producers arguably kept the domestic film industry from disappearing
without a trace during the 1950s.
It was during this uncertain and unstable period that Tony Tenser
and Michael Klinger decided to embark on a career in the British film
industry. They would not only open several independent cinemas
throughout the United Kingdom, but would also become important
distributors of both popular, low culture films and mainland European
Art films. They would also establish careers as film producers,
responsible for making an extraordinary range of films in Britain, as
well as introducing the directorial talents of Roman Polanski to Western
European and international marketplaces.
"RECEIPTS WENT THROUGH THE ROOF"--THE COMPTON CINEMA CLUB
Tony Tenser was born in London in 1920; he had been involved with
the British film industry since the age of twenty-five, when he became a
trainee cinema manager for the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain
(Hamilton 9). Cinema managers at that time were responsible for
marketing and promoting films at a local level. Tenser's abilities
swiftly led him to become "one of ABC's brightest stars"
and won him the title of "Cinema Manager of the Year for 1949"
(Hamilton 9). Tenser's early reputation prompted Kinematograph
Weekly's description of him as "an experienced cinema manager
and publicist with a flair for enterprising showmanship"
("Count on Compton"). An example of Tenser's flair for
showmanship was demonstrated when, as head of publicity for the
independent distributor, Miracle Films, he had been responsible for
promoting ... And God Created Women (Et Dieu ... crea la femme, Vadim
1956), starring Brigitte Bardot. When initial interest in the film began
to fall, Tenser arranged with Michael Klinger to borrow several of
Klinger's dancers from the Gargoyle Club, a local strip bar, to
walk through London's West End during lunchtime to demonstrate
against the film. As a result "receipts went through the roof"
The London born Michael Klinger, coyly described as having "an
interest in the entertainment world" ("Count on
Compton"), owned several London strip clubs, but was keen to shift
into mainstream entertainment. Following Tenser's successful
promotion of Vadim's film, he suggested that they invest together
in "a private cinema, a 'members only' club"
(Hamilton 10). Tenser knew that a private cinema would not have to
follow the restrictions imposed by the British Board of Film Censors
(BBFC) and so could "show its clientele whatever films they
The BBFC was established in 1913 by the British film industry. It
carried no legal status, "its function being to either classify or
cut or reject films submitted to it" (Robertson 1). The
certificates awarded to films served only as a guide to local
authorities to denote whether a film was suitable for adults or
children. Local authorities still retained the right to decide which
films would be shown within the local district. This anomaly has its
origin in the 1909 Cinematograph Act, which gave local authorities the
right to control cinema licenses on the pretext of health and safety
regulations. However, the wording of the Act also allowed local
authorities to "act as censors of film content" (Richards 67).
The BBFC was thus established to deter over six hundred local
authorities from individually censoring of banning films within their
districts, nevertheless, the right of local authorities to censor or ban
films still existed in the 1960s.
In 1960, London's first new post-war cinema was opened--the
Compton Cinema, at 60-62 Old Compton Street, Soho ("Count on
Compton"). The Cinema's first presentation was Private
Property (Stevens 1960), a film that was initially refused a certificate
by the BBFC, therefore fulfilling Tenser's earlier promise to offer
"whatever films they liked" (Hamilton 10). Because the Compton
Cinema operated as a private club, it could circumvent the censorship
restrictions placed on a film by the BBFC and offer content that was a
great deal more extreme and explicit. Another, more prominent example of
the type of film Compton offered to its members was The Wild One
(Benedek 1953) starring Marlon Brando, which had previously been banned
outright by the BBFC.
Membership of the club cost ten shillings a year and the
purpose-built cinema in the basement seated a little under 200, with
ticket prices ranging from seven shillings and six pence to twelve
shillings and six pence (Hamilton 11). To put this fee into context, the
average British weekly wage in 1959 was eleven pounds and two shillings
(there were twenty shillings in a pound), therefore the annual
membership cost was well within the means of Compton's patrons.
The decision by Tenser and Klinger to invest in the British film
industry at a time when cinema admissions in the UK were declining could
have been perceived as a risky business strategy. Kinematograph Weekly
reported frequently on the decline in cinema audiences and noted the
annual fall; for example, the "total cinema admissions for 1961
were 449,114,000, a drop of almost 14 per cent on the 521 million
admissions for 1960" ("News of the Week"). Although by
the beginning of 1962 the decline had dropped to 11 per cent, previous
records from the same source had recorded falls of 17 per cent in 1957
and 20 per cent in 1959.
As cinema audiences continued to decline, so too did the number of
cinemas, a trend that had begun during the early 1950s; for example,
"4,851 cinemas were open in 1951; by 1956 this had dropped to 4,391
and by 1960 to 3,034" (Hill 37). Two companies dominated cinema
ownership in Britain at that time--The Rank Organization and ABC. Rank,
which had started as a production and distribution company in 1938, had
gradually acquired a chain of cinemas during the war; ABC, which had
formed in 1933, had also embarked on an acquisition policy, steadily
consolidating its stock of British cinemas during the 1930s. After the
war, these two companies gradually established and strengthened their
hold on the most profitable cinemas in Britain. By 1963 these two
companies, although owning only 21 per cent of cinemas, accounted for
"42 per cent of all seats sold" (Walker 244). John Hill has
also noted that out of the 1,357 cinemas closed between 1956 to 1960,
"only 103 belonged to Rank and 55 to ABC," as a result
"while Rank and ABC owned 20.3 per cent of cinemas in 1950 by 1960
they had increased this to 24.2 per cent and by 1962 to 26.7 per
cent" (Hill 38).
The dominant position that Rank and ABC held over the development
of the British film industry at this time was extremely damaging. As the
filmmaker Norman J. Warren explains, "Rank owned Pinewood Studios,
Rank Laboratories, Rank Distributors; if you had a film it was almost
impossible to get it shown if Rank didn't like it; the monopoly
position was not good" (Warren). Warren's sentiment was echoed
in the trade press at the time by the Federation of British Film Makers:
"since the early 1940s the power exercised by the Rank and ABC
combines has struck all those who have studied the industry ... except
in the case of films which are made at an exceptionally low cost or
which have prospects of exceptional overseas earnings, financial
disaster results unless a booking is secured on either Rank or ABC
release" ("Memorandum"). It was a point that film critic
Penelope Houston argued at the time: "without a circuit release,
through the Rank Organization or Associated British, no first feature
made in this country ... stands any real hope of getting its money
back" (Houston 26).
The dominant position that Rank and ABC held within the industry,
and the impact that this had on the films exhibited in Britain,
presented additional problems. Between them, these two companies were
only required to exhibit "104 new movies a year" (Walker 243),
based on the number of cinemas they owned. Although legislation had been
set up to protect the distribution and exhibition of British films in
the UK, the "traditional links" (244) that Hollywood studios
had with Rank and ABC led to a disproportionate amount of Hollywood
films being given a circuit release. As a result British filmmakers
increasingly found that their films were unable to obtain a contemporary
release. This led the independent film production company, British Lion,
to complain in October 1963 "that a number of British films were
stuck in the pipeline because Rank and ABC were giving preference to
films they had a financial interest in" (Murphy 106).
Tenser's commitment to establish a new cinema was therefore
also based on a requirement to guarantee an exhibition outlet for the
type of films that Rank and ABC were failing to screen in their cinemas.
Following the opening of the Compton Cinema Club in 1961, Tenser and
Klinger created Compton Films, a distribution company that supplied a
steady stream of "product for the special market of so-called
specialized cinemas catering for a public with a taste for continental
films" ("Count on Compton"). Another distribution company
was set up later that year called Compton-Cameo which was closely
associated with the Compton Cinema group.
The majority of films distributed by Compton were primarily
mainland European films that had been re-titled for the British market,
including the Italian gothic horrors of The Spectre (Lo spettro, Freda
1964) and The Castle of Terror (La vergine di Norimberga, Margheriti
1964); or Italian/French co-productions like the sword and sandal
mini-epics Ulysses Against Hercules (Uliss contro Ercole, Caniano 1964)
and War of the Trojans (La leggenda di Enea, Rivalta 1964). These films
were offered to exhibitors as double-bills in combinations that in
today's market would appear to be unusual; for example,
Compton's production of Saturday Night Out, a "drama of
sailors on a 14-hour furlough in London," was released with The
Spectre, "a story of the occult," and War of the Trojans,
offering "spectacular thrills and a cast of thousands," was
supported by The Chimney Sweeps (Birch 1964), "a new slapstick
British comedy" ("Our Promise"). Although the combination
of an epic mythological melodrama and a parochial British comedy might
appear unlikely, it reflected Tenser's "policy of acquiring
product to cater for the wider range of exhibitor requirements and
public tastes" ("Count on Compton"). Offering a range of
different products on the same exhibition bill was part of a deliberate
business strategy by Tenser and Klinger.
In 1963, Tenser and Klinger, embarked on an extensive expansion
plan that included the establishment of branch offices in Glasgow,
Newcastle, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Dublin and Belfast,
plus two offices in mainland Europe and one in New York. These offices
were "staffed by first-class managers," with a remit to
"maintain close personal contact with the requirements of
exhibitors throughout the country" ("Compton-Cameo
Puts"). Expansion also included the purchase and reopening of
cinemas throughout Britain and the building of new cinemas, including a
six hundred seat cinema, the Scala, in Birmingham and a three hundred
and fifty seat cinema in London's Oxford Street ("New, Smaller
Cinemas"). By 1964 Compton had increased exhibition spaces by three
more cinemas and had acquired and converted the famous Windmill Theatre
in London. Compton's rapid expansion was extraordinary at a time
when the mainstream Rank and ABC exhibitors were closing cinemas of
converting them into Bingo and dance halls.
The decision therefore to expand into film production, "with
the determination to produce pictures with strong appeal, economically
and efficiently" ("Count on Compton"), would appear to be
an even more extraordinary and potentially perilous move.
PROMOTION, MARKETING AND EXPLOITABLE PRODUCTS
The success of the Compton Cinema Club and the group's
distribution strategy--under the name Compton-Cameo--led Tenser and
Klinger to believe that shifting into film production was the next
logical step. Compton's tentative move began with the financing of
a film called Naked--As Nature Intended (Marks 1961). Klinger had
approached George Harrison Marks, London's "most notorious
photographer" (Long 58), to direct the film, which also starred
Marks' wife, the glamour model Pamela Green. Naked--As Nature
Intended was made to exploit the market for nudist films, a genre that
had started in Britain with the production of Nudist Paradise (Charles
Sanders 1958) and which was in-turn the British response to the release
of an American nudist film Garden of Eden (Nosseck 1954)--a film that
had previously been banned by the BBFC. Naked--As Nature Intended was
granted an "A" certificate by the BBFC, which deemed it
"suitable for practically all types of audience"
("Reviews"); it became a very successful film for Compton and
showed for months at the Compton Cinema Club, resulting in queues
winding through the streets of London's Soho district. Following
the success of Naked--As Nature Intended, Tenser and Klinger formed the
film production company Compton-Tekli, funding the production of films
"by ploughing back profits into the business" ("Count on
Compton"). The partners were not alone in setting up an independent
production company; there were already several British independent film
producers operating during the 1960s; however Compton was almost unique
in that the business was vertically integrated (i.e. they controlled
production, distribution and exhibition, along the lines of the major
American film studios before the 1950s). (3)
Tenser ado valued the promotion and marketing of a film during the
distribution process: "Compton-Cameo is keenly aware that film
promotion plays a most important part in the achievement of the most
successful results at the box-office." Accordingly, the group now
included a "full-time exploitation section" within its
publicity department. The purpose of this section was to give exhibitors
"advice of the benefit of a visit by a qualified exploitation
representative." The service also provided a "full range of
advertising and accessory materials suitable for every possible
situation." Tenser reinforced this viewpoint when he referred to
the publicity campaign for an upcoming release of Monsters of the Stone
Age. (4) The campaign promoted "mobile touring displays featuring
huge cut-outs of prehistoric monsters, stone-age men and special
throwaways" (all "Compton-Cameo Puts").
Despite the financial success of Naked--As Nature Intended, the
"limited market for the beach ball and bums movies was already
drying up" and by the end of 1962 the burgeoning teenage audience
"didn't want their films bland or coy, they wanted films
exploring issues, provocatively and intelligently" (Hamilton 21).
The choice of That Kind of Girl (O'Hara 1963) as Compton's
first feature length film was revealed in an interview by Tenser just as
the film went into production: "It's a new wave drama with a
very strong subject and we're working closely with the
censors"; in addition, the picture is "not cheap or
sensational" ("Production"). Tenser's use of the
term "new wave" is interesting because he may have wanted to
reposition Compton as a producer of quality pictures, and so follow in
the footsteps of independent film companies like Remus Films Ltd. that
had been responsible for Room at the Top, the film that had kick-started
the British New Wave.
An additional factor that contributed to Compton's choice of
That Kind of Girl was the popularity of "X" certificate films
with young audiences. The X certificate was introduced by the BBFC in
1951 to allow films with adult themes to be produced, but restricted to
audiences over the age of 16. The certificate was initially applied to
"foreign films, which often contained more sex and violence than
was permitted in British films"; (Richards 72) however, local
authorities continued to retain the power to disregard BBFC
classifications. A survey in Edinburgh, carried out in 1963, looked at
the cinema tastes of 5,000 schoolchildren; this sample represented one
third of the city's children between 14 and 18 years old. The
children stated they would "prefer to go to the cinema rather than
watch television because television does not show the X type of film,
but they like comedy best of all" ("Cinema Survey"). The
survey carried out by the Extra-Mural department of Edinburgh University
also discovered that seventy-eight per cent of the children looked at
the film category before they would attend the cinema and "they
went to see sex films as 'no one ever explains anything to
you'" ("Cinema Survey").
The X certificate had gained a reputation, "some local
authorities ... seemed to think that X films were salacious films,"
although the "X certificate merely indicated that they were not
suitable for children" ("CEA Branch Reports"). For some
cinema managers working within the mainstream cinema circuits of Rank
and ABC, this attitude towards X certificate films was a problem that
was compounded further by the reluctance of Rank and ABC to exhibit the
films, believing (incorrectly) that this would reduce potential
audiences and therefore the box-office takings (Walker 44-5). Compton,
conversely, recognized the value of the X certificate films in bringing
audiences back into cinemas; the company had no qualms about exhibiting
films that Rank and ABC were reluctant to show. As an independent
distributor and exhibitor, Compton made every attempt to take full
advantage of the appeal of the X certificate for cinema audiences. For
example, before the release of Compton's second feature The Yellow
Teddybears (Hartford-Davis 1963), the company showed the film to City
Education Authorities in order to obtain endorsements. After a private
showing in Birmingham, the newspaper headlines the following day
included, "Schoolgirls have X-film lesson on Life!" and
"The Girls who Took an X-Lesson at the Cinema Yesterday"
(Hamilton, 28), thus ensuring that the film was a hit at the box-office.
SEXPLOITATION, EXPLOITATION AND HORROR: THE EARLY FILMS OF COMPTON
That Kind of Girl was based on a story outline by Jan Read, who had
previously worked on Basil Deardon's crime/social problem film The
Blue Lamp (Dearden 1950). Read also worked on Grip of the Strangler (Day
1957), a film featuring Boris Karloff as a psychologically disturbed
reporter who learns that he is the infamous Haymarket Strangler. Read
therefore neatly incorporates two strands of late 1950s British film
genres, social realism and lurid horror. Tenser, encouraged Read to add
"distinctly exploitative elements: promiscuity, rape, venereal
disease and ... political unrest" to the script (Hamilton 21). The
explicit themes of the British New Wave also allowed Compton to embrace
themes that had previously placed their films firmly within the
exploitation market. That Kind of Girl, despite Tenser's previously
noted assurances that the film would not be "cheap or
sensational," was subsequently advertised as "The Shock Film
of the Year" (24).
That Kind of Girl relates the story of ah unfortunate Austrian
au-pair, Eva, who is working in the home of a middle-class suburban
English family. The film depicts Eva's sexual encounters with three
men, Max an anti-nuclear protestor, sleazy Elliot, and Keith who is also
engaged to the sweet, virginal Janet. Elliot, jealous of Eva's
relationship with Keith, attempts to rape her. Following the attack, Eva
learns that she has contracted a venereal disease, presumably from
Elliot. As a result, everyone whom Eva has come into contact with is
informed and the film clearly places the blame, not on Eva's
attacker, but on her promiscuity. The film succeeds in conflating the
controversial subject matter of casual sexual encounters with a safe and
conservative morality that sought to warn and educate. However, as Eric
Schaefer has argued, with reference to classical American exploitation,
the moralizing in exploitation films would take the form of both expose
"concentrated into titillation" and education which was
"reduced to a brand of moralizing pedantry" (Schaefer 41).
Eva's promiscuity enabled the filmmakers both to titillate and to
express revulsion at the character's behavior; it also offers a
warning, via the doctor in the film, of the dangers of unsafe sex.
That Kind of Girl generated a mixed reception in the press. The
Daily Cinema refers to the film as a "grisly, but fairly
sober-minded warning of the dangers of casual promiscuity" and a
"highly exploitable 'X' message picture for specialized
halls." The main character, Eva, is also referred to as a
"daft au pair" (Daily Cinema), which gives an indication of
some of the attitudes towards sexually active women at that time. The
Monthly Film Bulletin review calls the story "sheer melodrama,
running the weird gamut of anti-nuclear demonstration, striptease,
pre-marital intercourse, rape and improper use of the telephone"
("That Kind of Girl"). Kinematograph Weekly refers to the film
as a "clinical melodrama" and a "damaged goods
story" ("That Kind of Girl"), once again placing the
blame upon the character of Eva, making her the author of her
misfortunes. The success at the box-office of That Kind of Girl led
Compton to continue with its program of investing in film production; as
a result, its next film, The Yellow Taddybears (Hartford-Davis 1963),
became Britain's first sexploitation film.
The Yellow Teddybears was based on a newspaper story about a school
in North London. In the original story, a group of girls would, after
having sex, wear a yellow golliwog as a visible display of their
actions. The original title was The Yellow Golliwog and there are
conflicting accounts as to why the title was changed for the film. John
Hamilton has argued that the BBFC advised Tenser that golliwog could be
deemed racist and so Tenser was asked to change the wording to the less
racially-charged teddybears (Hamilton 25). However, this is disputed by
Peter Newbrook, the film's cinematographer, who believed that
Compton's lawyers contacted Robertson's, a successful UK
marmalade manufacturer whose brand marketing included a variety of
golliwog dolls. Although there is no documentary evidence of a
threatened law suit, Robertson's "didn't like the idea of
their product being associated with an exploitation film" and so
the title was changed (Newbrook). The imagery of the golliwog, had it
been used as the film's title, might well have made the film even
In the UK, The Yellow Teddybears gave Compton another financial
success, with reports extending from "Box Records Smashed" at
the Cinephone, Birmingham, through "The Tills are ringing!! For the
film that hit the Nations headlines" at the Chequers, St Albans, to
"Highest Opening for 5 years" at the Essoldo, Newcastle Upon
Tyne and "2nd Highest Opening for 5 years" at the Essoldo,
Watford (all "Compton Cameo"). The film was ah undoubted
success on the British independent circuit and led to more queues
outside the Compton Cinema Club.
Despite the success of the That Kind of Girl and The Yellow
Teddybears the choice of Compton's next film, Saturday Night Out
(Hartford-Davis 1964), is a curious one. It appears to be inspired not
by the type of films that had proved so successful in screenings at the
Compton Cinema Club, but by a tendency to try to emulate the critically
acclaimed kitchen-sink dramas of the British New Wave. Nevertheless, the
exploitation elements of the film were highlighted in the poster
campaign whereby the sultry figure of actress Caroline Mortimer, her leg
resting at right angles against a doorframe, looks alluringly towards
the viewer as the sweaty, distressed-faced Inigo Jackson tries to
escape. It is a deliberate attempt to foreground the sleazier aspects of
Saturday Night Out, while appearing to offer something similar to
kitchen-sink drama, actually offers a curious amalgam of social realism,
sordid exploitation, two very different love stories, a tepid crime
story and a nod to the burgeoning teenage pop industry.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Tony Tenser's promotional campaign for Saturday Night Out was
launched "with one of the largest promotion and advertising
campaigns ever mounted by an independent company" ("Saturday
Night Out Gets"). The music magazine Record Mirror carried a
"competition inviting the winning entries to a 'Saturday Night
Out' date" with The Searchers, the pop group that appeared in
the film; the story was also serialized in Top Boy magazine
("Saturday Night Out Gets"). A showmanship competition in
Kinematograph Weekly was announced "for managers for the most
comprehensive campaign embracing many products detailed in a special
promotion supplement" ("Special Screening") and one of
the film's actresses, Francesca Annis, promoted the Spring outfits
of the clothing company Lewis Separates. The world premiere of Saturday
Night Out was held at the Rialto in London. The tickets available to the
public sold out and "disappointed patrons remained in queues at the
entrance, hoping to catch sight of the celebrities" ("Saturday
Night Out Premiere").
Despite its reasonable reviews, Saturday Night Out is ah example of
a film that Compton found difficult to market on the independent circuit
as an exploitable product. Lacking a literary or theatrical source, the
film failed to offer the critical prestige of other films of the British
New Wave. Schaefer has argued that "classical exploitation films
centered on some form of forbidden spectacle that served as their
organizing sensibility--at the expense of others" (Schaefer 5).
Unfortunately Saturday Night Out fails to have an "organizing
sensibility" (5) that can be easily exploited and while the film is
enjoyable to watch, the shock factor of earlier Compton films is
Compton's next film, The Black Torment (Hartford-Davis 1964)
was clearly marketed as a horror film in imitation of the Italian horror
films distributed by Compton--films in turn inspired by the period
gothic horror films of Hammer Studios. Although The Black Torment was
not as successful as the company had hoped, it did not stop Compton from
placing confidence in a relatively unknown director, Roman Polanksi.
Polanski's first film for Compton, Repulsion (1965), at last gave
the company a measure of critical respectability and financial success,
both in the UK and, more importantly, internationally.
The critical and commercial success of Repulsion opened doors to
the American film industry, but in the UK, the British film industry
continued to resent Tenser and Klinger's success. Although
Polanski's second film for Compton, Cul-de-Sac (1966), was another
critical success internationally, at the domestic box-office the film
failed to excite UK audiences and Polanski left Compton to find greater
success in Hollywood. Robert Hartford-Davis, Compton's other star
director, had also left the company, following his work on The Black
Torment, to set up the independent production company Titan, partly the
result of on-set disputes with Tenser. Therefore, at the point where
Tenser and Klinger might have made the shift into larger budgets and
wider international success, the company was forced back into smaller,
easily exploitable products like Secrets of a Windmill Girl (Miller
1966), a film notable for the scanty costumes of its female dancers, and
the science-fiction horror film The Projected Man (Curteis 1966), the
publicity material for which features extensive photographs of the
partially-clad British starlet Tracey Crisp.
By 1966, Tenser had left Compton to set up the independent
production company Tigon, which produced landmark British horror films
like Witchfinder General (Reeves 1968) and Blood on Satan's Claw
(Haggard 1971). Klinger tried to develop Compton into a larger
filmmaking company but was unsuccessful. He found greater success as a
film producer on projects such as the Michael Caine features Get Carter
(Hodges 1971) and Pulp (Hodges 1972). Compton was absorbed into the
Cinecenta group of independent cinemas and the Compton Cinema Club
continued to exist as a private club, obtaining brief notoriety in 1975
when Pasolini's notorious film Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom
(1975) was shown uncut. Within twenty-four hours of the film opening it
was seized by the police and Curtis Elliott, distributor and owner of
the Cinecenta film clubs, was arrested and charged with "keeping a
disorderly house," (Matthews 221) an appropriate coda for the end
of an era.
Today there are no cinemas in Old Compton Street and the site of
the Compton Cinema Club is now a restaurant catering for up-market
theater-goers. The strip clubs, sleazy night clubs and newsagents
specializing in under-the-counter photographs, have been replaced by
trendy wine bars and pubs, licensed erotic booksellers and
teenage-friendly night clubs. The Gray Fox pub, the location--according
to British director Norman J. Warren--of numerous 1960s' small-time
filmmaking deals, has long since closed down. And although the heart of
the British film industry still beats in nearby Wardour Street, there is
the feeling that something is missing.
The films that Tenser and Klinger screened at the Compton Cinema
Club were special because they were an attempt to offer an alternative
to the mainstream entertainment that was being offered by Hollywood
through the cinemas owned by Rank and ABC. Although Compton's films
may have been critically derided at the time, they were made in an
attempt to bring audiences back to the cinema when mainstream attendance
was shrinking rapidly. Tenser and Klinger recognized that the film
industry was just that: a business--it therefore needed to be treated as
such. They saw no paradox in viewing film as a commodity as well as an
art form, as long as the product was exploitable and would appeal to
their customers. Whether the film was Hartford-Davis' teenage
sexploitation drama The Yellow Teddybears or Polanski's
psychologically complex Repulsion, the films were given equal time and
money in terms of promotion, marketing and exhibition. If people
continued to return to Compton's cinemas to watch a particular
film, then it would enjoy an extended run.
The variety and range of films available at the Compton Cinema Club
was extraordinar; there were very few cinemas in Britain where audiences
could watch a British gothic horror like The Black Torment, Samuel
Fuller's exploitation expose of American mental institutions, Shock
Corridor (Fuller 1963), or Roman Polanski's bizarre Cul-de-Sac
within the same establishment. The Compton Cinema Club exhibited a diet
of rich and exciting film products, an offering that today's
cinemas largely fail to deliver, despite multiplex screens and the
advances in digital technology delivery. The Compton Cinema Club offered
an important alternative to mainstream exhibition in Britain and the
films and filmmakers who worked there remain part of a British cultural
heritage that deserves to be re-examined and re-evaluated in order to
broaden our understanding of British cinema.
Aitken, Ian. "The British Documentary Film Movement." The
British Cinema Book 3rd Edition. Ed. Robert Murphy. London: BFI, 2009.
Barr, Charles. "Introduction: Amnesia and Schizophrenia."
All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. Ed. Charles Barr.
London: BFI, 1986. 1-29.
--. "Before Blackmail: Silent British Cinema." The
British Cinema Book 3rd Edition. Ed. Robert Murphy. London: BFI, 2009.
"CEA Branch Reports." Kinematograph Weekly (9 March
Chibnall, Steve. "Quota Quickies: The Birth of the British
'B' Film. London: BFI, 2007.
"Cinema survey shows children prefer comedy and X films."
Kinematograph Weekly (29 June 1961): 6.
"Compton Cameo." Kinematograph Weekly (21 November 1963):
"Compton-Cameo Puts Emphasis on Expansion and Promotion."
Kinematograph Weekly (30 May 1963): 38.
"Count on Compton." Kinematograph Weekly Supplement (19
November 1964): 3.
Glancy, H. Mark. "Hollywood and Britain: MGM and the British
'Quota' Legislation." The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative
History of the British Cinema, 1929-1939. Ed. Jeffrey Richards. London:
I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., 1998. 57-72.
Gomery, Douglas. The Hollywood Studio System: A History. London:
Hamilton, John. Beasts in the Cellar: The Exploitation Film Career
of Tony Tenser. Godalming: FAB Press, 2005.
Higson, Andrew. "'Britain's Outstanding Contribution
to Film': The Documentary-Realist Tradition." All Our
Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. Ed. Charles Barr. London: BFI,
Hill, John. Sex, Class and Realism: British Cinema, 1956-1963.
London: BFI, 1986.
Hood, Stuart. "John Grierson and the Documentary Film
Movement." British Cinema History. Eds. Curran, James and Vincent
Porter. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983. 99-112.
Houston, Penelope. "Whose Crisis?" Sight and Sound 33.1
(Winter 1963-4): 26-8, 50.
Hutchings, Peter. "Beyond the New Wave: Realism in British
Cinema, 1959-63." The British Cinema Book 3rd Edition. Ed. Robert
Murphy. London: BFI, 2009. 304-12.
Long, Stanley with Simon Sheridan. X-Rated: Adventures of an
Exploitation Filmmaker. London: Reynolds & Hearn Ltd., 2008.
Lovell, Alan. "The British Cinema: The Known Cinema?" The
British Cinema Book 3rd Edition. Ed. Robert Murphy. London: BFI, 2009.
Matthews, Tom Dewe. Censored: What They Didn't Allow You to
See, And Why: The Story of Film Censorship in Britain. London: Chatto
& Windus Ltd., 1994.
"Memorandum to the Sub-Committee Appointed by the
Cinematograph Films Council from the Federation of British Film
Makers." The Daily Cinema (6 February 1963): 5-7.
Murphy, Robert. British Sixties Cinema. London: BFI, 1992.
Newbrook, Peter. Unpublished interview with the author. 6 February
"New, Smaller Cinemas, Part of Compton-Cameo's
Plans." The Daily Cinema (24 July 1963): 12.
"News of the Week." Kinematograph Weekly (3 January
"Our Promise Has Been Fulfilled." Kinematograph Weekly (7
May 1964): 66.
"Production by Derek Todd." Kinematograph Weekly (30
August 1962): 16.
"Reviews." Kinematograph Weekly (16 November 1961): 21.
Richards, Jeffrey and Robertson, James C. "British Film
Censorship." The British Cinema Book 3rd Edition. Ed. Robert
Murphy. London: BFI, 2009. 57-77.
Robertson, James C. The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in
Action 1913-1975. London: Routledge, 1993.
"Saturday Night Out Gets Big Backing." Kinematograph
Weekly (23 April 1964): 6.
"Saturday Night Out Premiere." The Daily Cinema (3 March
Schaefer, Eric. "Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!" A History
of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1999.
"Special Screening to Promote Compton Film."
Kinematograph Weekly (2 April 1964): 6.
"That Kind of Girl." The Daily Cinema (29 March 1963): 8.
"That Kind of Girl." Kinematograph Weekly (17 January
"That Kind of Girl." Monthly Film Bulletin May 1963: 70.
Walker, Alexander. Hollywood England: The British Film Industry in
the Sixties. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1974.
Warren, Norman J. Unpublished interview with the author. 28 July
(1) See also Higson, and Hood.
(2) A later entry to the cycle, Carry On Columbus (Thomas 1992),
was a critical and commercial flop. Many of the original Carry On ...
team had died or refused to appear and the movie remains a poor epitaph
to a much-loved British film series.
(3) For an introduction to the American film industry during this
"golden era," see Gomery.
(4) It is unclear whether this is an unreleased film, or an
alternative title for either Colossus of the Stone Age (Maciste Contro i
Mostri, Malatesta 1962) or Monster from ah Unknown World (Maciste Nella
Terra dei Ciciopi, Leonviola 1961); both films were distributed by
Compton in 1963.
We have fulfilled our promise
to provide highly commercial
and exploitable programmes for
theatres everywhere, and even more
important ensured that the right
promotion has been executed to
ensure that maximum results have
been attained. ("Our Promise")