’s Inspectors of Schools felt in
1924 that such reports were exaggerated.2 HMI were in no position to know.
Pupils were unlikely to boast to an unknown, middle-class visiting school
inspector of their involvement in illegal gambling.
Betting was probably exceeded only by cinema-going as the leading leisure
spending activity during the interwar years.3 The 1853 Betting Houses Act and
1906 Street Betting Act had both assumed that the perceived ‘problem’ of
working-class cash betting could be substantially reduced by prohibition and
police action. They were wrong. Enforcement
the perception that cash betting was illegal as part of a class conspiracy, and the
homogeneity of cash betting patterns in particular areas, must have helped to
unify skilled and unskilled working-class groups, and aided the broader process
of working-class formation and solidarity.
Yet many historians still neglect the centrality of betting and gambling to
much interwar leisure. For example, recent revisionist attempts to demonstrate
that a modern ‘teenage’ culture already existed between the wars stressed their
leisure activities such as cinema-going but
cinema of reassurance
(London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 1–2. See also Marcia Landy, British genres: cinema
and society 1930–1960 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991) and
Jeffrey Richards (ed.), The unknown 1930s: an alternative history of the British
cinema 1929–1939 (London: B. Tauris, 1998).
Ross McKibbin, Classes and cultures: England 1918–1951 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1998), p. 456.
John Sedgwick, ‘Cinema-going preferences in Britain in the 1930s’, in Richards
(ed.), Unknown 1930s.
Dennis Gifford, The British film catalogue, 1875–1970: a guide to
could afford to go racing more regularly, so further meetings would not
have generated sufficient profit. While cinema-going became a weekly event,
going to the races was still a special occasion.
In part this was because of the higher costs of admission, although not all
courses were fully enclosed. Free areas could still be found at a few long-established high-status flat courses like Epsom or Newmarket in 1939. At Epsom too
there was always Derby Sunday, when London working people, dressed up in
their best clothes, took a day out to picnic on the Downs and join in
Figures, p. 236.
M-O, File Report 1151, March 1942.
The Spectator, 2 April 1943.
M-O, File Report 2085, April 1944.
The Spectator, 2 February 1944.
In the case of cinema-going, however, people were reluctant to concede defeat: Mass-Observation found that it was the last pursuit to be relinquished.
File 486, 8 November 1940.
The Spectator, 18 October 1940.
Z. Katin, ‘Clippie’: the Autobiography of a War Time Conductress (John
M-O, File Reports 914 (trains), 1040 (buses).
Longmate, How We Lived Then, pp. 293–320.
Personal communication with the author