‘[O]ne of the year’s difficult problems’: The UK cinema industry and the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The Covid-19 pandemic posed fundamental challenges for the cinema industry, encouraging potentially lasting changes in the ways films were delivered to and consumed by audiences. In light of this, this article evaluates the impact of an earlier pandemic, the waves of influenza that affected the United Kingdom in 1918–1919. The flu struck as cinema was establishing itself as a distinct entertainment form, although still subject to criticism for its perceived effects on the moral and physical health of those attending. Consequently, the exhibition of film became a prime focus of ameliorative action, many health professionals and local councillors seeing it as a prime vehicle for the transmission of disease. For all that, the impact of any regulations proved to be uneven: attention centred primarily on the threat to children and servicemen in uniform, and what restrictions were imposed proved highly localised, reflecting systems of health administration inherited from the previous century. Finally, compared to experiences elsewhere, the duration of controls proved brief. An assessment of the flu’s impact is offered for both the short term, reflected in the finances of individual businesses and aggregated tax returns, and the longer term, in challenging or reinforcing perceptions of cinema’s social worth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-190
JournalSocial History
Issue number2
Early online date10 May 2024
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • cinema
  • pandemic
  • Covid
  • influenza
  • Medical Officer of Health
  • Entertainments Tax


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