Joan Littlewood - The need for Fun Palaces
Joan Littlewood was an influential and sometimes controversial English theatre director best remembered for productions such as “A Taste of Honey”, “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used t’Be” and “Oh, What a Lovely War!” In collaboration with the architect Cedric Price she came up with the idea of Fun Palaces. These were to be moveable constructions that would become a space where people of all ages could come together to explore and learn about arts, science and culture, a “university of the streets”.
Joan directed a film which was reportedly shown at the National Film Theatre in the early 1970s in order to promote this idea, however, it has since disappeared without a trace. This gallery explores rushes shot for the purposes of that film. Filmed in pubs and clubs, galleries and museums, air shows and stock car races, the 16mm films are a window to life and leisure time in '60s London showing the lack of options and highlighting the need for a place such as the Fun Palaces.
In this segment we follow a child outside Keeling House in Bethnal Green. Slowly we are introduced to the lifeless apartment building where he spends his leisure time. Unfortunately, it is a place that forbids games and even the playing of musical instruments, thus limiting any child’s or adult’s opportunities for entertainment.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure roll 7 - Keeling House, Bethnal Green / JL Pierrots
In this truly engaging nine-minute film we find ourselves in an East End pub. A stripper starts performing in a quite unique talent contest. Instead of focusing on her, however, our attention gets drawn by the men gazing at the performer. The tension of this experience is captured very artfully while at the same time we get an inside look on what seems to be a popular pastime.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure roll 2 - Talent Contest London pub strippers
Joan Littlewood takes us on an entertaining journey across London’s night life in order to investigate one more trendy leisure activity. We find ourselves in a club that is thriving with life and energy. Mixed race couples are prancing, smoking and drinking on the dancefloor while a band is creating this night’s music.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure roll 15 - club, mixed couples
This short film shows us yet another aspect of London’s night life in the early '60s. In the beginning we can see a performer in drag onstage giving a rather enthralling performance if we judge by the audiences' faces and applause. Soon after we are introduced to another singer and the favoured leisure activity that is drinking.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure roll 24 - Pub II
Unlike other short films found in this gallery, the scenes in this one are generally quite short and take place mostly outdoors. We start in a park where we can see children, dogs, adults and model aeroplanes. We are then taken to Soho where we are almost spying on an interaction between a young woman and two police officers next to the famous 2i’s coffee house on Old Compton Street.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure roll 35 - model planes / Soho
In this short segment we can see many aerial shots of London featuring, among others, close-ups of Waterloo, the docks and Tower Bridge. These shots are not only imposing but they offer us a great bird's eye view of London, the city which gave Joan Littlewood the inspiration and the incentive to promote her Fun Palaces.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure Roll 41 - Docks - helicopter - Waterloo, Tower Bridge, barges
Joan Littlewood’s investigation into the Londoners’ pastime activities took her to Battersea Park where she filmed a more cultural option in the form of the 1963 Sculpture Exhibition with works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Seymour Lipton and Herbert Ferber. Tennis games and lawn bowls are taking place and the Battersea Power Station can sometimes be spotted in the background. The potato peeling lady, although not representing any pastime activity, constitutes a great highlight.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure Roll 42 - Battersea Power station, Vauxhall
Another London pastime during the era was gambling, and Joan Littlewood takes us on a rather detailed tour of it. We inspect an amusement arcade, a shooting game, slot machines, roulette and pinball. The culmination of this study of London’s gambling life happens during the last part of the film, which takes place inside a betting shop where can observe who the gamblers are and what they might be looking for.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure Roll 51 - Gambling, shoe shining, street scenes
Here we get a lovely glimpse of the symbol that is London’s tube. We buy a ticket at Piccadilly Circus, cross the barriers and take the train to Leicester Square. We get to spy on the fellow commuters and enjoy our time with them. In spite of it being a potentially pleasurable experience, it is also a time-consuming one and it shows the potential benefits of a fun palace in each neighbourhood.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure Roll 54 - underground station, people
Following an intimate contact with a couple drinking at a pub we move to the Aldwych Theatre, where the Royal Shakespeare Company are staging A Midsummer Night's Dream, exploring yet another leisure activity that stems from the ancient times. The police are ever-present in order to control the ensuing crowds. Final shots portray different means of transport, such as a bus stop at Kingsway or the inside of a taxi.
Joan Littlewood Pleasure Roll 58 - Theatreland, bus stop, Durning Road. RSC