Tag Archives: Fu Machu

The Cinema Serial —-early twentieth century verse in praise of a silent film


Jot cinema very early scottish cinemaFound interleaved in an exercise book inscribed ‘ Recitations ‘, which contains a variety of both original material and copies in different hands of extracts from published recitations that were the staple of Music Hall acts from the late Victorian period to around the time of the First World War, is this piece of doggerel entitled ‘The Cinema Serial’.

The piece, which is probably original, describes the experience of viewing the ninety–third episode of an imaginary  thriller entitled ‘ Philip’s Phantom Quest’ in a ‘large suburban’ picture palace, probably in Scotland. The whole item is of interest to historians of the Cinema, not only because the film’s subject matter  reflects the contemporary panic surrounding the ‘ Yellow Peril ‘, but also because the preamble to the filmic action tells us something about the experience of visiting a cinema in the  early twentieth century:

‘ In a large suburban palace with the

Latest films portrayed,

Where in darkness hands are clasped

And cupid’s hits are often made

Fair maids their heads on manly shoulders

Ceased awhile to lean

For the title of the next film

Has appeared upon the screen

There’s a buzz of approbation

From the young folks one & all

In excitement one wee laddie

Swallows half a butter ball.

Love’s whisperings subside

As folks prepare to gaze with zest

For ‘tis Episode the ninety-third

Of Philip’s Phantom Quest…’

The verse continues with an account of Philip’s enemy, a Chinaman humorously named Ah Choo, whose ‘average of weekly murders stands at four point three’. This villain is evidently modelled on the protagonist of Sax Rohmer’s famous novel The Mystery of Fu Manchu, which had been published in 1913. Continue reading