Thursday August 29 2019

This month’s Box of Delights is themed around Britten, Film, and Aldeburgh Cinema, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Aldeburgh Cinema this month. The Archive holds papers and correspondence that detail Britten and Pears’ interest in film and the Cinema.

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

Emil and the Detectives was first published in Germany in 1928. The story is about a young boy named Emil who is robbed on a train, and a group of young boys who attempt to catch the thief and solve the crime together. In Britten’s copy of the book, he has recorded the dates of the cinema screenings he attended; Britten saw the film twice in 1933 and 1934, when he was 20-21 years old. Afterwards, Britten used magazine cut outs of the film to decorate the pages inside the front and back of the book. Britten was very engaged with the story; he was fond of his childhood and a story about youthful adventure was probably very appealing to him.

Britten’s copy of Kästner’s book is written in German. Britten knew German from his school days, and would have been most fluent in German than in any other secondary language. In Britten’s diary, he mentions that the film was “the most perfect and satisfying film I have ever seen” (Bridcut’s Britten’s Children). Britten likely saw the German film with an English dubbed soundtrack. No music related to the book materialised, but during the 1930s Britten was developing his craft as a film composer and the film likely had some influence in Britten’s experience with film scores. Britten worked with the GPO Film Unit, a subdivision of the General Post Office. He was writing radio music, as well as music for documentary films such as Coal Face in 1935, and Night Mail in 1936. Both pieces set WH Auden’s poetry to music.

Britten’s copy of ‘Emil and the Detectives’

Shareholders Certificate

Pears and Britten were Directors of Aldeburgh Cinema and bought shares of the cinema in December 1966. We have their copies of the minutes of Board of Directors meetings and correspondence in the Archive. They also did not have a TV in The Red House until later in the 1970s, so they likely went to the cinema as Aldeburgh residents. As part of their papers with the Cinema, we have a small collection of leaflets from 1966, with listed films screenings. Leaflets from May 1966 and December 1966 show films by Hitchcock, children’s films, and contemporary James Bond films being shown at the cinema, alongside classic films from the 1930s and 1940s.

Britten’s shareholder’s certificate for Aldeburgh Cinema

Aldeburgh Festival programme book 1967

In the 1967 Aldeburgh Festival, films were being shown at the Aldeburgh Cinema as part of the Aldeburgh Festival programme, one being a film by the Marx Brothers. This programme book shows the eclectic tastes of the Festival, and the variety of performances and films shown that year. The Marx Brothers film featured at the Aldeburgh Cinema was A Night at the Opera. This film appears in the programme next to a concert given by the Amadeus Quartet. Aldeburgh Festivals of the 1960s and 1970s included film showings at the Aldeburgh Cinema often by arrangement with the British Film Institute.

‘A Night at the Opera’ feature in the 1967 Aldeburgh Festival programme

Letters from Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud and Chandler Crowes 1969-1972

John Gielgud corresponded with Britten in 1965, asking Britten to collaborate with him on a film version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. As only an initial idea, the discussion fell silent for a while until interest in the project was shown by actor and director Richard Attenborough in 1969. The film was to be set in Bali; this certainly fitted in with Britten’s interests at the time; he had travelled to Bali with Pears during their 5 month tour of the Far East in the 1950s and their diaries document their enjoyment of the culture in Indonesia. However, when the idea was rekindled, once in 1969 and again in 1972, Britten was extremely busy writing his TV opera Owen Wingrave commissioned by the BBC, and subsequently planning Death in Venice. He also had failing health during this time, and the idea was not able to develop before his death in 1976.

Letters to Britten from Richard Attenborough and Chandler Crowes

The Box of Delights is available for visitors to view in the Britten-Pears Foundation’s Archive at 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.15pm, Tuesday to Friday.