The Manchester & Salford Film Society was established in 1930 and is still running today as the oldest active film society in the UK.
The society is a group of people who care deeply about film, showing an eclectic mix of classics and International movies that aren’t shown at mainstream cinemas.
The first film programme was shown at the Prince’s Cinema on Liverpool Street, Salford on 15th November 1930 and was inaugurated by the Lord Mayor of Salford of the time, John Bloom, who commented: “A large number of adult picture-goers are sick of the Hollywood sob-stuff and want something with more meat in it.”
Last night on 11 November 2023, almost 93 years to the day, the current Ceremonial Mayor of Salford attended the third event of the 2023/24 season at Altrincham Little Theatre.
After the screening of Mr Klein (1976), the Ceremonial Mayor Councillor Gina Reynolds – who’s interested in art, music, watching plays and films in her spare time – socialised with the members, raised a glass of fizz and said:
“It’s a great privilege [to attend]. Congratulations to the Manchester & Salford Film Society on 93 years as the longest-running volunteer-led society in the whole of the UK – which is incredible!
“I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the members and volunteers, because your passion and drive in supporting the club has been phenomenal over many many years, and here’s to many more years as a successful film society.
“Congratulations to you all, you should be very proud of yourselves.”
Madam Mayor and her Consort husband were welcomed with a gift of the framed quote of her predecessor.
She not only expressed her thanks for this but said it would have a very special place on display in the Mayor’s office after declaring that she had enjoyed the film and was particularly interested in cinema – and not just the Hollywood blockbusters.
She took the opportunity to chat with committee members and volunteers, who welcomed members to the meet-and-greet table.
She appreciated the charms of the theatre and expressed delight at the small delicious cupcakes.
Altrincham Little Theatre
The current home of the Manchester and Salford Film Society is Altrincham Little Theatre.
Originally built as a chapel in 1875, it was converted to a bijou theatre in 1962. There, a theatre group presents regular productions in a tradition going back to 1896.
Ideal for film and social events, Altrincham Little Theatre has even been used as a filming location.
Plush velvet seats, a raked classical auditorium with proscenium arch, and the delights of a cosy bar for socialising before and after the film and for special events make it ideal.
How the Manchester & Salford Film Society was founded
The film society has endured much adversity during its nine decades of activity as one of the most progressive not-for-profit organisations in the country.
Formerly known as the Salford Workers’ Film Society, the community cinema committee arose from the grassroots of working-class Salford during challenging economic times.
The original organiser was a Salford-born worker called Reginald Cordwell, aka “Reg”, who was an engineer and toolmaker by day and film buff by night.
Tradesman Reg wasn’t only one of the founding members of MSFS but a great pioneer of community cinema and its issues.
He regularly and proudly declared: “[We are] the oldest continuing volunteer film society of its kind in the UK, if not the world!”
Reg’s nephew, Alan Cordwell, was also present on Saturday night. He is the son of Reg’s brother Sidney Cordwell who was also a pioneer of the society and died in the Blitz in 1942 six months before Alan was born. He accepted a framed copy of a photograph showing his father Sid in 1932 at the inaugural meeting of the First British Federation of Film Societies.
The young Salfordian activist and song-maker Ewan MacColl, who wrote iconic songs Dirty Old Town, Manchester Rambler and The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, was famously among the foundation members.
He famously said “The Salford Workers’ Film Society presented the cream of the world’s best films.”
He also said “The opportunity of seeing films of such stature compensated for some of the deprivation experienced by an ill-educated adolescent who faced the bleak prospect of trying to earn a living in the arid desert of 1930.”
Reg with his co-founders and maiden members were a small group of people inspired the view of encouraging the most progressive elements in the cinema by exhibiting artistic, cultural and scientific films; particularly motion pictures tackling economic and social questions they were surrounded by.
How the society expanded into Manchester
The society’s controversial choice of Vsevolod Pudovkin’s 1928 Storm Over Asia to close its first season was the tipping point for the growth of the community.
The film was banned by the Salford Watch Committee who feared showing the film would cause a riot.
Described by the Society as ‘the film that Salford must not see’, the press blew it up into a ‘Storm over Salford’ and raised unprecedented awareness of Salford Workers’ Film Society beyond the city.
The showing at the Futurist Cinema, Strangeways, Manchester proved beneficial and after weathering the storm, the society approached Manchester where it was passed by the Watch Committee. This progressed the local film society and as it expanded its allegiance, it changed its name the Manchester and Salford Workers Film Society.
Controversy brought a large audience, all keen to see for themselves what the fuss was about. Ticket sales balanced out the accounts and paved the way for a second season.
102-year-old president Marjorie Ainsworth joined MSFS in 1939 when she was just seventeen years old.
She still takes an active interest in the running of the film society.
“I joined the society in 1939 when I was seventeen,” says Marjorie, “persuaded by my boyfriend, Tom Ainsworth, who joined in 1938.
“I am now 102 so my involvement in the society’s activities goes back a long way, for 85 years in fact.”
Reflecting on what the society has given her in return for her commitment, she said: “Well, I know I have been able to see most of the worthwhile films from the world over, met many interesting people including film directors, critics, stars, and academic film buffs.”
Manchester and Salford Film Society is part of Cinema For All. Formerly known as the British Federation of Film Societies, the national support and development organisation helps communities screen films.
“This is because our society was a member of the British Federation of Film Societies, so we became part of a national group of like-minded people able to attend viewing sessions of new films, enjoying film weekends in all parts of the country, where all aspects of cinema-going were discussed.
“I have been educated, entertained and been given much lasting food for thought.”
Postponement during the war
Before World War II broke out in 1939 the Film Society was fully established with 1,400 members. The film programme had been published but then a postponement notice had to be prepared and issued in response to the conflict.
Marjorie Ainsworth recalls that awful time.
“War broke out on 3rd September 1939,” says Marjorie, “and, because there was an air raid warning in London on that date, everyone was expecting to be bombed every night. So, it was not just the Film Society that suspended their autumn programme – everything was suspended.
“Entertainment was the last thing on anybody’s mind. We all had to sit in the dark every night until we were able to provide ourselves with blackout curtains.
“We had to wait until we were all issued with gas masks, identity cards and ration books before we thought of anything else.
“When no bombs were dropped during the autumn of 1939, things began to open up, and the Society decided to resume shows in the spring of 1940.
“Serious night bombings of all major cities began in the autumn of 1940 but because we showed it on Sunday afternoons, we bravely carried on.
“Members were kept in touch during the suspension by post; there was no other way available at that time.”
Why you should join the Manchester & Salford Film Society
MSFS screens the best of contemporary world cinema and classic movies, on Saturday evenings at the Altrincham Little Theatre throughout the year.
The society offers a safe and welcoming space for people who might be on their own to join a like-minded group who share an interest in film.
“What I like about the film society is that you get to see films not shown in mainstream cinemas,” says Committee member Maureen Stander, “and have an opportunity to meet like-minded people in the bar to socialise and discuss the film.
“Some of our members are single and it is a safe place to come on your own to meet people instead of sitting in alone on a Saturday night.”
How to become a member of the Manchester & Salford Film Society
The Manchester & Salford Film Society are a not-for-profit organisation, run entirely by dedicated volunteers who have a wide variety of interests in film.
They are also committed to the future and to giving you a very warm welcome and a different but special night out.
Join the oldest continuing volunteer film society in the UK today.