Liverpool Blitz: Wartime entertainment

The difficult lives of many working class women in Liverpool were all the harder during the war years. As well as poverty and poor housing they also had to raise families on their own, while dealing with rationing and working full time. They weren't able to spend nights and money in the city's dance halls.

Gracie Fields entertains workers
Gracie Fields entertains workers at the Kirkby munitions factory
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However entertainment could be found. The wireless was the main source of entertainment and information for many people. Blackout restrictions, bombings and long hours meant that many people were happy to simply get home safely and listen to the radio. The BBC, with programmes like 'The Forces Programme', 'Helter Shelter', and 'Kitchen Front', was a particular source of comfort, entertainment and news. 'It's That Man Again' hosted by Tommy Handley, a Liverpool comedian, was especially popular as was comedy in general. Radio also brought major wartime events to people's homes including mass evacuations, Churchill's speeches, the D-Day landings and messages of support from the royal family.

Lewis's store is gutted by fire
Lewis's store in the city centre is gutted by fire 3/4 May 1941
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Women who worked in Merseyside's munitions factories were sometimes treated to lunchtime performances in the canteen. Yehudi Menuhin and Gracie Fields both performed, along with ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) singers, actors and dancers.

When money and time was available many people headed to one of many local cinemas. At venues like The Scala, The Futurist and The Forum (all on Lime Street) viewers saw the latest newsreels as well a movie. One woman ran from a Liverpool cinema sobbing after seeing her son on a newsreel.

There was relatively little newsreel coverage of the May attacks on Liverpool - the city was never named. This upset many people who felt their suffering was being ignored by a media only interested in London. The newsreel makers argued that it was important to not let the enemy know they had been successful in their raids so the city shouldn't be named. Of course the enemy already knew that their bombs had been successful with so many fires and explosions across the city.

Damage to The Casino billiard hall
The Casino billiard hall on Beech Street suffered damage. 5 September 1940
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Many women, especially young, single women, found that they had money for the first time and made good use of the relaxed social rules of wartime. They went out to dance halls and pubs in droves, where they mixed with American and local men. When the war ended and they returned to peacetime life, many women missed the freedom wartime had allowed them.


Listen to Princess Elizabeth's message of support to other wartime children.




Elsie Newbold talks about the entertainment at the munitions factory
(windows media | mp3 | read transcript)