Phil at the cinema

Two-minute story

Phil at the cinema

Just as The BBC played The National Anthem at the end of its evening broadcasting in the early days of television, so cinemas played it at the end of the last film of the evening. At home you usually managed to switch off the sound before the music ended, even although there were no remotes then and you had to heave yourself out of the armchair to reach the television.

At the cinema it was different. As soon as the first credits appeared the audience was on its feet and pushing its way towards the exits. For our parents’ generation this was to escape the patriotic wartime habit of always standing respectably still while the anthem was played. Once the anthem started you would not dream of pushing past anyone and you all stood there, as if somewhere, one of the school prefects perhaps, was watching you. But until the first notes reached you, you were entitled to attempt an escape.

Phil had arrived from Australia, to study agriculture with us. Amongst other things he brought with him one of his country’s great gifts to the world, the ability to ask, “Why on earth?” without uttering a word. And we had taken to him. We also took him to the cinema, to the last showing of the evening. I can’t remember the film but as soon as the credits rolled and the audience started towards the exit, his voice bellowed out and carried itself into all the corners of the auditorium.


And they did, and not a man, or a woman or child moved until the last notes of the anthem were fading away. We could not believe it – all these people, these adult strangers doing what they were told, by Phil of all people. No one turned towards us, no one stared; the audience simply resumed its shuffling towards the exits. Somehow, it was as if we all accepted that Phil’s words were in order.

What were people expected to do while The National Anthem was played?

Why do you think Phil became popular with his fellow students?

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