Dr Rob James, from the Port Towns and Urban Cultures project team, will be delivering a paper entitled, “If there’s one man that I admire, that man’s a British tar”: The Navy, Identity and Leisure in Early-Twentieth Century Britain,” at the Greenwich Maritime Institute on Wednesday the 6th of November, 2013.
The paper analyses popular leisure in the naval towns of Portsmouth and Plymouth in the early twentieth century, evaluating the role popular leisure had, or was expected to have, on the towns’ naval and civilian populations. Mass commercial leisure caused a number of moral panics in British society during the early twentieth century, but records reveal that responses were mixed in Portsmouth and Plymouth. Some activities, such as pub-going, were believed by civic leaders to encourage drunkenness, criminality and prostitution among the towns’ populations. Others, such as cinema-going, were seen as ideal media in which to foster and exploit notions of Britishness, heroism and patriotic endeavour. Indeed, local newspapers often drew on cinema to promote these ideals, while presenting the transient community of naval personnel as symbols of British masculinity to the wider community. This paper, then, uncovers the networks of cultural exchange and interaction that operated between the navy and port town inhabitants. It establishes the ways in which representations of the sailor and the navy functioned within society and reveals how, particularly during times of war, leisure, and in particular the medium of cinema, was deployed to promote notions of identity, patriotism, and heroic behaviour.
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