In the following Woman’s Own article, Mrs Gertrude Lord recounts her experience as a silent cinema musician in Brighton:

‘”Unhand me you villain!” I pushed my foot down on the loud pedal and pressed down some chords. “Your eyes are like the stars.” My fingers trilled lightly on the high notes.

If you’re wondering what this is all about, it’s just an old lady remembering the days when silence was really golden – the time of the silent film.

For five years I led an orchestra in a cinema and my piano gave the lead to two violins, cornet, bass, cello and drums. How they watched my every move! We never had a chance to see the film beforehand so, whenever there was a change of programme, I made up the music as I went along.

I used to improvise on well-known tunes but I relied mainly on two old favourites, long forgotten now, called Poppies and Silver Heels. This way, by the time we got to the second performance, we’d have all the parts worked out for each member of the orchestra.

The only one I ever used to worry about was the drummer – and not because of his playing. You see, because I sat up higher than the rest of the orchestra I was continually handed chocolates and drinks from gentlemen in the audience. The chocolates I could handle; the tots of whisky were the problem. I handed them all on to the drummer who miraculously always remained sober!

I was 25 and playing at a dance when the manager of the Brighton Pier offered me the job in the cinema. My starting wage was 30s. a week!

How well I remember that period. It was the time of the Merry Widow hats when everyone vied to have the biggest and widest they could find. Often they were so big the wearers had to turn sideways to get through the doors.

The first film I played for was Robin Hood and the star was Ethelbert Edwards, later known as Henry Edwards. I played for Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert, Charlie Chaplin and dozens of others, but Ethelbert Edwards was the one I adored. I always thought he was more gentlemanly than the others.

I never thought I would meet him but years later, when I was a musician for plays on tours, I did. The screen did not lie – he was a gentleman!

I’m 88 now, slightly deaf and, since I had a fall a couple of years ago, I can’t get around much in my home in Welling, Kent, or play the piano. But I have my memories and, to quote a famous song: “They can’t take that away from me.”‘

Woman’s Own, nd available, p. 44. Source: HEE/4/12, Henry Edwards Special Collection, BFI National Library.


Michaela Mikalauski

One Response to “Gertrude Lord Homepage”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I wrote the above article for Woman’s Own as Gertrude Lord was my much loved grandmother. A fascinating woman, years ahead of her time, who was educated at Haberdashers, New Cross. In later years she spent much time reading – a pile of books always by her side – and was clever at crochet, making an exquisite bedspread, tablecloths and mats. In her younger days it was not uncommon for her and her mother to cycle from London to Brighton. – Jacqueline Fahey

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