BW 1/770 - 'Films - General Policy'

Relevant Films: N/A

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Note from the British Council Wives’ Association New Bulletin, No. 3 – Autumn 1969 (Cambridge Conference):

‘There was a great need for down to earth films about life in Britain in preference to the tourist type of come-to-glorious Britain productions.’

There is a record of correspondence between Oliver Bell, Director of the BFI and General Sir Ronald Adam at the British Council, in which Bell suggests that the Council need to re-establish a film distribution team and formal ‘film policy’ even though distribution had now been taken over by the COI. This ‘sub-committee’ should dedicate their time to the management and strategic project planning of these films as it was Bell’s understanding that the documentaries were not meeting their potential within Britain.

  • Letter from Bell to Adam on the 8th Jan 1947.

In the year 1948/49 the budget for British Council film production had been cut to £50,010 nett – causing a reduction of the production programme to an absolute minimum.

For the year 1948/49 – the Director of Science did not see the necessity to create any more medical/scientific films beyond the current program – but it was understood that funds should still be attributed to the Arts, Shakespeare, English Language teaching etc.

The late 40s/early 50s were a difficult time for the British Council as they were facing major funding cuts (eerie similarities to the current situation). Brian Kennedy-Cooke (the Director of Production Division) tells of his department being ‘cut to the bone’.

The COI took over the British Council’s film distribution duties in 1946 but the relationship between the two organisations was not without its problems. It was the general feeling within the British Council that the COI was not dealing with the films in a satisfactory manner – the British Council began to look into the possibility of re-claiming distribution rights and reviewing existing arrangements for commercial distribution.

There had been a ‘ban’ put in place on the televising of British Council films even though levels of interest in the pieces had been expressed by the BBC. The production companies that had made them, including M.G.M., warned that if such screenings did occur they would ensure any film shown would be black-listed from further theatrical screening. This was the COI’s reasoning for the poor distribution of the films on home soil, however the British Council stated that it was not up to any organisation aside from themselves to prohibit viewing of the films on television. It was however understood that the complications caused by going ahead with plans for TV broadcast could potentially destroy relations with the theatrical distributors, and at that time it was judged that cinematic screening were more beneficial than showings on television. ‘We believe that the advantages of television at the moment do not outweigh those the cinema is giving us.’

‘It has always been the Council’s policy that its films should not be lost to British audiences throughout the UK as our funds are intended for expenditure on films for overseas audiences.’ – this is with the exception of medical films which were almost purely designed for educational purposes overseas.

On the 24th July 1951, the Treasury Chambers permitted the Foreign Office’s bid on behalf of the British Council to allow them to once more take over UK commercial distribution from the COI of Council films. Distribution rights of films officially transferred back to the Council on the 6th November 1951 and the assignment official on the 1st February 1952.

After this the COI regained responsibility for distribution of medical films overseas.

In an update to the 1953 policy files of the Council’s Film Operation Overseas made on the 6th March 1967, the mission statement for distribution was as follows:

The Value and Purpose of the use of Film in Council Work

‘The use of film cannot be regarded in isolation, but as contributing with other media to the main tasks of the Council overseas. By its very nature it is a medium for teaching, educating and instructing. We live in an age which is dominated by visual impact and the visual approach is coming to play a larger and larger part in the education of societies through such everyday influences as advertising, television, packaging and dress.’

  • emphasis was very heavily places on the importance of film as a progressive educational tool.