Principles of Production

BW 4/17

13th April 1942 Letter to the Chairman from AJS White

The letter refers to the Bell-Highet Report on the Council’s Film Production Programme, which recommends as follows:

“We recommend that, as a matter of principle, the British Council should continue to adhere to its present policy of presenting Britain to the foreigner on a long-term basis, i.e., that it should not seek primarily to show the life of Britain as it has been superficially altered by the impact of war, but rather concentrate on showing the fundamental qualities of the nation and the traditional heritage of the people so that the foreigner can begin to understand why we react in a particular manner to a particular set of circumstances an that our so-called illogicality is in reality the result of definite reasoning.”

The letter also mentions that Mr Guedalla is in general agreement with this recommendation adding that “Our films should deal with the permanent features of national life and though admitting only so much of their wartime aspect as is requisite for veracity.”

However, the letter also stresses the disagreement of certain individuals such as Mr Hindley, the Director of the Anglophil Society of Bello Horizonte, who recommended that the BC films should have more of a wartime aspect.

The letter continues to suggest to the Chairman the problematic issues the report has outlined, admitting that if they did not take the advice and incorporated wartime aspects into BC films then they could be seen as stepping on the toes of the Ministry of Information. On the other hand if they did take the report’s advice then the films and more importantly the BC could be faced with accusations that they were out of touch with the times…

White writes: “On the other hand, some of the wartime changes in our way of life may be permanent and in any case represent an important feature in our present life and thought. Some people would argue that we should adapt our material in certain respects to these changes, so that it may give a real picture of what is going on in Britain at the present time. Sir Kenneth Clark, Sir Eugene Millington-Drake and others returning from foreign countries emphasise that what the people there want to know about Britain is whether we are moving with the times and that we should be careful not to dwell too much on our past achievements or our old traditions. There, are of course, certain fundamental qualities of the nation which are unchanging and which must be stressed but it also seems important to show that we are really up-to-date and that we are learning lessons (other than military lessons) from the war.”

March 1942 ‘Recommendations on the British Council Film Production Programme’ a report by Oliver Bell and Mr A.G. Highet WE NEED TO GET A PHOTOCOPY OR PHOTOGRAPH THIS ENTIRE REPORT!

This is the report referred to above in its entirety. As well as making the overall recommendation discussed above there are also recommendations on future productions or film series.

Firstly the recommendations are broken down into 3 categories of distribution Theatrical, Non-Theatrical and Educational.


All the films for theatrical release fall into 3 main groups:

  1. Films showing public utilities and services
  2. Films showing our towns, villages and people
  3. Films showing our craftsmanship and mechanical skill

Sub-categories include:

I. Public Utilities and Services
a) National Health
b) Social Assurance
c) Finance
d) Merchant Navy
e) Garden Cities
f) Country Policemen
g) Animal Welfare

II. Agriculture

III. Education

IV. Colonial Administration

V. Towns, Villages and People
1) London
a) Literary London
b) Picadilly Circus (the unofficial hub of the Empire)
c) A Railway Station (Victoria) (our ability to handle large scale problems)
d) So this is London (1942) (a remake of the very popular earlier Travel Association film So this is London)
e) Whitehall (the official hub of an Empire)
f) Westminster – the Abbey, Parliament etc. (the centre of democratic government and constitutional monarchy)

2) Cities and Towns

a. Chester
b. York
(Both have a long history of which many relics remain and both are flourishing today)

3) Historic Buildings

a) St. Paul’s Cathedral
b) Westminster Abbey
c) Canterbury Cathedral (the home of Christianity in Britain)
d) Caernarvon Castle (the centre of Welsh nationalism and the scene of the induction of the Prince of Wales as well as of the Eisteddfod)
e) Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle (the King’s Homes)
(St. James, Buckingham Palace, Windsor and the Tower)

4) Countryside
a) The English Village (A film on the English Village should be of interest to agricultural communities all over the world)
b) Roman Road
c) Wessex
d) West Country
e) Shakespeare’s Land

VI. Scientific Achievements
a) The Royal Institution
b) Radio
c) Refrigeration
d) Electro-Chemistry
e) Electrical Engineering
f) Bacteriology
g) Anaesthetics

VII. Craftsmanship and Mechanical Skill
a) The Village Blacksmith
b) Boatbuilder
c) The Glassworker
d) The Sailmaker
e) The Glass Designer


I. The British Educational System
II. Public Health
III. Shipbuilding
IV. Allied Seamen and Resident Foreigners
V. Films for the Colonies


I. Biology – a sub series know as Growth and Reproduction includes Life of Mould, Maize, Newt and Rabbit as well as a suggestion of 2 more films to complete the series Life of the Onion and Trout
II. Historical Geography
III. Human Geography
IV. Science and Technology
V. English Teaching
VI. Medical
VII. Books

In the concluding half of the report under a section entitled ‘General Notes’ the following was written:

“It will be obvious that we are not happy about the overall quality of the Council’s films. Many of them are competent, outstandingly so, but few of them show originality either in conception or execution. We suggest one or two ways in which this criticism of ours (and it is to a great extent self criticism) might be removed. We are anxious that the Council’s films should not be just good films of an unexceptional kind; even good dull films such as can be “smuggled through” by the use of Technicolor. We want the council’s technique to develop; we seek originality even if it provokes criticism, but originality with a purpose, not merely sensationalism.”

From Duplicate File:

1941 drawing up of production principles list for 1942-43
  • 1941 saw a ban by the Department of Overseas Trade on Industrial films.
Subsequent films would be less documentary and more reconstructions.
For high quality filmmaking, x3 budget was requested to hire “first class writers”, “best available British actors, and “experienced theatrical producers”. And “a proper allowance made for might appear excessive dramatisation”.
*seed of Town Planning planted here.
*suggests that not all films were for abroad. Mention of “for theatres” and “non-theatre colonial”.

  • Mr Primrose drafts “Principles of New Production” and requests for suggestions for new films.
Responses range from simply “I am afraid I have no suggestion” to a 6 page rant on the “hotch potch”.
Lots of suggestions and criticism of old films.

  • Films split into 3 categories: theatrical, non-theatrical, teaching.
Budget for teaching films:
    1. £88750
1942-43 £108100

More colour films requested
10 colour films
26 B+W films
Budget considered “a fleabite compared with what M.O.I is spending on films”.

  • Emphasis to be made on Nation’s war effort, NOT suggesting the Council makes war films but to show to friends abroad what we are doing to win the war.
(although a few comments do refer to certain films explicitly as propaganda.)