BW 4/52 Film Department: Outline of Policy (1945)

1st February 1945, A memo sent from Primrose in response to questions asked by Mr Kennedy-Cooke:

The memo clears up some of the Film department’s back history and comments on some of its decisions to withdraw films from their catalogue or from circulation…

· ‘The Council did nothing about films before the Joint Committee was established in 1936.’

· ‘The Travel Association had its own Film Unit with Marion Grierson (John Grierson’s sister) in charge.’

· It produced the following sound films which were commercially distributed in this country and overseas:
So this is London
So this is Lancashire
Heart of an Empire (St James Park)
For All Eternity (English Cathedrals)
Beside the Seaside
Key to Scotland (Edinburgh)
Around the Village Green
Healing Waters (Bath)

· ‘The Joint Committee came into being as a result of a letter from the Foreign Office signed by Mr Rex Leeper.’

· ‘The Vansittart Committee, was I understand, an Interdepartmental Government Committee, to coordinate British Publicity abroad.

A memo was prepared by Mr Rowland Kenney of the Foreign Office advocating that a National Film Council should be set up. This memorandum was discussed at a meeting of the Vansittart Committee in 1939, which I attended and the question was whether the Joint Committee of Films should be taken over by this proposed National Film Board.

It was decided that the British Council should take over the TA Film Unit, as it was felt that, given adequate financial support, it could do all the work of a National Film Board.’

· ‘The Committee has always been insistent that films should be withdrawn from circulation as soon as they had served their purpose, as it was considered out of date films would be bad publicity.

Films are only withdrawn from the catalogue:

a) Because their distribution has been completed.
b) They are out of date. For example Miles from Malay was withdrawn because it talked about the impregnable forces of Singapore. Raising Air Fighters and Britain Shoulders Arms made in 1939 are only museum pieces today.
c) The films, which are of poor technical quality or otherwise unsuitable; for example All that is England was much criticised because it advertised Austin Motors.Swinging the Lambeth Walk a colour cartoon film, made by Len Lye, is a failure in that no theatrical manager will show it. A sneak preview of this film was given at the Cosmo Cinema, Glasgow, but the audience howled it off the screen and the manager had to take it off before the reel finished.
d) Films made by other concerns such as Shell, I.C.I, and others, which are for general distribution, are found in “Films of Britain”. Lists of special films, such as medical films are supplied on request.’

August 1937, Films of Britain Leaflet: A Report of National Screen Publicity by TIDA:

The leaflet summarises TIDA’s formation and the establishment of their Film Unit. Details of some overseas distribution are given as well as the individual achievements of specific films…

· The first two sound films produced were So this is London and, on behalf of the Lancashire Industrial Development Council So this is Lancashire. ‘Difficulty was experienced, however, in marketing only two films since in some cases film renters purchase short films in batches of six. Further films were therefore produced.’

· The following is a review of For All Eternity in the Evening Standard:

‘It is called For All Eternity and is about the Cathedrals of England. It is a film of great beauty, directed and photographed by Marion Grierson. A church choir is used, that of All Saints, Margaret Street, and as it sings beautiful Latin plain-song and a Bach cantata the screen shows soaring pillars and towers, green fields with distant cathedrals, cloister, and choirs in procession. We are shown too the inside of a Roman Catholic Abbey in Scotland, at Fort Augustus. This film is a really impressive portrayal of the Church in England, and I advise you to see it when it comes to your cinema.’

· ‘The Curator of the Film Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, last year (1936), selected three of these (TIDA) films, together with five others, as the best documentary films which this country has produced, while For All Eternity has been selected as one of the eight best British short films for showing at the 5thInternational Exhibition of Cinematographic Art at Venice this year (1937).’

· ‘It has been found impossible to ascertain how often they (the TIDA films) have been shown in each country, but reports from Sweden showed that So this is Londonhas been seen by 400,000 people in public cinemas. Recent developments have been the sale, in Austria of six films to the Wiener Urania who combined them into one film called Kennen Sie England, which began its run in Austrian cinemas in Vienna where it ran for three weeks and was seen by 14,370 people; and of 6 films to the Hungarian Ministry of Education at Budapest for distribution to schools an other educational establishments. Several films have also been lent for display at the Paris Exhibition.’

· ‘Imperial Certificates have been awarded by the Board of Education to a number of the Association’s films in view of their merit as educational films. These enable them to enter Dominions and Colonies free of duty, while, on the recommendation of the British Film Institute, the Institut International du Cinematographe Educatif at Rome has granted certificates to five of these films which will permit them to circulate free of duty through countries bound by this Institute.’

· ‘In response to urgent demands for films for special Coronation display, selected films have been dispatched to Argentina and Bolivia in South America, and to Casablanca, Alexandria and Port Said in Northern Africa.’

· ‘Other important aspects of film work of the Association have been collaboration with a German Film Co. in making a film on England, assistance to an important American company in making a film on London, participation in a Government Committee with five newsreel companies on the preparation of Coronation films, and assistance given to a French company in making a composite British film for daily showing at the Paris Exhibition this summer (1937).’

· * See photograph of the Association’s overseas distribution schedule.

Date Unknown, Loose extract, author not known:

The extract appears to be from a statement or outline as the small amount of information contained within it is numbered. The extract again explains the reasons why the British Council established a Film Committee with the Travel Association…

· ‘The British Council undertake film work as an essential part of its general task, namely the promotion of a wider understanding of British life and thought in foreign countries. Through its numerous contacts with anglophil societies and other institutions abroad, the Council is able both to provide access to suitable audiences and also to give some guidance as to the type of film which it is desirable to show in each country.’

January 1945, British Council Film Department Outline of Policy:

1) As the problem of film production fell in the activities of both the British Council and the Travel and Industrial Development Association, a Joint Committee on films was set up in 1936 consisting of representatives of both bodies together with the Foreign Office, the Department of Overseas Trade, the Post Office and the British Film Institute (Mr Oliver Bell) under the chairmanship of Mr Philip Guedalla, with Mr A.F. Primrose as secretary. The Post Office was originally represented by Mr John Grierson, but when he left the Post Office film unit, his place was taken by Mr Highet.

2) As the United States was considered outside the sphere of the British Council, the Joint Committee was unable to function there, but films were dispatched to the New York office of the Travel Association. This office shut down on the outbreak of war.

3) In September 1938, the Department of Overseas Trade request the committee to devise means for using the cinema in the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair to the best advantage, and to arrange for the despatching of the films.

4) The committee inspected 184 films of which 115 were approved and sent to New York.

5) In collaboration with the Newsreel Association it arranged for the composite weekly newsreel “British News” to be sent out each week. It also arranged in consultation with the D.O.T for the manager of the New Gallery Cinema to go out to New York and take charge of the cinema.

6) At the close of the New York World’s Fair, Lord Lloyd, then Colonial Secretary, arranged for “British News” to be sent out to the Colonies.

7) In 1939 on the recommendation of the Vansittart Committee arrangements were made for the British Council to take over the film department of the Travel Association. This changeover took place in October 1939 and became the Film Department of the British Council.

8) The Film Committee of the British Council was then extended to include the Dominions Office, the Colonial Office and H.M. Government Cinematograph Adviser (Mr Hughes-Roberts). Representatives from other ministries have been added from time to time.

9) In May 1940 Neville Kearney was appointed Director of the Film Department.


10) In 1938 the Film Library of the Travel and Industrial Association consisted of 60 sound and silent films, which were distributed overseas.

11) In 1944 there were 117 films in “Films of Britain”, but the film library is much larger as it contains a number of specialist ones, such as medical films, which only have limited appeal.

12) It has always been the policy of the Film Department to with draw films as soon as their maximum distribution has been obtained, both theatrically and non-theatrically.

13) At present the Council’s films are divided under the following categories:

“This is Britain”
Teaching Films
Films for the Colonies
Films of the Colonies
Medical Films

14) The heading of General films is again divided as follows:

General Subjects 12
Agriculture 8
Architecture 4
Countryside 16
Education 4
Industry and Commerce 13
Scenes from Shakespeare 2
Historic Buildings 3
London 4
Public Utilities and Services 11

15) In drawing up each year’s new production programme, which is usually considered by the Film Committee in October, recommendations are made a) to fill in gaps in any sub-section, and b) to meet demands for any particular type of film, which have been received overseas.

16) So far as Industrial films are concerned the advice of the Board of Trade and the Department of Overseas Trade is obtained as to what subjects should be made and the order of priority.

17) “This is Britain”, the title of the new monthly cine-magazine, will deal with subjects, which do not justify full-length productions. These items will show the lives of the British people in every conceivable phase, and in the most entertaining manner possible. This cine-magazine should do something to vary the monotony of an entire programme of short films.

18) Teaching Films are divided into:

English Language Teaching 1
Human Geography 4
Science & Technology 12
Physical Training 7
Biology 9
Medical 4

19) In the case of Teaching films it has been accepted as a general principle that sufficient films for the same age group should be produced to enable the teacher to alter the curriculum of the class so as to make use of the Council’s films.

Films for the Colonies

20) These are films designed for showing to educated natives in public cinemas in the West Indies. A simple technique and commentary are employed. Such films may be useful in other territories. The first in the series is Local Government.

21) In the case of films for the Colonies, the Film Department accepts the advice of the Empire Division and the Colonial Office.

Films in the Colonies

22) This is a series of seven films to be shot in the West Indies. They are designed to tell the rest of the world about these Colonies.

Medical Films

23) These are specialist films such as Surgery in Chest Disease and Accident Service. They are only suitable for doctors, nurses and medical students.

24) As regards to Medical films the Film Department accepts the advice of the Council’s Medical Committee.

25) In general it has been agreed by the Film Committee that the 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.

Purchase of Rights, Adaptation and Production of Silent Films

26) From time to time, the Film Department is able to purchase the overseas rights of a film made by outside producers. Sometimes such films, which are usually bought for £50 to £200, require to be adapted or shortened. Then again we have secured the overseas distribution rights of certain films either free or on payment of a small royalty.

27) The following films are among those secured in these ways:

Tale of Two Abbeys
Winter Scenes
Scottish Lochs
Shell – Science and Technology series
I.C.I – Anaesthesia series
ICI – Veterinary series
G.B.I – Biology (senior series)