The British Council has released the final remaining films in its archive Film Collection from the 1930s and 1940s. The 25 newly digitised films, which join the existing 89 films already online at www.britishcouncil.org/film, give a rare glimpse into aspects of UK life ranging from England’s pubs and Sheffield’s steel industry to London’s preparations for war and a mystery for Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad.
The films were produced in the early years of the British Council - the UK’s cultural relations organisation, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. The films in the Collection were created to project the best of the UK to audiences in embassies, consulates and classrooms around the world at a time of global conflict. Now the organisation works to build mutually-beneficial relationships for the UK in 110 countries through English, education and the arts.
To mark the completion of the online Film Collection, the British Council has launched View From Here, an international competition to encourage schools and the general public to respond to the Collection and explore the theme of national identity by re-editing the existing films, producing new ones on similar themes, or a combination of the two. The films in the Collection are available to view, download and use under the ‘Creative Commons’ licence.
A jury of film and TV personalities including Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin MacDonald, Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha and presenters Claudia Winkleman and Edith Bowman will pick the winners. Prizes include a tour of Pinewood Studios and tea with one of the judges.
The British Council has also commissioned three high-profile UK filmmakers to produce a short film each responding to the Collection. Mark Cousins, Penny Woolcock and John Akomfrah will each mine the Collection for themes to make a unique response.
Briony Hanson, the British Council’s Director of Film, said: “These films give us one last glimpse into a Britain that’s different and familiar in equal measure. Some things like air raid shelters in London’s parks and a Sheffield dominated by the Steel industry are things of the past – but there are also trips to the pub, police dramas and, of course, a lot of tea. The British Council Film Collection completely took us all by surprise when we launched the first tranche of titles online with vast audiences loving what they saw. Now, as we complete the Collection with a new selection of equally fascinating films available online, it’s exciting to be able to commission three of the UK’s brightest filmmakers to bring their own unique perspective into the films – and at the same time it will be huge fun to see how school children and amateur filmmakers respond.”
Highlights from the final set of films to be released include:
- Routine Job (1946) – The Sweeney, 40s-style, as Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad works to solve the mystery of some stolen cases of tea.
- The Story of English Inns (1944) – A look at the history of England’s pubs and their role at the heart of English life.
- Steel (1945) - A Technicolor masterpiece, Jack Cardiff’s 'Steel' is probably the most high profile film in the entire Collection, recently the subject of a substantial restoration programme by the BFI. It explores the manufacture of steel and the workings of a foundry, and was featured by Jarvis Cocker in his film ‘The Big Melt’.
- War Comes to London (1940) - Britain enters World War Two and the capital prepares itself for the trials ahead.
- These Children Are Safe (1940) - With the outbreak of war, children are evacuated to the countryside where they are welcomed in cottages and manors and continue their education.
- Song of the Clyde (1942) - ‘Song of the Clyde’ follows the river Clyde with music; from its upland origins, past industrial towns, and through Glasgow, to the sea.
- River Tyne (1945) - A look at the communities and industries lining the banks of the River Tyne.
- Wales (1942) – An overview of Welsh scenery and industry, showing both the beauty of the country and its contribution to the war effort.
Since the British Council put the first of its archive films online in 2012, they have been viewed more than 660,000 times. One surprise hit was a film from 1945 called How a Bicycle is Made, which was extensively shared on social media by cycling enthusiasts, resulting in 33,000 views in its first week online.
As well as being available online, an exhibition of the films will open at the British Council’s central London headquarters in August.