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September 2004, Week 4


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 28 Sep 2004 19:34:52 +0100
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'Philippe, University of Antwerp' writes:

>I'm looking for films & references on unions and labour movements. Any

Industrial relations in Britain have provided inspiration for many
film-makers and organisations over many decades, principally between the
end of World War II and the mid-1960s.  Following the General Strike of
1926 an unofficial but official relationship between the British Board of
Film Censors and the Home Office conspired to expunge any reference to
indigenous industrial disputes - though interestingly, Hollywood films
depicting strikes were allowed to be shown without restriction, as the
authorities believed that cinemagoers saw the United States as a 'foreign'
political culture.  This phenomenon is covered in Jeffrey Richards, 'The
Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain' (London,
1984).  The earliest British feature film I know of which explicitly deals
with labour disputes is 'Love on the Dole' (UK 1941, dir. John
Baxter).  There were some mainstream films from the 1930s which did deal
with the effects of the depression (e.g. the Gracie Fields musicals), but
references to unions and industrial disputes are notably absent.  In
addition, fringe groups such as Grierson's lot and the Co-operative
Movement produced a variety of non-fiction shorts which did promote the
role of trade unions, but the audiences for these were all political
activists anyway.  In other words, these films preached purely to the
converted and in terms of popular culture, they were not significant
(during the 1930s).

The post-war period saw a quite rapid relaxation of political
censorship.  Probably the best-known feature film from the immediate
aftermath of WWII is 'The Man in the White Suit' (1950, dir. Alexander
Mackendrick), in which unions and management conspire to block
technological progress on the grounds that both would financially suffer in
the short term (reading Correlli Barnett, 'The Lost Victory: British
Dreams, British Realities, 1945-50', London, 1995, will explain the
political and economic context for this film very effectively).  'Chance of
a Lifetime' (1950, dir. Bernard Miles) also deals with industrial
relations, and is of interest mainly because the big UK cinema chains
refused to show it and were forced to do so by the Labour government under
recently introduced legislation.  In the subsequent decade, 'I'm Alright,
Jack' (1959, dir. John Boulting), starring Peter Sellers as the archetypal
bolshy union baron, is also considered a classic dramatisation of how poor
industrial relations hampered Britain's economic recovery in the1950s and
'60s (classic line: 'All you ever talk about is your union.  It's union
this; union that; and if it ain't your union, it's the bleedin' Soviet

The treatment of unions and industrial relations in UK non-fiction film
(e.g. national newsreels, industrial training and promotional films,
privately produced political propaganda films) is a whole separate area - I
presume your request was referring principally to fiction.


Dr. Leo Enticknap
School of Arts and Media/Northern Region Film & Television Archive
University of Teesside
United Kingdom
Tel. +44-(0)1642 384049
Fax +44-(0)8712 249151

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