Women in West London Film Laboratories

Video: 

On 14 December 2016 the History Project screened our documentary, Women in West London Film Laboratories. The documentary is of particular interest to members because it draws upon interviews from the History Project collection, as well as archival footage and interviews we conducted. For those who weren't at the meeting here is a link. Do let us have your comments.

WOMEN IN WEST LONDON FILM LABORATORIES, 1960-2000 (ANDREW DAWSON AND SEAN P. HOLMES, 2016) 39 minutes

Women in West London Film Laboratories documents the bittersweet experience of women in West London film laboratories. It is the first and might be the last attempt to visually record the lives of lab women.

In the 1960s, most women were offered low-paid, humdrum jobs in shops or factories. In contrast, lab women were well paid, working relations were relaxed and convivial, and women took pride in their work while basking in the reflected glamour of filmmaking. In the British film and televisions industries women were a tiny minority, but in the labs a quarter of all jobs were held by women.

At the same time, the lab environment could be hot and choked with chemical fumes, tasks were repetitive and the culture sexist. Women were confined to a narrow range of ‘women’s’ jobs. In the 1970s, a handful of women took up the feminist movement’s demand for equality but management remained unsympathetic. While women in broadcasting and film expanded the range of jobs available to them, lab women were in relative and absolute retreat. From the 1980s, women and men lost their jobs as the industry contracted.

With digital replacing celluloid so the world depicted in this documentary no longer exists. Neg cutters have gone the same way as nineteenth-century handloom weavers and twentieth-century cinema projectionists. In 2014, the Denham film laboratory, where many of the women we interviewed had worked, closed down. While the historical particularities of lab culture have vanished for good - some may see our documentary as simply a memorial for a lost industrial world - the wider issues of unequal power relations at work and the sexual division of labour are still with us today.

CREDITS
Narrator
Alicia Brooke Robinson
Cast
Sue Ayris, Linda Brown, Janet Craven, Sharen Daley, Jenny Dicken, Jenny Hooley, Pam Mann, Pat Norrish, Jean Timson, Joan Wilson
Archival Footage
Rank/Deluxe still images kindly provided by Alan Brazier; Patterns of Inequality:A Woman's Work (Open University 1975); Visit by Members of the Rank Organisation Board to Rank Film Laboratories (British Movietone 1978); Film and Television Technician, 1950-90; BECTU Photo Archive
With Thanks To:
Rank/Deluxe still images kindly provided by Alan Brazier; Patterns of Inequality:A Woman's Work (Open University 1975); Visit by Members of the Rank Organisation Board to Rank Film Laboratories (British Movietone 1978); Film and Television Technician, 1950-90; BECTU Photo Archive
With Special Thanks To:
Matt Barton, Chris Brown, Kate Cheeseman, Hazel Mae Dawson, Mike Dick, Frances Galt, Christopher Hird, Jan Tovey, Julie Watkins
Research
Phill Windeatt
Editor
Andrew Dawson
Written, produced and directed by Andrew Dawson and Sean P. Holmes

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