HP Voices is a collective 'online journal' consisting of all our members' blogs. (As part of full membership of the History Project, every member has the opportunity exclusive use of their own blog to write articles, essays, notes on research, or other content they may wish to share.) Please note that all opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Entertainment History Project.
This month (April 2018) the BFI is running a retrospective on Woodfall Films, the company which in the late 1950s and 1960s pioneered a new sort of cinema in Britain. This was, of course, also the time of Truffaut, Godard and the New Wave in France, but it is a disservice to both movements to yoke them too closely together. Each was struggling with social, economic and aesthetic challenges rooted in its own national circumstances.
The BEHP’s audio interview with Bill Girdlestone – conducted in 1987, and now digitised and available on the website at https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/bill-girdlestone – offers fascinating insights into the world of the film lab, and in particular Bill’s own craft of grading (For an invaluable historical overview of Britain’s film labs, go to http://www.brianpritchard.com/British%20Labs.htm). His career spanned much of the twentieth century, from the First World War to the 1970s, taking in the advent of sound and the coming of colour. And his changing fortunes also shine a light on the power-play and cut-throat competition which characterised the British film industry in these decades.
I have been volunteering for the BEHP (British Entertainment History Project – www.historyproject.org.uk - a hugely valuable collection of interviews with people who have worked in the Film, TV, Theatre and Radio industries) since April 2017. I am pursuing a career change from digital marketing to archives management because I am passionate about collecting and cataloguing elements of history that tell fascinating stories about society.
I am working on a project to audit the archive by filing and cataloguing copies of audiocassettes, minidisks, CDs and DVDs for each of the 700+ interviews to help volunteers find them for digitising and adding to the website.
Recently digitised and now available online (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/sidney-cole) is the British Entertainment History Project’s 1987 interview with Sidney Cole. Sidney was a constant presence in the film and television industries from the 1930s to the 1980s. He was an editor and a producer, in both drama and documentary, and throughout a busy career he regularly found the time and the means to put his socialist politics into practice.
If Dallas Bower is remembered today, it is probably as the driving force behind the 1944 Laurence Olivier film of Henry V. Olivier himself is credited as Producer and Director, but many believe it was Dallas (credited as Associate Producer) who made the whole thing happen.
His interview with the British Entertainment History Project (https://historyproject.org.uk/content/dallas-bower) reveals that there was more to Dallas Bower than one Shakespearean film. From the late 1920s to the early 1960s he crossed and re-crossed from film to television and back again, and participated both in the birth of the talkies, and the birth of TV. The interview, conducted way back in 1987, has recently been digitised and uploaded to the Project’s website. It covers his whole career, but it is his account of his early years which most intrigues me.
On 30th September 2017 we mark the 50th anniversary of the transformation of the BBC’s Light Programme into Radios 1 and 2; and of the Home Service into Radio 4. (The transition from the Third Programme to Radio 3 took a little longer).
The Light Programme and Home Service were both, in their different ways, creatures of wartime. The Home Service was created on the outbreak of War in September 1939, as a merger of the former ‘National’ and ‘Regional’ programmes: it was feared that enemy bombers might use differential signals from regional transmitters as navigation guides. The Light Programme on the other hand was launched as the War ended, in July 1945, making use of the old ‘National’ longwave frequency which was now freed up again. When they were laid to rest in 1967, the Home Service was therefore only 28 years old, and the Light Programme a mere 22. Their middle-aged successors, Radios 1, 2 and 4, have lasted much longer.
Find out why Bruce Forsyth nearly became a newsagent. Listen to Brian Tesler's interview at 01-34-30 to find out why.
It’s not often that a film or TV programme has a direct, measurable political impact, and perhaps today, with the sheer volume of audio-visual content coming at us from all directions, it can’t happen. But once upon a time it could, and here in Britain we have two celebrated examples from the ‘60s: the Tony Garnett / Ken Loach 1966 TV play Cathy Come Home highlighted the reality of homelessness and helped launch the charity Shelter; and the Basil Dearden / Michael Relph 1961 film Victim helped pave the way for the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Michael Bond passed away three weeks ago, but when I visited the statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station yesterday, it was still an intimate little shrine, festooned with flowers and jars of marmalade. There is definitely a ‘national treasure’ here somewhere, but I’m not entirely clear whether it’s Paddington Bear or Michael Bond. Or maybe a sort of composite of them both?
Although our memories of Michael today are inseparable from the figure of Paddington, there was a Michael before Paddington. When A Bear Called Paddington was published in 1958, Michael was a Cameraman at the BBC studios in Lime Grove. He had been working for the BBC for over a decade, and he would continue to work for them for almost another decade before finally deciding to become a full-time writer.
The death of Roger Moore last month triggered a wave of nostalgia, with the main focus inevitably on his seven film performances as James Bond. His were the funniest and silliest of the Bond movies. The plots, the villains, the fights, the gadgets, the seductions, were classic kitsch: cheesy and tacky, yet knowing and ironic. And Moore, with his matinee idol looks and oh-so-expressive eyebrow, was just the man to personify the package, a mocking celebration of Britain’s ‘70s and ‘80s delusions about itself. And the fans loved him for it. Maybe it was rubbish, but it was our rubbish.