Ralph Bond

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Interview Date(s): 
8 Oct 1987
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Ralph Bond, a Londoner, was educated at the Tottenham Grammar School. After working in the insurance business, he spent a lifetime in film and political activism. In 1929, he co-founded the London Workers' Film Society to screen progressive films to working-class audiences and edited a number of compilation documentaries and newsreels, such as Glimpses of Modern Russia (1930) and Workers Topical News (Nos. 1-3, 1930-31), for the nascent Workers' Film Movement.

John Grierson offered him a role at the GPO Film Unit and, while being considerably to the Left of the young men of British documentaryBondalways retained high regard for the social-realism of the documentarists. He wholly endorsed the aim, as he saw it, of "Putting the worker on the screen as a positive and vitally important aspect of life as a whole"

Bond made films for a variety of the documentary film units, notably co-directing Today We Live (1937, Strand), a film about new social services for miners, where he was able to go beyond the usual platitudes and to make outspoken comment on the conditions of the unemployed. He was the natural choice to take responsibility for a few of the film commissions coming from the labour movement in the 1930s: for the Workers' Film Association he directed Advance Democracy (1938, Realist Film Unit) and for the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society he directed People With a Purpose (1939, RFU). The first of these was an ambitious blend of documentary sequences shot around the London docks and the 1938 May Day parade, interspersed with dramatic scenes depicting the rise to activism of a dock worker. Bond brought a professionalism and ambition to these films that was rare for the workers' films of the period.

During the war, he directed films for the Ministry of Information and other official bodies, but afterwards spent more time as a producer in the documentary sector and on distributing and exhibiting Left-political films. Throughout his working life, Bond was a committed trades unionist: he had joined the Association of Cine Technicians in 1935, was elected to its Executive Committee in 1936 and served as its Vice-President from 1942 to 1974. He was a founding director of ACT Films, the production company the union set up to make films, and served as its first Production Supervisor and General Manager.

In the 1970s, Bond taught at the London Film School, guiding young filmmakers in documentary techniques; and right up to his death, he was still participating in trade union meetings. Ralph Bond's talent as a filmmaker was limited to a solid professionalism, and his lasting contribution to British film is as a dedicated activist and organiser who gave a lifetime to the cause of social and economic justice.

Bond, Ralph, 'Cinema in the Thirties: Documentary Film and the Labour Movement' in Clark, J. et al, (eds) Culture and Crisis in Britain in the 30s(London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1979)
Orbanz, Eva, Journey to a Legend and Back (Berlin: Verlag Volker Speiss, 1977)
Hogenkamp, Bert, Deadly Parallels. Film and the Left in Britain 1929-39(London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1986)
MacPherson, Don (ed.), British Cinema. Traditions of Independence(London: BFI, 1980)

Alan Burton, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors