Shadows of Progress Review
Shadows of Progress forms the centrepiece of Boom Britain: Documenting the Nation’s Life on Film, a major new project of the BFI that aims to re-map the post-war documentary movement and our understanding of it. The project is a far reaching one occupying many areas of the BFI. There is a season of programmes screening at the BFI Southbank throughout November and December which will cover many themes and highlight a number of lesser-known filmmakers. One particular programme, A Day in the Life, dedicated to John Krish and encompassing four of his films, will also embark on a nationwide tour and in doing so finally give some exposure to a director who has for too long been pushed to the sidelines. (My review of A Day in the Life can be found here.) Meanwhile, the BFI’s YouTube channel is gaining regular additions in the form of interviews with Krish and others as well as extracts from a number of the short films screening, plus the five BFI Mediatheques are receiving a brand new collection in the shape of We Can Work It Out, an assortment of shorts and related features/teleplays based around the workforce and employee relations. To complement all of these Screenonline, their online educational resource, will also feature new material relating to the movement, its films and their makers, once again to aid in our collective understanding.
However, Shadows of Progress deserves to be named as the centrepiece owing to the fact that the two products bearing this title are likely to have the largest impact of all. On the one hand we have Shadows of Progress the DVD boxed-set, a four-disc collection totalling almost 14 hours and encompassing 32 films, the majority of which will be unfamiliar to even the more discerning film fan. On the other we have Shadows of Progress the book, an exhaustive look at the post-war documentary boom split into two parts: firstly, an examination into why this particular area of filmmaking during this period has fallen into obscurity, as well as its key themes and the methods of sponsorship and distribution; and secondly, a series of chapters providing in-depth accounts of the work of 19 of its key practitioners. To spend a couple of weeks in the company of both the book and the boxed-set, as I have done, is to receive an education. There can be no doubts as to the neglect these films and their makers have suffered, and similarly no doubt that Shadows of Progress goes some way to correcting this neglect.
It is worthwhile adding an early disclaimer, however, to make it clear that this is not completely uncharted territory. At the foot of this review I have included a ‘further viewing’ section which details the availability of works made by Shadows of Progress’ filmmakers outside of the boxed-set. As can be seen, that availability is perhaps larger than expected. Certainly, I have also taken into account feature films and television assignments, yet if we focus purely on the documentary output then this still reveals high numbers. Moreover, it is also becomes immediately obvious that previous BFI releases contribute a great deal here. Their British Transport Films, Central Office of Information and National Coal Board volumes, not to mention the definitive Free Cinema set from 2006, all feature works contemporaneous to Shadows of Progress (indeed, the new boxed-set also includes BTF, COI and NCB examples amongst its numbers) and as such some of the filmmakers will perhaps be familiar and likewise their methods. Similarly certain titles that have been chosen for inclusion on Shadows of Progress are arguably quite well known. The Elephant Will Never Forget, John Krish’s 1953 film for British Transport Films, is one of the unit’s best-loved shorts and deservedly so. Thursday’s Children (1954), directed by Lindsay Anderson and Guy Brenton, won an Academy Award and has previously featured as an extra on various DVD editions of Anderson’s 1968 feature If…., including the one released by the Criterion Collection. And of course, Anderson is a key figure of British cinema, meaning that even if some of the shorts included here are amongst his most obscure then at least the man behind them is not. It is also, perhaps, worth a quick mention of the BFI Screen Guide 100 British Documentaries by Patrick Russell, the co-editor of Shadows of Progress the book and co-programmer of the DVD set, owing to the fact that amongst its entries are a number of the shorts which feature here: Anthony Simmons’ Sunday by the Sea (1953), John Krish’s I Think They Call Him John (1964), Derrick Knight’s Education for the Future (1967), Derek Williams’ The Shadow of Progress (1970). Again, those familiar with the book will have some additional footing when approaching this set, instead of simply going in blind.
If these releases all relate directly to Shadows of Progress, then reference should also be made to the wider post-war documentary output during this time. Again, DVD availability has aided the situation here, and as such we are able to place Shadows of Progress within the context of the television documentaries which were being produced throughout these decades (from strands such as World in Action to the prestige pieces typified by Civilisation or The Ascent of Man), feature-length docs covering a whole range of themes (from the 1953 record of the Queen’s coronation, A Queen is Crowned, to Nick Broomfield’s earliest works), not to mention those BTF, NCB, COI and Free Cinema shorts which do not share personnel with the Shadows of Progress films. And the context is important in two regards: firstly, we can see just how much a gap is being plugged by both the DVD boxed-set and the book (i.e., the post-war documentary movement is no longer represented by Free Cinema, the best-loved BTF shorts, a handful of features and certain key TV programmes); and secondly, we can see some of the contemporaneous influences on these shorts or, conversely, what they were reacting against. Some of the Shadows of Progress films share the spirit of Free Cinema, others go in completely the opposite direction; some borrow techniques that were becoming prevalent in television products (indeed, some were even screened as part of Panorama), whilst others opt for an overtly cinematic approach (widescreen, colour, international locales, etc.).
One final point of reference is the Land of Promise set the BFI issued in 2008 (and are reissuing to coincide with the Boom Britain project). That compilation focussed on the ‘golden age’ of British documentary, taking in the years between 1930 and 1950 and thus covering many classics (Housing Problems, Listen to Britain, et al) and many major filmmakers (John Grierson, Paul Rotha, Humphrey Jennings, et al). Picking up the story from 1951, Shadows of Progress essentially becomes a ‘sequel’ to that set, although the relationship between the two is slightly more complex. For starters, the ‘golden age’ of Land of Promise is, on the surface, fairly clearly defined: the current popular view of British documentaries is that the era ended with the death of Jennings (the last film on Land of Promise is the last of which Jennings had complete control, Family Portrait), the disbanding of the Crown Film Unit, and the general feeling that, post-war, the ‘boom’ in documentary was over. However, as is argued in Shadows of Progress the book, overall production went up after 1950 and the real end came in the late seventies as industries began reducing their investment in film. Furthermore, whilst Land of Promise honours the ‘golden age’ cut-off point, it also provides hints of what was to come. Amongst its contents are the very first British Transport Film and an early Mining Review from the NCB, two units that would continue into the 1980s. Similarly the ‘old guard’ of documentary filmmakers didn’t simply stop working once this ‘golden age’ was over and as such many figure largely in Shadows of Progress too. Of course, new filmmakers entered the fray - many of whom are treated to their own chapters in the book - but it is clear to see that the reality of the British documentary movement cannot be so easily delineated. There are no clean breaks. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why the book is so invaluable, its first half ably plotting this period, tying together all of the interconnections and thereby allowing the post-war films’ context to finally become clear.
Another relationship between Land of Promise and Shadows of Progress comes in the form of the films themselves. Just as the former featured works sponsored and/or produced by companies and units with industrial or governmental connections, so too the latter is made up overwhelmingly by those commissioned by businesses, charities, ministries, agencies and the like. At first glance this may prompt a negative attitude from the potential viewer, the argument being that the industrial film is far less conducive to producing works of art or genuine quality than those of an independent nature. And yet, as Humphrey Jennings’ propaganda films, say, or the travelogues of British Transport Films have shown, this clearly shouldn’t be the case. Shadows of Progress proves this further with titles such as Richard Cawston’s Shellarama (the sponsor should be obvious), which utilised Super Technirama and a Johnny Scott score to produce a terrific piece of visual poetry. Similarly Sarah Erulkar’s Picture to Post (1969), which also uses widescreen and Technicolor, in this case to effectively update the GPO Film Unit’s The King’s Stamp (1935) to the late sixties and provide a charming glimpse of three artists at work as they design new stamps.
Furthermore, the sheer range of sponsors results in an understandably diverse array of films. Everything from mental illness to environmental issues are covered, allowing Shadows of Progress to provide a fascinating snapshot of its period, one that goes beyond the concerns of cinematic history to instead become just history. Indeed, the DVD boxed-set, much like the BFI’s other documentary volumes, is as likely to appeal to the nostalgist as it is the film buff. Certain titles are very specifically tied to the time of their making (such as The Elephant Will Never Forget and its record of the last day of the London trams), others are useful in that they display the attitudes of their time, whether it be the proto-feminism of Jill Craigie’s To Be a Woman (1951) and its demands of equal pay for women, or the manner in which Derek Williams’ There Was a Door (1957) can take a young man with Down’s syndrome as its subject but never once utter the words “Down’s syndrome” in its narration. Moreover, it is this historical angle which allows certain films off the hook, as it were, when considering their relationship with their sponsors. Of course, many were intended as promotional pieces and therefore can be guilty of glossing the issues or having certain lines in place which are not to be crossed. Yet in retrospect this can add further layers of interest as history informs us that the progress of the book’s and boxed-set’s title was not always for the best. Some of the films take on an ironic air - it is hard, for example, to watch The Shadow of Progress (sponsored by BP) without thinking of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico - which can arguably make them richer works. And so whatever cinematic values each of the shorts has, there are further undercurrents to be discerned and enjoyed, whether they be positive or negative (and kudos to the BFI for acknowledging such elements in the films’ respective notes in the accompanying booklet).
It could be argued, though, that the cinematic values are gaining the greater emphasis from the BFI. Unlike the BTF, COI and NCB volumes, Shadows of Progress has been programmed primarily from an auterist perspective. Only a few of the filmmakers whose work make up the boxed-set are represented by a single film, the majority instead treated to a number of entries. The effect is that we are drawn towards making connections between the shorts, an effect that is only heightened when we cross-reference with the book and their respective dedicated chapters. Guy Brenton, for example, is no longer the ‘unknown’ co-director of Thursday’s Children but a fascinating character in his own right. We learn of how his medically-centred shorts were informed by his contracting TB during his student days, a situation that prompted works of great humanity and compassion. People Apart (1957) is wonderfully mature in its approach: a straight-forward series of talking heads as various sufferers with epilepsy relate their own stories, both good and bad, without any sense of condescension or judgement.
Brenton is also credited as the writer of many of his shorts, an element which heightens Shadows of Progress auterist claims and, indeed, is repeated throughout the set for many of its filmmakers. And just like Brenton it is easy to detect the personal element. To Be a Woman fits perfectly into Jill Craigie’s oeuvre, one that extended beyond cinema (To Be a Woman was to be her final film as director until her 1995 television documentary Two Hours From London) into her definitive account of the women’s suffragette movement, Daughters of Dissent, a work that had occupied most of her life and would be published posthumously. (Incidentally, Craigie does not get her own chapter in the book owing to this early retirement from filmmaking - most of her films were made during the ‘golden age’ - and the availability of Carl Rollyson’s biography, also entitled To Be a Woman, a choice that one again plays up this particular film’s significance.) Similarly, Anthony Simmons’ Sunday by the Sea reveals its director’s working class background in the East End of London. Following his fellow Eastenders as they embark on a weekend trip to Southend, the empathy is easy discern, all the more so if you compare it to Lindsay Anderson’s Free Cinema short O Dreamland, a film which was made the same year and with the same cinematographer yet is so much more disdainful and sour.
As already mentioned Anderson figures quite prominently on Shadows of Progress, the set containing four of his shorts, three of which are really quite rare. Given the auterist dimensions it is once again tempting to try to discern what, if anything, makes these films personal and how they relate to his better known Free Cinema shorts and subsequent features. Admittedly, the former is quite a task, in part because of the subjects they tackle. An educational piece to farmers warning of the early signs of Foot and Mouth (in the 1955 short of the same name) or a demonstration of three conveyor belt systems being used in different industrial settings (Three Installations, 1952) do not, in all honesty, allow for much of a personal mark. However, in relation to Free Cinema they do offer up some interesting similarities. Firstly it is worth recalling that two of the three films he chose to include amongst the National Film Theatre Free Cinema programmes were themselves sponsored works. Wakefield Express (1952) was made to promote the titular local newspaper whilst Every Day Except Sunday was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. They too, much like Foot and Mouth and the others, had to accommodate voice-over narration and delivering a great deal of factual information to the audience, and yet still managed that fresh approach which led to them being considered, to this day, key examples of British cinema. Secondly, all have Walter Lassally as director of photography, a significant presence in that his camerawork did much to define the Free Cinema look and that of the subsequent British New Wave features (A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner, et al). As such, the likes of Henry (1955, an NSPCC-sponsored short about a young child who runs into the night to get away from a domestic argument) and Thursday’s Children look as good as any of the better-known works and retain some of that observational feel. Henry, particularly when it gets amongst the neon-lit London nightspots, is only one short step away from Free Cinema’s youth-orientated We Are the Lambeth Boys.
If Anderson is the best-known director prior to the release of Shadows of Progress, then John Krish is the director who deserves to be best-known now that it is available to the public. As the ‘further viewing’ at the foot of this review reveals he is already quite well represented on disc, though arguably the films selected here portray him in a slightly different light. Krish has always been an inventive director and this is what many of the shorts released so far tend to reveal most of all; witness 1951’s This Year - London or any of his public information films. However, it is these PIFs which may currently paint him in slightly the wrong light. As he stated in a interview held onstage at the National Film Theatre in 2003, “I did run over an awful lot of children, and burnt a few,” making reference to the shock tactics employed by the likes of The Finishing Line (1977, a warning to children about playing on railway lines courtesy of a twisted sports day which kills or maims most of its participants) and so on. However, as we see in Shadows of Progress’ selections - The Elephant Will Never Forget, Return to Life (1960), They Took Us to the Sea (1963) and I Think They Call Him John (1964) - Krish was also capable of making the most touching of films.
The most immediate in its pleasures is The Elephant Will Never Forget. Oddly for a British Transport Film this isn’t a look forward to progress but rather a nostalgic yearning for the past with just a hint of bitterness. Detailing the last day of the London trams, and as such their death (made clear in the voice-over with the line “standing like mourners at their own funeral” during shots of their empty shells), it is evocative of Jennings in its use of music to stir the emotions. Archie Harradine leads the members of a Darby & Joan Club into a rendition of ‘Riding on Top of the Car’ which is played over a montage of an elderly couple taking one final journey on the tram. The simple juxtaposition of sound and image, the latter intercut with archive footage of the trams from yesteryear, is stunningly effective and perhaps all the remarkable given that The Elephant... was simply released as part of the BTF’s Cine Gazette magazine series. What may have appeared throwaway is now increasingly being called a classic, as it truly deserves to be, though its appeal has always been recognised by some: when Kevin Brownlow made his film of the last week of the Glasgow trams, Nine, Dalmuir West (1962, available on the BFI’s DVD/Blu-ray of Winstanley), the template he used could not have been more obvious.
In contrast I Think They Call Him John is a film which uses silence to its advantage and contains not a hint of the celebratory. The subject here is John Ronson, a childless widower of nine years who lives on his own in a tower block. Krish made this independently financed short (one of the few on Shadows of Progress without an industrial or governmental sponsor) over the course of two weekends, recording Ronson’s routines and detailing every drop of loneliness. The soundtrack contains narration, but for the most part centres on the quietness of its subject’s life; even the piano that sits in his front room remains just another piece of furniture. As such it is Ronson’s face that becomes the principal focus and with it a stark portrayal of what it is like to be forgotten in a modern world. (In some ways, I Think They Call Him John could be seen as a corrective to the new town proselytising of the likes of Faces of Harlow [also 1964]; all that progress towards a new life and a new way of living has its casualties.) However, no matter how bleak the film may be, Krish never loses the compassionate side. As is also the case with Return to Life and They Took Us to the Sea, he is able to get inside of his subjects, present life from their point of view, no matter how positive or how difficult that may be to take in.
Ideally, I would go through each of the filmmakers in a similar fashion and highlight their outstanding works but that would make this already very long review even longer. More importantly, this is exactly what the second half of Shadows of Progress the book does, so arguably it isn’t really called for. However, one final director who does need a special mention is Paul Dickson, as does his 1951 film David. Dickson had earlier won a BAFTA for Best Documentary for The Undefeated (1950, present on Land of Promise) and secured another nomination for David, ultimately losing out to Beaver Valley, one of Disney’s True Life Adventures. Yet for all The Undefeated’s qualities, the 1951 short is arguably Dickson’s finest achievement. A loose biopic of the poet D.R. Griffiths (here portraying himself as “Dafydd Rhys”), this drama-documentary demonstrates considerable cinematic savvy as it traces his life as miner, school caretaker, poet, father and father figure. Quite epic sounding for a 30-minute short, but this is exactly what David is. By utilising flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks), by paring down scenes to their absolute essentials (Griffiths’ stoic reaction to his son’s death in which he continues to scrub a floor immediately after receiving the news), and by concentrating on Griffiths remarkable features (which tell many a story in themselves) Dickson is able to convey a remarkable amount of information and keep the emotions in place. It really is like watching a Terence Davies vignette albeit made almost 60 years ago. In fact, I wonder if Davies has seen this particular gem; I’m sure he would find much to admire. One last point to be made about Dickson is the fact that he later went on to make a number of B movies and work in episodic television, areas in which you really feel that his talents were wasted. On the strength of David alone (although his other Shadows of Progress inclusions are not to be ignored) he really should have become one of Britain’s great filmmakers.
Of course, Shadows of Progress also works on further levels beyond that of rescuing key filmmakers from obscurity and providing an historical record of its period, even if these remain the two major factors. As I noted when reviewing Land of Promise, the sheer breadth of these sets allows us to programme our own mini-collections or double bills, an exercise that can prove revealing. If, for example, we take all the various approaches to health that we find on Shadows of Progress then we have, effectively, a standalone collection, one that could easily sit alongside the BFI’s Joy of Sex Education volume. Even on this one particular theme we have a vast array of different approaches and methods, once again validating just how much is to be gained from these four discs. Or we could have a double bill of Peter Hopkinson’s Today in Britain and Michael Orrom’s Portrait of Queenie, two shorts from 1964 providing alternate takes on presenting that year in cinematic terms. One is effectively a PR exercise for the country, in full colour and with plenty of gloss. The other is unassuming and black and white, focussing its attentions on a single pub in the East End. One offers style and scale. The other is all about the people and the little gems of conversation they come out with: revealing why a street is known as “Chopper Street”, one local tells us it was because “a policeman had his head chopped off [there] and put down a drain.”
Ultimately it is this range and scope which makes Shadows of Progress such a joy to sit through. Seaside symphonies rub shoulders with talking heads, pure cinema precedes a party political broadcast, the future is predicted and the past is remembered. All told, a superb achievement.
Shadows of Progress is spread over four dual-layered discs, each containing around three hours of material. Given that the set is the culmination of the Boom Britain project many of the titles featured received restoration work between 2008 and 2010 and as a result each title has been transferred in High Definition from the best possible sources. Understandably some damage is still evident on certain films, both visually and on the soundtrack, though this shouldn’t be too surprising given the age and rarity of many of the titles. As the notes on the transfer state “every effort has been made to present these films in their complete form and at the highest quality possible”. As should be expected all films come in their original aspect ratios, predominantly the Academy ratio, though in the case of Shellarama and Picture to Post this means 1.66:1 and 1.78:1 respectively, anamorphically enhanced of course. (The 15 certificate is owing to two of the Eric Marquis titles, Time Out of Mind and Time of Terror, and their opening scene of self-harm and strong imagery of real-life injuries, respectively.)
The extras comprise of a hefty 100-page book and a new documentary entitled Perspectives on Documentary Filmmaking. The former is of a similar high quality to those found in the Land of Promise set and the GPO Film Unit volumes. In other words, each film is treated to its own comprehensive notes and credits, plus there are a number of other pieces (primarily the reminiscences of those involved in particular or various titles) and of course the whole thing is generously illustrated. Adding to the reminiscences the accompanying 44-minute documentary comprises newly recorded interview with a number of the films’ directors, each recalling their time in the industry and offering anecdotes relating to particular titles. Combined both book and documentary reveal a wealth of information and it’s great to see the filmmakers allowed their say. And once you’ve made your way through the set and its extras please refer to the ‘further viewing’ below to seek out further examples of their work. Shadows of Progress shouldn’t be seen as a one-stop-shop for post-war documentary filmmaking, but rather the starting point for a rich area of cinema that has been unexplored for too long.
Furthermore, I really cannot overstate the importance of the Shadows of Progress book as well. This really is a meaty read, brimful of new information. Whether you require an overview of a particular production company or simply the period as a whole, the entire post-war scene has been perfectly laid out. Even a fairly well-known unit such as British Transport Films (thanks, primarily, to the BFI’s nine volumes of discs) is deftly covered, ably examining its key figures and progressions through the years, noting the important works and discussing its place within the wider context. Similarly the individual chapters dedicated to their respective filmmakers make for essential reading for those wishing to delve further. More importantly, in many cases these represent the first time they’ve received such dedicated coverage. (The fact that many were interviewed especially for the book only enhances its qualities.) As I should have made abundantly clear by now the DVD boxed-set is absolutely superb and contains plenty of context and information in itself, but when combined with the book the pair become a near-definitive record. Although, by all means BFI, please continue in providing these films and their makers with further coverage.
You can find the Shadows of Progress book here at Amazon.co.uk.
David (1951, Paul Dickson, 36 mins)
Drama-documentary that serves as a loose biopic of Welsh poet D.R. (David Rees) Griffiths, here named Dafydd Rhys. The film was selected to represent Wales in the 1951 Festival of Britain.
To Be a Woman (1951, Jill Craigie, 18 mins)
Campaigning documentary for equal pay for women from Jill Craigie, whose work often took the role of women in society as its focal point. After retiring from filmmaking she worked on her epic study of the suffragette movement, Daughters of Dissent, which was published posthumously.
The Island (1952, Peter Pickering, 25 mins)
The construction of a refinery on Kent’s Isle of Grain as seen through the eyes of those it affects and those who are responsible for it being there, all told in a predominantly positive light.
The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953, John Krish, 11 mins)
Perhaps the best-loved of all British Transport Films, a nostalgic look at London trams on the eve of their final journey.
Sunday by the Sea (1953, Anthony Simmons, 14 mins)
The flipside to Lindsay Anderson’s O Dreamland: a compassionate look at the working classes on holiday without an ounce of bitterness or the hint of a sneer.
Henry (1955, Lindsay Anderson, 5 mins)
NSPCC-sponsored short using the eponymous Henry as a case study for their work, in this instance coming to the aid of a child who has escaped his parents’ domestic argument by heading into the London night.
Foot and Mouth (1955, Lindsay Anderson, 19 mins)
An instructional piece warning farmers of the early signs of foot and mouth, as well as showing the overwhelming effects if such advice is neglected.
Birthright (1958, Sarah Erulkar, 24 mins)
Wide-ranging documentary sponsored by the Family Planning Association, primarily concerned with birth control but also finding room for discussion of unwanted babies, abortion, child cruelty and other related subjects.
They Took Us to the Sea (1961, John Krish, 25 mins)
Fundraising NSPCC film showing underprivileged children on a trip to the seaside.
Faces of Harlow (1964, Derrick Knight, 29 mins)
Promotional piece, commissioned by Harlow itself, extolling the virtues of this new town.
Thursday’s Children (1954, Lindsay Anderson & Guy Brenton, 21 mins)
One of the best-known titles on Shadows of Progress, this portrait of children attending the Royal School of the Deaf in Margate and their lessons won an Oscar for Best Short Subject.
People Apart (1957, Guy Brenton, 36 mins)
A matter-of-fact look at epilepsy, as told by its sufferers in talking heads fashion.
There Was a Door (1957, Derek Williams, 27 mins)
Johnny, who has Down’s syndrome (although the condition is never named directly), is used as a case study to document “mental deficiencies” and the local authority care services in place. This documentary was also screened as part of the BBC’s Panorama strand.
Return to Life (1960, John Krish, 29 mins)
The life of refugees as seen through their eyes and their experience, told as drama documentary.
Four People: A Ballad Film (1962, Guy Brenton, 44 mins)
The music of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger serves as sung narration as we follow four people with polio through their rehabilitation.
A Time to Heal (1963, Derrick Knight, 36 mins)
A British example of ‘Direct Cinema’, produced for the National Coal Board and detailing a rehabilitation centre for miners in Wales.
Time Out of Mind (1968, Eric Marquis, 33 mins)
Drama documentary look at psychiatric disorders and their treatment told in stylish, and occasionally graphic, fashion. The film would later be utilised for the music video for Doves’ There Goes the Fear single in 2002.
Three Installations (1952, Lindsay Anderson, 22 mins)
Three conveyor belt operations in action - at an ironworks, in a cement plant and aiding with the construction of a dock.
The Film That Never Was (1957, Paul Dickson, 29 mins)
Documentary turned on its head as Gordon Jackson’s filmmaker meets with sponsors to discuss how best industrial relations should be dealt, complete with film-within-a-film dramatisations.
Stone Into Steel (1960, Paul Dickson, 36 mins)
An industrial processes demonstration, somewhat artistic in nature, as the titular stone is transformed into the titular steel.
From First to Last (1962, Anthony Simmons, 28 mins)
Another industrial processes film, this time tracing the construction of Ford automobiles from the factory to the road.
People, Productivity & Change (1963, Peter Bradford, 44 mins)
Chairmen, union men, managers and workers discuss the titular productivity and change.
Shellarama (1965, Richard Cawston, 14 mins)
Super Technirama, colour and a Johnny Scott score conspire to create a wordless visual feast, considered “a Night Mail for the post-war boom” by Patrick Russell in the accompanying booklet.
Picture to Post (1969, Sarah Erulkar, 23 mins)
Three artists at work on new stamps. A GPO-sponsored work, making this effectively a sequel to 1935’s The King Stamp, one of the most widely-seen British productions of all time, albeit in widescreen and Technicolor.
The Shadow of Progress (1970, Derek Williams, 25 mins)
Environmental issues, 1970-style: as the ad campaign from sponsor BP put it, “If you enjoy The Shadow of Progress, we’ve failed.”
Today in Britain (1964, Peter Hopkinson, 25 mins)
The UK gets its own PR campaign: science and technology, landscape and literature, politics and royalty, farming and football.
Portrait of Queenie (1964, Michael Orrom, 44 mins)
Queenie Watts, singer at the Ironbridge Tavern in East London, gets her own film portrait and, by extension, so do the Tavern’s patrons and other musicians.
I Think They Call Him John (1964, John Krish, 26 mins)
John Ronson, retired miner and solider, has been a widower for nine years. This quiet, delicately observed portrait documents his loneliness in a modern world. Even the title emphasises the sense of neglect.
Education for the Future (1967, Derrick Knight, 10 mins)
A party political broadcast from the Labour Party demonstrating the values of the comprehensive school system.
Tomorrow’s Merseysiders (1974, Eric Marquis, 24 mins)
A day in the life of a regional newspaper that also serves to promote and insist on a better future for Liverpool’s youth.
Time of Terror (1975, Eric Marquis, 19 mins)
Shaw Taylor-narrated look at terrorism, both warning the public to vigilant and demonstrating how the Metropolitan Police (the film’s sponsor) deal with the issue.
The Shetland Experience (1977, Derek Williams, 27 mins)
“The scale of oil against the scale of Shetland.”
Anderson’s Wakefield Express (1952), O Dreamland (1953), Every Day Except Christmas (1957) are all present on the BFI’s Free Cinema boxed-set. That set also includes March to Aldermaston (1959) on which Anderson provided production assistance. Another early pre-feature film credit, as production manager as well as actor, appears on James Broughton’s The Pleasure Garden (1952), which has also been released as a standalone disc by the BFI. Most of Anderson’s features, from This Sporting Life (1963) onwards, are available on disc and should be commonly known.
Bradford’s 1953 feature for the Children’s Film Foundation, Heights of Danger, is available on disc from Strike Force Entertainment. Wealth of the World: Transport (1950, the first British Transport Film) is available on the BFI’s Land of Promise. The 1946 film from which that set takes its name, on which Bradford provided assistance, is similarly included. Bradford was also interviewed for the Close-Up: Recollections of British Documentary extra.
None of Craigie’s other documentary works appear to be available on disc, although she did script a handful of features during the fifties which have been released. The Gregory Peck-starring The Million Pound Note (1954) is available from ITV DVD, whilst Network have issued Windom’s Way (1957).
As well as working in documentaries, Dickson directed a number of B-movie features and shorts as well as episodic television. Of the former The Depraved (1957) is currently available on disc courtesy of Pegasus Entertainment, whilst the latter included working on The Adventurer, The Avengers, The Champions, Department S, Jason King and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased); all can found amongst their respective DVD boxed-sets and volumes. Dickson was also interviewed for the Close-Up: Recollections of British Documentary extra on the Land of Promise set, which includes his 1949 short The Undefeated.
Erulkar’s 1971 documentary Never Go With Strangers, which she scripted and directed, appears on the fourth of the BFI’s Central Office of Information volumes, Stop! Look! Listen!. District Nurse, made in 1952, have been released by the Queen’s Nursing Institute.
None of Hill’s films feature on the Shadows of Progress DVD boxed-set, although he does get a devoted chapter in the book. His career encompassed documentaries, short films, features and television assignments, a number of which are available on disc. The earliest, Friend of the Family (1949), has been released by the Queen’s Nursing Institute; his other on-disc shorts are Skyhook (1958), Giuseppina (1959) and The Home-Made Car (1963), all of which appeared on the BFI’s Blu-ray/DVD of his 1961 feature Lunch Hour, and the 1961 documentary A Sunday in September which can be found on the BFI’s That Kind of Girl Blu/DVD. Also available are Every Day’s a Holiday (1964), Born Free (1965), A Study in Terror (1965), Black Beauty (1971) and The Belstone Fox (1979). An Elephant Called Slowly (1969) was released in the US by Anchor Bay but is now out of print, whilst Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969) is available as part of the Warner Archive burn-on-demand series. Hill’s television credits on Gideon’s Way, The Saint, Dick Barton Special Agent, The Avengers, The New Avengers, The Persuaders! and Moses the Lawgiver can also be found, as can his Born Free follow-up documentaries The Lions Are Free (1967) and The Lion at World’s End (1971).
Howells’ 1954 documentary short The Sea Shall Test Her is included on the BFI's Tales from the Shipyard two-disc set. He also wrote the screenplay for Wealth of the World: Transport which appears on their Land of Promise collection.
None of Jones’ films feature on the Shadows of Progress boxed set, but he does share a chapter in the book with Tony Thompson and Bill Mason. Nine of Jones’ films appear on the dedicated DVD volume Geoffrey Jones: The Rhythm of Film, released by the BFI, and no doubt it is this particular disc’s availability which prevented any of his shorts appearing on SoP. Needless to say The Rhythm of Film contains all of the major works amongst its contents: notably the British Transport Films trilogy of Snow (1963), Rail (1966) and Locomotion (1975); and the two Shell films Shell Spirit (1962) and This is Shell (1970). This disc also contains an interview with Jones recorded shortly before his death in 2005.
Two 1959 shorts to which Knight contributed, March to Aldermaston (production assistance) and No Place to Hide (director), are both available on disc from the BFI. The former on their Free Cinema set, the latter as an extra on their release of Gerry O’Hara’s That Kind of Girl (1963). The BFI’s forthcoming Requiem for a Village Blu-ray/DVD will include The Great Steam Fair (produced and co-directed by Knight) amongst its extras.
A number of Krish’s documentaries have appeared on various BFI discs as follows: This Year - London (1951, British Transport Films Collection Volume One), Away for the Day (1952, BTF Collection Volume Nine), They Had an Idea (1953, BTF Collection Volume Nine), Peach and Hammer - Carol Hill (1973, The COI Collection Volume Six), Sewing Machine (1973, The Central Office of Information Collection Volume Four), Searching (1974, The COI Collection Volume Four), Snatch of the Day (The COI Collection Volume One), Drive Carefully Darling (1975, The COI Collection Volume Four), I Stopped, I Looked and I Listened (1975, The COI Collection Volume Four) and The Finishing Line (1975, BTF Collection Volume Seven). Krish also wrote and edited What a Life! (1948) which features on the Land of Promise four-disc set, whilst episodes of The Avengers and The Saint, which he directed, are also available on DVD.
Since the release of Shadows of Progress the BFI have also issued the A Day in the Life set onto DVD and Blu-ray containing six Krish films in total: The Elephant Will Never Forget, They Took Us to the Sea, I Think They Call Him John (all of which appear on Shadows of Progress), Our School (1962), I Want to Go to School (1959) and Mr Marsh Comes to School (1961).
Prior to a move into direction Krish worked as an assistant editor during the war years. The following titles are all available on DVD courtesy of DD Video: Target for Tonight (1941), Ferry Pilot (1942), Coastal Command (1942), The True Glory (1945) and the short Wavell's 30,000 which appears as an extra on their Desert Victory disc. He also worked on Listen to Britain in the same capacity, which can be found on the Land of Promise set or as part of Film First’s Humphrey Jennings Collection as well as being an extra on the BFI’s disc of Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City. Krish also worked as editor on Flying With Prudence, a 1946 documentary short which appears on DD Video's Royal Air Force 1945-1947: The Unseen Films compilation.
Marquis’ Seven Green Bottles (1975) appears as an extra on the BFI’s release of Bronco Bullfrog (1969). His 1973 short Without Due Care and 1979 short Police Station can be found on Simply Media’s Policing London - The 1970s compilation disc.
Another director, like Geoffrey Jones, who is discussed in one the book’s chapters but doesn't have any of his films included on the discs. However, his shorts Air Traffic Under Control, Communication in Air Traffic Control and Why Air Traffic Control can be found on Strike Force Entertainment’s British Air Traffic Control 1963-1973 disc, whilst his British Transport Films Groundwork for Progress (1959) and Freight and the City (1966) appear on volumes three and four of the BFI’s BTF Collection respectively. Also available are the films Mason directed for BP's History of the Motor Car series, on Duke Video's DVD of the same name.
Orrom directed a number of shorts for British Transport Films in the fifties, the following of which are available on disc: Dodging the Column (1952, BTF Collection Volume Five), Channel Islands (1952, BTF Collection Volume Eight) and Highland Journey (1957, the non-BFI compilation Highlands courtesy of Delta). Orrom also edited Probation Officer (1950) which featured on the BFI’s first Central Office of Information volume, Police and Thieves.
Pickering worked extensively with the National Coal Board and as such a number of his works are present on the BFI’s NCB volume Portrait of a Miner, whilst the Land of Promise and Tales from the Shipyard sets included Mining Reviews amongst their contents. (The Close-Up: Recollections of British Documentary extra on the latter features new interview material with Pickering.) He also worked as an assistant on Probation Officer (1950) which appears on the BFI’s first Central Office of Information volume, Police and Thieves.
Simmons became quite a prominent director of feature films (arguably more so than any of the directors featured on Shadows of Progress - excepting Lindsay Anderson, of course) and is reasonably well accounted for on DVD. Four in the Morning (1965) is available from Odeon Entertainment, the disc also containing his 1954 short Bow Bells; Renown have issued his 1960 feature Your Money or Your Wife; The Optimists (1973) has been released onto Region 1 by Legend Films; and Black Joy (1977) was issued in the UK by Fremantle. Green Ice (1981), which Simmons co-scripted, has been released on disc courtesy of Carlton. Simmons also directed a number of episodes for various TV series, the following of which are available on disc: Inspector Morse, The Professionals, Supergran, A Touch of Frost, and Van Der Valk.
Williams' COI short, Oxford (1958), made for Greenpark Productions, is available on the BFI's fifth COI volume, Portrait of a People. He also worked as second unit director on the 1962 crime drama Mix Me a Person, which can be found on ITV DVD's Donald Sinden boxed-set.