A heads up on the National Archives at Kew

Well, today’s an exciting day in the world of British Council film blogging. I’m making plans to visit the National Archives at Kew, to dig through some original documents, and find a little more out about the organisation’s involvement with film.

That’s been triggered by some very helpful information from Claire Twinn, the British Council’s Archives Manager, who’s had an initial look at the files held down there. So, in our first official guest contribution, she writes:

There are various historical paper files relating to British Council films held at The National Archives in Kew. You can see the descriptions of the files on their online catalogue. The department code for the British Council is BW. A search for “film” in the word or phrase field and “BW” in the department or series code field produces 76 results.

I was there yesterday, and I had a bit of time to look at a few of the paper files relating to British Council films. I consulted:

  • BW 1/770 – Film General Policy: British Council film operations overseas: survey of Central Office of Information (COI) film work 1946-1969
  • BW 4/26 – Foreign Office: distribution of films 1938
  • BW 4/54 – Film Department Minutes 1942-1943

They were very interesting, and certainly help put the various British Council films in context.

BW 1/770 concerned the relationship between the British Council and the COI (that is, the Central Office of Information – very broadly speaking, the government’s communications and advertising agency). It included the take over by the COI of BC film work and staff in 1946, and some discussion about the value and use of film work, allocation of films, resources and audiences.

BW 4/26 had an interesting document that explained the beginnings of BC film work and the formation of a joint committee on film work with the Travel and Industrial Development Association.

BW 4/54 The main discussions recorded in the minutes seemed to be subjects for potential films, progress of films, funding and production costs, reasons for some of the films and distribution. It was useful to see who attended the Film Committee meetings.

For example, there were representatives from the Ministry of Health, General Post Office (I assume from the Film Unit, in fact an advisor to the Joint Committee, according to BW 4/26, was a former GPO Film Unit employee), Government Cinematograph Adviser etc.

That’s fascinating information. In particular, I’m very intrigued by the 1946 COI take over. After ’46, the British Council seemed to start producing fewer films, with more of a cultural bent; it’s going to understand how and why that happened in more detail. So, building on Clare’s initial work, I’m looking forward to going in a bit deeper, and finding out more about how, why and for whom the British Council was commissioning films, and how people across the world responded to them. More in upcoming posts!


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