Watching old films is always a bit of hunt for buried treasure, particularly if you stray away from a narrow list of classics. But few of these treasure hunts turn as literal as what happens if we investigate the 1949 documentary ‘Daybreak in Udi’, an Oscar winner you’ve probably never heard of.
Dutch documentary filmmaker Bert Haanstra picks up his Oscar statuette. British director Terry Bishop doesn’t seem to have been so fortunate (Image: National Archives of the Netherlands, CC-BY-SA)
Shot in Nigeria by Britain’s Crown Film Unit, the film won the Best Documentary Oscar in 1950. This was the British Government’s fourth Oscar. During the Second World War, the Academy had saluted Roy Boulting, Harry Watt and Carol Reed’s work on Desert Victory, Target for Tonight and The True Glory (made with the US). These films were the award-winning tip of a wonderful iceberg: documentary films of extraordinary quality and significance, paid for by successive British taxpayers for the 20 years since the creation of the Empire Film Unit in 1929. There was nothing unusual about the international perception of Daybreak in Udi as an outstanding film. It was well understood that (whatever other mean stuff people might say about the British film industry) we knew how to make a documentary. In fact the only unique thing about Daybreak’s win was that it received an Oscar statuette, which had not happened during wartime.
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The British Board of Film Censors was established 100 years ago, on 1 January 1913, to censor films “which may be considered in any way opposed to the better feelings of the general public”.
Film poster for '£1,000 Reward' (reference HO 45/10551)
Home Office files in The National Archives record the establishment of the British Board of Film Censors and reveal some instances where the government was concerned about the influence of film and its perceived link to an increase in crime.
The film ‘£1,000 Reward’ by Pathé, which wanted to film an escape from Portland Prison, was subject to consideration by the Home Office following a letter from an official at Portland Prison in which it claimed that “such exhibitions may be detrimental to the good Government and control of the Prison.” The letter from the Home Office on the matter also states that: “There is a risk that prisoners’ friends may be encouraged to traffic with officers in order to furnish them with tobacco, even if with no more serious purpose.”
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The Inner London Education Authority Television Service
Over the last six months as a trainee at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), I have been absorbing myself in the film and video collection and hosting a monthly Film Club dedicated to the interpretation of the previously little explored moving image archive held here. The Film Club gets together to watch and discuss films within the collection, often focussing on themes that are of particular relevance to events occurring in London within that month, whilst also providing a platform from which to engage our regular archive visitors in a different way of researching and sharing information.
ILEA 4: A teacher working at Battersea Studios
Some of the strangest and most interesting screenings have come courtesy of a collection of educational videos made by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) in the 1970s and 80s. ILEA was the education authority for the 12 inner London boroughs and the City of London from 1965 until its abolishment in 1990, after which the educational needs of these schools were taken on by the borough in which they were situated, in line with the rest of the country.
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Still Life timecode clapper
On Monday 28 May 2012 The National Archives played host to a feature film crew, who had come to shoot a feature film called ‘Still Life.’
It was quite exciting for me because I have never done anything on this scale before - The National Archives exterior was once used as a shopping mall in ‘Spooks’ and we came very close to being part of the movie ‘X-Men: First Class’ as an unnamed government building, but those were both before my time.
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An important part of our work in the Advice and Records Knowledge department is answering questions from the public regarding the records we hold here at The National Archives. In what we call ‘specialist referrals’ questions are filtered through to the staff member with the most appropriate specialism to answer, who will use their knowledge of the records and the context around them to respond as accurately as possible.
An enquiry came my way recently regarding the ‘Protect and Survive’ leaflets that were distributed by the government during the 1970s and 1980s in order to provide advice to members of the public should Britain be subject to a nuclear attack. I directed the enquirer towards some original documents – INF 6/2294, INF 6/2502, and INF 6/2531 – but my colleague suggested I take a look in the archive of public information films available on our website.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Central Office of Information (COI) in 2006, a selection of some of their most memorable films were added to our website. Indeed, amongst those are two made in 1975 relating to the ‘Protect and Survive’ series: one entitled ‘Action After Warnings’, the other ‘Casualties’.
Protect and Survive - public information films released in 1975