WWII Britain Revisited in 120 Short Films, Now Free on the Web

How do you fight pro­pa­gan­da? With pro­pa­gan­da, or so held the British wartime school of thought. “Over 120 films were pro­duced as ‘cul­tur­al pro­pa­gan­da’ to coun­ter­act any­thing the Nazis might throw out and to refute the idea that ours was a coun­try stuck in the past. These films were designed to show­case Britain to the rest of the world, at a time when Britain itself was under attack.” These words come from the about page of the British Coun­cil Film Col­lec­tion, a new­ly opened inter­net archive of over 120 such pieces of cul­tur­al pro­pa­gan­da, free for the view­ing. Above, you’ll find 1941’s City Bound, as direct an illus­tra­tion of the leg­endary stiff upper lip as you’ll find in this dig­i­tal vault. The reel trum­pets, in its sober man­ner, the unblink­ing effi­cien­cy of Lon­don Trans­port as it fer­ries work­ers into the city cen­ter each morn­ing and dis­gorges them back into the sub­urbs each night, even amid the falling bombs of the Blitz. And if you find these stern­ly proud shots of com­muter trains and bus­es rolling bang on time from their sta­tions a bit arti­fi­cial, remem­ber that the Coun­cil still had to pro­duce the film itself under the very real threat from above.

These pro­duc­tions “pro­vide us with a unique insight,” says the Coun­cil today, “not nec­es­sar­i­ly into how Britain actu­al­ly was, but more into how Britain once want­ed to be per­ceived by the rest of the world.” Any­one inter­est­ed in nation­al brand­ing, vin­tage boos­t­er­ism, and sub­jec­tive his­to­ry can have a field day indulging their fas­ci­na­tions in these meta-qual­i­ties, but many of these short doc­u­men­taries offer legit­i­mate­ly worth­while first-order infor­ma­tion as well. Con­sid­er the above, Archi­tects of Eng­land. Yes, it came into being to show­case the splen­did inge­nu­ity of Eng­lish build­ing from Stone­henge mon­u­men­tal to indus­tri­al mod­ernist, but for a spir­it­ed twelve-minute ground­ing in British archi­tec­tur­al tra­di­tions, you could do worse. If you remain uncon­vinced of the val­ue of any of this, bear in mind that you can eas­i­ly down­load any­thing in the British Coun­cil Film Col­lec­tion. If you need the mak­ings of, say, an iron­ic music video, look no fur­ther.

Relat­ed con­tent:

‘Keep Calm and Car­ry On’: The Sto­ry of the Icon­ic World War II Poster

Great Movie Direc­tors Dur­ing Wartime: Hitch­cock, Capra, Hus­ton & Their WWII Films

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • David A. Brown says:

    My name is David Brown, I live in Aus­tralia and, I’m writ­ing you hop­ing that you may be able to help me to name a par­tic­u­lar British WW2 film.
    I remem­ber as a child watch­ing these clas­sic films with my father, who served in the Roy­al Navy dur­ing the war. In par­tic­u­lar I remem­ber a scene in a film (black & white if I recall cor­rect­ly) where there are a num­ber of females in mil­i­tary dress locat­ed around a very large map of Europe upon which, are a num­ber of objects rep­re­sent­ing army forces of both ger­man and allied forces. These women are mov­ing these objects with long gar­den hoe like instru­ments, accord­ing to reports they receive through their heads sets.
    Mean­while locat­ed on a mez­za­nine floor above and sur­round­ing this map, are a num­ber of Army, Navy & Air­force com­man­ders who are view­ing the map and con­fer­ring with each oth­er, devis­ing the best strat­e­gy to fight the war.
    If my mem­o­ry serves me at some point in this scene, a tele­phone call is received by one of these com­man­ders, from the Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill.
    I found sim­i­lar scenes, though they are not the one I remem­ber, in “The Bat­tle Britain” fea­tur­ing Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Sir Lau­rence Olivi­er, Christo­pher Plum­mer etc.
    Hop­ing you may be able to assist.
    Many thanks in advance in antic­i­pa­tion of any assis­tance you may be able to offer.
    Warm wish­es
    David Brown

  • Terry Walsh says:

    There are sim­i­lar scenes in ‘The Dam­busters’ (1955 — go to: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046889/)

  • Margaret Mayfield says:

    I think that scene might be in the movie The Gen­tle Sex which came out in 1943. It’s about sev­en British girls who decide to do their bit to help out dur­ing WWII. There’s the off chance it could be from the film A Mat­ter of Life and Death (1946) which starred David Niv­en , but I think it’s the first one. I loved both of these movies!

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