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.