Category: History

Christmas on Film: ‘New Year Greeting’ (1949)

We are now approaching the final hours of 2014, so as an added bonus, here’s a last blast of seasonal strangeness from the BFI’s National Archive for you all. The only thing I know about it is that this odd little film was shown in British cinemas in late 1949. I can find no other information about it, although some thought has clearly gone into it, and some of the special effects are really rather fun. Despite this film being more than sixty years old, it must be said that it’s still better than most of the tat British TV broadcasts on New Year’s Eve these days…

On a more personal note, thank you so much to everyone who has read, commented, liked, shared, suggested things, written guest posts and sent me stuff in 2014 – your interest and intellectual contributions keep Another Kind Of Mind (and me) going in more ways than one. I am incredibly lucky to have such a great bunch of readers!

Wishing you all much light, luck and love for 2015 – and a very Happy New Year!

Christmas on Film: ‘Santa Claus’ (1898)

No, the date in the title of this post isn’t a typo. This final festive selection from the BFI National Archive really is a rare and unusual late Victorian film short, which uses some extremely clever and – for the time – groundbreaking special effects to show a Christmas Eve visit from Santa Claus to two excited young children. Made by G.A. Smith (1864-1959), an ex-magic lantern operator, hypnotist and one of the pioneers of British cinema, this is, in the words of Michael Brooke at the British Film Institute, “one of the most visually and conceptually sophisticated British films made up to then”. Aside from that, it’s also an endearing and rather sweet encapsulation of the thrill of a childhood Christmas Eve, all distilled into less than a minute and a half…

For more from the BFI National Archive, visit their website or their excellent YouTube channel. You can also find more BFI festive goodies (and numerous other seasonal posts) on Another Kind Of Mind here.

And a very Merry Christmas to one and all!

Christmas on Film: ‘Christmas Under Fire’ (1941)

This seasonal wartime propaganda short was produced for the American market and has since become a minor classic of the genre, also being nominated for the Best Documentary (Short Subject) Oscar in 1942. Written and narrated by the London-based US journalist Quentin Reynolds (1902–1965) (whose distinctively intimate voice can also be heard on the previous year’s now-iconic London Can Take It!, also aimed at American cinemagoers), this film tells the story of Britain during the Christmas of 1940, when the country was quite literally under fire.

Wearing its propaganda colours firmly on its sleeve right from the off (the opening shot tells us this is a ‘Ministry of Information film’), this film knows exactly which buttons to press in order to get an emotional and visceral reaction from the average American viewer. As a result, there are vivid images of the way the war has had an impact on what Reynolds sees as the timeless peace of British life – so there are shots of shelterers in the London Underground, children playing at soldiers, troops watching out for enemy planes or manning guns in British cities and countryside, and bombed-out shopkeepers in what remains of their premises, declaring ‘business as usual’.

Continue reading

Christmas on Film: ‘Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost’ (1901)

One of the earliest surviving adaptations of Charles Dickens’ work on film (and certainly the earliest surviving film version of A Christmas Carol), this is a remarkably ambitious piece of film-making for the time – for a start, it attempts to cram an eighty page story into a mere five minutes, which, for anyone who knows the source text well, seems quite an achievement!

Sadly, the only known remaining print is incomplete, but enough of it is left to demonstrate magician and director W.R Booth’s (1869-1938) creative approach to special effects (watch out for the scene where Scrooge’s doorknocker turns into Jacob Marley’s head, and the initial appearance of Marley’s ghost himself), some of which even now are pretty impressive.

Continue reading

Christmas on Film: ‘Making Christmas Crackers’ (1910)

In the first of this week’s seasonal offerings from the British Film Institute’s National Archives, we’re visiting an Edwardian cracker factory, probably somewhere in east London, where we see the process of making these now-traditional Christmas essentials by hand and with the aid of machines. Next, we are transported to a cheerful and festively decorated living room, where we meet a family in the process of celebrating Christmas. They pull a giant cracker and a very special guest arrives…

This is an interesting film for a number of reasons. Its production was sponsored by Clark, Nickolls & Coombs, the company who were responsible for making the crackers, and it shows that their workforce was almost entirely made up of women. These working class women stand in distinct contrast to the middle-class family shown enjoying the fruits of such factory labours around the Christmas tree – suggesting this was a form of advertising and possibly education, demonstrating both the processes of manufacture and that the company sold (or at least aimed to sell) their products to an aspirational middle-class market. The idea of consumerism and consumption at Christmas is clearly not a new one!

For more from the BFI National Archive, visit their website or their excellent YouTube channel.

For more seasonal posts on Another Kind Of Mind, see here.

World War One: A Home Front Christmas Miscellany

Christmas at Alton Red Cross Hospital

Christmas at Alton Red Cross Hospital (click through for more details)

Eagle-eyed readers might recall that I wrote a World War Two Christmas Miscellany post some years ago, examining the experiences of Christmas on the home front during that conflict – and since I have also been writing a series of posts on the First World War, I thought it would be interesting to try the same for 1914-1918 too.

This post mainly focuses on the wartime Christmas experiences of Londoners (mostly because I am a Londoner and I have posted about this city, its history and my fascination with it on many previous occasions), but I am sure those resident in other British towns, cities, and even smaller settlements would have had similar festive seasons and felt similar emotions during the war years to those living and working in the capital – these were, as you will see, difficult times for everybody, both at home and on the front line. Indeed, I was particularly interested to note just how bleak and, quite frankly, how depressing wartime Christmases became as the conflict progressed.

For more information on the subject, see the ‘Further reading, listening and sources’ section at the end of the post – and I would also be interested to hear from you if you have any further details of World War One home front Christmases in London, or from elsewhere in the country. You can leave a comment here or get hold of me on Twitter.

By December 1914, the oft-voiced view that the war would be ‘over by Christmas’ had already proved to be sadly mistaken – although it was unlikely that anyone preparing for the festive season that year could have possibly imagined there would actually be another three wartime Christmases yet to come before the return of peace.

Continue reading

Post Early for Christmas…

Now, here’s something rather intriguing and strange. This wartime (1943) short film encouraging the viewer to get their cards and presents in the post in plenty of time for Christmas has a deliciously surreal feel to it (particularly the distinctly odd final scene!). It’s one of a huge number of public information films made by and starring the wonderfully expressive and deliberately bumbling actor and director Richard Massingham (1898-1953), and can be found in the British Film Institute’s fascinating National Archive.

If you’d like to see more of the BFI’s holdings, visit their website or check out their excellent YouTube channel – I’ve been having a thoroughly enjoyable rummage through the latter and have found some fantastic vintage festive film treats for you, which I’ll be posting in the run up to Christmas…

And if you’re a bit disorganised and haven’t even started thinking about Christmas yet, you can find this year’s last posting dates for cards and parcels (sent from the UK) here.

The Berlin Wall in London

'Change your life'

I bet you didn’t know that there’s a piece* of the Berlin Wall in London.

You can see it in the photograph above, taken yesterday in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, where it has been since 1991. This small section of the Wall was originally from the area around the famous Brandenburg Gate and, according to the plaque at the foot of it, the striking artwork is by the graffiti artist Indiano.

It’s strange seeing this piece of the Wall here in London – and as history, too. Like so many, I grew up seeing it on the TV news as an ever-present Cold War reality, symbolic of a divided city and a divided nation. Twenty-five years after those vivid, emotional images of Berliners from both sides of the border finally meeting on that dark November night as the Wall began to fall, it still stands as a powerful reminder of those times and of those who lost their lives attempting to cross it.

* In fact, there are actually several pieces in London – the National Army Museum in Chelsea holds a number of segments in its collection and there is also a section situated at the German School in Richmond. Other pieces of the Wall can be found at sites in the UK and around the world.

World War One: Isaac Rosenberg – Poet and Painter

Isaac RosenbergAsk anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with 20th century literature about the poets and poetry of the First World War, and I can guarantee that the names ‘Rupert Brooke’, ‘Wilfred Owen’ and ‘Siegfried Sassoon’ will be mentioned at some point. All three are rightly-reknowned poets (especially Owen), but they weren’t the only ones to be creatively inspired by their war experiences. In today’s World War One post, I’ll be looking at the life and death of another Great War poet – one who came from a very different background, and whose work is still perhaps not as well-known as it should be.

Born in Bristol on 25th November 1890, Isaac Rosenberg was the eldest son of a family of Jewish immigrants who had originally come over from Eastern Europe. When young Isaac was seven years old, his family moved to the East End of London in search of work. Settling on Cable Street, in the heart of the area’s large working-class Jewish community, the Rosenbergs found it difficult to make ends meet and Isaac, although intelligent and artistically talented, was forced to leave school at 14 in order to earn some money for the family.

He was apprenticed to an engraver, a job he apparently hated, but he was already beginning to write poetry and also started attending evening classes in art at Birkbeck College. He lost his job in 1911, but a lucky chance meeting led to his artistic talent being recognised by a patron, who agreed to fund his studies at the prestigious Slade School of Art. At the Slade, he studied alongside a number of young artists who went on to be very successful (and who also later reflected the impact of the war in their work), including Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler.

Moving in the well-connected circles associated with this creatively charged atmosphere obviously had an impact on Isaac, as he was able to get a small book of his poetry privately published in 1912. A year later, he met Edward Marsh, the editor of the influential Georgian Poetry volumes and one of the most important people on the British poetry scene at the time. This meeting seems to have been very positive as the two men corresponded right up until Rosenberg’s death.

Continue reading

World War One: The Army Cyclist Corps

Gravestone of Private W. Samworth, Army Cyclist Corps, Isleworth CemeteryOne sunny spring afternoon earlier this year, I found myself wandering round Isleworth Cemetery. This is a fascinating and peaceful place, opened in the 1880s when the graveyard at the nearby All Saints Church became full and was closed to new burials. Among the many memorials at Isleworth is one to a member of the well-known local Pears family (the soap manufacturers), who died in the Titanic disaster of 1912.

There are also a number of memorial stones relating to the two World Wars here. These headstones are easily identifiable, all conforming to the simple and elegant design laid down by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1917. Each lists the deceased serviceman’s name, rank, age, unit and date of death, along with his regimental badge, a religious symbol and a brief inscription often chosen by the family.

As you can see from the photograph (left), William Samworth’s headstone is no different in that respect. But it was the nature of some of the details on there that really struck me. The first and most important thing was his unit. Despite having studied both World Wars in great detail, I had never encountered the Army Cyclist Corps before. I admit I was intrigued by the concept, and determined to find out more about the ACC – and about Private Samworth too…

Continue reading