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 seasonal posts on Another Kind Of Mind, see here.
London is a city full of strange and surprising things; where the ancient and the modern co-exist (not always peacefully) amidst layer upon layer of this city’s sprawling history. An intriguing example of this is Postman’s Park; a small and rather lovely peaceful green space in the middle of the busy City of London – an unexpected oasis which is also home to one of the most poignant and unusual memorials in the country.
Most people, when they hear the name Mae West, think of old Hollywood movies and a brassy bottle blonde delivering comic double entendres in a studied drawl. In fact, there was a lot more to Mae than innocently smutty remarks (although she made those into a cinematic art form – most famously replying to the comment “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” with a knowing “Goodness had nothing to do with it” in the 1932 movie Night After Night).
A woman way ahead of her time, she was a multi-talented performer and a very successful and highly controversial playwright – her first play (entitled, with admirable brevity and decades before Madonna, simply Sex) led to her arrest and brief imprisonment during the highly moralistic 1920s. Beginning her career in vaudeville, she became a smash hit on Broadway for both her acting and her plays before moving to Hollywood in the early 1930s, where she became a huge success, again for her acting and writing.
Her distinctive and naughty style attracted the attention of the censors, and her early Hollywood performances were apparently partly responsible for the creation of the so-called Hays Code, which tied the American film industry into a narrowly defined moral outlook for more than thirty years. It was in order to circumvent this new code that Mae developed her now-famous facility with double entendres, a facility that turned her into an icon and one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.
Sixty years ago, the world was still a very damaged and fragile place, despite the fact that World War Two had been over for five years and reconstruction was already beginning. Britain had effectively become a bankrupt ex-superpower as a result of the conflict, and the devastation of this world war was still fresh in the collective memory of all those who had lived through it, whether as soldier or civilian.
In cities and towns across the country, bomb sites still scarred the urban environment; acting as a constant daily reminder of the Luftwaffe’s concerted and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bomb Britain into submission. Many people were still homeless or living in temporary housing.
Food and other essential items were either still rationed or very scarce, resulting in the continuation of the wartime black market in desirable goods and foodstuffs like chocolate or butter. Emotions were still raw; families all over Britain and beyond still mourning the loss of loved ones killed in battle or amid the destruction of the home front. Recovery was a slow process.
And sixty years ago, in the midst of all this, the author of one of the most important and remarkable novels of modern times died. A year earlier, in 1949, this novel had been published, initially to confused and sometimes hostile reviews. Its author was an unusual man who had lived an unusual life, but who had been, at the time of publication and although still only in his forties, dying of advanced TB on a damp and remote Scottish island.