Very early on we discovered that many of the films within the British Council film archive were commissioned or produced with the intent to distribute them across the world. This seemed fairly obvious given that the British Council’s primary objective is to build mutual trust and healthy relations between the United Kingdom and other countries. However, another large area of work the British Council invest a great deal of time in is education.
The other day, whilst I was conducting some research, I came across a document in the national archives on the British Council’s educational films. As I looked through various correspondences between the British Council Film department and other government bodies it became clear that the British Council recognised a potential within the medium of film to act as an alternative method of teaching. The council and other governmental departments involved were so keen to explore this idea that they encouraged practising teachers of the time to show British Council films to school children, which upon viewing the teacher would fill out a report based on the children’s reaction to the films. Teachers were also asked to form Teacher Film Groups where they could discuss the suitability of the films on a peer-to-peer basis. All of this information was eventually collected and collated by the Film department in order to attain feedback on their output.
Some of the information I came across also gave some indication into the Film departments thinking behind the development of educational films, referring to many films not as individual films but as belonging to a series. In one report produced, summarising a Teachers Film Group reaction to Market Town, it states that ‘all groups were rather reserved in their criticisms as they had seen no other members of the series and its link-up with them is not known’. Another set of correspondence proposed a series of ‘citizenship’ films, which was not well received by the committee in charge of developing new output.
However, the most interesting find of the lot had to be the information on a series of films the British Council labelled the ‘biological series’. Three of these films were reviewed in the same report as Market Town – The Life Cycle of Pin Mould, The Life Cycle of Maize, The Life Cycle of the Newt. These life-cycle films, as TIME/IMAGE has dubbed them, received mixed reactions from Teacher Film Groups. Many criticisms were at aimed at films that skipped or missed a stage of the life cycle and there were also requests for more diagrammatic images to be used, but the most consistent criticism was towards the narration and commentary of the films where occasionally resentment towards the talking picture surfaced. I also found a letter from the Foreign Office enquiring to the Film department about the intended viewing age of Embryology of the Rabbit, which we know to be The Life of the Rabbit. The Film department’s response was that the film rounded ‘off a series that includes Sea Urchin, Development of the Chick, Development of the Trout andDevelopment of the Frog, all previously made by GB Instructional’ and that the intended age for these films were aimed at university degree level students. The letter continues to go on referring to a junior series intended for children 11 plus, which includes The Life Cycle of the Onion and a film that was currently in pre-production, which had been originally proposed as Behaviour of the Cat but had since changed to Behaviour of the Horse.
What is extraordinary about the mention of these films is that to TIME/IMAGE’s current knowledge Sea Urchin, Development of the Chick, Development of the Trout, Development of the Frog and Behaviour of the Horse are all not held at the BFI Film Archive. Should we imagine the worse case scenario? That these films could be lost forever. Let’s not. Let us hope that they are lying dormant in archive somewhere in the world, waiting to be rediscovered and reunited with their counterparts at the BFI.