British Council and the Distribution of Newsreels

The main focus of TIME/IMAGE’s work so far has been on the short documentary films that were commissioned by the British Council during the 1930’s and 40’s, but the Council was also involved in the supply and international distribution of British Newsreels. The nature of the Council’s work, a keen interest in cultural exchanges, and its expansive reach across the continents provided a suitable means in which the government could control the flow of information into countries abroad.

According to a letter, discovered last week at the National Archives, some of the News companies that produced reels for distribution also included specialist programs that were designed to act as propaganda. It states that Gaumont British News has ‘carried a considerable amount of news regarding the rearmament program in their news reel, and have prepared one or two special films, such as recruiting for the RAF and also ARP (Air Raid Precautions)’. The letter then outlines a suggestion that Gaumont British ‘prepare items specially designed to enhance British prestige abroad. Such items will be slipped into the newsreel when it is overseas, with suitable commentary.’

This overt attempt to export British propaganda into countries abroad did, however, raise some issues:

‘France, Belgium, Turkey, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Holland, Denmark, Russia and the Balkan States, it would be possible to supply them with these specially made items for inclusion in their newsreel at no charge, although of course they would no doubt realise it was propaganda, but they would be tempted to use the material to fill up their reel. Newsreels in these countries, other than Russia, are not under the control of, or subsidised by the Governments, and it is felt they would welcome the opportunity. To evade the possibility of their knowing that these films were subsidised by this country, Gaumont-British could ask to be supplied with an equal amount of material from the country concerned. The advantage of this scheme would be that Gaumont-British would be able to include a considerable amount of prestige films in the newsreels going abroad, while no one would know they were being subsidised for doing so, or who is putting up the finance.’

To add to the secrecy, the letter was found in a British Council file addressed to Rowland Kenney of the Foreign Office but, judging by a lack of any signature, was sent from an unknown source. Very mysterious.

Scroll to Top