Exploring the National Archives at Kew

On Wednesday, three of us decided to head over to the National Archives at Kew to investigate some of the records held on the British Council films. We were aware that there were a lot of separate files held within the catalogue, but I don’t think we were quite expecting to find what we did.

Although the process for access took a quite a long time, when the files were eventually brought up for us, we realised what a mammoth task we had let ourselves in for. Over 100 files packed with information – the file on London 1942 alone was nearly two inches thick!

What information each folder contained varied. Those pertaining to specific films were full of correspondence between the British Council and production companies, costs, altered scripts, critique of said scripts, and certificates. Other folders, such as one on film distribution, contained requests for copies of films, details of showings, feedback from educationalists, proposals of new projects, and other miscellaneous but fascinating windows into their history.

One of the real pleasures had was getting a sense of the personalities involved: notes and views on certain matters, passive-aggressive comments about colleagues, gentle humour, and also the period language used (one gentleman expresses his dislike of ‘those dashed science films’). I think it’d be nice to research some of the commonly-occurring names we saw – I for one would certainly like to put a face to ‘Mr Primrose’, who handled so much of the correspondence between companies.

Hopefully we will be able to put our notes up online soon, as well as some of the many photos we took of the original documents for you to have a look at yourself.

It was great stuff, and there is so much more information to be had that will give us a real insight into the things we’re watching and working to preserve. We only managed to look through about seven files in the course of the day, so I think we’ll definitely be heading back there soon.


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