This Week’s Update from the National Archive

Yesterday Adam and I dug in at the National Archives once again to see what we could dig up on the Travel & Industrial Development Association (otherwise known as TIDA) and how their film department came to morph into a British Council operation.

We learnt quite a bit.


TIDA was conceived in the middle of 1928, the brainchild of Lord Waldorf Astor, with the aim of increasing the amount of American money spent in Britain by tourists. Lord Astor was supported in this venture by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill. It replaced the moribund “Come to Britain” movement, and was established officially in 1929 as the Travel Association of Great Britain and Ireland. It received a little under 25% of it’s funding from the government, which it constantly fought to retain for the next five years. The rest of its funding came from private companies who might benefit from an increase in tourism to Britain, and an impressive collection of individuals had a stake in the company – including still-recognisable names such as Lord Baden-Powell (founder of the Scout movement) and Gordon Selfridge (founder of Selfridges).

They had substantial success in America, and had offices in both New York and Paris, which resulted in the company also doing significant work on the Continent.

In February, 1932, the Travel Association, with the encouragement of the Board of Trade, changed its name to the Travel and Industrial Development Association of Great Britain and Ireland, with the added responsibility of promoting very industrial parts of England. Many councils subscribed to the services of TIDA. One of the most generous in its subscription was Lancashire, which might explain the existence of the film, So This is Lancashire.

TIDA established its own film department in 1932, and by March 1933, the company had, with the co-operation of the General Post Office Film Unit, added a number of new travel and industrial films to its library (though we cannot say that they produced them) which were shown overseas in the United States and on the Continent.

In 1935 the Department for Overseas Trade acknowledged that there was a little overlap between TIDA and the recently formed British Council for Relations with Other Countries (to later change its name to the British Council), and proposes giving the latter a grant five times the size of that given begrudgingly to TIDA.

In 1936 TIDA reports that:

“The Film Department has successfully proceeded with the task of building up a distributive system abroad for films descriptive of the British Isles. The documentary films The Key to Scotland and The Heart of an Empire were completed, and Beside the Seaside, a film of the South Coast, was produced with the co-operation of the Southern Railway and many South Coast Towns. Six documentary sound films have now been produced. Arrangements for the distribution of films were at once initiated. The films are of sufficient merit to be booked for cinema showing and they are being released in cinemas in this country as well as abroad during the next few months.

The Association has, in addition, five sound films for non-theatrical showing and twelve silent films. It is satisfactory to note that of eight short British documentary films selected by the Curators of the Film Library of Modern Art in New York, three were produced by the Association. The field for non-theatrical showing is large and increasing, indeed, the chief difficulty is the familiar one of finance, to produce enough copies of each film. Non-theatrical versions are prepared in 16mm. as well as 35mm. Sizes.”

Later that year, the British Council considered the use of films but decided to utilise the experience and machinery of the Association rather than to establish a new film unit. As a result, the ‘Joint Film Committee of the British Council and the Travel Association’ was set up. Chaired by Mr Philip Guedalla, the Foreign Office, Department of Overseas Trade, GPO and BFI were all represented on the Committee, for which TIDA provided secretarial and executive machinery.

Mr A.F Primrose was in charge of TIDA’s film department, and John Grierson (formerly of the Empire Marketing Board and GPO film units) was adviser. It also had its own facilities, with camera, cutting benches and vaults for storage. Several technical assistants were employed full time.

The Committee concluded that there were three classes of film activity considered for overseas distribution and display: British newsreels, British documentary films, and British fiction films. The last of these, the committee decided against seriously pursuing due to the fact that government policy was under review in connection with the Cinematograph Films Act.

Before the formation of the Joint Committee, TIDA had arranged the cinema display of documentary films in 21 countries. In most cases theatres made small payments to acquire the films. However, with the assistance of the British Council these arrangements were extended and in many countries it was necessary to distribute films for free.

By 1938:

“The Association has built up a library of documentary films, and with these it has obtained outlets in 54 countries, in 38 of which distribution is through cinemas. As mentioned, the British Council are represented on the Joint Committee for which the Association does the executive work, and they have supplied a small fund to enable films to be distributed free in certain countries. The demand has outrun the films available. The non-theatrical field is large, particularly with the coming of the 16mm. Sound film, and there is very wide circulation through educational film libraries. The importance of the circulation of British films is repeatedly stressed by British Government Representatives abroad.”


So, we’ve learnt quite a lot! We’ll be updating our new TIME/IMAGE Wiki to include all of this new information as soon as possible. Check it out at


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