Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Reely cracking films

Do you remember me mentioning a film reel of the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the glass works in 1940? What I neglected to mention was the fact that this particular reel was one amongst 66 film reels found amongst the collection. Apart from the odd title scrawled on the boxes and tin containers here and there, we had absolutely no idea what footage the reels contained. We needed an expert with the equipment and know-how to access these films so we contacted Phil Leach at MACE (Media Archive of Central England) at Leicester University. MACE is the public sector moving image archive for the East and West Midlands with a focus on moving images held on film, video, DVD or any other carrier that relate in some way to the Midlands. They provide a place of deposit for the preservation and access of moving image materials and they also provide advice on how to care for film stored at other institutions and where to locate specific films and collections.

Me and Sarah (the Borough Archivist) made a trip over to MACE a couple of weeks ago to drop these films off and Phil kindly projected some of the films for us there and then. First up was a black and white film with a soundtrack about the glass industry in Britain. After a loud blast of the orchestral soundtrack music and the clipped Queen's English commentary, it became apparent that this film may have been a professional mini-documentary that could have been screened at cinemas in the 1940s/1950s during the interval of a feature film , for example. It is unclear whether any of the filming took place at the Spon Lane or Malvern glass works but it seems very likely, given that Chances were the main producers of most glass products.

We then viewed a silent documentary/instruction style film specifically on the manufacture of Chances' laboratory glass Hysil. The tin container had a large sign 'DO NOT OPEN' and it soon became apparent why. This particular film was in quite a bad state with a few tares and at one point the projection was upside down due to an earlier careless repair. After a few tweaks and repairs from from Phil, the film was back to normal and could be projected with hardly a noticeable trace of the damage. There were many films specifically related to production at Chances including continual footage of machines operating and of female workers doing specific tasks when making and packaging laboratory glass. Whilst performing these tasks, a tiny clock was displayed at the bottom of the screen to show how long it was taking. Aside from a shy glance up at the camera and an occasional re-adjustment of their curls and Marcel waves, the ladies showed no sign of nervousness, even though their work was being scrutinised.

The main treat of the day, however, was the aforementioned footage of the King and Queen. Whilst this footage was also silent, we were all surprised to see that half of the film was done in colour. According to Phil, this kind of colour footage of royal visits is quite rare and I have to say, I was quite pleased to see Elizabeth sporting a very fetching shade of Lavender! We were happy to leave these films in the capable custody of MACE, where they will be cared for properly and can be accessed in the future. We are also looking in to having some of the films transferred on to DVDs so that we can access the footage on-site here in Smethwick. After crossing the film reels off my mammoth to-do list I had a nasty shock last week whilst cataloguing the lighthouse records. Hiding under some catalogues and brochures was a 16mm sound reel titled 'Lighthouse Story 1', pictured below. It looks like I might have to make another trip up the M69!


  1. What a treasure you have uncovered, Laura! I hope you do manage to view the lighthouse film. It might well be important footage from the lighthouse works. Keep us posted! Toby Chance

  2. Agree with what Toby says! It would be nice to study these films more closely and it can often be surprising what detail might be revealed, particularly with the anonymous 'glass industry' film.
    David Encill

  3. I managed to get the 'Lighthouse Story' film over to MACE and they took a look at it for us. The bad news is that this is a Pathe Pictorial item from 1958 that was not filmed by Chance, they just happen to feature as Stone-Chance Ltd.

    The good news, however, is that you can view this film yourself at www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=769