The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP): Its history, content, and a call for volunteers

Sue Malden (Secretary, BEHP)

28 March 2024


I am the Secretary of the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP). It was a pleasure to attend the IAMHIST symposium, ‘Hidden Archives: Marginalised and Alternative Collections and Practices’, in Dublin at the end of January, and to have the opportunity to address the Council and post graduate student attendees. I told the assembled academics that the BEHP is a small group of volunteers who record interviews with people who have worked in cinema, television, radio and theatre. This is because many careers overlap from one industry to another.

How it Began

The History Project began back in 1987 when a small group of members of the film and broadcasting union ACTT (Association of Cinema and Television Technicians) – now part of BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) – decided to record the individual histories of men and women who had made their working lives in the industry. They decided to do something immediate and practical to rectify that cumulative loss of memory and achievement and to bring to the project their wide personal knowledge of the industry and its history. They were led by Roy Fowler our Honorary President, and distinguished film maker. To quote from the Bill Douglas Centre:

Roy was something of a cinematic prodigy; in a typically entertaining piece on his career in our collections (EXE BD 78556) he describes his adventures as a ‘film barmy’ teenager. Obsessed with the film industry he visited sets and met filmmakers, determined that this would be the life he would lead. After service at the end of the war he then published two beautiful books in the Pendulum Popular Film series on ‘The Film in France’ and the first ever book biography of his great hero Orson Welles. He was just 19 at the time!

Faced with austerity and an industry in crisis at the end of its 1940s golden period in Britain, Roy then moved to the USA and worked as a producer in film and television. He returned to Britain in the 1970s and became closely involved with the film industry’s trade union, the ACTT. This proved to be one of his greatest achievements and hundreds of former industry personnel from household names to vital but little-known workers on set were encouraged to tell their stories and the recordings were made available to researchers. Now, the BEHP continues to go from strength to strength and Roy was involved right up to his death in August 2019. Without his passion and energy this testimony would never have been captured for posterity. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Roy’ Fowler’s biography of Orson Welles, published in 1946. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Roy Fowler’s study on Film in France, published in 1946. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Supported by the Union which gave the group the autonomy to get on with the work in hand, they began to create an archive of oral history recordings by interviewing staff from across the sector, from processing workers and producers to sound assistants and directors, including writers and performers.

Vision and Achievement

The vision of those pioneers has resulted in a unique and internationally recognised archive of more than 800 recordings which provide an extraordinary insight into the economic, technical, aesthetic and personal histories of the key cultural industry of the 20th and 21st Century. Some of them are more than 20 hours long and are social documents of our time.

As our industry has grown, we have extended our recordings to new occupations and new media.  We are determined to remain relevant to our time and to future generations.  We welcome the active engagement of all those with the ability and enthusiasm to assist us in our work.

What is it?

The BEHP is organised and operated entirely by volunteers who select interviewees and undertake the interviews. Interviews were originally recorded on audio tape but are now recorded audiovisually.

Our archive is unique and the majority of those whose working lives are recorded within it cannot be heard in any other place.

We have over 800 interviews on audio (in the early days) and video since 2000. Since 1987 a substantial database and website have been developed of fascinating interviews covering careers in the industry as well as many social history issues. We continue to record interviews – recently Bruce Robinson, writer/director of Withnail and I (1987), and Ronald Grant, the founder of the Cinema Museum. We welcome suggestions – Tobias Hochscherf has suggested Jodi Routh, grandson of Hein Hechroth, set designer who won an Oscar in 1949 for his visionary work on The Red Shoes (1948).

A wonderful example of real experience being brought to life in a film is the cimematographer for Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Christopher Challis, talking about his WWII experience:

They said the Hague had fallen and Amsterdam. So I set out to go to the Hague in the Oyster because we were dropping food to the Dutch. They were in a terrible state, they suffered more than anyone else, they were all starving and we were dropping food. We got about half way and we realised, the pilot and myself that there were no sign of any of our troops and there were still German sentries on the bridges across the canals and things. And although they didn’t attempt to fire on us we hadn’t got enough fuel to go back so we had to carry on and we flew right at N and got to the suburbs of the the Hague. And there was a football field and some cows and a little house all around. We decided we could land there. And we landed with these cows going in every direction. Hundreds of Dutch people swarmed out of these houses and said what at you doing. They spoke English. We said we’ve come to film you. They said the Germans are still here and they surrounded us and took us to a house and a German half track appeared at the edge of the crowd which numbered several hundred people and they just stood and watched, they did nothing and went away. The Dutch resistance people turned up by then and said you’ve got to get out of here because although the war is virtually over for us it’s not and the Germans are still here. (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/christopher-challis)

Some of this chaotic experience must be visualised in the movie!

Now that many of the interviews are accessible we welcome anyone who would like to curate elements of the collection by identifying themes, technology, film titles, TV productions, personalities for academic projects. For example we have done work on Dr Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2005 -) , a BBC TV classic to mark the centenary of the BBC. We embarked on  research into this iconic BBC series to establish if we hold recordings with  any interviewees who worked on the production over its 60 years, as the winner of 118 Awards and 215 nominations from among others – BAFTA – Scotland, Wales and England, Broadcasting Press Guild, and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (USA). There have been thirteen actors portraying the Doctor and many more behind the scenes contributing to its success.The 50th anniversary was broadcast In 94 countries and screened to more than half a million people in cinemas across Australia, Latin America, North America and Europe. The scope of the broadcast was a world record, according to Guinness World Records. Truly a major BBC production! So, in alphabetical order, here you go:

  • Robert Beatty no 50 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/robert-beatty, in ‘The Tenth Planet’. He played General Cutler;
  • Bill Cotton, Controller of BBC1, no 153 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/bill-cotton was involved in the 1985 postponement of Doctor Who. His precise impact on the production was that he hired John Nathan Turner and is likely to have signed off on Peter Davidson’s casting as the fifth Doctor. His biggest contribution (according to https://tardis.fandom.com/wiki/Bill_Cotton) is that he was the bridge by which Michael Grade joined the BBC and when Cotton moved up the management structure, he became Grade’s boss  and on 28 Feb 1985 announced the BBC had to live within its income, but a year later he told the DR Who Appreciation Society that Dr Who would be returning!! I’m sure he talks of other very significant BBC issues in his time as a senior manager!
  • A. Englander no 22 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/tubby-englander – Camera operator on two serials, the season 7 adventure ‘The Ambassadors of Death and the season 8 ‘The Claws of Axos’.
  • Waris Hussein no 655 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/waris-hussein –  director of the very first Dr Who serial. In fact he directed the pilot episode of Doctor Who in September 1963 plus all of ‘An Unearthly Child’;but he only directed 6 of the 7 episodes of the ‘Marco Polo’ serial.

All these interviews have been transcribed and are readily accessible on the above links. The following have been digitised, but we do not have a transcript for them. These interviews can be put through OTTER ( an automatic speech to text recognition software, but they will still need to be proofread and corrected). WE NEED VOLUNTEERS!

We asked people to name the most significant people who we do not hold an interview with and should be interviewed. They nominated

  • Philip Hinchcliffe, producer – being recorded by Paul Vanesis
  • Mat Irvine, – Visual Effects –  now done, but needs transcribing
  • Ken Westbury – He started at Ealing, working on films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (*) as a clapper loader, focus puller and camera assistant and when the BBC took over the studio, he came with it. He worked of the Patrick Troughton serial ‘Fury from the Deep’. – this has now done by Steve Brook Smith,  but needs transcribing
  • Marcia Wheeler, production manager – this has also been recorded, but needs transcribing

We have curated themes on Powell & Pressburger, Alexandra Palace, the starting place for Television to name a few, but there are so many more!

How to Join us

We welcome all offers of practical assistance in undertaking the interviews themselves or in providing the camera and sound skills needed for the recordings.  Members of the project do not have to be or have been members of the Union, although many are.  We are a broad church, and we want to reflect the gender, ethnic, geographical and sectoral range of our industry in our interviews.

There are many, many more productions, personalities or themes than can be researched, however, there is still work to do. All this involves a lot of work digitising and transcribing the interviews. As I told everyone at the IAMHIST event, we welcome assistance managing the project such as transcribing interviews and proof-reading transcripts we have produce using automatic speech to text transcribing. For example, Llewella Chapman will be studying interviews we hold with costume designers and wardrobe personnel as well as assisting in possible recording interviews for the BEHP.

The challenges to free up this valuable collection for access and research have been considerable – we needed  clearance from all interviewees to digitise and make their contribution accessible. Jill Balcon (daughter of Sir Michael Balcon and mother of actor Daniel Day Lewis) had not given her consent so we had to find some one in her family to give us permission to digitise – her son did!

So this is an appeal to scholars and practitioners  to be in contact with me to explore academic project ideas making use of the BEHP collection of interviews and of course help us with funding to sustain the collection. Please get in touch with me at: Sue.Malden@btinternet.com.


Sue Malden is the recipient of the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries (FOCALInt) in 2023, Formerly Head of BBC Broadcast Archives, conference planner for FIAT/IFTA; member of RTS Archive group. Currently chair if the Board of Trustees for MACE (Media Archive of Central England) and Secretary of the BEHP (British Entertainment History Project) (formerly BECTU History Project).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

IAMHIST Challenge event: Moving Images, Institutional Bodies

Date: 5 November 2021

Time: 11:30am – 5:30pm (GMT)

Price: £4 (including booking fee) / free for members and concessions, and IAMHIST members

Venue: Cinema 1, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (this will be an in-person event)

Registration Link:  https://www.ica.art/films/symposium-moving-images-institutional-bodies

(IAMHIST members can attend this event for free: to register, please email ankorporaal@gmail.com)

This event is curated and moderated by Astrid Korporaal, PhD candidate at Kingston University and Lecturer at the University of Groningen.


This event explores the creative and ethical use of moving image, film and photography as a medium for engaging with contested institutional collections, archives and histories. Specifically, institutions connected to the incarceration, exploitation and separation of bodies and objects from specific social, geographical, and cultural contexts. The symposium aims to bring the history of representational image-making and mass media at the service of colonial, carceral and imperialist archives and collections, into dialogue with the potential capacity of image-makers to disrupt these institutional lineages. It aims to explore how documentary media have been used to shape the collective definitions and accepted values of authenticity, truth, belonging, criminality and ownership in public and private spaces

While research has been done into the history of audio-visual media used as techniques for categorising, classifying, documenting and surveilling colonial and incarcerated subjects, this event aims to develop a further perspective. It brings together academics, artists, curators and historians, to explore what Ariella Azoulay calls ‘potential history’ in promoting the creative, critical and decolonial repositioning of archives, institutions and creative practices.

The artists and researchers presenting in this event expand our notions of what it means to give and receive access to restricted spaces. How do the images we are able to circulate run parallel the movements that bodies can make across borders? And might creative interventions with the technologies that give us access to images, influence the histories of bodies that we are able to tell?

Schedule:

11:30: Introductions + screening (tbc)

12:00: Panel 1: Institutional Archives, Research Companions and Unruly Histories

12:15: Erika Tan on her film works engaging with colonial museums in ‘Malaya’ and the connection between historical and technological dislocations of objects and entering into a dialogue with the forgotten history of a Malayan weaver, Halimah Binti Abdullah, who was brought to the British Empire exhibition in Wembley in 1924.

12:45: Nikolaus Perneczsky in conversation with Didi Cheeka on moving image restitution histories and archives, with a screening of Cheeka’s film Memory Also Die (2020) which focuses on memory as political taboo, fifty years after the collective trauma responsible for the death of memory in Nigeria: Biafra.

13:15: Panel discussion

13:45: Lunch break

14:45: Panel 2: Institutional Inversions and Reclamations

15:00: Screening of Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys’ video works, The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets (2019) and Culture Capture: Terminal Adddition (2017, with Bayley Sweitzer) which critique institutional archives, collection and the excavation of indigenous cultural heritage for outsiders’ consumption.

15:30: Judy Price on her research on Holloway Woman’s Prison and her film installation The Good Enough Mother (2020), which features a sculpture of a baby from the Dorich House Museum acquired for the first Mother and Baby Unit at HMP Holloway in 1948 and explores the subject of incarcerated pregnancy.

16:00 Khadija Carroll on her artistic work and collaborative research with the Immigration Detention Archive and the Pitt Rivers Museum.

16:30 Rhea Storr on her work and research into the heritage and bodily resistance of Junkanoo, Bahamian carnival, with a screening of her work Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical (2020)

17:00 Panel discussion


 Speakers include: 

Erika Tan is an artist, curator and researcher whose work focuses on the postcolonial, transnational and decolonial – working with archival artefacts, exhibition histories, received narratives, contested heritage, subjugated voices and the transnational movement of ideas, people and objects. Tan is currently The Stanley Picker Fine Art Fellow. Her work has been exhibited & collected internationally. Current projects include: Art Histories of a Forever War—Modernism Between Space and Home, Taipei Fine Art Museum; ESOK, Jakarta Biennial, Indonesia; Frequencies of Tradition, Incheon Art Platform, Korea; In/reproduction: The 4th Global Overseas Chinese Artists Exhibition, He Xiangning Art Museum, Shenzhen China; Barang-Barang, Stanley Picker Fellowship exhibition, Kingston School of Art; “Asian Heads” Dorich House Museum, London.

Didi Cheeka is co-founder and curator of Lagos Film Society – an alternative cinema center dedicated to the founding of Nigeria’s first arthouse cinema. He is the artistic director of Decasia – Berlin-Lagos Archive Film Festival. Didi is currently researching and digitizing Nigeria’s rediscovered audiovisual archives.

Nikolaus Perneczky is a writer and curator based in London. His postdoctoral research project—a critical inquiry into the politics and ethics of global film heritage—considers the archive(s) of World Cinema in relation to colonial legacies of epistemic violence and unequal exchange. Along with curator and archivist June Givanni, Nikolaus is currently working on a podcast series on Africa’s moving image heritage and the question of restitution.

Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil (Ojibway) are filmmakers and artists from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Their work subverts traditional forms of ethnography through humor, transgression, and innovative documentary practice. Their films and installations have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Walker Arts Center, e-flux, UnionDocs, and Microscope Gallery.

Jackson Polys is an artist who lives and works between what is currently called Alaska and New York.  His work reflects examinations into the limits and viability of desires for indigenous growth. He began carving with his father, Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson, in high school, has worked as an artist based in Alaska as Stron Softi, with solo exhibitions at the Alaska State Museum and the Anchorage Museum, and holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University’s School of the Arts (2015).

Judy Rabinowitz Price is interested in how art can produce different ways of thinking about contested sites and engage with collective struggles. Her research-led practice includes photography, moving image and sound, composed as single-screen works and multiscreen installations.  Price often draws on images and sounds from archival sources as well as the sustained study of a place or space through networks, collaborations and activism. Palestine was an enduring focus of her work from 2008-2017 with two bodies of work Within This Narrow Strip of Land (2008) and Quarries of Wandering Form (2017).Her most recent work explores how women are affected by the criminal justice system in the UK through the prism of HMS Holloway that was decommissioned in 2016.  The End of a Sentence 2020 draws on individual and collective stories of prison to make visible issues around gender, class, race and economy as well as reflecting on Holloway’s legacy spatially and ideologically as a site of remembrance and absence.

Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll is an Austrian-Australian artist and historian based in Vienna. She is the Chair of Global Art at the University of Birmingham, Professor of History at the Central European University. Her films and installations have been shown internationally including at the Venice, Marrakech, and Sharjah Biennales, ZKM, Manifesta, Taxispalais, Extracity, HKW, Royal Museums Greenwich, Savvy, LUX, Chisenhale, SPACE, Project Art Centre Gallery Dublin, St Kilda, Melbourne, and the Casablanca Film Festival. She is the author of the books Art in the Time of Colony (2014); The Importance of Being Anachronistic: Contemporary Aboriginal Art and Museum Reparations (2016), Botanical Drift: Protagonists of the Invasive Herbarium (2017); Mit Fremden Federn: El Penacho und die Frage der Restitution (2021); The Contested Crown: Repatriation Politics between Mexico and Europe (2022). She is the co-author of Bordered Lives: Immigration Detention Archive (2020) and co-editor of Third Text journal.  www.kdja.org

Rhea Storr is an artist filmmaker who makes work about the representation of Black and mixed-race cultures. Masquerade as a site of protest or subversion is an ongoing theme in her work in addition to the effect of environment on cultural production. She is a co-director of not nowhere an artists’ film co-operative and resident at Somerset House, London. Storr is the winner of the Aesthetica Art Prize 2020 and the inaugural Louis Le Prince Experimental Film Prize. Recent screenings/exhibitions include New York Film Festival, London Film Festival, European Media Art Festival, Hamburg Short Film Festival, Artist Film International (Whitechapel Gallery) and National Museum of African American History and Culture.


This is event is support by the International Association for Media and Art History’s IAMHIST Challenge, and the Make Film History project. Make Film History is funded by UKRI-AHRC and the Irish Research Council under the ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Networking Call’ (grant numbers AH/V002066/1 and IRC/V002066/1).

Rhea Storr, Here is the Imagination of the Black Radical (Still), 2020

The film raw stock shortage in the British zone of occupied Germany and its impact on the film industry after 1945

Hanja Dämon, independent scholar

24 September 2021


This blog post engages with one of the biggest material obstacles in restarting film production in the British Zone of occupied Germany (one of four zones established following the Allied victory) after the Second World War: the shortage of film raw stock. It was essential for newsreels, for making copies of feature films to be exhibited in German cinemas, as well as for making new documentaries and feature films. Indeed, films were supposed to assist in steering the Germans away from National Socialist ideology, and to teach them about the outside world from which they had been supposedly cut off during twelve years of dictatorship. In this vein, the British feared that without raw stock ‘the whole scheme of re-education will be in danger of collapse’, and looked for ways to secure the provision of this sought-after material for non-fiction and feature films alike.[i] Yet this task was not always easy, as archival sources from the UK National Archives in Kew Gardens reveal. They testify to the fact that insufficient raw stock provision significantly impacted on German film production after 1945.

National Socialism’s defeat in May 1945 and Germany’s division into US-American, British, French and Soviet zones of occupation had initially brought German film production to a standstill, only to be re-established according to the respective agendas of the respective occupation authorities. In the western zones the main goals of the occupiers included  denazification, democratisation and decentralisation of the German film industry, which should not be concentrated in one place (to lessen the chances of state interference). In the Soviet Zone one central studio (DEFA) was established. Although  no new German films were produced for more than a year, re-establishing the film industry was considered essential across all zones for economic and psychological reasons. The Allied powers aspired to give the German filmmakers the tools of self-expression for the purpose of democratisation, although during the first years of occupation Allied supervision and control would seek to ensure that the resulting films would not propagate fascism and militaristic values.

One major obstacle in re-starting film production in the western zones was the shortage of film raw stock, at least in the Western zones. In August 1945, Major General Bishop from the British Information Control Section informed the international press, that ‘as soon as raw-stock supplies make it possible, Germans will be granted permission to produce their own films’, thereby indicating that the lack of raw stock played a role in delaying the reconstruction of the industry in the British Zone.[ii] A year later the Public Relations/Information Services Control (PR/ISC) Division explained as to why up to this point only two production companies had been licensed in the British Zone: the available amount of raw stock was ‘insufficient to allow for further commitments’ regarding the founding of additional production units.[iii] Also in the US Zone, the raw stock shortage was described as ‘one of the main problems’ in reconstructing the German film industry.[iv]

FO 1046/409/9: Raw stock procurement (The National Archives)

No raw stock producing factory existed in the Western zones of Germany, which is why it had to be imported from the Soviet Zone or from other countries. As the relationship between the British and their Soviet Allies became more strained, a member of the British occupation authorities, G.W.E.J. Erskine, began to harbour doubts in September 1946 that one could continue relying on the Soviets for raw stock provisions, for ‘the Russian character and international trends make this a source on which undue reliance should not be placed.’[v] He warned that ‘the dependence of the British Zone for its main supplies of rawstock from the Soviet Zone is capable of producing a sudden crisis at any moment if for any reason supplies were cut off’.[vi] And indeed, deliveries from the Soviet Zone were not always consistent with initial arrangements and in 1947 even stalled for months.[vii] Michael Balfour of the British Information Services Control Branch wrote on the 12th of May 1947 that he was ‘getting a bit alarmed over the raw stock position’ and, while his concern also included the dubbing of films into German, ‘German production is beginning to need rawstock acutely and there is none left.[viii] The shortage of raw stock was therefore certainly a contributing factor in why the German film industry took longer to re-emerge in the Western zones of occupation compared to the Soviet Zone.

Owing to better infrastructure and more decisive actions on the parts of the Soviets in getting the film industry restarted more swiftly, the Soviet-licensed film Die Mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are Amongst Us, D: Wolfgang Staudte) was the first German new film to premiere in post-war Germany in October 1946. It was, however, closely followed by the British-licensed film Sag die Wahrheit (Tell the Truth, D: Helmut Weiss) in December 1946, filmed in the Tempelhof studios in the US sector of Berlin. Sag die Wahrheit recycled the script of a film that had been in production at UFA-Studios during the war, which  had remained unfinished. It was an escapist comedy that made no allusions to the post-war present, which made this film an unusual offering compared to all other British-licensed films of the early post-war period that were generally set in the present or the recent past. The British had the power to select which projects could be realised via licensing only those they found suitable, and usually rejected film scripts that were regarded as merely “escapist”. Yet this criteria was apparently not as relevant at the time when Sag die Wahrheit was allowed to go into production.

The raw stock shortage might, in fact, have played a direct role in  the British decision to license Sag die Wahrheit. The material was not only needed for making new German films, but also for making copies of old films, and in autumn 1946, a memo expressed the desire to have a new German film made. It stated that it would be ‘sad if we had to use raw stock to make fresh copies of old films because we have not enough films to circulate’.[ix] Hence, to finally have a new German film available, the British might have allowed Sag die Wahrheit (D: Helmut Weiss, 1946) to become the very first film to be made in their zone, as this project promised a quick production. After this first film, the British tended to license films that at least attempted to deal with contemporary issues, and begun to pre-censor film scripts with this criteria in mind.

The British based their argument for the necessity of pre-censoring of German film scripts directly on the lack of raw stock: pre-censorship was thought ‘essential in view of the extreme shortage of rawstock not only in Germany but all over the world and is to avoid wastage of stock on film production, which, when finished, would have to be rejected on political grounds’.[x] In July 1948, a series of articles in the Hamburger Freie Presse started to ask what kind of films were considered politically desirable by the British authorities. Were films required to spread optimistic messages in the British Zone, as one author of these articles assumed? The Film Section reiterated that pre-censorship was necessary in light of the limited availability of raw stock, furthermore claiming it was too precious to allow the making of ‘pure entertainment films’, confirming thereby that instead of escapism the British privileged films with a message suited to post-war circumstances.[xi] One proposal that was indeed rejected by the British Film Section because it was regarded as nothing more than ‘quite a nice story’ was German director Wolfgang Liebeneiner’s plan to make a film about a young and poor aspiring dancer, entitled Tanz in die Welt (Dance into the World).[xii] Apparently different standards were applied to subsequent film projects than to the first film made in the British Zone, Sag die Wahrheit.

Raw stock was also needed for export copies of new post-war German films, in order to be able to send prints to potential buyers abroad. Once the first films had been made, considerations to export them meant that even more raw stock would be needed in addition to  existing requirements. The British film adviser and documentary filmmaker Arthur Elton deemed it necessary to import additional raw stock  for this purpose. Elton highlights in a memorandum how short supply of raw stock  might hinder the export chances of new German films.[xiii] The material constraints, then, were posing significant obstacles to get the German film industry up and running again.

Lastly, the lack of raw stock also determined what British films were shown in the British Zone. The British producer J. Arthur Rank at first provided raw stock free of charge that was used for dubbing British films into German, but in 1946 he signalled unwillingness to continue this arrangement. It was at this point that the idea arose to allow Rank to set up a distribution organisation in Germany, in order to secure the import of raw stock.[xiv] An initial plan of the Finance Division to make British distribution companies pay a ‘good-will’ fee to the German state when operating in Germany – money intended for the use of re-building the German film industry – was abandoned to accommodate Rank and to guarantee his future cooperation.[xv] Unlike Rank, other British companies did not have the means to distribute their films in post-war Germany because they were financially unable to provide the raw stock for copies of their films, which was a prerequisite for showing them in Germany.[xvi]

The link between material issues – such as the lack of raw stock – and post-war German film production is a topic where the archives can reveal more than was previously known about the German film industry’s re-establishment in the British Zone. I researched the holdings in the UK National Archives to learn more about material obstacles such as the raw stock shortage as well as to explore how the British supervised and controlled German filmmaking in the immediate post-war years. I also consulted personal documents of German filmmakers located in German archives that reveal more details about film production in the British Zone after 1945. My forthcoming book that will be published with Peter Lang will present my findings on British film policy in occupied Germany in more detail.


[i] FO 943/549 Film, 1945-1948.

[ii] FO 371/46702 Control of Propaganda in Germany. Code 18. File 3. “British control policy for Newspapers, books, radio and entertainments. Transmits copy of statement made in Berlin by Major General Bishop to the international press on August 10th”.

[iii] FO 1056/86 PR/ISC Meetings and Reports. “Minutes of the Seventh Meeting held in Berlin”, 1 Aug 1946.

[iv] Military Government of Germany. U.S. Zone. Information Control. Bi-Monthly Review 24 (1 Jul 1947-30 Jun 1947).

[v] FO 1056/39. G.W.E.J. Erskine to the Office of the Deputy Military Governor, C.C.G (British Element), 6 Sep 1946.

[vi] FO 1006/216. G.W.E.J. Erskine, “Films in the British Zone of Germany”, 6 Sep 1946.

[vii] FO 1056/74. Public Relations/Information Services Control Group, “Minutes of the Thirtieth Meeting held in Berlin”, 3 July 1947.

[viii] FO 946/69. Michael Balfour to R.S. Crawford, Foreign Office (German Section), 12 May 1947.

[ix] FO 1056/86. Public Relations/Information Services Control Group. “Minutes of the Thirteenth Meeting held in Berlin”, 24th October 1946. See “Appendix A” of document.

[x] FO 1056/114: Draft of “Film Policy Directive”, to be approved by Chief, ISD, 14th May 1948.

[xi] [‘für den reinen Unterhaltungsfilm zu schade’.] ‘Und was sagt die Film-Section?’, Hamburger Freie Presse, 10 Aug 1948.

[xii] Adk: Liebeneiner 93. Handwritten note on exposé for Tanz in die Welt.

[xiii] FO 946/8. Arthur Elton, “Memorandum on Export of German Films”, 19 Nov 1947.

[xiv] FO 943/162 Film Production in the British Zone of Germany 1946.

[xv] FO 1056/39 Films: Policy and General. Chief of PR/ISC Group to Headquarters, C.C.G. (British Element) Distribution of British Film in Germany, 26 Jun 1947.

[xvi] Gabriele Clemens, Britische Kulturpolitik, p. 167.


Hanja Dämon has studied History at the University of Vienna and then obtained her PhD at King’s College London. Her thesis project on the German film industry after 1945 was sponsored for three years by the European Research Council (ECR)-funded project “Beyond Enemy Lines: Literature and Film in the British and American Zones of Occupied Germany, 1945-1949”. Dämon’s monograph on British film policies in post-war Germany will be upcoming with Peter Lang.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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