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Le documentaire télévisuel: entre consensus et contestation

Documenting the Social and Historical Margins in the Films of Philip Donnellan

Les documentaires de Philip Donnellan : filmer dans les marges de l’Histoire et de la société
Ieuan Franklin

Résumés

Cet article retrace la carrière de Philip Donnellan, documentariste novateur dont les films réalisés pour la BBC ont fréquemment testé les limites politiques et esthétiques de ce qu’il était possible de montrer à la télévision. Pour Philip Donnellan, la culture ouvrière était mal représentée par la BBC. Le réalisateur a donc recherché des membres de la classe ouvrière et des groupes sociaux sous-représentés — Irlandais, voyageurs, migrants noirs, par exemple, pour leur offrir dans ses films un espace d’expression sans aucune intercession — qu’il s’agisse de l’intervention auctoriale du réalisateur ou de la fausse objectivité de la BBC. Les films de Philip Donnellan représentent plus qu’un document sur les conditions de vie des marginaux, ils illustrent le poids de l’histoire, explorent la mémoire et la valeur de l’archive pour interroger la construction du discours historique. Ayant pour objectif de sauver l’expérience des groupes sociaux de « l’immense condescendance de la postérité » selon Edward Palmer Thompson, des films comme Passage West (1975), The Pilgrimage of Ti-Jean (1978) and Gone for a Soldier (1980) peuvent être comparés au récit de l’histoire « par en bas » proposée par Thompson.

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  • 1 Alan Rosenthal, The Documentary Conscience: a Casebook in Film Making, Berkeley: University of Cali (...)

If one looks at BBC programming one almost suspects that the BBC hierarchy feels happier and safer in the past […] But even the past can be dangerous […]1

  • 2 Donnellan’s oeuvre bears some similarities to that of Rene Vautier, the hugely important but little (...)
  • 3 W. Stephen Gilbert, “Underrated: The Case for Philip Donnellan,” The Independent, 21 September 1994

1In this article, I will map and contextualize some of the aesthetic transformations and thematic continuities that occur and recur within the oeuvre of Philip Donnellan (1924-1999), one of the most innovative documentary filmmakers ever to have worked for the BBC. Donnellan was also undoubtedly the most politically radical and prolific filmmaker to have sustained a long career at the Corporation (making some 70 films over a 30 year period).2 Despite this impressive body of work Donnellan has been neglected in popular and academic histories and retrospectives concerning British broadcasting and documentary, due to the relatively inaccessibility of screen heritage from this period for academic researchers; due to the over-shadowing presence of the earlier Griersonian documentary movement, and perhaps also due to the complex and often confrontational nature of Donnellan’s personality and work. His conflicts with BBC management are well-charted in his unpublished memoirs; five of his films were rejected by the BBC and were never transmitted, and some were controversial enough to bring “the wrath of the politicians upon Donnellan’s head.”3 Nevertheless Donnellan managed to remain all of his working life at the BBC, firstly as a radio announcer, then as a radio features producer in the BBC Midlands Region in Birmingham, and then as a documentary filmmaker for the same region.

  • 4 Donnellan’s documentary Pure Radio (1977), made for the Omnibus series, is noteworthy as a fascinat (...)

2This article will focus in particular on the documentaries he made which examine social margins and historical legacies, and his transition from the role of observer to that of agitator. To this end I have identified three different modes of television documentary that Donnellan helped to pioneer, of which the three of his films that I will discuss are key exemplars. These can be compared with analogous modes of radio documentary in which Donnellan was well-versed (initially as a practitioner and later as a historian of radio features).4 These are the ‘personal documentary’, indebted to the part-dramatized or scripted radio feature based on real life (Joe the Chainsmith, 1958), the ‘vernacular documentary’, comparable to the radio feature which makes sustained use of recorded speech, sometimes known as the “actuality” feature (The Colony, 1964), and finally the ‘epistolary documentary’, influenced by the wide-scale “history from below” approach of the BBC’s (1971-72) radio series Long March of Everyman (Gone for a Soldier, 1980).

Donnellan and the BBC

  • 5 For an authoritative exploration of Donnellan’s Irishness, and the films he made about Ireland, see (...)
  • 6 See D. G. Bridson, Prospero and Ariel: The Rise and Fall of Radio, A Personal Recollection, London: (...)
  • 7 Harold Rosen, Language and Class: A Critical Look at the Theories of Basil Bernstein, Bristol: Fall (...)

3Donnellan’s antecedents were Irish and “dirt-poor” — his grandfather had been a famine victim, transplanted to England at the age of 18 months.5 However Donnellan’s own background was firmly and comfortably middle-class — his parents ensured that he attended private schools, and Donnellan was an officer when he served in No. 5 Commando during the Second World War. Although this made him ‘classic BBC material’, over the years (his career at the BBC spanned the years 1948 to 1984) Donnellan came to question and resent the class bias of BBC management, and “excavate” his Irish ancestry and identity. As he spoke with a clear-cut Standard English accent, Donnellan was contracted initially as a radio announcer before becoming a radio features producer for the BBC Midlands Home Service in Birmingham in the early 1950s. This meant that he developed an informed understanding of the BBC’s standardization of “broadcast talk.” Scripting was a compulsory practice at the BBC, which tended to exclude the working classes (who constituted the majority of the Corporation’s audience) from participation in broadcasting. Certainly it prohibited the inclusion of their spontaneous speech, as is well documented in the memoirs of key radio producers.6 This prohibition was only decisively broken by the arrival of the mobile tape recorder in the early to mid 1950s, a technology which was to prove invaluable to Donnellan and other BBC producers working in the post-war period who had an interest in documenting vernacular culture. The early history of the BBC, and its archival legacy, is rich as a field for studying the interrelation of language and class, which mirrors the “relationship of the dominant culture of our society and the culture of the dominated.” 7 As Tom Burns has observed:

  • 8 Tom Burns, The BBC: Public Institution and Private World, London: Macmillan, 1979, 42.

The BBC was developed under [Lord John] Reith [the Corporation’s first Director General] into a kind of diplomatic service, representing the British — or what he saw as the best of the British — to the British. BBC culture, like BBC Standard English, was not peculiar to itself but an intellectual ambience composed out of the values, standards and beliefs of the professional middle class, especially that part educated at Oxford and Cambridge. Sports, popular music and entertainment which appealed to the lower classes were included in large measure in the programmes, but the manner in which they were purveyed, the context and the presentation, remained indomitably upper middle-class; and there was, too, the point that they were only there on the menu as ground bait.8

  • 9 Whilst Norman Corwin’s influence on the Radio Ballads was fully and freely acknowledged by Ewan Mac (...)

4Donnellan’s immersion in this ambience meant that he was slow to question the status quo, but he was eventually disabused of the notion that the BBC was willing to fulfil the (public service) role of reflecting a broad spectrum of life. There were two significant factors which served to politicize Donnellan. Firstly, at BBC Birmingham he worked alongside Charles Parker, an innovative radio producer who, from 1958 until 1964 worked closely and intensively with the Communist folksinger and playwright Ewan MacColl and the American singer and musician Peggy Seeger on the production of the celebrated Radio Ballads. These were eight programmes which captured the trials and tribulations of life for working people and communities ‘on the margins’, including fishermen, miners, teenagers and gypsies. The Radio Ballads drew upon key influences (Denis Mitchell’s work with Ewan MacColl at the BBC North Region in Manchester and Norman Corwin’s ‘ballad operas’ for PBS in America)9 in pioneering a new radio style, mixing recorded speech with specially composed folk-music, the songs acting as narration in the place of scripted commentary. In recording the vernacular speech of working people using the newly available EMI Midget portable tape recorder, Parker was awakened to the inimitable, idiomatic nature of the language he was exposed to, and the sheer vibrancy and solidarity he encountered within marginalized communities. In this way Parker was politicized, and this had a crucial influence on the course of Donnellan’s career — the two had worked together in the production of radio features, and they shared similar “establishment” backgrounds. Charles Parker would later record and edit the soundtracks of several of Donnellan’s films, including The Colony (1964) and The Irishmen (1965).

5The second pivotal moment in Donnellan’s politicization occurred in 1961, when his film profile of Jack Elliott, a Durham miner, singer and socialist, was rejected by his boss Grace Wyndham Goldie, the Head of BBC Television Talks (who had pioneered the coverage of politics and current affairs on British television). Donnellan described the event as follows, in an interview with W. Stephen Gilbert in 1984:

  • 10 Quoted in Mairede Thomas (ed.), Stories and Songs: The Films of Philip Donnellan, London: BFI, 1984 (...)

I made a film about Jack Elliott, a Durham miner […] eloquent, committed, human, unfaultable in terms of his integrity, his stance in the community [...] his atheism, his Socialism. And of course, he was the absolute epitome of everything that Grace feared about the working class. I showed her the film and at the end she turned round and said, ‘Certainly not. Under no circumstances. The series is rejected’ […] She declared to me quite specifically ‘Philip, you seem to imagine that broadcasting is about the sort of people that you’re interested in. Broadcasting, I have to tell you, is about the people who hold power. It’s not about those people who do not hold power.’10

  • 11 Quoted in Ian Francis, Landmarks: Revisiting the Work of Philip Donnellan, Birmingham: 7 Inch Cinem (...)

6Donnellan’s memoirs of his working life record a variety of editorial disagreements and battles with BBC management, some of which were ostensibly due to issues of aesthetics and presentation (i.e. the use of jump cuts and folksong), and some of which were more obviously due to the increasingly political subjects of his films or their editorial slant. In the Corporation’s defence it should be remembered that Donnellan worked for a major public service broadcaster at a time when documentaries were a permanent fixture in the schedules (his career spanned what might be termed the golden age of the television documentary). Donnellan was allowed to develop styles of production and to experiment with the documentary aesthetic with a freedom that is unimaginable today. Many of Donnellan’s films were longitudinal and ambitious projects, involving extended periods of research, field recording, filming and editing. This, of course, meant consuming a great deal of valuable resources in terms of 16mm film and ¼ inch magnetic tape. Sheila Brayford, production secretary to Donnellan during the early 1960s, recently recalled that at that time Donnellan had the luxury of a 40:1 shooting ratio (40 minutes of film shot for every minute that made it into the final programme); as she remarked, “By going so long people would forget there’s a camera there, and that’s how you start getting the golden stuff.”11

The British Personal Documentary

  • 12 See Norman Swallow, Factual Television, London: Focal Press, 1966, 176-184. Swallow, himself a gift (...)

7After the transmission of his first film Joe the Chainsmith, Donnellan was often referred to within the same breath as a number of other documentarists at the BBC, whose films could be described as examples of the personal documentary, the poetic documentary or the documentary essay. The moniker of the personal documentary was appropriate to the extent that these films were intimate, concerned chiefly with human relationships, and imprinted with the personal vision of the filmmaker. In such films the producers and/or directors, through the “creative treatment of actuality” (to use Grierson’s famous phrase), expressed their attitude not only to the immediate subject-matter (an individual, a way of life, a place or community) but also to the world and times in which they lived. Films often cited under this category are Morning in the Streets (Denis Mitchell, 1959), Joe the Chainsmith and The Crystal Makers (Philip Donnellan, 1958, 1961), Citizen ‘63 (John Boorman, 1963) and Borrowed Pasture (John Ormond, 1960). 12

  • 13 Of course I do not want to suggest that the personal documentary was solely the preserve of the BBC (...)
  • 14 For an insightful introduction to Jennings’ work, see Elena Von Kassel, “An Image of Britain during (...)
  • 15 John Grierson (1898 – 1972) was a pioneering documentary filmmaker, theorist and animateur who is (...)
  • 16 Colin Moffat, “Birmingham Revival,” Contrast Television Quarterly, 1965: 84-85.

8Although there is a danger of reductionism in grouping together and categorizing the heterogeneous films from this creatively fertile period in the British television documentary, there are a number of aspects which these films have in common. Firstly, these were all made in BBC Regions, and in this sense the late 1950s and early 1960s represented a brief regional renaissance in the British television documentary, with Denis Mitchell based in Manchester, Philip Donnellan in Birmingham, John Boorman and Michael Croucher in Bristol, and John Ormond in South Wales.13 Secondly, they built upon the contemporary work of the Free Cinema documentarists (Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and Larenza Mazzettii, amongst others), a London-based movement which heralded a resurgence of the poetic and disjunctive aesthetic and humanist structure of feeling that was characteristic of Humphrey Jennings’ wartime films.14 Thirdly, they frequently incorporated a contrapuntal relationship between sound and image, due to their use of “wildtrack” sound (a non-synchronous montage of snatches of conversation and location sound recorded with a portable tape recorder). This was a documentary style that Denis Mitchell, in particular, pioneered in the mid to late 1950s, using the tape recorder as a means of encountering and befriending people in field work, as a research notebook or scrapbook of impressions, and as an essential tool in recording and editing the material that was incorporated into the soundtrack of the resultant film. Finally, these filmmakers distanced themselves from the Griersonian documentary film movement15 through their interest in people (for their own sake) rather than processes, and pursued an observational mode of documentary. This was a form of documentary which showed the kind of “respect for people’s individuality without which one cannot hope to make universal social statements.”16 In the words of Denis Mitchell,

  • 17 Quoted in N. Swallow, op. cit, 178.

The maker of this kind of programme tries to show people as they truly are, expressing themselves in their own words and doing the things they usually do. They are real people living in a real world. But what the producer has done — and this is why such films are more than journalism — is to give a harmony to the people in his films by means of his own vision of them and of the world they live in. He himself has something to say about them — must have something to say, otherwise he wouldn’t have become interested in them in the first place. His task is to imply his own view of life (he can never openly state it by any form of editorialising) without distorting the truth that is the lives of the people he has chosen. 17 (my italics)

9Whilst Donnellan’s early work can be subsumed within the ethics and aesthetics of the stance described by Mitchell, his increasing politicization meant that he was no longer content to show people going about their daily lives, and to document work and culture at the grassroots; rather he was intent on openly stating (rather than implying) a historical long view which saw working people as the victims of imperialism and industrial capitalism. With his increasing commitment to a notion of documentary as social or historical intervention, Donnellan’s career can be charted as a journey away from the observational documentary as defined by Bill Nichols:

  • 18 Bill Nichols, quoted in Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn, Reality TV: Realism and Revelation, London: (...)

In this mode of representation, each cut or edit serves mainly to sustain the spatial and temporal continuity of observation rather than the logical continuity of an argument or case.18

The Journey from Personal to Partisan Documentary

  • 19 Norman Swallow, quoted by John Corner, “Documentary Voices,” in John Corner (ed.), Popular Televisi (...)

10We can pose the question “why does this matter?” Why does a pro-active or interventionist stance in Donnellan’s later work, in terms of the editorial slant evidenced in his assembly of archive material, invalidate it as personal documentary? We can posit that there is an authenticity or a legitimacy (for want of a better term) that accrues from the documentarist performing a public service role of amplifying the hopes and fears of a particular constituency, or from using the expressive culture of a community to shape or set the terms of the documentary agenda. The personal documentary, to the extent that it tended to feature and highlight the lives and culture of working people, marginalized groups and sectors of society who lacked media and political representation, was a legacy of the post-war settlement which produced not only the Welfare State but also a cultural ‘health service’. Norman Swallow, the documentary filmmaker who was a great exponent of, and proselytizer for, the personal documentary expressed this when, looking back on the documentaries of the 1950s and 1960s, he expressed the view to John Corner that: “Ours was, in a real sense, ‘the Art of the Welfare State’ […]”19

  • 20 The consensus view is that the two-part documentary Gone for a Soldier (1980) is Donnellan’s master (...)
  • 21 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

11Throughout his career Donnellan made numerous ambitious but abortive attempts to pioneer new forms of documentary representation on television. In doing so he tested the boundaries of this notion of post-war television documentary as the art of the welfare state. Representation is an ambiguous and loaded term, which has political and aesthetic connotations, and it is most useful in alluding to dilemmas surrounding what can be shown and said, for and to whom, and from whose point of view. When reflecting on Donnellan’s career we can pose the question of whether, with each project, Donnellan was truly concerned to create a major work or instead chiefly to push the boundaries of what the BBC deemed to be permissible in this field.20 Donnellan’s memoirs chart his use of what Michel de Certeau termed the “tactics of everyday life” to resist the editorial pressures that he encountered within the institution of the BBC: that resistive or evasive creativity that takes place in the tears of the fabrics of power.21 For example, Donnellan surreptitiously completed films that had already been aborted by BBC management, saving footage for inclusion in subsequent, differently iterated work (as with the Jack Elliott project mentioned above, interview material from which was incorporated into his 1968 film Death of a Miner). As George Lipsitz has observed:

  • 22 George Lipsitz, “Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen: Popular Culture, Cultural Theory, and A (...)

Under these conditions, struggles over meaning are [also] struggles over resources. They arbitrate what is permitted and what is forbidden; they help determine who will be included and who will be excluded; they influence who gets to speak and who gets silenced.22

12The particular tactics Donnellan adopted within the production of each of his documentaries to give representation to marginalized individuals or groups were contingent upon the terms and vicissitudes of these struggles; inextricably political and aesthetic, his use of tactics resulted in formal aesthetic experiment and acute social critique in uneven and unpredictable measures.

  • 23 Judith Murphy, Selling Coals to Newcastle: The Media and Publishing in Relation to North Eastern Fo (...)
  • 24 Anon., “Interesting Piece of Pioneering,” The Times, 20 September 1961, 16.
  • 25 J. Murphy, op. cit., 40. Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) was a pioneering collector and scholar of folksong (...)

13Donnellan objected to the BBC’s ‘Olympian’ notion of impartiality, and during his career he attempted to document how individuals or communities are shaped or burdened by the weight of history in various ways. In films like The White Country (1960), The Crystalmakers (1961), Sunderland Oak (1961), Death of a Miner (1968), Shoals of Herring (1972) and The Big Hewer (1973) he presented deep-rooted British industries and occupational communities that were still vibrant yet undeniably in decline — including pottery workers, glassmakers, shipbuilders, miners and fishermen. In Death of a Miner Donnellan intercut between Elliott’s coffin being loaded into the hearse, and shots of the wrecking ball demolishing Harraton’s “Cotia Pit” (which had closed in 1965). Judith Murphy has described it as not only a tribute to Jack Elliott but also “a wake for the pit and the way of a life that accompanied what was already perceived as a desperately threatened industry.”23 In Sunderland Oak the shipyard workers forecast the death of their yard, to which the local council objected strongly. Sunderland Oak was Donnellan’s first real attempt to extend to television the techniques of the Radio Ballad, and for the reviewer of The Times it was mostly successful, apart from a scene which featured a tea-break discussion where the wisdom of putting a son into the industry was debated. The reviewer criticized the scene for “the fatal staginess we associate with speakers who know that they are being overheard by outsiders,”24 and, as Judith Murphy has remarked, “doubtless there is an element of the workers giving Donnellan what they presumed he wanted, just as Cecil Sharp’s informants tended to self-censor […]”25

  • 26 For a discussion of documentary aesthetics during this period, see Dai Vaughan, “The Space Between (...)
  • 27 J. Murphy, op. cit., 41.

14In terms of documentary history, this is a transitional film, which bears characteristics of the type of artificial reconstruction (i.e. of canteen conservation) that had been a recurring feature of the early Griersonian tradition. In Donnellan’s slightly later film The Colony (1964), an entirely different unscripted and unrehearsed approach is employed, indebted to Mitchell’s wildtrack style which allowed the filmmaker to be more mobile and less intrusive, by employing or directing the use of a lighter, unblimped camera.26 Secondly, we must consider an important point raised by Murphy, of whether “the preoccupation with change and decline [in industrial occupational communities] that ran through [such] broadcasts was exogenous, created by auteurs in search of a theme.”27 To begin to answer this we must remember that social memory is at the heart of the documentary project. As Paula Rabinowitz has remarked:

  • 28 Paula Rabinowitz, “Wreckage upon Wreckage: History, Documentary and the Ruins of Memory,” History a (...)

Filming an essentially ephemeral event, a vanishing custom, a disappearing species, a transitory occurrence is the motivation behind most documentary images.28

15We will return to this notion of the documentary function of capturing what is already “entering into history” in my later analysis of Donnellan’s first film, Joe the Chainsmith (1958). For now, and answering Murphy’s query in a more specific way, we can defend Donnellan against the notion that in documenting the decline of the shipyard he may have been “casting about for a theme” as many television producers do, by noting the consistent obsession that Donnellan displayed throughout his career (despite the considerable disparity that was evident in the aesthetic strategies of the various documentaries) to chart the erosion or up-rooting of working-class communities In doing so he was, to some extent, telling and re-telling the story of his own lineage.

  • 29 L. Pettitt, Screening Ireland, op. cit., 85.

16His 1965 film The Irishmen: an Impression of Exile, which was withdrawn by the BBC and has still never been broadcast, took as its subject the Irish navvies (labourers) of 1960s Britain, who built the motorways and extended the London Underground. As Lance Pettitt has noted, it gives voice to the marginalized Irish emigrant community in Britain, featuring as it does the testimony of “men who are articulate, intelligent and in some cases angry about their circumstances.”29 In the latter part of his career Donnellan attempted, in films like Passage West (1975) and Gone for a Soldier (1980), to create a broader documentary canvas. In these films he introduced alternative historical narratives (as distinct from the official lines of historical exposition), based on the experiences of working-class Irish, English and Scottish émigrés to North America or ordinary soldiers caught up in the machinery of war, in the name of the British Crown and Empire. We can characterize this as a progression from making films about the erosive impact of capitalist expansion on traditional industries and culture to making films which charted the wider erosive impact of the historical processes of colonialism, capitalism and war on communities and regions.

The Personal Documentary: Joe the Chainsmith (1958)

17Despite its modest scale, Donnellan’s most coherent and evocative film was his first, Joe the Chainsmith (1958), which captured a small industrial community (Cradley Heath, near Birmingham) going about its daily routine. For this purpose, Donnellan ventured into an area that had been the cradle of the British Industrial Revolution — the Black Country. This area gained its name in the mid-nineteenth century from the ubiquitous smoke which issued from the many thousands of ironworking foundries and forges, and from the working of the thick coal seams. The seeds of this project were sown by the late Phil Drabble, an author and broadcaster raised in the Black Country best known for presenting the television programme One Man and His Dog. Drabble shared Donnellan’s interest in getting the voices of working people heard on the airwaves, and the two men collaborated on a 1954 Midland Home Service radio series about the Black Country called Men, Women and Memories. It was at that time that Drabble introduced Donnellan to Joe Mallen and Cradley Heath. Joe was a dog-breeder and foreman of a team which hand-forged heavy iron chains, and Cradley Heath, in the heart of the Black Country, was the town in which chain-making was the traditional craft.

  • 30 The most notable documentaries for this series had been Denis Mitchell’s Night in the City (1957), (...)

18Donnellan proposed to the BBC’s Talks and Features Department that a film about Joe Mallen and the community in which he lived be included in the Department’s Eye to Eye series of single documentaries.30 The following ‘treatment’ explained his intentions in making the film:

  • 31 From BBC Written Archives Caversham File No. T32/835/1.

[…] It will try to capture an atmosphere and demonstrate a personality, to evoke in pictures, words and music a form of community which though it is now outdated and rapidly passing away has kept in the people who make it up many qualities: dignity, honesty and the capacity for hard work among them, which cannot always be found in the men and women of the society which is succeeding it.31

19It is clear from this treatment that although the film was about a weekend in Joe’s life, its focus was also very much on the traditional nature of the community of which Joe was a pillar, and the industry for which the area had long been renowned. A key scene in the film is the one which shows Joe and his workmates at the forge, creating a ring of steel which will later form part of an anchor. Donnellan described the scene evocatively in his memoirs:

  • 32 Philip Donnellan, We Were the BBC: An Alternative View of a Producer’s Responsibility, unpublished (...)

In the murky forge that grey morning the work of the team of hammer men was extraordinarily dramatic: the ring with its bevelled ends white hot from the fire; then successively the two Ernies, Joe and Tommy Jasper, with two extra ‘hammers’, each one of the six judging his swing and timing against the rhythm of the others, flung their long-handled fourteen pound hammers with swift and repeating power and amazing accuracy onto the cooling metal.32

20Donnellan and editor Edward de Lorrain maintain this scene long enough for it to become mesmerizing, as the relentless pace and perfectly synchronized movements of Joe’s team (and the hypnotic rhythm which their hammering creates) begins to resemble not merely a work process but also a ritual of aesthetic wonder and anthropological significance. Donnellan’s further comments on the film are revealing:

  • 33 Ibidem.

What [else] it says — of Victorian industrial practice; of men who lived, poorly, by such work year after year until they were worn out — well. That was for each person who saw, or sees it, to decide for himself [sic]. I was not yet in the preaching game.33

21It was fortunate that Donnellan was “not yet in the preaching game”, as the awesome quality of this scene might have been mitigated had it been accompanied by superfluous explication. Rather than merely aestheticizing the labour of working men, this scene (with its use of synch-sound) offers viewers a fuller sensory experience of a work process in situ. Even at the time of the documentary’s original transmission, there must have been an element of surprise amongst the television audience at the fact that these chain-making workshops were still operative, in which Black Countrymen were applying a primitive, centuries-old method of hammering cut lengths of red-hot wrought iron into oval links, using a blazing hearth. The back-breaking and sweltering nature of the work was visible on the screen; it did not need to be spelt out to the audience.

  • 34 James F. Abrams, “Lost Frames of Reference: Sightings of History and Memory in Pennsylvania’s Docum (...)

22However, in an era in which the mechanization of industry was gathering pace, the film captured a vanishing world, which meant that the televised images of the workers could more readily be fixed in the past, to be “colonized […] and consumed as signs of an already defeated social class.”34 This was also true of Sunderland Oak, which presented a world of steamships and men in flat caps, reminiscent of films of the documentary film movement of the 1930s. Joe himself emerged onto the screen as a sort of miraculous survival from an earlier era — as yet untouched by the commercial manifestations of mass culture described and decried at the time by Richard Hoggart — and this helps to explain the admissibility (to BBC management) of a film which revealed the austerity and harshness of a traditional but peripheral form of working-class life. Joe was living proof that “hard work never killed anybody.” As Donnellan later reflected:

  • 35 Quoted in M. Thomas, op. cit., 12.

It was the very reactionary nature of Joe, his extraordinary nineteenth-century quality, the fact that this was a British working-class man of exactly the sort that Grace [Wyndham Goldie] would like, a character who would in no sense be any sort of threat.35

23Joe the Chainsmith was carefully structured as a “slice-of-life” documentary, and displayed a keen attention to what we might term the ‘textures’ of everyday life and leisure. Whilst the film does depict the repetitive and arduous nature of the daily work that Joe and his gang undertake, Joe Mallen is characterized by his pleasures rather than his politics. Accordingly his prestige in the community (as a former publican and a breeder of Staffordshire bull terriers) is more discernible than his status as a foreman. We witness the routine of Joe’s social life as it unfolds in and around several local pubs, where he drinks and converses with friends, compares bull terriers, watches a whippet race on Porters Field, and participates in a regular sing-along at the Pear Tree Inn. In this respect, the film represents the working class at play, rather than as proletariat, as in the Free Cinema documentaries (exhibited between 1956 and 1959), and in Richard Hoggart’s landmark work The Uses of Literacy (published in 1957). Nevertheless, the mischievous bravado and toughness of Joe’s persona, and the fascinating ritual nature — and even illegality — of some of his hobbies (Joe was a devotee of the Black Country blood sports of dog-fighting and cock-fighting which had been banned by the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1845) provided a marked contrast to the sanitized and oblique representations of working-class life that had dominated television up to that time. As Donnellan remarked in his professional memoirs:

  • 36 P. Donnellan, op. cit., 56.

It never occurred to me for a moment that Joe Mallen, bred in the culture of the pub and with his illegal pastimes, was a far cry from the ideal BBC subject. To me he stood for the historical character of the Black Country — like it or not.36

  • 37 Erich Auerbach, quoted in Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, L (...)

24The insularity and fraternity of the Cradley Heath community in which the film is situated (the “culture of the pub”), however, determines that the film is “completely independent of the controversial and unstable orders over which men fight and despair; it passes unaffected by them, as daily life.”37 There is only the most fleeting allusion to bosses and class distinctions within the film — as Joe and his work colleagues leave with their pay packets they walk past an expensive sports-car parked outside the chain and anchor works, and Joe remarks that he has learned over the years that it is actually the unskilled workers who have the money.

The Vernacular Documentary: The Colony (1964)

  • 38 For a survey of compilation films, see Jay Leyda, Films Beget Films, New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.

25The relative success of Joe the Chainsmith meant that Donnellan was, for several years, encouraged to pursue his interest in occupational communities, and he continued to explore his own region of the West Midlands in subsequent films. Between 1961 and 1963 Donnellan also collaborated with Malcolm Brown in London, creating biographical compilation films38 of world leaders and historical figures, such as Nehru, De Gaulle and T. E. Lawrence, as well as a film on the British in India, Lords of India (1963). The latter film assembled and utilized archival documents, such as reminiscences, autobiography, poetry, official reports and memoranda, unearthed in the India Office library.

26In the making of Lords of India, Donnellan worried that the convention of using a narrator would unbalance the insights and contradictions presented by the wealth of direct quotations he had assembled, which were read by actors and actresses. These afforded Donnellan a purview of experiences and critical perspectives on Empire not always in keeping with celebratory versions which lamented its loss. When it came to preview the film in rough-cut, Huw Wheldon, who had recently taken over as Head of Documentaries noted the compromised tone of the film. He urged Donnellan to abandon the commentary and rely instead on the quotations (as well as some illustrative recreations) and the musical soundtrack alone, which Donnellan did.

  • 39 C. Moffat, op. cit., 84.
  • 40 I must acknowledge here the assistance of Dr. Paul Long, who, in some unpublished notes, provided s (...)

27Whilst the finished film was critical of the Raj, it was — unlike Donnellan’s later denunciations of Empire — imbued with a certain poignant regret, which led Colin Moffat to describe it in the British Film Institute’s magazine Contrast as “a rather weird combination of irony and slightly gratuitous nostalgia.”39 Nevertheless, Donnellan’s approach and interpretation of the colonial experience drew the vehement disapproval of Grace Wyndham Goldie who attempted (unsuccessfully) to have the programme withdrawn from the schedule. Her complaint this time was that Donnellan was simply too young to understand and deal with his historical subject. When broadcast, Lords of India drew some criticism, notably from Lord Reith, who wrote in his diaries that it was “utterly tawdry and left-wing.” On the new BBC feedback show Points of View there were also plenty of comments of this ilk, complaining of a political bias against the glory of British history, with one in particular suspicious of the Irish name appended to the critique. This would not be the last controversy generated by Donnellan’s approach to history: Donnellan would later narrate histories of imperialism through archival materials in Passage West and Gone for a Soldier, but without any hint of a rose-tinted perspective, as we will see.40

28In early 1963 Donnellan was full of energy, and ready to take on new subjects, beyond those he had already tackled — the sociology of industrial life, and imperialism and its consequences. He wrote a letter to Huw Wheldon, in which he outlined his beliefs about television’s vital social role, and argued for the establishment of a regional documentary unit in Birmingham. One programme idea mentioned in the letter to Wheldon — “let’s find a West Indian who’d do a truthful film about West Indians today” — grew into The Colony, which was researched and shot in the winter of 1963 and broadcast on 16th June 1964. The result was a film in which the voices of the West Indian community in Birmingham explored the notion of nationhood, of Britishness, of ethnicity and regional identity.

  • 41 I. Francis, op. cit., 11.
  • 42 Paul Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, London: Penguin, 1965, 79.
  • 43 Quoted in Ibid., 69.
  • 44 Bill Schwarz, “‘Shivering in the Noonday Sun’: The British World and the Dynamics of ‘Nativisation, (...)

29Attracted by the promise of abundant employment, growing numbers of workers from the Caribbean, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent had migrated to Britain during the 1950s. The majority of these immigrants settled in British cities, generally in areas which were characterized by labour shortages but also inadequate housing and healthcare services, and the problems of integration became a consistent and contentious topic for discussion.41 These urban problems, combined with the development of fascist groups, and “race riots” in Notting Hill and Nottingham in 1958, all contributed to a climate in which the presence of such immigrants was consistently perceived and referred to as a problem. In the 1964 General Election, Peter Griffiths, the Conservative candidate for Smethwick (a town situated on the edge of Birmingham) ousted the Labour incumbent Patrick Gordon Walker with a four-year campaign which made electoral capital out of post-war immigration, placing it at the centre of the party-political stage.42 In July 1963 Walker announced that, at the municipal elections in May, gangs of children had been organized by the Conservative activists to chant, “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” This slogan was also included in a campaign pamphlet. To the Midland correspondent of The Times, Griffiths later said of the slogan, “I would not condemn anyone who said that. I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling.” In the same article, Griffiths had been prompted to admit that the Smethwick Conservatives were “acting as a safety valve — a function that might otherwise be undertaken by right-wing groups.”43 The Colony was therefore made at a time when local MPs in the West Midlands were making their first formal overtures to the racist mobilizations in their constituencies (such as the right-wing anti-immigration group the Birmingham Immigration Control Association),44 and were given platforms to voice discriminatory views in some local press outlets (particularly the Smethwick Telephone). In this climate, to make a documentary account of black immigrant life in Britain in which the protagonists represented themselves, either talking directly to the camera or by means of the inclusion of their tape-recorded testimony on the soundtrack, was a radical venture.

  • 45 She had also, more recently, acted in another ground-breaking production, a BBC television drama-do (...)
  • 46 See Wendy Webster, Englishness and Empire, 1939-1965, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 163–16 (...)

30Donnellan’s willingness to upset preconceptions is signalled from the outset of the film. Over a shot of Birmingham Town Hall we hear a woman with a ‘BBC English’ accent talking about the difficulty of placing certain children for adoption, particularly “the handicapped child, the mentally retarded child” and “a big section amongst coloured and half-caste children” before there is a flash-pan from the view at the window to a black woman as she says the words “I feel very deeply about this, being coloured myself.” The proper BBC voice is revealed to be that of Pauline Henriques, a broadcaster and television actress who was the first black actress to appear on British TV (in Eugene O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings, 1946).45 This opening sets up expectations of a white voice which are then confounded, setting the agenda of a documentary in which (with only one or two exceptions) only black voices speak.46 Pauline Henriques’ testimony is followed by that of a black male worker, shown working in a foundry. These words are repeated several times throughout the documentary, providing a refrain:

Sometimes we think we shouldn’t blame the people because it’s we who have come to your country and troubled them. On the other hand, we think if they in the first place had not come to our country and spread the false propaganda, we would never have come to theirs. If we had not come, we would not be the wiser; we would still have the good image of England, thinking that they are what they are not. And the English would be as ignorant of us.

31In making The Colony Donnellan collaborated with Charles Parker, who had just finished making the last edition of the Radio Ballads series, entitled The Travelling People (broadcast 17th April 1964). The men were close colleagues in the Midlands Home Service in Birmingham and had developed skills in the editing of soundtracks (taking a keen interest in the examples set in the BBC’s North Region by the pioneering radio producer turned documentary filmmaker Denis Mitchell). Both had strayed from the conformity instilled in them by their establishment backgrounds, using what creative freedom they had within the BBC to document marginalized or oppressed communities and vernacular culture within their region. Parker provided the montage of voices in The Colony, in which black immigrants reflected upon their own inner lives, and recollected the bewilderment they had faced upon arrival in noisy, smoky, industrialized Birmingham.

32The image of Britain and the British Empire that these immigrants had developed through their education simply did not correspond to the realities of British metropolitan life. It is easy to underestimate the differences between inter alia the histories, geographies, climates and architectures of the homeland and the host country, and we can gain an understanding of these contrasts from oral histories of first-generation immigrants such as those collected by Parker. For example, here is an excerpt from an oral history interview, featured in the Connecting Histories online resource curated by Birmingham Archives and Heritage (based at Birmingham Library):

  • 47 From Birmingham Archives & Heritage MS 2255/2/85 1.

I knew more about Britain than I knew about Jamaica. I mean the reading books were the same used in the schools in England here. I knew more about the rivers and the cities […] knights and what have you and Lord this and so on [but] it was foreign to me, I didn’t know what it meant […] I couldn’t imagine what it would look like.47

  • 48 B. Schwarz, op. cit., 37.

33This extract illustrates the way in which the West Indians knew their way around the formal curriculum of Britain as well as any British Briton, which, as Bill Schwartz has observed, meant that their subsequent categorization under the label of “immigrants” or “blacks” divested them of their British inheritance and “nativised them.”48 In the following extract the questioning and misapprehension which is characteristic of a child’s curiosity cuts through to the heart of the disparity between industrial Britain and the farming country of Jamaica:

  • 49 From Birmingham Archives & Heritage MS 2255/2/12 1.

So I left the airport and while I was in London, I asked my sister and Owen, “Where are all the houses?” because the houses looked to me like factories. In Jamaica we are not used to chimneys and smoke coming out of chimneys and the houses are nicely washed or painted or something like that — they didn’t look like real houses.49

34In The Colony the fear and disorientation of arrival is portrayed through a montage of views of the New Street station and the busy streets of Birmingham, composed of filmed footage and still photographs. Talk of the abundant crops, breadfruit and banana trees of Jamaica are accompanied by images of sooty terraces and railway sidings. As Bill Schwarz has observed:

  • 50 B. Schwarz, op. cit., 39.

Recreation of arrival in the city by steam-train — following then as it does now the original Robert Stephenson line of 1838 as it bends its way into the New Street Station above the workshops of the first Industrial Revolution — is given added poignancy as memories of the migrants’ own Caribbean homelands are recounted.50

  • 51 Ekaterina Haskins, “Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age,” Rhetoric So (...)

35The recent arrivals relate the image of the “mother country” as munificent provider that had been instilled in them by their colonial education, which contrasts strongly with their experience in Birmingham of relative poverty and discrimination. One man recounts his lineage, from his ancestors who were taken from the Gold Coast of Africa to Jamaica to work as slaves; another recalls his school class having to voice allegiance to the British Crown, and that commitment to the mother country ran so deep in the British Caribbean that “we actually believed it, you know.” These recollections are laid over images of Birmingham’s historic buildings, memorials and commemorative statues (including the Town Hall and Aston Hall, and statues of Queen Victoria, Joseph Chamberlain and Joseph Priestley), and civic dignitaries walking into St. Martin’s Church. A tension is thereby set up between these vernacular voices and the ideological dominance and institutional silences of what Ekaterina Haskins has termed “contemporary organs of remembrance.”51

  • 52 J. Corner, op. cit., 46–47. It was the Special Enquiry programme that was to give Denis Mitchell hi (...)
  • 53 W. Webster, op. cit., 164.
  • 54 B. Schwarz, op. cit., 38.

36Before the black immigration of the 1950s and 1960s, broadcasting had mainly represented black people as “foreigners”, and during the post-war period the typical representation of black people was as a problem. On 31st January 1955, the BBC current affairs programme Special Enquiry broadcast an edition entitled “Has Britain a Colour Bar?” which, with the benefit of hindsight, can now be characterized both for its progressive and reactionary tendencies. John Corner has written of how this programme poses prejudice rather than immigration as the primary problem. However, the programme’s commentary still insists on the otherness of the immigrant, and seeks to offer up the means by which the discriminatory testimony of local government representatives and union officials can be understood (albeit not actually condoned).52 In doing so, the programme rejects the ‘bias against understanding’ typical of much current affairs output from the period. However it also exhibits an address pitched solely at white viewers, concerning a grouping sharply differentiated from them both visually and verbally. In the place of this mode whereby a white narrator mediates the observations and complaints of white people within a certain locality about an “alien” element, The Colony offers an “account of a white problem by black speakers who interrogate Englishness.”53 In a complete reversal, the Englishman becomes the object of anthropological scrutiny and curiosity.54 As one interviewee declares in The Colony:

You see, the Englishman is a very funny creature [...] he likes his change of scenery, he likes the variety of life [...]in fact in England you have a country of variety, with the changes of the season, and it has entered into the people themselves. But the Englishman, or the white man for that matter, doesn’t like the variety of the human species [...]

37Another man provides a contrasting observation:

An Englishman is a hell of a lot more tolerant than any other Europeans. You’re a tolerant race of people, you’re a friendly people […]

  • 55 In addition it was Charles Parker – who often spoke of his attempts to yield interpretive authority (...)

38The West Indians with their own spontaneous talk caught ‘on the wing’ by Parker’s tape recorder and in Donnellan’s impromptu filming sessions were a far cry from the documentary subjects of earlier eras, and the methods employed in the production of the film were a far cry from those employed in Joe the Chainsmith (made only five years previously). Whereas Donnellan had carefully planned and scripted every single word of Joe (which also featured some narration from Phil Drabble), all of the talk that is heard in The Colony is unscripted.55 The influence of Denis Mitchell here is crucial. Exploiting the mobility which the lightweight 16mm camera afforded in fieldwork and the possibilities of a contrapuntal relationship between sound and image afforded by montage tape-editing, Denis Mitchell’s use of wildtrack sound in television documentaries such as Morning in the Streets (1959) became known in industry and critical circles as the “think-tape” technique, as it evoked the inner lives of individuals or communities. As the documentary historian Eric Barnouw has observed, referring to the distinctions that can be drawn between the (unscripted) “talking people” that featured in Denis Mitchell’s work and those who featured in the work of the earlier Griersonian movement:

  • 56 Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980 (...)

[T]alking beings with their own spontaneous talk were not puppets, as experiments were demonstrating. In a sense they began to take control away from the director. It was to these people — including people whom the audience had not counted as part of their world — that viewers were reacting.56 (my italics)

39The contrasts that can be drawn between The Colony and Joe the Chainsmith illustrate the radical changes that Donnellan’s work (and working methods) had undergone (and would continue to undergo), and exemplify how his life and work were a perplexing cascade of synthesizing influences. The still and atmospheric, carefully composed 35mm images of Black Country hills and canals at dawn in Joe the Chainsmith had been replaced by a stark, close-up and roving aesthetic of austere streets, weary faces and ornate architecture in Birmingham, captured using a lightweight 16mm camera. Yet the differences go beyond questions of technological, methodological, or even aesthetic approach. In some ways the changes were symptomatic of the wider changes that British documentary had undergone since the Griersonian era of the 1930s and 1940s. In the earlier period, working people were eulogized for their craftsmanship and hard work (in the narrative commentary and in the aesthetic portrayal of their manual labour), but they were rarely humanized or allowed to speak for themselves. Donnellan had to develop the courage and the experience to make a decisive break with this aspect of the Griersonian documentary tradition, as well as the practice of scripting which had long been an inherent feature of BBC radio.

40In Joe the Chainsmith, Donnellan had often kept the camera fixed on people occupied in activities — for example, chain-making, dog-racing or singing — and at times this echoed the earlier era of British documentary, in which talk had featured only in brief, static and entirely scripted scenes (especially as cumbersome optical cameras prohibited the documenting of spontaneous encounters). Of course, this is not to imply that Joe’s asides to the camera at the beginning and end of the film were not his own words — but they were words that he had said in the course of a pre-production conversation with Donnellan and which he was asked to repeat in front of the camera. Fortunately, Joe was a confident performer, and so having to perform a reading of his own words did not overly dilute the idiomatic nature of his speech.

  • 57 Charles Parker, “TV Documentary and Ideology – a Reply to Nicholas Garnham,” Screen 13, 1972: 153. (...)

41Perhaps the most articulate and thoughtful talker in The Colony is Stan Crooke, a signalman from St. Kitts. Donnellan interviewed Crooke inside his signal-box at Selly Oak (along with cameraman Geoff Mulligan, sound recordist Bob Roberts and an over-seeing British Rail manager), and Stan talks fluently but succinctly about his relationship with his colleagues whilst calmly going about his work pulling levers and changing switches — as if to reinforce the point that the subjects of the new documentary era are not just working people but working people with expressive competences and resources hitherto untapped by broadcasters. Certainly this chimed with the approach of Charles Parker, who sought to challenge what he regarded as the normative representation of working people in the media “as the most suffering class, rather than as the most creative class.”57

  • 58 P. Donnellan, op. cit., 136.

42The way in which neither interviewee nor film team are phased by the restricted mobility and enforced spontaneity of the scene is somewhat akin to a live television play — both in terms of the skill of Crooke’s ‘performance’ and in terms of the skill of the cameraman and sound recordist in their subtle yet dynamic and interpretative responses to this performance. The experience of filming this scene reinforced Donnellan’s belief that articulate, so-called ordinary people such as Crooke should be actively sought out as real “sources of authority” for documentary representations of the “real world.”58

43In the scene Stan explains the circumscribed nature of his friendships with his work-mates; although they typically travel to work in the same train and chat convivially during the journey, all outward manifestations of these friendships end when they reach their place of work (the railway station). It was absolutely vital that we hear Stan speak as well as see him work, as this permitted his self-presentation to the television film crew and the television audience. In particular, Stan felt the need to pre-empt and disavow the idea that he is ‘living proof’ of integration:

Looking at me working here, you might say — ‘that chap looks perfectly happy, he’s working amongst English people […] how came they say there’s no integration in this country?’ However, I have a different story to tell […]

  • 59 See Charles Madge, “Broadcasting as Social Contact,” BBC Quarterly, 8, 1953: 71-76.

44The Colony, like Donnellan’s other better films, attempted to extend human sympathy beyond the boundaries of the viewer’s immediate experience, demolishing prejudice and preparing the ground for fresh understanding. This fulfilled a notion of broadcasting as para-social contact.59 With the benefit of hindsight, however, Donnellan regarded as naïve his and Parker’s belief in the unmitigated poetic charge of the testimony within the film to change the attitudes of viewers. He felt the West Indian community lacked political organization and representation, and that the film therefore lacked evidence and coherent argument. Nevertheless, some testimony in The Colony did contain reasoned argument, or the cut-and-thrust of debate, as in the scene in which a group of men discuss whether it is necessary or desirable “to be a black Brummie in the upstairs room of a pub, and agree that there are no problems of integration between children of different races, only between adults. Indeed it is doubtful whether the film would have been improved by the inclusion of the kind of talk which circulates in a more formal caucus, seminar or political meeting.

  • 60 Darrell Varga, “New Canadian Documentaries and the Logic of Time,” in A Conference on the Contempor (...)

45One criticism that can be made of The Colony (and other Donnellan documentaries such as Passage West and Gone for a Soldier) is that it contains too much speech; at times The Colony is dominated by ‘undigested chunks’ of unscripted actuality, and lacks shape and structure. The viewer is sometimes lost among a variety of personae and arguments, lacking the cueing function of a concise but telling anecdote or of narrative commentary. The tendency towards excess in The Colony is symptomatic of a particular form of documentary which imitates the communal basis and fluidity of oral storytelling, folk-song or jazz, showcasing the interview as unrehearsed improvization, structured only around basic themes. The advantage of this form of documentary is that the authorship of the filmmaker (Donnellan is often conceptualized as a documentary auteur) is tempered by testimony and diffused across a montage of lived experiences. We can thereby defend the film on the basis that it involves “immersion in an oral and communal experience where we share questions rather than settle on fixed answers.”60

  • 61 Robert Glenn Howard, “Electronic Hybridity: The Persistent Processes of the Vernacular Web,” Journa (...)

46The Colony, like the Radio Ballads, is an example of what we might term ‘vernacular documentary’, in the sense that the vernacular is the authority that derives from being local, specific, informal and non-institutional. Folklorist Robert Glenn Howard has traced the etymology of the term back to Roman Latin, in which verna was a noun referring specifically to slaves that were born and raised in a Roman home. The verna was a native to Roman culture but was also the offspring of a sublimated non-Roman ethnic or cultural group. Although they were subordinated in relation to Roman institutions, their access to languages made them powerful, as they were native speakers of both Classical Latin or Greek and their own cultural languages.61 This power made them more likely to achieve citizenship. This has great resonance in relation to The Colony, as many of the speakers are the descendents of slaves from West Africa. As one speaker observes:

You find through the ages one country domineering over the others. Once it was the Romans, the Chinese, the Egyptians. It happened that the white nation dominated over the Negroes. Even now, to some extent. It’s just a matter of history [...]

47Ostensibly it was the 1948 British Nationality Act that had conferred British citizenship on these former colonial subjects, giving them the right to live and work in Britain, at a time when many Commonwealth countries were gaining their independence. However, British citizenship was not granted by fiat or by law. In the words of a junior Conservative Minister:

  • 62 Quoted in P. Foot, op. cit., 125.

It [the granting of citizenship] was not due to a deliberate act of policy formally announced and embodied in our law […] It is simply a fact we have taken for granted from the earliest days in which our forbears ventured forth across the seas. (David Renton MP, House of Commons, 5 December 1958.)62

48The inhabitants of all the dominions in the British Empire had long been awarded automatic citizenship in exchange for their exploitation — this was a historical legacy of the ‘benevolence’ of British imperialism. As Paul Foot has observed:

  • 63 Ibid., 124–5.

The Romans, when carving out their Empire out of Europe and Africa, adopted a harsher attitude than the British Empire builders towards the people they conquered […] Citizenship was, in the Roman Empire, a prize for the most subservient and most able of the conquered. The British were more magnanimous. As all imperialists must […] They robbed them of their indigenous industries and cruelly exploited their agricultural production to supply cheap food and materials for the insatiable “Mother Country.” But in the fine spirit of generosity, they gave citizenship free to all their new subjects.63

The Epistolary Documentary: Gone for a Soldier (1980)

49After regretting what he perceived to be the missed opportunity of a lack of reasoned argument about the legacy of imperialism in The Colony, Donnellan developed a greater determination to construct historical and political narrative frameworks within his documentaries. Accordingly he used the scattered testimony contained within primary evidence and archival sources to chart the migration of Irish, Scottish and English peasants and potters to Canada in Passage West, and to communicate the experiences of the “common soldier” across the generations in Gone for A Soldier. In doing so Donnellan shied away from the extensive use of actuality and interview material that had characterized The Colony and most of his other documentaries. Although we can appreciate the frequent mastery with which Gone for a Soldier, in particular, assembles and conveys a variety of historical sources, Donnellan’s retrospective justification for utilizing historical documents rather than contemporary people in this film seems rather self-serving and patronizing:

  • 64 P. Donnellan, op. cit., 317.

[M]ost people even today do not know in detail how ‘the state’ works to achieve its political ends. Individuals can provide fragments of evidence but only painstaking assembly can construct an explicit analysis to catch the uninformed ear.64

  • 65 P. Rabinowitz, op. cit., 132. See the discussion of Ken Burns’ PBS film “The Civil War,” made in th (...)

50Donnellan believed that it is a function of documentary “to rock the boat.” When it does so, those whose interests it threatens are likely to respond with angry counterattacks. Gone for a Soldier is a pre-eminent case in point: a documentary which presents the words and images of other times and places to present the horror and futility of war, provoking the viewer to remember; and remembering, as Walter Benjamin insisted, is a political act.65 A documentary portrait of the life of British soldiers from 1815 to the present, it incorporated songs, letters, diaries and official reports, and was shown on BBC 1 in two parts on the same evening. The ‘present-day’ thread which runs through the film concerns a young recruit from South Wales who is trained and sent to Northern Ireland, and who ultimately decides not to continue his military career. The first part, The Professionals, shows the interviewing and training of recruits for service in Northern Ireland, parallel to the history of the British solder from Rorke’s Drift through to the Boer War. The second part, The Citizen Soldiers deals with Gallipoli, World Wars I and II, and ends with warnings about the role of the British soldier in Northern Ireland. The footage of police brutality in Northern Ireland towards the end of the film is particularly vivid and distressing, and ruptures the film’s mode of historicity by using contemporary footage and bringing its terms of reference into the present. As Rabinowitz has observed, again referencing Walter Benjamin:

  • 66 Idem.

The historical documentary not only tells us about the past but asks us to do something about it as well — to act as the Angel of History and redeem the present through the past.66

51The programme caused outrage with its argument that Britain’s armed forces have consistently exploited working-class patriotism and lack of opportunity and sent generations of young men to their deaths. The press carried protests from the military and political elite, and questions were asked about the film in the House of Lords. The BBC did eventually succumb to pressure from the popular press, politicians and the military, and withdrew the programme from distribution and sales overseas. When it was broadcast, the BBC management insisted that the film be introduced by the programme announcer as “a personal view”, and in providing this disclaimer, and in withdrawing the film from overseas sales, it demonstrated its timidity over questions of impartiality and balance. Donnellan strongly objected to the disclaimer, although he was a little more convinced by the argument that the Corporation put forward for withdrawing it, which he quoted in his memoirs:

  • 67 Quoted in P. Donnellan, op. cit., 336.

While there is some space in our schedules for programmes which present a subjective impression of history, we believe that the element of exaggeration they contain must be balanced in other, more factual programmes. It would clearly not be possible to hold this position in relation to overseas buyers of such programmes.67

52This argument demonstrates the way in which the BBC has historically attempted to placate its critics by providing balance across the schedule, rather than within one particular programme. It can be legitimately argued that the BBC compromised its independence by withdrawing the documentary, and compounded this by never having re-transmitted the film. However, it can also be argued that, by trawling archives for their most trenchant and controversial manuscript testimony to cut and paste into the film, Donnellan adopted a highly selective approach to the inclusion of testimony. In exploring the “foreign country” of the past, Donnellan could not escape the problematic dilemma that lay at the heart of his work — the tension between truly giving voice to the voiceless and using them as puppets or a mouthpiece to voice his own message. Can documentary auteurs still truly and effectively give voice to the marginalized in society — or must they proceed not by stating their view but by minimizing their own agency of voice and rhetorical presence? Donnellan often walked this ethical tightrope, and it was inevitable that his employers would find fault when his work could be construed as containing a personal view (the distinction that can be made here between the “personal documentary” and the “personal view” is not merely a matter of semantics). We can see evidence of this in a BBC memorandum sent to Donnellan in 1973 by Robin Scott, the Controller of BBC 2, about his film about boxing, The Fight Game (a direct adaptation of a Radio Ballad):

  • 68 P. Cox, op. cit., 259.

You may well ‘assert’ the relationship between the acceptance of violence in boxing and the tolerance of institutionalised violence in other fields — notably the military — but this is a personal view which is hardly acceptable when grafted on to an original script which, as far as I know, pointed-up no such relationship.68

53In his own historical work, Donnellan was preoccupied with the problem that confronts any documentarist wishing to represent historical events that predate the invention of film and for which not even any contextual illustrative material exists. It is noticeable that the dynamic of Gone for a Soldier changes during the last thirty minutes of the film, which is the part of the film that focuses on wartime events that are within living memory. This comes as something of a relief after the relentless flow of archival photographs, recitations and statistics which precedes it. In this section, a panel of (WW2) prisoners of war relate their experiences, and debate the competing meanings and motivations of conscience and self-preservation, community and status.

  • 69 R. G. Howard, op. cit., 204.

54In examining the question of why a living witness is often more compelling than a historical document, we can return to the notion of the vernacular. In one of its earliest uses to describe human behaviour, Marcus Tullius Cicero suggested that the vernacular was a source of persuasive power. He wrote of an “indescribable flavour” that rendered a particular speaker persuasive, and understood the vernacular, linked to participation in a specific community, to be set in opposition to what he and other Roman politicians saw as the institutional elements of persuasive communication and historical commemoration in textbooks.69 This foundational definition has relevance to Donnellan’s commitments to giving voice to the voiceless (in The Colony) and creating a documentary “history from below” as an alternative to official lines of history (in Gone for a Soldier). The Colony, as I suggested earlier, is a vernacular documentary in the sense that it tolerates or actively embraces orality, emotion and ambiguity, and opens up authority to the heteroglossia of the community. It is important, however, to make finer distinctions between ‘oral and communal experience’ and the concept of the vernacular. I would like to argue that whilst Donnellan later came to widen the focus of his documentary subjects from particular communities to nations and empires, what they gained in scale they lost in intimacy and a sense of interaction. Despite their sustained use of vernacular sources like diaries, letters and journals, documentaries like Passage West and Gone for a Soldier were no longer rooted in community or the communal exchange of the oral tradition as The Colony had been.

  • 70 For Kerwin, see Helen Rappaport, No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War, (...)

55To explore this point further it may prove useful to conclude by considering the concept of rhetoric. Aristotle identified three main forms of persuasive proof at work in the art of rhetoric: logos, or the use of evidence in rational argument; ethos, the use of the personal charisma or social role of the speaker to claim credibility or authority; and pathos, or the use of emotion to move people. The rhetoric of writing and print in official documents or histories has tended to involve a disproportionate use of logos, creating a decontextualized form of communication, in which ethos and pathos are no longer as vital to the interpretation of the text. However, the diaries, letters, memoirs and journals that Donnellan incorporates into Passage West and Gone for a Soldier are vernacular sources which retain the eyewitness credibility and authenticity of ethos, and a heartbreaking sense of pathos. For example, in Gone for a Soldier extracts are read out from the diary of Margaret Kerwin, one of the forgotten women who courageously followed their husbands into the Crimean War, from the devastating journals of Nurse Sarah Anne from Scutari Hospital, a probationer at the Nightingale Training School in the early 1860s, and from the vitriolic journals of the politicized soldier John Pearson.70

  • 71 Jesus Martin Barbero, Communication, Culture and Hegemony: From the Media to Mediations, New York: (...)

56In Gone for a Soldier the pathos and ethos of the vernacular documentary sources is frequently effective, yet given the demands that the relentless procession of these sources makes upon the viewer, their power is somewhat diminished by being excerpted and subsumed within the logos of Donnellan’s somewhat didactic agenda and documentary framework. Much of the emotional resonance or nuance undergirding such sources is lost or insufficiently acknowledged. In this way the historical portrait which Donnellan sought to elaborate by means of a bricolage of primary evidence tended to obscure the individual human stories from which this portrait was ultimately composed. In Gone for a Soldier Donnellan succeeded in forcing the viewer to question or contemplate his or her complicity in the construction of historical narratives. Yet in moving away from the notion of a knowable community as in Joe the Chainsmith, and the orality and poetic charge of The Colony, perhaps it can be said that Donnellan had overlooked the power of pathos, and that, as defined by the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, community is bound by the unity of thought and emotion, reason and sentiment, in the human ties of solidarity, loyalty, and collective identity.71

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Bibliographie

Works Cited

Abrams James F., “Lost Frames of Reference: Sightings of History and Memory in Pennsylvania’s Documentary Landscape,” in Mary Hufford (ed.), Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Anon., “Interesting Piece of Pioneering,” The Times, London, 20 September 1961, 16.

Barbero Jesus Martin, Communication, Culture and Hegemony: From the Media to Mediations, New York: Sage Publications, 1993.

Barnouw Erik, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Biressi Anita and Heather Nunn, Reality TV: Realism and Revelation, London: Wallflower Press, 2005.

Bridson D. G., Prospero and Ariel: The Rise and Fall of Radio, A Personal Recollection, London: Victor Gollancz, 1971.

Burns Tom, The BBC: Public Institution and Private World, London: Macmillan, 1979.

Corner John, “Documentary Voices,” in John CORNER (ed.), Popular Television in Britain, London: BFI, 1991.

Cox Peter, Set into Song: Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker, Peggy Seeger and the Radio Ballads, Cambridge: Labatie Books, 2008.

de Certeau Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Donnellan Philip, We Were the BBC: An Alternative View of a Producer’s Responsibility, Unpublished manuscript, held at Birmingham Archives & Heritage, 1992.

Foot Paul, Immigration and Race in British Politics, London: Penguin, 1965.

Francis Ian, Landmarks: Revisiting the Work of Philip Donnellan, Birmingham: 7 Inch Cinema/Screen West Midlands, 2006. <http://www.7inch.org.uk/files/landmarks.pdf>.

Gilbert W. Stephen, “Underrated: The Case for Philip Donnellan,” The Independent, 21 September, 1994.

Grey Tobias, “A Revolutionary’s Tale,” Financial Times, 15 March 2008.

Haskins Ekaterina, “Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 2007: 401-422.

Howard Robert Glenn, “Electronic Hybridity: The Persistent Processes of the Vernacular Web,” Journal of American Folklore, 121, 2008: 192-218.

Kracauer Siegfried, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, London: Dennis Dobson, 1961.

Leyda Jay, Films Beget Films, New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.

Lipsitz George, “Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen: Popular Culture, Cultural Theory, and American Studies,” American Quarterly, 42, 1990: 615-636.

Madge Charles, “Broadcasting as Social Contact,” BBC Quarterly, 8, 1953: 71-76.

Moffat Colin, “Birmingham Revival,” Contrast Television Quarterly, 1965: 84-85.

Murphy Judith, Selling Coals to Newcastle: The Media and Publishing in Relation to North Eastern Folk Music, 1945-1975, Papers in North Eastern History, Newcastle: North East England History Institute, 2008.

Parker Charles, “TV Documentary and Ideology — a Reply to Nicholas Garnham,” Screen 13, 1972: 152 -154.

Pettitt Lance, Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

_______, “Philip Donnellan, Ireland and Dissident Documentary,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 20, 2001: 351-365.

Rabinowitz Paula, “Wreckage upon Wreckage: History, Documentary and the Ruins of Memory,” History and Theory, 32, 1993: 119-137.

Rappaport Helen, No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War, London: Aurum, 2007.

Richardson Robert G., Nurse Sarah Anne: With Florence Nightingale at Scutari, First Edition, London: John Murray, 1977.

Rosen Harold, Language and Class: A Critical Look at the Theories of Basil Bernstein, Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1974.

Rosenthal Alan, The Documentary Conscience: a Casebook in Film Making, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Schwarz Bill, “‘Shivering in the Noonday Sun’: The British World and the Dynamics of “Nativisation,” in Kate Darian-Smith, Patricia Grimshaw and Stuart Macintyre (eds.), Britishness Abroad: Transnational Movements and Imperial Cultures, Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing Academic Monographs, 2007.

Shapley Olive, Broadcasting a Life, London: Scarlet Press, 1996.

Steedman Carolyn and John Pearman, The Radical Soldier’s Tale: John Pearman, 1819-1908, Oxford: Routledge, 1988.

Swallow Norman, Factual Television, London: Focal Press, 1966.

Thomas Mairede (ed.), Stories and Songs: The Films of Philip Donnellan, London: BFI, 1984.

Varga Darrell, “New Canadian Documentaries and the Logic of Time,” in A Conference on the Contemporary Contexts and Possibilities of the Documentary, presented at the Documentary Now! Conference, Birkbeck College: London, 2010.

Vaughan Dai, For Documentary: Twelve Essays, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

_______, “The Space Between Shots,” Screen, 15, 1974.

VON Kassel Elena, “An Image of Britain during the Second World War: The Films of Humphrey Jennings (1939-1945),” in Renée Dickason (ed.), Media, Images, Propaganda, Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, vol IV, no 3, 2006: 149-160.

Webster Wendy, Englishness and Empire, 1939-1965, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Filmography

Afrique 50 (France, 1950): Dir.: Rene VAUTIER; Prod.: Ligue française de l’enseignement; black and white; 17 min.

All God’s Chillun’ Got Wings (UK, 1946): Dir.: Eric FAWCETT; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 30 min.

The Big Hewer (UK, 1973): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; colour; 60 min.

Black Marries White — The Final Barrier (UK, 1964): Dir.: Peter MORLEY; Prod.: ATV; colour; 60 min.

Borrowed Pasture (UK, 1960): Dir.: John ORMOND; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 30 min.

Citizen ‘63 (UK, 1963): Dir.: John BOORMAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 5 x 30 min.

Coalface (UK, 1935): Dir.: Alberto CAVALCANTI; Prod.: GPO Film Unit; black and white; 12 min.

The Colony (UK, 1964): Dir. Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 50 min.

The Crystalmakers (UK, 1961): Dir. Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 30 min.

Death of a Miner (UK, 1968): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 30 min.

Drifters (UK, 1929): Dir.: John GRIERSON; Prod.: New Era Films, Empire Marketing Film Unit; black and white; 60 min.

The Fight Game (UK, 1973): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; colour; 60 min.

Fires Were Started (UK, 1943): Dir.: Humphrey JENNINGS; Prod.: Crown Film Unit; black and white; 63 min.

Gone for a Soldier (UK, 1980): Dir. Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; colour; 105 min.

The Irishmen (UK, 1965): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 50 min.

Joe the Chainsmith (UK, 1958): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 30 min.

Lords of India (UK, 1963): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 60 min.

A Man from the Sun (UK, 1956): Prod.: John ELLIOTT; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 58 min.

Morning in the Streets (UK, 1959): Dir.: Denis MITCHELL & Roy HARRIS; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 35 min.

Night Mail (UK, 1936): Dir.: Harry WATT & Basil WRIGHT; Prod.: GPO Film Unit; black and white; 24 min.

Passage West (UK, 1974): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; colour; 100 min.

The Pilgrimage of Ti-Jean (UK, 1977): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod. BBC; colour; 42 min.

Pure Radio (UK, 1977): Dir. Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; colour; 50 min.

Shoals of Herring (UK, 1972): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; colour; 65 min.

Special Enquiry: Has Britain a Colour Bar? (UK, 1955): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 30 min.

Sunderland Oak (UK, 1961): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 30 min.

The White Country (UK, 1960): Dir.: Philip DONNELLAN; Prod.: BBC; black and white; 35 min.

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Notes

1 Alan Rosenthal, The Documentary Conscience: a Casebook in Film Making, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980, 25.

2 Donnellan’s oeuvre bears some similarities to that of Rene Vautier, the hugely important but little known and frequently suppressed Breton radical filmmaker. Both filmmakers were socialists and made documentaries about colonialism. Much of the footage that Vautier had shot for his first film Afrique 50 — which exposed the realities of France’s colonial policy in West Africa — was confiscated by the police. Vautier managed to conceal the other footage and he eventually finished the film after receiving 13 indictments and spending a year in prison (it is said that he wrote the script for the film’s commentary whilst in police custody). See Tobias Grey, “A Revolutionary’s Tale,” Financial Times, 15 March 2008.

3 W. Stephen Gilbert, “Underrated: The Case for Philip Donnellan,” The Independent, 21 September 1994.

4 Donnellan’s documentary Pure Radio (1977), made for the Omnibus series, is noteworthy as a fascinating history of the BBC’s legendary Radio Features Department.

5 For an authoritative exploration of Donnellan’s Irishness, and the films he made about Ireland, see Lance Pettitt, “Philip Donnellan, Ireland and Dissident Documentary,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 20, 2001: 351-365 and Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

6 See D. G. Bridson, Prospero and Ariel: The Rise and Fall of Radio, A Personal Recollection, London: Victor Gollancz, 1971, 52–53 and Olive Shapley, Broadcasting a Life, London: Scarlet Press, 1996, 48–64.

7 Harold Rosen, Language and Class: A Critical Look at the Theories of Basil Bernstein, Bristol: Falling Wall Press, 1974, 6.

8 Tom Burns, The BBC: Public Institution and Private World, London: Macmillan, 1979, 42.

9 Whilst Norman Corwin’s influence on the Radio Ballads was fully and freely acknowledged by Ewan MacColl and Charles Parker, Denis Mitchell’s was not, although archival evidence reveals that Parker had set the team the task at the outset of achieving actuality (recordings) of a quality equivalent to those made by Mitchell, and was later to explain in lectures how crucial Mitchell’s advice had been on microphone technique. See Peter Cox, Set into Song: Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker, Peggy Seeger and the Radio Ballads, Cambridge: Labatie Books, 2008.

10 Quoted in Mairede Thomas (ed.), Stories and Songs: The Films of Philip Donnellan, London: BFI, 1984, 11–12.

11 Quoted in Ian Francis, Landmarks: Revisiting the Work of Philip Donnellan, Birmingham: 7 Inch Cinema/Screen West Midlands, 2006, 19. <http://www.7inch.org.uk/files/landmarks.pdf>, accessed January 19, 2014.

12 See Norman Swallow, Factual Television, London: Focal Press, 1966, 176-184. Swallow, himself a gifted documentary filmmaker, provides in this key text an invaluable overview of documentary and current affairs television during this early period. The personal documentary (a term that may have been coined by Swallow himself) is too vague as a label to be easily identified with a certain type of documentary, but was synonymous with a group of documentarians who sought to escape the confines of the studio environment and gain direct access to hitherto obscure people and places in the late fifties and early sixties. In doing so they were not motivated by the need to seek evidence for a journalistic brief or investigative thesis, but instead by a curiosity about the hidden occurrences of everyday life.

13 Of course I do not want to suggest that the personal documentary was solely the preserve of the BBC. We should not forget, for example, groundbreaking documentaries such as Peter Morley’s Black Marries White – The Last Barrier (1964), made for ATV (the ITV contractor for the English Midlands), and Denis Mitchell and Norman Swallow’s work for Granada in the early to mid 1960s.

14 For an insightful introduction to Jennings’ work, see Elena Von Kassel, “An Image of Britain during the Second World War: The Films of Humphrey Jennings (1939-1945),” in Renée Dickason (ed.), Media, Images, Propaganda, Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, vol IV, no 3, 2006:149-160.

15 John Grierson (1898 – 1972) was a pioneering documentary filmmaker, theorist and animateur who is often regarded as the father of the British and Canadian documentary film traditions. John Grierson founded the British documentary movement, a loose collective of filmmakers who made documentaries with a pedagogic remit, often advocating social change, with sponsorship from industrial, commercial and governmental sources. Some iconic examples of such work are Drifters (1929), Coalface (1935), Nightmail (1936) and Fires Were Started (1943).

16 Colin Moffat, “Birmingham Revival,” Contrast Television Quarterly, 1965: 84-85.

17 Quoted in N. Swallow, op. cit, 178.

18 Bill Nichols, quoted in Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn, Reality TV: Realism and Revelation, London: Wallflower Press, 2005, 38.

19 Norman Swallow, quoted by John Corner, “Documentary Voices,” in John Corner (ed.), Popular Television in Britain, London: BFI, 1991, 56.

20 The consensus view is that the two-part documentary Gone for a Soldier (1980) is Donnellan’s masterpiece. I discuss this controversial film in the conclusion of this article.

21 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

22 George Lipsitz, “Listening to Learn and Learning to Listen: Popular Culture, Cultural Theory, and American Studies,” American Quarterly, 42, 1990: 632.

23 Judith Murphy, Selling Coals to Newcastle: The Media and Publishing in Relation to North Eastern Folk Music, 1945-1975, Papers in North Eastern History, Newcastle: North East England History Institute, 2008, 41.

24 Anon., “Interesting Piece of Pioneering,” The Times, 20 September 1961, 16.

25 J. Murphy, op. cit., 40. Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) was a pioneering collector and scholar of folksong in Britain.

26 For a discussion of documentary aesthetics during this period, see Dai Vaughan, “The Space Between Shots,” Screen, 15, 1974: 13 and For Documentary: Twelve Essays, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

27 J. Murphy, op. cit., 41.

28 Paula Rabinowitz, “Wreckage upon Wreckage: History, Documentary and the Ruins of Memory,” History and Theory, 32, 1993: 120.

29 L. Pettitt, Screening Ireland, op. cit., 85.

30 The most notable documentaries for this series had been Denis Mitchell’s Night in the City (1957), an attempt to capture the atmosphere of Manchester at night through the testimony of people who work or wander at night, and On Tour (1958), which captured the back-stage life of a revue company which toured clubs in Northern towns and seaside resorts.

31 From BBC Written Archives Caversham File No. T32/835/1.

32 Philip Donnellan, We Were the BBC: An Alternative View of a Producer’s Responsibility, unpublished manuscript, held at Birmingham Archives & Heritage, 1992, 65.

33 Ibidem.

34 James F. Abrams, “Lost Frames of Reference: Sightings of History and Memory in Pennsylvania’s Documentary Landscape,” in Mary Hufford (ed.), Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994, 28.

35 Quoted in M. Thomas, op. cit., 12.

36 P. Donnellan, op. cit., 56.

37 Erich Auerbach, quoted in Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, London: Dennis Dobson, 1961, 304.

38 For a survey of compilation films, see Jay Leyda, Films Beget Films, New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.

39 C. Moffat, op. cit., 84.

40 I must acknowledge here the assistance of Dr. Paul Long, who, in some unpublished notes, provided some details on the making of Lords of India.

41 I. Francis, op. cit., 11.

42 Paul Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, London: Penguin, 1965, 79.

43 Quoted in Ibid., 69.

44 Bill Schwarz, “‘Shivering in the Noonday Sun’: The British World and the Dynamics of ‘Nativisation,’” in Kate Darian-Smith, Patricia Grimshaw and Stuart Macintyre (eds.), Britishness Abroad: Transnational Movements and Imperial Cultures, Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing Academic Monographs, 2007, 37.

45 She had also, more recently, acted in another ground-breaking production, a BBC television drama-documentary A Man from the Sun (1956), which also portrayed the lives of Caribbean settlers in post-war Britain.

46 See Wendy Webster, Englishness and Empire, 1939-1965, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 163–164.

47 From Birmingham Archives & Heritage MS 2255/2/85 1.

<.>, accessed 19 September, 2013.

48 B. Schwarz, op. cit., 37.

49 From Birmingham Archives & Heritage MS 2255/2/12 1.

50 B. Schwarz, op. cit., 39.

51 Ekaterina Haskins, “Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 2007: 402.

52 J. Corner, op. cit., 46–47. It was the Special Enquiry programme that was to give Denis Mitchell his “big break” later that year.

53 W. Webster, op. cit., 164.

54 B. Schwarz, op. cit., 38.

55 In addition it was Charles Parker – who often spoke of his attempts to yield interpretive authority to the speaker (he, quite literally, sat at the feet of his interviewees) – that was responsible for collecting and editing the bulk of the soundtrack. These spontaneous and collaborative methods of production, and Donnellan’s recollection of the film in his memoirs, suggest that the reversal referred to above was far more of a fortuitous outcome than an intended strategy.

56 Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980, 234–35.

57 Charles Parker, “TV Documentary and Ideology – a Reply to Nicholas Garnham,” Screen 13, 1972: 153. (original italics)

58 P. Donnellan, op. cit., 136.

59 See Charles Madge, “Broadcasting as Social Contact,” BBC Quarterly, 8, 1953: 71-76.

60 Darrell Varga, “New Canadian Documentaries and the Logic of Time,” in A Conference on the Contemporary Contexts and Possibilities of the Documentary, presented at the Documentary Now! Conference, Birkbeck College, London, 2010.

61 Robert Glenn Howard, “Electronic Hybridity: The Persistent Processes of the Vernacular Web,” Journal of American Folklore, 121, 2008: 205.

62 Quoted in P. Foot, op. cit., 125.

63 Ibid., 124–5.

64 P. Donnellan, op. cit., 317.

65 P. Rabinowitz, op. cit., 132. See the discussion of Ken Burns’ PBS film “The Civil War,” made in the same year as “Gone for a Soldier.”

66 Idem.

67 Quoted in P. Donnellan, op. cit., 336.

68 P. Cox, op. cit., 259.

69 R. G. Howard, op. cit., 204.

70 For Kerwin, see Helen Rappaport, No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War, London: Aurum, 2007; for Anne, see Robert G. Richardson, Nurse Sarah Anne: With Florence Nightingale at Scutari, First Edition, London: John Murray, 1977; for Pearson, see Carolyn Steedman and John Pearman, The Radical Soldier’s Tale: John Pearman, 1819-1908, Oxford: Routledge, 1988.

71 Jesus Martin Barbero, Communication, Culture and Hegemony: From the Media to Mediations, New York: Sage Publications, 1993, 29.

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Ieuan Franklin, « Documenting the Social and Historical Margins in the Films of Philip Donnellan », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n° 1 | 2014, mis en ligne le 27 février 2014, consulté le 13 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/5606 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.5606

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Ieuan Franklin

Dr. Ieuan Franklin currently works as a Research Assistant for the University of Portsmouth, on a 4-year project which is charting the influence of the broadcaster Channel 4 on British film culture. He is also a freelance film archivist and researcher/consultant, with expertise in media archives. He has research interests in low-budget and independent cinema, television documentary, radio documentaries and features, oral history and vernacular culture.

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