GPO Film Unit

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The GPO Film Unit was a subdivision of the UK General Post Office. The unit was established in 1933, taking on responsibilities of the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit. Headed by John Grierson,[1] it was set up to produce sponsored documentary films mainly related to the activities of the GPO.

Among the films it produced were Harry Watt's and Basil Wright's Night Mail (1936), featuring music by Benjamin Britten and poetry by W. H. Auden, which is the best known. Directors who worked for the unit included Humphrey Jennings, Alberto Cavalcanti, Paul Rotha, Harry Watt, Basil Wright and a young Norman McLaren.[1] Poet and memoirist Laurie Lee also worked as a scriptwriter in the unit from 1939–1940.

In 1940 the GPO Film Unit became the Crown Film Unit, under the control of the Ministry of Information.

In Autumn 2008 the British Film Institute issued a first collection of selected films from the Unit. Titled Addressing The Nation, it comprises fifteen titles from the years 1933 to 1935, including Song of Ceylon. A second volume, We Live In Two Worlds was released in February 2009, with 22 films covering the period 1936 to 1938, and includes Night Mail. A third (and final) volume, If War Should Come, appeared in July 2009 and includes London Can Take It!


Year Title Director Notes
1940 Air Communique Ralph Elton
Britain at Bay Written by J. B. Priestley
The Front Line Harry Watt
London Can Take It! Humphrey Jennings & Harry Watt Oscar-nominated for Best Short Subject 1941
Spring Offensive Humphrey Jennings
War and Order Charles Hasse
1939 The City Ralph Elton Subtitle: "A Film Talk by Sir Charles Bressey"
The First Days Pat Jackson, Humphrey Jennings & Harry Watt
Forty Million People John Monck Narrated by Ralph Richardson
The Islanders Maurice Harvey
Love on the Wing Norman McLaren Animation
Men of the Alps Alberto Cavalcanti
A Midsummer Day's Work Alberto Cavalcanti
Spare Time Humphrey Jennings
Squadron 992 Harry Watt
1938 Four Barriers Alberto Cavalcanti
Mony a Pickle Norman McLaren & Richard Massingham Animation
N or NW Len Lye Comedy
The H.P.O. – Heavenly Post Office Lotte Reiniger Animation
North Sea Harry Watt
1937 Book Bargain Norman McLaren
Job in a Million Evelyn Cherry
The Line to Tschierva Hut Alberto Cavalcanti
News for the Navy Norman McLaren
Roadways William Coldstream and Stuart Legg Music by Ernst Hermann Meyer
The Saving of Bill Blewitt Harry Watt Drama, starring Bill Blewitt as himself
Trade Tattoo Len Lye Animation
We Live in Two Worlds Alberto Cavalcanti Written by J. B. Priestley
1936 Message from Geneva Alberto Cavalcanti
Night Mail Harry Watt & Basil Wright Written by W. H. Auden. Music by Benjamin Britten
Rainbow Dance Len Lye Animation
1935 Air Post Geoffrey Clark
Coal Face Alberto Cavalcanti Written by W. H. Auden. Music by Benjamin Britten
A Colour Box Len Lye Animation
The King's Stamp William Coldstream With Barnett Freedman
1934 Pett and Pott: A Fairy Story of the Suburbs Alberto Cavalcanti Comedy, starring J. M. Reeves, Marjorie Fone and June Godfrey
Locomotives Humphrey Jennings
Song of Ceylon Basil Wright
The Story of the Wheel Humphrey Jennings

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Liz Faber; Helen Walters (2003). Animation Unlimited: Innovative Short Films Since 1940. Laurence King Publishing. p. 1929. ISBN 1-85669-346-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anthony, Scott and James G. Mansell. The Projection Of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit. London: British Film Institute, 2011 ISBN 1-84457-374-5 338p.

External links[edit]