One of the definite achievements of British film culture, typically not celebrated by the national UK media obsessed by success in Hollywood, has been the development of Regional Film Archives to complement the National Film Archive. The Yorkshire Film Archive is celebrating its 25th Anniversary and it has recently merged with the North-East Film Archive to preserve a total of 50,000 film titles across the two regions. Several thousand hours of film, now part of the collection, came from a Bradford photography and film company set up by C. H. Wood which operated over eight decades before closing in 2002. The event at BIFF was presented by Graham Relton of the Yorkshire Film Archive who introduced a selection of clips across the range of productions completed by the company. The two sons of C. H. Wood who effectively ran the company from the 1960s onwards were in attendance.
I arrived late for the show and discovered a packed Pictureville Cinema with around 300 in attendance. I was lucky to eventually find a seat and although I missed a couple of clips, I’m sure I saw enough to appreciate what a terrific event this was. I should have guessed that there would be a large audience – my previous experience of these kinds of archive screenings has always been very positive in terms of audience reactions. We watched an extract from Crikey! (1947) a comic sequence from a film about Bradford’s traffic taken from a Road Safety film. Later we saw a 1980s public announcement film about the Green Cross Code with David Prowse (aka Darth Vader). C. H. Wood was well-known for aerial photography (and helped train photographers in the Second World War) but one of the main types of films made in the 1940s and 1950s were concerned with motor sports including motorcycle trial racing on the moors (this part of Yorkshire has produced world-class trial riders) and also Formula 1. We watched clips from the first win by a British Vanwall car driven by Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss at the 1957 Grand Prix held at Aintree, Liverpool – with pistons designed and produced by a Bradford firm! Other clips took us on a Wallace Arnold bus excursion and showed us all the various sports featured at Bradford’s famous Odsal stadium, the enormous arena that once reportedly held over 100,000 fans for a Rugby League Challenge Cup Final replay in 1954.
My two favourite clips were from a ‘works outing’ documentary and a corporate film for Lister, the Bradford textiles company. The works outing was from Salts Mill to celebrate 100 years of operation in 1953 and the large party took a railway excursion to Blackpool for the day. I now frequently visit Salts Mill and in 1953 I was a small child living in Blackpool, so this was a very personal viewing for me – and that is what archive film is often about. What was remarkable was the high quality of the camerawork and editing. Graham Relton told us that C. H. Wood became something of a ‘holder’ of films produced elsewhere in the city and this seems to be one of those films. We don’t know who operated the camera or who did the editing. In 1953 the 16mm cameras was an expensive piece of kit and the camera operator must have been trained. You can see the whole film (and others mentioned here) on the YFA website. What do you think of the footage?
The Lister’s film struck me as very revealing. The mill, a replacement for an earlier mill destroyed by fire in 1871, was the largest in the North of England. The Samuel Lister company was one of the major silk textiles companies in the world and Lister was a major innovator, especially in the production of velvet. The C. H. Wood film is a corporate promotion for the company. It reveals that everything in the production process was contained within the mill – which at one time employed 11,000 workers. We saw parts of this process, including the weaving of velvet and the testing of new dyes produced in the company’s own laboratories. In 1976 the company supplied velvet curtains to the White House. The business began to decline rapidly in the 1980s and the mill finally closed in 1992. I realised as I watched this colour film made in 1955 (30 mins with sound) by C. H. Wood just how much Bradford has lost because of the decline of the textiles industries in West Yorkshire. It wasn’t just the jobs in spinning and weaving, but all those technician jobs in the laboratories – and the associated engineering jobs.
At the end of the event David Wood answered questions from the audience, finishing by pointing out that the National Media Museum had been in Bradford for nearly 30 years and this was the first time he’d seen his films on the Museum’s screens. It’s good that omission has been put right and another similar event would be a good idea in future years. Meanwhile there is another opportunity to see archive films ‘made in Bradford’ on Friday evening at the Cathedral. There will be a posting on that event as well.