This book examines how the working-class people are portrayed in the British cinema. One objective of this work is to take a modest step in redressing the balance by considering the popularity of the films discussed. A second objective is to demonstrate how film might be used by disciplines whose practitioners often display scant interest in its possibilities. The third objective is to consider what films can contribute to the debate on the consequences of war. A final objective is to test received opinion. The book discusses a five-dimensional model for examining images of the working class in films. These are: place in the authority structure; cohesion/fragmentation within the working-class community; internalised values; the built environment; and personal signifiers of class, notably speech, hairstyles and clothing. It deals with the war films that were made in the context working class community, and discusses The Way to the Stars, The Hasty Heart, and Wooden Horse. With the approach of war in the late 1930s, changes in censorship allowed industrial disputes to be portrayed on British screens for the first time. The working class community was portrayed in It Always Rains on Sunday to better effect as compared to Passport to Pímlíco. Three groups of criminals make regular appearances in postwar British films: spivs, who are black market traders; those have served in the forces; and career criminals. The book also deals with several British films in the postwar years focusing on dance hall, namely, Floodtide, Waterloo Road, and Dance Hall.
Income does not distinguish between the lifestyles of the genteel poor and affluent workers. The grail of a definitive measure remains elusive, leaving class as a semantic battleground for generations of sociologists. As a character on screen can become a real person to the audience, so the risk of emphasising measurement in sociology is that class assumes material reality instead of being merely a convenient way of grouping social phenomena. Certain defining characteristics keep recurring in the neglected body of social science research from the 1940s and 1950s, namely, neighbourhood, neighbours, family, home, gender roles, respectability, and status. This chapter discusses a five-dimensional model for examining images of the working class in films. These are: place in the authority structure; cohesion/fragmentation within the working-class community; internalised values; the built environment; and personal signifiers of class, notably speech, hairstyles and clothing.
Viewed from the middle-class perspective, relative deprivation, aided and abetted by the mass media, fuels working-class crime. J. G. Bagot's Liverpool study of 1935-36 goes some way to supporting Stephen Humphries' contention that teenage crimes are generally minor and opportunist. This chapter concluded that poverty was not a factor in juvenile crime, their argument being that the proportion of offenders coming from homes where the weekly income was at least £1 per head increased from 2 per cent before the war to 13.2 per cent during the war. This contrasts with studies made in Glasgow and London, which showed adolescent criminals coming from crowded homes and larger families. The social problems of the day, including the increase in crime, are ascribed to the war, which prevented youngsters from becoming properly socialised. The Blue Lamp was released at a time when juvenile crime was a topical issue.
Most films concerned with working-class life offer some image of the family. In Holiday Camp, it is the stable, coherent social unit of the Huggetts. In Good Time Girl, the family is the wellspring of faulty socialisation. This chapter examines films which have the family as their centrepiece. In Waterloo Road, the family is seen struggling through the war. Raymond Durgnat sees the film as affirming the working man's right to little revolts rather than insisting on discipline as salvation. The Huggett films exemplify the difficulty of attuning to the social hierarchy of another period. The family's social status is described as working class. A family is seen under pressure in Waterfront. The film, from a novel by John Brophy, is set during the Depression. Unemployment and the debilitating effects of being in a pool of casual labour are stressed throughout the film.
Three groups of criminals make regular appearances in postwar British films: spivs, who are black market traders; those have served in the forces; and career criminals. The spiv arose from a working-class subculture on the fringes of the underworld. Though spivs rarely take a leading role in films, an exception who cannot be ignored is the character of Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock, produced by Roy Boulting. Demobilisation spawned several films in which the protagonist leaves service life to take the path to easy money. The character of Clem Morgan in They Made Me a Fugitive is an RAF officer who finds civilian life monotonous and turns to drink. He finds work with a gang of black marketeers. The mood changes in films such as Night and the City. Gangs might still be robbing warehouses, but the emphasis is on entrepreneurial skills.
Class position is crucial in two Boulting brothers films, though neither does much to illuminate social mobility in postwar days. Fame is the Spur charts the rise of Hamer Radshaw from child of the Manchester slums to Labour cabinet minister. In achieving his ambition, he is distanced from the people whose cause he championed. The other Boulting film is The Guinea Pig in which tobacconist's son attends a public school. The strategy was not to improve the former, but to fund placement of children from less affluent backgrounds in fee-paying schools. Floodtide is set in Glasgow, though it focuses more explicitly on social mobility. Paternalism and Calvinism permeate the film. The miner in Blue Scar was probably correct in his summing up of British society: people were content to forget his kind because nationalisation should have resolved their grievances.
This chapter deals with several British films in the postwar years focusing on dance hall, namely, Floodtide, The Gorbals Story, Waterloo Road, Appointment with Crime, The Dream of Olwen, Dancing with Crime, and Dance Hall. As in Appointment with Crime, the dance hall is a den of crime involving everyone from the manager to the barman, with control being exerted downwards through the social scale. In common with other films about criminal gangs, dirty work is delegated to working-class characters. Dancing with Crime did well in southeast Essex, but was seen less in the sample Leeds cinemas. This is likely to be another case where high rental costs put a popular film beyond the reach of the Leeds independents. Dance Hall was released in June 1950. It was never shown in the sample Leeds cinemas by the end of the year.
This chapter deals with the war films that were made in the context working class community. The Way to the Stars was adapted from two Terence Rattigan plays, and the lack of emphasis on class in the film means that a class perspective gives little clue as to why the film struck a chord with audiences across the social divide. A variant on the prison camp theme is The Hasty Heart set in a military hospital in Burma. Though the dialogue implies that the role of the Scotsman is working class - his impoverished background is emphasised - his class is unimportant compared to his Scottishness. With its emphasis on the mechanics of escape, The Wooden Horse became a prototype for prison camp films. There is no place for women or working-class characters in the film as the RAF prisoners are middle and upper classes.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines how the working-class people are portrayed in the British cinema. Films from the late 1950s reveal more breaches in the class barriers. The economic and social structures within which films are made and seen can too easily be forgotten. The book aims to take a modest step in redressing the balance by considering the popularity of the films discussed. It demonstrates how film might be used by disciplines whose practitioners often display scant interest in its possibilities. The book considers what films can contribute to the debate on the consequences of war and tests received opinion. It also considers the significance of the cinema for working-class audiences.
With the approach of war in the late 1930s, changes in censorship allowed industrial disputes to be portrayed on British screens for the first time. The working class community was portrayed in It Always Rains on Sunday to better effect as compared to Passport to Pímlíco. Another film was London Belongs to Me, which like the novel on which it is based, opens just before the Second World War. The characters' attempts to climb the social ladder always fail. Deference is another characteristic apparent in both the dialogue and the acting. As a snapshot of British industrial practices, Chance of a Lifetime makes Correlli Barnett seem restrained in his criticisms. The factory is outdated and ill kept, while the factory owner is autocratic and out of touch with his workforce.