Festival in London

Collection: London Screen Study Collection
ID No.: n/a
Title: Festival in London
Date: 1951
Film-maker: Central Office of Information.
Directed by Philip Leacock
Colour: Colour and Black & White
Sound: Sound
Duration of complete item: 10 min. 56 sec.
Themes: Post-war Reconstruction


A film recording the various exhibitions and events, held on London's South Bank and at Battersea Pleasure Gardens, that formed part of the Festival of Britain held in 1951.


The film begins with paintings of the Great Exhibition in 1851 and cuts to an image of Big Ben and the Thames in 1951. Titles read ‘Festival in London – Festival March by William Alwyn, played by the London Symphony Orchestra’. The camera pans across the Thames to the South Bank and shows the Skylon and festival buildings. The commentary says “This is the Festival - Something Britain devised, halfway through this century, As a milestone between past and future, To enrich and enliven the present.”

The film pans down the Skylon, then shows a sculpture and various shots of the crowds visiting the Festival. Further sculptures and displays are shown whilst the orchestral music plays on the sound-track. People are seen viewing works of art and enjoying lunch outside. Further sculptures and exhibits are viewed by the public and a set of blue and red balloons are released. Over images of the crowds of visitors, the commentary states “It is open house on the South Bank. To those from home, and to those who come from other lands.” People from different nations are heard talking in foreign languages about the exhibition.

Changing briefly to Black and White film, the crowds are seen beneath the ‘Dome of Discovery’ where exhibits on Britain’s scientific history and latest inventions are displayed. Returning to colour film, the various scientific subjects and displays are focused on including Darwin, Newton, Atomic Research and “Great works of humanity” such as Florence Nightingale. Modern inventions are highlighted such as Radar a jet propulsion. Scientists and engineers are shown at work with various machines, being watched by the crowds. The film then shows exhibits of craftsmanship and design such as ceramics and glassware.

Over scenes of a sculpture, the commentary states “We are the Lion and the Unicorn - the Lion is our strength, the Unicorn our imagination”. With images of a crown, doves, the scales of justice, and national flags, the commentary describe Britain’s belief in tradition, peace, justice and “the nobler matters of patriotism”. We see displays illustrating British literary classics are before the film moves on to show the funfair at Battersea Park.

A river boat takes visitors to the Pleasure Gardens where children are eating candyfloss, people ride on a carousel and various fun exhibits are on display. Scenes of Rowland Emett's eccentric ‘Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway’ are followed by the boating lake, a children’s funfair ride and the ‘Guinness Clock’. Further amusement rides and crowd scenes are shown, including people watching an acrobatic display. Night time shots of the fairground amusements are accompanied by more of the orchestral music. Fireworks, a fountain display and scenes of the Festival buildings at night end the piece.


The Festival of Britain was held in 1951 as an official national celebration which marked the end of post-war privation and shortages, and to celebrate Britain’s history and its place in the world.

This film is very much a tour of the Festival site with an uplifting commentary concerning Britain’s strength and position in the international arena. Emphasis is placed on the scientific and technological innovations on display at the Festival, but the film also illustrates the fun that could be had where children and families could have a great day out. The 2nd part of the film is set in Battersea Park, where the funfair took place.

This colour film was directed by Philip Leacock who went on to make several highly rated feature films about the lives of working people. Further information on Leacock can be found on the Screen Online website.

The full film and a transcript of the dialogue can be seen at The National Archives Public Information Films website.



View this film online
along with other public information films
dating from 1945 -2006 on the National Archives website.