Films

Home Front Squatters &
Pathé Opinion Poll



Collection: London Screen Study Collection
ID No.: n/a
Title: Home Front Squatters &
Pathé Opinion Poll – You and the Squatters
Date: 16 September 1946 & 23 September 1946
Film-maker: Pathé
Colour: Black & White
Sound: Sound
Duration of complete item: 1 min; 1 min. 30 sec.
Themes: Displaced People; Post-war Reconstruction


Summary:

Two Pathé newsreel films covering stories on the issue of squatting in London in response to the post-war housing shortage.

Description:

The first news item, opens with the title 'Home Front - Squatters Besieged'. The commentary begins "Peace-time battle report - the siege of London's Ivanhoe Hotel". The film shows scenes of the crowds of onlookers and "squatter sympathizers" outside the hotel, in Bloomsbury, London, that had become occupied by squatters. Police officers move some of the protesters along. A member of the crowd throws supplies up to people at windows on upper floors of the building. The commentary states that the government are making moves to evict squatters but asserts that "wholesale squatting ...turns the spotlight on a still desperate housing situation". The short news story ends with a protester in the crowd being led away by police.

The second news film shows squatters leaving occupied buildings at the end of a protest in London. The commentary states that "round one of the big squat is over - result: defeat...but it's only round one". The film then reports on scenes at 'Squatters' Town' in Manchester, where people have moved in to Nissen huts at an ex-army camp. Many of the huts have new house names painted on the doors. The commentary states that this move tells sends a message to the government that the only solution is more houses. The news item then presents some views of the public on the issue, offering "representative voices". Pathé interviewer John Parsons interviews people in the street about the squatter situation. The majority of those interviewed appear to support the actions of the squatters, with the limitation that private property should not have been targeted. Most interviewees offer the view that ex-servicemen returning home need accommodation and that they see no problem with taking over empty ex-army camps. Some state that private properties should be safeguarded, however the final interviewee states that the protesters, in taking over empty home, show the government that they "mean business". The film ends by asking the viewer "now what's your opinion?".

Context:

One of the main practical and political issues immediately after the war was a lack of housing. This problem arose after a period of six years when no new housing had been built and bombing had depleted existing accommodation. With servicemen returning from the front, and the population growing, the problem needed addressing urgently. There were many films made at the time illustrating the introduction of new prefabricated houses and model flats being planned and built. But at the same time there was much anger amongst the public about the difficult housing situation. In 1946, in response to the dire need for homes, mass squatting took place in former military accommodation as well as empty civilian buildings across the country. Several squatting groups were organised with the support of the communist party, and in London a number of luxury apartments and hotels were taken over.

Although there was widespread support amongst the public towards the squatters, the authorities generally condemned it as an act of 'anarchy' and in many cases made attempts to evict the squatters. With this, the act of squatting became not just a basic need for a home but an act of protest. This film focuses on a key event where mass organised squatting, supported by the Communist Party, was orchestrated in September 1946. The squatters and their supporters were faced with a government crack-down and came into direct conflict with the police. A police cordon was placed around the hotel along with other squatted buildings in central london and after court action, the occupiers at the Ivanhoe hotel eventually left the building having made their protest. These acts of squatting were short-lived but served to push the government into speeding up action on the housing shortage, though many squats in other parts of the country continued to be used as established communities for several months and even years.

Public opinion at the time was generally believed to be in favour of the squatters and their protests to demand more housing. The second film shows members of the public offering opinions, largely in support, on the issue of squatters, though often drawing the line at the occupation of private property. The occupation of temporary accommodation at ex-army and airforce camps was more generally tolerated by the authorities and took place at camps across the country.

 

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View these film online:

Home Front Squatters

Pathé Opinion Poll

along with thousands of other newsreel films
on the British Pathé website.

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