Themes

Post-War Reconstruction

After the initial celebrations of VE and VJ day passed, Britain continued to suffer many of the restrictions and difficulties of war-time whilst attempting to re-build lives and homes. Over the next two decades amateur and professional film makers captured a vision of Britain struggling with a period of austerity and gradually transforming into a new era of optimism and modernity.

Immediately after the war, films were used to reflect on what had passed and to commemorate the work of volunteers and members of the services through retrospectives such as Port of Destiny (1946) and Civilians in Uniform (1946). The film New Faces Come Back (1946) celebrated and reflected on the work of pioneering health services in this way, but also endeavored to educate an audience on the realities of the war, and the longer term impact on those left damaged by it.

One key consequence of the war for the nation as a whole included a period of severe economic difficulties. After the war, the country continued to suffer economically, and rationing and restrictions left many Britons in prolonged hardship. Newsreels of the time reported on the growing resentment towards rationing such as the protests against bread rations in 1946. The post-war period also saw a significant housing shortage where many lived in over-crowded homes or in temporary accommodation. Campaigning documentaries such as Homes for the People (1945) and instructional films such as Jack Frost Strikes Again (1947) provide an impression of the cramped and inadequate housing conditions that many had to endure, whilst Pathé newsreels, such as Home Front Squatters (1946), reported on the problems of those forced to resort to squatting and direct protest.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, new homes, new housing estates, factories and civic centres started gradually to be constructed and the devastated areas of Britain’s cities, towns and industrial hearts began to be re-generated. However, much of the rebuilding and reshaping of city centres took decades to complete with the bomb-damaged areas of some cities still awaiting re-development in the 1960s. The amateur film Mild and Bitter (1963) compares the differing post-war reconstruction programmes of the cities of Portsmouth and Plymouth. During this time of re-development, many of the new buildings being constructed were inspired by a new desire for 'modern' styles that looked forward to a bright new future and a sweeping away of old ideas. Two Pathé newsreels illustrate these themes: First Citizens of New Estate (1951) and How to Make Homes Ideal (1951).

During the war, and with the Labour government taking power in 1945, new attitudes and thinking towards social change took shape and were taken forward in the form of the development of the Welfare State and the launch of the National Health Service in 1948. Government films produced by the Central Office of Information were used in the post-war period, as they had been in the war years, to deliver official propaganda and to educate the public about new policies. For example, films such as Charley: Your Very Good Health (1948) used the animated character of 'Charley' to tell people how the NHS would work.

As Britain slowly edged towards economic recovery in the early 1950s and the end of rationing in 1954, a new optimism was projected through two events: the Festival of Britain of 1951 promoted the best of British culture, design, manufacturing and industry and the Queen's Coronation of 1953 presented the country united in celebration. Both amateur and professional films of the time capture the new spirit generated by these events and they mark a symbolic end to the years of restrictions and austerity.