Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Newspapers on Film — visiting the North West Film Archive

I first became interested in films about newspapers after discovering Wakefield Express by the Free Cinema director Lindsay Anderson, a portrait of the town’s newspaper commissioned to mark the paper’s centenary in 1952, which places the Express at the heart of the Yorkshire community it serves. Lasting just over thirty minutes, it’s a snapshot of Wakefield life, and the city’s expansion, which the Express was there to record at every moment — as the narrator notes, ‘the Express has grown with Wakefield’. It was rescreened in the town last year during protests against the Wakefield Express leaving its town centre offices and moving to the outskirts of town.

Similarly, films in the North West Film Archive document Manchester’s history as the ‘second city of newspapers’, where both northern editions of the daily national papers were produced, as well as Greater Manchester's own regional daily paper the Manchester Evening News.

News Story is a twenty minute behind the scenes portrait of the Manchester Guardian made in 1960, four years before it moved to London (and a year after it dropped the ‘Manchester' part of its name), which traces the history of the paper from its foundation in 1821 following the Peterloo Massacre to its status as an international paper.

The NWFA also holds two documentaries about the Manchester Evening News (like the Wakefield Express, the Evening News, too, has now moved out of town — from Deansgate in the city centre to Chadderton, Oldham earlier this year): Here is the News, made to mark the paper’s centenary year in 1968 and The Voice of a Region, from 1970-2, which celebrate the Evening News’ role as ‘an important voice for a famous city’ and ‘a strong heart for the community it serves’.

Lingering on the city’s achievements and admiring its new modernist architecture, they’re modern and optimistic, talking admiringly of Manchester’s abundance of supermarkets and self-service stores, panning past glamorous shop fronts, showing celebrities such as George Best and exalting the young people of the city. In Here is the News, bright yellow Ford vans glide around the city's roads to a soundtrack of jaunty jazz, distributing newspapers like rolled up rays of sunshine.

Shown being read in a suburban home by members of the nuclear family, the Manchester Evening News is ‘the family newspaper that is indeed a member of the family’. It’s a ‘pleasure at the end of the working day’ that's ‘read by all types of people — men and women, young and old, rich and poor’, and is ‘full of the sorts of things that everyone is interested in’, from the stock market, football, dogs and horses to fashion pages, recipes and hints for housewives and nightclubs, cinemas and jobs for young people.

The films rush around the different departments that work towards the ‘daily miracle’ that is the production of a newspaper; from crime reporters at the scene of the crime to clattering typewriters with hands dancing over the keys, splashing chemicals in the darkroom, pipe-smoking men in waistcoats, girls chattering on telesales headsets, the sawing of metal plates and the rolling of printing presses that could turn out up to 38,000 papers an hour.

The Voice of a Region visits the Evening News’ then new premises, purpose-built by the architects Leach Rhodes Walker next to John Rylands Library on Deansgate (where Spinningfields is now), praising the ‘striking modern building’ surrounded by courtyards and squares where the public can relax, ‘soothed by the sight of flowers’. It concludes ‘as the city continues to grow, so will the newspaper’.

Unfortunately, though, within decades the old ways of newspaper production were becoming obsolete. In complete contrast to the confidence of the Evening News films, The Way It Was comprises of grainy, jerky footage shot in Thomson House (now the Printworks entertainment complex) on Withy Grove, base of the Mirror and Telegraph, which was once home to the largest composing room in Europe.

Filmed shortly before the printworks was taken over by the press baron Robert Maxwell in 1985, maudlin classical music accompanies images of the massive machinery which has come to rest, zooming in on contemporary headlines and hovering over the word ‘redundancies’. Another brief film, New Newspaper Premises, shows old staff who made been made redundant being shown the new computerised facilities which replaced them.

If you're interested in seeing archive footage relating to any aspect of local history, you can search the North West Film Archive's website and make an appointment to go in for a viewing. Also look out for public screenings of highlights from the collection.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely fascinating - will definitely be seeking some of these films out. Thanks.