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KS4 Music: Elephant Will Never Forget, The (1953)

Explore the relationship between music and meaning

Main image of KS4 Music: Elephant Will Never Forget, The (1953)
AuthorGemma Starkey
TopicMusic in Film
Key WordsTrams, cockney, British Transport films, John Krish, South London, music hall
Show full lesson spec

The Elephant Will Never Forget documents the farewell celebration of 'Last Tram Week' which took place in South East London during the summer of 1952.

In 1949 the British Transport Commission created its own films section because it wanted to use film as a tool for training and external promotion. Despite internal disagreements about the form of The Elephant Will Never Forget (which eventually lost the film's director, John Krish, his job) the film has since become one of the most popular British Transport Films ever made.

The Elephant Will Never Forget provides a distinct contemporaneous perspective of the decline of trams in South London in the 1950s. At this time, trams were considered out-of-date and inflexible - being blamed for poor traffic flow and the problems of over-crowding on London's roads. John Krish's film, however, stands as an eloquent eulogy to a passing form of transport which shows how the tram system was a well-loved and significant part of city life for many Londoners.

Lesson Objective

This lesson idea requires students to listen and respond to a short film which mourns the passing of a form of transport. Not only does it provide a poignant snap-shot of post-war Britain, where an altogether quieter and less built-up London unfolds out of the tram's windows, but it offers students a chance to consider how what they hear influences what they see and feel.

The lesson should also encourage students to think about the various elements that combine to create a film's mood and tone, as well as how they contribute to its overall 'message'.



Cover the screen and play the whole film through. Ask the students to make a brief list (on their own) of the sounds and music that they hear -for example: solo French horn, trumpet, street sounds, clanging bell, traffic noises, violins, etc.

Now in pairs, students can compare their lists. Hand out some large blank pieces of paper to each pair and ask them to create a definitive list - as you play the film (or part of the film) again with the screen still covered over - along with some greater detail about the music and sounds. Ask them to consider the pitch, duration, dynamics, tempo, texture and structure of what they hear and get them to note this information down as well. If possible ask them to comment on whether a melody or sound is repeated and also to think about the styles of music used in the film.

It might be useful to capture students' thoughts/lists on the board.


Main Attraction

Going back to the students lists - ask them to think about what feelings, moods or ideas they might associate with the music and sounds they've just heard - for example:

Sound/music - Emotional impact/associations

  • French horn fanfare - important announcement/introduction
  • Bell clanging - old form of transport
  • Slow melodic strings - melancholy and sadness

Now ask the students what they think the film is about? Can they sum it up in one sentence or 'tagline'?

Now play the film through uncovered. Some questions:

  • Can they split the film up into different 'movements'/episodes?
  • Is there an overall mood/tone of the film?
  • How does the opening sequence compare to the film's ending? How do they feel at the end and how does the sound/music contribute to this?
  • How do they think the filmmaker might have pitched his ideas for the soundtrack to the composer?
  • Similarly, how would he describe what he wanted to the sound recordist?

Ask them to think about the images in the film. How well do they think they link in with the music and sounds?

One interesting aspect that you might want to spend some time discussing is around the making of the film. The Elephant Will Never Forget was originally commissioned as a record of the final moments of London's trams (which we see at the very end). However, John Krish - its maverick director - wanted to make a more poignant story about the significance of the loss of a mode of transport to a community. Krish was told that his remit, working for British Transport Films, was to make new and exciting work about the future of transport, not about looking to the past mourning outdated trams. He was to ignore this advice and made the film he envisaged, losing his job in the process. For more on this, follow the link at the foot of this page to a recent BFI interview with John Krish.

How successful do the students think Krish was in producing both a record of London's final tram journeys as well as a film of emotional depth? How important do they think the choice of music/sound is in contributing to the success or failure of the film?


End Credits

Ask the students to imagine that they are the sound recordist / composer for The Elephant Will Never Forget.

Go to The Cutting Room and, working in pairs, ask students to select an extract from the film (in the 1950s folder under the Library tab). They can then experiment with how different soundtracks (in the Music folders) change the mood/tone and meaning of the film.


External Links
BFI on-stage interview with John Krish, 2003 (edited transcipt)
BFI short filmed interview with John Krish, 2010

Video Clips
Complete film (10:42)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Elephant Will Never Forget, The (1953)Elephant Will Never Forget, The (1953)

Read more about this film

See also

Thumbnail image of Krish, John (1923- )Krish, John (1923- )

Director, Producer, Writer

Thumbnail image of British Transport FilmsBritish Transport Films

Film Unit