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Transfer of Skill (1940)

Courtesy of Shell International

Main image of Transfer of Skill (1940)
35mm, 10 minutes, black & white
DirectorGeoffrey Bell
Production CompanyShell Film Unit
SponsorMinistry Of Information
ProducerArthur Elton

Examples of how skilled craftsmen of peacetime apply their skill to essential war production.

Show full synopsis

The title of Transfer of Skill (1940) echoes that of a highly acclaimed prewar Shell film - Transfer of Power (1939), also produced by Arthur Elton and directed by Geoffrey Bell. Its content and documentary techniques, too, resemble those of Shell's self-sponsored prewar output - but updated to meet the needs of wartime Britain, as expressed by the requirements of its new public sponsor, the Ministry of Information.

This approach was common to Shell's World War Two work, but in this case the approach reflects the very theme of the film: the continuities and discontinuities between peacetime and wartime experiences. The film shows how the skills of British craftsmen were applied to work necessary to the war effort via the use of several brief case studies. These include the application of the detailed skills of jewellery makers to the production of accurately shaped metal gauges, the redeployment of fishing rod makers to make machine gun parts, and a man whose model railway engineering hobby is drawn on in the production of shell, bomb and gun parts.

Prior to the modestly patriotic coda, the filmmakers convey much of this information very straightforwardly (factual commentary over silent footage), but with a deeper thread running through it: the close association of manufacturing industry with Britain's national identity in both peace and war, and the importance of the skills and efforts of human beings (as much as machines) to both.

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

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Video Clips
1. A craftsman's skill (2:40)
2. The arts of peace (1:43)
Complete film (9:41)
Elton, Sir Arthur (1906-1973)
Shell Film Unit (1934-)