Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Cotton Come Back (1946)


Main image of Cotton Come Back (1946)
35mm, 26 min, black & white
DirectorDonald Alexander
Production CompanyData Film Productions
SponsorsCentral Office of Information
 Board of Trade
 Ministry of Labour
PhotographyWolfgang Suschitzky

A Lancashire family go to a meeting on the post-war prospects of the cotton industry. Through speeches and a film it is stressed that there must be better organisation and conditions than ever, but young people must take jobs in the mills or the industry will die.

Show full synopsis

Back-to-back terraces, smoke-spewing chimneys and the clatter of mill-workers' clogs on cobbles - shot on location in Shaw, Oldham and Rochdale, Cotton Come Back (1946) paints a portrait of Lancashire as a thriving industrial hub. It was one of a spate of postwar recruitment films sponsored by the Board of Trade and Ministry of Labour designed to revivify trade and encourage workers back into industry, in this case, Britain's waning cotton trade.

By the middle of the 19th century, Britain was producing more than half of the world's woven cotton fabrics in giant textile mills that dominated many towns in the north of England. But World War I marked the beginning of a gradual decline for the industry when cotton-producing countries such as India and Japan, unable to buy goods from Britain, started manufacturing cotton for themselves. They continued manufacturing after the war ended and Britain was faced with competition on a scale it had not known before. The industry was further affected by the economic depression of the 1930s, and by 1939 exports of cotton cloth had fallen to a quarter of what they were in 1913. The Second World War injected a new lease of life, with cotton mills readily adapting to the needs of war, churning out uniforms, bandages, cotton-wool and many other emergency items. The industry's vigorous contribution to the war effort proved that there was life in cotton yet and that valuable skills were lying to waste.

A working-class family dispute provides the narrative framework for the film's official objectives. The father, who left the textile industry after years of unemployment to work in engineering, is cynical about the future of cotton, but his two daughters, who both now work in a newly-modernised mill, are anxious to persuade him otherwise. A town meeting on the future of cotton, organised by the Manchester-based Cotton Board, provides the focal point for the thrashing out of their differences. Drama supersedes didacticism, with speeches by representatives from The Cotton Board cut short in favour of impassioned discussion, and the conceit of a film-within-a film provides a visual means to set out the changing fortunes of Britain's cotton industry. Meetings of this type were part of the programme for the Cotton Board's postwar recruitment campaign, and the dance hall, where attendees flock to after the meeting, was actually installed in Lilac Mill, Shaw, Lancashire, as an incentive to attract new workers.

Katy McGahan

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

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Town meeting (2.17)
2. Mill tour (3:27)
Complete film (24:32)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Alexander, Donald (1913-93)
Suschitzky, Wolfgang (1912-)
Central Office of Information (1946-2012)