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Topical Budget 767-1: Britain's First 'General Strike' (1926)


Main image of Topical Budget 767-1: Britain's First 'General Strike' (1926)
35mm, black and white, 160 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

Scenes from the General Strike of 1926.

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The Topical Budget newsreel devoted several full-length editions to the General Strike of 1926. This particular item attempts to introduce some drama into this complex situation by introducing the key players: the miners and their official representative, Mr A.J. Cook of the Miners Union; Stanley Baldwin the Prime Minister; Arthur Henderson and Ramsay MacDonald of the Labour Party; Winston Churchill (then Chancellor of the Exchequer); Ernest Bevin (who is announced by an intertitle as 'The Docker's K.C.', but was in fact head of the Transport and General Worker's Union); J.H. Thomas, who had been a negotiator on behalf of the TUC; and Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson, the Postmaster General and newly appointed Chief Civil Commissioner, who would be responsible for maintaining supplies of food, transport and medical services during the emergency.

The item focuses not only on the chief personalities but also on the altered reality of the capital. Cheery volunteers queue to offer their services, some in top hats, so, we can assume, from the upper classes. Ranks of milk vans, marked 'Food Only', are parked in Hyde Park waiting for volunteer drivers to deliver them. A title 'How Londoners Went to Work' precedes scenes of Londoners walking or cycling to work. London Bridge throngs with pedestrians and cyclists.

The second part of the same edition shows more scenes of London during the strike, with images oddly familiar to the modern viewer showing traffic jams and the closed gates of a tube station. Highly condensed (because of paper shortages) editions of national newspapers are held up to the camera, including strike specials such as the British Gazette (for the government, and edited by Winston Churchill) and the British Worker (for the TUC). This shows some attempt at least at political balance, which had not been a notable feature of Topical Budget's treatment of earlier industrial disputes. The newsreel's approach, therefore, perhaps indicates the desperation of the authorities to portray the events as less a no-holds-barred conflict than a misunderstanding that could be sorted out with the kind of co-operative spirit that characterised the Londoner's reaction to a crisis.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
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Topical Budget 652-1: Great Dock Strike Begins (1924)
Topical Budget 767-2: London's Strange New Mood (1926)
Topical Budget 768-1: Strikelets (1926)
Topical Budget 768-2: Volunteers Bring Workers to Town (1926)
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