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6.30 Collection (1934)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of 6.30 Collection (1934)
35mm, black and white, 15 mins
DirectorsR.H. Watt
 E.H. Anstey
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
ProducerJohn Grierson
CameraJ.D. Davidson
Sound RecordingJ. Cox

The Western District sorting office in London handles the early evening post collection.

Show full synopsis

This straightforward early GPO production builds on the long-established pattern of industrial 'process' documentaries with characteristic documentary movement touches. The emphasis of 6.30 Collection, set in a London sorting office, may be on the logistics of organising the incoming mail for delivery across the nation, but the implication is that these are social as well as mechanical processes - that the anonymous human beings and equipment (behind the scenes and rarely thought of) involved in the apparently mundane business of getting letters moved around the country are central to modern society's smooth functioning. The bulk of the film is utterly unpretentious but extremely clear and surprisingly watchable. Its modest but atmospheric and rather moving coda suggests the deeper social themes.

The film is co-credited to two important filmmakers, Harry Watt and Edgar Anstey; it is Watt's first directorial credit, and the earliest surviving Anstey-directed piece - his Empire Marketing Board film Uncharted Waters (1933) is 'missing believed lost'. Watt would later play a leading role in the production of the more elaborate and famous Night Mail (1936), before specialising in films using the techniques of drama to bring such 'processes' more vividly to life. In some respects, Anstey would remain truer to the process documentary approach, suggesting the mutual dependence of people, machines and institutions in the society they are all part of. Many years later, he produced the lavish and unfairly neglected Thirty Million Letters (d. James Ritchie, 1963), a unique collaboration between the GPO (which had long since shed the film unit responsible for 6.30 Collection) and British Transport Films, which under Anstey maintained and modernised the film tradition the GPO had done so much to establish.

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Addressing The Nation: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 1'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. On duty (2:00)
2. Sorting Division (3:00)
Complete film (14:31)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Night Mail (1936)
Anstey, Edgar (1907-1987)
Grierson, John (1898-1972)
Watt, Harry (1906-1987)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1934