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What's On Today (1938)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of What's On Today (1938)
35mm, black and white, 12 mins
DirectorR.Q. McNaughton
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
CameraJonah Jones
CommentaryR. Duff

The preparations made by the GPO to enable the press and the BBC to cover a major sporting event, in this instance, the Manx T.T. motor-cycle races.

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A minor but representative addition to the canon: typically, the brief to inform viewers of specific behind-the-scenes GPO work provides a pretext for play with the medium, and a bit of mild social comment gets thrown in along the way.

The subject here is the use of GPO technology to enable press and radio sports coverage. The wider theme grafted on to this is the place of sport in national life - simultaneously dividing and binding the different layers of Britain's class structure. Cinematic experimentation is here pretty slapdash: check out the especially rapid montage accompanying the climax of a cricket broadcast. It's so jaggedly uneven as to be quite invigorating.

The centrepiece is the Manx TT races. Racing, whether by cars or motorcycles, is a sport especially suited to cinematic treatment: such races later became a popular subject for big-screen coverage. In particular, motor racing documentaries sponsored by the major oil companies became almost a genre in themselves. For part of the TT sequence of What's On Today, music is able to take over from the chirpily insistent voiceover that dominates the rest of the film.

Regular GPO editor Richard McNaughton is here credited, for the first time, as director (certain chunks of the film consist of footage shot for previous productions). After the war, McNaughton would make many industrial films (his final assignments being for the Shell Film Unit in the 1970s), as well as continuing to cut for other directors' documentaries, and at least one feature film. He edited the cult sci-fi horror film Fiend Without a Face (d. Arthur Crabtree, 1958).

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'We Live in Two Worlds: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 2'.

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Video Clips
1. Meet the Huttons (0:54)
2. Wiring the course (2:24)
3. The race (3:13)
Complete film (11:39)
The GPO Film Unit: 1938