Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Farewell Topsails (1937)


Main image of Farewell Topsails (1937)
35mm, Dufaycolor, 9 mins
DirectorHumphrey Jennings
Production CompanyDufay-Chromex Ltd
ProducerAdrian Klein
PhotographerJ.D. Davidson

The last of the topsail schooners transporting China clay from Cornwall to London.

Show full synopsis

Only rediscovered by hard-working archivists in the last decade or so - filmographies compiled before 2000 do not list it - this nine-minute short is a slight piece, largely interesting to us because it was an experiment in the use of Dufaycolor, one of the various colour processes that were being developed in Britain throughout the 1930s.

Humphrey Jennings had previously been given some experience of a competing stock, Gasparcolor, when he worked with the New Zealand artist Len Lye on a strikingly inventive promotional film for the petrol company Shell-Mex BP, The Birth of the Robot (1935); and he had briefly been employed by Gasparcolor itself, though none of the films he tried to set up for the company (notably a series of topical animations to be made with the cartoonist David Low) seems even to have begun production. Jennings made Farewell Topsails for the Adrian Klein/Dufay-Chromex company as one of three shorts designed to show how the process looked, the other two being a charming view of English rural life, English Harvest, and a negligible piece, possibly assembled from out-takes of English Harvest, titled The Farm (both 1938). Later the same year he also produced a Dufaycolor film, known as Design for Spring or Making Fashion, about the dress designer Norman Hartnell's 1938 couture collection.

Farewell Topsails, cut to the jaunty sound of a sailor's accordion, and shot in the brilliant summer sunlight of 1937, records one of the last voyages of a commercial sailing ship carrying her cargo of extracted kaolin on a trip from Cornwall. There is not much that is obviously personal about the film, save for the fact that it recorded the passing of an ancient mode of technology in favour of an industrial mode - one of the grand themes of Jennings' unfinished work Pandaemonium.

Kevin Jackson

*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. Charleston (2:05)
2. At sea (2:26)
Complete film (8:25)
English Harvest (1938)
Jennings, Humphrey (1907-1950)