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Boat for Businessmen (1961)

Courtesy of Angus Tilston

Main image of Boat for Businessmen (1961)
8mm, 4.5 min, colour, silent
DirectorAngus Tilston
Produced bySwan Cine Club

Commuters cross the Mersey from Birkenhead to Pier Head.

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The first 'ferry cross the Mersey' can be traced back some 700 years, to the time when the Benedictine monks from Birkenhead Priory were granted a charter to ferry passengers across the river to Liverpool. The ferry has since become an iconic and durable symbol of the port-city and its famous river, immortalised in the Merseybeat group Gerry and the Pacemakers' 'Ferry cross the Mersey' (a song now played on the actual ferries themselves). 1965, at the height of the group's fame, saw the release of a film of the same name, directed by Jeremy Summers.

Among the many amateur films which focus on the river and ferry crossings are Boat for Businessmen, Ferry - Birkenhead to Pier Head (d. Angus Tilston/Swan Cine Club, 1960), A Tribute to the Mersey (d. Les Holloway/Curzon Productions, 1967), Fair Play (d. George Gregory/Swan Cine Club, 1960s), and Liverpool to New Brighton (d. Harry Larkin/Swan Cine Club, 1960s). A documentary, Ferries Across the Mersey (1996), made by local transport enthusiast Martin Jenkins, features a compilation of archive footage, much of it amateur material, dating from 1901 to 1996, and includes the first ever moving images of a Mersey ferry shot by the early film pioneers Mitchell and Kenyon in 1901.

As with Norman Couche's Runcorn film, The Last Transporter (1961), Boat for Businessmen provides a filmic document of a much loved transport icon which was destined to fall victim to the rapid growth of vehicular traffic in the region and the demand for faster transport communications. Although a ferry service is still in operation between Woodside and Liverpool, many of the historical ferry routes have disappeared; it is now the tunnel and car rather than the ferry that carries the bulk of the commuter traffic to and from Liverpool. The simplicity and functionalism of the ferry crossing in Boat for Businessmen allows the filmmaker to focus on the activities and practices of the commuters, such as the on-deck circumambulation of the businessmen, a long-standing Mersey tradition. This almost anthropological sense of ritual and tradition is further enhanced by the inclusion of a sunset scene at the end of the film. Sunsets appear in many of the amateur films of the river, and in this example would appear to suggest a certain timeless and cyclical pattern of social activity, as if the ferry crossings were in some way attuned to the rhythms of nature.

Les Roberts

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Video Clips
Complete film (4:41)
Pool of Life, The (1974-76)
Liverpool: Across the Mersey