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Calendar of the Year (1936)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Calendar of the Year (1936)
35mm, black and white, 16 mins
DirectorEvelyn Spice
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
PhotographyF. Jones
 H.E. Fowle
MusicBenjamin Britten

An impressionistic study of seasonal activities, showing how the Post Office is adapted to deal with them in transmission of radio and television, in the telephone service and in the collection and distribution of mail.

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Calendar of the Year portrays the many aspects of British life impacted by the GPO's network of telephone, telegraph and postal services. Their vital role is stressed throughout the film, whether saving lives at sea, providing crucial links between farmers and markets, bringing news to the nation, facilitating and transmitting cultural and sporting events or co-ordinating the world of business "from the other side of the street, to the other side of the Atlantic". The nation is held together, the film maintains, by this network of communications.

In spite of its obvious goal of extolling the virtues of the GPO, the film's greater interest for audiences today lies in its depiction of assorted facets of British life, from the spring harvesting of flowers, to a day at the racetrack, to the laying of the first coaxial cables for television. The film's seasonal format would seem to have been ideally suited to Evelyn Spice's talents, with her directorial background in such films as Spring on the Farm(1933) and the critically acclaimed Weather Forecast (1934) with its emphasis on the importance of telecommunications in the life of the nation. In fact, a number of shots in Calendar of the Year appear to have been culled from earlier films directed by Spice and others. A lively score by the young Benjamin Britten ties the various sequences together. The narration is largely expositional, with dashes of ironic humour providing comic relief.

Calendar of the Year features a number of memorable sequences. A violent storm at sea illustrates Evelyn Spice's skill in creating an inventive soundscape. A strikingly shot and edited rollercoaster scene evokes the thrill of fear experienced at the funfair. Perhaps the most interesting and affective scene occurs near the end of the film, in a delightful verité-like sequence documenting an array of Christmas activities - shopping, a Salvation Army band playing carols, wind-up toys being demonstrated - merged with children's voices and featuring a well-disguised W.H. Auden as Santa. The swirling superimpositions of bustling shoppers and wide-eyed children over the relentlessly paced, labour-intensive work of the army of postal workers hired to sort the Christmas mail, form a particularly poignant contrast. An amusing flourish is provided at the end of the film when we see twin telephonists wishing each other a happy new year.

Barbara Evans

*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
Complete film (15:38)
Spice, Evelyn (1904-1990)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1936