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Job in a Million, A (1937)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Job in a Million, A (1937)
35mm, black and white, 16 mins
DirectorEvelyn Spice
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
ProducerJohn Grierson
PhotographyS.D. Onions
MusicBrian Easdale

The story of an 'undersized' Cockney lad, John Truman, who, at a young age, joins the Post Office as a trainee messenger boy and serves a two-year probationary period.

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A Job in a Million marked a genre shift for Evelyn Spice who, along with others at the GPO Film Unit, was drawn to the dramatised documentary form. It is the story of a young boy who succeeds through a combination of commitment, strong work ethic and the paternalistic support of the Post Office. Part recruitment film, part paean to the benevolence and rigour of the GPO's training programme, the film emphasises the serious nature of public service and the responsibilities of the postal service worker to uphold the public trust. As a social document, the film presents an intriguing portrait of the holistic nature of the GPO's approach to training, including studies, medical care, athletic programmes and other leisure activities. Of note in the film is Spice's sensitive treatment of working-class youth, not as a homogenous group, but as individuals with different abilities, personalities and needs.

Beginning with a series of closeups of the young school-leavers' earnest faces, the film emphasises the boys' hopes and anxieties as they confront a bewildering array of vocational choices. The film derives its dramatic tension from the challenges young John faces - the struggle to learn the complex delivery routes, to pass the written exams "for which there is no second chance" and, most difficult of all for John, to achieve the minimum height requirement. John's mother - interestingly, for the period, a single parent - is supportive of her son's efforts to succeed, noting that now he's bringing some income into the home, she'll be able afford the extra milk to help him grow.

Edited by the young Norman McLaren, the film contains some delightful sequences, in particular a rapidly paced montage representing young John's confusion as he attempts to learn the various street names and landmarks on his route. Spice's handling of the boys' performances is adept and her sympathetic treatment of the boys' escapades lightens the film's serious underlying message. The film ends with the prize day ceremony, the culmination of the probationary two years. A speech doubles as closing narration, assuring us that the boys have the possibility of climbing to higher positions - even to the level of director-general, they're told - noting that the future of the Post Office lies on their shoulders. A final close-up of an optimistic John, superimposed over shots of the vast workings of the Post Office, is both touching and memorable.

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 (15:40)
McLaren, Norman (1914-1987)
Spice, Evelyn (1904-1990)
The GPO Film Unit: 1937