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Penny Journey (1938)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Penny Journey (1938)
35mm, black and white, 6 mins
DirectorHumphrey Jennings
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
PhotographyH. Fowle
 W.B. Pollard

How a postcard posted in Manchester reaches its destination in Graffham, Sussex.

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As the subtitle of the film suggests - The Story of a Post Card from Manchester to Graffham - this journey is very much focused on the process of sorting, transporting and delivering the postcard in question. The sender and recipient of the postcard are almost incidental and make only brief appearances, while rather more time is devoted to the local Graffham postmaster, Mr Pescod, and the cyclist postman, Mr Money.

Director Humphrey Jennings started his filmmaking career at the GPO Film Unit in 1934. His artistic interests were famously broad, and he fitted his filmwork amidst painting, writing and photography. He also designed sets and appeared in several GPO films, notably The Glorious Sixth of June, Pett and Pott and BBC The Voice of Britain.

Penny Journey was made relatively early in Jennings' directing career and while it shows less of the poetic approach than his acclaimed later work, its charmingly detailed observations combine both practical information and a variety of tone. This sharp focus on the normally unrecorded details of the workings of the everyday world, both human and machine - often in combination - is typical of Jennings. It is also in keeping with his involvement with Mass Observation, the social research organisation which he had co-founded in 1937 to document everyday life in Britain.

The film shows glimpses of both urban and rural life in Manchester and Sussex. The postcard's journey is imbued with something of the epic as it travels by train, van, bicycle and is finally carried on foot. The postman earnestly trudges uphill through some fine landscapes to achieve his mission of delivering a small boy's message - 'It must be nice to live in the country' - to his auntie.

At the time of the film, the village postmaster also ran the the local shop, Pescod's Stores. Jennings would probably be pleased to know that Graffham's village shop still houses the Post Office today.

Ros Cranston

*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 (5:36)
Jennings, Humphrey (1907-1950)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1938