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Mony a Pickle (1938)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Mony a Pickle (1938)
35mm, black and white, 10 mins
DirectorsRichard Massingham
 Norman McLaren
 Alberto Cavalcanti
Produced by theGPO Film Unit
ProducerAlberto Cavalcanti
MusicBenjamin Britten

Various people come to appreciate the virtues of thrift, by means of the Post Office Savings Scheme.

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The purpose of Mony a Pickle was to promote the idea of long-term saving in a Post Office Savings Account. (The Scottish phrase 'mony a mickle maks a muckle' or alternatively 'mony a pickle maks a puckle' is obscure in origin but perfectly understandable - lots of little things make a big thing.) The film starts with an image of a shilling (presumably the 'pickle' that will eventually 'mak a muckle') on a plaid background. The commentary tells us that the thrifty Scots are always putting something aside for a rainy day but that they rarely manage to keep it due to expenditure on holidays, Christmas and, in those pre-NHS days, the doctor's bills.

The scene changes to a working-class household in which a young married couple dreams of a home of their own and its contents. The furniture and fittings are animated to express the couple's inner thoughts. Particularly good is the ding-dong discussion about what type of legs the table should have, as the animation flits between the two.

Further examples develop the theme. A Scotsman has saved enough in five years to return home from London; Scots miners talk about one of their number having inherited £200 and what they would spend it on. One of the miners, watching old Jock on his way home, says that's who really needs the £200, but Jock has wisely been saving his pounds and shillings. In a pub a man tells his friend he and his wife have finally saved £300 and now it is time to spend it. The final scene shows us the aged owner of a junk shop who declares he has saved many things in his life but no money, and adds with a wink that he might start saving now, for his old age.

The aspirations expressed by the protagonists are primarily about the acquisition of material comforts - understandable for a population that had just endured the Depression - while more sombre reasons to save, such as sickness and old age, are mentioned in passing. In a world in which very few people had bank accounts, the Post Office Savings Bank was one of the few convenient places for one's money. Secured by government backing, it was the safe haven for the nation's savings for over a century until it was separated from the Post Office in 1969 to become National Savings.

Bryony Dixon

*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
1. The newlyweds (2:38)
Complete film (10:08)
Massingham, Richard (1898-1953)
McLaren, Norman (1914-1987)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1938