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News for the Navy (1938)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of News for the Navy (1938)
35mm, black and white, 15 mins
Directed byNorman McLaren
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
CameraH. Fowle
 F. Gamage

Cast: Evelyn Corbett (Evelyn); J.F. Hoggard (Bert Higgins)

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The GPO mail sorting system illustrated by the progress of a package destined for one of H.M. ships.

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The young lovers' farewell kisses on the railway platform in the opening shots suggest that Norman McLaren's film will unfold as a romantic drama, reminiscent of Len Lye's N or NW (1937). This initial impression is heightened by Evelyn Corbett's appearance as the leading lady in both films in what are probably her only film roles. However, following Bert's less than romantic parting request to Evelyn for football news, News for the Navy opts to focus on the progress of a newspaper that Evelyn posts to Bert, rather than a dashing love story.

The practicalities of postal rates and the sorting and transporting of mail to sailors across the seas are the heart of the narrative. Some elegant photographic touches are used to convey the journey of Evelyn's package, such as the slow motion sorting of letters and the expressionistic lighting as the mail drops down the spiral chute to the GPO's underground railway system. This railway was operated for many decades from 1927 until the closure of the last remaining section in 2003.

Norman McLaren's career at the GPO Film Unit began after John Grierson, head of the unit, saw his amateur film Colour Cocktail (1935) and offered him a job. Still in his twenties, McLaren made several films for the GPO before following Grierson to the National Film Board of Canada.

News for the Navy is a live action piece, unlike the experimental techniques McLaren used in the abstract films for which he is best known. McLaren worked to good effect with his cast of non-professional actors - those playing the young lovers giving striking performances. J.F. Hoggard, who plays Bert, was a sailor himself, and this is probably his only screen role.

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 (10:10)
McLaren, Norman (1914-1987)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
The GPO Film Unit: 1938