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Nines Was Standing (1950)


Main image of Nines Was Standing (1950)
35mm, black and white, 19 mins
DirectorHumphrey Swingler
Production CompanyGreenpark Productions
SponsorNational Coal Board
PhotographyMartin Curtis

The way a pit consultative committee works.

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The title might need explaining nowadays. To anyone well-up on mining it then needed none. Coalfaces were customarily referred to by numbers, expressed in the plural. 'Standing' was the adjective applied to them when at an unproductive halt. So at the start of this 'story documentary', we find a substantially pre-mechanised, behind-target face, anxious to yield "more coal and some new ideas for getting it". The point being to publicise a recently-built vehicle for sharing ideas - and grievances. Most pits had a Consultative Committee in place by the end of 1947, with staff, union and management representatives,and advisory (not binding) powers. The enthusiasm of their reception varied widely by locality: ballasting its ringing endorsement, this film pays careful due to the unconvinced.

Though its outlets were mainly non-theatrical rather than cinemas, Nines Was Standing has the inconspicuously exquisite matinée realism of many early post-war British feature films. This was the only NCB short made by Greenpark, a prolific independent company specialising in applying middlebrow-arty touches to sponsored documentary. So: stately pithead compositions; picturesque silhouetted figures ascending steps; chiaroscuro underground photography; sinuous tracking shots; nifty scene transitions; probing close-ups of splendidly lived-in faces; atmospheric pubs; forlornly flapping laundry; and metaphors strained before our very eyes (old men reminisce; birds fly free into bright skies).

Humphrey Swingler, on his way to becoming a leading presence in industrial film as head of Greenpark, came from an eminent family (older brothers Randall and Stephen were, respectively, a noted Communist poet and a prominent Labour MP). Nines contains further interesting credits. Cameraman Roly Stafford was later in charge of films policy at British Petroleum (by then an NCB competitor and frequent Greenpark sponsor). His assistant Patrick Carey remained, and became acclaimed, in cinematography and direction. Producer Paul Fletcher became Films Officer for the British Productivity Council. Client for both Greenpark and Data, among many other units, the BPC was a quango that enthusiastically co-opted film to promote communication between industry's two sides. Several years ahead of all that, Nines is an engrossing early example of thinking through post-war industrial psychology in screen terms, at this stage a matter of groping guesswork more than tested theory, and probably better for it. Its non-professional acting is similarly transitional, less rigid than in countless wartime documentaries, but hardly unbuttoned.

On that point: note the always-courtly aboveground attire. Smart suits, elegant felt trilbies... how far we've fallen!

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection Volume 1'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (18:28)
The National Coal Board - The Documentaries