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Arthur Clears the Air (1961)


Main image of Arthur Clears the Air (1961)
35mm, colour, 29 mins
DirectorGerard Bryant
Production CompanyTechni-Commercial Service
SponsorNational Coal Board

Sales promotion film about smokeless fuels using fantasy sequences to show the need for expert advice when adapting fires for new fuels.

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Arthur Clears the Air ...with the help of the NCB, his ever-patient spouse... and a giant talking teddy-bear. The 1956 Clean Air Act required that some neighbourhoods be designated 'smoke control areas'. All houses in these areas had to use smokeless fuels, necessitating compulsory conversion of fireplaces so that chimneys were no longer used. Local council grants were made available. For the NCB, this was financially worrying: it relied on sales, not just subsidy. It developed a 'Housewarming Plan' to help householders switch to coal-based smokeless fuels like Coalite, Rexco and Sunbrite (a determinedly cheerful trading name for coke).

This film was made (by an obscure company which appears, on the basis of the names on its films' credits, to have been closely connected to the NCB Film Unit) to publicise this initiative. Mostly projected to meetings of smokeless-zone residents, it was the NCB's first sales film (unnecessary previously, when 'everyone' had used coal), and also, alongside a training film the same year, its first in colour since King Coal (d. Jules Pinschewer, 1948).

Specialist trade press reviewers noted that it deviated in style from typical NCB output, taking the form of a scripted fictional story in which a young married couple receive the council notice, to which he's stubbornly resistant but which she's willing to investigate. They're stock domestic comedy characters, he obstinate but inept, she pragmatic and long-suffering: stereotypes intended, as it happens, to resonate mainly with women. Plenty of enjoyably laboured dialogue ensues, plus the odd cracking exchange ("Next thing he'll be asking you to go dancing with him!"; "Don't be silly dear, he's a civil servant!"). The council's public health officer explains the environmental rationale to Arthur's wife, while the man from the Coal Utilisation Council shows her the approved appliances and fuel types available. The pill is further sugared by a weird extended studio-filmed fantasy sequence, in which she dreams she's Cinderella and the health officer her Prince Charming.

Ironically enough, director Gerard Bryant had in 1954 made the Gas Council film Guilty Chimneys, which played a small part in influencing the political mood that triggered the clean air legislation getting passed. Bryant would later direct many 1970s and 1980s editions of Review.

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 (29:45)