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Bull Ring Shopping Centre, The (1965)


Main image of Bull Ring Shopping Centre, The (1965)
16mm, colour, 30 mins
Production CompanyJohn Laing & Son
ProducerCossar Turfery
PhotographyW.V. Hamer
CommentatorRichard Baker

The redevelopment of Birmingham's Bull Ring showing how the new shopping centre was planned, a tour of the centre and its official opening by Prince Philip.

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The firm of John Laing & Son dominated postwar civil engineering projects, building its reputation on mammoth projects like the M1 motorway and Coventry Cathedral. The company fully embraced the potential of film to document its work, and more importantly advertise for new contracts, using a variety of production companies as well as establishing their own in-house film unit in the 1950s.

The form of this film is typical of popular cinemagazines and travelogues of the period: light-hearted breezes through non-offensive subjects which would be shown before the main feature in cinemas in order to pad out the programme and satisfy government quotas on British-produced content. Unlike many of the other Laing films, which concentrate on the technical aspects of the build, here the practical aspects of the design and build are skipped though and made palatable by the human figure of the designer. The playful banter between him and the narrator is unusual in the Laing films, but not necessarily innovative - see Pat Jackson's The Builders (1942), for instance, among earlier examples.

Although seen by wider audiences, however, the true target audience for this film was not the happy shoppers who would use the new Bull Ring's services, but rather the customers of Laing - the captains of industry, town planners and government officials who might stump up the cash for other such grandiose civil engineering projects. So the main focus of the film is on portraying the development as a centre of modernity, as a state-of-the-art reflection of modern times, in a city at the forefront of sociocultural change. As the Duke of Edinburgh's remarks at the opening ceremony indicate, the build is as much a political statement as a commercial one. This is shopping under Harold Wilson's "white heat of technology", sending out a national and international message. That such developments brought lucrative contracts to firms such as Laing helps explain why they invested so heavily in public relations campaigns to promote their successes. That so many failed, were inappropriate or short-sighted is a sign that politics and architecture combined do not often produce great buildings.

Jez Stewart

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Video Clips
Complete film (25:29)
Laing Film Unit