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Foot and Mouth (1955)


Main image of Foot and Mouth (1955)
35mm, black and white, 20 mins
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Production Company Basic Films
Sponsors COI, MAFF
Produced by Leon Clore
Written by Lindsay Anderson
Photographed by Walter Lassally
Narrator Lindsay Anderson

Two farming brothers take a chance on a sick cow and send cattle that have been in contact with it to market.

Show full synopsis

In meetings prior to the making of this short, the Government sponsor agreed its purpose was to "stress the need for early reporting of foot and mouth disease symptoms" and "avoid giving the impression that the farmer could conduct his own diagnosis." It also discussed whether comparisons should be made between British and continental farming practices and whether the proposed film should include anything as a counter to the argument in favour of a non-slaughter policy. These ideas were rejected on the grounds that the proposed film should "avoid controversial issues"; this warning piece is based instead on the accepted British strategy and concentrates on driving home the need for action in accordance with that policy.

Bury Farm, run by the Harding brothers (who were only paid expenses) was carefully selected for the majority of the shoot by Dr Galloway, an advisor from the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright. The sick animals that feature were filmed separately at the Institute, and existing French stock footage was also used. The full horror of the disease was not entirely explored, as it was decided that images of lesions and infected organs would be unnecessarily shocking.

Film User commented on its effectiveness, stating "The film is tactful enough to instruct farmers without affronting them since the slaughtering of cattle is left to the imagination. It will be of most interest to scientifically minded audiences and users are advised to preview it before showing it to under-fifteens." Indeed, the juxtaposition of loud gunshots with the farmer's wife's look of dismay are particularly well placed to unsettle viewers, and the pastoral tranquillity is in stark contrast to the image of the vet's gun. The assemblage paints an altogether depressing picture of this devastating disease.

Foot and Mouth's linear structure and instructional manner make it distinctly different from Anderson's better-known work within the Free Cinema movement, and from those of his sponsored documentaries that hint at that movement's more lyrical stylistic elements. Winning a Diploma of Selection at the 10th Congress of the International Scientific Film Association in Vienna, the film came hot on the heels of Anderson's Oscar award-winning Thursday's Children (co-d. Guy Brenton, 1954) in what was a busy period for the director, who had helped to embed the welfare state of post-war Britain by making a series of NSPCC-sponsored films, and films for the National Fuel Efficiency Service.

Rebecca Vick

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977'. A short extract can be viewed on the BFI's YouTube channel.

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Video Clips
1. A disastrous decision (3:09)
2. Destruction and disposal (1:58)
3. Preventative measures (4:13)
Complete film (19:10)
Anderson, Lindsay (1923-1994)
Clore, Leon (1918-1992)
Postwar Documentary