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Picture to Post (1969)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Picture to Post (1969)
35mm, colour, 23 mins
Directed by Sarah Erulkar
Production CompanyRayant Pictures
Sponsor GPO
Produced by John Durst
Written by Sarah Erulkar
Photography Douglas Ransom
Music William Boyce
  Thomas Augustine Arne
CommentaryRoy Dotrice

The problems involved in designing a postage stamp, and the work of three notable designers.

Show full synopsis

Made for the GPO, Sarah Erulkar's Picture to Post follows three artists - David Gentleman, Arnold Machin and Jeffery Matthews - as they work on the designs for a number of stamps. Machin, a sculptor who had never designed stamps before, moulds a clay relief of Elizabeth II for the new definitive issue, using the simplicity of the Penny Black as inspiration. Gentleman, who would be commissioned to design the iconic murals at Charing Cross station in 1978, discusses the challenges of working on such a small scale, showing his work on the Concorde commemorative stamps as an example - the design of the stamp must be interesting, but not crowded. Matthews, who is working on an issue celebrating bridges through the ages to commemorate the M4 viaduct, focuses on the importance of colour in his stamps.

Sarah Erulkar directed over 80 films during a career spanning over 40 years, yet her work is rarely discussed today. As an Indian- born female, she had a unique background compared to almost any other British filmmaker of her era. She began working for the Shell Film Unit in 1947, where she met her future husband, Peter de Normanville. The company's strict rules on employing married couples led to Erulkar seeking work elsewhere, working as an editor at the National Coal Board Film Unit before returning to directing for numerous sponsors, including the British Productivity Council, the COI and the Gas Council.

In Picture to Post, Erulkar uses Technicolor to its fullest - her camera revels in the fluorescent inks and vibrant colours used in the stamps, while filters transform the simple sight of letters being sorted into a psychedelic display. Lively compositions by William Boyce and Thomas Augustine Arne lend a dynamic backdrop to Erulkar's montages, while the energy of the creative process is conveyed through split screens (sometime three screens at once). The film has been seen as symbolic of the concerns of Harold Wilson's government, promoting public engagement with scientific and technological progress.

Picture to Post is one of Erulkar's most widely seen works. MGM selected the film for circuit release, and it was distributed worldwide as the supporting feature for Alfred the Great (Clive Donner, 1969), with dubbed versions in German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. Erulkar won her first Best Short Film BAFTA for this film - the second would be for The Living City (1977), about her native Calcutta, co-directed with de Normanville.

Alex Davidson

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
King's Stamp, The (1935)
Erulkar, Sarah (1923-)
Postwar Documentary