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Today in Britain (1964)


Main image of Today in Britain (1964)
35mm, colour, 26 mins
Director Peter Hopkinson
Production Company World Wide Pictures
SponsorsForeign Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, Colonial Office, Central Office of Information
Producer James Carr
Photography Ronnie Anscombe
Music Don Banks
Commentator James Cameron

Some of the many facets of life in Britain today showing recent developments in industry, atomic power, sport and education, as well as her participation in the United Nations and contribution to the development of the multi-racial Commonwealth.

Show full synopsis

Today in Britain was commissioned to present the nation to a global audience. As such, it is in the lineage of documentary promoting the cause of national projection that is commonly associated with Sir Stephen Tallents, who had encouraged such product at the Empire Marketing Board and the GPO. While much of Britain's pre- war documentary output could be considered to be in service to this aim, it was most clearly realised in those films that made the nation itself their espoused content.

Today in Britain presents the Britain of the atomic age. The burnished orange of the coal-fired steelyard makes way for the white heat of a new techno-industrialism. From nuclear fission, through decoded DNA and Jodrell Bank, from supercomputers to supersonic passenger jets, Britain is presented at the core of a new industrial revolution. There are also tips of the hat to agriculture and to Britain's post-industrial source of wealth as a financial centre. But there's nothing of the arts and little of the youthful energy that would permeate Opus, another COI-commissioned national projection made only three years later.

Opus (1967), directed by Don Levy, is high on The Beatles, Mary Quant and the cool Britannia of a swinging decade; Today in Britain's brief section on youth culture is distinctly square in comparison. The film is more comfortable when it looks to Britain's national institutions: its constitutional monarchy and its parliament. Director Peter Hopkinson worked extensively with UNESCO and is confident too, in presenting Britain's distinctly post- colonial international role, engaged with the diplomacy and development aims of both the Commonwealth and the United Nations. There is also an interest in the presentation of multi-cultural Britain, and the film quietly shows black and Asian faces in the classroom, conducting a bus, in the crowd, on the cricket field and the university campus. The film celebrates a united kingdom, from the capital to the Celtic fringe, incorporating Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Belfast being described as 'integrally built into Britain', although the Troubles were soon to erupt).

The urbane commentary by journalist James Cameron supplies a sense of British identity to the world that is as distinct as the images, but it's worth trying to imagine the film without them. Hopkinson's own vision was for a commentary-free film in emulation of Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister's Listen to Britain (1942), an idea ultimately foxed by the sponsors.

James Piers Taylor

*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.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The atomic age (1:40)
2. A small yet various nation (4:22)
3. Cities and cattle (3:31)
4. Automated tea (1:19)
5. Universal languages (4:16)
Complete film (24:47)
Listen to Britain (1942)
Cameron, James (1911-1985)
Postwar Documentary