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Talk About Work (1971)


Main image of Talk About Work (1971)
16mm, 16 min, black & white
Director (uncredited)Ken Loach
Production CompanyRonald H. Riley & Associates
SponsorCentral Office of Information
ForCentral Youth Employment Executive
In association withDepartment of Employment
Camera byChris Menges

A vocational guidance film showing young people informally discussing their work, and giving their candid opinions of work in a department store, in factories and on a farm.

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This little-known film directed by an uncredited Ken Loach was a commission from the Central Youth Employment Executive, who expressly requested Loach's involvement. The film's working title, Vocational Guidance, precisely reflects the sponsors' aims.

At this stage in his career, Loach had directed a number of BBC Wednesday Plays - most notably 'Cathy Come Home' (tx. 16/11/1966) - and two feature films, Poor Cow (1967) and Kes (1969). These films demonstrated his compassion for the dilemmas of young people, which would suggest him as an ideal choice for a film such as Talk about Work. However, the relationship with the sponsors turned sour, with a civil servant complaining that Loach's "preferred version went well over the length we considered desirable and some further editing... was considered necessary." Loach objected to the final version, and disassociated himself from the film.

The world of work seen in the film - Henderson's department store in Liverpool; the Ford Motor Works at Halewood; a farm; a clothes factory - is presented with Loach's trademark realism and sympathetic handling of working-class subjects. Similarly characteristic is the plentiful humour in the direct speech of the young people, as well as an open acknowledgment that work is often 'boring'. It's easy to speculate that such directness contributed to the "other reasons" for the film's initial rejection by the sponsor.

While the film is a valuable historical document in its own right, Loach's involvement prompts interesting comparisons with his better-known work. The protagonist of Loach's Kes, Billy Casper, is a young boy on the verge of leaving school, whose careers adviser outlines a bleak future for those like him, with no qualifications to their names.

Talk about Work is imaginatively photographed by Chris Menges, whose intermittent collaborations with Loach began on Poor Cow and also included Kes, Looks and Smiles (1981) and Route Irish (2011).

Ros Cranston

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (15:17)
Workers and Jobs (1935)
View from the Woodpile, The (1989)
Loach, Ken (1936-)
Menges, Chris (1940-)
Central Office of Information (1946-2012)
Ken Loach: The Controversies
Ken Loach: Documentaries