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Holiday (1957)


Main image of Holiday (1957)
35mm, colour, 17 mins
DirectorJohn Taylor
Production CompanyBritish Transport Films
ProducerIan Ferguson
PhotographyDavid Watkin
MusicChris Barber Jazz Band
NarratorRobert Shaw

An impression of Blackpool during the holiday season, set to music by Chris Barber's jazz band.

Show full synopsis

One of the most memorable - and fondly remembered - of all British Transport Films was this promotional paean to the joys of holidaying in Blackpool. Unlike the vast majority of BTF's travelogues, commentary is kept to a minimum, with just a brief scene-setting opening and a slightly longer interlude to mark the early afternoon siesta.

The film derives its reputation and appeal, from the two wordless passages that constitute a masterclass by editor Ralph Sheldon - the first person mentioned in the end credits, and with ample justification. Marrying unstructured Blackpool footage to a series of jazz standards recorded by the Chris Barber Band, Sheldon devised a series of immaculately timed gags that wouldn't shame the great silent comedians. Divers hit the pool in perfect synchronisation with cymbal crashes, a sand yacht pirouettes over the beach to a stately waltz, and nocturnal illuminations are matched with fireworks in a series of miniature explosions of light and colour that anticipate the similarly non-narrative BTF films of Geoffrey Jones (Snow, 1963; Rail, 1967; Locomotion, 1975).

The film was shot on 16mm Kodachrome, the smaller format justified by the need to keep the camera as discreet as possible. Although some scenes were staged, David Watkin shot a substantial amount of footage via a camera hidden in a cardboard box, filming unwitting passers-by through a strategically-positioned hole with the rest of the crew concealing other tell-tale details. Coincidentally, at the same time Polish filmmakers Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski were capturing their own candid beach footage via a similar method, though Sopot '57 (Poland, 1957) showed off how they did it in the film itself, a self-reflexive touch that would have been anathema to a BTF production.

But Holiday has much going for it beneath the showy surface, since it also offers one of the decade's most uncontrived and unselfconscious records of working-class leisure, largely uninterrupted by the usual patrician voiceover setting them in a context imposed by the filmmakers. There's an encyclopaedia of information in the montage of billboards and theatre fronts alone, not to mention the body language of families and other beach visitors as they swim, play, sunbathe or just doze off in a deckchair - or go out and enjoy themselves after sunset (the film ostensibly takes place over the course of a single day). For sheer joie de vivre, there's little in the BTF catalogue to match it.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included on the BFI British Transport Films DVD compilation 'See Britain By Train'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (17:17)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
England of Elizabeth, The (1957)
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Shaw, Robert (1927-1978)
British Transport Films