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New Power in Their Hands (1959)

British Film Institute

Main image of New Power in Their Hands (1959)
35mm, 2062 ft, black & white
Director (uncredited)Alun Falconer
Production CompanyNCB Film Unit
ProducerDonald Alexander
Commentary WriterDonald Alexander
Visualised and edited byKitty Wood
MusicKenneth Morrison

Commentator: Ewan MacColl

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The revolution in coalface working methods brought about by mechanised power loading techniques.

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This is a simple but effective film telling the story of pit mechanisation and technological developments in the coal industry after the Second World War. The industry had suffered a lot of criticism after the War and after nationalisation. There was a shortage of labour, technology and investment, and an urgent need for coal for power and industry. The severe winter of 1947 had exacerbated the coal shortage and plans were urgently needed for more coal through long-term planning and technological improvement. In 1947 around a third of pits were still operating with old technology. Twelve years later, the situation had vastly improved. Either through buying in specialist machinery from abroad, adapting its own machinery and embarking on a training and development programme the industry, by 1958, was faced with a surplus of coal.

The narration, penned by the National Coal Board's film officer, Donald Alexander, and related by folk singer Ewan McColl, is effective and to the point. The criticisms of the coal industry, such as dirt in the coal and lumps too large or too small (domestic users wanted large coal, power stations small coal) are addressed. Although coal has few domestic users today, during the 1950s it was in many homes the only source of heating and cooking, and a vital industry to the nation; criticisms had to be taken seriously.

Explaining complex ideas simply was a hallmark of NCB productions, and New Power in Their Hands' clear narration is backed by efficient editing by NCB stalwart Kitty Wood. The opening scenes pose the question "Do you know this miner?", serving to personalise the film; by the end the audience has a better understanding of the work of the miner and how it has been made more efficient by technology. All in all, this is an effective piece of industrial propaganda outlining the problems and improvements within the coal industry, a view shared by the periodical Film User, which rated it "Excellent".

Simon Baker

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Portrait of a Miner: The National Coal Board Collection Volume 1'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (20:56)
Miners (1976)
Alexander, Donald (1913-93)
National Coal Board Film Unit (1952-84)
The National Coal Board - The Documentaries