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Airport (1934)

Courtesy of Shell International

Main image of Airport (1934)
35mm, 17 minutes, black & white
DirectorRoy Lockwood
Production CompanyShell Film Unit
ProducerEdgar Anstey
PhotographyStanley Rodwell
NarratorCarleton Hobbs

A typical day at Croydon Airport.

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This short documentary film, made for cinema release, adopts (and to some extent popularised) the 'day in the life of...' approach which has become a classic documentary format, still widely used in television. In this case, the subject was Croydon Airport, which was for many years London's airport, and one of the world's busiest. The film shows planes in flight, with maps to indicate their routes. In keeping with the format, however, it also goes behind the scenes to record the work of different technical and service departments, from weather forecasting and part maintenance to customs.

As such, the film is a fascinating record of our air transport infrastructure at a relatively early stage of its development. Nonetheless, its place in film history derives almost entirely from its having been the very first product of the newly-formed Shell Film Unit, and in fact its content is sometimes written up as dull and prosaic. Clearly, not everyone felt this way: to properly appreciate the film's achievement it is worth remembering that very few members of its initial audience would ever have been to an airport - at this time, air travel remained the privilege of a social elite. Like much of Shell's catalogue, it enjoyed a long shelf-life: a shortened version was issued in 1957 and remained in distribution for many years thereafter.

The film's producer Edgar Anstey, a key figure in British documentary, left Shell soon after making the film (his association with the company was renewed later, during World War Two). The first-time director Roy Lockwood, a much more obscure figure, went on to feature films, but Airport remains his best-known work.

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
1. Inspection, preparation and take-off (3:57)
2. Air traffic control (4:33)
3. Dismantling, cleaning and reassembly (2:52)
Airport (1996-2005)
Anstey, Edgar (1907-1987)
Shell Film Unit (1934-)
Science in Non-Fiction Film