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Coming of the Dial, The (1933)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Coming of the Dial, The (1933)
35mm, black and white, 14 mins
DirectorStuart Legg
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
ProducerJohn Grierson
Abstract sequences László Moholy-Nagy

The introduction of the dial telephone system to Great Britain.

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The Coming of the Dial had the job of promoting the automation of telephony that the GPO was undertaking in the early 1930s by introducing dial telephones and exchanges employing banks of electromagnetic relays in place of human operators. With such a brief, it could have been like any of the more routine films made by the GPO Film Unit in the period from its metamorphosis from the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit in 1933 to the outbreak of war. In the event, however, director Stuart Legg made a film that used impressively confident editing techniques to produce an eloquent marriage of lyrical filmmaking and Modernistic technological propaganda.

Once the somewhat incongruous strains of trumpet voluntary that accompany the titles have faded, the film moves into a powerfully modernist 30-second juxtaposition of shots of one of the light display sculptures created by the former director of the Bauhaus, László Moholy-Nagy. This is accompanied by a commentary that, under the rubric of 'building the future in the laboratory', compares the GPO's applied research into electromagnetic switches with applied chemistry, physics and biology in steel manufacture, signal lenses and grass-breeding.

The film is conspicuously well made, with carefully angled and lit shots, montage, use of superimposition and, on the soundtrack, the sound of electromechanical switches in place of music.

Timothy Boon

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Addressing The Nation: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 1'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The dial (3:37)
2. New exchanges (2:13)
3. Wires and switches (3:15)
4. The human element (4:21)
Complete film (14:25)
Legg, Stuart (1910-1988)
GPO Film Unit (1933-1940)
Science in Non-Fiction Film
The GPO Film Unit: 1933