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Berth 24 (1950)


Main image of Berth 24 (1950)
35mm, black and white, 40 mins
DirectorJ.B. Holmes
Production CompanyBritish Transport Films
ProducerEdgar Anstey
ScriptMontagu Slater
PhotographyRonald Craigen
 James Ritchie
 Ron Bicker
MusicJohn Greenwood

Cast: Richard Huson (Swedish passenger)

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The 'turn around' of the steamer S.S. Bravo, following her arrival from Gothenburg with various cargoes and then loading and departing again for Sweden.

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British Transport Films was formed in 1949, and began shooting its first production the same year. Surprisingly, given the Film Unit's subsequent popular image as a railway specialist, trains are only briefly glimpsed, the bulk of the film consisting of a semi-dramatised account of the 'turnaround' of a ship, the S.S. Bravo, transporting freight and passengers between Hull and Gothenburg in Sweden.

It's clear that BTF was still finding its collective feet: the 40-minute running time is appreciably longer than what would become a 10-25 minute norm, and the pacing is much more leisurely (a 15-minute version retitled Dockers at Work was released in 1953). Stylistically, it draws heavily on principles established fifteen years earlier by such documentary models as Paul Rotha's Shipyard (1935) in terms of its construction and its sympathetic treatment of the workers whose jobs take up much of the running time and whose thoughts are conveyed in voiceover.

The film's primary purpose is to depict the dockyard's various operations (a recurring visual motif consists of vertiginous shots of planks, barrels and crates being swung aloft by frail-looking cranes and cables), and does this through the eyes of two principal characters. One is George Moore, the foreman, whose job is to assemble a crew and ensure they perform the work as quickly and efficiently as possible, and the other is an unnamed Swedish passenger, played by Richard Huson, who travels over from Gothenburg to purchase farming machinery, but is so taken with a prize bull that he buys that too - setting the dockers the challenge of getting everything loaded and shipshape before the S.S. Bravo's departure.

The credits feature several links with the great documentary films of the two preceding decades. Director J.B. Holmes was a veteran of Gaumont-British Instructional and the Crown Film Unit in the 1930s and 40s (he is perhaps best known for 1941's Coastal Command), scriptwriter Montagu Slater cut his teeth on the GPO classic Coal Face (d. Cavalcanti, 1935), and editor Stewart McAllister co-directed Listen to Britain (1942) with Humphrey Jennings, most of whose 1940s masterpieces he also edited. Producer and BTF founder Edgar Anstey's filmography stretched back even further, to Robert Flaherty's Industrial Britain (1931) and John Grierson's Granton Trawler (1934), both of which he edited. Looking forward, newer talents included cameramen Ronald Craigen and James Ritchie, both of whom would become familiar names on the credits of subsequent British Transport Films productions.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilations 'British Transport Films Volume 9: Just the Ticket', 'The British Transport Films Collection' and 'Tales from the Shipyard'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (40:37)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
British Transport Films
Tales from the Shipyard