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Night Shift (1942)

Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Main image of Night Shift (1942)
35mm, black and white, 14 mins
DirectorJ.D. Chambers
Production CompanyPaul Rotha Productions
ProducerPaul Rotha
ScriptArthur Calder-Marshall
PhotographyHal Young

Two thousand mostly female workers carry out a ten-hour night shift at an armaments factory dedicated to making tank parts.

Show full synopsis

Directed by Jack Chambers and produced by Paul Rotha, the short documentary Night Shift depicts night workers in an armaments factory making tank components for the war effort, the commentary largely being supplied by the workers themselves.

Unsurprisingly, most of them are women, and the film emphasises not only this but also their decidedly feminist attitude towards their work - 'Blondie' is described by a female narrator as being "as good as any man at her job", while her colleague vehemently rejects a male co-worker's assertion that she needs a man about the place, saying that if she had a choice, she'd "rather be firing them [the tank parts] than making them any day".

But this isn't a subversive position - merely an acknowledgement that the war effort requires both sexes giving their all, to a degree unmatched by previous conflicts. The film emphasises camaraderie and teamwork: wages are shared equally with their day colleagues (whom they never meet), and while the workers' banter is often lively, they never allow it to impede the war effort. Significantly, the supervisors seem to have little to do - the workers are more than capable of motivating themselves as they're well aware of the importance of what they're doing.

The following year, the Ministry of Information funded the fiction feature Millions Like Us (d. Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, 1943) whose central storyline took place in a very similar factory.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The shift begins (2:42)
2. Canteen break (3:42)
3. Four a.m. (2:30)
Complete film (13:57)
Production stills
Jane Brown Changes her Job (1941)
Millions Like Us (1943)
They Keep the Wheels Turning (1942)
Rotha, Paul (1907-1984)