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Research in the Rhondda (1969)

National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales collection

Main image of Research in the Rhondda (1969)
16mm film, 17 mins, colour
DirectorHarley Jones
Production CompanyNewport College of Art & Design
ProducerJohn Bignall
 Harley Jones
 A.L. Cochrane

A clinic in Ferndale is the headquarters of a 1968 medical survey of people living in the mining valley of Rhondda Fach.

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Research in the Rhondda (d. Harley Jones, 1969) is a rare filmed record of pioneering work in epidemiology, a medical science dedicated to surveying the occurrence of a disease in a population, its distribution or spread, and its control.

Members of the research unit based in Ferndale, in the Rhondda, are seen x-raying people from the Rhondda Fach Valley community and taking case histories. At the heart of this research was a Scotsman, Archibald Leman Cochrane (1909-1988). He played a significant part in the development of medical research, setting worldwide standards, and had a lifelong interest in dust disease, a graphic example of which can be seen in the Karl Francis' docu-drama Above Us The Earth (1977).

Before any research could take place, volunteers were needed. Field Survey Workers visited people at home in the valley to encourage them to take part in the surveys. One FSW says he never uses the words 'survey' or 'research': the word 'survey' having been "abused by people flogging detergents" and the word 'research' leading people to see themselves unhappily as "guinea pigs".

Aspects of such research were undoubtedly patronising. Archive footage of the first surveys - undertaken in the 1950s and included in this film - shows a man with a megaphone, calling on people to be x-rayed and suggesting, from his commanding position, that conditions will improve, if everyone co-operates. Archive shots also show, however, Cochrane and others talking to a group of miners, suggesting that the research aims were discussed with the volunteers. Certainly a very high percentage of people in the Rhondda Fach took part in the surveys, although there is a suggestion in Cochrane's obituary that a lift to the clinic in his smart jaguar was a powerful persuasion for many.

It is evident that Cochrane's research benefits the community, a community initially to be exploited as raw material but which, it is understood, will be the beneficiary of any findings.

Elements of scientific research are as subject to human error and emotion as any other research. Cochrane himself was concerned at how accurately x-rays were interpreted. In the Rhondda, various steps were taken to try and minimise the effects of human fallibility: x-rays from the various survey years were mixed up together to avoid bias, several people would read the same x-ray, and readers would be shown the same x-ray twice, without warning.

Mary Moylett

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Video Clips
Complete film (15:59)
Mining Review 4/6: Mass Consultation (1951)