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Field, Mary (1896-1968)

Producer, Director, Consultant

Main image of Field, Mary (1896-1968)

Mary Field was born in Wimbledon, London, in 1896 and trained as a teacher and historian. Visiting British Instructional studios in late 1925 as an historical adviser for one of their films, she was offered a post as education manager. Within a year she had become a member of the production staff, learning editing, continuity, scriptwriting and direction on educational, documentary and feature films. By 1927 she was working with the cinematographer Percy Smith on the pioneering natural history series Secrets of Nature (1922-33), a forerunner to the wildlife television programmes of today. Compared with the sophisticated technology available to contemporary filmmakers, the equipment used by Field and Smith was cumbersome and noisy, making the results they achieved all the more remarkable. In 1929, Field became the Secrets of Nature series editor, continuing to direct many films herself, including the zoological series.

When British Instructional was taken over in 1933, Field moved to the newly created educational unit, Gaumont-British Instructional. With her old employer from British Instructional, Bruce Woolfe, she started a new nature series, Secrets of Life (1934-1950). Field also directed films for geography, history, language, physical education and hygiene syllabuses in schools and promoted the educational use of film on various committees.

During the war, along with other documentary and educational filmmakers, Field found her skills employed in making government films for the war effort. Drawing on the images of the Secrets of Nature films, Field humorously adapted the wildlife genre to the human and political concerns of rationing, agricultural production and army communications. These homefront propaganda films demonstrate the clarity of thought and assured direction that became Field's hallmark in over fifteen years of educational filmmaking.

In 1944, Field became head of the Rank Organisation's Children's Entertainment Division. The legacy of her attempts to broaden the experiences of children through entertaining but informative filmmaking can be seen today in public sector children's television programming such as Blue Peter (BBC, 1958-). When the Children's Entertainment Division closed in 1950, Field spent a year at the British Board of Film Censors before becoming Executive Officer at the newly created Children's Film Foundation.

In 1954, Field was awarded an OBE for her work in educational and children's entertainment film. In 1957 she was made a fellow of the British Film Academy. Her final years were spent doing consultancy work for children's television programming, as well as founding an International Centre of Films for Children of which she was Honorary President until her death in Worthing on 23 December 1968.

Sarah Easen

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Selected credits

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Life cycle of the rose aphid, explaining how it is 'herded' by 'farmer' ants

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Time-lapse study of the extraordinary Myxomycete, or slime fungus

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A comparison of various species' courtship and marriage rituals

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Microscopic study of life in a glassful of water

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Director, Producer, Photography

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Production Company, Sponsor, Distributor