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Wedding on Saturday, A (1964)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Wedding on Saturday, A (1964)
Granada Television for ITV, tx. 1/4/1964
ProducerNorman Swallow
Production TeamPeter Caldwell
 Michael Johns
 Denis Mitchell
 Ron Swain

Life in a Yorkshire mining community as preparations are in train for a wedding.

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This quietly pioneering documentary gives a valuable and absorbing impression of working-class life in the supposedly swinging mid-60s. The wedding of the title is merely the pretext for a study of the close-knit Yorkshire mining village of South Elmsall. The filmmakers aim to show that sweeping generalisations can't be made. The film is structured to suggest a complex view of the community it portrays (the wedding intercut with numerous other scenes); many conversations, taped at length then intercut in snippets, register contrasting opinions.

A Wedding on Saturday was one of a handful of 1964 Granada pieces constituting the first British documentaries made on 2" videotape, an experiment helmed by Norman Swallow and Denis Mitchell. Medium and message are intertwined. Coalmining had an unusually rich documentary heritage, suggested by the film footage of miners underground. When, recorded by video, they emerge from their pit, showering, eating and chatting in the canteen, it's as if they're emerging from subterranean myth into daylight. This fits with the underlying theme: long-term changes in working-class experiences and expectations. A handful of sequences on film emphasise the very different texture of the rest. When classic film techniques are borrowed by this new medium, the impact is different: cutaways, like repeated cuts to a fruit machine, seem less pointed, more conversational. Tempo is also affected. Events and conversations are uninterrupted for potentially longer periods, giving the programme a fluid feel it wouldn't have had if made on film.

Some sources list Mitchell as director, but (as with many 1960s programmes) no one is actually credited with direction. Swallow as producer was creatively in charge. As a path-breaking maker of BBC current affairs television in the 1950s and then a resourceful, articulate Granada filmmaker, he probably had a deeper effect on factual television than the more strikingly individualistic Mitchell did. But they shared several tendencies; some became standard television practice, others didn't. Both programme-makers immersed themselves in their subjects, necessitating lengthy research before cameras rolled (Swallow spent several weeks getting to know the people of the area and getting them used to his presence). Once filming, both allowed for interplay between careful planning and spontaneous happening (Swallow selected set-pieces in advance but had no script or firm expectations). Finally, both felt free to edit creatively: Swallow later stated that the film represented his view of the village as much as it represented the village itself.

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
1. The bride arrives (1:41)
2. Going down the pit (1:20)
3. Pit life (1:29)
Mitchell, Denis (1911-1990)