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The work of the GPO film unit

'We Live in Two Worlds' (1937) : a tale of two cities

'We Live in Two Worlds' was a 13 minute film produced by The GPO film unit in 1937. The movie provided an introduction to the world and role of telecommunications in the modern era, and was taken around the country to be shown at GPO exhibitions, film societies and possibly as a warm up film to a main feature in cinemas.

The film was introduced and presented by the famous writer, J.B. Priestly, who took the viewers for a journey through the world in which they lived. It started with a look at the life that existed: divisions between countries, fights over territory and barriers between nations, but continued with a glimpse of the world that was emerging.

As communications forged boundaries and linked continents, it offered a chance for nations to communicate and understand each other better. This was the start of the 'Global Village'.

We live on in Two Worlds

Priestly: The first world is the one we're always reading about in newspapers. The world of separate states and nations, frontiers and passports and customs houses and armies. The limiting and quarrelsome national world.

Now for the second world that we don't hear so much about, it's the growing international world of universal trade, transport and communications. It goes on developing itself circling the whole globe in spite of all political disagreements, all national differences.

'Under the City' (1934) : digging up the future

This 8½ minute film revealed what went on under the feet of the people walking around the capital city, in 1934.

It starts with the camera descending a manhole to discover the underground networks that made up the arteries of London. The film continues through lengths of tunnels showing men laying cables and others 'jointing' them. It travels through the sewers, alongside pneumatic pipes, up escalators, down channels, into the tube trains, gas and water systems, laying bare the hidden universe under the pavement.

Towards the end, the film focuses on telecommunications and how the GPO was involved in this subterranean world, making sure its services were easily absorbed into daily life both above and below ground.

Under the City

Narrator: Then the top stories whose flats and street frontage give light and air to the streets below. Wireless aerials, attics, small offices and flats, then larger offices and flats.

These levels are cross-sectioned by lifts so that people can pass easily from one level to another to finally the streets themselves - shops and pavements.

But the city does not end at street level. Underneath it's streets and houses is another world. Tunnels and narrow passages intercept the foundations of the houses. There are rivers which have not seen daylight for centuries...

9 for 6 : can we have our ball back?

A silent film made to promote the affordability of the telegram service. The story tells the tale of a football match due to be held in a village between the local boys' team and that of the nearby village, Bromford.

Sadly our heroes manage to lose their ball and it looks like the game is off. But the friendly postman suggests they telegraph the nearby team to bring their own ball.

The postmistress helps them write a concise enough message to keep the essentials message within nine words so that they can afford the sixpenny fee.

All ends well, the boys get the fee together, the message is sent and the neighbouring team arrive with the ball.

Can we have our ball back?

The film is silent.

Postman: Hullo! What's the matter?

Boys: Our ball is lost.

Postman: You could send a telegram to Bromford for another ball.

Postmistress: Too many words I'm afraid.

Heavenly GPO : ... angelic messengers

This delightful film, made by the GPO film unit in 1938 demonstrated the different types of telegram that could be sent. This clip, of course, brings a message of congratulations for a new baby.

angelic messenger

Midsummer Day's Work : laying cable the old fashioned way

An early information film that ran for half an hour. A gentle informative description of how a cable was laid from Amersham to Aylesbury describing, in detail, the processes carried out by the teams of workmen, the designer, the foreman and, along the way, admiring the view.

laying cable the old fashioned way

Narrator: Let's make the journey from Amersham to Aylesbury and see the cable layers at work.

In the Amersham section, the work is still at an early stage. Digging has just begun in front of the old market hall.

Just outside the town, trenches are being dug about three feet deep. The foreman, the contractor's agent with the Post Office supervisor, the men - working in gangs of 20.

Here is the pipe being laid to carry the cable. Each length of pipe is threaded on a rope and the cable is pulled through the pipe from manhole to manhole.

In this section, the gangers have struck solid rock and have to blast their way. To prevent danger from flying splinters, the charges are fired under a heavy blanket of corrugated iron, tree trunks, steel weights and torpedo nets.

Post Office engineers test the cable before official acceptance.

Now we're in a section which is quite finished there are scars on the road but they'll soon disappear.

We're near Aylesbury, the gangs will soon be knocking off for the day, their Midsummer day's work is over.

Pett and Pott : a fairy story of the suburbs

A dramatic tale, made in 1934 by the GPO Film Unit, of how important it is to have a telephone. Mr and Mrs Pett and Mr and Mrs Pott live next-door to each other.

Mrs Pett dutifully agrees with her husband that it's a good idea to have the telephone. She makes great use of it and it helps her to be an accomplished and efficient housewife - she can order her shopping by telephone.

Mrs Pott would rather spend the money on a maid. However the maid turns out to be somewhat unreliable and helps her boyfriend commit a robbery in the Pott's home.

Fortunately, Mr and Mrs Pett's daughter hears the commotion from next-door and calls the police using their new telephone and the boys in blue save the day.

Pet and Pot

Mr Pett: ... detectives are investigating the case and several arrests are expected shortly. I wonder, darling, if we ought to have the telephone.

Mrs Pett: Just as you like John dear, I think it should be very nice.

Mr Pott: In view of these disturbing atrocities that are happening these days, Anna, I think we should consider installing a telephone.

Mrs Pott: Telephone?

Mr Pott: Yes a telephone.

Mrs Pott: Oh no I'd much rather have a maid.

Maid: Go on big boy, the fur coat's in the bedroom.

Robber: Fur coat my foot where do you keep the fish knives?

Maid: Go on, you don't want no fish knives.

Robber: Shut up you.

Maid: Sshshsh!

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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