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Local media appeal from academic traces rare 1930s film of Canterbury

19 March 2013

Nearly two years ago Tim Jones, Senior Lecturer for the Department of Media, Art and Design at Canterbury Christ Church University, issued an appeal via the local media for people to search their lofts and cupboards for old film of the City.

Canterbury 1937
Canterbury 1937
The appeal was part of a long term project by Tim to rescue and preserve rare archive film of Canterbury, and its surrounding areas, for future generations. However, there were two film makers in particular from the 1930s that Tim was keen to trace.

Tim explained: “At the very bottom of the local newspaper article about my public appeal for old film, the newspaper very kindly added a more specific request of mine to find out if anyone knew of the whereabouts of footage taken by local amateur film makers Sydney Bligh and Bill Entwistle.

“To my surprise the very next day after the newspaper’s publication I received a phone call from someone who said ‘I’ve got some film that might interest you. I’m Helen Jarrett, the granddaughter of Sydney Bligh’.

“These were important films, but I thought they were lost. This phone call was so significant and I couldn’t wait to see the films.” 

Tim continued: “The newspapers in the 1930s talk about the most wonderful colour film shows that Sydney Bligh used to put on. The films were detailed news reels of the events in and around Canterbury during 1936 and 1937. Or so I thought. When the film was brought to me three days later I found that there was also black and white footage from 1934 and 1935, and more colour footage from 1938 and 1939. All together there were 72 films that Helen and I counted and catalogued.

 “The films offer a really significant record of a city in the 1930s, showing what was thought to be important at that time. They are a mixture of cultural events and important moments in the history of Canterbury. One amazing film actually shows scenes from TS Elliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ when it was first performed. The play had been commissioned for the Cathedral Festival and in the film we actually see TS Elliot with all the performers in the cloisters on the last day of the week long performance.”

“There is also some footage of the St George’s area in colour, just years before it was destroyed in the war and films showing the city’s preparation for war. In 1938 there is a colour sequence showing people digging trenches in the Dane John gardens and other films showing how to put out an incendiary device and the fire auxiliary service training.”

Digging trenches in Dane John Gardens, 1938
Digging trenches in Dane John Gardens, 1938

Helen commented: “I had been keeping my grandfather’s film safe, hoping that one day I would find someone who would be able to convert them into a modern medium.

I caught the end of a local TV news article which mentioned Tim and I thought he might be the man for the job.  A few weeks later in the local paper he had written an article which ended with him trying to contact Sydney Bligh's relatives. I knew the films were important and through Tim I am now finding out just how important they are, and how they formed part of a thriving amateur film scene of the thirties.”

 “Tim's investigations are really exciting and provide a fascinating insight into the past.”

Tim continued: “Film does not last forever and in the wrong conditions it can decay quite quickly. The work we are doing is vital to preserve a rich source of cultural and social history of our City. The films that I collect will be copied digitally and taken to Screen Archive South East where they will be preserved in the correct conditions for future generations. The digital copies will be used for educational purposes in the future. The idea is that the films will be available for everyone. “

Tim has organised public screenings of some the film he has collected, the next will be on Saturday 23 March, 2pm, Powell Lecture Theatre, Canterbury Christ Church University.  The screening will feature a tour of the City in 1928, Canterbury in colour in 1938 and the 1960s and 70s. There will also be further screenings in May. Tickets cost £4 and are available to book online in advance, or to buy on the day.  For more information visit: www.canterbury.ac.uk/events .

Notes to Editor

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.

With nearly 20,000 students, across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

  • 93% of our recent UK undergraduates are in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
  • Christ Church is the number one choice for local people looking to study at university in Kent (2011 UCAS).
  • We are the South East’s largest provider of courses for public service careers (outside of London).

*2010/11 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey

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Jeanette Earl
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