British Cinema and the Nationalisation of Coal, 1946-47

Watch Your Meters, a newsreel “trailer” released in the spring of 1947, during the height of the “Coal Crisis”, which was caused by a combination of worn-out coal mining and distribution infrastructure in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and the longest, most intense winter in the UK for over half a century. It also coincided with the nationalisation of Britain’s coal industry (on January 1, 1947), with the result that it wasn’t just an energy crisis, but a political one for the incumbent government as well. A newsreel trailer was a short government information (to their supporters) or propaganda (to their opponents) film inserted into an otherwise commercially produced news film, under the terms of an agreement made between the Ministry of Information and newsreel companies during the war. They were loathed by theatre owners, who campaigned throughout the late 1940s for their abolition. This campaign is covered in my PhD dissertation.


British Cinema and the Nationalisation of Coal, 1946-47


In Simon Popple and Ian W. Macdonald (eds.), Digging the Seam: Popular Cultures of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars’ Publishing (ISBN 978-1-4438-4081-1).


This chapter surveys the coverage in newsreels, cinemagazines and feature films of the nationalization of the British coal industry in 1947.  It argues that this body of films illustrates a number of aspects of development of the British non-fiction film in the immediate post-WWII period.  Newsreels covered the political controversy surrounding the event, and its context in the middle of the exceptionally cold winter of 1946-47 and the resulting “coal crisis”, with an unprecedented degree of political candour.  A government cinemagazine, Mining Review, was launched specifically to promote the nationalization, the monthly issues of which continued until just before the 1984-85 strike.  The event also inspired a number of feature documentaries and fiction films, which reflect its economic and political importance.


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