HC Deb 29 June 1925 vol 185 cc2016-9
81. Captain A. EVANS

asked the Secretary of State for War who was responsible for ordering the 22nd London Armoured Car Company (Westminster Dragoons) to proceed to Waterloo Station on the 24th instant; whether they took part in any official or unofficial procession; whether any payment, or promise of payment, was made by the European Motion Picture Company, Limited, or their agents; and if he will assure the House that in future Regular or Territorial troops will not be used for advertising commercial undertakings?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that an American business man was provided with an escort of British soldiers at Southampton, and that they, or a section of them, accompanied him to London and marched through the streets; will he say whether payment was made for their services; if so, how much and to whom; and will he take steps to prevent such action in future?

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)

I will answer these questions together. The explanation of the Hampshire Heavy Brigade, Royal Artillery, is that they were approached by the agent of the European Motion Picture Company, Limited, to assist in a film which, they were given to understand, was to be of a purely military character, representing Territorial soldiers entraining, detraining and on the march; and that they consented to take part in the belief that a film of this kind would encourage recruiting for their brigade. No mention was made to them of an American film to be met and escorted, and nothing was said to make them suspect the real purpose for which they were required. The officer commanding the brigade was the more easily persuaded to fall in with the proposal because he was engaged at the time in a recruiting campaign in Southampton, where the first part of the film was to be taken, and further he was informed that London Territorials would take part in the march in London. The film company paid the travelling expenses of the Hampshire Artillery, 10s. or 15s. to each man of the party and £25 to the Band Fund, which I am informed has been returned. The officer in charge of the detachment reports: Nothing whatever was seen of the film we are presumed to have been escorting, and we had no knowledge that it, or any film, was on the train. On arrival at Waterloo, we fell in for the route march. I was told by a police sergeant on duty that the armoured car which was to join in. the parade had a few minutes previously returned to its depot on account of having waited three hours. We proceeded along the route that the police had instructed us to follow, namely, via Westminster Bridge, Embankment, Trafalgar Square to Wardour Street, as the film representative stated that the recruiting film could only be completed in the studio. It was not until we entered Wardour Street that the real purpose for which the troops were needed became apparent, owing to a banner being unfurled in front of the band and handbills being distributed. I therefore, had the banner immediately removed, and refused to take further part in the proceedings, and with as little delay as possible the party was marched up a quiet side street and stood easy for five minutes. I then marched the party back by a slightly different route to Waterloo. Fortunately the Armoured Oar Company in London were warned in time of the real object of the march, and did not take part in it.

As the agent for the company had previously applied to the War Office for soldiers to appear in scenes at the arrival of their film and had been told that permission could not be given, he should not have applied to the Territorial units independently, and in any event he should not have concealed the true object of the application. But in agreeing to the company's proposals the Officer Commanding the Hampshire Heavy Brigade acted without proper authority and contrary to the precise instructions contained in the Territorial Army Regulations; he has had long service and has worked hard in the interests of his unit, which has won the King's Prize several times, but his judgment on this occasion was at fault and he was made the victim of a clever and humiliating hoax.

There is, of course, no question whatever of permission having been given for troops to be used to advertise American films or any other kind of commercial enterprise, and I am glad to say the British film industry have shown their resentment at the lengths to which the agent of the European Motion Picture Company has gone to secure publicity, and the company itself has expressed its regret.

I may add that both the negative and the only positive copy of the film of the scenes in which these Territorial troops took part have now been handed over to the War Office, and the film will not be produced.

Captain EVANS

In view of the regrettable circumstances outlined by the right hon. Gentleman in his reply, will he undertake to forward those particulars to the British Board of Film Censors, and ask them to take any action in connection with the film in question which they deem desirable under the circumstance?


Then is no necessity to take that action. I have got the film, and I do not intend to have it published.


As it was an error of judgment, cannot the matter be allowed to drop?


Is the right hon. Gentleman going to take steps to see that in future unsuspecting military officers do not fall into similar traps to this?


I do not think there is the slightest probability of its happening again.

Colonel Sir A. HOLBROOK

Would it not be better to say that the film brought from America should not be shown in this country?

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I presume that this gentleman is over here on a permit. May I ask the Secretary of State for War whether any steps are being taken to see that the permit is not renewed?


That is not a question to be addressed to me. I do not know what is the gentleman's nationality


Would the right hon. Gentleman answer the question which relates to the escorted film? Have the Government any power to prevent it being shown in this country?