HC Deb 24 March 1958 vol 585 cc1-4
1 and 3. Mr. Swingler

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1) what use is being made of British documentary films by our overseas information services;

(2) how many British documentary films were bought by the Central Office of Information in each of the last three years; and for what purposes.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. Charles Hill)

As the reply is rather long, I will circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the reply: The Central Office of Information maintains a catalogue of information films available for overseas use which covers over 1,000 subjects descriptive of the British and Commonwealth way of life and achievement in many fields; of these approximately 900 were produced by companies in the United Kingdom. Many of the films are available in foreign language versions. A wide range of films is being used by television stations in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Far East, Canada and Australia. Arrangements are made regularly with commercial distributors for the showing of suitable films in theatres in foreign, Commonwealth and Colonial Territories. Over 100 overseas posts of Her Majesty's Government maintain 16 mm. film libraries of varying sizes from which films are borrowed on an extensive scale for showing to audiences ranging from village communities to highly specialised scientific and technical gatherings. Many of these showings are specially organised by Information Officers and the British Council and a number of posts carry out film-showing tours by means of their own mobile cinema vans. An overseas loan library is also operated from London. From this library, documentary and instructional films for special uses may be borrowed by information posts. During the three financial years 1955–56, 1956–57 and 1957–58, a total of 50, 55, and 89 (estimated) British documentary films have been bought by the Central Office of Information, either by direct commissioning or by buying distribution rights in films produced independently. These films were used as follows:

1955–56 1956–57 1957–58
Overseas only 36 39 76
Home only 11 13 13
Home and overseas 3 3
Method of showing
Television 26 35 67
Cinemas 19 25 30
Non-theatrical 37 38 50
NOTE.—Many films are shown in more than one way.
In addition, in these three financial years, 9, 33 and 32 (estimated) British documentary fillers, filmlets and trailers have been bought by direct commissioning for use mainly on television in the United Kingdom. In these same three years certain distribution rights have been acquired from independent producers without charge: 77 films in 1955–56, 79 films in 1956–57, and 76 in 1957–58. The percentage of these films used overseas has grown from 35 per cent. in 1955–56 to 74 per cent. in 1957–58.

2. Mr. Swingler

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to what extent, in co-ordinating the information services, he is taking special steps to promote the exhibition of British feature and documentary films in the cinemas and on television in the Commonwealth, the United States of America, and Europe.

Dr. Hill

Since the issue of the White Paper, Cmnd. 225, arrangements have been made for the distribution of 56 documentary films in cinemas in 26 countries, including 13 Commonwealth and Colonial Territories, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal: 41 films have been commissioned in 20 languages—for use on television and in cinemas. Since January, 1958, a regular weekly news service of television films has been sent to Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Bermuda and to 13 other territories in Latin America and the Far East. Teleview type programmes go to the United States, Canada, Australia, Latin America and the Middle East. The television rights of numerous existing films are being acquired for use in the Commonwealth, the United States and Europe. Libraries of film material are being made available to television stations in the same territories.

Mr. Swingler

This kind of thing has been going on for a long time. Can the right hon. Gentleman say what steps he has taken since he took over the job of co-ordinating the information services to promote additional documentary films? Is he aware that many documentary film producers have the impression that rather less use is now being made of documentary films than before the right hon. Gentleman took office? At least one of the avenues for promoting documentary films in New York has been closed down, and the producers want to know why.

Dr. Hill

I have in the Answer and in reply to the preceding Question given full details of the expansion, following the White Paper, on the precise point of recent developments. In the current year, some 89 British documentary films have been bought by the Central Office of Information, compared with 55 in the previous year and 50 in the year before that.