In the second part of This Working Life, the BFI’s major three-part tribute to Britain’s industrial heritage, we explore the world of shipbuilding in the UK through film and television. In the early 20th century Britain produced more ships than the rest of the world put together, followed by a huge slump following WWI, causing massive unemployment. World War II briefly revitalised Britain’s shipyards, but by the 1960s the industry was in sharp decline.
This tumultuous history has been recorded in many rarely seen documentaries and feature films from the BFI National Archive. This Working Life: Tales from the Shipyard is a new Mediatheque collection that offers new insight into an industry that shaped the lives of British communities and cities throughout the last century. From actualities capturing launches from over 100 years ago to modern dramas recreating the impact shipbuilding had on the population, alongside musicals, instructional films and animation, This Working Life: Tales from the Shipyard sets sail to rediscover our industrial heritage.
Five to try
The Launch of the HMS Albion (1898)
RW Paul’s controversial film of the launch of the mighty battleship, which ended in tragedy when many spectators drowned following the collapse of a gangway.
Shipyard Sally (1939)
Up the workers! Gracie Fields comes to the rescue of unemployed shipbuilders.
We’ve Come a Long Way (1951)
The history of the oil tanker, as told through Halas & Batchlor’s vivid animation.
Seawards the Great Ships (1960)
Vibrant Oscar-winning documentary showing shipbuilding on the River Clyde.
Sunderland Oak (1961)
Shipbuilding in Tyne and Wear, as seen through the lens of legendary documentary maker Philip Donnellan.