Chosen by Alan Readman, former member of staff
West Sussex Record Office has been the repository and conservation centre of Screen Archive South East since the inception of the regional film archive in 1992. Moving images offer a unique and evocative portrait of life in the 20th century and this documentary reflects many of the qualities that make film such an important addition to our archival resources. Shot in black and white on 16mm, it is a 20 minute production by Anvil Films commissioned for the Colonial Office. It depicts life in a typical, traditional rural English village, its economy centred on the land and the brickworks, a self-sufficient and neighbourly community in which the villagers live, work and relax together. A place where institutions such as the church and the parish council, local services including the school and the village shops, and shared activities such as an evening at the White Hart or a meeting of the Women’s Institute, all contributed to the smooth running and cohesiveness of community life. A spirit of unity symbolised annually at the Whit Monday celebrations
of the local Friendly Society, the Harting Old Club. At the time, it is said that the intention was to demonstrate the timeless values of English village life to commonwealth countries seeking their independence. Today, the film provides us with a charming portrait of a picturesque village and its villagers in the mid 1950s, before the winds of change of modern times began to make their inroads into age-old traditions and ways of life.
I love this film. Over the years, I showed clips from it in talks I gave about the film archive and also used it in the reminiscence therapy sessions I used to do for West Sussex County Council’s Social Services department. I also got to know some of the people who appear in the film – particularly the late Paul Plumb, a lovely man, who was the caller for the country dancing scene in the Harting Club Day section at the end – and I learned so much from them about the village and the making of the film. It is one of my all-time favourites and, I think, a wonderful example of what film can contribute to our archives.
Researchers who wish to view An English Village. A view of South Harting in 1956 can do so at the Record Office but are asked to contact us in advance of visiting, so that staff can make the appropriate arrangements; please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with details of when you would like to visit. Alternatively, a DVD featuring the film, Central Office of Information Collection Volume 5: Portrait of a People (British Film Institute, 2011), is available from the British Film Institute.