Boon, T., ‘Film and contestation of public health in interwar Britain’
PhD Thesis completed, 1999. Wellcome Institute

Abstract: This is the first study to analyse and list the approximately 350 health films distributed in Britain in the interwar period. It provides a social-historical explanation for their existence, and grounds its account in the history of public health and the highly associative culture of the period. The first part establishes the context within which they were produced: Chapter one introduces the notion of the contestation of public health, first demonstrating the widespread agreement about the importance of public education in health. The main players are then introduced: the local authorities, the voluntary associations, and the Ministry of Health. Chapter two proposes that the health education policy established by the new Ministry of Health in 1920 was created and sustained in the context of a mixed public and private model of health care. Within this, first voluntary associations, and later organised Medical Officers of Health, contested the sanction of responsibility for health education in general (as opposed to that on single disease categories). Part two devotes a chapter each to the film making activities of voluntary associations, local authorities and documentarists. The style of films produced is, in each case, explored in the context of the cultures of the different organisations involved. Voluntary associations tended to prefer ‘moral tales’, fiction films with a health message, whilst local authorities mostly subscribed to a type of naive realism. Documentarists introduced a new type of realist cinematic literacy deriving from the Russian montage tradition. The final chapter returns to the policy issues introduced in part one, and explores changes in policy at the Ministry of Health which led to an increased concern with film making. The study concludes with a detailed discussion of the Ministry’s 1939 documentary film, Health for the Nation, the culmination of many long term trends.

Published Works:

Health Matters: Modern Medicine and the Search for Better Health, (London: Science Museum, 1994) (co-editor with Lawrence, G.)

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