Chapman, J., ‘Official British Film Propaganda during the Second World War’
PhD Thesis completed, 1995. Lancaster University

The Ministry of Information was set up at the outbreak of war in September 1939 to co-ordinate all aspects of propaganda and information for the British Government. Its Films Divison was responsible for the formulation of official film propaganda policy and the production of official films.

Both the M.O.I. and its films division were handicapped initially by the failure to make adequate plans for propaganda machinery before the war, by an often inappropriate choice of key personnel, and by a lack of co-ordination with other government departments. They were also beset by numerous administration reoganisations and changes of personnel during the first year of the war which caused a great amount of institutional instability.

Abstract: The Ministry of Information was set up at the outbreak of war in September 1939 to co-ordinate all aspects of propaganda and information for the British Government. Its Films Division was responsible for the formulation of official film propaganda policy and for the production of official films. Both the M.O.I. and its Films Division were handicapped initially by the failure to make adequate plans for the propaganda machinery before the war, by an often inappropriate choice of key personnel, and by a lack of co-ordination with other government departments. They were also beset by numerous administrative reorganisations and changes of personnel during the first year of the war which caused a great amount of institutional instability. The Films Division at first attached the most importance to the commercial film industry for propaganda purposes, though even so it struggled to find a role for feature films and at first it merely responded to the initiatives of commercial producers without laying down any policy guidelines itself. The Films Division was soon attracting much hostile criticism, both from the film trade press and also from members of the documentary movement who felt that they had been excluded from the film propaganda effort. The trade interests on the one hand and the documentarists on the other represented the opposite poles of the film industry with which the M.O.I. had to work. After the upheavals of 1940, both the M.O.I. and its Films Division became more settled and stable. A policy for film propaganda was developed which defined a role for both commercial feature films and documentary films. The feature film was used for general, indirect and long-term propaganda. After its experiment in partly financing the production of a feature film, 49th Parallel, the Films Division instead opted for a policy of informal co-operation with commercial producers through various channels to ensure that feature film propaganda worked within certain general guidelines.

Chapman now works for the Open University, and has converted his PhD thesis into a book.

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