Chance of a Lifetime

I knew I recognised the name Bernard Miles when I saw his signature on a letter in a folder I’m cataloguing.  He was an actor and film director and I’ve previously catalogued a number of letters from him in the Lindsay Anderson Archive when I worked at Stirling as they knew each other and Miles had starred in Anderson’s production of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ in 1983.  As well as an actor Miles was a director and it was in this role that he was writing to the NUWT.  He was asking for their support for Chance of a Lifetime, a film he directed in 1950.  You can see from the letter below that he was pleased with the positive response from the NUWT.

Letter from Bernard Miles to A. Muriel Pierotti (NUWT General Secretary), 08/06/1950, NUWT Collection, ref UWT/D/209 ©Institute of Education Archive

The film tells the story of a factory in a Gloucestershire town where the workers take over the running of the factory following a chance remark from the owner of the factory that the workers don’t know how hard he has it. He challenges them to run it better than him and they take on the challenge. There are ups and down and ultimately a major compromise where the workers realise they can’t do it without the management. However all the reviews point to the balanced and realistic portrayal of the contemporary issues and conflicts in the post-world war two workplace.

So, you may be wondering just what it was he was asking for then, what kind of support was he looking for? Well, although I’ve just said that reviews talk about a balanced and realistic portrayal of workplace relations at the time the film according to Screenonline the Ministry of Labour branded it “propaganda for communism and workers’ control in industry” and the major cinema circuits refused to screen it.  However as the article in ‘The Woman Teacher’ (the final photo in this post) explains, the favourable comments made about the film on its press review encouraged Miles and the production company to contact the Board of Trade and ask for a selection Committee to meet and review the film.  Under the 1948 Film Act this meant that when the Committee decided the film was ‘first class entertainment’ one of the film circuits could be ordered to release it.  Bernard Miles then, was determined that, as the Odeon was being forced to screen it, he would do all he could to fill the screenings and garner support for the film.

Letter from Monica Wedlock (NUWT member) to A. Muriel Pierotti (NUWT General Secretary) 26/06/1950, NUWT Collection, ref UWT/D/209 ©Institute of Education Archive

As you can see from the letter above the content of the film appealed to NUWT members and they did all they could to encourage people to go to screenings of the film.  One way they did this was by publishing an article in ‘The Woman Teacher’ and also by writing to other women’s organisations including the National Council of Woman and asking them to circulate the appeal.  

‘The Woman Teacher’, 16/06/1950, NUWT Collection ©Institute of Education Archive
As an interesting footnote in one letter to A. Muriel Pierotti, Bernard Miles ends by saying ‘One day I will make a film about that museum upstairs! It’s crazy that we can’t manage to use this wonderful medium for such subjects – hundreds of them.’  He is referring to the ‘Suffragette Fellowship Museum’ which was housed in the NUWT Headquarters building on Cromwell Road.  When the Suffragette Fellowship Museum and Record Room closed many of the objects from it were sent to the London Museum and you can see a selection of these on their website.

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