Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The strange allure of documentaries from your childhood years

To the NFT to see A Day In The Life: Four Portraits of post-war Britain by John Krish. These films were made in the late 50s and early 60s for organisations like the N.S.P.C.C. and the N.U.T.. They cover the last tram in London; an old soldier living on his own; a bunch of children from deprived backgrounds taken to the sea for the first time; a day in the life of a secondary modern school in Watford in 1962.

It's strange how the chronology of your own childhood helps you date things. I could tell when each of these films was made by looking at the kids' haircuts and styles of clothes. I can look at anything from the 60s or 70s and narrow it down to a two-year period quite quickly. Land me in the 80s or 90s however and it's a blur. Childhood stays in your memory very precisely, arranged by academic years, girlfriends, pop records and other useful markers. You only regain the same kind of accuracy when you have children of your own. You look back and work out the chronology of events by referring to their lives. "That must have been 1993 because so-and-so was at such-and-such school."

In some respects the past is spookily familiar. "I Think They Call Him John" is a pretty agonising film from 1964 about widower John Ronson, leading a lonely life in a high rise flat. On Sunday evening he puts on the D.E.R. television set to accompany his ironing. It's "Sunday Night At The London Palladium". We don't see it but I did recognise the voice of the presenter. Bruce Forsyth.


  1. My dad recently gave me a box of old black and white photographs of family and friends, including, as you would imagine, his parents and grandparents. I've asked him to write on the back of each one who's in them and (if he can remember) when and where they were taken. Because although he has all that data, if he doesn't tag them, when he's gone it'll just be a pile of jumbled up snaps from another age. I hope he doesn't think I'm predicting his demise by asking him to do this, but it is true what they say: when an old person dies a museum burns down.

  2. I love watching this old stuff and especially anything old in London just to see if I can recognise places, it's all changing so much. I think we're like surfers on the crest of a wave charging down the slope,our generation has seen and been involved with so much change.

  3. Dig about on YouTube and you'll find a stack of home made, cine-films and footage available. This one's a cracker - what appears to be some sort of works outing set to Jackie Mittoo's Juice Box.

  4. I knew you'd write a blog about this, Dave...watched the last two discs of the box set today, and My Name Is John is on there. Great night, and spoke to John Krish on the phone on Tuesday. Fascinating bloke.

  5. Actually, feels wrong calling him a bloke. Better: a very gentlemanly gentle man.