The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

A lot of the documents have been sent to me or have come from other web sites. The name of the web site is given where known. If I have unintentionally included an image or document that is copyrighted or that I shouldn't have done then please email me and I'll remove it.

I make no money from this site, it's purely for the love of the films.

[Any comments are by me (Steve Crook) and other members of the email list]

  Steve's Logo

Submitted by Roger Mellor
The Children's Film Foundation
Later "The Children's Film and Television Foundation"

Just for kids? : Saturday morning cinema and Britain's Children Film
By: Rowana Agajanian

The Children's Film Foundation (CFF) has held a unique and somewhat privileged place in the history of British film production. Created in 1951, it enjoyed the support of both the industry and the government. It was one of the few film institutions which operated to the satisfaction of all parties and whose products brought pleasure to millions of children.

In the broader terms of British film history, the 1960s are known to be a period of innovation and success for British film makers and artists. To understand exactly what the CFF contributed to the British film industry during this particular decade, one needs to look at several important areas both within the foundation and within the industry as a whole.

Early Cinema Clubs and the Saturday Morning Matinee

The first recorded matinee took place in a schoolroom in Micklemore, Derbyshire on 7 February 1900. While posters issued in 1906 by London Gaumont referred to special children's matinees, the first cinema programme designed specifically for children and held on a regular weekly basis actually began in this country in Granada theatres in 1927. Oscar Deutsch was also noted to have pioneered children's film matinees in his Odeon theatres from 1937, but it was J. Arthur Rank who turned the Children's Cinema Club and the Saturday morning matinee into something of an institution. In April 1943, over 150 cinemas participated in the official ceremony that heralded the opening of Rank's Odeon Children's Clubs. That day over 150,000 children took the Odeon Children's Club oath: 'I promise to tell the truth, to help others and to obey my parents.'

Films were not the only part of the club's procedure. Other activities also included community singing, competitions, model-making classes and lessons in areas such as first aid and road safety. The club was open to boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 15 years. Although club membership was free, children were charged a small admission price. Nevertheless, in order to keep admission prices low, Rank budgeted the clubs to run at a loss.

At first Rank imported films from America - comedies, adventures and westerns. Yet, he was wary of their content and the possible effects they had on the children so the films were vetted and even re-edited when necessary. Rank wanted to produce his own children's entertainment films. His first attempt was a highly successful production called Tom's Ride made by Gaumont British Instructional Films in 1944. Prior to 1944 the programme at children's matinees was composed entirely of films made for general distribution. The success of Tom's Ride gave Rank the confidence to set up a unique division which would produce films especially for children. Thus, in 1944, the Children's Entertainment Film (CEF) division of the Rank Organisation was born.

Rank appointed an extraordinary woman, Mary Field, as director of this special division. Field, a former teacher, had made her name as producer of a ground-breaking series called Secrets of Nature and during the war had made official documentary films for the Ministry of Information before being recruited by Rank. She was an ideal director and in effect acted as a deputy for Rank as she shared his desire to mould and educate children's tastes by ensuring that CEF films would not only be entertaining but would also set a high moral tone and encourage good behaviour.

Field controlled a team of ten and used approximately 20 production companies all working on a freelance basis. Their productions were vetted by Field and the Youth Advisory Council which often left the film makers somewhat resentful as artistic and editorial control was removed from their grasp. Field and the Youth Advisory Council, which included representatives from the BBC, the Church, the Home Office and the Ministry of Education, were bent on providing children not with what they wanted but with what was believed to be good for them. This is not to say that Field was uninterested in children's appreciation and understanding of film, for as early as 1949 she was conducting innovative experiments detailing children's responses to films with the aim of assessing their likes and dislikes [1]. Field was to continue this pioneering work as executive officer of the CFF.

Despite the success of the CEF division, Rank found it difficult to carry the financial burden. In 1950, due to cut-backs within the organisation, Rank was forced to close down the CEF division. By this time it had become clear to the industry that no one single company could or should have to carry the responsibility or financial burden of producing entertainment films for children. Published in 1950, a crucial government report carried out by the Wheare Committee on Children and the Cinema, re-affirmed the national importance of continuing the production of special films for children. The Wheare Report stressed the urgent need to produce quality film entertainment for children and fill the gap in the market. This report prompted all sections of the British Film Industry to act quickly and in unison; thus the CFF was launched on 7 June 1951.

The Structure The CFF was set up as a non-profit-making organisation by the British Film Industry in 1951 to ensure the production of entertainment films for children. The organisation's aims were set out clearly in their first annual report of 1951-1952:

... for the production, promotion, organisation, distribution and exhibition of cinematograph films specially suitable for showing at children's' matinees and other performances given specially for children, or for the entertainment of children in any part of the world. [2]

The CFF was organised and run by the four trade associations: the Association of Specialised Film Producers (ASFP), the British Film Producers Association (BFPA), the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association (CEA) and the Kinematograph Renters' Society (KRS). In 1959 they were joined by the Federation of British Film Makers (FBFM). However, in 1968, the BFPA and the FBFM merged to become the Film Producers Association of Great Britain (FPA). In the early 1960s, the ASFP would also undergo an organisational change and become the Federation of Specialised Film Associations (FSFA). And in the 1970s, the CFF would welcome the Federation of Film Unions (FFU) and the Association of Independent Cinemas (A/C) into its fold.

The BFPA, FBFM and FSFA were organisations that represented producers of a variety of films not just features, whilst the CEA and the KRS were organisations which represented exhibitors' and distributors' interests. Over the years the trade associations displayed a number of differences with regard to legislation, finance, distribution, exhibition and labour relations, however, the one common area of agreement was revealed in their unanimous and unswerving support of the CFF.

All the trade organisations took membership of the CFF seriously and placed only their most experienced and influential people on the CFF board [3]. However, it was the FBFM and the FSFA who paid close attention to CFF developments, for these two organisations represented producers of independent films. Indeed, the CFF had a direct impact on and provided valuable work for the members of these two producer organisations, particularly the FSFA whose members specialised in short films and animation.

Originally, the four trade associations nominated three representatives from their own members to act as the CFF's directors; however, each change in membership resulted in a representative reshuffle. For example, in 1971, the Company's Articles of Foundation were amended to allow four representatives from the CEA, five from the FPA, four from the KRS, three from the ASFP, one from the AIC and one from the FFU. However, the distribution of representatives was not as important as the qualities each representative brought to the CFF. Indeed, the list of distinguished people who served as CFF members often resembled an abridged Who's Who of the film industry and no doubt reflected the sincerity of commitment by all parties. Sir John Davis, Sir Henry L. French, Robert Clark, Henry Geddes, Frank Hoare, Lord Archibald, Andrew Filson, Adrian Worker, Lord Birkett, Michael Powell, Leon Clore and Richard Attenborough to name but a few all served the CFF in one capacity or another. Offering their experience and skill, they served the CFF on a voluntary, unpaid basis. The directors were also expected to serve on production, distribution, public relations and finance committees, again without any remuneration. Together, the trade organisations nominated a chairman, again to work on a voluntary, unpaid basis. The CFF's first chairman was none other than J. Arthur Rank himself and the organisation's executive officer was Mary Field. The day to day administration, however, was handled by a small team of salaried staff, who kept administrative costs to a minimum, as low as 9% of total expenditure in the 1960s. Low administration costs enabled a higher percentage of CFF income to be allocated to film production.

Field understandably was nominated for her substantial experience within the industry, particularly her commissioning expertise as director of Rank's CEF department, but was also chosen for her experience in conducting research into children's viewing tastes, a practice the CFF wanted to continue. Field's contribution to the CFF cannot be underestimated even though she resigned in October 1958 and her legacy, particularly in terms of audience research, will be examined later on. Following Field's resignation Lord Rank followed suit and resigned his chairmanship in 1960, leaving his successor John Davis to lead not only the Rank Organisation but the CFF as well. However, in 1964, a long-time associate of the CFF, Henry Geddes, became the new chief executive and took charge of production and so it was this dynamic partnership that led the Foundation into a new era of producing entertainment films specifically for children.

Financing the CFF and its Productions

Fundamentally, an entertainment film for children cannot be a low-paid production. [4]

The CFF was registered as a limited company but without share capital. From 1951 to 1957, the British Film Production Fund collected a voluntary levy from the industry, each year allocating a portion to the CFF. However, the Cinematograph's Films Act of 1957 made this levy statutory and guaranteed an unspecified yearly grant from the fund, subject to Board of Trade approval.

Initially, the various branches of the industry agreed that a sum of 50,000 [5] should be made available through the British Film Production Fund to launch the project. What is surprising is that the industry unanimously agreed the CFF should not and could not be expected to make a profit and, as a result of this agreement, the British film industry provided the CFF with a substantial annual grant with no expectation of a return.

The fund provided a further £100,000 for the CFF's second year, £120,000 for its third and £125,000 for its fourth. Originally, these grants were made on the condition that any allocated sums not expended in the CFF's financial year would have to be returned to the fund, but later the CFF was allowed to retain any unexpended funds without threat of being penalised either by way of having to return the monies or by a corresponding reduction in future income.

In the early part of the 1960s the sum allocated by the fund remained constant for 4 years at £37,500 per annum; however, in 1966, the figure increased to £192,000. This increase was due to a successful application for more funding to the Board of Trade by the Cinematograph's Films Council on behalf of the CFF. The council justified the increase by arguing the need for more quality matinee material and the rise in production costs, although the average one hour children's feature still only cost a mere £40,000. This application was successful and so were subsequent requests, for in 1968 the grant rose to £250,000 and in 1971 the grant more than doubled to its highest level of £538,500 [6]. By 1964 the CFF had spent over £1,500,000 and by the end of the decade had spent nearly £3,000,000. Indeed, the expenditure figure would continue to rise still further to £4,000,000 by early 1973.

The CFF kept the rates for exhibition low both at home and abroad so that children's admission prices could also remain low. However, any profits arising from the films would be ploughed back into the CFF production fund. The CFF refrained from exhibiting their films to adult audiences and from airing them on television. Both outlets could have provided the CFF with a more substantial income. However, this would have drawn the CFF into the highly competitive mainstream market and perhaps jeopardised the concessions and non-profit status of the organisation.

In terms of a production's financial planning, no contract was made until the shooting script and detailed budget had been agreed with the production company. The price was to be fixed and the final figure agreed would be based on direct costs plus a modest 'producer fee'. One-third of the production money was paid on commencement of production, one-third on completion of shooting and the balance on delivery of the negative. Upon delivery of the negative the producer surrendered all film rights to the foundation.

Although producers sponsored by the foundation were expected to undertake a CFF film more as a worthwhile activity than for commercial gain, the foundation, nevertheless, tried to ensure that the producer's fee would at least cover outgoings and provide a fair return for efforts.

This fee no doubt pleased independent producers who often invested and lost their money in the course of producing a commercial film. With a CFF production, however, the combined action of a producer's fee guarantee and the surrender of all rights worked to give the film producer/maker a sense of freedom from box office requirements and allowed them to concentrate on the process of making the best possible product with the money, time and talent available.

For all those who worked on a CFF production the job was done more for love and 'lunch money' rather than financial gain. Salaries were kept at a minimum and, due to unanimous support from the industry, the CFF often managed to gain concessions from various branches including trade unions, film-stock manufacturers, processing laboratories, production companies and studio owners. Outside the industry, many individuals and organisations reduced or waived their normal charges for facilities, all of which helped to keep production costs down.


Production would begin with the selection of a story. During the 1960s, over 100 stories a year were received from publishers, agents and individual writers. By the early 1970s, this figure had risen to over 200. Despite the numbers submitted, only a few managed to pass the tough selection process. The stories would be scrutinised by the CFF's Production Committee headed by the executive officer. The committee was looking for a number of qualities, the most important being action rather than dialogue. The executive officer then passed on the committee's recommendations for final approval by the CFF directors. Once the stories had been approved by them, the film rights would be obtained. The story would then be handed either to a freelance scriptwriter or to a production company to be developed into a final shooting script. Once again, the completed shooting script required the approval of the CFF directors before a budget could be drawn up and agreed by both the directors and production company. The CFF directors would also be consulted with regard to technicians, cast design, costume, location, etc.

Various professional film producers were sponsored to make films for the CFF and all were expected to achieve high standards in film making whilst adhering to a fixed budget. During the 1960s, the CFF involved around 37 production companies and though the choice of production company was determined by their level of competence and enthusiasm for the subject, the CFF tried as far as possible to spread work throughout the industry.

It was the responsibility of the CFF's executive producer to keep an eye on production to ensure the CFF's aims were being met while at the same time trying not to inhibit the production team's inventiveness. Throughout much of the 1960s, the CFF's executive producer was Henry Geddes. Like Field before him, Geddes brought a wealth of experience to the CFF. Geddes began his film career at Stoll's Studios in 1936. After the war he joined Denham Studios and became general production manager of the Crown Film Unit. In 1952 he joined MGM to help with filming the wildlife scenes for Mogambo. In 1954 he formed World Safari Ltd especially to handle overseas assignments. In that same year Geddes became associated with the CFF writing, producing and directing films, favourites such as Toto and the Poachers (1956), The Last Rhino (1961) and Eagle Rock (1964). Geddes' expertise and advice was much respected by the producers and directors who worked for the CFF. Harley Cokliss, director of The Battle of Billy's Pond, remarked

At first I was daunted by all those committees, but I discovered that every intervention, criticism and suggestion they made was for the good of the film. Henry Geddes operates rather like the studio bosses of old. He knows what he wants and he always keeps his audience in mind. I like that. [7]

By the end of the 1960s, the CFF had developed a successful policy of teaming a new director with an experienced producer or vice versa. This policy not only helped introduce and develop new talent and fresh ideas but kept production costs down.

However, all was not plain sailing for the CFF, for 1963 saw a serious trade union dispute at Shepperton Studios. Littleton Park Productions, which was making a film for the CFF, had come into conflict over standard labour agreements with trade union members represented by the Association of Cinematograph Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT). Although the production company in question was a member of the FSFA, both the BFPA and the FBFM were involved as they all subscribed to a Joint Labour Relations Committee. The dispute went to arbitration who ruled in favour of ACTT. The CFF naturally had to face difficult labour problems especially as their films required employing children. At one point, the labour laws forbade the use of children under the age of 12 years in any form of work. This meant Mary Field had to scour the talent agencies to find youngsters who could pass off as children!

Contrary to popular belief, employing children was not necessarily a cheap option. Children were protected from exploitation by law and in 1963 the Children and Young Persons Act resulted in further restrictions being placed on their employment. In order to combat some of the legislative and educational constraints, most CFF films were shot during the summer holidays and although it was desirable to attain natural performances from the children, often producers would use children from drama schools because they had no time to train a raw candidate. For CFF films, time was of extreme essence. A fast growing child could ruin a production and proved particularly risky if the production was a lengthy serial.

Indeed, a feature would normally have to be shot within 4 weeks if it was to keep within the tight financial constraints. Similarly, due to budget constraints overseas locations were not viable unless a friendly foreign tourist board helped subsidise production. In fact, one of the few producers successful in making overseas productions was Geddes himself. With his company World Safari Ltd, Geddes made popular features such as The Last Rhino which was filmed in an East African game reserve.

In the early days of the CFF, magazine programmes and short films were in considerable demand but by the late 1950s there was a need for more features and serials, so much so that there was a marked switch to these two types of production. Nevertheless, shortages in features and serials continued. By 1965 so desperate was the shortage that the industry agreed to increase the CFF's grant in order that production might be stepped up.

Thus, in 1967, a record total of five serials, six features and two adaptations of overseas films were completed. By the end of the decade the CFF had a collection of 70 one hour features, 27 serials and numerous shorts. The CFF had now become a major supplier of films to the matinee market and whilst it was this market that gave birth to the CFF it was the CFF that now ensured its continued existence.

Distribution and Exhibition

Between the years 1953 and 1959 the CFF relied on the services of Associated British Film Distribution and British Lion Films Limited to manage the distribution of their films. However, in 1959, the CFF took over home distribution. Regarding overseas distribution, Rank Overseas Film Distributors handled CFF exports from the beginning and continued to do so throughout the 1960s.

>From the outset the four trade associations devised a rota scheme whereby CFF films would be distributed fairly between both the independent and smaller cinema circuits as well as the main circuits: ABC, Gaumont and Odeon. The rota distribution scheme operated on the basis of dividing the exhibitors into four groups: independent cinemas accounted for two groups, the ABC minor's another and the Rank Saturday Clubs the fourth. Each group contained approximately 200 cinemas. The CFF made available a film exclusive to each particular group for a period of between 12 and 18 months. Once the exhibition period was over it would be passed onto the next group. The rota system also applied to the first release of a new CFF product. As the CFF Third Annual Report reflected

This scheme, which cuts across many customary practices in the film industry, was largely experimental but thanks to the goodwill of the exhibitors, it may now be regarded as established. [8]

The rota system so devised appeared to work to the satisfaction of all concerned which was ironic since during the 1960s the independents and the main circuits were involved in a major dispute regarding booking practices, one which would require a Board of Trade investigation. Fortunately, this dispute did not impinge on the distribution of CFF films and the successful rota system continued well into the next decade.

The CFF kept distribution costs and charges to the exhibitors down to absolute minimum as they wanted to provide children with the best entertainment at the lowest possible price. And because the CFF made no profit out of renting films they were determined to keep a watchful eye over the admission fees charged at the cinemas. The CFF did not supply films to any cinema charging an excessive amount. In the 1960s, the acceptable admission price rose to one shilling but by the early 1970s the majority of cinemas were charging a five new pence admission price with a ten pence maximum.

At first, exhibition of CFF films was confined to cinema clubs and matinees. However, in 1955, an experiment was conducted using some CFF films as second features to the normal commercial programmes. In this instance, normal distribution rules rather than the rota prevailed. However, the experiment was not considered successful mainly because of industry fears that CFF films would undersell those films produced specifically as second features. Thus, the scheme was abandoned. Indeed, the industry also blocked the use of CFF films as first features. Not until the 1980s, after funding had been withdrawn from the CFF, would the argument be raised again, this time in favour of using CFF films as first and second features along with the showing of CFF films on television.

CFF Films and their Markets - home and away

The format of Saturday morning cinema remained essentially unchanged right through the 1950s and into the 1960s. Children congregated at local cinemas, parents, at ease with the knowledge they were in safe hands, properly supervised and of course, suitably entertained by CFF films. The Saturday morning matinee was exclusively for children and only on rare occasions were they allowed, in fact, actively encouraged to bring their mother and father on a 'parents' day' and, when parents did turn up at such an event, they would invariably be surprised at the quality and scope of the product. Other adults, such as film critics and members of educational and religious bodies, were also allowed to attend certain CFF occasions such as press shows, but they would be confined to the circle whilst the children maintained the stalls:

As I chuckled and thrilled over these hour-long pictures specially made for Saturday matinees, I thought again what a pity it is that grown-ups may not enjoy them too. [9]

Obviously I have been wasting my Saturday mornings hacking round the golf course. I realise now that I could have had much more fun at a children's cinema matinee. [10]

The films were made in a number of forms such as features, serials and short films. The shorts were produced for the 5-8 year old age range. The magazine programmes were full of information but well disguised as entertainment, whilst the cartoons were universally popular and appealed to all ages. In the 1950s, the programme lasted approximately 90 minutes. By the 1960s, it lasted for approximately 2 hours and was made up of a cartoon, a general interest short, an episode of a serial, a comedy or travelogue and a feature film - all for the price of one shilling.

CFF films contained stories of achievement, adventure, comedy and drama and aimed to set a high moral standard as well as be entertaining. The stories centred around children who played the main characters and, although they included adults, the narratives were told from the children's point of view. Indeed, to assist audience identification, at least one boy and one girl were introduced as main characters in the narrative. One of the most popular films of the 1960s was Cup Fever (1968). Written and directed by David Bracknell, Cup Fever tells of a boys' football team winning a coveted trophy. Despite the seeming male emphasis to the story, the film still has ample room for the girls, played by Olivia Hussey and Susan George, who participate as ardent supporters, leaving the adult, Bernard Cribbins, to play the team's coach.

The CFF provided a valuable training ground for young film makers. In the early 1960s at least one-third of the directors of CFF films came from documentary and commercial television, where they had worked as editors or assistant directors. Indeed, Peter Rogers, producer of an early CFF film, The Dog and the Diamonds (1953), remarked that they provided 'the best kind of training for a film-maker, because it forces you to think simply and clearly and get back to the basics of good story-telling'. [11] Rogers went on to produce the very successful Carry On comedy series. However, CFF films also attracted established film directors, such as Michael Powell with The Boy Who Turned Yellow and Alberto Cavalcanti who directed the popular Monster of Highgate Ponds. Celebrated children's writers such as Enid Blyton found their stories being visualised in CFF serial productions such as The Famous Five on Treasure Island.

Many child actors who appeared in CFF films went on to further success in their adult careers. Actors and actresses such as David Hemmings, Susan George, Carol White and Olivia Hussey, for example, all got their first breaks in CFF films. Other celebrated names included Michael Crawford, Francesca Annis, Richard O'Sullivan, Sally Thomsett, Judy Geeson and Phil Collins. Adult actors also played their part in CFF films. Favourites such as Richard Wilson, Jimmy Edwards, Deryck Guyler, Wilfred Bramble and Gordon Jackson contributed their talents. It could be argued, in this respect, that CFF films provided a veritable showcase for British comedy talent.

There was a relatively high turnover in the young audience of approximately every 3-4 years. This allowed the CFF to reissue their films although some eventually seemed out of date. Nevertheless, some of the early films remained ever popular with each new influx of children. Johnny on the Run, for instance, a film made by Lewis Gilbert in 1952, was voted second most popular film by young audiences attending 200 matinees held at Associated British Cinemas in 1969.

In Great Britain, CFF films were shown exclusively at all children's Saturday matinees and also on 16 mm for amateur exhibition at children's clubs. CFF films were also shown abroad. Apart from contributing to British film exports, it was considered that these films promoted greater cultural understanding. And it was because the CFF wanted to encourage international understanding that they did not make stories about war or international espionage. Thus, when the trademark of the CFF (the picture of pigeons in Trafalgar square) appeared on matinee screens, it was a sign not only of quality but also of guaranteed entertainment. Hence, it would be reputedly greeted by loud applause from children around the world.

As early as 1953 the CFF began to export a number of their productions and by the mid-1950s they were exhibiting films in over 22 countries. The CFF's export success was largely due to personal efforts made by Field herself in a quest to promote children's entertainment films worldwide. In fact she made visits to a number of countries including India, Australia and New Zealand to promote CFF films.

In the early days of the CFF, export revenues were regarded as secondary to the main objective of providing entertainment for children. However, as export revenues flourished they played an important part in the CFF's balance sheet, for film production costs and organisational overheads were also on the increase. By the late 1960s, net overseas film revenues were still on the up while home rentals were showing a marked decline [12]. Increasingly the CFF looked to overseas revenue to cover the bulk of their running costs.

By the end of the 1960s, CFF productions were circulating in over 30 countries and dubbed in a dozen different languages. Similarly, foreign children's films were now being imported (dubbed in English) from countries such as France, East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Dubbing was preferred over subtitling because of the children's different ages and abilities to read. For even older children could not be expected to read quickly and keep up with the action of the film.

Towards the end of the decade CFF films were branching into the US and Soviet markets. Although, the USSR was the first country to produce special films for children, as early as 1919, the Soviets tended to produce mainly educational or propaganda films for children, which were considered unsuitable for import by the CFF. Similarly, the CFF considered US products to lack quality. However, the US home market was so large that it could afford to sell its cartoons and serials overseas at prices which European producers found difficult to match.

Exhibition abroad at international festivals offered an important showcase for CFF films. The most important festival was held annually in Venice in July [13]. Other important festival venues for children's' entertainment films included Berlin and Edinburgh.

During the 1960s, the CFF's products won a number of prestigious awards starting with Hunted in Holland which won the Diploma of Honour in Cannes in 1960. In 1963, The Rescue Squad won Silver Occlla and Silver Minerva awards in Venice, whilst The Last Rhino won the Pelaya De Oro in Gijon. Cup Fever took the Silver Gondolo and Golden Capricorn awards in Venice in 1966. And in 1967, Flash the Sheepdog was voted the most popular fill by children at the Moscow Film Festival. By the end of the decade CFF films had received over 40 international awards.

Earlier, in 1956, Field and the CFF had helped to set up the International Centre of Films for Children (ICFC). The ICFC was set up and funded by UNESCO. With its headquarters in Brussels, Field became the founder president of the centre and continued in her post long after resigning from the CFF. The ICFC included members from the International Federation of Film Producers Association, the International Union of Cinema Exhibitors, the International Council of Women and the International Union For Child Welfare. The centre helped to coordinate information on production, distribution and exhibition of film lists and catalogues, but also helped to disseminate research findings on the influence of films and on children's tastes.

Watching Kids - CFF research on the child audience

Whatever the theme chosen, whether stories of animals, pirates, treasure, secret hiding places, school life, sports, historical events or distant lands, the CFF seemed to know what the young audience did or did not want:

Children are bored by slowness, lack of action, excessive dialogue, too many characters and a too psychological slant. The film must be simple, clear, have basically familiar elements (for easy self-identification), stimulate by action, surprise, suspense, tragedy, triumph, wit, comedy situation and display of skill. [14]

Much of the CFF's formulaic success came as a result of continuous assessment and intensive research of children's viewing habits and tastes. Each week the CFF would receive completed reports from over 300 cinema managers who recorded their audience's reaction to the current week's fare. This was a familiar routine and common practice for cinema managers as Rank had introduced this simple and direct monitoring system with his CEF division. However, this level of assessment was rather basic compared to the detailed questionnaires, interviews and mass observation reports carried out by Field and others.

One of the first intensive child audience reports was conducted by the staff and students at Camden Training College for Teachers in 1944. Visiting 20 cinemas in the London area they compiled their report based on interviews and questionnaires. However, as the children required assistance in filling in questionnaires, it is likely that the report reflected the views of the adult interviewers rather than the children interviewed. Nevertheless, the report made some valuable observations which Field and later the CFF took on board. Firstly, that children were bored with films that were too adult for them to understand, secondly, they preferred action to dialogue and, thirdly, that a full-length film was too long for those under 10 years. Instead, a new category of 'short features' was recommended devised specially for children.

In 1947, as a result of the concern generated by parents, teachers and social workers regarding the effects of films on children, the government set up a Departmental Committee on Children and the Cinema. The committee published their report in 1950, known as the Wheare Report. Its findings dismissed the old negative view that all commercial films were bad for children and argued that children could benefit from good cinema entertainment. More importantly, the report urged further audience research to be carried out on child audiences.

As early as 1949 Field stated her belief that recording and analysing spontaneous behaviour, such as actions and sounds expressed by children as they watched the screen, provided concrete material. She also dismissed the value of questionnaires. Field remarked 'In answering questions about films we are all either too eager to be helpful, too anxious to be original or too naturally secretive to be truthful' [15]. In an early observation experiment held at the Odeon Swiss Cottage, London in 1949, Field wanted to use new infrared camera techniques to watch the children unobtrusively. However, this technique had not yet been perfected and she had to resort to flashbulb photography which did not go down too well with the children. Recognising this method was disrupting the children's viewing pleasure, Field abandoned her experiment temporarily calling it her 'Unfinished Project'. It was not until 1954 that Field was able to use infrared camera techniques successfully and she published her findings in the Carnegie Report entitled Children and Films: a study of boys and girls in the cinema. Throughout her career, Mary Field continued to advocate watching and analysing children's responses.

In 1964 Group Market Research Ltd was commissioned by the Rank Organisation on behalf of the CFF to carry out extensive research. According to their findings around 17 million children a year attended Saturday morning matinees in the UK, which on average represented a weekly total of 300,000 children attending some 800 cinemas. Their statistical research also revealed that the average age of children attending was 8.8 years old, with 70% of the audience aged between 7 and 11 years old. Membership longevity statistics showed that 20% of the children attended for 5 years or more, with 49% between 2 and 4 years and 30% for over 1 year or less.

The research, conducted in more than 42 cinemas with 1500 interviews, also attempted to assess the tastes of children by involving them in discussion groups. Its findings revealed that both sexes enjoyed a wide range of themes. However, a pattern did emerge when discussing film types, for although boys showed a strong affinity for war films it seemed that both genders preferred comedies to any other type of film.

Indeed, some interesting conclusions were prised from these group interviews, firstly in respect of violence on screen.

The majority of boys - reared on a mixture of television and cinema epics want violent action epitomised by war films and historical spectaculars.

In contrast to boys, girls tend to dislike and are bored by prolonged violence. They generally prefer comedy, light adventures, Walt Disney and similar films. When confronted with violence on screen they tend to be more frightened than the boys and feel more sympathy for the victims of aggression. [16]

Another major difference was their reaction to love scenes. Whilst the boys disapproved strongly of kissing in action/adventure films, girls tended to be more sympathetic to scenes of affection and thought it only 'proper' that the hero should have a girlfriend. One area of agreement, however, was that both genders wanted to see 'justice done' in all the narratives, which is not to say that the children did not appreciate 'the baddies'. Far from it, for as a 1969 survey revealed, the well-played baddies were much admired even if by the end of the story it was felt they should not be allowed to get away with their dirty deeds.

The Foundation's management remained extremely sensitive to the issues of law and order and the depiction of violence on the screen. As Henry Geddes revealed,

Guns do not seem to worry the young audience, but we have found it advisable to avoid the use of knives, or improvised weapons such as broken bottles. Scenes of torture, madness or mental illness also seem to have a most disturbing effect. [17]

Not surprisingly, the CFF's policies towards love scenes and violence mirrored that of the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). In fact, BBFC secretary John Trevelyan wholly advocated children's entertainment films adopting a more 'realistic' perspective. He felt that not only was it wrong to exclude violence from children's entertainment films but that it would be a pity to exclude images of love and birth if appropriate.

We live in a world in which there is a good deal of violence, and it would not be fair to children to pretend that it did not exist. But violence in children's films should never be excessive, and it is not good for children to grow up with the idea that most problems can be solved by violence. [18]

Trevelyan was not so much concerned that CFF films might contain violence but he was concerned as to how this was presented. Indeed, Trevelyan showed both common sense and sensitivity in his approach to children's entertainment films.

Again it seems most unwise for children's films to show the use of improvised weapons which are easily obtainable. Imitation may well cause nasty accidents

Cruelty, either mental or physical, should be avoided, whether to people or animals. Even mild forms of cruelty, such as children baiting adults or other children, or even teasing in an unkind way, are not to be encouraged. [19]

Continuously reviewing and researching, the CFF recognised changes in their audience as well as children's tastes. By the late 1960s, for example, although the average age was lower than 10 years children had greater cinematic expectations. As Chairman, John Davis pointed out,

Children today are a more sophisticated audience than they used to be and demand a high level of technical perfection as well as entertainment values. The films that are made for them may be a different tempo but there can be no relaxation of film making discipline. All of us have experienced the clear and critical perception of children in other walks of life. They are just as critical of any sign in films made for their enjoyment of 'talking down' or 'patronising' ...

A Saturday morning programme is carefully balanced--it certainly is not an extra school lesson. The film maker will have in mind from the conception of a film the important opportunity, in fact responsibility, which he has to influence young minds in a desirable direction; though the films excite and entertain, they must do so without frightening or unbalancing delicate sensitivities; the good and the bad must be obvious but sermons must be avoided. [20]

Children's screen attention had lengthened, so much so that shorts began to lose their appeal and features were expected to last a full hour. Having grown up with the television medium, the cinema screen and various forms of story telling were familiar. So, whereas previously CFF films avoided cinematic tricks and complex editing, the new generation expected a high level of technical competence, including quick cuts, close ups, and slow dissolves. However, the most obvious technical development expected by the 1960s child audience, particularly with features, was colour film.

The decline in admissions to children's matinees during the 1960s seemed to mirror the trend in adult cinema admissions. However, the CFF linked the downward spiral to the effect of cinema closures rather than a diminishing demand for children's cinema and by the beginning of the next decade, admissions to children's matinees were visibly on the increase. According to a 1972 report, again conducted by Group Market Research Ltd [21] the accessibility of the television medium did not seem to threaten cinema entertainment. Despite the rise of television, 38% of children still preferred going to the cinema as opposed to 25% who would rather watch television. (The surprising winner in this popular activity survey was the 44% who preferred going swimming!) Nevertheless, the triumph of cinema over television at this time can perhaps be explained by a number of factors. Firstly, the matinee club experience itself and, secondly, the high quality of CFF entertainment offered at the cinema as opposed to the poor quality of children's entertainment offered by television. By the end of the 1970s, however, the quality of children's television had risen to such an extent as to pose a real threat to the existence of the children's matinee. Reg Dowdeswell, GEA Newsletter writer, reflected,

Unfortunately, television seemed determined to kill children's matinees and presented the type of programme which was serious competition to our junior clubs. The result has been that matinees showed a very serious decline both in numbers and attendance's and the result has been that the CFF now finds itself at a crossroads. [22]

Throughout the 1970s, the CFF continued to commission reports regularly but in vain. With the removal of its funding in 1981, the CFF was unable not only to meet the challenge presented by television but was also forced to sell its products in order to finance further productions albeit only on a limited scale. Thus, the CFF was forced to reissue old productions for the matinee market. It would never again match the production, innovation and market success it enjoyed in the 1960s.

Prior to the cessation of government funds in 1981, in 1980 the Cinematograph Films Council had once again made its recommendation to the Board of Trade, but this time felt it could not support the CFF's request for funding to the tune of £660,000. The council pointed to the severe decline of outlets and admissions. By then, there were only 151 regular matinee outlets and 119 cinemas holding seasons of children's films, with attendances estimated being as low as 30,000 children per week [23]. In addition to these figures, the average one hour children's feature cost a staggering 120,000 and so the council felt compelled to recommend a grant of only 330,000. In fact, the Board of Trade authorised the fund to make available the sum of £447,625, but this was to be the last payment and the CFF knew it. Despite opposition in the House of Commons, the press and the industry as a whole, the government's withdrawal of support for the CFF struck the final death knell for both the CFF and the Saturday morning matinee.

As Geddes remarked, 'We are not here to make family entertainment. If we started to do that who would concentrate on the children's market?' [24] Who indeed? The success of the CFF, according to John Davis, was 'built on the policy of giving children what they enjoy, rather than what adults think they ought to enjoy' [25] . This remark by Davis would suggest a turn-around from Field's policy of maintaining a high moral tone. However, a cursory glance at a few 1960's CFF products shows that although they did on the whole follow the action/adventure guidelines, films such as Escape from the Sea (1968) were quite capable of maintaining the moral high ground and indeed could be accused of sermonising. Similarly, their use of violence and guns in films such as Hunted in Holland (1960) is questionable. These films and others deserve serious consideration to ascertain whether in fact the CFF product lived up to its principles; however, unfortunately, the confines of this study do not allow for an in-depth analysis of CFF films.

Despite the absence of J. Arthur Rank and Mary Field, John Davis and Henry Geddes led the CFF through a difficult but highly productive period. Indeed, by the end of the 1960s, the CFF had become the nation's second biggest producer of films and had established Britain as the best in the world at producing quality children's entertainment. However, just as Rank and Field before them, Davis and Geddes could not have continued the success without the full support of government and the industry. Only as a result of this united effort was the CFF able to flourish and survive three decades [26].

Rowana Agajanian,
The Sixties Research Group,
Department of History,
Open University,
Milton Keynes
MK7 6AA,
Fax 44. (0)1908. 653750


[1] Mary Field's 'Unfinished Project', reprinted in Sight and Sound, 18(69) (1949), pp. 1-6, describes an experiment in child audience response conducted at the Odeon Swiss Cottage, London. With this experiment Field synchronised child reactions with the actual frames shown on screen.

[2] CFF Annual Report (1951-1952), p. 4.

[3] The trade organisations usually nominated their chairman, secretary or treasurer, sometimes all three.

[4] CFF Annual Report (1955), p. 5.

[5] This in fact turned into the slightly more favourable figure of £59,883.

[6] Figures from CFF Directors Reports Eq Accounts (1966, 1967, 1968, 1971).

[7] Films and Filming, 22(8) (1976) p. 23.

[8] CFF Third Annual Report (1955), p. 6.

[9] Jympson Harman, Evening News (13 October 1956).

[10] Cecil Wilson, Daily Mail (2 September 1968).

[11] CFF Report, 21 Years of the Children's Film Foundation (1972), p. 6.

[12] In 1967 net film revenues, home £49,848, overseas £173.172, and CFF running costs £202,030. In 1969 net film revenues, home £38,149, overseas £217,469, and CFF running costs £230,730.

[13] The Venice Festival of Children's Films ran for 2 weeks from mid-July.

[14] CFF Annual Report (1967), p. 46.

[15] 'Unfinished Project', reprinted in Sight & Sound, 18(69) (1949), p. 2.

[16] CFF Annual Report (1967), p. 46.

[17] The child audience in the UK, The Journal of the Society of Film Eq Television Arts, 35-36 (1969), p. 33.

[18] The censor looks at children's films, The Journal of the Society of Film & Television Arts, 18 (1964-1965), p. 21.

[19] Ibid.

[20] GFF Annual Report (1967), p. 3.

[21] Children's Matinees: the audience and the product, Group Market Research Ltd (1972).

[22] CEA Newsletter (July 1979), p. 13.

[23] Figures from CFF Director's Reports and Accounts (1980, 1981).

[24] Films and Filming (1976), p. 24.

[25] CFF Annual Report (1972), p. 3.

[26] Today, the CFF, now titled the CFTF (Children's Film and Television Foundation), is based at Elstree Studios. It is involved in script development but does not have the resources to support film production, so any project undertaken by a commercial production company must now find its own finance. It continues to have the support of the industry, particularly from trade organisations but has no government funding. 1996 heralded 45 years of the CFF's existence and renewed hope. With the advent of lottery monies becoming available to the arts, the CFTF seeks to become a worthy recipient of funds and hopes to restart production of British film entertainment for children.

Rowana Agajanian is a research assistant in the Sixties Research Group at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
From Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television August, 1998

Back to index