GPO Film Unit

The GPO Film Unit was a subdivision of the UK General Post Office. The unit was established in 1933, taking on responsibilities of the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit. Headed by John Grierson,[1] it was set up to produce sponsored documentary films mainly related to the activities of the GPO.

Among the films it produced were Harry Watt's and Basil Wright's Night Mail (1936), featuring music by Benjamin Britten and poetry by W. H. Auden, which is the best known. Directors who worked for the unit included Humphrey Jennings, Alberto Cavalcanti, Paul Rotha, Harry Watt, Basil Wright and a young Norman McLaren.[1] Poet and memoirist Laurie Lee also worked as a scriptwriter in the unit from 1939-1940.

In 1940 the GPO Film Unit became the Crown Film Unit, under the control of the Ministry of Information.

In Autumn 2008 the British Film Institute issued a first collection of selected films from the Unit. Titled Addressing The Nation, it comprises fifteen titles from the years 1933 to 1935, including Song of Ceylon. A second volume, We Live In Two Worlds was released in February 2009, with 22 films covering the period 1936 to 1938, and includes Night Mail. A third (and final) volume, If War Should Come, appeared in July 2009 and includes London Can Take It!


Year Title Director Notes
1940Air CommuniqueRalph Elton
Britain at BayWritten by J. B. Priestley
The Front LineHarry Watt
London Can Take It!Humphrey Jennings & Harry WattOscar-nominated for Best Short Subject 1941
Spring OffensiveHumphrey Jennings
War and OrderCharles Hasse
1939The CityRalph EltonSubtitle: "A Film Talk by Sir Charles Bressey"
The First DaysPat Jackson, Humphrey Jennings & Harry Watt
Forty Million PeopleJohn MonckNarrated by Ralph Richardson
The IslandersMaurice Harvey
Love on the WingNorman McLarenAnimation
Men of the AlpsAlberto Cavalcanti
A Midsummer Day's WorkAlberto Cavalcanti
Spare TimeHumphrey Jennings
Squadron 992Harry Watt
1938Four BarriersAlberto Cavalcanti
Mony a PickleNorman McLaren & Richard MassinghamAnimation
N or NWLen LyeComedy
The H.P.O. – Heavenly Post OfficeLotte ReinigerAnimation
North SeaHarry Watt
1937Book BargainNorman McLaren
Job in a MillionEvelyn Cherry
The Line to Tschierva HutAlberto Cavalcanti
News for the NavyNorman McLaren
RoadwaysWilliam Coldstream and Stuart LeggMusic by Ernst Hermann Meyer
The Saving of Bill BlewittHarry WattDrama, starring Bill Blewitt as himself
Trade TattooLen LyeAnimation
We Live in Two WorldsAlberto CavalcantiWritten by J. B. Priestley
1936Message from GenevaAlberto Cavalcanti
Night MailHarry Watt & Basil WrightWritten by W. H. Auden. Music by Benjamin Britten
Rainbow DanceLen LyeAnimation
1935Air PostGeoffrey Clark
Coal FaceAlberto CavalcantiWritten by W. H. Auden. Music by Benjamin Britten
A Colour BoxLen LyeAnimation
The King's StampWilliam ColdstreamWith Barnett Freedman
1934Pett and Pott: A Fairy Story of the SuburbsAlberto CavalcantiComedy, starring J. M. Reeves, Marjorie Fone and June Godfrey
LocomotivesHumphrey Jennings
Song of CeylonBasil Wright
The Story of the WheelHumphrey Jennings

See also


  1. Liz Faber, Helen Walters. Animation Unlimited: Innovative Short Films Since 1940. Laurence King Publishing. p. 1929. ISBN 1-85669-346-5.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)

Further reading

  • Anthony, Scott and James G. Mansell. The Projection Of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit. London: British Film Institute, 2011 ISBN 1-84457-374-5 338p.

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