Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV


  • March 8, 2023
  • 3 min read

A whole month of films celebrating the early British Cinema of the London-based director Karel Reisz, kicked-off at the Chiswick Cinema on March 5th

It was fascinating chatting afterwards to broadcasting legend and screenwriter-author and Labour Peer, Lord Bragg, in a Q &A after the screening of the Reisz documentary, We are the Lambeth Boys, which was made some 63 years ago. Bragg’s insights, contextualisation, and anecdotes weaved an incredible picture of those heady rock ‘n’ roll days filled with hellish jobs. All succinctly captured in 1958 on the cusp of Harold Wilson’s ‘”White Heat of Technology” and Harold MacMillan’s “You’ve Never Had It So Good” period shortly after this juncture. Ironic, given that the Days of Hope from then are now once again superseded by The Death of Hope for all bar the superrich.

Shot at a time when a sense of community, and the chance to rise, was possible for the many, not the few, Melvyn Bragg talked about how he came from working class parents in Cumbria, and was able to go to Grammar School, get a scholarship, and a grant to go to Oxford University.

The documentary came out of a ‘Free Cinema’ era with a political manifesto created by Karel Reisz and fellow director Tony Richardson (husband of Vanessa Redgrave) and Lindsay Anderson’s Royal Court Theatre connections with the likes of playwrights David Storey, and John Osborne. Filmed by Walter Lassally, on the new lightweight portable Arriflex 2B 35mm cameras – fully blimped (soundproofed) for filming in close proximity – the film had a sense of intimate naturalism not seen in British cinema, up until that point. The documentary remains a benchmark in the history of British Cinema. It foretold the drama documentary-styled TV naturalism of Kenneth Loach and Tony Garnett, during The Wednesday Play and the Play for Today era of the BBC in the Golden Age of UK TV broadcasting.

As Bragg astutely pointed out, “If one were to pick five examples of what Britain was like in the late 1950’s? This nails it!” adding, “Whether they were the bright and articulate teenagers, or the not so bright ones, here they all had a sense of just getting on with life. No matter what their circumstances!” Furthermore, “These people were like a slab of bedrock that was the very foundation of society, propping the whole thing up. Enabling it to function.”
This film was shot at a time when communities could envisage a change on the horizon. Bragg talked of how he came from working class parents in Cumbria, and of how he was fortunate to go to both Grammar School and Oxford University, unlike so many before him. His own school days and further education were covered by a new educational policy, “Denied to my parents who couldn’t afford to go to a Grammar School’, he said. The postwar government Grants System covered tuition fees for all Working Class people entering into education. The period directly after We Are The Lambeth Boys enabled society to benefit from this new equality of opportunity in further education. In 2023 our Student Loan Schemes appear to have moved Britain backwards. Not forwards.
We Are The Lambeth Boys Dance Hall excerpt Putting On The Style


About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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