British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview

The national health: Pat
Jackson's White Corridors

CHARLES BARR

WHITE CORRIDORS, a hospital drama first shown in June 1951, belongs to the small class of fictional films that deny themselves a musical score. Even the brief passages that top and tail the film, heard over the initial credits and the final image, were added against the wish of its director, Pat Jackson. Jackson had spent the first ten years of his career in documentary, joining the GPO Unit in the mid-1930s and staying on throughout the war after its rebranding as Crown, and the denial of music is clearly part of a strategy for giving a sense of documentary-like reality to the fictional material of White Corridors.

There is a certain paradox here, in that actual documentaries, like newsreels, normally slap on music liberally. To take two submarine-centred features, released almost simultaneously in 1943, Gainsborough's fictional We Dive at Dawn, in which Anthony Asquith directs a cast of familiar professionals headed by John Mills and Eric Portman, has virtually no music, while Crown's `story-documentary', Close Quarters, whose cast are all acting out their real-life naval roles, has a full-scale score by Gordon Jacob. Other films in this celebrated wartime genre have even more prominent and powerful scores, by Vaughan Williams for Coastal Command (1942), by William Alwyn for Fires were Started (1943) and by Clifton Parker for Jackson's own Western Approaches (1945). One can rationalise this by saying that documentary has enough markers of authenticity already at the level of dramatic and visual construction, and a corresponding need for the bonus of

____________________
I had the not untypical experience of being taken to a lot of worthy British films by parents and teachers in the 1950s, and then reacting against them when the riches of non-British cinema were opened up, notably by Movie magazine, in the 1960s. Since then I have progressively overcome the Movie conditioning in the course of writing books on Ealing Studios (1977, new edition, Cameron & Hollis, 1999), English Hitchcock (Cameron & Hollis, 1999) and Vertigo (BFI, 2002). I co-scripted, with Stephen Frears, the British programme in the BFI/Channel 4 series on the centenary of cinema, Typically British (1996). Current projects include a study of Pat Jackson in the Manchester University Press series about British directors. Charles Barr

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