The Elephant Will Never Forget

I have recently started learning a little bit more about the BFI, and the staggering range of  film and television heritage that they have preserved.  For those not familiar with the BFI, here is their own description of what they do:

“The BFI  promotes understanding and appreciation of film and television heritage and culture. Established in 1933, the BFI cares for the world’s richest and most significant collection of film and television, preserving almost one million titles.”

Along with film and television DVDs, they also publish books, show films at their own sites, and run the annual London Film Festival. One particular area of interest to me is their archive of ‘public information films’ which are basically collections of short films that were shown across Britain offering information on a wide range of topics as far-reaching as public health, safety and making journeys. I find it such a good insight into ‘how we were’ so to speak.

I picked up a collection of four films by John Krish titled ‘A Day in the Life: Four Portraits of Post-War Britain’. Krish has worked as both a director and a writer of films, and is mostly known for his documentary film making, but has also written and directed a number of feature-length films. The first film is ‘The Elephant Will Never Forget’ and revolves around the removal of the tram system from service in London in 1952. The name is taken from the Elephant & Castle former depot.

The story goes that Krish was asked by British Transport Films to attend the closing ceremony to shoot a short piece of film showing the final tram pulling into the depot and capture the moment the Chairman of London Transport shaking hands with the driver. However, Krish felt that there was an opportunity for something a little more celebratory given the event, so ‘borrowed’ multiple reels of stock film depicting trams in operation, and shot 8 more reels of film 5 days prior to the last tram ceremony showing the contribution that the trams made to London life. Seeing the result, Edgar Anstey [Chairman of British Transport Films] actually sacked John Krish! In the years that have followed though, the film has come to be known as something of a cult film, and much more than a simple information film. Some of the shots are brilliant, and the narration is perfect. Krish has managed to make me somehow sort of miss the London Tram, even though I have never had the opportunity [nor will I] to use them. It’s actually quite incredible to see the journey of the last tram – 20,000 Londoners came out on the streets to see and salute it. I find it difficult to imagine that sort of community spirit would occur in today’s world..

Here are some stills from the film, but I would try to view it [I’m sure it’s online somewhere] if you ever find yourself with a spare 20 minutes or so.

It seems to be a little bit of a grey area as to why the trams were actually put out of service, but there are some interesting points here.

Homepage for the BFI is here.

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