Funny Walks & Film

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Funny Walks & Film (another school story) with film at end of text which may take a little while to load.

At school (see my story ‘The Latin Teacher and the Woodwork Master) I soon developed a distaste for  ‘P.E.’.     Physical Education, as it was then practiced was not far removed from the ‘calisthenics’ or physical jerks of the Edwardian Period.  I was happy to take part in Basketball and our unique school sport of mixed Water Polo, but could see no point in making grotesque arm movements or jumping over imitation horses.    If I had wanted to jump over horses, South London still had enough horse and cart tradesmen (including a ‘barrow boy’ Uncle) to allow me to ride or jump over real ones.

Our original headmaster held no brief for the theory that being made to do something you didn’t have any aptitude for, improved your character, and accepted that I should be excused ‘P.E.’ – BUT only on the basis that I did something ‘useful with my time’.    This phrase sent cold shudders through me as he had on occasion put similar shirkers to work polishing his Wolseley Car and even dislodging pigeons from the steeply sloping School roof (a four story building).  However the school lacked at that time a ‘Projector Monitor’   Quite a lot of our teachers used 16 mm films as learning aids and the Projector Monitor was responsible for keeping the School films indexed and in good shape and receiving the borrowed films that came from the London Schools Film Library.   I readily agreed to become projector monitor although as well as film maintenance being substituted for PE, I was expected to set the projector up before school started for the first lesson of the day that required film.

It was an interesting task and I spent my time setting up films on the projector and repairing any breaks or bad sprocket segments in the school films.  To aid in this task I inherited a cupboard full of old 16 mm films, which seem mainly to have been donated by voluntary film groups.    I spent spare time viewing these mainly Movietone and Pathe Newsreels dating from the Second World War.   I used  clear and black leaders from these old films for my repairs but one day happened on an amazing 1941 Ministry of Propaganda film, made by Charles Ridley,   which ridiculed Hitler and his troops by showing them marching (or dancing) to the Tune of the Lambeth Walk.  The Lambeth Walk was a novelty dance which, much like ‘Gangnam’ now, was sweeping the country.   This clever piece of film, edited frame by frame, was  dropped by the RAF all over Europe and earned any caught possessing it, a visit from the Gestapo as Hitler (and quite a few other Germans) apparently had no sense of British humour.  It was however a very good piece of psychological warfare.

When I needed a few frames of film to repair a broken one I took to using pieces of Hitler and the Lambeth Walk to bridge the gaps or repair the sprocket holes.    I discovered that up to a certain number of frames the viewer did not consciously notice the inserted frames.   However when the number of frames got up to being almost noticeable, strange things happened as the viewer didn’t recall the specific content but was influenced by it. I was severely ticked off however, when I was accused of doing something to Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon’s ‘Wuthering Heights, which apparently had had a strange (and not the desired) effect on the Senior English Class who tended to remember it as a comedy.  Later I learned that this phenomenon was used in ‘subliminal advertising’ to subconsciously influence American cinema-goers to buy certain brands of refreshments during the interval.

I must have repaired several hundred films over my tenure as projector monitor, many from the circulating School Film Library. To this day, I  wonder if my activities resulted in thousands of London school kids subconsciously thinking that Hitler was a comic who did funny walks.   Perhaps in the grey Post-War Society we lived in,  where it was not uncommon for  labourers to go to work in their old battle-dress tunics, and where we daily passed the bombed cinema site, where 420 Saturday morning picture children were killed by a V2 in 1944, that was not a bad thing.

Here is part of the film.

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