Tag Archives: Film

53. An Astonishing Burden of Memories: J.B. Priestley’s Bright Day

J.B. Priestley’s writing is at its best when he reflects on the Bradford of his youth, as in this week’s Object, the 1946 novel Bright Day, considered by many to be his masterpiece.

Detail of dustjacket of Bright Day by J.B. Priestley, Heinemann, 1946.

Detail of dustjacket of Bright Day by J.B. Priestley, Heinemann, 1946.

For Priestley this lost Bradford past was a Golden Age: hospitality, conviviality, generosity, music and art, solid comfort, strong community. For example, at Christmas-time,

“Brass bands played and choirs sang in the streets; you went not to one friend’s house but to a dozen; acres of rich pound cake and mince-pies were washed down by cataracts of old beer and port, whisky and rum; the air was fragrant and thick with cigar smoke, as if the very mill chimneys had taken to puffing them; whole warehouses of presents were exchanged; every interior looked like a vast Flemish still-life of turkeys, geese, hams, puddings, candied fruit, dark purple bottles, figs, dates, chocolates, holly, and coloured or gilded paper hats.”

Priestley regretted the loss of these values, eloquently criticising consumer society “admass”, bureaucracy, and growing social isolation (witness his dislike of 1950s Texas, for example).

However, his feelings about his past and Bradford were not simple nostalgia.  After the Great War, his boyhood Bradford was lost to him: all his  friends had been killed when the Bradford Pals were destroyed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.   He never lived in the city again.  It was too full of ghosts.  He had had to leave to build his literary career: Priestley’s success did not always make for an easy relationship with his hometown (to be explored in a later Object).

Detail of cover of Bright Day by J.B. Priestley, Popular Library, no date

Detail of cover of Bright Day by J.B. Priestley, Popular Library, no date. One of many reprints of this very popular work in the Priestley book collection, Special Collections, University of Bradford.

In the grey austerity of 1946, Priestley drew on all these feelings and experiences to create Bright Day.

Gregory Dawson is a “stale and dissatisfied” middle-aged Hollywood scriptwriter.  In a rush to finish a shooting script, to escape distraction, he hides away at a dreary hotel on the Cornish coast.  Two experiences evoke memories of his youth in Bruddersford (Bradford): a chance meeting and the playing by the hotel’s trio of musicians of a special piece of music:

“It was the slow movement of Schubert’s B flat major trio, as I knew at once when the cello began its exquisite quiet tone, slowly and gravely rocking in its immeasurable tenderness.  A few moments later, when the cello went wandering to murmur its regret and the violin with its piercing sweetness curved and rocked the same little tune, I was far away, deep in a lost world and a lost time”.

The vivid memories called forth by the music use Priestley’s own life: work in a wool office, enjoying walks on the moors, becoming an author.  Above all, however, Gregory remembers the magical Alington family, how as a lonely youngster he had been bewitched by their charm, but then came disillusion and tragedy, prefigured in the title quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “It is the bright day that brings forth the adder”.

As he explores these powerful memories, Gregory begins to find ways forward for his professional and personal problems in the  present.  Priestley’s skill in describing pre-War Bradford and Gregory’s feelings about his past are often rightly praised.  I also find that Priestley’s own experiences in the film world make Gregory’s present more detailed, interesting and believable.  Bright Day is in print, from Great Northern, or plentiful in several editions second-hand.

29. Wild Nature’s Ways: the Kearton Brothers and the Stuffed Ox

Shouldering the Imitation OxOur next object illustrates the story of two brothers from Yorkshire who found new ways to photograph the natural world.  These photos show an ox-hide, which was placed over a wooden frame to hide the photographer and enable him to capture better images of wild birds and their nests.  The “Stuffed Ox” was one of many methods that Richard and Cherry Kearton developed in their pioneering photographic careers.

The stuffed ox in operation

The brothers were from Swaledale: born in Thwaite, educated in Muker.  Richard published his first book, Birds’ Nests, Eggs and Egg Collecting, in 1890.  After Cherry took the first ever photograph of a bird’s nest with eggs, in 1892, the two worked together on British Birds’ Nests (1895), the first such book fully illustrated with photos.

Richard published many more books, including his autobiography, A Naturalists’ Pilgrimage.  He became a sought-after public speaker, illustrating his nature talks with lantern slides.

Flyer for new nature book by Richard Kearton

Cherry became a wildlife photographer and film-maker, travelling the world to photograph in remote locations.  He also published extensively, with particular intereste in Africa, penguins, and the adventures of his menagerie of animals.

Cherry Kearton and penguin

Cherry Kearton and penguin

Find out more about the Keartons’ lives and works via Watch the Birdie!, by Dr W.R. Mitchell and Direct from Nature, by John Bevis.  Dr Mitchell gathered many of the brothers’ published books and some papers (correspondence and publicity) in researching his book: these are now in Special Collections.

Mounted on the imitation ox

8. Singing Sixties: Potential Graduates at Bradford University

This week’s Object is the Bradford University film, “Potential Graduate”.  It is one of the best-loved items in Special Collections, and one that has found fresh life and popularity online.  See it for yourself on the YFA online project website.

Potential Graduate

Potential Graduate - the film title screen

“Potential Graduate” was made by Bradford University’s Audio-Visual Unit between 1968 and 1970.  The University was then very new, having received its Charter in 1966, and eager to attract potential students.  The film, made in colour,  showed the new city campus,  the sporting and social activities available to students (choral singing,  pot-holing), teaching methods, and exams.

Students arriving at Bradford's Exchange Station

Students arriving at Bradford's Exchange Station

It finishes with a 1970 graduation ceremony, in which students receive their degrees from then Chancellor Sir Harold Wilson.

The film is popular because it gives a wonderful and rare insight into student life at Bradford.  On one level it is full of enjoyable period detail (car-free roads, mums in retro spectacles and hats, mini-skirts, beer in dimpled glasses, ash-trays everywhere, and the wonderful videotronic machine).

Student using the Videotronic machine

Student using the Videotronic machine

But if you look beyond this, the modern University is recognisable: the graduation ceremony could be now if not for the hats; and even then we emphasised links with industry, community engagement, and care for student well-being.

Graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremony

Film is a difficult medium to manage: it needs particular care and special equipment to view it.  A decision was taken in the 1990s to house some of our University Archive film at the specialist Yorkshire Film Archive, who have much better facilities for caring for film than we could offer.  We were delighted when more recently the Archive decided to make the film available online as part of a Heritage Lottery funded project.