Deadly Looks At Life

London, Media, The Arts

When I was a child, tripping off to the pictures twice a week to see double bills, I dreaded having to sit through ‘Look At Life’, a weekly 20-minute newsreel that was sandwiched between the two films. It turned out endless sanitized versions of British economic and social life with the same droning stern voiceover drily making fun of ‘flower people’ and ‘non-conformists’. Many topics sounded like the kind of books Arthur Bryant would choose to read, like ‘Hungarian-British Trade Fairs of the 1950s’ and ‘Talking of Coaches’.

Now the BBC is running a series called ‘Britain On Film’, which features clip compilations from the old ‘Look At Life’ episodes while subtitling them with facts we weren’t made aware of while filming took place.

What’s weird is that I’ve become rather fond of these agonizingly dull documentaries. They present a vision united in its unshakeably confident and sedate view of the world, even when things are changing beyond recognition. Coverage of the Prague Spring seemed to be handled in the same manner as footage of racing at Ascot. Backgrounds are now fascinating to study, and everything looks so eerily clean.

Some of the original episodes have even been released on DVD, but the reworked shows are more revealing. There are still a few episodes to go. And as we haven’t had some for a while, here’s some untampered-with footage of driving through London. Bet you couldn’t buy a decent Pad Thai for love nor money!

12 comments on “Deadly Looks At Life”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    What!? London had the first Goggle Car?
    Did you splice on the Claire de Lune piano yourself?
    Have you ever gone to Google Earth and driven around your neighborhood? Great fun, but no people to be seen, unlike this London tour.
    If you search YouTube, it has many animated classics with the score notation turned to colored bars that track through as the piece is played; better than the bouncing ball. Very relaxing and analytical at the same time.

  2. Jeanette says:

    First known “Road Rage” on film and it had to be a white van man.

  3. andrea yang says:

    I think I could live there…

  4. Jo W says:

    Thanks for those reminders of our past,Admin. I think I used to quite enjoy those Look at life films! But the other ones, with the photos of London,then and now have caused me to contract a severe case of nostalgia. The film of London with Frank Sinatra singing – It was a very good year-has left me needing a lie down in a darkened room! I’d appreciate some kind of warning next time.

  5. keith page says:

    Lovely! A bit before my time but the uncluttered streets show what a ghastly mess has been made with modern street signs and road markings.This is when cars had style, but I know I wouldn’t want to drive one in preference to a current model.Similarly, I’m not sure I’d fit in particularly well with the early/mid 50’s

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Keith: I watched the film twice because the first word I thought on viewing didn’t seem to fit: bucolic. But in a way it does. Maybe the fact I’ve just read several Michael Gilbert books set in the early part of the century helps.
    The Fifties, for many reasons, were a time it would be hard to fit back into. The motto for that decade might well be the well-remembered “Duck And Cover” response to an atomic attack.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    And don’t forget that rationing was still in effect at the beginning and flushness didn’t arrive until later. I don’t know, Dan, but Duck & Cover didn’t seem to really exist in our world, certainly not in our schools and I didn’t see those shelter signs until we were in Seattle on our honeymoon in ’64.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and how is it that cars parked facing either way when the only way you could do that would be to make a U turn in the middle of the street?

  9. Ford says:

    How about the Telly Savalas narrated guides to Birmingham, Portsmouth and Aberdeen!! They’re on YouTube!

    I heard a radio documentary about them. Dear old Telly obviously had not set foot in these places – actually; judging by these, he never actually came to the UK! They were a favour for the director, or producer! He must have done something very, very bad to have done this!

  10. snowy says:

    For a slightly less rose tinted view try:

    http://archive.org/details/what_a_life_TNA

    And if anyone is hankering to see the old ‘Duck and Cover’ film [again]:

    http://archive.org/details/Duck_and_Cover

  11. amber says:

    @ Helen Martin, they didn’t do uturns, they just glided across the road and parked what we would now call “facing the wrong way” if a space was available there, it was easier to do because the roads were relatively uncongested

  12. glasgow1975 says:

    I’ve caught a few of these when recording the next show and they are fascinating, I imagine they’d be rather tortuous as a kid waiting for the next ‘feature’ and without the little factoids added.
    As for parking Helen, there’s no law about parking facing the direction of traffic here, there is in Australia as I found out when my sister told me off for parking my bro-in-law’s little runaround facing the wrong way on the kerb outside after picking my nephew & nieces up from school when I was on babysitting duty!

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