Film ID:
NEFA 18538



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This is an ICI Billingham Film Unit travelogue with an unusual premise and title. The film promotes the North East as a marvellous place to live and work and includes footage of engineers, scientists and draftsmen at the ICI Billingham chemical works and the many social pursuits available for workers: sports at Billingham Synthonia and Wilton Hall Clubs, rowing and sailing on the Wear,Yorkshire Gliding Club at Sutton Bank and rock climbing. The film also tours around local Teesside villages and towns such as picturesque Norton and Stockton-on-Tees on a busy market day. The coastal towns of Saltburn, Staithes (including women in traditional Staithes bonnets) and Whitby are explored as well as the iconic cities of Durham, York and Newcastle (including night time Hoppings scenes on the Town Moor). The final scenes capture the remote landscapes of Weardale and the world of the hill farmers.

Title: "Contrariwise", said Tweedledee, "If it was so, it might be; And if it were so, it would be; But as it isn't, it aint - That's Logic."

Credit: The Billingham Film Unit presents

Title: An unbiased picture of life in the North of England

Title: Billingham and Gastritis

Title: An original story devised, written and produced by Sydney Boyle

The film opens with a busy scene at Piccadilly Circus in London, traffic including red Routemaster buses. A London bus driver speaks to camera: “I drive a London bus. I’m as fit as a fiddle. I wouldn’t leave London for anything. Provinces? You can have your provinces. Especially the North. I went to Finsbury Park once.” The driver closes his bus window.

General views follow of London streets crowded with black cabs and red Routemaster buses. On the commentary, the voice of a girl: “It’s right about the North. It’s bloomin’ horrible in the North. An’ it’s always raining anyway…”

General view of the exterior of Kings Cross railway station. A steam train passes by. A travelling shot from the train captures an impressionistic view of the countryside speeding by. Next, there is a close-up of an old sign that reads: “Billingham-on- […] Change for Belasis Lane and Haverton Hill.”

Plunged into darkness, a brief glimmer of light appears. The silhouettes of two policemen appear, as they walk to the end of a dark city passageway towards the light. A low angle portrait shot follows of a “villain” dressed in flat cap and checked muffler, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. There’s a brief shot of a black cat looking around furtively. The two policemen stroll down a street out of shot. The villain peers around a corner.

Close-up of a traffic light on red, which changes to amber, green, amber and back to red. The commentary announces a departure for the North, quoting lines from the Lord Tennyson poem, Morte d’Arthur, substituting “Billingham” for “Avilion”:

But now farewell. I am going a long way

[…] —if indeed I go—

(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)

To the island-valley of Billingham;

Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,

Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies

Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns […]

A montage of shots illustrate the poetic lines: a road sign for Billingham, a woman picking flowers in a field of daffodils and smiling, another attractive woman presenting a garland of chrysanthemums to camera, an interior, curtained window of a pretty cottage, two paper boys (one on bike) chatting in a pretty village. A woman smiles and says “hello” in breathy tone. A shot of a darkened, stormy sky follows.

There are general views of the chemical plant at ICI Billingham. The commentary states: “This is Billingham. Seventeen thousand people work here. Seven hundred of them have come from universities in Britain.” Scientists and engineers operate electrical equipment in laboratories, draft plans and conduct tests. Engineers are working outside on site.

The film shows three social clubs associated with Billingham. Men and women stroll towards the brick building of the ICI Synthonia Club. The commentary states that the “Synthonia Club has the biggest membership because it is open to all who work here and to their relatives as well.” Cricketers congregate at the Synthonia Club grounds. Rugby players are then pictured grouping on a pitch. Another mixed club with usually young staff members is the Crossroads Club. A young male hockey player joins a young woman in the crowd at a Billingham Sports and Gala day in the 50s. Men in suits stroll around the men only Norton Hall Club (management staff only).

The film underlines the huge choice of sporting opportunities for staff at ICI Billingham. A montage of action shots from various football matches at the Synthonia Club follow. Various shots then document rowers and sailing boats practicing at the mouth of the Wear (?), motocross riders on off-road circuits in action, highlights of a rugby match, and women’s hockey teams in action. 

The more tranquil recreational pursuits available in the area are shown. Gliders at the Yorkshire Gliding Club take off from Sutton Bank on the North Yorkshire Moors. Rock climbers scale up and down boulders and cliff faces, probably also on the North Yorkshire Moors.

Various general views show the pretty Norton village green. An overhead view of an extremely busy market day along Stockton High Street, filled with covered stalls, is followed by various shots of people browsing and buying goods at the stalls. A policeman on horseback rides through the market.

Just outside of Billingham lie the Cleveland and Hambleton Hills where “the sight and sound of industry are absent…” Moorland, hills, horse riding, farmers and farms, pretty houses and villages are all pictured.

General views of sea splashing against rocks introduce a section on the coast of County Durham and North Yorkshire.  A couple amble along the cliff top at Saltburn. General views of Saltburn feature trippers on the beach, the pier and the Ship Inn.

A woman wearing a traditional Staithes bonnet frames a scenic view of Staithes. The cobbled streets, alleyways, steep stone steps, cottages with red-tiled roofs, and waves on the shore are all pictured. A sequence of group and individual portrait shots of Staithes women in traditional bonnets follows. Portrait shot of a fisherman smoking a pipe and wearing a traditional gansey (or Guernsey) knitted in the traditional pattern of the village. More of the local fishermen are pictured in ganseys. Children watch as fishermen push out a small fishing boat or coble. Various shots depict Staithes fishermen on the beach, carrying sacks and lobster pots.

Next, the travelogue features Whitby, with a shot of the doorway to Captain Cook’s lodge; general views of Whitby; the quayside; the harbour, fishing fleet (Scottish herring fishing crews) sailing into the harbor and River Esk, fishermen unloading herring in baskets, inspecting nets and tackle. People visit the quaint shops in Whitby town, and walk up the steps to Whitby Abbey. General views of the abbey follow and there are close-ups of the medieval Caedmon's Cross in the Churchyard of St Hilda's Church near Whitby Abbey. Back at the harbour, fishermen sail off, boats leaving the harbour at night.

The film then documents the moorland to the west of Whitby, and Yorkshire’s county town of York with shots of the York city walls and gates, Clifford’s Tower, York Minster, and the Mansion House.

The next sequence looks at Durham Castle and City, students wandering through the grounds of Durham University, some of which is located in the castle.

A travelling shot follows crossing the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, moving towards Gateshead. The streets of Newcastle are busy with shoppers. Garrick’s Restaurant is pictured down one street. There are exterior shots of the old Central Library, Laing Art Gallery and the Oxford Galleries dance hall on New Bridge Street (originally built in 1823 and the home of local architect, John Dobson ). The night time streets and clubs of Newcastle are lit up with neon signs. There are various shots of the Hoppings on the Town Moor, Newcastle, usually held in June, which feature fairground stalls, show booths (“The Belles of the Bourbon […] The Naughty-Ninety Girls […]”), shooting gallery stall, and a montage of fairground rides.

The next sequences capture the towns, villages and desolate rural landscape of Teesdale, in the upper reaches of the River Tees.  There are various views in and around Barnard Castle: the Market Cross (also known as Buttercross or Market Hall) in the centre of the high street; the sheltered river; the town’s steep streets and the Cromwell Restaurant, which occupies the old Blagrave’s House or Broadgates. The picturesque villages and gardens of nearby settlements are also depicted.

The film then tours some of the remote and rugged rural landscape of Weardale, where hill farming activities are to the fore. A postman pushes his bike up a steep rural lane. Sheep graze in the hills. Women turn cut hay in the fields to dry out. Men operate haymaking agricultural machinery, hitched to tractors.

Two young boys ride a horse in the farm yard, helping to herd sheep. A farmer drags a sheep up the road. The commentary states: “This is their world, a world of limitless horizons. They would have no other.” General views follow of fields and farms in the dales. Next, portrait shots of different sheep dogs. A flock of branded sheep is herded into a farmyard.

A sheep market is in progress: the sheep are herded into small pens, observed and discussed by farmers buying and selling. A farmer herds a new flock up a mountain road.

General view of a church exterior on a quiet weekday. Various shots of stained glass window details follow (unidentified).

General view of the hills and river of the upper reaches of the Tees valley. The commentary waxes lyrical: “In the call of the curlew and the cry of the wind lives the spirit of the Dales long since gone.” A hiker walks past holding a map. Torrents of water flow over the rock at High and Low Force.

In a final staged scene, there is a rear shot of a man stroking a cow.  He turns around to reveal that it is the London bus driver from the film’s introductory scene. He speaks to camera: “We’ve met before. I’ve got gastritis. I’m here for a complete rest and a change…” There’s a final shot of a gaggle of geese.


Photography by Sydney Boyle

Assisted by Harry Readman and Chris Wilson

Administrative Assistant: Shirley Chappell

Recordings of bird songs by John Kirby

Sound recording by United Motion Pictures and Billingham Film Unit