Film ID:
NEFA 8759



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Billingham Film Unit cine magazine that presents an overview of Imperial Chemical Industries' (ICI) history and development in Billingham and along Teesside.

The film begins with an out-of-focus photograph of a factory and chimney landscape scrolling behind the title sequence as triumphant music plays.

Just Billingham
Number 12 May 1947

Credit: Commentary spoken by John Snagge

Title: The Billingham Story

Title: Presenting the people, the processes and the products of the Empire’s largest chemical factory – the Billingham factory of Imperial Chemical Industries Limited.

Title: A story to be told month by month in this and future issues of the “Just Billingham” films.

Title: Beginning with some account of why it is here, how it was built, and what it does.

Title: The Billingham Story

The film begins with sweeping aerial views of the north bank of the River Tees, the camera held with steady focus on the smoking chimneys and lines of large factories and warehouses, which make up the Imperial Chemical Industries development.

There is a low angle shot of a 200ft tall factory tower. A contrasting shot records a mine chamber 800ft underground where two men with head torches and overalls walk towards the camera.

ICI’s own internal transport system is documented. Lorries progress along a road, a tractor passes through gates, a steam locomotive pulls away, then the camera cuts to a close-up of rolling stock being pulled around a corner by a train. Sacks of chemicals (Sulphate of Ammonia) are loaded by rope and crane onto a ship’s deck. Men commute to work in winter coats and hats on foot and by bicycle.

An aerial shot records newly-built terraced houses spreading from wide boulevards, “the Billingham of today.” A slow-zooming shot of a map of the British Isles follows, as the commentator explains the reasons for ICI’s situation in Billingham. Smoke and steam plumes out of a locomotive’s funnel. Vans move towards camera down a road.

The next sequence features travelling shots around the harbour area. The cargo ship Runswick is moored in dock. Smoke plumes out of a barge’s funnel, with the Transporter Bridge silhouetted in the background. Ships sit in dock.

Various shots record a coal mining facility. A steam train powers past. A travelling shot towards the Transporter Bridge along the River Tees ends this sequence.

A geological diagram of the area describes the rock layers beneath the ICI Billingham site: clay, gravel, sandstone, marl, anhydrite, limestone. Animated graphic of a shaft being sunk into the anhydrite layer.

Another animated graphic of a map of County Durham is synchronised to the commentary: railways, roads, river and sea, coal, water, anhydrite, and “last but not least, the workpeople from the nearby town” appear in succession to demonstrate what makes the “1000 acres of farmland at Billingham the ideal site” for ICI.

In shots of the village of old Billingham, a woman returns home with some shopping on Church Row, a man in hat, coat, and briefcase pushes the gate of St Cuthbert’s Church open with his walking stick. Clouds pass behind the spire of St Cuthbert’s, its clock reading 11:12. Next, there is a shot of “the old grange farmhouse, last remaining landmark of the one-time peaceful farmlands which ran down to the river”.

An animated 3D model illustrates the gradual development of the Billingham site and explains the functions of each of the factory components. Various close-ups illustrate the raw materials required for ICI chemical processes: coal is shovelled onto a fire, a glass of water is filled from a tap, a bicycle tyre is pumped up, an anhydrite rock is handled. A second montage sequence catalogues ICI’s products, its “20th century black magic”, and shows them being transported to market. These include liquid ammonia, transported away on the back of a lorry, ammonium sulphate, concentrated complete fertilisers, nitro chalk, dry cold, nitric acid, sulphuric acid, petrol, plasterboard, cement.

Another animated graphic then explains the transformation of raw materials into finished products and the essential nature of power. There are various shots of coal plants; a locomotive delivers coal; a load of coal is tipped into an underground bunker; coal is lifted by mechanical hoists to the top of the boiler house; coal is milled; and finally powdered coal is blown into the boilers. A man in glasses fills out a form.

There are shots of chimneys, pipes, and a generator converting steam into electric power. Men supervise the machinery. Two dial instruments read 46 and 35.

Inside the control room “high above the power station”, a man in a suit surveys the scene through a large window. Behind him can be seen the hundred of instruments, dials, gauges, and lights. There is a close up of the power factory meter, which reads just below 1.0, followed by a close-up of a plotter machine.

Men sit inside an oval control desk, surrounded by meters and switches, taking telephone calls. A man manipulates the controls. There are close-ups of a complicated electrical diagram and a man cleaning a glass porthole as a chemical swishes around inside. Powders are ground.

The film ends with an aerial view of the Billingham site.

Title: A Billingham Film
Title: The End