Film ID: YFA 1931 Video of YFA 1931 The Queen of English Cities 1970 THE QUEEN OF ENGLISH CITIES 1970 Visitor TabsDescription Made in 1970, this is a documentary presenting the sites and monuments of York. Included is footage of the Mystery Plays, the historic city walls and bars, market stalls, and scenes in and around the city centre. The film is accompanied by a commentary explaining the historical importance of the sites included in the documentary. Title – Armada Presents The Queen of English Cities Narrated by… Andrew Faulds Photographed… by Georges Bekes Directed by… John Dooley The film opens with shots of the York Minster, City Walls, Guildhall, and street-signs. The commentary informs us about the background and historical traditions of York. This is followed by footage of St. William’s College, Treasurer’s House, and Stonegate. It is the day of the Lord Mayor’s procession, and he and his fellow dignitaries parade through the streets. There is also footage of the River Ouse and small city centre streets. The commentary points out that all the streets in York point towards the Minster. The streets are full of shoppers and tourists, all of whom are dressed in contemporary 1970s fashions. Next is an extract from one of the Mystery Plays. The players arrive by boat and dock at the outskirts of the Museum Gardens. A crowd has gathered around to watch the actors perform here at the end of Marygate. A traditional Mystery Plays waggon has been set up in the Minster Yard, and the main plays will take place at the Abbey Ruins in the Museum Gardens. Following the scenes of the Mystery Plays is a montage of people, places, and artwork celebrating the York Festival. An art exhibition has been set up in the catacombs of York Minster, there is dancing in the city streets near the Castle Museum, and finally there is a special production in the Theatre Royal. This production is an interactive event for children. Also part of the festivities is a disco which takes place at the annex of the Theatre Royal. The next scene takes place at York Minster. Interior and exterior footage of the cathedral is included, and the commentary points out historically significant features and the Minster’s roll under different religious rulers. This is followed by shots of Roman Headstones at the Yorkshire Museum, Clifford’s Tower, Merchant Taylor’s Guild, market stalls being visited by many shoppers, All Saints Church, and the Shambles. Again, the significance of each of these sites is highlighted by the commentary. York’s city walls are an important part of its history, and the film includes footage of the walls and different bars including Walmgate Barbican, Micklegate Bar, and Bootham Bar. From medieval buildings to Georgian architecture, and examples of this style are shown including the Mansion House and the buildings along St. Leonard’s Place. There is also extensive footage of the famous Victorian Street at the Castle Museum. The next scene takes place at York Racecourse. A huge crowd has turned out on race day, and all the excitement during the race is captured. Following this is footage of sailboats on the River Ouse. The film ends with shots of the recent Coppergate complex, the Theatre Royal and aerial shots of the city. Title – The End. An Armada Production Context This film was probably commissioned by York City Council as a promotional film for the city, clearly aimed at tourists. This kind of promotional film, for both places and for businesses, was fairly common from the 1950s onwards – see the Context for Having a Wonderful Time! (1960). It is difficult to find any information on the company who made the film, Armada Production, although some of their films can be found in Gifford and in Alan Goble’s splendid The Complete Index to World Film (CITWF) website (References). Around five years earlier they made a similar film called A Date with the Sun, held with Screen Archive South East. This was a seaside publicity film advertising the attractions of the Kent resort of Margate, with the distinction of having Kenneth Horne, of Around the Horne fame, as narrator. Armada Production shouldn’t be mistaken for the makers of Rio Bravo! (Or with the company that currently trades under that name). Both the BFI and CITWF give a list of 64 films made by the director John Dooley between 1953 and 1982, often with Armada Production. Some of these films were also made with the same narrator, Andrew Faulds. Rather surprisingly, if the BFI database is correct, this is the same Andrew Faulds who was the actor turned MP. In fact he continued acting whilst an MP, and narrated many documentaries – quite a few in 1970. In this year he also played a small part as one of Tchaikovsky's gay lovers, his nephew Vladimir Davidov, in The Music Lovers – a friend of Ken Russell, he played in many of his films. In 1970 he was Labour MP for Smethwick, prominent in his opposition to racism, and later outspoken in support of the Palestinians and in opposition to the Falkland’s War. With a somewhat different sounding voice, he can be heard as the voice of ‘Mayday’ in Tony Hancock’s famous Radio Ham (1961). Perhaps the most interesting part of The Queen of English Cities is the film of the 1969 Mystery Plays. This historic cycle of Christian plays were revived in 1951, in the York Festival of the Arts, as a part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. They continued to be an integral part of York Festivals, running every three years (later changing to every four years). The 1963 production had a Brechtian structure of conflict between the poor and their rulers whilst the 1966 production was regarded as rather staid, despite the ban on representations of the deity on the professional stage being lifted in that year (see Rogerson, References). Local amateur director Edward Taylor, who had founded the York Co-operative Players and was Director of the York Court Players, was chosen for the 1969 production. This was a turn away from the more professionally run productions since 1951. According to Margaret Rogerson this was for cost-cutting reasons: having lost £14,653 in 1966. But Rogerson also argues that the plays have traditionally been a ‘theatre of the people’: as originally bringing together masters and their employees to champion their trades, with actors being unpaid, and with performances on the streets which everyone could watch (References). All of this being evident in this film. It was the York amateur theatre groups, which mushroomed in the 1950s, that were the mainstay of the revived productions. Yet Margaret Rogerson relates that behind the scenes there was a conflict of views in the early 1960s between the York Festival Society, desiring a professional production, and the local branch of the British Drama League, representing amateur players (her book goes into some detail on this). In 1969 Edward Taylor had an all amateur cast (only the lighting designer was a professional). Taylor also directed the 1973 production, which was filmed by Patrick Olsen and can also be viewed on YFAO, York Mystery Plays 1973. In 1969 Edward Taylor approached Patrick Olsen to work on the set, as they had worked together on many productions for the Rowntree Theatre. Patrick worked as a window dresser for York Co-operative Society, made films and also put on puppet shows, making his own marionettes – see The Yellow Balloon (1969). Patrick designed, crafted and painted the highly praised set in the Museum Gardens – seen from above in the film. Patrick made the stage set, for the first time, as an integral part of the abbey ruins, using all eight arches of the nave. The platform raised the action of the play above ground level so that it could be better seen and heard. It also allowed for many more points of entry for the actors. John White, one of three actors who played Jesus in 1969, in a 2003 interview states that, “Patrick Olsen's set . . . for '69 was the best set there has ever been for the Mystery Plays, . . . [by] the use of the polystyrene, he made it look as if it was an extension of the abbey.” John White, who had played Adam in 1957 and Gabriel in 1960, is also shown being interviewed in York Mystery Play Interviews, also on YFA Online. (The 2003 interview, together with an interview with Patrick Olsen and photographs taken by Olsen of the 1969 production, can be found at the York Mystery Plays Archives in York – see References). Rogerson notes that both the 1969 and 1973 productions were ‘reverent’ and ‘dignified’, steering clear of anything risky. This middle path was vulnerable to criticism from those academics looking for a more historically authentic production, and those looking for something more adventurous. In 1968 stage censorship was abolished, allowing nudity on the stage – as in Hair which opened on Broadway in 1968. Taylor declined the offer of Adam and Eve to appear naked – that had to wait until 1980. Yet, a similar kind of daring in the theatre could also be applied to religious subjects was shown with Godspell in 1971 and Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972. For more on the historic background of the Mystery Plays see the Context for York Mystery Plays 1973. The commentary provides much of the information for the film, although it leaves out some interesting background, such as the two references to Dutch immigrants. In the 1530s several Dutch migrants were persecuted for heresy in York, alongside Anabaptists; although Dickens argues that they were more likely influenced by the Lollards – followers of Yorkshireman John Wyclif (References).In the early sixteenth century most printers in York were Dutch, and later in the century Dutch Protestant refugees fled religious persecution in Spain and came to England, to York (and Tottenham) in particular, usually becoming weavers. Neither is an explanation given for the odd street name, Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. A candidate for the smallest street in York, this apparently translates as "Neither one thing nor the other”. Although as the city's whipping post and stocks were sited here in the middle ages, it might have a more literal meaning! References A G Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of york, 1509-1558, published for the University of Hull by Oxford University Press, 1959. Denis Gifford, The British Film Catalogue, Volume 2 Non-Fiction, 3rd edition, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001 The Archive for the Mystery Plays is held at the National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret's Church, Off Walmgate, York. D M Palliser, Tudor York, Oxford University Press, 1979. Margaret Rogerson, Playing a Part in History: The York Mystery Plays 1951-2006,University of Toronto Press, 2009. An interview with Patrick Olsen on this can be found at the yorkmysteryplays website, below (this also has a collection of Olsen photographs of the production, programmes and press cuttings): Beadle, R and King P, eds., York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling, London, Oxford University Press, 1969. Purvis, J S, The York Cycle of Mystery Plays, London, SPCK, 1962. Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Plays, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1972 The Complete Index to World Film (CITWF) Michael White’s Obituary of Andrew Faulds, the Guardian Further Information Maria & Henk Staal, Romans, Vikings, Churches and Chocolate: The History of York in a Nutshell, FTK Publishing, 2007.