Film ID:
NEFA 8513



Visitor Tabs


An artist is commissioned to paint a mural about PVC and pays a visit to ICI to see what it is. This sponsored documentary covers the discovery in 1838 of polyvinyl chloride, the history of PVC, its invention, creation of polymers in chemistry labs, and some of its applications many years later, all hung on the narrative of an artist’s investigation to inform his work.

A chauffeur-driven company car pulls up at ICI (Plastics) Division at Welwyn Garden City and an artist with a commission to paint a mural for an international exhibition gets out, the subject PVC.

Credit: Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. Plastics Division Presents

Title: Sketches for a Mural

Westrex Recording

Credits: Photographed in Eastman Colour by Jonah Jones

Written by John Ingram

Edited by Anne Barker

Sound Recorded by Ron Abbott

Adviser for ICI Plastics Division Margaret Farrell

Credits: Directed by Frank Worth

Produced by Cecil Musk

In association with Film Producers Guild Ltd.

The dandy artist in a natty red bow tie and suit sits in a board room with some ICI executives to discuss the subject of the commission, 1950s trappings such as an atomic style coat stand decorating the room. One executive tips some white powder from a paper cone onto the table. The artist is a little bemused. He asks “Isn’t it a little bit limited as a subject?” They show him a display of some of the things that have been made out of PVC, which include fashionable handbags, shoes, a coloured vinyl record, kitchen dish drainer, protective cover for electric cabling, and safety gloves. One executive states “They’re all brothers under the skin. They’re all polyvinyl chloride.” He shows the artist two sticks, one rigid and one bendy. The artist is impressed.

The artist asks what PVC is. Another executive explains the chemical production of PVC as the artist looks confused. Another recounts the story of the discovery of PVC. An historical dramatised interlude depicts the discovery of the new chemical powder compound in 1838 by scientist Henri Regnault. In the boardroom, the artist sketches an imagined portrait of Regnault. Another executive continues the history of PVC as the artist smokes a cigaro. The artist gets interested and asks to see where PVC is made.

They move into a chemical laboratory at ICI where PVC is produced and the process is explained and shown. The artist smokes as he listens to a chemist. Rows of petri dishes hold variations of polymers, with different coloured fillers, plasticizers and colours added to them. Various research chemists, including a woman, check and examine each stage of the process. The artist starts to sketch as the chemists go about their work.

Three research chemists examine photographs of polymers, each structurally different, and they point to chemical equations on a blackboard.

Deep red PVC polymer is ladled onto a machine with rollers and the manufacturing process is checked. Chemists take a sample to test and discuss.

A young research chemist with a slick Brylcreemed quiff oversees one experiment with a foaming agent as the commentary describes the technical process. A chemist displays some of the results, a type of foam PVC, to camera to show the even cellular structure. An older chemist illustrates the non-inflammable quality of a PVC product by running it across the flame of a Bunsen burner. An experienced miner blows on his safety lamp as he talks through safety process with some young apprentice miners. The miners head off into a room where a man is fixing coloured fire resistant PVC to conveyor belts and they are instructed about its safety qualities.

The experienced miner leads the group of young miners to the pit head winding house and a miner checks their safety equipment one by one before they enter the lift. The caged door is closed on them. The winding house bell is pressed and they descend to the coal face, down “300 million geological years”. A miner shovels coal onto a conveyor down the pit.

Deep sea fisherman Tom walks along a quayside in the fishing port of Fleetwood to his trawler. Another crew member is repairing rope on the trawler. Tom shows the older fisherman his new PVC foul weather clothing. The gaffer shouts him over as they prepare to set off. Various shots follow of seagulls out at sea.  The crew in their protective PVC gear haul in the nets and tip out the fish on deck.

A woman buys fish at a fishmonger who displays the fish – plaice, fresh haddock, and whitebait - on rigid PVC dishes at his stall. The bone remains of fish remain on someone’s dinner plate. A stylish woman nibbles on leftovers while flicking through a copy of Ideal Home magazine in her very 50s kitchen. The commentary states “So after the meal come the chores that most housewives feel they can surely leave once in a while to their loving protectors. Although most loving protectors prefer bread winning to dish washing.” The artist joins her at the table with his newspaper. She orders him to wash up. He reluctantly gets up and puts on the PVC gloves. A routine follows where he shows off his new knowledge of PVC and the different things in the kitchen made of it. She joins in and shows him the PVC covered plate rack, PVC curtains, her apron and her young infant’s plastic nickers, all the niche applications flexible PVC enabled.  She wags her finger at her husband artist.  The commentary continues: “Surprising. Women always seem to know more than you’d expect.”

The manicured hands of the artist’s wife sift through a pile of multi-coloured PVC fabrics. The artist’s wife is preparing to model for her artist husband. She puts on some high heeled PVC rainproof overshoes and dons a yellow PVC raincoat as she steps onto a raised platform in the corner of her living room, its décor also fashionably 50s, as the artist sketches at a drawing board. At his request, she pulls on a matching hat. Seamlessly, she turns and is now posing in a strapless 50s swimsuit with a plastic beach ball. She picks up other blow-up PVC beach toys. He directs her as she poses. She picks up a colourful elephant toy and joins her husband to discuss his sketches.

Some men examine various colour sketches of cars around a table. An artist is putting the finishing touches with a spray paint pen to a large scale mural board of a car design. Other product designers are drawing up scale drawings with measurements and testing seating and interior designs on a stationary mock-up of a car for testing prototypes called a ‘Trimbuk’. A designer colours in the drawing of a car seat. A woman tests samples of PVC leather cloth fabric for a car seat and instructs the designer on her selection. They test out a reel of fabric on a car seat.

A car is driven onto an automated ramp for adjustments to front lights. A mechanic is fixing PVC electrical wiring in the car engine. The artist leans against a wall and sketches. One designer gets in and feels the quality of the red PVC leather look seats, “the look that immediately makes friends”.

Examples follow of the use of PVC in forms of transport. Cars are parked next to a race course, horses and jockeys training in the background. Various shots follow of the modern (Vickers-Armstrong) Viscount airliner, taxiing in to airport, moving out of a BEA Airways hangar and around the runways. A mechanic checks the PVC covered cables in the engines of the Viscount. Inside the airliner, cabin attendants lay out magazines in cabins made of PVC – wall coverings and window blinds – “the most widely used plastic in the world”. Passengers walk across from the airport terminal to the waiting Viscount plane.

The artist is seated on the floor of his studio, smoking, and surrounded by his sketches. He holds up a sketch of workers in a chemical works wearing PVC protective clothing.

Again, the modern ICI plant for production of PVC polymers is documented. “Probably this one plastic touches our lives more than any other.” A man stacks bags of ‘Melvic’ PVC compound. A lorry heads off through the ICI works.

The artist uses all his sketches to mock up a draft mural on the story of PVC plastic. He picks up a sketch of an ICI research chemist, which looks like his very first sketch of Henri Regnault. The chemist he had sketched in the ICI labs is at work with his co-workers.

Credits: The Plastics Division of ICI Thank their PVC Customers for Help in Making This Film.

Titles: The End Film Producers Guild