TINKER, TAYLOR . . ? WORLD OF OPPORTUNITY (1941) film no: 4074
This is a film made by W G Gregory for the Education Committee of the City of Sheffield to help young adults choose a career by providing information on all the courses that are available. The film covers a huge range of skilled occupations taught at technical colleges and provides a wealth of examples of the activities on offer in classes for those leaving school as well as adults. Throughout the film intertitles provide information, prompt the viewer with questions, and give advice.
Title and Credits: ‘Tinker, Taylor . . ?’
‘Produced by the Education Committee of the City of Sheffield, by W.M. Watkins’
‘The Education Committee recognises its indebtedness to all those who have contributed to the production of this film, the employees and directors of many Sheffield firms, the students, teachers, head teachers and principals serving under the committee.’
‘Titles: F.D.Lindley. W.G. Gregory. A.Ellis Blow.’
‘Illustrations: H. Polan, R.J.R. Williamson. Machine Drawing J.B. Spir.’
‘Story, Script, Photography, Direction: W.G. Gregory’
The titles come up over film of a ‘tinker’ who is out in the woods cooking over an open fire.
A boy leafs through a picture book about a tinker. This is followed by a long sequence showing various jobs beginning with a youth welding and some men pulling a container of molten metal out of a furnace before pouring it into moulds. Then the men put some red hot metal through a machine to be hammered and then rolled into shape. Others work on a metal lathe and a cutting machine, an electric saw shaping wood, a workman measures the dimensions on a lathe. Workers are shown in a number of other occupations: there is a miner at the coalface, a railway engine driver, a bus driver, a woman on an adding machine, a woman running off prints from a stencil machine, a hairdresser, a baker, a typist, a phone operator, someone checking an electrical or telephone exchange. The film then returns back to the forge, the welder, and finally, the tinker.
Titles again are displayed against a background where the tinker is sitting by his fire.
Title – ‘What have you decided to be?’ ‘YOU?’ ‘A choice made lightly may prove a lifelong load. Let the best within you choose.’ ‘Authority?’ ‘Let it be well used for good’ ‘MONEY’ ‘EASE’ ‘In INTEREST you will find much true happiness’ ‘Let your job need Skill’ ‘Let your job need KNOWLEDGE’ ‘YOUR choice!’ ‘WHAT IS IT TO BE?
Two adults in a classroom sit at a table with pen and paper and consider which course to choose.
Again, there are titles paired with images which illustrate the intertitles.
Title – ‘If you wish to MAKE,’ ‘to MOULD,’ ‘to FORGE,’ ‘to SHAPE,’ ‘Or DESIGN – that others may make,’ ‘Then, as a junior you must study,’ ‘PRACTICAL MATHEMATICS’ ‘GEOMETRICAL DRAWING’ ‘ENGINEERING SCIENCE’ ‘These are TECHNICAL SUBJECTS’.
A man hammers into shape a piece of red hot steel, molten steel is poured into moulds, and a piece of red hot steel is hammered into shape by a large press at a forge. A man works at a lathe, and another man draws at a technical drawing board. This is followed by men working at a cutting machine and a drill, and a young man reads at a desk,
The man and woman ponder over their pen and paper.
Title – ‘If you wish to RECORD,’ ‘to BUY,’ ‘to SELL,’ ‘to ESTIMATE,’ ‘To control production and its cost,’ ‘and finally ORGANISE,’ ‘then at the beginning your selection should be from –‘ ‘BOOK-KEEPING’ ‘COMMERCIAL MATHEMATICS,’ ‘BUSINESS METHODS’. ‘ENGLISH’ ‘TYPEWRITING’ ‘These subjects are taught in the Local District Schools.’ ‘In the Autumn join the evening classes . . prepare for the years to be . . In the long evenings tomorrow may be made.’
A woman looks through a filing cabinet, men negotiate across a table, and a man works through some figures, whilst other tasks are shown that involve estimating. Some paper orders and accounts are shown. Two men discuss a layout on a map showing the location of various industries, including a colliery and barges on a canal. As the man and woman continue to ponder their future, a woman checks figures in a ledger. Various work tasks are shown: stencilling, stamping, talking on the telephone, getting a file, working at a telephone switchboard, and at an adding machine. Men speak at a committee meeting, whilst someone takes minutes. There is a man who types on a typewriter on his lap. A school is shown in the background.
Back in the classroom, the man and woman fill out their forms along with other potential students.
Title – ‘For Audrey and Bryan the class fees for the session are remitted’ ‘This is because they enrolled immediately’. ‘For those who wait a year, the fees become . . 1st subject 2/5d. 2nd subject 1/6d. 3rd subject 1/0d.’ ‘They are wise to enrol immediately,’ ‘Schoolwork is remembered . . if, in two classes they obtain 80% of attendances, next year they will be awarded free studentships.’ ‘Teachers advise their choice.’ ‘For Audrey and Bryan the subjects are ‘COMMERCIAL’’.
A teacher goes through some points to the class. She has listed them on a blackboard. These are illustrated with images of various kinds of commercial papers, including loans to students, a cheque, a money order.
Some college classes are shown, including, shorthand, typing and acting. A comptometer is taught using a blackboard, and a man checks entries in a ledger. There is a maths class, an adding machine, and a stencil printing off papers typed with, ‘The speed of modern business demands mechanical aids’. This is followed by images of a phone, typing, stencilling, adding machine, an machine which stamps address, a switchboard, and an elderly man checking a ledger who stops to shoo off a cat. A man erases the blackboard which he had been using to illustrate the layout of a house.
Title – ‘Jean has chosen ‘TECHNICAL’ ‘So has John’.
John and Jean greet each other in a class, and the teacher has various geometrical and arithmetical examples on a blackboard. Jean works at a technical drawing desk, and the two of them perform an experiment measuring pressure. This experiment leads to some joking between them.
Title – ‘After two years of successful Junior work, students go to the College of Commerce and Technology.’ ‘To the Building School’
Several of the courses at the college are then illustrated: ‘Architects’, ‘Bricklayers’, ‘Joiners and Carpenters’, and ‘Plasterers’.
Title – ‘To the Trade School’ ‘Hairdressers’, ‘Taylors’, ‘Launderers’, ‘Gas Fitters’, ‘Plumbers’, ‘Heating Engineers’, ‘Sheet Metal Workers’, ‘Welders’, ‘Braziers’, ‘Cable joiners’, ‘Telegraph Messengers’, ‘Bakers’, ‘Confectioners’, ‘Flour Millers’, ‘Meat Inspectors’, ‘Meat Traders’
Again, several of the courses at this School are illustrated: a woman checks the effects of chemicals on different fabrics, two men work on installing a water heater, in a workshop, plumbing trainees work making various kinds of piping, again in a workshop, trainees fix some piping to a central heating radiator, trainees cut and shape sheet metal. A milling machine is shown in action, and students checking the end product. The milled flour is put into sacks, and these are loaded onto lorries. Trainees are shown how to inspect cattle, and later the carcass. At an abattoir, carcasses are cut up and the various parts of the cow are shown.
Title ‘Placed conveniently are centres for Co-operative Employees’ ‘Post Office Girl Workers’, ‘Mining Students’
A register for the Brightside and Carbrook Co-op is shown. Women sort out post. In a classroom, a piece of coal is examined, and surveyor’s and other mining equipment is used as well.
Title – ‘Subjects taught in the Commerce Section include…’ ‘Languages’, ‘Music’, ‘Accounting’, ‘Commercial and Company Law’, ‘Costing’, ‘Business Economics’, ‘Shorthand’, ‘English’, ‘Typewriting’, ‘Secretarial Practice’, ‘Sanitary inspectors’,
The film includes images which illustrate the various subjects. Inspectors check pipes in the snow, and then samples of milk are taken from a milk churn, bottled, and put in sealed packages. They then visit a sewage plant and inspect water from a tap.
Title – ‘Grocers’, ‘Electrical Workers’, ‘Post Office Engineers’, ‘Mathematics’, ‘Heat Engines’, ‘Machine Drawings’, ‘Students of Metallurgy’, ‘Radio Engineers’. ‘And for Transport Workers’: ‘Economic Geography’, ‘Office Routine’, ‘Law of Inland Carriage’, ‘Economics of Transport’.
There is a grocery store which includes McDougall’s flour, Four Crowns flour and Ovaltine among the items in its stock. There is more footage to illustrate the subjects described by the titles.
Title – ‘Other courses include: ‘The School and Higher School Certificates’, ‘The external degrees of London University,’ ‘In the College of Domestic Science’, ‘Cookery’, ‘Dressmaking’, ‘Tailoring’, ‘Needlework’, ‘First Aid and Home Nursing’, ‘Soft furnishing’, ‘Laundry Work’
There is an image of a university cap and gown, In a cookery class, student make cakes. To illustrate dressmaking, one of the students gets measured up for a dress. Another student sews by hand while another uses a Singer sewing machine. For First Aid, one student has a bandage put on by another. Students re-upholster a chair and a needlework box. Some wet laundry is put through a mangle, a student does some ironing, and another mixes something in a bowl with hot water.
Title – ‘In many of these subjects teaching certificates may be obtained’, ‘At the College of Arts and Crafts studies are directed towards an appreciation of design in daily life.’ ‘Form, Colour, Arrangement’, ‘Design suitable for purpose’, ‘These are primary considerations’, ‘To these ends early studies are directed’.
Students are busy in a life drawing class. In another class they practice calligraphy, while others are outside drawing a church.
Title – ‘Progress is achieved by individual creative work.’ ‘Sculpture, Pottery’.
A student makes a scale model of a figure, another chisels letters, and others make relief sculptures. One of the students breaks a sculpture out of a mould, others throw pots on a pottery wheel, and they also take ceramics out of a clay oven.
Title – ‘Painting and Decorating’,
Students practice putting up wallpaper and doing fancy painting. There is a poster which advertises ‘Yorkshire Apprentices Competition 1941’. Another poster has, ‘Proud of our industrial strength, Sheffield 1941.’ Students also work to paint other posters.
Title – ‘Embroidery’, ‘Cabinet making’, ‘Silversmiths’, ‘Costume and Millenary design’,
A shop window display of silks is put together. An embroidery class makes designs and measures each other to make clothes. There is one design which looks like flared trousers. Several examples of clothing from the class are shown. In a woodworking class, some cabinet doors are finished off, and other students also work to make cabinets. Again, some examples of their work are shown. Several silversmiths practice their art: marking, cutting, welding and polishing. Examples are shown of their work also. A class of young women paint designs for dresses, hats and more elaborate costumes. Some of the students get measured up, and others model some of their clothing.
Title – ‘In this Multitude of Opportunity, progress may be tested by yearly examination’ ‘Whatever your course the final examination should certainly be taken.’ ‘Certificates, Diplomas, proof of purpose, tokens of study, vouchers of attainment’, ‘Tributes to Determination’, ‘Passports to RESPONSIBILITY’.
A further series of images are shown to illustrate the many different types of courses on offer. The intertitles are laid over a list of courses, followed by a Certificate from the Chartered Institute of Secretaries. Then other certificates and diplomas appear one after the other.
Title – ‘But, in your design for living, let there be Hobbies’.
Here, there is another series of examples of different classes: two boys play with an electric model train set, a man develops film in a dark room, a choir sing, there is a first aid class, an art class, embroidery class, a gardening class, model aeroplanes are made and tested.
Title – ‘Health’.
A boxing class is followed by a series of different gym activities by both boys and girls, including on the ropes, hurdling the horse and handstands. The film then goes to a dance class where girls practice steps in a line in the style of the ‘tiller girls’. The dance class if followed by scenes at a the Millhouses swimming pool where men and women are dive and swim.
Title – ‘Companionship’
A man performs a tap-dance routine in front of an appreciative audience. This is followed by a variety of different games including: a mixed darts match, dominoes, chess, table tennis and hoops and skittles. Out in the countryside, people are cycling and rambling. Back inside a swing jazz band plays while couples dance. This footage double exposed with images of weddings.
Title – ‘And if with these ROMANCE should come your way’ ‘… you’ll need to learn…to make and BAKE…to MEND…and DECORATE’. ‘But to end you must begin’ ‘Study these booklets’. ‘There is an Evening School in your district’, ‘Go to it’.
Each of these intertitles is accompanied by appropriate illustrative images. A number of covers of booklets are shown including those of the College of Commerce and Technology, District Evening Schools and Evening Clubs Institutes, College of Arts and Crafts, College of Domestic Science. A young men and women make their way around a college. The tour finishes with a cat washing itself in the doorway.
The final scene features the tinker before the closing title: ‘Tinker, tailor . . what is it to be?’
This is a film made by a Sheffield filmmaker William Gordon Gregory – so named after the famous organiser of the Gordon Riots who died shortly before his birth. As he was moving into middle age, Gregory made a large number of films, some during the war period, as in this case, and many after the war, mainly in colour. Gregory was himself a teacher, of Chemistry, at the Senior Technical School; and it must have been this background in education, together with his filming expertise – in strong evidence in the film, with its many dissolves between scenes – that made him a natural candidate to make the film. He is remembered on the Sheffield forum website, where he is given the nickname “pop” – presumably because of his chemistry experiments. He left his teaching career to be able to devote more time to putting on film shows.
One of his 1940s colour films is Sheffield Climbers; an excellent film showing climbers in the Peak District. Even though not a climber himself, this film may well have inspired his son, Dave Gregory, who went to make a national reputation as a climber.
Tinker, Tailor . . ? undoubtedly reflects the skills shortage that developed because of the war, and would have been anticipated to exist once the war was over, with many skilled men having lost their lives. Indeed Sheffield itself had experienced fairly heavy casualties already as a result of bombing raids on the 12th, 13th and 15th December 1940. These air raids caused extensive damage to the city centre and to areas including, Millhouses, Meersbrook, Heeley, Norfolk Park, Park Hill, Pitsmoor, Neepsend, Glossop Road, Broomhill, Sharrow and Nether Edge. The Roll of Honour puts the total killed from these raids as 572. There were more casualties in renewed raids in March and May 1941. The film is quite remarkable though in being made at the height of the war, yet without there being any evidence in the film that the world was at war.
This film is clearly aimed at the post-school 15+ age group who were being catered for in further education, although before 1944 this was called technical education. The jobs and courses that are highlighted in the film are for the most part the kind of skilled vocational subjects that would be found in technical colleges. At that time there were also technical schools, and Sheffield had a Junior Technical School – this became the Senior Technical School where Gregory taught in 1945. The need for a sound technical education had already been identified in an Education Committee report in 1920, which noted the statutory obligation on the local authority to provide secondary school education. The need for improved training and qualifications was evident. Before the 1944 Education Act, 90% of all young people left school at 14, with only 10% achieving passes in public examinations.
Although the possibility of going into higher education is mentioned in the film, among all the other options, it is clearly very much peripheral to the thrust of the film. Only two years later, in 1943, the report of the Norwood Committee accepted the ideologically convenient idea that there were three types of mind, the academic, the technical and the practical. It is fairly obvious which types of ‘mind’ this film aims at. This idea lay behind the three tiered system of secondary education and the 11 plus that was introduced by the 1944 Act.
Even at this time there was evidence against social selection and for a comprehensive system. But this didn’t stop a hierarchy in secondary education, reinforced by streaming in secondary modern schools. The affect of this in reinforcing class divisions in educational attainment were highlighted by Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden in the early 1960s in their famous post-war study based in Huddersfield (see References). Based on their own experiences, Dennis Marsden was the son of a mill worker from West Yorkshire, they campaigned for the comprehensive system, not introduced nationally until 1965 – see the Context for Ten Years On: Myers Grove School (1969-70).
The film might in fact be seen as fairly enlightened for the time, with its stress on ensuring that students make the right choice, and that this be based on knowledge and skill, and on what the prospective student finds interesting. This doesn’t entirely chime in with the perceived need of the post-war Labour government for getting young people into jobs as early as possible.
The film also reflects the gender stereotypes of the time, and that are in many areas still with us. Apart from some evidence of a slight change – with a young woman in a technical class – the fact that so many women during the war were doing traditionally men’s jobs, especially in Sheffield where so much of the steel production and engineering was turned over to munitions work, doesn’t seem to have filtered through to the policy of Sheffield’s Education Committee – see the Context for Munitions Factory (1940s). In fact during the war there was a real concern among the powers that be that women would be reluctant to return to domestic duties after the war was over. A Royal Commission on Population in 1943 urged that men should be the breadwinners, and that the majority of married women should stay at home.
As well as providing an almost comprehensive list of jobs and vocational courses in Sheffield in the 1940s, the film gives a long list of the colleges. There were as many as 1,300,000 in this sector of education in 1938, although only a small proportion of these were full time. The 1944 Education Act specifically required LEAs to make provision for this. The colleges mentioned in the film have now all gone, or become incorporated into other institutions, such as Sheffield College formed by the merger of six FE colleges in 1993 – as good a place as any to check local further and adult education in Sheffield is South Yorkshire Women Online, which also has an Oral History project related to this film, 'South Yorkshire Women in Industry'. One person to benefit from one of the courses on show was the pioneer sculptor, designer and silversmith Brian Asquith,who was born in Sheffield in 1930 and studied at the Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts.
Another notable feature of the film is the fact that it seems to target adults as well school leavers. In 1917 a Committee on Adult Education was set up under A L Smith, Master of Balliol College. This published a Report in 1919 which saw adult education as, “a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore shall be both universal and lifelong.” (cited in Gordon, p 219). This isn’t very far away from the, contested, ideas of the ‘learning society’ and of ‘lifelong learning’ developed in the late 1960s, and more recently in the 1990s. At this time adult education was run by bodies independent of the LEAs, in particular by the Workers’ Educational Association, founded in 1903, and was still on the fringe of educational policy. The report recommended that LEAs help to establish institutions to provide adult education – although Sheffield was one of just three LEAs that failed in this regard (Gordon, p 219). The film seems to indicate that, certainly by 1941, this had been put right. Somewhat surprisingly, compulsory education was introduced in the army in 1941, with weekly sessions on citizenship and current affairs!
Away from the more vocational courses, the film has some nice footage of young women enjoying the delights of doing the 'Tap and Kick' routine made famous by the Tiller Girls – today apparently known as 'Precision Dancing'. The Tiller Girls were formed by John Tiller in Manchester in 1890, going on to influence the Rockettes in the US, and remained popular into the 1960s – they subsequently reformed but disbanded in 2009. The film also has some interesting footage of the open-air swimming pool at Millhouses, which was opened on 15th August 1929 –acclaimed to be the finest in the country. For more examples of fine diving at Millhouses see Sheffield Swimmers (1934-34), and the Context for this on the swimming pool itself.
Peter Gordon et al, Education Policy in England in the Twentieth Century, Woburn Press, London, 1991.
David Hey, ‘Sheffield Schools, 1918-1960, in Clyde Binfield et al (eds), The History of the City of Sheffield, Vols. 2and 3, Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
Philip Healy, ‘Sheffield at War’, Ibid.
Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden, Education and the Working Class, Routledge and Paul, London, 1962.
Stuart Ranson (editor), Inside the Learning Society, Cassell Education, London, 1998.
Sally Tomlinson, Education in a post-welfare society, 2nd edition, Open University Press, 2005.
Sheffield forum website
Tiller School of Dance
South Yorkshire Women in Industry
This film is an extract. To access the complete film please contact the Yorkshire Film Archive