Film ID:
NEFA 19637



Visitor Tabs


A dramatised account of the re-opening during World War Two of the Tyneside shipyards closed down during the Depression. This film was a propaganda film made for the Ministry of Information in 1944, with a cast drawn from the progressive People’s Theatre in Newcastle, and a script written by Jack Common.  Includes excellent footage of women conscripted into shipbuilding and heavy engineering jobs during the war, training as welders, fitters, electricians, riggers and drillers.

Title: Tyneside Story

Produced by Spectator Films

For the Ministry of Information


Directed by – Gilbert Gunn

Story by – Jack Common

Photography – A.H. Luff

Editing – Ralph Kemplen

Sound – W.S. Bland

Musical Arrangement – Ken Hughes

Produced by – Michael Hankinson


The Cast from

The People’s Theatre Company, Newcastle-on-Tyne

The Yard Manager – Alf Simpson

The Ministry of Labour Regional Controller – Alan Thompson

The Assistant Regional Controller – W. Crabtree

The Clerk – John Bell

The Draper – G.G. Whittingham

His Wife – Sal Sturgeon

The Building Contractor – F.R. Gibson

His Foreman – Bob Griffin

The Government Training Centre Instructor – W. Wightman

“Blaydon Races” sung by the Walker Shipyard Choir

The film opens with a general view of The Castle Keep, Newcastle, as a steam train passes on the mainline track behind. The spires of The Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas can be seen in the background.  High angle view of the River Tyne, pan from the Swing Bridge to Tyne Bridge looking towards Gateshead.  General view of River Tyne, with staiths and shipyards on the Newcastle side, looking downstream.

Two teenage boys scythe weeds growing beside the berths of a disused shipyard. One boy picks up an old wooden sign that reads 1066.  The yard manager, dressed in bowler hat and suit, walks over to them and tells them the sign is the number board of the last ship that was built at the shipyard in which they are standing.  He tells them to carry on with their work “and maybe you’ll see a keel laid here before long.” One of the boys sharpens the scythe, whilst the other gets back to work. The man climbs up a steep set of stairs leading from the old berths.

A door opens and sunlight streams into an empty warehouse building. The Yard Manager enters the old fabrication sheds. Model casts of ship hulls displayed on the wooden beams prompt him to reminisce about the ships that were built in the shipyard’s history. Close-up of the different models displayed on the old roof beams, as the yard manager provides a commentary on some of this history.

His voice-over recounts:  “16th June 1886. On this day was launched from the Eldon Yard the first oil tanker, a ship of 2,300 gross tonnes.” He continues to talk about the Paris, Eupatoria and the George Robert, all ships built and launched by Mitchell and Co. at the Low Walker yard on the same day. 

A worker in overalls is hammering up a sign that reads “No. 1 Ship.” The Yard Manager appears and comments that if he had the men, the first keel could be laid.

Various shots follow of a berth with scaffolding and other equipment lying idle. A voice-over describes the content of a letter to the controller of the Ministry of Labour Regional Office, Great North Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which refers to the Admiralty’s scheme for bringing derelict shipyards into production. The letter also notifies them that the Eldon Yard is in working order and in urgent need of workers as a high priority. Shot of the sign for the Ministry of Labour and National Service Northern Regional Office.

The Ministry of Labour Regional Controller puts down a phone in his office. He states “Our only choice is to call up the men that left the yard years ago.” There is a knock on the door and the Clerk enters and explains to the controller and his colleague that he was once a frame setter at Hawthorns 14 years ago and will now enlist himself.  He leaves to collect the files requested.

Hands sift through file cards of ex-shipyard employees.

General view of a busy Newcastle street with tram approaching.

Former shipbuilders receive call-ups from the labour exchange, including a man owning a draper’s shop, a builder, a baker, an ice cream street vendor, a man selling newspapers.  The men's reactions range from pride and nostalgia through anger at the disruption to new working lives, to apprehension that the whole cycle of shipyard closures could begin again after the war (this voiced by the builder.)

Men on foot, pushing bikes and cycling along different streets make their way back to the shipyards after receiving their call-up papers.

The Yard Manager stands on the stairs outside the shipyard office building and watches them return.

Shots of men back working in their previous skilled ship yard jobs: operating a machine, perhaps at the engine works, that turns and pounds a revolving white hot steel tube; working in the mould loft on frame setting; bolt tightening; painting oil onto the hull of a ship, and welding.

A worker operates winching equipment at a building berth, the framework of a huge ship’s hull taking shape behind him, with other workers dwarfed inside the construction. Trucks carrying pre-constructed ship units are hauled by rail to the berths, as shipbuilders manoeuvre steel plate units, being winched from the quayside into the construction berth.

Tilt down from steel plate unit framed against the sky lifted by crane into the ship under construction, where shipbuilders are busy at different tasks. On a ship deck, one man lifts a steel lattice and carries it off in the foreground, whilst a woman heats a rivet with tongs in a brazier and a man punches rivets into place in the background. Close-up of the man using a pneumatic riveter on a deck of the ship. Close-up of another man using an arc welder on the keel plate of a ship deck.

Another steel unit is lifted into place within the framework of the ship, watched by two workers balanced on the steel framework of the hull. General view of the ship taking shape surrounded by wooden scaffolding.

Next, there is a ground shot of two shipyard workers in dirty overalls and flat caps knocking out the beam, which will allow the ship to move down the slipway. Other shipyard workers are gathered by the underside of the ship to watch the ship launch. The huge ship launches and moves down the slipway into the Tyne, framed by the ladder scaffolding.

Heroic group portrait of two young (apprentice?) shipbuilders and an older worker in a flat cap watching the launch.  Group portrait of the Yard Manager and three other bosses in trilby hats and suits watching the launch. Group portrait of eight workers watching without emotion down by the slipway. The central figure is the former builder, who voices his opinion. “By, it’s been a real battle to get that one away. “But, we’ll have to have some more men in this yard.” Another says: “Where will we get ‘em.”

The scene changes to an exterior shot of "The Ministry of Labour and National Service Government Training Centre." The commentary intones: “Where were the men. The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Tobruck. El Alamein. Tripoli. The Mareth Line.”

Interior shot of the training centre where women with hair tied up in head scarf turbans are operating lathes.  As a government instructor walks into shot, they all stop their machines and gather around him.  The instructor makes an announcement: “Tyneside shipyards are short of labour. And we must have ships.  So we propose starting right away here training women as electricians, deck line packers and welders.” Shots of the group of women grouped around the instructor are intercut with group portrait shots of the women inside the machine workshop, listening intently to his speech. He continues: “As you are all eligible, I hope you will volunteer.” One young woman asks: “What do I have to do?” He replies: “We’ll show you. But don’t think that shipbuilding is all heavy work. There are hundreds of jobs in the yards that can be done by women as well, or even better than men.”

Tracking shot along a line of women practicing how to work with distribution and lighting circuits used on ships. Women are working on engineering machines, learning how to face a flange. Portrait shot of one young woman operating the tooling machine. 

Women are working in another large machine workshop. Close-up of one of the women packing around a pipe for electrical cabling to make it water tight. Shot from rear of a trainee female welder in full helmet and overall. She turns and displays her small welded steel test piece to camera. She moves out of shot taking off her helmet. She stares though a window in the workshop with a view onto the shipyards outside.

Next, various scenes record training inside the shipyard’s own school for welders. An instructor shows some women trainees how to "strike an arc".  High angle shot of the trainer demonstrating to six women trainees.  Each woman then moves into their separated welding kiosks and begin welding.  A group of male ship yard riveters hold basic metal welding masks with rectangular-shaped stationary eye shields across their faces as they practice welding as a new skill.

Portrait shot of a trainee welder with face covered by a mask bearing the name “Betty White” as inlaid rivets on the mask. The man takes off his mask.

Portrait shot of a woman, named as Betty Paine, holding on her mask as she welds steel. The voice-over says she is “one of the best welders we’ve turned out, and we’ve turned out some good ‘uns. Generally, the girls do the easier welds, but Betty can handle anything. She’s as good as any man in the yard.” Portrait shot of Betty at work welding.

General views of workers at the ship building berths, where women are integrated into the work team, performing different jobs.  Portrait shot of a woman in goggles, sprawled on the keel plate of a ship under construction, arc welding.  Close-up of cutting  into steel with welding torch. 

Portrait shot of an older woman holding rivets in a brazier fire with tongs, then tossing them to the riveter (unseen).  

Women are busy painting the ship.

Two older men hand rivet using hammers, an old skill put back into use. Two men manoeuvre an hydraulic riveting machine as the gaffer oversees the work.

Portrait shot of a retired ex-shipbuilder lighting his pipe, who first started work when they were building wooden ships.

Four West Indian seamen, employed whilst waiting to re-join their ship, push a trolley carrying steel units beside the building berth, one dapper seaman in a suit dangling a cigarette in his mouth.

A man watches as large pre-fabricated sections of a war ship are crane lifted into the sky.

Looking up river, general view of the shipyards clustered at Low Walker on the Tyne.

The Builder now stands beside a shipyard berth on the Tyne, a war ship moored in the background, and delivers the final speech to camera: “Aye but wait a minute. Tyneside’s busy enough today. Old ‘uns and young ‘uns hard at work making good ships. But just remember what the yards looked like 5 years ago. Idle. Empty. Some of ‘em derelict. And the skilled men that worked in them scattered and forgotten. Will it be the same again five years from now? That’s what we on Tyneside want to know."

End title: The End