Film: 3418

Social History | 1960 | Sound | Colour


Better kitchens for the housewife of the 1960's

It stars Gilbert Harding, a cantankerous television personality, famous for holding "strong views on many subjects". Here, he addresses the problem of "housewives being tortured" (yes, really) by badly planned kitchens. Rampant sexism aside, it's a very nice and rather amusing film.
Credits roll over a jaunty tune and shots of kitchen equipment (fridges, stoves, washing machines etc), all of which are displayed randomly in a studio. Pan across stops at Gilbert Harding, who has his back to the camera. A washing machine can be seen to his left and a cooker is directly in front of him. Voiceover explains that modern technology can lighten the burden of cooking and housework. Harding turns to the camera, ready to disagree. He complains that many houses suffer from muddle and waste. The kitchen, he says, is the engine room of the house. He shuffles into a studio kitchen, full of modern equipment (a stainless steel sink! A shiny new cooker!). He claims that "ordinary kitchens can be just as efficient" as those with modern fittings, and can save the housewife time and energy. To demonstrate his point, he walks over to a scale model of a council house kitchen. The model shows a small table with two chairs, a sink unit, a cooker and several cupboards. He points at the various aspects of the room using a black stick. He notes that the cooker is in an idiotic place. In the full-size version of the kitchen, the red-haired housewife chooses that moment to open the oven door and take out a pie. Her husband barges into the room carrying a large basket of washing. He knocks the pie out of the wife's hands. Harding reprimands the lovable husband for allowing his wretched wife's kitchen to stay so badly organised. Harding is seated at the table. Using TV magic, he causes the pie to fly off the floor and re-assemble itself in the woman's hands. He instructs her to dish up the meal she has just prepared. She obediently does so. First, she collects a saucepan from on the stove. She collects crockery from the small cupboard. She goes into the pantry to collect some butter and takes it over to the sink - this is shot from the floor so only her legs are visible. Her husband can be seen in the background, looking on with an expression of gormless pride. Wife makes several more trips around the kitchen.

Scale model of the kitchen with thick, black lines showing all the routes she has taken. More are added. Cut to pan of boiling milk on the stove. Housewife runs over to rescue it. Harding lectures the couple sternly about the waste of time and effort, and compares the distance she walks with a walk around the block etc… He suggests ways in which improvements could be made. On the scale model, the cooker moves, followed by the tall cupboard and the "confounded table". Worktops and shelving is added (all animation). Harding marches up to the camera to remind the viewers that it was all his good idea. Housewife takes equipment out of a small cupboard and begins to make gravy. Harding looks smug. Husband looks pensive. Harding sits at the table drinking tea. He addresses his "invisible friend" (the narrator) and points out that the husband can be made useful by laying the table. Naturally, he shoves his teacup on the table, in the way. Husband hands it back to him and puts down the table cloth. Husband moves the ironing board and washing basket. This prompts Harding and the narrator to debate the usefulness and practicality of a separate laundry room. Harding grumpily advises the couple to do their washes in the bathroom so that their shirts do not smell of onion. The couple do not seem especially impressed.

Harding walks towards the camera. Couple are busy in the background. Harding is now pleased with the layout of this kitchen, but introduces another which he clearly despairs of. Cut to a street of terraced houses. A couple exit a car and walk towards a tall building. Harding informs us that the house was built 100 years ago and ought to have been knocked down so that nice people don't have to live in such appalling conditions. See the couple in the bare, wooden hallway. They open the door to the scullery. Inside is a dingy room with bare floor and a dusty, dirty sink. Butler's pantry ("fine, if you've got a butler!") - also dirty-looking, with cobwebs all over the sink. Kitchen. Bare except for an old dresser. Rubbish is strewn over the floor. The couple leave. Narrator explains how to make the house fit for good people to inhabit. The scullery will become the new kitchen. See shot of the sink, now cleaned and polished. The walls have been repainted and there are curtains at the window. A cooker appears to the right of the sink. Work surfaces appear with open shelves beneath them. Shelf for pots and pans appears over the oven. Fridge arrives at the far left. Laundry room made out of old pantry - washing machine, basket and ironing board appear. Room has been freshly painted. Old kitchen transformed into a dining room. Walls are papered in garish red design, curtains are a clashing shade of red check. Pine table and chairs in the centre of the room. Old dresser has been painted white. Two fresh-faced children appear at the table and the mother pours them a drink. Close-up of dresser, laden with crockery and other things which go straight on the table. Tall cupboard - holds brooms and cleaning utensils. Boiler keeps the room warm. Husband enters and warms his hands at the boiler. He sits at the dining table. Family having breakfast.

Harding interrupts from the studio kitchen. He asks about the kitchens of the future. Narrator replies that, "housewives needs have been studied by scientists". Cut to a new design of kitchen. A different housewife pulls out a twin-tub washing machine from under the sink where it can be most efficiently stored. She opens the cooker, which has been placed away from the window so as not to cast a shadow in the oven (!?). Worktops have been placed either side of the oven at optimum height for making pastry. Pan of shelf full of utensils over the cooker. Small table useful for most meals. Serving hatch for meals in the sitting room. Larder. Tall cupboard for that all-important cleaning equipment. It's a "perfect, modern, labour-saving kitchen".

But Wait! Harding bursts through the door to put his pennyworth in. He asks the housewife what she thinks of it all. (For sensitive viewers, a sick bag may be necessary at this point) She demurely replies that she likes it, and everything she needs is exactly where she needs it. This is not good enough for Harding who claims that "millions of women are being tortured" (?). Housewife works on behind him. He continues that it is the designer's job to think of the poor housewife when planning a kitchen. Moreover, he instructs the housewives to demand better working conditions from their tyrant husbands. He goes to the table to expound the main points again. Close-up of a model kitchen unit in front of him. He shows the possible arrangements to ensure efficiency. Shot of various magazines which help to plan your kitchen. Harding in studio addresses the camera with his judicious conclusion. End credits.

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