Film: 5796

Industry + Work | 1960 | Sound | Colour


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A varied film showing how post is collected, transported (by train, aeroplane or bus), sorted, and delivered to all parts of the British Isles, however remote 1960's

It includes good footage of work at a sorting office and on a sorting train, of the GPO's underground railway in London, and of postmen delivering mail, even in the most adverse conditions.

Large red bags move across, then away from us, along a pulley system above a large sorting office; the camera looks down to a row of people sorting letters. Letters are emptied from red bags. A closer shot of people sorting letters. Letters are emptied from a sack, then the camera moves up to the face of a worker in a brown coat. We see bound bundles of letters, as the commentary remarks: 'It's really amazing where it all comes from'.

A distant view of something moving in the sea. A closer look reveals a white horse drawing a cart, driven by a postman, through the water. A sack of post. We follow the horse and cart across and listen to the thick Scottish accent of the postman. A more distant view, then a close-up of the horse's head. The postman steering the cart. The horse's legs, now treading on wet sand. They move away from us over the sand.

A hand holds out a letter at the side of the road, along which a bus moves towards us. A small stream runs through a valley. The bus stops side-on to us and the door opens; a conductor comes to the door and receives a letter from a woman outside. His hands drop it into a Post Box on the bus.

We see a bucket full of cockles. A rake gathers together cockles on the wet sand. A fuller view of a man raking cockles in a shallow pool of water, on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. His hands reach down and pick up cockles.

A uniformed postman gets out of a red post van. He hands a sack of mail to a man in a cap, who adds it to a trolley of luggage; we watch him push it away towards a small aeroplane on the beach. A close-up of the crest on the plane: what looks like a horn beneath a crown. The man in the cap and a younger man in a suit approach the plane with the trolley; the man in the suit climbs through the open door to the hold. A closer view of the older man as he passes in the luggage. From beneath the propeller, a handful of passengers approach the plane. We follow the captain to the steps up to the plane, where two women stand talking to another woman, before they climb the steps and are followed by the captain, who receives a BEA box from the woman on the ground. The older man passes the sack of post to the man in the hold, who ties up the top of the sack. A side-on view of the younger man climbing out and shutting the door.

The man in the cap pushes along a contraption, perhaps some sort of gas cylinder, towards the front of the aeroplane, and extends something on a pole from it. A closer shot of him extending it in front of the cabin of the plane. The plane faces in the opposite direction, left, as the propellers start up. Sand blows around a wind sock. The man raking for cockles looks up. The plane takes off towards us and the camera follows it above.

A close shot of toy windmills on sticks, before we look along a row of market stalls. In a market square, a man holding a camera, with a parrot on his shoulder, and two other men with cameras, move left to take photographs of a woman with a parrot on her headscarf and what looks like a baby monkey in a blanket in her arms! A man approaches with a pig under his right arm, past a stall selling eggs on the left. A woman browses through skirts. A postman approaches a red pillar letter box, where the man with the pig also appears. A close shot of the pig being stroked by the postman, as they discuss pigs. The postman's head and shoulders. The man's hand puts a letter into the letter box (marked Butter Market), with the pig looking on.

In a sorting office, letters are emptied from a sack onto 'the facing-up table'. A series of quick shots of 'the longs, the shorts and the packets' being sorted into groups. We move along the table, where a number of staff work at opposite sides turning the letters the same way, so that the stamps can be franked. We move round a man feeding letters into a machine that franks them at great speed. A revolving drum, through which packets slide, while letters fall through the slats. A sequence of shots of letters moving along a sorting machine, the bigger letters being kicked up by a system of rollers.

Hands lift up a sack of letters and a man is followed as he takes them to another machine, where 'magic eyes read phosphorus marks on the stamps'. Two more shots of letters passing through machinery. Two men side-on to us type phosphorus codes onto the letters. Close shots of hands typing and of the bespectacled face of the nearer of the two men. We look over his shoulder at each letter falling into place in front of his typewriter. Several views of the machinery that reads the phosphorus codes and sorts the letters into counties.

A close-up of a letter on which someone has written 'Postman Postman Don't Be Slow / Be Like Elvis Go Man Go!'; a hand turns it over to show 'SWALK' and 'HOLLAND' on the back, together with three lipstick kiss marks; when it is shaken, white powder from dried perfume comes out. Another letter has stamps on each corner and is stamped four times; all the while, we hear two staff discuss these sort of love letters. A sorter pulls out a small box from his sack. He shows it to a colleague to the left of him. The box, which seems to be covered in pictures, is placed on a conveyor belt. The camera moves rapidly around a network of open sacks for different parts of the country, into which staff drop and toss letters. A sequence showing hands throwing letters in and the faces of the staff.

In another room at the office, a man picks up a sack of post. The sack slides down a shoot. Sacks arrive at the bottom of the shoot. Two men add two carriages to a chain of other carriages leading out of a tunnel, the GPO's underground railway. A close-up of the men locking the carriages into place. One of the men reaches up to a contraption suspended from the ceiling. A man at a control panel sets the points on the track. Levers are pulled in two stages. The small underground train moves across, then is followed away into the tunnel. It proceeds through the tunnel at the right of the picture. The view from the front of the train, as another train passes in the opposite direction. The train passes away from us on the left of the picture. We return to the view from the front of the train. A close, side-on view of the wheels of the engine coming to a standstill.

The camera moves up to examine the front of an overground railway engine. Uniformed staff pull large trolleys laden with sacks of post towards the red carriages of a 'night sorting train' that criss-crosses the country, picking up, sorting and dropping off mail. We follow the legs of a man stepping between the innumerable sacks on the platform; the camera moves up to a moustached man putting a letter into a letter box on the exterior of the train. Hands open an iron box, remove the letters and close its door; the camera moves up to a man in a brown coat, as the man with the moustache reappears at the end of the carriage and mentions that his wife's birthday card is there.

We look down a carriage in which men sort letters into pigeon holes on the left, as the moustached man walks away from us, while another man carrying his coat comes towards us, teasingly touching one of his colleagues with his cold hand as he passes. The front of the engine, as it starts to move across slowly. A Royal Mail carriage moves across slowly. The carriages pass towards us, a uniformed man walking rightwards in the same direction.

A man walks along a platform away from us, then up some steps where he leaves some post in a collection bag suspended over the track. We see three signs in a signal box: Fast/Distant, Up Fast/Outer/Home and Up Fast/Inner/Home'. A signalman pushes a lever towards us, before walking away to the far end of the room. He operates an old-fashioned telephone.

A shed stands beside a platform. The uniformed man, seen putting post in the collection bag earlier, now answers the phone. Alternate shots of the two men speaking. We follow the man out of the shed up the steps to the suspended collection bag, which he extends towards the track; two other suspended bags are beside it. We look through the driver's window at the front of the train, as it moves along at night. The driver in his lit cabin. The train passes across in the distance, moving leftwards. Two shots of the man adjusting things at the collection point. The driver's view again. Two consecutive shots of other staff on the train looking out of the doors and windows. A hand feels for the grip of a lever. Feet rise onto tiptoes; the camera moves up to show a lever being forced down. A net is pushed out from the side of the train. We look up at the suspended bags, as the train approaches in the distance. The uniformed man stands looking up in the doorway of the shed. As we look up at the suspended bags, the train moves towards us. At the moment when the bags are snatched by the passing net, we are given close shots of the bags landing in the net. The net recedes into the train once again.

Hands unfasten the bags; we follow a man carrying the sack of post contained inside to the far end of the carriage. He moves away from us along the aisle between two rows of men in brown coats sorting post. A closer view of two staff sorting handfuls of letters into pigeon holes. The camera moves along a horizontal stack of post, next to which stands a cup of tea; it moves up to a line of men in brown coats sorting in front of a wall of pigeon holes. The camera moves along slowly looking up at the faces of four of the sorters, each holding out his letters like a hand of cards. A long view towards some stacks of post further down the carriage. Several close shots of staff faces and hands sorting the letters, as we hear them talk about the guesswork sometimes required to clarify an address.

The view from the driver's position again. The driver in his cabin, light intermittently reflected on the window. A hand sorting. The face of one of the staff. We look along a line of three sorting staff, as another man collects letters that are 'ready to go through', while the man in the middle asks another in the foreground about a particular letter. A close shot of a hand turning the letter in question, to demonstrate how to reveal a partially obscured address through the window of an envelope. We look along the line of sorters again. A series of close-ups of the faces and hands of sorting staff. The view from the driver's position again. The driver seen side-on from the other side of the train this time. The driver seen from the other side.

The camera moves down over a uniformed guard, who closes a gardening brochure and makes a note in a notebook. A Post Office Inspector walks towards the guard, who is seated among stacks of sacks. The two of them face us, as they share their record of 'delays and incidents'; the camera moves right to his kettle and sandwiches. The camera moves along a kitchen surface covered in teapots and crockery, then moves up to a man making tea. He takes a teaspoon out of the buttonhole in the lapel of his brown coat. The camera moves up an iron tube, perhaps a heater, on which rests a sandwich, which another man bites into. The previous man making tea. He takes milk out of the letter box seen at the start of the film. A shot of the outside of this letter box. The view through the driver's window. A close-up of the driver's head facing right. The dial shows 90 mph.

A watch is picked up and examined. String is pulled down from a roll resting above the pigeon holes and is tied around a bundle of letters. We look along the carriage, sacks hanging on the left and pigeon holes on the right. A close shot of letters being tied together, before the camera moves to staff putting these bundles into the sacks hanging on the opposite side. A series of close shots of the bundles being tossed or placed into the sacks, of the sacks being tied, and of place labels being attached; much banter can be heard. We look through a side window, as the train approaches a station. A label for 'Crewe-Birmingham letters' is fastened to a sack. Seen from the side of the track, the train passes away from us on the right. A man walks away towards a control panel. A finger presses a button and various lights appear. The man at the panel. We look up at the outside of the control room, out of which the man looks, as the train passes away from us on the right. The panel shows '15:09'. The driver's view, as the train nears the station. The train passes across the picture.

A moustached member of staff appears in front of a sign for Crewe. Two shots of staff pulling trolleys laden with sacks of post. We look down the carriage, as some sorting staff get off and others on, each carrying belongings and bags. Two guards speak to two Post Office Inspectors about the times of the various connecting trains. A sequence of shots of trolleys being pulled and heaped with sacks of post, and of staff 'grassing' the mail bags, unloading them from the carriages. Shots of the labels of the sacks being examined and of one member of staff calling out destinations. Two staff walk towards us to the right of the train, as a whistle is heard. A guard holds up a lamp. The lamp in front of the guard.

We look down upon a man raising two torches, as we hear that some post is delivered by air. The view from an aeroplane as it moves along a runway. The camera moves down from the side of a large plane to sacks being loaded from a truck into the hold of the plane. The Royal Mail logo on the side of the plane. Sacks are lifted off the truck. A young man is seen from inside the hold lifting sacks in; the camera moves left to show another man piling them neatly at one end. In progressively closer shots, the captain and another member of staff are seen settling into their seats through a window in the plane.

The name Cambria on what we soon realise is a ship. We follow the uniformed Officer of the Watch around the deck of the ship. A number of sacks are raised in a net, then lifted towards a ship in the distance. A close-up of a sign for 'BR Holyhead', before the camera moves right to a mound of sacks destined for the Republic of Ireland. A train is seen approaching at night. A series of shots of bags being hoisted onto hooks extending from the train. The carriages move fast towards us. We see the bags being snatched by the nets at the side of the track. The bags rest in the nets. The door to the train is closed. Along a carriage of the train, staff use towels on their faces, as a sorter beginning his shift arrives. One washes with soap and water. Another puts on his tie.

We follow some postmen left into a sorting office and in front of some empty pigeon holes; they sign themselves in. We look down upon them entering another room, where they take off their caps beside another set of pigeon holes. A sequence of shots of staff sorting various sizes of post according to the numbers of the street. The postmen load their sacks with the mail, as they explain their methods of doing so. We follow one to the right where he puts 'Dead Letters' into the appropriate slots beneath that heading.

Two postmen run for a red routemaster bus approaching us, early in the morning. A side-on view of the bus pulling up and the postmen getting on. A young, cheeky bus conductor collects fares from them. The bus passes away in the dark. We follow a postman walking along a street. He comes towards us, passing some children, one of whom he pats on the head with a letter. He walks away from us, with snow about him on the grass, and children running by. He walks along a 1930s suburban street, delivering letters to individual houses.

A post van moves along a snow-covered country road, then turns and moves away from us up a steep, snow-covered road. A postman walks in almost blizzard conditions, easing himself along with a stick. A close-up of him taking a swig of something medicinal from a flask. He walks away from us through surroundings thick with snow.

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