Advertisement

Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 413–430 | Cite as

The US Embassy and British film policy, 1947–1948: a ‘lesser but highly explosive question’

  • Jonathan ColmanEmail author
Article

Abstract

In August 1947 the British Treasury imposed a substantial tax on film imports, to conserve dollars for the purchase of essential goods from abroad. In response, the American film industry stopped exporting its product to Britain, and the US Embassy began lobbying vigorously against the tax. American diplomats wanted to promote free trade and feared that the US film industry might disseminate propaganda against European Recovery Programme aid planned for Britain. The tax was repealed in March 1948 partly due to Embassy protests, but the British authorities rejected the concerns of US diplomats over the subsequent quota system because of the seemingly greater importance of bolstering the indigenous film industry. This article examines the controversy over British film Policy 1947–1948 and offers fresh insights into the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ and diplomatic representation in an era of growing US economic and cultural dominance. Among other things, it notes that what appears to be on the surface a relatively minor issue can have much broader implications.

Keywords

Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ British film policy US embassy London diplomatic representation embassies ambassadors 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Bevin to Wilson, 2 July 1948, UE 6182, FO 371/69014, National Archives (NA), Kew, Surrey.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Margaret Dickinson and Sarah Street’s Cinema and State: The Film Industry and the British Government, 1927–84 (London: British Film Institute, 1985) is based upon British government records and notes the role of Ernest Bevin in the repeal of the tax, because of his concerns about possible damage to the Anglo-American political relationship. The book does not say much if anything about the Embassy. Ibid., 170–198.Google Scholar
  3. 2a.
    Paul Swann, The Hollywood Feature Film in Postwar Britain (London: Croom Helm, 1987) discusses British film policy and the Hollywood embargo without covering the diplomacy of these issues. Ibid., 81–104, 127–144.Google Scholar
  4. 2b.
    There is fuller coverage of the American dimension in John Trumpboar, Selling Hollywood to the World: US and European Struggles for Mastery of the Global Film Industry (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)Google Scholar
  5. 2c.
    and Ian Jarvie, Hollywood’s Overseas Campaign: The North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920–1950 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), but in both cases the contribution of the Embassy is only incidental. Trumpboar, Selling Hollywood, 200–210; Jarvie, Hollywood’s Overseas Campaign, 213–238. Other texts tend to emphasise popular culture or focus on notable personalities such as the film magnate J. Arthur Rank.Google Scholar
  6. 2d.
    See e.g. Peter Forster, ‘J. Arthur Rank and the Shrinking Screen’, in Age of Austerity, ed. Michael Sissons and Philip French (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 265–282Google Scholar
  7. 2e.
    Geoffrey Macnab, J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 162–187Google Scholar
  8. 2f.
    George Perry, The Great British Picture Show (London: Little, Brown, 1985), 122–124Google Scholar
  9. 2g.
    Anthony Wood, Mr Rank: A Study of J. Arthur Rank and British Films (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1952), 225.Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    Monographs include Terry H. Anderson, The United States, Great Britain and the Cold War, 1944–47 (New York: Columbia, 1981); Robin Edmonds, Setting the Mould: The United States and Britain, 1945–50 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986)Google Scholar
  11. 3a.
    Robert M. Hathaway, Ambiguous Partnership: Britain and America 1944–47 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  12. 3b.
    General texts include C.J. Bartlett, The ‘Special Relationship’: A Political History of Anglo-American Relations since 1945 (London: Longman, 1992)Google Scholar
  13. 3c.
    Alan P. Dobson, Anglo-American Relations in the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 1995)Google Scholar
  14. 3d.
    Robert M. Hathaway, Great Britain and the United States: Special Relations since World War II (Boston: Twayne, 1990).Google Scholar
  15. 3e.
    Kathleen Burk’s Old World, New World: The Story of Britain and America (London: Little, Brown, 2007), provides a valuable but brief account (368–372) of the role of films in the Anglo-American relationship.Google Scholar
  16. 3f.
    Robert Paul Browder and Thomas G. Smith, Independent: A Biography of Lewis W. Douglas (New York: Knopf, 1986) does not address the film controversy.Google Scholar
  17. 3g.
    Apart from Jonathan Colman, ‘The London Ambassadorship of David K.E. Bruce during the Wilson-Johnson Years, 1964–68’, Diplomacy and Statecraft 15, no. 2 (June 2004): 327–352, there are few works dealing with the US Embassy.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 4.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, table, 10. For a fuller account of the growth of the Hollywood industry, see ibid., 8–12.Google Scholar
  19. 5.
    Bartlett to Marshall, 13 August 1947, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/8-1347 CS/A, RG 59, US National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. Unless stated otherwise, all documentary references are to this source.Google Scholar
  20. 6.
    See H. Mark Glancy, ‘Hollywood and Britain: MGM and the British “Quota” Legislation’, in The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History of the British Cinema, ed. Jeffrey Richards (London: Macmillan, 1998), 62–64Google Scholar
  21. 6a.
    and John Sedgwick, Popular Filmgoing in the 1930s: A Choice of Pleasures (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000), 84–101.Google Scholar
  22. 6b.
    On the challenges facing US film companies doing business in Britain in the 1930s, see Peter Miskell, ‘Americanization and its Limits: United Artists and the British Market in the 1930s and 1940s’, in Anglo-American Media Interactions, 1850–2000, ed. Joel Wiener and Mark Hampton (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), 222–225.Google Scholar
  23. 7.
    Bartlett to Marshall, 13 August 1947, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/8-1347 CS/A, RG 59.Google Scholar
  24. 8.
    Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: Harper Collins, 1992), 118.Google Scholar
  25. 9.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 177. For more on the importance of the British market to US filmmakers, see Miskell, ‘Americanization and its Limits’, in Wiener and Hampton (eds), Anglo-American Media Interactions, 218–222.Google Scholar
  26. 10.
    ‘Note on Films for the British Embassy Washington’ (draft), February 1947, BT 11/3687, NA.Google Scholar
  27. 11.
    See John Sedgwick and Michael Pokorny, ‘The Film Business in the United States and Britain during the 1930s’, Economic History Review LVIII, no. 1 (2005): 79–112, especially 98–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 12.
    On the ‘dollar-drain’ see British Embassy Washington to US Department of State, ‘United Kingdom Financial Position and the World Dollar Shortage’, in Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) 1947 Vol. III The British Commonwealth; Europe (Washington DC, 1972), 17–24.Google Scholar
  29. 13.
    Bliss to Marshall, ‘Motion Picture Policy’, 16 January 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/1–1648, RG 59.Google Scholar
  30. 14.
  31. 15.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 179.Google Scholar
  32. 16.
    Bliss to Marshall, ‘Motion Picture Policy’, 16 January 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/1–1648, RG 59.Google Scholar
  33. 17.
    Bliss to Gallman, 5 February 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84. By 1953 Washington had dispensed some $13 billion of ERP aid, of which Britain got most. See e.g. Michael J. Hogan, The Marshall Plan: America, Britain and the Reconstruction of Western Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 18.
    Quoted in Trumpboar, Selling Hollywood, 190; see also Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 178.Google Scholar
  35. 19.
    ‘Film Tax’, minute by unknown official, 20 February 1948, UE 2802, FO 371/69014, NA. For biographies of Wilson, prime minister 1946–1970 and 1974–1976, see Austen Morgan, Harold Wilson (London: Pluto, 1992); Pimlott, WilsonGoogle Scholar
  36. 19a.
    Philip Ziegler, Wilson: The Authorised Life of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993).Google Scholar
  37. 20.
    Bliss to Marshall, ‘Motion Picture Policy’, 16 January 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/ 1–1648, RG 59; Bliss to Gallman, 5 February 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84; Marshall to Truman, ‘Reported Impending British Dollar Crisis’, 1 August 1947, FRUS 1947 III, 48.Google Scholar
  38. 21.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 176; memorandum of conversation, 23 August 1947, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/8-2347 CS/A, RG 59.Google Scholar
  39. 22.
    Memorandum of conversation, British Motion Picture Tax, 23 September 1947, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/9-2347 CS/V, RG 59.Google Scholar
  40. 23.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 185–186, 194.Google Scholar
  41. 24.
    Although the MPAA did most of the lobbying, Hollywood was not united on the question of the tax. Some independents supported it. See Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 68.Google Scholar
  42. 25.
    Talks between Eric Johnston, Lord Inverchapel and Sir John Magowan, 6 February 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  43. 26.
    Quoted in Macnab, Rank, 173.Google Scholar
  44. 27.
    Johnston to Marshall, and Johnston to Douglas, both 9 February 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  45. 28.
    Quoted in Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 189.Google Scholar
  46. 29.
    Ibid., 193-194; Hewison, In Anger, 17-18; Macnab, Rank, 187; Perry, Great British Picture Show, 122-123; Wood, Mr Rank, 227.Google Scholar
  47. 30.
    Pimlott, Wilson, 120; Allport to O’Hara (both MPAA), 14 January 1948, copy provided to Bliss on 15 January, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  48. 31.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, Table XX, 192.Google Scholar
  49. 32.
    Bliss to Marshall, ‘Motion Picture Policy’, 16 January 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/1-1648, RG 59.Google Scholar
  50. 33.
    Johnston to O’Hara (both MPAA), 14 January 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  51. 34.
    Bliss to Marshall, ‘Motion Picture Policy’, 16 January 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/1-1648, RG 59.Google Scholar
  52. 35.
  53. 36.
  54. 37.
    Record of conversation between the US Ambassador, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State, 20 February 1948, UE 2400, FO 371/69014, NA.Google Scholar
  55. 38.
    Bliss to Marshall, ‘Motion Picture Policy’, 16 January 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/1-1648, RG 59.Google Scholar
  56. 39.
    Bliss to Gallman, 5 February 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  57. 40.
  58. 41.
    For an account of the MPAA’s relationship with the State Department, see Trumpboar, Selling Hollywood, ch. 3, 91–118. The Department was willing to help the film industry abroad because of the ideological rationale that ‘trade follows the film’.Google Scholar
  59. 42.
    F.K. Roberts, ‘American Films’, 20 February 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84. On Bevin, see Alan Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary (Oxford and New York, 1986).Google Scholar
  60. 43.
    Bliss to Secretary of State, ‘Film Agreement Concluded’, 15 March 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  61. 44.
    ‘Anglo-American Film Agreement’, undated, BT 64/4475, NA.Google Scholar
  62. 45.
    K.R.C. Pridham minute, 15 March 1948, UE 3147, FO 371/69014, NA.Google Scholar
  63. 46.
    Bliss to Marshall, ‘Film Agreement Concluded’, 15 March 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  64. 47.
    Molesworth, ‘Motion Picture Association in Britain: April’, 3 May 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  65. 48.
    Ibid.; Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 195.Google Scholar
  66. 49.
    ‘Anglo-American Film Agreement’, undated, BT 64/4475, NA.Google Scholar
  67. 50.
    Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1939–1949 (Abingdon: Routledge, 1992), 223.Google Scholar
  68. 51.
    Molesworth, ‘Motion Picture Situation in the United Kingdom: April’, 3 May 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  69. 52.
    Bliss, ‘Representation on the Cinematograph Film Council’ (draft), 3 June 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  70. 53.
  71. 54.
  72. 55.
    Hansard HC Debates (Fifth Series), Vol. 452, Cols 40–1, 14 June 1948.Google Scholar
  73. 56.
    E.A. Berthoud, ‘Film Agreement with America’, 30 June 1948, UE 51202400/53, FO 371/ 69014, NA.Google Scholar
  74. 57.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 197; Molesworth, ‘Monthly Motion Picture Report — Great Britain — August’, 9 September 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  75. 58.
    Allport to Bliss, 15 June 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  76. 59.
    Allport to Douglas, 23 June 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  77. 60.
    Bliss to Douglas, 29 June and 12 July 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  78. 61.
    Bliss to Douglas, 12 July 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  79. 62.
    Douglas to Marshall, 16 June 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/6-1648, RG 59.Google Scholar
  80. 63.
    Marshall to Embassy London, 21 June 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/6-1648, RG 59.Google Scholar
  81. 64.
    Trumpboar, Selling Hollywood, 196.Google Scholar
  82. 65.
    Bevin to Wilson, 2 July 1948, UE 6182, FO 371/69014, NA.Google Scholar
  83. 66.
    Wilson to Bevin, 8 July 1948, UE 6189, FO 371/69014, NA.Google Scholar
  84. 67.
    Somervell minute, 28 July 1949, BT 64/4475, NA.Google Scholar
  85. 68.
    Somervell minute, 27 August 1949, BT 64/4538, NA.Google Scholar
  86. 69.
    Bliss to Brown, 30 August 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  87. 70.
    Molesworth, ‘Monthly Motion Picture Report: September’, 5 October 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  88. 71.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 197–198.Google Scholar
  89. 72.
    Douglas to Marshall, 23 July 1948, 841.4064–12-3149, Decimal File, RG 59.Google Scholar
  90. 73.
    Molesworth, ‘Monthly Motion Picture Report–Great Britain–July’, 9 August 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  91. 74.
    Dickinson and Street, Cinema and State, 197-198; Pimlott, Wilson, 119–120.Google Scholar
  92. 75.
    On US films produced with British themes see H. Mark Glancy, When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood ‘British’ Film, 1939–1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  93. 76.
    Douglas to Marshall, 31 July 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/7-3148, RG 59.Google Scholar
  94. 77.
    Wilson to Bevin, 8 July 1948, UE 6189, FO 371/69014, NA. By contrast, while prime minister 1964–1970 Wilson was accused by some of his domestic critics of being too solicitous towards American interests. See Jonathan Colman, A ‘SpecialRelationship’? Harold Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson and Anglo-American Relations ‘at the Summit’, 1964–68 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. 77a.
    Sylvia Ellis, ‘Lyndon B. Johnson, Harold Wilson and the Vietnam War: A Not So Special Relationship?’, in Twentieth Century Anglo-American Relations, ed. Jonathan Hollowell (London: Palgrave, 2001), 180–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. 77b.
    Ben Pimlott, ‘Courting the President: Wilson and Johnson in the 1960s’, in The ‘Special Relationship’: La ‘Relation Speciale’ entre le Royaume-Uni et les Etats-Unis, ed. Antoine Capet and Aissatou Sy-Wonyu (Rouen: Pau, 2003), 185–191. For the role of the US Embassy in this period, see Colman, ‘The London Ambassadorship of David K.E. Bruce’.Google Scholar
  97. 78.
    Minute by unknown official, 10 March 1947, BT 11/3687, NA.Google Scholar
  98. 79.
    Quoted in Trumpboar, Selling Hollywood, 196.Google Scholar
  99. 80.
    Bliss to Douglas, 23 August 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  100. 81.
    Bartlett to Marshall, 13 August 1947, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/8-1347 CS/A, RG 59.Google Scholar
  101. 82.
    ‘Draft: Cinematograph Films Bill’, undated, BT 103/271, NA. This section was crossed through in this, the draft version of the speech. The speech to the Commons was different, but still anti-American in its thrust: Wilson said he was tired of ‘some of the gangster, sadistic and psychological films of which we seem to have so many, of diseased minds, schizophrenia, amnesia and diseases which occupy so much of our screen time’. He wanted more films showing the British ‘way of life’. Quoted in Pimlott, Wilson, 120, from Hansard HC Debates (Fifth Series), Vol. 452, Col. 775, 17 June 1948.Google Scholar
  102. 83.
    Memorandum, 9 May 1947, Box 24, Records of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs 1941-53, Lot 54 D 224, RG 59.Google Scholar
  103. 84.
    State Department Division of Foreign Reporting Services to London Embassy, 17 May 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  104. 85.
    Bliss to Marshall, 15 March 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/3-1548, RG 59.Google Scholar
  105. 86.
    Gallman to Marshall for Douglas, 12 March 1948, 840.6 Films, Box 381, London Embassy General Records 1948, RG 84.Google Scholar
  106. 87.
    Bliss to Marshall, 15 March 1948, Decimal File 841.4061 MP/3-1548, RG 59.Google Scholar
  107. 88.
    Somervell minute, 28 January 1949, BT 64/4475, NA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SalfordSalfordUK

Personalised recommendations