Speaking to Miranda Sawyer (The Observer, June 2020), Simon Pegg said,
“The film industry would be such a healthier, more interesting place if there were more voices, different stories, different experiences. It’s so dominated by one particular voice and colour of face, it just perpetuates a bland mono-voiced cultural landscape.”
Incredibly, almost fifty years have passed since Mamoun Hassan was appointed Head of Production at the British Film
Institute. His agenda was to kick start exactly what Simon Pegg is still talking about now. He wanted to revitalise the pale and stale world of British film by introducing fresh untutored voices, mavericks, outsiders and stories of marginalised groups. Whether these films succeeded or failed at the time, this period is worth revisiting.
A glance at the list of productions he helped bring to fruition during his tenure in national film production roles (1971 – 1984) reveals a moment in British film history when diverse voices and stories had a champion who didn’t believe in the status quo.
“What defined this whole period was the availability of government money combined with a drive to give a voice to filmmakers who had something different to say. Following the Hollywood hegemony was out. It had to be a good script. It wasn’t about ‘positive discrimination’. Black, brown or white, the idea had to be real and engaging with a true voice.”
Instead of a ‘cool’ metropolitan London view of the UK, these films were set in vastly different locations – from a mining village in Scotland to multiracial urban Walsall, from Civil War Surrey to 80’s sectarian Liverpool, from rural Suffolk and Norfolk to inner-city Brixton and a Scottish New Town. Many of these were from inexperienced writers whom Mamoun encouraged to become first-time directors, because theirs were the voices that needed to guide the action.
As Head of Production British Film Institute
Bill Douglas’s Childhood Trilogy (Bill Douglas, 1972)
The French critics in Le Monde, Le Figaro, Liberation considered the Childhood Trilogy as an important and original expression of cinema, contending that Bill was in the Pantheon of great British directors. Childhood and adolescence of a child born out of wedlock in a mining town in Scotland and later during national Service in Egypt.
Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow, 1975)
An evocation of the period following the Civil War in 17th century England and the emergence of one of the first Socialist thinkers who led the attempt by The Diggers to live as a free society. A movement sadly crushed by Cromwell. Directed by future Oscar winner, Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo.
A Private Enterprise (Peter Kingsgate Smith, 1974)
An Indian immigrant trying to come to terms with English and also other Indians who try to integrate and also stay apart. The first film about the community from the Indian Subcontinent, Directed by twice Bafta nominated Peter K Smith and written with Dilip Hiro.
Requiem for a Village (David Gladwell, 1975).
Inspired by Akenfield by Ronald Blythe. A village community confronting a new age and haunted by previous generations and older ways. directed by David Gladwell, the editor of Lindsay Andersons’ if….
Moon over the Alley (Joseph Despins, 1975)
An unclassifiable musical film. Set in a Notting Hill house, threatened with compulsory purchase and its diverse residents: A german landlady, Jamaican family and an american youth. An Irishman struggles with holding down two jobs while dealing with his girlfriend working at a stripclub – all linked by two down and outs. The musical numbers came from Galt MacDermot who later composed the score for Hair in 1979.
Children (Terence Davies, 1976)
The first film from arguably Britain’s finest auteur – about a young gay boy in working class Liverpool, coming terms with prejudice and exclusion.
Pressure (Horace Ove, 1976)
A young Black Youth navigating 70’s London, belonging to neither black or white communities. The violence is not overt. Racism is expressed through exclusion in every aspect in society from school to employment. First feature by artist Horace Ove.
Managing Director, National Film Finance Corporation (1980 – 84)
Babylon. (Franco Rosso, 1980)
Racism, Reggae and the clash of cultural exclusion. ‘Can’t take no more of this’, as the song says. An explosive film that resonates even today. Directed by Franco Rosso, an Italian immigrant, written by Martin Stellman (a writer on Quadrophenia) starring an amazing generation of Black actors. Released 40 years ago. Played in 56 cinemas in the US 2019 on general release.
Gregory’s Girl (Bill Forsyth, 1981)
The script of this the brightest, most loved British film of the last 50 years was turned down everywhere before it was taken up by the NFFC and Scottish Television. Now a British comedy classic, it has provided the highest return on investment of any British film, with all profits returned to the UK.
Memoirs of a Survivor. (David Gladwell, 1981)
The first adaptation of Doris Lessing’s science fiction novel, adapted by prolific screenwriter Kerry Crabbe. An almost surreal film set in a broken British society, starring Julie Christie.
When the Wind Blows. (Jimmy Murakami, 1986)
The animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ classic nuclear warning graphic novel, with music by David Bowie.
A conversation with Simon, who clearly shares a passion for the history of cinema would interesting.
Featured image of Simon Pegg. Photograph: Dave Willis