DVD Review: ‘Roundabout: A Year in Colour 1963’

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Released by the BFI to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Roundabout: A Year in Colour 1963 is a collection of ‘cine-magazines’ from the titular year. Developed by the British government for distribution throughout Southeast Asia, these ‘propaganda’ shorts were produced monthly and designed to promote British values and manufacturing. Made by Associated British-Pathé Ltd, they covered a range of subjects and took in places as far-afield as New Zealand and Pakistan, as well as around the UK. Featured is a visit to the NZ Grand Prix track near Auckland, and also a look at the cars being made at British motorcar factories.

An interesting feature of several of the films was the highlighting of materials grown abroad for use in the British market e.g. the harvesting of timber in Burma and Borneo which was then used for the production of furniture in factories in southern England. On the downside, the films do appear, by their very nature, extremely dated.

Their promotion of cigarettes being produced in one segment which are recommended for their ‘relaxing’ qualities, seems out-of-sync in today’s health conscious society, whilst the voiceover by Brian Cobby (best known as the first man to voice the speaking clock from 1985 until 2007) appears somewhat patronising. However his stilted, pronounced ‘BBC English’ suits perfectly a series of films designed to promote Britain throughout a Commonwealth which at the time still held sway over large parts of the world. Though they may prove heavy going to take in at one sitting the short, segmented format makes them ideal for dipping into periodically, and if approached in such a way the results are a fascinating taster of a forgotten era.

A perfect example of the Roundabout series (the complete collection of which is now preserved at the National Archive), these 1963 films are invaluable in continuing the important work done by the BFI to preserve not only Britain’s film heritage but also an historical social record for generations to come. Roundabout: A Year in Colour 1963 also comes with an illustrated booklet, complete with an essay about cine-magazines by British Universities Film and Video Council research executive, Linda Kaye.

Cleaver Patterson

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