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Sunday 20th January 2019

Disabled Britain on Film

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The research and digitisation for this part of the BFI Britain on Film project took many months and had to be handled sensitively. Our most important series of documentaries centres on the parents and children of Downham School in Plymouth entitled OnePer Cent of Us by John Pett. So Many Children (1966), Children No More (1976) and One in a Hundred (1988) profile the lives of five children from when they start school age 5 and then ten years later when they are 15 and again when they are adults, aged 25. The filmmaker also talks to the parents. We had an enormous soft spot for the children portrayed in the documentaries and felt that we got to know them a little over the capturing, grading and editing process.

Find them in the Up Close and Personal section of Disabled Britain on Film

Today, mainstreaming the education of disabled children helps reduce discrimination and stigma and promotes active citizenship, but there is still a long way to go before inclusive education is fully embedded in society.

Database entries at the film archive often conveyed a language different to that which is acceptable today. I drew on resources I knew existed at the European Union and the United Nations and subsequent changes to UK law and used these texts to write about disability rights to help put context into some of the films. Certain films had to tackle the change in language such as the use of the word ‘mongol’, but then I found that representatives from Mongolia, the country, had petitioned the United Nations to have the word removed from use because it had nothing to do with the condition of Down Syndrome.

The backdrop to the digitisation was provided by Channel Four covering the 15th Summer Paralympics in Brazil in 2016 at the time and comedy show The Last Leg, both help to demonstrate that disability is not a barrier to achievement and how everyone in Great Britain got behind our athletes and their wins and losses.

It’s about breaking down barriers and misconceptions and championing disabled people as valued members of society and the workforce even more so when you know the statistic; one in four people in this country have some form of disability.

BFI player and Disabled Britain on Film.
This diverse and fascinating collection looks at representations of disabled people on screen over the past ten decades. It offers a glimpse into the lives and experiences of people often hidden from screen history, and a chance to see how contemporary disabled artists and filmmakers are insisting that their own images and voices must be seen and heard.
The history of disabled people in Britain has, until quite recently, been one of social exclusion and segregation. In the early 20th century, many were consigned to an institutional life of incarceration – becoming what one disabled academic dubbed 'the socially dead'. During the 1930s and early 40s, the rise of the global eugenics movement led to the mass murder of 1000s of disabled people in Nazi Germany and compulsory sterilisation in several European nations.
After the war, the emerging charitable response to disability and the development of state-led care in the community in the 1980s eventually gave rise to the struggle for civil rights, led by disabled activists themselves. “Nothing about us, without us” became a rallying cry.
Graham Findlay (disability equality consultant)

Please note: some titles in this collection may contain language or other content that reflect views prevalent in their time but that may cause offence today. They are included here for historical reasons and are in no way endorsed by the BFI or its partners.


Britain on Film is one of the largest and most complex archival projects ever undertaken by the BFI unlocking film heritage for everyone in the UK to enjoy. Britain on Film was the result of a vast digitisation programme of work, bringing together a partnership with Regional and National Film Archives and rights holder collections across the UK. This work has included a sophisticated programme of data capture, cataloguing, copying to archival standards, meticulous preservation of original materials, thorough searching of archives across the country, new state-of- the-art equipment and digital storage facilities and the transfer of films to the BFI’s online video platform, BFI Player.
Britain on Film was made possible with thanks to £15 million funding from the National Lottery and the additional support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Selections from Britain On Film are hosted on the BFI’s YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter, so audiences can find and experience it in the easiest way possible
BFI and regional and national film archive curators have written features highlighting important films and themes on the BFI website. Their expertise adds context and provide new ways in for the British public to find films that illuminate the places they know and love
Join the conversation at #BritainOnFilm

Britain on Film is a project from the BFI National Archive and the UK’s Regional and National Film Archives

The English Regional Film Archives and other National Film Archives (listed below) hold significant collections of film and video material specifically relevant to their regions or hold dedicated collections such as Imperial War Museums, preserved in specialised storage facilities and made widely available for education, research, communities and the wider public.
East Anglian Film Archive
Imperial War Museums
London’s Screen Archives
Media Archive for Central England at the University of Lincoln North East Film Archive
North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University Northern Ireland Screen Digital Film Archive
National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive
Screen Archive South East
South West Film & Television Archive (now The Box Film Archive)
National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales
Wessex Film and Sound Archive
Yorkshire Film Archive

The BFI is the lead body for film in the UK with the ambition to create a flourishing film environment in which innovation, opportunity and creativity can thrive by:
Connecting audiences to the widest choice of British and World cinema
Preserving and restoring the most significant film collection in the world for today and future generations
Championing emerging and world class film makers in the UK - investing in creative, distinctive and entertaining work
Promoting British film and talent to the world
Growing the next generation of film makers and audiences
The BFI is a Government arm’s-length body and distributor of Lottery funds for film. The BFI serves a public role which covers the cultural, creative and economic aspects of film in the UK. It delivers this role:
As the UK-wide organisation for film, a charity core funded by Government
By providing Lottery and Government funds for film across the UK
By working with partners to advance the position of film in the UK.
Founded in 1933, the BFI is a registered charity governed by Royal Charter.
The BFI Board of Governors is chaired by Josh Berger CBE.

The BFI National Archive was founded in 1935 and has grown to become the one of the largest and most important collections of film and television in the world with over 180,000 films and 750,000 television programmes. For over 80 years the BFI has been an international leader in film preservation and guardian of Britain’s unparalleled film and TV heritage. The BFI is an innovator in presenting films to audiences in new and dynamic ways, from cinemas to film festivals, outdoor events to online video-on-demand. At the heart of all its activities is the BFI’s central aim to ensure that everyone in the UK has access to the widest possible range of film and their own film heritage.
That heritage includes all time great British directors Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean and Powell and Pressburger; and the rich vein of documentary filmmaking, in which Britain led the world, including the lyrical work of Humphrey Jennings. The archive also boasts a significant collection of filmmakers’ papers as well as extensive stills, posters and production and costume designs along with original scripts, press books and related ephemera.
Expert teams undertake the time-consuming and complex task of restoring films at the BFI John Paul Getty Jr Conservation Centre in Hertfordshire. The BFI’s most precious film materials are kept in optimum conditions in the world- leading Master Film Store in Warwickshire.

BFI Player is a ground-breaking video on demand service which offers a uniquely diverse range of films, from the latest releases to the rarest silent cinema classics, giving UK audiences a rich and rewarding digital film experience. The Britain on Film collections are accessible through the BFI Player.