Presentation: They Live Again: Disability, Coalmining and Rehabilitation in 1940s Documentary Films
Thu 14th May 2015
Rethinking Disability on Screen conference, University of York, UK
The transition towards the welfare state in the 1940s was accompanied by a vigorous publicity campaign. Central to this mission were the documentary films centred on human interest and how the new services would affect individuals and their families. The short films introducing the new National Health Service are now well-known, but the mining industry was the subject of a series of films highlighting the health provision available to miners who had experienced injury or disease. Reaching both cinema audiences and medical professionals, the films were an acknowledgement of the extremely dangerous conditions in which miners worked, and the responsibility of the state to provide healthcare and support for them. Yet the presentation of even permanent disability was as a setback on the road to an eventual return to work and, by extension, society and usefulness. The films took tours of the miners’ rehabilitation centres and new health centres, checking in with miners as they engaged in medical recovery programmes and participated in games and recreation. This paper will examine three of these films – They Live Again (1944), Fit to Work! (1944) and Miners’ Health Centre (1948) – and argue for their significance in reflecting state and public attitudes to mining and disability. Despite their short lengths, the films say much about the increasing role of the medical profession in diagnosing mining disease, as well as the impact of disability upon constructions of work and masculinity. Disability in the mining industry was not in all cases a hidden issue: by the 1940s, the debate was taking place in the public eye on the big screen.