The Films of Scotland Documentaries
History Timeline Citizenship The Face of Scotland The Travelogue Resources
State Policy and Public Culture


The National Body

The Rights and Obligations of Citizenship

Documentary and the Public Sphere

The Nation Speaks



The Hand of Adam
Murray Grigor directing The Hand of Adam (1975, one of the many films sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council



The institutional environment that the first Films of Scotland documentaries were produced to be screened in was the Glasgow Empire Exhibition of 1938, an exhibitionary space in which, like the Great Exhibition of 1851, the whole world, past and present, became metonymically displayed for a self-regulating public gaze.† Nineteenth century state intervention in public culture opened up an institutional space in which Films of Scotland later emerged.† This manifests itself at a number of levels; the formation of the Committee by the State and its institutional aims; the character of a number of the documentaries themselves; and the Committee's relationship with other State QUANGOS.† For instance, it is notable that a number of Films of Scotland documentaries produced by the second Committee were funded by the Scottish Arts Council, the modern inheritor of the ideology and practices of the public arts patronage discussed by Pearson.

More generally, the documentaries produced by both Committees were intended to balance the cinema's dominant regime of entertainment with one of education.† In the documentaries produced by the first Committee, this public education was partly and explicitly concerned with transforming public cultural practice.† To illustrate this we can look at Scotland for Fitness (1938), produced by Gaumont British Instructional for Films of Scotland, and financed by another QUANGO, the National Fitness Council of Scotland.†

Scotland for Fitness (1938)

(Montage of shots of Princes Street with newspaper headlines announcing formation of Fitness Council)

Voice Over: In the centre of Edinburgh, a couple of minutes walk from the busy traffic of Princes Street, a modern movement is being born, a national crusade for a fitter people and a healthier land.† Sir Ian Colquhoun, the chairman of the Fitness Council, will tell you something of what the Council hopes you will do to get fit, and keep fit.

(Sir Ian in suit, behind desk in office, directly addresses camera)

Sir Ian: The National Fitness Council of Scotland, of which I am chairman, has been set the task of improving our Scottish physique, and of awakening in the minds of Scots men and women a pride in their bodily activity and an ideal of perfect physical condition.† We have no compulsory powers, and we don't want them, no set programmes, no rigid ideas, we just want everyone to take the type of healthy physical exercise which most appeals to them.

(Shot of mansion by loch, fly fisherman, and hiker)

Sir Ian: I live on Loch Lomond, my happiest hours are spent in that beautiful country amongst the people I love so well.† From my earliest days it has been an unconscious habit with me to keep myself fit because it enabled me to do the things I like best.

The notion of a national body that has no compulsory powers but which nevertheless intends to regulate the physical body of the national subject illustrates Giddens' argument that the modern state is a regime of surveillance.† But it also illustrates the way in which Giddens' notion of surveillance needs to take on board the modern concept of power that Foucault has theorised and that Bennett observes in the exhibitionary complex.† For Foucault, power has not disappeared, it has become more refined, appearing in new forms of domination that operate at a micro level.† At the centre of this network is the human body, which is operated on not through repression, but through the discursive production of a regime of knowledge-pleasure within which it is defined (Foucault (1990, p. 107).†

Sport in Scotland extract
Sport in Scotland (1938) adopts a populist approach in its promotion of physical activity for the national body

The Healthy Body

Scotland for Fitness operates within a similar regime of knowledge-pleasure.† The documentary is concerned with producing a fit healthy body, not through physical coercion, but through the production of subjects who have what Sir Ian calls 'an ideal of perfect physical condition', a normative body which the public will aspire to attain.† This ideal is embodied in the documentary by four figures: Sir Ian himself; Mrs Brown, organiser of the women's keep fit movement; 'Mr Barr, who's done a great deal of hiking in his time'; and Jack Gardner, centre half for Queens Park football team.† The statements these four figures make about recreation reproduce certain features of the discourse of nineteenth century leisure reformists.†

(Mrs Brown at keep fit class in gym)

Mrs Brown: In our classes we have women of all ages, and from varying walks of life, who feel the need for exercise.† Our main ideal is to improve the internal health of their bodies, and with better circulation, better digestion and breathing, to get a general sense of well being.† With a well thought out scheme of movement, we help our members to acquire good balance, and posture, and suppleness.† Of course we do use music, and the music is carefully selected for the exercises and does a very great deal to relieve the mental tension caused by monotonous work.† So I think you would be struck if you came to one of our classes by the happy atmosphere that is created by the leader, and the music, and the members themselves.† Each member comes to learn how exercises should be done, and to correct faults in herself caused either by the inactivity of her life, or by the wrong kind of activity.

In distinguishing her keep fit classes from what she calls 'the wrong kind of activity', Mrs Brown reproduces the nineteenth century distinction between legitimate middle class and suspect working class leisure practices .† But this is not to suggest that the invitation to keep fit is addressed to the middle class exclusively.† On the contrary, the rational recreationalists advocated 'the creation of new institutions and activities [within which] the respectable of all classes could meet in harmony' (Cunningham, 1980, p. 110).† Mrs Brown's keep fit sessions, enjoyed by participants 'from varying walks of life', are such an activity.† Further, like the reformists the keep fit classes are concerned not only with the physical body but also the mental one; their goal is the attainment of 'a general sense of well being'; keep fit is about posture, but it is also about the relief of mental tension.† But in what Sir Ian calls 'this new and exciting world of physical recreation' in the 1930s there is a reconfiguration of certain features of the nineteenth century discourse of leisure, illustrated by the contribution of† Mr Jack Gardner.

Jack Gardener
Jack Gardener explains his fitness regimen in Scotland for Fitness (1938).

(Jack Gardener addresses camera directly, and is seen circuit training with other footballers)

Jack Gardener: I'm a civil engineer, and I'm working very hard from nine to five.† As to my evenings, three nights a week I've got classes, so football can only be a secondary consideration to me.† However, I do manage to keep fit, with two nights a week training and a Saturdayís game.†

Jack Gardener: Tuesday nightís training usually consists of doing about eight or ten laps, alternate walk one, run one.† This is for loosening up purposes and also for your breathing.† After that, you do about ten or twelve short, sharp sprints of thirty to forty yards.† Then into the gym, where we do exercises for stomach muscles, leg muscles, back muscles, flexibility and mobility.† A hot bath and a cold spray, and youíre feeling tip top.

Jack Gardener: With these two nights a week, our club is able to compete in the first division of the Scottish league, which is a very great feat indeed.† We may from time to time be beaten, we may find we haven't the skill of the other side, we havenít the ball control, but one thing no one can question is our stamina.† From start to finish we always are a hundred per cent fit.

  Top of Page Previous Next
Author: Richard Butt Images are drawn from the SCRAN database.