BFI Player: Spotlight on Key Workers

The BFI’s latest online archive collection, Spotlight on Key Workers, available now for free on BFI Player, a companion piece to our existing NHS on Film collection, is a salute to the vital workers who keep our essential services running all the time, in good times or bad; the teachers, transport workers, dustmen, nurses and doctors, care workers, farmers, postal workers, police and fire services and many more.

This emergency has put the spotlight on the ‘key workers’, risking their health and their lives for the benefit of others. As the films in this collection demonstrate, it’s not just in times of crisis that such workers are heroes.

It’s a founding principle of Britain’s documentary tradition to place the worker front and centre. From the Victorian filmmakers’ fascination with firefighters, to the 1930s generation’s championing of postal workers and the post war film units’ documenting of transport workers and the doctors and nurses of the fledgling NHS, through to film portraits of the daily lives of teachers, food and agricultural workers and mor.

This new collection shines a light on those vital ‘key workers’ who were heroes then, from the earliest film in the collection, Fire (1901), just as they are the heroes of today, right through to our most recent acquisition into the Archive, These Are The Hands (2020) a beautiful fundraising film produced by EVCOM and BFI which tells the narrative of an NHS that has always been there for us.

A filmic love letter to our #NHSHeroes, the free BFI Player NHS on Film collection, takes the pulse of the nation with a unique collection of rare films from the BFI National Archive and regional and national archive partners spanning the last 70+ years.

Film has historically played an important role in the running and promotion of the NHS ever since its inception in 1948, with well-crafted filmmaking bringing direct benefits to the health and well-being of the public, literally helping to save lives through public health campaigns, as well as sharing with the public the work of hospitals and health professionals.

The rich heritage of NHS film is permanently preserved in the BFI National Archive, in partnership with The National Archives. This unique archive collection of NHS films spans the nascent first steps of the newly formed NHS in 1948 right up to footage of NHS workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

Spotlight on Key Workers Collection highlights include:

Fire (1901)

A dramatic rescue from a burning building by heroic firemen is one of our most important films from the earliest days of British film.

Dustman (1928)

Refuse collection you cannot refuse with some state-of-the-art bin business in 1920s Sheffield

Daily Round (1937)

A postman’s job is never done! The people of Musbury, Devon, are among the players in this fantasy vision of a postal future

Village School (1940)

WWII evacuees adapt to village life in a patriotic documentary starring a real Buckinghamshire school teacher.

Our Police (1947)

Glasgow police on their daily beat are kept busy protecting “your person and your property”

Country Clerk (1950)

The Scottish County Clerk: the unlikely Superhero of local daily life.

District Nurse  (1952)

Following a typical day’s work for two dedicated rural district nurses, as well as an insight into their well-earned down time spent growing cacti plants or knitting.

I am a Reporter (1961)

The inner-workings of local paper the Hertford Mercury are revealed by young, fresh-thinking reporter Peter Gibbs on his hunt for a regional scoop.

Cast Us Not Out (1969)

Documentary insight into the work of the Jewish Welfare Board, helping some of the most vulnerable people in the community

A Date With Decimals (1970)

How Tesco employees got to grips with new money on the eve of ‘D-Day’

These Are The Hands (2020)

Powerful NHS fundraiser, setting Michael Rosen’s poem to powerful archive images.

Produced by EVCOM and BFI, this visual interpretation of former children’s laureate, Michael Rosen’s famous poem beautifully underscores the precious bonds between our past and our present, interweaving the NHS archive with contemporary footage and selfies taken from NHS staff on the frontline to tell a narrative of an NHS that has always been there for us.