The British Consumer Co-operative Movement and film, 1896-1970
The British Consumer Co-operative Movement was a pioneer of the industrial
film. The Movement engaged with cinema from the late 1890s and film was used to
promote its ideals and trade well into the twentieth century. Existing studies of Labour
cinema in Britain have paid little attention to the film propaganda of Co-operators and
this thesis challenges the historiography for being too concerned with a narrowly defined
political activism and chronologically restricted to the decade 1929-1939. An
examination of the cinema of Co-operation reveals a far broader engagement with film;
both in terms of its role in promoting a moralistic form of distribution, which sought to
replace Capitalism and the exploitative profit system; and in the Movement's notable
achievements with film both before and after the pre-World War two decade.
The thesis begins by considering the treatment of the Co-operative Movement
by Labour historians, and demonstrates an equal diminishing of its role in workers'
cultural and economic struggle as that characteristic of Labour film scholars. The
historiographical analysis is succeeded by an examination of the culture of Co-operation,
considering the Movement as an alternative and oppositional formation to the dominant
society, and proceeds to survey some of the principal cultural and recreational activities
and formations sponsored by Co-op Societies: education, drama, music, sport, holidays
and the family.
The historiographical and cultural analysis contextually informs the succeeding
historical examination of the Co-operative Movement's engagement with film in the
period 1896-1970. This work arises out of a close inspection of the primary evidence
preserved in the wealth of literature put out by the Movement. The observations and
conclusions presented here are significantly informed by a reading and analysis of the
numerous Movement films, the majority of which have never been consulted by film
scholars before, and have come to light and been preserved as a part of the research
conducted for the thesis. A detailed critical filmography, presented as an appendix,
supplements the thesis.