The time for taking stock is past. All the retrospectives are over, all the recollections completed. It's the new century now, time to move on.
But now the 20th Century really is a past age, it somehow gives us a new perspective on what happened there, to see what aspects of its culture anticipated and formed what we have now and what aspects represent a different world, abandoned somewhere along the way and with no current relevance. What is the most dated record made back on the other side, and the one most expressive of the Macmillan / Eisenhower era? (my current nomination is "Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat"). What records in the 70s were the tail end of something now gone, and which were the beginning of now? (I'd name "Day Trip to Bangor", "Floral Dance", "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs" et al as the former, while suggesting Space's "Magic Fly", Summer / Moroder's "I Feel Love" and "Down Deep Inside", Chic's "Good Times" and its first offspring, the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" among the latter). And what is the most dated film of the last century? An unanswerable question, but my current nomination is "A Day of One's Own".
British Transport Films' 1950s output is the most complete expression of the era's middle England dream, and as such I love and hate them (as usual). "A Day of One's Own" especially is utterly evocative of something now lost, from the opening animated credit sequence of a housewife and washing line, to the opening sequence (sunbaked Betjemanesque suburbia, Macdonald Hobley reciting "Twas on a Monday morning as I beheld my darling...") to the mundane lives of housewives from which the film promotes an escape in the form of a day in the country or out shopping (and how quaint those very concepts seem now that we are all children of the electronic biosphere, however much we may deny it). There are scenes here - the Palm Court orchestra in Manchester, the library in Norwich - where the people hardly seem alive at all, in the modern sense of the word (and how much we have all been transformed by the unapologetic emotional expression that arrived in the 60s - British people before that now seem unreal, never saying what they mean, just parading through an ordered life in which every event seems almost to have been planned to the last detail five hours before it happened). I can't even feel than I can vaguely reach out and touch the world of this film, rather it is, quite literally, untouchable. It might as well be hidden behind a glass case in a fusty Surrey museum, removed from public view (because that's what it resembles - a Victorian magic-lantern show). It is a fragile film - touch it in the wrong place, and you feel it might explode (this other-worldly feel is helped by the fact that it's in black and white - already by 1955, many BTF productions were in colour). And, of course, we can only begin to speculate on what kind of unaltered Victorian backstreet prejudices it might hide.
I want to spit on this film's grave. But there's such a charm at its heart (does that sign at Waterloo really say that "Tickets Must Be Shewn", rather than "Shown"? It certainly looks like that ...) that I have to love it.
Cherish every moment of "A Day of One's Own". Luxuriate in it. Wallow in it, if you want. But don't wish you were there. It only becomes beautiful when it's gone.
Robin Carmody, January 2000
On how we were:
On how we are: