This film is part of Free

Energy First

The one where Lindsay Anderson makes a film about fuel efficiency…

4 mins


This short is fascinating for two reasons. First because it captures a long-lost mid-1950s moment in the evolving relationship between the energy economy and the economy at large, and secondly as a forgotten but telling minor work by a major film director. Although there are no onscreen personnel credits, direction of this item is attributed to legendary filmmaker Lindsay Anderson, famed first for leading Britain’s ‘Free Cinema’ movement in short filmmaking, then for directing major features like This Sporting Life and If…. The director even has a Hitchcockian cameo here; appearing in the very first scene, sporting a flat cap.

Anderson enthusiasts may struggle to relate this piece to his wider canon, as it exemplifies the kind of film that Free Cinema claimed to oppose: well-made, informative but conventional documentaries sponsored by government or industry for messaging purposes. This piece was commissioned by the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, for screening to industrialists planning new works for their businesses. (Its companion piece, £20 a Ton, also directed by Anderson at Basic Films, is a more quirky and satirical counterpoint.) Urging that the buildings be designed to optimise efficient energy use, it argues that all British industry is inescapably dependent on economising energy use, and that Britain is overwhelmingly dependent on coal. Within a few short years, the growing availability of increasingly cheap oil would turn the tables…