This film is part of Free

Polio - Diagnosis and Management

Britain’s first Polio epidemic in 1947 demanded a coordinated response, and this film was a key part of readying postwar doctors for a new fight

Government sponsored film 1948 59 mins


Polio was a marginal concern in Britain in the first half of the 20th century, but a major epidemic in the summer of 1947 brought it to the top of postwar problems. This film was made to ready health professionals to fight a virus that was still surrounded in mystery and misconceptions. It goes out of its way to show that while polio was often described as “infant paralysis” it could affect individuals of any age.

The film opens with a reconstruction of a lecture to doctors, and is then built around a dramatised case study of young working man. But there is nothing staged about the scenes of children being schooled in ward while lying prostrate in their beds. A report on the film in The Times from June 1948 suggests that a first version of the film was rushed out in September 1947, filmed in the middle of the epidemic, and seen by 17,000 doctors and 16,000 nurses. It’s not known what differences this 'Spring 1948' version contains, but as incidents rose in summer it is clear that on the eve of the launch of the National Health Service the medical profession was taking the issue very seriously. This government film is a public record, preserved and presented by the BFI National Archive on behalf of The National Archives, home to more than 1,000 years of British history.