This film is part of Free

Barbican Regained

Fascinating look at the Barbican – before it became the brutalist icon we know today.

Documentary 1963 17 mins


A thoroughly intriguing look - in colour! - at the Barbican area as it was starting to be redeveloped to become The Barbican we know (and love?) today. A.P. Herbert's verse commentary isn't exactly great poetry but is set against fascinating images aplenty: the bomb-blasted 'desert' into which nature's intruded, and the utopian (dystopian?) plans for the redevelopment that will wipe them away.

Nearby Whitbread Breweries sponsored the film, in the tradition of 'prestige' sponsorship. It was a relatively low-budget sponsor, however, and the film produced for them by Wallace Productions feels like an economy blend of styles (the historical travelogue, the documentary set to verse and the cockney ballad film) mastered by higher-budget filmmakers. Stephen Cross is credited as editor rather than director, having presumably assembled footage from several sources. Herbert is here a poor man's Betjeman: his 'whimsical' early stanzas are clunky and recorded (and combined with cheaply bought-in music), producing a strangely sterile effect. But as his musings darken, the film warms to its subject, gradually becoming more and more enveloping. It's odd that Herbert, like Betjeman ambivalent towards modern life and architecture, was hired to talk up what would become one of Britain's icons of brutalism. But that's hindsight for you. Trying for a 'timeless' style this film's actually stuck inside a very specific moment: the effect, if not completely intentional, is strangely moving.