This film is part of Free

Guilty Chimneys

Elegiac sponsored film imploring viewers to "allow the sun to penetrate the haze of ignorance" and relieve British cities of pollution.

Documentary 1954 18 mins


London's Great Smog of 1952, which claimed some 4,000 lives, would have still been fresh in the minds of viewers when this elegiac, heartfelt film was released two years later. Over images of black smoke billowing from city chimneys, the commentary solemnly outlines the cost of smoke pollution to the nation's health and economy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the film was sponsored by the Gas Council, the answer turns out to be a simple - switch from coal to cleaner gas. The message may have happened to suit the sponsor, but it's logic was undeniable.

Underlying the desire to educate the nation about the evils of smoke pollution is the sponsor's intent to make better known the gas industry's services and its contribution to the national economy and welfare of the country. Two years after this film, Britain's first Clean Air Act (1956) was introduced, later extended by the Clean Air Acts of 1968 and 1993. Guilty Chimneys was issued on free loan by the Gas Council and screened widely in non-theatrical venues. The film was publicised in newspapers with advertisements festooned with grim cartoons and catchy slogans such as "Gas and coke, heat without smoke". See also The Smoke Menace (1937), available on BFI Player.