THE HISTORY OF THE BRITISH
BY EMMA WAITE
Source of information:
In the late nineteenth century cinema entertainment
British films established a substantial share of the market
at home and abroad, including 15% of the American
market by 1910.
The industry's share of its home market fell from half to
less than 10 per cent by 1914.
The rate, which was initially set at between 25% to 50%
of the price of cinema tickets, was reduced in the 1920s
and then raised during the Second World War.
By 1925, British film production had
declined to a point where fewer than 40
feature films a year were being made,
compared with over 150 in 1920.
Cinematograph Films Act 1927, this act
has a success, in the sense that
production of films in the UK more than
doubled by the end of the decade, and
resulted in the establishment of several
new production companies, including
British International Pictures at new
studios in Elstree, Warner's studios at
Teddington and Fox's studios at
• In 1928 the arrival of "talkies” had a
positive effect on British film
production. Their films were protected
in the home market and, unlike the
French and German film industries, able
to compete with American sound films
without the need for dubbing. The
result was that the industry experienced
• The number of feature film productions
peaked in 1936 at just under 200 and fell by
two thirds in the next four years
• The Cinematographic Films Act 1938
confirmed the retention of quotas, at 15%
for distributors and 12.5% for exhibitors.
This was intended to encourage bigger
budget films, which could compete
World War 2 and the Post- War Boom
• The immediate post-war years saw a surge in British film
production to more than 120 films in 1950.
• Between 1941 and 1947, The Rank Organisation financed half the
films made in the UK, controlled over 600 cinemas and was the
largest film distributor. Rank ensured American distribution for
their productions and a supply of American films for their
cinemas, by securing a 25 per cent stake in Universal film studios
through the General Cinema Finance Corporation.
In the 1940s the Government became concerned about Hollywood dominating the
film industry and the lack of finance for British film production.
In 1950, the Government introduced the Eady Levy, which was a voluntary levy on a
proportion of the price of cinema tickets; half retained by the exhibitors and half
going to the makers of films made in the UK, in the expectation that it would be used
to fund new British film productions.
During the 1950s, despite the support in place, the British film industry came under
increasing competition from new technologies. Increasingly, the public turned to
home entertainment, as radio listening reached its peak and television developed.
The turn of the decade saw the appearance of the Carry On films and Hammer
Horror films, which provided low budget work for the British studios for the next 20
years. The James Bond films did the same, but at much higher budgets.
US Withdrawal in the 1970s and 1980s
• Between 1965 and 1971, annual inflows
of American capital for filmmaking
averaged £19m. Between 1972 and
1979 they averaged £6m.
• The 1980s began with a serious
industry slump, fewer films being made
in 1980 and 1981 than in any year since
1914. The incoming Government
removed the special support for the
industry: tax rules were tightened, the
quota system was suspended in 1983
and the Eady Levy and the NFFC were
abolished in the Film Act 1985. The
Rank Organisation also withdrew from
films, which further reduced the
The 1990s: Return of Government Support
In 1995, it decided to allocate lottery money to film production. At
the same time, market conditions improved, with cinema audiences
recovering from 98m admissions in 1992 to 164m in 2008,
following the rise of multiplex cinemas
British film production climbed steadily
through the late 1990s to a peak of nearly
180 films in 2002—second only to 1936.
This included many accomplished and
financially successful films. Working Title,
having secured financing and distribution
deals with PolyGram and then Universal
Pictures, had major international
successes, including Bridget Jones's Diary
(2001), which earned box office receipts of
$254m. While the James Bond franchise
continued, a major new series of Britishmade but American funded films began
with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's
In the financial year 2007/08, tax relief
granted was worth about £105m, which
was about 40 per cent of public funding for
film in that year.
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