The GPO Film Unit
Pioneering classic documentaries
The GPO Film Unit
The GPO Film Unit was established in 1933 and over the years became renowned for pioneering the production of classic documentaries. 'Night Mail'  (1936) was produced by John Grierson with verse by W H Auden. This early documentary showed the Postal Special's nightly run from London to Scotland.

Here we investigate some of the films made by the GPO and its successor the Post Office...

Image: A GPO video catalogue from 1985.
| EXIT | Introduction | On VideoBlue Plaque | Night Mail |
The GPO Film Unit

Producing well known classics such as 'Night Mail' the GPO Film Unit was established in 1933. In 1940 it was renamed the Crown Film Unit following its transfer to the Ministry of Information.

See also Ministry of Information.

As a public service, the GPO continued to have educational films commissioned both for its own staff training and to inform its customers.

On Video

During the 1980s, videos produced by the GPO Film Unit could be loaned to schools and individuals for a moderate cost. Selected videos were also available on sell-through. A selection from the 'Britain in the Thirties' series are illustrated below.

GPO Video 3 GPO Video 4 GPO Video 6
The GPO Film Unit Presents...

Images: The Thirties GPO video collection.

The Catalogue (1991/92)
The Post Office Film and Video Library - Catalogue 1991/92

"The Post Office is one of the largest organisations in Britain and is an integral part of everyday life. With 100,000 posting boxes around the country, more than 20,000 main and sub post offices, fleets of vehicles and aircraft, The Post Office is responsible for collecting and delivering nearly 60 million letters per day. Also, The Post Office is where we not only buy stamps and post our letters, but collect pensions and benefits, new passports and pay bills.

In all, more than half the British population, along with many thousands of tourists and visitors, use The Post Office every week.

The Post Office is also one of the largest commissioners of specialist programme material in the UK. The pioneering documentary film maker John Grierson was responsible for setting up the now legendary GPO Film Unit in 1933. The tradition of making quality informative films has continued, reflecting the many varied aspects of The Post Office's work."

Blue Plaque
The Post Office’s Film Unit Gets A Blue Plaque: [15/09/2000]

"The building which housed the former studios of The Post Office’s Film Unit during the 1930s, where the ground-breaking film "Night Mail" was made, is to be given an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

The blue plaque will be unveiled on September 29, 2000 at the old Blackheath Art Club building, 47 Bennett Park, Blackheath Village, South East London, to mark its use between 1933 to 1943 as the studios of the then GPO (later Crown) Film Unit.

John Grierson and his colleagues at the Film Unit during the 1930s, are credited with coining the phrase "documentary" with their gritty realism, pioneering the genre. It was Grierson’s idea to link the "Night Mail" train to the people it serves, incorporating music by Benjamin Britten and commissioning verse by WH Auden, giving the film its distinctive character."

Night Mail
N I G H T  M A I L
'Night Mail'  (1936) was produced by John Grierson with verse by W H Auden. This early documentary showed the Postal Special's nightly run from London to Scotland.

In 1986 the Post Office commissioned 'Night Mail II' complete with an updated verse by Blake Morrison and music by James Harpham.

Click on the DVD cover to learn more about Postal Services films.
Design, images and text compiled by © Light-Straw. Page last updated June 2015 revision. Checked May 2021.

 All logos and trade marks are the property of their respective owners and are used on the Light Straw site(s) for review only. Students and researchers are recommended to make their own independent enquiries as to the accuracy of the information contained therein.