I recently found some Greenwood-related treasure on the British Entertainment History Project website – an interview with the screenwriter Barbara K. Emary (1908-1995), who contributed, along with Walter Greenwood and Rollo Gamble, to the screenplay of John Baxter’s excellent 1941 film adaptation of Love on the Dole. Bob Allen interviewed Barbara on 5th July 1988 at her home. The interview has two parts which together are just over two and a half hours in length. The website helpfully makes available both a full recording and a transcript (Interview No.60 and transcript HP0060 – see: The British Entertainment History Project | Barbara K Emary |). (1)
I found the interview by chance when searching for any traces of ‘the Walter Greenwood Film Unit’ on the web (an organisation referred to in some of Greenwood’s letters and in some theatre programmes for his post-war plays). Nothing came up for that, but this chance hit more than compensates. The interview is part of a wonderful and long-running oral history project which is collecting and preserving through interviews the memories of veterans of the British entertainment industry (see The British Entertainment History Project | ABOUT US |). In the interview Barbara gave an account of her career with John Baxter, including her contribution to his film of Love on the Dole, and her experience of it in production. Though Barbara K. Emary was one of Baxter’s executors and did provide information and help to Geoff Brown when he was writing his book about John Baxter, most of this specific information and her reflections on it is not recorded there, and no Greenwood scholar has so far shown any awareness of it. (2) I have also added some pieces of information from elsewhere which Emary’s recollections help make more sense of.
I would recommend listening to and reading the whole interview, but here I will give a specific account of Barbara’s thoughts about her experience of working with Baxter on Love on the Dole, and on her own contribution to it. This gives some new information, insights, and reflections on the actual production process of the film by one of its creators.
Contribution to the Script
Barbara began working with John Baxter as a typist whose job was at first to collate the script sections from different screenwriters and add any alterations swiftly as film production was in process. However, presumably partly because she was so good at this, the role gradually began to expand in scope:
It was only that I was working so much with Mr Baxter with the physical getting it down on paper of the scripts and very often it would come up, when my name was on the credits I’m sure it should never have been, it was only that I did part of it, a small section of it, or perhaps we put a scene in which wasn’t written in the original, as in Love on the Dole and those things, and a little linking scene to get from one place to another, it wasn’t much more than that. Only that I did then sort of collate all the script and all the sections which were written by various people, very few people, only one or two at the most (transcript, p. 6)
Despite her own modesty, it is very clear from this that Emary increasingly contributed materially to Baxter’s films and certainly wrote specific original scenes to Love on the Dole – though I am not sure if we can reconstruct exactly which scenes were her work. The Walter Greenwood Collection has a typed shooting script for the film (WGC/1/2/3), but I am unsure of its status – perhaps it is indeed Barbara’s completed work? It presents a cohesive script without indication of different author’s hands (though there are some pencilled additions in Greenwood’s own recognisable hand).
Censorship Issues during Filming
Emary also recalls something else not noted before – that issues with the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) continued during the actual filming of Love on the Dole. Bob Allen observes that he thought the film’s censorship problems arose from its representation of unemployment in the thirties, but Barbara is sure that by the time of filming at least the main problems were with the ending and Sally’s self-sacrificing ‘deal’ with Sam Grundy the bookie:
If I remember rightly, the story goes in order to get money to help her parents to live when he was out of work and everybody was out of work, she rather hitched up with some dubious character who was played by Frank Cellier and it looked as if she was getting money for the sort of job the censors thought was not good to end the picture on. But Mr Baxter actually saw the censor and talked him into it. But that was nothing to do with unemployment, I didn’t know that bit.
The censor did think the ending was not really as it should be, in those days that was the sort of thing which was censored. But it was true, so many women had to earn money in most devious ways and the way he [Baxter] did end it seemed to satisfy everybody because it left it making everybody feel it’s terrible she’s got to do this but something’s got to be done to stop things like this having to happen and you could see that was the only way things could happen. That is what I thought I remembered of the censor, of the bit that was censored. But Mr Baxter went to see the censor and talked him round, and I suppose Walter Greenwood did too. But it was a question of the way it was shot. It was rather important the way it was shot to make it seem that it wasn’t quite so, that it was very moving, he made it a very moving end but not at all provocative or unpleasant (transcript, p.7).
As we know from the censors’ reports, they had a range of concerns about the play-script of Love on the Dole which they were sent – including political issues such as its representation of poverty and unemployment, and ‘moral’ issues, especially as Emary recalled from her memory of Baxter’s interaction with the BBFC, concerning the ending where Sally comes to her arrangement with Sam Grundy. One censor, Miss Shortt, wrote that ‘the final incident of Sally selling herself is prohibitive’ (that is could not be shown in British cinemas). (3) However, that report dates from 1936, before the curious intervention in the censorship of the film by the Ministry of Information (MOI), which allowed it finally to be made in 1940. What this interview adds which is new to our knowledge of the censorship of the film (in which there are some gaps) is that even after that MOI intervention, Baxter and Greenwood were still subject to some kind of supervision by the BBFC. It seems reasonable to conclude from this evidence that the change of decision about the film being made was not one in which the BBFC fully consented, and presumably the censors only permitted it under irresistible political pressure from the MOI, and did their best still to modify it in production. Emary’s sense that the overall effect of the ending and Sally being seen as selfless, and a victim of the system, does indeed seems very acute and to echo some of the public debates about Sally in the play (see https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/love-on-the-dole-and-the-clergy/ ).
Barbara and Bob Allen, speculating about censorship of the play during the interview, posed a crucial question which no one really asked again until I did in my book in 2018:
BA: It doesn’t seem that they had any problems with the Lord Chamberlain’s office then.
BE: I don’t know, probably they skated over it, I don’t know how the play ended.
BA: Probably John Baxter with his social leanings was probably holding on more to the book than the theatrical version.
BE: But by that time, I think John Baxter might have been recognised as somebody who was handling these things seriously, these subjects of films were serious, serious subjects to many people and of value, I think, too, some of the films were of value.
BA: It certainly became very well known because I remember it being shown in New Zealand and that must have been during the war or just after the war (transcript, pp.9-10)
In fact, the play did in plot terms have the same ending as the film, though the context had changed, but the truth was that there were two different processes and bodies responsible for play and film censorship, and the British film censors were much more nervous (or even more nervous) about cinema audiences seeing something beyond the mainstream than were the censors attached to the Royal Household in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. (4)
Set and Filming Process
Barbara recalls that the production did (unusually?) start with some exterior filming in Rochdale, which presumably stood in for Salford:
BE [Barbara Emary]: Of course, it was a comparatively cheap film and that was wonderful, we went all the way to Rochdale to shoot up there, but of course it was all rebuilt in the studios [when?] we came back.
BA [Bob Allen] What sort of scenes were shot in Rochdale – just wide-angled shots of the town and the streets?
BE: I suppose it was, of people walking in the streets, establishing shots as we used to call them really.
BA: There was no attempt to film the acted sequences?
BE: Not at all. They would be able to do that sort of thing now, but it never was done then, certainly not in those films. We always had to come back and rebuilt the smallest bit that you could get away with.
BA: What studio was that in?
BE: It must have been British National Studio at Elstree I think. Yes.
(transcript, p. 8).
We do also have a photograph of part of the interior film set – the section representing the Hardcastle’s kitchen.
(For the story of this photo see: https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/a-forgotten-love-on-the-dole-rehearsal-photograph-1940-by-james-jarche/).
In addition, it is clear from the film itself that there must have been another set for the Hardcastle’s parlour, another for the rear yard of the Hardcastle house and their neighbour’s (used only in one early scene in the film), and several further sets for the exterior street scenes, some quite large, particularly that used for the Means Test demonstration, which had to accommodate a mounted policeman. Though Barbara Emary categorises these initial shots in Rochdale as likely to have been ‘establishing shots’ in type, I think none of these were actually used in the film, and Barbara’s implication is that this initial film material was used rather to help build convincing if economical sets: ‘rebuilt the smallest bit that you could get away with’. I have always thought that the stylised yet semi-realist exterior sets of the film, together with the more literally realist interiors, do create an impressive and consistent Hanky Park: sepia-toned, darkly-lit and constricted, yet not without a life of its own.
We also know from Barbara’s interview that the production schedule for Love on the Dole was very short – four weeks at most she thinks for the main filming and that the set had to be dismantled as soon as filming was completed so that a new set could go up for the next film:
At British National … we used to have to finish one film on one day and start shooting on the next day , somebody to start shooting otherwise they were going to take the area, take over the studio, for making aircraft I expect, and if we didn’t keep on, if we left it empty for more than a couple of days, so when we came to Love on the Dole, after we ‘d done Love on the Dole, the next film we made after that was Old Mother Riley. I don’t expect you know about Old Mother Riley, but Old Mother Riley was just about as opposite as it could possibly be from Love on the Dole, but you had to finish on Love on the Dole and start the next day on Old Mother Riley. And the sets and everything had to be all waiting, ready for the sets of Love on the Dole to be whisked away and Old Mother Riley to come in. And that was all a bit hairy. And we had to be ready the moment that was over with another one to come in. We were all working, it was all really very exciting, but we did work very, very, hard, of course … Mr Baxter directed Love on the Dole and directed Old Mother Riley as well (transcript, p. 12).
The ‘Old Mother Riley’ series of films were indeed very different from Love on the Dole, though both had some roots in music-hall. The particular old Mother Riley film which took over the set in December 1941 was Mother Riley’s Ghosts (with, as usual, Arthur Lucan as Mother Riley and Kitty McShane as her daughter), which sees old Mother Riley employed as a char at an allegedly haunted castle, which in fact conceals a nest of spies trying to steal an invention. (5)
Finally, Barbara K. Emary goes on to discuss the particular team which worked with Baxter on Love on the Dole. She explains that they were not strictly speaking a unit which remained together for every film, but that Baxter liked to rehire his favourite team as much as possible. For Love on the Dole, Baxter seems to have been able to use many of his favourite people. Barbara names Jimmy Wilson as the cameraman, Harold King as the sound recordist, Holmes Paul as art director, Michael Chorlton as the editor (the film credits also specifically credit him for ‘montage sequences’), and Lance Comfort as assistant director. She recalls that some of these went on to considerable careers in the film industry: Harold King ‘went on to great things’ [Bob Allen adds that he became head of sound at Associated British Picture Corporation Studios], and Barbara thinks Michael Chorlton was probably a ‘brilliant editor’. (6) Barbara at this point identifies her own screen-writing role in Love on the Dole, as given in the credits: ‘screen-adaptation by Walter Greenwood’ in association with Barbara K. Emary and Rollo Gamble’ (transcript p. 11). This was one of some fourteen writing credits she had, many with John Baxter. She recalls the other screen-writer, Rollo Gamble, being ‘a friend of Walter Greenwood’s … I never heard much more about him’. Gamble (1910-1973) had been the producer for a revival of Greenwood’s play Give Us This Day at the Torch Theatre, London, in May 1940, so perhaps their friendship dated from then or earlier. His Stage obituary records that his creative career was interrupted by wartime service in the Army, which he left at the end of the war with the rank of Major. Gamble had however during the thirties been a ballet dancer, and theatre producer, as well BBC radio actor. While he did not make a career in films post-war, he did make a career in commercial television, particularly, as Bob Allen remarks, with Rediffusion, including directing some documentaries with the TV personality Dan Farson. (7)
Barbara noted that the film made Deborah Kerr’s name and also recalls that Baxter was keen to continue helping the young actor Geoffrey Hibbert (1922-1969), who made his first appearance in Love on the Dole, by putting him at the centre of his third 1941 film, The Common Touch:
BE: In Love on the Dole there was a young boy called Geoffrey Hibbert who played the young boy in that and gave a very good performance, I think it was the first film he ‘d ever done and Mr Baxter said we must make something around this boy and he made a film called The Common Touch which also made a lot of money , did extremely well … but some of it was down among the down and outs , Mr Baxter was keen on doing things among the down and outs, just the same as he did with all the working people in Salford, and so we made the film with this boy and he was very good in it (transcript, p.13).
I am not completely clear about the reference to Baxter’s work among the working people of Salford, but it would be in tune with his political beliefs and character if he did something practical to help after filming Love on the Dole. In The Common Touch, Hibbert plays the eighteen-year old son of a deceased businessman who is to take over now that he has come of age. However, his father has left instructions that his son is to understand the business from the bottom-up. He therefore goes undercover – and his incognito appears to be supplied by exactly the same costume he wore to play Harry Hardcastle in Love on the Dole.
Overall, this production team made a notable, resonant, well-received, moving and influential film of Love on the Dole, with sufficient but not extravagant resources, and driven by the joint commitment, social sympathies, aesthetics, and professionalism of the director, the behind camera team, the screen-writers, and the strong cast.
While Geoff Brown’s valuable study gives us much commentary about John Baxter’s aesthetics and production values, and about the specific circumstances of the production of Love on the Dole between November and December 1940, this invaluable interview by Bob Allen with Barbara K. Emary adds the only personal account from someone who was involved in the production actually on the set, and who recalls some significant details about the production process, and most notably of all about continuing negotiations even at that point with the BBFC. Even though supported by the Ministry of Information’s view that this was a film which must be made as part of the war-effort, it was still a triumph getting Love on the Dole made without compromises to the plot, contents or (in the main) politics. As the Daily Herald proclaimed: ‘Film was Banned, Now a Triumph’. (8)
Note 1. There is a rather minimal Wikipedia entry for Barbara K. Emary, but it does give a full list of her film credits as producer, screenwriter and production manager – the majority of films being made with John Baxter: Barbara K. Emary – Wikipedia . The interviewer Bob Allen clearly worked in British TV and from some comments in the interview seems to have been from New Zealand, where he had seen the film of Love on the Dole in the nineteen-forties, but no further information is given on the website.
Note 2. Geoff Brown, with Tony Aldgate, The Common Touch – the Films of John Baxter (British Film Institute, NFT Dossier No.5, London, 1989).
Note 3. BBFC Film Censors Report 1936/42 (held by the BFI Reuben Library), also cited by Jeffrey Richards in The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain 1930-1939 (London, Routledge, 1984, p.119). The censorship of Love on the Dole is discussed in Chris Hopkins, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film (Liverpool, Liverpool University Press), pp. 141-150. See also for a briefer account: The Film of Love on the Dole (1941) – Walter Greenwood: Not Just Love on the Dole (waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com).
Note 4. See Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film, pp.144-6.
Note 5. See its IMDB entry: Old Mother Riley’s Ghosts (1941) – IMDb and the Wikipedia entry for the whole phenomenon of the Old Mother Riley films, which were very cheaply made but very popular, bringing in much revenue to the film studio and distributors, Old Mother Riley – Wikipedia .
Note 6. Chorlton’s career was cut short by a plane crash in 1951, but his considerable credits as editor between then and his first film in 1934 can be found in his IMDB entry: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0159216/ . Harold King (1907-1959) likewise has extensive credits on his IMDB entry: Harold V. King – IMDb. Less is known about Holmes Paul (also known as R. Holmes Paul), but his credits are again recorded by IMDB (though his credit for Love in the Dole is only included for the entry for the film itself): R. Holmes Paul – IMDb. Lance Comfort went on to direct a few quite major films in his own right in the forties, but went on to direct mainly what were termed ‘B movies’ in the fifties and sixties, though was prolific and continuously in work: Lance Comfort – IMDb .
Note 7. Give Us This Day production noted in the Stage, 25/4/1940, p. 6. For an example of Gamble’s radio work see his membership of the cast of Famous Trials No.4: the Tragicall History of John Byng, Admiral of the Blue, as listed in the Staffordshire Sentinel, 7/12/1934, p. 15. For an example of his work with Farson, see Boy Meets Girl as discussed in The Stage, 11/4/1963, p. 10. See also the BFI entry on the early sixties TV hit he was involved with, Stars and Garters (1963-66), described there as ‘variety from the pub entertainment scene, recreated in the TV studio’: BFI Screenonline: Stars and Garters (1963-66) . For his obituary see the Stage 4/10/1973, p.20. I have given a slightly longer endnote for Gamble whose career is not well-represented by current web-coverage perhaps because of his long and varied career.
Note 8. 28/5/1941, p.3. Review by P.L. Mannock – one of a number of reviews of the film specifically recalled by Barbara K. Emary in this interview forty-seven years later (see transcript, p.7).