British Universities Film & Video Council

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Transformation and Tradition in Sixties British Cinema

The 1960s in Britain is remembered as a time of great change, not least at the cinema. But how did this all come about? Laura Mayne previews a new three-year AHRC project studying the phenomenon.


edin_staffAbout the Author: Dr. Laura Mayne is a postdoctoral research associate working on the 3-year AHRC funded Transformation and Tradition in Sixties British Cinema project led by Professor Duncan Petrie. In 2014, she completed her doctoral thesis on the industrial impact of Film4 on British cinema as part of the AHRC-funded Channel 4 and British Film Culture project based at Portsmouth University. She has contributed to such works as the Journal of British Cinema and Television and has written numerous reviews for the BUFVCs Viewfinder journal. Her recent published papers include Mythologies of Chance: Historicising Luck  in the Film and Television Industries (2015) and Assessing Cultural Impact: Film 4, Canon Formation and Forgotten Films (2014).


The sixties have long been considered an era of political, social, and artistic change. Arthur Marwick has argued that the decade constituted nothing less than a ‘cultural revolution’, an opinion which is widely shared by both enthusiasts and detractors of the period. However, this view has been challenged, most notably by Dominic Sandbrook, who has argued that the sixties are best understood not as a ‘dramatic turning point’ but as a ‘stage in a long evolution stretching back into the forgotten past’ (2006: 794). There is evidence that both of these interpretations can be applied to British cinema, which underwent a resurgence in creative vitality and international appeal in this decade, but which also remained structurally and aesthetically linked to a more traditional past. This was a time when the burgeoning independent sector was struggling to establish an identity amid the duopoly of Rank and ABC, whilst film promotion emphasising youthful vitality with contemporary fashion and music presented a counterpoint to film criticism that rejected national cinema as staid and unadventurous. Furthermore, whilst the creative process was enriched by new talent and practitioners from the US and Europe, established British filmmakers like David Lean and Anthony Asquith continued to be popular.

This tension between novelty and innovation forms the central focus of a three year, AHRC-funded research project titled Transformation and Tradition in Sixties British Cinema. The project is being run by research teams based at the Universities of York and East Anglia, with the British Film Institute as a project partner. Professor Duncan Petrie, based at York, is Principal investigator on the project while Dr Melanie Williams is co-investigator at UEA. The postdoctoral research associates are Dr Laura Mayne (York) and Dr Richard Farmer (UEA). The project will generate a number of research outputs, including two symposia (to be held at the Universities of York and East Anglia respectively), a conference (to be held in 2017), a monograph, an edited collection and a number of journal publications. Through our partnership with the British Film Institute, the project will also seek to communicate its research findings to non-academic audiences in a way that conveys both the appeal and the complexity of this key moment in Britain’s cinematic heritage.

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