British WWII propaganda movies to view and download

The British Council has posted a fabulous trove of CC-licensed, downloadable "cultural propaganda" videos commissioned during WWII to "refute the idea that ours was a country stuck in the past."

During the 1940s, the British Council was an enthusiastic commissioner of documentary films. Over 120 films were produced as 'cultural propaganda' to counteract anything the Nazis might throw out and to refute the idea that ours was a country stuck in the past. These films were designed to showcase Britain to the rest of the world, at a time when Britain itself was under attack.

Seen by millions of people in over 100 countries worldwide from the 1940's to 1960's, they present a historic snapshot of Britain, portraying its industry, its landscapes, and its people. The Collection is fantastically varied, covering anything from how a bicycle is made, to how the British spend their Saturdays. They provide us with a unique insight - not necessarily into how Britain actually was, but more into how Britain once wanted to be perceived by the rest of the world.

Alongside basic credits and production information, you can find some fascinating pieces of trivia, photos, and screen grabs, as well as the original synopses that the films were distributed with. Some of the films give you the option to go even deeper, to learn a little more about how the films was made. And, perhaps most importantly, you can not only watch the films online but download them too.

British Council Film: British Council Film Collection (Thanks, Sarah!)


  1. Back in the 1940s a shower scene was OK? Where was Pedobear when they needed him? How times have changed!

  2. Given the present PR status of WWII-era Germans, it’s honestly a  little bit of a double-take that Britain would have been so concerned. In context, of course, it is much more reasonable; but it’s still hard to shake the feeling. You’d think that the only propaganda they would need would be the line “Britain, another bucolic day of not tending the vast industrial jew-ovens…”

  3. Why is the music always so bonkers in those old propaganda films? It sounds like it’s been randomly generated (presumably at Bletchley Park on a Colossus) and then played by an orchestra.

  4. Worth it just to hear the deliciously clipped uppercrusty acrobatically verbalised primosyllabically stressed tempr-rly for the modern-day milquetoast pronounciation of temporarily.

  5. It’s very interesting to view this propaganda – ‘Women at War’ in particular, while on the surface promoting the part women had to play in defeating Hitler, largely shows women in ancillary roles. In fact women did – like my mother – ‘man’ AA gun sites and took on other more active and dangerous roles, but this fact seems to have been a bit too unpalatable for the British public at the time. The unspoken implication of this film seems to be – in the words of the aforementioned Mr. Cholmondeley-Warner – ‘Women, Know Your Place!’

    1. Women are largely confined to ‘traditional’ roles in this film collection, it’s true, and the only female narrator (in ‘Queen Cotton’) is talking about clothes! But these films weren’t primarily intended for the British public – they were meant for overseas audiences, which almost certainly influenced the depiction of women’s roles. They also were prohibited from properly addressing military topics (such as anti-aircraft guns) by the Ministry of Information, who viewed that as their domain.

  6. I don’t know which new, progressive political party this is, but I’ll vote for them.

  7. “It’s a queer world”
    Free health care, dentistry, milk, education for all, development of the individual…
    “By the time Baby Jack grows up there may be no such thing as unemployment, but if there is, it mustn’t be allowed to cause suffering…”
    Yes, it is a queer world – whatever happened to it?

    1. Bits of that really made me want to cry for the vision we have lost.
      Instead our culture is all about everyone for himself and devil take the hindmost.

  8.  Well if they were releasing propaganda films under a CC license during WWII, then Britain certainly was well ahead of its time!

  9. on some level, this (“The Second Freedom”) is one of the most tragic things i’ve watched since i emigrated from the UK 23 years ago. yes, it was propaganda. yes, the promises were never really fulfilled (and maybe not really intended to be by those in charge). but what a vision of responsibility to each other! what an acknowledgement of the benefits to all of caring for all. and now so much of it reduced to just quaint, historial absurdities. thanks margaret.

  10. “The state provides every essential for the good health of babies like Jack to fit them for the better world we are planning.”  Sounds like something straight out of Orwell.

    1. I take it you mean like something out of Orwell’s strident left wing political writing, because that sentence sounds lovely.

  11. (Idyllic and not entirely realistic propaganda aside) yes, this is why we were better than the Nazis.

     But then, as Germany moved toward a more fair and egalitarian society after the Nazis were defeated, we turned to the modern-day monsters of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron and their ‘self-interest trumps all’ ideology – privatising everything for personal profit, an end to the ‘social good”, throwing the sick and disabled to the dogs.

    The dream passed and the nightmare began.

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