Kentish Times Story
16mm film Black & White Sound 1950s 37:30
Summary: The production of one edition of the Kentish Times newspaper, from first ideas for stories through writing, editing and printing to the final published copy.
Title number: 19544
LSA ID: LSA/25926
Description: Over first an aerial shot of a train travelling along the railway line through a suburban scene and then one of it speeding past the camera towards the station, the title announces ‘Kentish Times Ltd presents The Kentish Times Story’, followed by the names of the crew of the Sidcup Film Unit. A stirring orchestral tune plays in the background.
In longshot a crowd of passengers walk steeply downhill away from the station on their way home. As the commentator explains, it is ‘30 minutes from London over the borders of Kent. Bustle or’ - as the shot changes to open fields - ‘quiet’. A farmer approaches on his tractor - this is the Kent of the countryside. Workmen in overalls releasing the valves on some pipes in a factory show there is also the Kent of ‘oil, smoke and industry’.
A row of modern terraced houses backing on to a field shows the juxtaposition of town and country, and as the camera pans to a factory, of industry too. Nature remains in scenes of hayfields and swans on peaceful, shady ponds. Then we cut to the Thames with its cargo vessels and grey wharves, very much a working river. Large houses with big gardens, village streets with timbered stores and shops with awnings show other ways of living. After a modern shopping street, there is a new industrial development with a few ‘50s style cars parked outside in the tree-lined carpark, then a modern estate, followed by a reed-lined river running through a village. And then back to the farmer on his tractor and the workers in the factory.
A smartly dressed bespectacled man in a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase, with a newspaper under his arm walks briskly through the town centre passing a road sweeper: neither takes any notice of the other. In the countryside riders on horseback pass under the trees alongside a river, and elsewhere a factory belches out smoke.
’30 minutes from London and over the borders of Kent’ the commentary reminds us, as a sketch map shows the district and the towns: Beckenham, Bromley, Eltham, Orpington, Sidcup, Bexleyheath, Erith, Chislehurst, and Dartford, superimposed on scenes of each one, all of them served by the Kentish Times. ‘Nine papers, one family – links between the contrasts and the people.’
Back at the station the rather formally dressed commuters are on their way home. In the busy town centre everyone is pre-occupied with their own concerns. Then a white Daimler ambulance, its bell ringing urgently, drives past. People stop and stare. Then walk on, absorbed in their own concerns again. But the commentary tells us, as the camera focuses on the outside of the Eltham Times’ office, the story will live on in the local newspaper.
A young woman journalist in a crisp, white blouse, full, below the knee flowered skirt and high heeled shoes walks purposefully from the newspaper office, through the crowded streets to the large brick built local hospital. She goes in through the front door and along its stark, silent corridors.
Back in the office two young male journalists, with short hair, jackets and ties are sitting at their cluttered desks typing busily on old fashioned typewriters. One young man answers his black Bakelite desk phone. He makes a note: a council worker has given £50 to a church restoration fund. And so ‘the search for a story begins.’
A longshot shows a yew lined path leading to an ancient stone church, birds are singing in the graveyard. The young reporter meets the elderly rector, formally dressed in black robe and gown with clerical collar and preaching bands, and together they enter the church. The rector points to a new stained glass window, which was damaged in the war and has been completely replaced, and also points to other features. The reporter writes it all down in his note book which he then puts back in his pocket. He shakes hands with the rector and they go out of the church together. Outside the churchyard a notice by the lych-gate shows that now only £3,500 of the original £7,000 is needed for the restoration fund.
As the reporter leaves the churchyard the commentator reminds us that this is just one reporter’s assignment – there are others ‘widely different’. One reporter is watching the show jumping at Erith Gymkhana; another is at Beckenham Old Folk’s Club interviewing pensioners, mainly quite formally dressed women, sitting round small tables drinking tea; two young men are standing by the river looking at sailing boats; another is at a boys’ club in Mottingham; and two are covering the archaeological site at Lullingstone, where men in shorts and vests are digging, while the jacketed reporter makes notes and another takes a photograph with a huge camera. ‘The daily contrasts for every journalist.’
Back in the office our two reporters are at their desks again, typing up their stories. The one working on the restoration fund story is now checking his facts. He gets up to consult a typed reference card from the filing boxes in his office for further information about the church. Then he goes to another room to get a large leather-bound volume containing back copies of the Kentish Times. He needs more information about the council worker, but that can wait. The first draft of his story is ready and he winds it out of his typewriter, ready for its journey into print.
The reporter passes the typed page through a hatch to the shirt-sleeved chief sub-editor sitting at his desk on the other side of the wooden partition. He in turn passes it to an older, bald-headed colleague at a desk facing a window, whose job is to add headings and adjust for length. Meanwhile the chief sub-editor walks across to a huge board on which a mock-up of the lay-out of the next edition of the newspaper is set out page by page. He pencils in where this story is to go and allocates space for the photograph of the council worker.
Next the sub-editor rolls up the typed page of the story and puts it into a cylindrical metal canister, to send by vacuum tube down to the office of the works manager. Seen in close up through the window of his work space, the manager takes it out and ticks it off on his list. In an adjacent room, men in long aprons are standing working at high wooden benches. A tall, slim man in a waistcoat walks purposefully through to pick up the story from the works manager, who points out to him the written instructions on it about the type-face to be used. He takes it and walks back and into another, noisier room where shirt sleeved men are sitting, back to back at linotype machines. He hands the story to one of them, pointing out the instructions. Each linotype machine, the commentator explains, combines the functions of a typewriter and a small foundry to make a relief casting of each line of type. The seven men in the small space sit there typing while around them the heavy machinery clanks away.
Then the relief casting is taken to a small printing press to make the first proof copy. A young man in a long white apron takes the metal cast, puts it on the tray and inks it with a roller. He places a strip of paper on top and rolls the heavy cylinder of the press across, then picks up the paper with the freshly printed page.
Next, to the proof readers to check for errors. A man and a woman are seen, through the door of a rather dingy corridor, looking at the story in the corner of a tiny office. The man, in suit and tie, walks out with the paper and takes it to the proof readers. Two of them, a man and a woman, sit working together at a desk, looking at the story of the £50 given to the church and correcting spelling mistakes and other errors with a pencil.
Elsewhere in the building a woman in a long, cape-collared white outdoor coat is standing in front of a long counter talking to an older woman standing behind. Further down the counter, a man in a suit and tie is dealing with an elderly woman in a dark coat and rather formal straw hat. The writing on the window shows that this is the newspaper front office and the commentator explains these people are placing adverts in the paper. A white-gloved hand pushes a hand written note about an article for sale across the desk.
Bending over his cluttered desk the deputy advertising manager is working on the display adverts from local and national advertisers. In the ‘Ludlow’ room, men with dark overalls over their suits and ties are standing behind high desks working on the matrices for the wording of these advertisements. A matrix is then taken to the Ludlow machine, a smallish device at table height which turns the matrix into a relief casting. At a small printing press on another table two other overalled workers take the relief casting and print off a proof copy.
As the commentator tells us that the advertisements will be seen by a wide range of people, the screen shows first a crowded pavement next to a busy road, then a bustling shopping street with a family pushing a pram, and then a cross roads with a double decker buses, cars and bikes. Then we switch to a quieter tree lined street with parked cars and bicycles, and back to the farmer on his tractor, the factory workers pushing their barrels, and in the town centre the street cleaner and the office worker with his briefcase and newspaper, still ignoring each other.
In a quiet suburban street of terraced houses, a solitary van drives up the empty road. One of these houses, we are told, is the home of the council worker. The van is from the Kentish Times and the journalists have come to take a photograph. The van draws up outside and the journalists go into the house – like the others in the street, it is ‘small, quiet and clean.’ But the van raises interest, and the neighbours’ lace curtains are twitching. The visit is brief – the journalists leave and another stage in the story is done. They drive away and the lace curtains twitch again.
Back at the office the journalists unload their equipment and the photographer takes the exposed photographic plates to the dark room for processing. Enlargements are produced and he and a colleague look at the finished prints. The chief sub-editor still sitting at his cluttered desk by the window chooses the one which will be used in the story and writes his instructions on the back of the print.
In the engraving department the block is prepared, as first a man in a lab coat makes a new negative shot through a fine screen inside a huge special camera, producing a negative with a pattern of dots. A young man in a T shirt and apron takes it away to be photographically printed on to a metal plate, and finally another man in an apron puts the plate into an acid bath which etches the picture on to the metal. He washes the plate under the tap in the sink. It is a lengthy process. The commentary tells us that there is now an electronic machine which can produce an engraved plate very much quicker and another overalled worker demonstrates this new apparatus. He then puts the plate in another machine which prepares a metal engraving of the council worker ready for the front page. ‘This is one man’s picture but it could be anyone’s’ intones the commentary over a montage of busy streets and people, and an aerial shot of the be-suited office worker walking past the street cleaner.
An Austin-Healey sports car is speeding along a country road on a rainy day, and then draws up at the kerb. ‘Motoring, like many other interests, has its own column’ – and its own correspondent. The driver, in his raincoat, gets out, lifts the bonnet and peers inside the engine. But since this ‘may not appeal’ to women readers, there is a ‘women’s page editress’ who explores ‘other secrets’. She sits at her office desk trying out a new lotion on her face. A backstage scene at the theatre is for the drama correspondent and the entrance to the magistrates’ court illustrates the weekly reports of their cases. Cuttings from the newspaper show further examples of the many weekly features such as those about two wheelers, for children and for gardeners.
Two index fingers typing, with a photograph of a game of bowls behind the typewriter, introduce the sports editor, writing up stories that have come in about golf, bowls and athletics. Bigger events get a reporter there – like the well-attended local amateur football match, with players running around the field and an enthusiastic crowd pressed against the railings, cheering them on. A cricket match is ‘a pleasant assignment’ as the sports editor sits on a deckchair in the sunshine writing up his notes while the match is played out on the green. Back in the office, a full ashtray on his desk, he types up his story.
Two formally dressed middle aged men in glasses sit at their desks in the revisers’ room giving the stories their final inspection. In close-up the bald man reads the story of the council worker and his £50 gift and gives it his stamp of approval.
In another room, a line of men, some in overalls, others in long aprons, stand at the long ‘stone bench’ where the metal blocks of the stories, advertisements and photographs are assembled within wooden frames into pages. A workman’s hands put the blocks of the council worker’s story and his photograph into place on the front page according to a sketch plan on a piece of paper balanced on the side of the frame. Finally he puts in the column rules to separate the lines of text.
Now the front page is complete and ready for proofing. One of the men inks his page with a hand roller and then with the help of another rolls a sheet of paper across the top to make a rough print. Now the picture and story of the donor can be seen on the front page. The chief sub-editor, pencil poised, comes to check. He calls on a colleague, in jacket and tie, to settle a minor query. And now the page is ready for printing. This is done, we are told, by rotary press and we see the rollers whirling round. But before the semi-circular metal mould is made, a papier mache one must be produced.
Two men wheel the metal page across to the foundry, where other men are at work and heavy machinery clunks away. One man wipes down the metal type-set page and places a sheet of papier mache, the flong, on it. Further layers are put on top before the entire page is pushed into a machine where heavy pressure is applied under heat. The two of them then pull the page out again, using tongs, and peel off the steaming flong. It is then taken across to another, semi-circular, machine which removes all the moisture. Next a workman carries the flong to the casting box, a huge metal drum-like object, and fits it to its curve. He reaches up and pulls a heavy lever to inject molten metal to fill every detail of the flong. When the metal has cooled, he pulls more levers to re-open the casting box and takes out the flong. The curved metal plate is underneath, with type and pictures ready to print the front page, and he slides it off and then wipes down the machinery.
In the print room the huge press is rolling in the background as print workers in overalls or dungarees sort out the curved metal printing plates. The one for the front page is placed on a roller and the columns, the pictures, the text can be clearly seen in relief. The stories from all over Kent - the council worker, the excavations, the accident - are there, the commentator tells us, ready to ‘fan out again as printed news’. In another room, men are unloading huge rolls of newsprint hoisted in through an opening in the wall. This, says the commentator, is the raw material that will take the stories to people’s doorsteps.
The rotary press stands still and silent. Bales of clean white newsprint are ready to be fed through. A print worker fits one of the front page metal plates to a cylinder and other pages will follow. Then after some final checks, the paper is ready to run. A blonde haired workman, seen in close up, presses a button and the cylinders start to roll. To the heavy sound of clanking machinery, a montage of shots shows the wheels and the pistons working away, the white paper being fed in, the huge rollers going round, the sheets of newsprint rolling through and then, finally, the cut and folded printed newspapers, piling up on a belt. On the front page, in close up, is the photograph of the council worker with the headline ‘Saved £50 for his old church’.
A chain of workmen take the newspapers off the belt, carry them across to tables and then move them to shelves where they are labelled ready for distribution. In the circulation office a man in shirtsleeves, smoking a pipe, and a woman in a sleeveless blouse sit at a desk in front of a wall of pigeon holes checking and writing labels for newsagents and individual subscribers. The woman stands up and leaves the office clutching a small stack of labels which she takes to the distribution shelves. A man in shirtsleeves takes some labelled bundles out to a waiting van, piles them into the back and drives off. Inside the print room, more papers are taken from the press, moved from tables to shelves, bundled up, labelled and then piled up in the back of another high black van, with small windows at the back and Kentish Times painted on its side. The driver sits at the wheel, no seat belt on, and his side door open as he drives off. Another van leaves, and this time the camera follows it, along a tree lined suburban street. More vans leave taking copies of the newspaper all over Kent, the drivers stopping outside newsagents, general stores, tobacconists, in towns and villages, and then carrying large bundles of papers into the shops. Nearly 100,000 copies in all are distributed we are told. The final bundle is delivered and another edition is through, the cycle is completed. The last van leaves the main office, a large and imposing brick built building. Now the offices are empty, the presses silent and the stories have gone.
In the corner of a small living room, a smartly dressed family of four, mother, father, son and daughter, are sitting round a table laid for breakfast. The son, aged about 8 or 9, in white shirt and shorts, hands the newspaper to his father, who opens it up and starts to read. In his field, the farmer sits on his tractor reading his copy. The factory worker in his flat cap sits on some barrels to read his. The office worker we have seen in town before, takes his copy from the letter box in his front door, looks at the photograph on the front page, puts the paper under his arm and sets off for work. Once again he passes the street cleaner, but this time he recognises him. The man looks at the picture on the front page again and recognises that the street cleaner is the council worker who donated £50 to his church. They smile at each other – the newspaper has created a link. And then each goes on his way.
Credits: Produced by Sidcup Film Unit; Producer and Directory of Photography: John D Chittock; Director and Editor: J S Roberts
Cast: Commentary by James McKechnie
Further information: The Kentish Times group of newspapers has since 2003 been part of the Archant Group, a privately owned media group owning a large number of regional papers in the UK.
The church restoration fund to which the council worker contributed was for St Nicholas Church, Chislehurst. Built in the 15th century, it can be identified by the references to the Walsingham tombs and by photographs on the web.
The Lullingstone excavation, near Eynsford village, uncovered a Roman Villa, which archaeologists worked on between 1949 and 1960 and which is now managed by English Heritage and open to the public. The original house was probably built around AD 80 - 90 and added to and modified over the next 200 - 300 years. The villa contains an important mosaic floor, as well as some Christian wall paintings.
Vacuum tubes, more commonly known as ‘pneumatic tubes’, are a system of cylindrical containers that can be propelled through a network of tubes, taking small packages over short distances, generally within buildings such as banks, shops and offices. Originally developed in late 19th/early 20th century they were widely used up until the 1950s but have gradually fallen out of use since.
The linotype machine was the standard means for magazine and newspaper production from the late 19th century to the 1960s and 1970s. It could produce an entire line of type (hence the name ‘linotype’) and revolutionised the production of newspapers allowing more pages of print to be produced on a daily basis. The machine operator types on a keyboard and the machine puts the matrix, or mold, for each letter, space, number or punctuation mark into a line and then casts the whole thing in hot metal. The matrices are then returned to be used again later. In the 1960s and 1970s this method was replaced by the lithographic process and more recently by computer type-setting.
The Ludlow typographer was another machine used for printing, but the lines of type were set by hand rather than by using a keyboard. More compact than the linotype, it was able to produce larger type sizes and was used by the Kentish Times group for advertisements. First manufactured in the early 20th century, Ludlow machines were used until the mid-1980s.
The Daimler DC 27 ambulance was used by the London County Council during the 1950s.
Austin Healeys were a popular brand of British sports car produced between 1952 and 1972.
Locations: UK, Northwest Kent
Yuki Burt wrote on October 4, 2021:I have been putting together a history of the Bassett family which started the Kentish Times and came across this…I have been putting together a history of the Bassett family which started the Kentish Times and came across this lovely film. Having worked at the KT myself, as did my parents, I wondered if I would see anyone who I knew. I did, but the big shock was seeing my father who was head of the photographic department. In our family life I hardly ever saw him in photos or cine films because he was always the person operating the camera, so to see him in front of the camera today, almost 40 years after his death, was a wonderful surprise.
Derek Stocker wrote on September 7, 2021:So very pleased to have found this wonderful film that was a part of my history. I worked at the KT…So very pleased to have found this wonderful film that was a part of my history.
I worked at the KT for about 20 years as a driver and some of the folks in the film I well remember.
Fantastic piece of Kent history and also newspaper history as well, wow, the processes that went into the printing in those days and now so sad that it is all gone.
Thanks so much for this, pure nostalgia!
Derek Hope-Kent Photonews wrote on January 23, 2016:I remember that the film was out on hire to many groups such as WI and each week there was…I remember that the film was out on hire to many groups such as WI and each week there was a reference to it in the paper. Maybe I am thinking of a different fil as I thought it was called "And so to bed". I started in journalism in the 1950's and still doing a bit now. All changed of course, no linotype machines or darkrooms now. Our first publication was in the Eltham Times and was a picture of a young girl (I think she had polio) being taught to swim by someone called Roy Stevens at Eltham Baths.