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A cultural history of EMI films

A cultural history of the largest British film company of the 1970s

Electrical and Musical Industries Ltd, more commonly known via its initials EMI, was formed in the 1930s through a merger of the Gramophone Company and Columbia. It would become a leading player in the international music industry, opening recording studios at Abbey Road in 1931 which eventually would host some of EMI’s most commercially successful acts, including Cliff Richard, the Beatles and Pink Floyd.

However, the company’s entertainment and leisure interests extended far beyond the popular music genre with which it is most regularly associated and, from 1969 to its eventual demise in 1986, EMI’s films division would produce many of the key works of 1970s and 1980s British cinema - including popular family dramas like 'The Railway Children' (Lionel Jeffries, 1970) through to critically acclaimed arthouse successes like 'Britannia Hospital' (Lindsay Anderson, 1982).

Despite this, EMI’s role in these productions has been recorded only marginally, as footnotes in general histories of British cinema. The reasons for this critical neglect raise important questions about the processes involved in the creation of cultural canons and the definition of national culture.

This project argues that EMI’s amorphous nature as a transnational film company has led to its omission from this history and makes it an ideal subject to challenge the critical consensus on the 1970s British film industry, that it was chaotic, unfashionable and not really worthy of scholarly attention.

The three-year project produced a thorough historical overview of the company’s film releases, based on research material held by the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles (the private papers of EMI’s first Head of Film Production, the actor-director Bryan Forbes), through to the collections of producers that EMI worked with (held by the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum) and its various battles with the UK film censors (at the British Board of Film Classification).

It led to the publication of the first book-length critical study of the company, ‘EMI Films and the Limits of British Cinema’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), a special issue of the Journal of British Cinema and Television, and a video essay on the company’s representation of the 1970s British home.


Find out more

Moody, P. (2018). EMI Films and the Limits of British Cinema. London: Palgrave - https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319948027

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Project last modified 05/07/2021