Celebrating a century of steel on celluloid

A series of short films on the British iron and steel industry is enough to melt the steeliest of hearts...

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The British Film Institute (BFI) box set of 23 short films on the UK steel industry spans a century and tells a story of innovation, pride and engineering excellence. And its release coincides with the centenary celebrations of Steel First’s sister publication Metal Bulletin.

The earliest films in the BFI series, such as The Building of the New Tyne Bridge (1928), show what was then cutting-edge technology, but now looks downright dangerous.

“We’ve seen some pretty radical changes in technology over the period,” said Metal Bulletin’s former editor Trevor Tarring, who is compiling a history of Metal Bulletin to coincide with the publication’s centenary.

Buy the BFI DVD box set for the 1959 film Men of Consett alone and you won’t be disappointed.

Caught somewhere between a schoolroom chemistry documentary and industrial science fiction, this 28-minute film presents an industry outsider looking on in awe at the glorified men working on so much hot steel.

It is men, in particular, who are the focus of the BFI film series, save for Women of Steel (1984), a brilliant set of interviews with women who worked in UK munitions factories during the Second World War.

The Big Mill is another one to watch. Made in 1963, it shows the huge investment required to build the massive Ravenscraig integrated iron and steelworks and hot strip mill in Motherwell, Scotland.

The subsequent contraction of the UK steel industry finishes the series, with a ten-minute newsreel from 1987 returning to Consett where unemployed steelworkers faced a less-than hopeful future.

This Working Life: Steel is available online for £18.

The final public screening in the series will take place tonight, Tuesday February 26, at 8.30pm at the BFI Southbank, London.

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