Explore the history of women in British film and television production with our interactive timeline.
Cinematograph Films ActThe Cinematograph Films Act introduced quota requirements on the number of British films screened in cinemas. This resulted in the production of ‘quota quickies’, films made quickly and cheaply by US-owned distribution companies. The production of ‘quota quickies’ led to the deterioration of working conditions and increased worker dissatisfaction, prompting the unionisation of the film industry.
Establishment of the Association of Cine-Technicians (ACT)Initially named the Association of Studio Workers (ASW), the ACT was established by discontented film technicians at the Gaumont-Bush Studios in Shepherd’s Bush. Captain Matthew Cope, who owned a ‘health and strength’ cafe in the local market, was appointed as the union’s first secretary and organiser.
George Elvin appointed as General Secretary of the ACTThe historiography on the establishment and formative years of the ACT identifies the appointment of George Elvin as General Secretary as a significant turning point in the union’s history, with the ACTT’s official history, Action! Fifty Years in the Life of a Union, claiming that Elvin’s appointment marked ‘the real beginning of ACT’s history as a fighting organisation’ (1983: 13). George Elvin was the son of prominent trade unionist Herbert Henry Elvin, the General Secretary of the National Union of Clerks and Chairman of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Furthermore, the union’s equal pay policy is attributed to Elvin’s ‘strong personal commitment to the elimination of sex-based differentials to pay’ (ibid: 23).
The Cine-TechnicianThe first issue of the union’s journal, The Cine-Technician, was published in May 1935.
Unionisation of the Film LaboratoriesThe unionisation of laboratory marked a shift within the ACT from craft to trade union policy. The laboratories were the only section of the union which operated under ‘true factory conditions’ and offered the ACT a ‘working class base’ (Chanan, 1976: 32). Between 1933 and 1939 a larger number of women worked in the laboratories as negative cutters compared to continuity supervisors in film production, 64 and 33 respectively (BUFVC, ‘A History of Women in the Film and Television Industries: ACT/T Membership Forms’). The first lab branch was formed in 1936.
The ACT Employment Bureau was establishedThe ACT Employment Bureau was established. The Bureau operated as a recruitment agency for unemployed ACT members.
BBC officially launches Britain’s first regular television serviceOn 2nd November 1936 the BBC launches the world's first regular television service from Alexander Palace.
Kay Mander, the first woman on the ACT’s General Council, joins the unionAccording to Kay Mander’s application form on the BECTU membership database, Kay initially joined the ACT in April 1936. In her oral history testimony for the BECTU History Project Kay states that she was the ‘first woman on the General Council’ (Kay Mander, 1988: BECTU Interview 57). Kay’s testimony provides conflicting evidence on when she became involved on the General Council, initially claiming that she was attending meetings by the end of 1935 before later stating that she was not involved on the General Council until the Second World War. The 1936 membership application date and the proliferation of articles by Kay in The Cine-Technician from 1940 would suggest that the latter was the case.
The first industrial agreement is signed between the ACT and Gaumont-British Picture CorporationThe first industrial agreement is signed between the ACT and Gaumont-British Picture Corporation.
The ACT affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC)The ACT affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, the national trade union body representing affiliated unions in England and Wales.
National Association of Theatrical Employees (NATE) became National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees (NATKE), reflecting its recruitment of cinema staff.National Association of Theatrical Employees (NATE) became National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees (NATKE), reflecting its recruitment of cinema staff.
The first collective all-industry agreement signed between the ACT and the Film Employers’ FederationThe union initially struggled to negotiate agreements on behalf of its membership as there were no official bodies representing industry employers with which to negotiate. The first all-industry agreement was signed in 1939 with the Film Employers’ Federation, prompted by the threat of strike action from the laboratory workers. However, the Film Employers’ Federation disintegrated shortly after and was replaced by separate bodies representing each area of the film industry: British Film Producers Association, Association of Short Film Producers, Association of Film Laboratory Employers and Newsreel Association (ACTT, 1983: 14).
Second World War (1939-1945)During the Second World War there was an influx of women workers into British industries, with 1.5 million women entering ‘essential’ industries between 1939 and 1943 (Summerfield, 1984: 29). The number of applicants for ACT membership from women workers rose from 51 in 1940 to 391 in 1942, reaching a peak of 461 in 1946 (BUFVC, ‘A History of Women in the Film and Television Industries: ACT/T Membership Forms’).
Suspension of the Cinematograph Films ActOn the outbreak of the Second World War the Cinematograph Films Act was suspended and film production ceased. This resulted in a significant decline in union membership, from 1,200 to 915 by December 1939 (Reid, 2008: 112).
BBC television transmissions cease for the duration of the Second World WarBBC television transmissions cease for the duration of the Second World War
BBC Staff (Wartime) AssociationThe BBC Staff (Wartime) Association was established to represent workers employed by the BBC.
War-time Women’s Committee EstablishedThe short lived war-time women’s committee was active between 1940 and 1941. The committee sought ‘to pay special attention to women’s organisation and to special women’s problems which would increase as the war continues’ (The Cine-Technician, August-September 1940: 72). However, the committee was ultimately unsuccessful because the women workers did not identify with gender-specific interests, with Kay Mander describing the committee as ‘a dead disaster’ (Kay Mander, 1988: BECTU Interview 57).
The successful negotiation of equal Cost of Living bonuses for women workersThe 1940-41 ACT Annual Report announced the successful negotiation of an equal rate of Cost of Living bonuses, also known as war bonuses, for women workers in the film industry. Equal Cost of Living bonuses were a rarity elsewhere in British industry during the Second World War (Boston, 1980: 191). Whilst women studio workers were granted equal rates to men, women workers in the laboratories would only receive equal bonuses when they were performing the same work as men.
The ACT affiliates to the Labour PartyThe ACT affiliated to the Labour Party, establishing an institutional link which offered the union a voice inside the Labour Party and allowed delegates to attend the Labour Party Conference.
BBC Staff (Wartime) Association becomes the BBC Staff AssociationThe BBC Staff Association emerged from the amalgamation of the BBC Staff (Wartime) Association and the Association of BBC Engineers. The Association was criticised for its lack of independence from the employer.
Bessie Bond is appointed ACT organiserBessie Bond first started working for the ACT in a voluntary capacity during the Second World War, assisting Winifred Pearson, George Elvin’s secretary, with office work. Offered an official position working for the union’s organiser, Bert Craik, Bessie progressed from performing the supportive role of an ‘ordinary office worker’ (Bessie Bond, 1987: BECTU Interview 12) to deputising for Craik, attending meetings on his behalf. In 1945 Bessie was appointed ACT organiser, working alongside Craik, who remained the union’s senior organiser. Bessie was responsible for the laboratories, the largest section in terms of membership at the time. Bessie held her position for 15 years, retiring in 1960. In a later interview Bessie Bond insisted that she was ‘“not a woman’s organiser”’ (ACTT, 1983: 72).
Publication of the Report from the Royal Commission on Equal Pay, 1944-46The Royal Commission on Equal Pay was established in 1944 to investigate the wages of men and women and the possible effects of introducing equal pay. The Commission’s Report, published in 1946, suggested that women in the professions, such as the civil service and teaching, should receive equal pay, whilst women working in industry did not perform the same roles as men and so should not receive equal pay. However, women in the civil service and teaching were not awarded equal pay until 1954, and this was gradually implemented in stages up to 1961 (Wilson, 1980: 171). The publication of the report prompted discussion on the question of equal pay within the wider labour movement, which was reflected in the pages of The Cine-Technician.
BBC television service resumes broadcastingBBC television transmissions resume after the Second World War
Repair and Despatch StrikeIn the post-war period the ACT sought to organise repair and despatch workers, despite NATKE’s apparent claim on the group as distribution workers. The ACT campaigned for the living wage, which culminated in the unsuccessful 1946 Repair and Despatch Strike (ACTT, 1983: 29). The intra-union conflict between the ACT and NATKE resulted in the 1947 Demarcation Agreement.
Demarcation AgreementFollowing the 1946 Repair and Despatch Strike the three main trade unions in the film industry, the ACT, NATKE and the Electrical Trade Union (ETU), negotiated the Demarcation Agreement, which clarified which grades belonged to each union. The ACT exchanging projectionists for sound technicians with the ETU, and distribution workers for scenic artists with NATKE (ACTT, 1983: 29).
ACT Films Ltd. was establishedThe ACT established its own film production company, ACT Films Ltd., in response to the decline in British film production and unemployment amongst film technicians in the late 1940s and 1950s (ACTT, 1983: 79).
Continuity, Assistant Continuity and Production Secretaries’ Section EstablishedThe Continuity, Assistant Continuity and Production Secretaries’ Section, was the first section in the ACT to represent roles preformed almost exclusively by women workers.
The Television Act 1954 is given Royal Assent.The Act breaks the television monopoly of the BBC, inaugurating the Independent Television Authority (ITA) which is charged with regulating a new independent commercial television service. The new channel, ITV, begins broadcasting in 1955.
Laboratory Lock-outDeteriorating conditions in the laboratories, precipitated by the rising cost of living in the early 1950s, led to a dispute between laboratory workers and their employers. Starting with an overtime ban and work-to-rule, the dispute escalated, with the management of Technicolor laboratories locking out over 800 members (ACTT, 1983: 45). A complete stoppage in all laboratories followed. Encouraged by her participation in union meetings during the dispute, Monica Toye volunteered for and was elected shop steward at Rank film laboratories in Denham. The dispute also resulted in the organisation of clerical workers in the labs, a role performed by a larger proportion of women workers.
Strike for recognition of the ACT in commercial televisionFollowing the launch of commercial television in Britain the ACT lead a strike for recognition from employers in independent television to represent television technicians.
Associated-Rediffusion starts broadcasting in the London area, launching commercial television in the UKFollowing the launch of commercial television in Britain the ACT lead a strike for recognition from employers in independent television to represent television technicians.
Inclusion of television technicians into the ACT’s remit, adding the extra ‘T’ to become the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT)The inclusion of television technicians into the union’s remit was passed by one vote on the General Council. The union had initially been suspicious of commercial television because they believed that advertising would undermine the quality of television (ACTT, 1983: 29). However, television soon became the largest branch of the union. The inclusion of television technicians also prompted a name change of the union’s journal to Film and Television Technician.
The BBC Staff Association becomes the Association of Broadcasting Staff (ABS)The BBC Staff Association became the Association of Broadcasting Staff as the union attempted to expand its remit to include workers from independent television.
First agreement concerning technicians in commercial television signed between the ACTT and the Programme Contractors’ AssociationThe first agreement concerning technicians in commercial television is signed between the ACTT and the Programme Contractors’ Association.
BBC2 begins transmissionThe BBC’s second channel begins transmission.
Equal Pay ActThe Equal Pay Act introduced legislation on the principle of equal pay for equal work and work of equal value.
NATKE adds an extra ‘T’ to reflect the inclusion of television workers amongst its membership, becoming National Association of Theatrical, Television and Kine Employees (NATTKE)NATKE added an extra T to reflect the inclusion of television workers amongst its membership, becoming National Association of Theatrical, Television and Kine Employees (NATTKE).
Establishment of the ACTT’s Sub-Committee on Discrimination Against Women, later renamed the Committee on EqualityThe Sub-Committee on Discrimination Against Women was established in 1973 to conduct an investigation into gender inequality and discrimination in the film and television industries. The resolution which called for this investigation was passed at the 1973 Annual Conference following ‘growing pressure from women in the union’ (ACTT, 1975).
BBC’s internal report ‘Limitations to the Recruitment and Advancement of Women in the BBC’ is produced.In light of growing pressure from the ABS and lobby groups such as Women in Media, the BBC’s Head of Personnel was charged with writing a report which addressed the ‘Limitations to the Recruitment and Advancement of Women in the BBC’. The report, produced in 1973 revealed widespread sex discrimination within the Corporation. Despite the BBC declaring that it would encourage recruitment from women by ceasing to advertise ‘for men only’ posts and women to be ‘positively encouraged’ to apply for senior positions, subsequent reports produced in 1974 and 1975 suggested that little change occurred for women at the BBC during this period.
Sarah Benton appointed researcher for the investigation into discrimination against women in the film and television industriesSarah Benton was appointed as the researcher for the investigation into discrimination against women in the film and television industries, examining gender inequality throughout the industries (in film production, television and the laboratories), as well as within the union, through questionnaires, attitude surveys and interviews. This investigation produced the report Patterns of Discrimination Against Women in the Film and Television Industries (1975).
Publication of the ACTT’s Report, Patterns of Discrimination Against Women in the Film and Television IndustriesThe Patterns Report was a seminal report on gender discrimination in the workplace, detailing the findings of the investigation of the Sub-Committee on Discrimination Against Women. The report quantified women workers’ experiences of discrimination and analysed the structures and attitudes within the film and television industries which facilitated gender inequality. Furthermore, the report proposed resolutions for the union to improve women’s position in the film and television industries. The report highlighted eight causes of discrimination, including: the undervaluing of jobs performed by women workers; the job structure of the film and television industries which confined women in dead-end jobs; and the lack of ACTT activity around gender discrimination as a result of the under-representation of women in the union.
Sex Discrimination ActThe Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of gender or marital status.
First One-Day Introductory Technical Workshop for Women hosted by the ACTT at the National Film SchoolThe introductory workshop sought to teach women workers some of the basic techniques for operating technical equipment, including cameras, sound recording devices and the process of editing. The Patterns Report highlighted the lack of training opportunities as one of the main causes of discrimination against women in the film and television industries.
A two-week technicians strike at ITV companiesTechnicians strike for two-week at ITV companies
Production assistants strike at Thames TelevisionProduction assistants strike at Thames Television
BBC Crèche CampaignThe Women’s Group at the BBC’s Kensington House established a campaign for crèche facilities in the BBC. The women behind the campaign felt that both the ABS and ACTT had only paid lip service to the question of childcare (The Cine-Technician, June 1978: 3). The campaign ‘[arose] from the atmosphere of consciousness raising’ from the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and presented the crèche ‘as a way of confronting the de facto discrimination against women’ (Franks, 2011: 134, 137). The publication of the newsletter Groundswell accompanied the campaign.
All ITV stations (except Channel Television) go off air due to industrial actionFailure to reach agreement on pay increases and shift allowances in the 1979 pay round resulted in technicians at Thames Television switching off power to the transmission facilities at the Euston Road centre. Within four days the whole of the ITV network was off-air after the ACTT asked members at other companies to walk-out in claim for a 15% pay rise. The network was off the air for ten weeks.
Women’s Film and Broadcasting Lobby is formed.The WBFL attempted to find ways to improve women’s career prospects in the industry and challenge sexist images of women (Chambers et al 2004:136)
The first edition of Women Workers and the Trade Unions by Sarah Boston, ACTT union activist, is publishedSarah Boston’s book, Women Workers and the Trade Unions, examines women’s participation in the British labour movement from the 1870s to the 1970s. Boston’s book is a seminal text on women’s labour history which has remained central to the scholarship.
ACTT’s first Women’s ConferenceIn January 1981 the ACTT held its first Women’s Conference, prompted by the demands of women union activists dissatisfied with the lack of progress following the publication of the 1975 Patterns Report. The conference identified five ‘areas for action’, including women’s entry into the industry and union and the position of the Committee on Equality within the union, and called for: the introduction of quota systems, the alteration of requirements for union membership, the provision of child-care facilities, the greater integration of the Committee on Equality with the union’s formal structure, with equality representatives in local shops, and the appointment of an Equality Officer at the union’s Head Office.
Thames Television appoints its first Women’s Equality OfficerThis post was redefined as Equal Opportunities Adviser in 1983 to take in a consideration of race as well as sex discrimination although no extra resources were provided for this expanded brief (Loach 1987:58)
Granada Crèche CampaignOn 16th February 1981 50 ACTT members held a one-day strike at the Granada Television headquarters in Golden Square in their campaign against the withdrawal of crèche facilities. Simultaneously, a lunchtime demonstration of 150 trade unionists took place at Granada’s Quay Street studios in Manchester to demand childcare facilities and express solidarity with the strikers.
The ACTT introduces a professionally-ran crèche at its all-day General Council MeetingsThe ACTT introduced a professionally-ran crèche at its all-day General Council Meetings to facilitate the attendance of women members with young children.
Channel 4 begins broadcasting with a remit to cater for minoritiesChannel 4 begins broadcasting with a remit to cater for minorities
Sandra Horne appointed as the first Equality Officer of the ACTTThe 1981 Women’s Conference passed a resolution calling for the appointment of an equality officer to concentrate on the implementation of union policies on equal opportunities, which was subsequently carried at the 1981 Annual Conference. In January 1981 Sandra Horne was appointed as the ACTT’s first Equality Officer, holding the position until 1985, when she became the ACTT’s ITV negotiating officer.
The ACTT adopts a new organisational structureBy the 1980s the ACTT extended its remit to include ‘industries engaged in the production, processing, reproduction, transmission and distribution of film, video and/or audio material, and allied industries.’ (ACTT, 1983: 31-32). This was accompanied by a new organisational structure which was more democratic and recognised the important role of regional organisation.
Broadcasting and Entertainment Trades Alliance (BETA) is established from the amalgamation of ABS and NATTKEBroadcasting and Entertainment Trades Alliance (BETA) is established from the amalgamation of ABS and NATTKE.
Sims Report ProducedTelevision producer, Monica Sims, produced a report Women in BBC Management. It revealed that the number of women in top jobs was virtually the same as it had been a decade before (6 women compared with 159 men).
The ACTT’s Women’s Conference calls for a Code on Race and a Code on Sexism, produced by the Committee on Equality, to be included in the Union Rule BookThe ACTT’s Women’s Conference calls for a Code on Race and a Code on Sexism, produced by the Committee on Equality, to be included in the Union Rule Book.
Launch of the BBC Equality NetworkThe Equality Network was set up in January 1986 in the wake of the Sims Report (1985). Women working at the BBC felt that the report was useful but that its recommendations had not gone far enough (Loach 1987). The Network aimed to help eradicate structural inequalities and promote recruitment and training for women at all levels of the BBC
Formation of the ACTT History Project, now the BECTU History ProjectThe ACTT History Project was established by a group of ACTT members to record the history of work in the film and television industries through oral history interviews with technicians. A selection of transcribed interviews from the BECTU History Project with women workers are included in the ‘Women’s Work in British Film and Television’ resource.
BskyB launches satellite service in the UKFormed in November 1990 by the equal merger of Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting, BSkyB launched in the UK
Broadcasting ActThis Act was the first step towards deregulating British broadcasting. It reversed restrictions on the ownership of ITV franchises - previously one company could hold only one franchise and overseas ownership was forbidden. In the subsequent bidding war for new licences, Thames Television and TVAM lose out, to Carlton and GMTV respectively; other licence holders hang on, but some pay much more to retain their franchises than others (Screenonline.org.uk/tv/timeline)
Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) is established following the amalgamation of the ACTT and BETABroadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) is established following the amalgamation of the ACTT and BETA.
Historical Timeline, Vicky Ball and Frances Galt, Women’s Work in British Film and Television, https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/womenswork/historical-timeline. Accessed date: Wednesday 7th December 2022.