There are those of you of a certain frame of mind, or indeed geographical location, who will be aware of the splendid short film Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham, in which everyone’s favourite lolly licking detective waxes lyrical about the joys of England’s second city. However, it may come as a surprise to find that the hairless fighter of crime was unfaithful to the jewel of the West Midlands, and produced similar eulogies to Aberdeen and Portsmouth. They, and many other ‘quota quickies’ were all made and distributed by one Harold Baim, whose archive represents documentary evidence of a world that is getting further and further away.
Quota quickies were short films made to satisfy the requirements of the 1927 Cinematograph Films Act, which, in response to the growing dominance of the US film industry in British cinemas, required film distributors to provide a percentage of British made films. If you went to the cinema in Britain even up until the 1980s you may have seen one of these films with the main feature, a fifteen or thirty minute short about how sweets are made or a travelogue about some corner of the country. They were even, perhaps predictably, parodied by Monty Python in ‘Away from it All‘, the supporting film with the theatrical release of ‘Life of Brian’ and Peter Sellers’ ‘Balham, Gateway to the South‘. Articles suggest that the British B movie industry may have grown to benefit from the quota system and that many early classics, and several production studios may have been made in the UK to take advantage of it.
Harold Baim seems to have been responsible for as much as a third of these films between the 1930s and 1960s. His films were distributed by United Artists and in the 1960s supported such blockbusters as theJames Bond franchise and the Beatles’ feature films such ‘A Hard Days Night’ and ‘Help’.
Baim’s films are a valuable contribution to British cinema: he used well known names for their narration, not only Telly Savalas, but Terry Wogan, Nicholas Parsons and Pete Murray. They record things that don’t exist any more: a documentary on Wilson, Keppel and Betty captures the venerable music hall act in their last days, and ‘Jugglers and Acrobats’, the film that supported ‘A Hard Days Night’ shows the last of the variety acts in the dying days of music hall, but was probably overlooked by screaming Beatles fans as they waited for the main feature. Following the film’s theatrical release it was shelved and forgotten, but has now, for all its origins, become an historical document.
The Baim films are being digitised slowly by the Baim Collection but their display is rather patchy at the moment apart from a handful of clips (including Mr Savalas’ contributions) on the website. While they are still private property, they are also a contribution to British history and as such deserve a wider airing.