HAROLD BAIM AND "THE QUOTA QUICKIES"
When we went to “the pictures” in the early ’80s we went to see the main feature film; but we got more. We were played a local commercial for the “Indian Restaurant, just 200 yards from this cinema”; we got the funny adverts for “Kia-Ora” and “Butterkist Popcorn” as well as cartoon adverts for those little tubs of ice-cream. There were even hot-dogs “An hour from now you’d wish you had had one”. You may also remember the one where a proud father looks on as two cartoon children tuck-in to their tubs of vanilla ice; Dad says “We always have an ice-cream when we come to the cinema.” “Dad”, chime the children “Next time can we stay and watch the film?
”We also got a short film, usually a travelogue, running between 15 and 30 minutes. As an audience most of us didn’t realise that these films had to be shown – by law. The projectionist probably called the short feature a “Quota Quickie”.
From 1927, when the ratio of American import to British film had dropped to sixteen to one, the Government acted to prop up the failing British film industry and by Act of Parliament introduced a mandatory “quota” of British made films. The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 forced distributors to show a healthy percentage of British made product. One thing that was overlooked in the Act was any sort of “quality threshold”.
Film makers took advantage of the opportunity. Alexander Korda was responsible for early films made for the quota and produced successful dramatic offerings starring early film performances from Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, Jessie Matthews, Vivien Leigh, Rex Harrison, Cecil Parker and others. Dramatic features, or ‘B-movies’ proved financially too high a risk for most producers and by the ’50s and ’60s the quota was filled by short documentary features.
The short films, made to a budget to fulfil the quota requirements, could be cheap and sometimes were very poor. Some producers attempted scripted dramas – the “B” picture. Others made documentary features. The lack of investment in the films had the undesired effect of giving the British film industry a bad name at home and abroad. However, the quota system continued and was renewed by successive governments every ten years or so.
On the Rank circuit, “Look at Life” received a block booking in every cinema. At A.B.C. it was Pathé News or Pathé Pictorial. Only sixteen copies of Pathé Pictorial were printed each week and were shown in random A.B.C. cinemas and some independent cinemas. So, with such a small number of prints and sometimes questionable editorial content, many of the films were unloved and prints and negatives often discarded after their original distribution.
American distributor United Artists struck a deal with British film maker Harold Baim and by the mid ’60s Baim’s films numbered about a third of all short “quota” films made in the UK.
United Artists distributed some of the greatest cinema hits of the ’60s including Tom Jones, the James Bond films and the Beatles films. Many of these films lasted longer than the average 90 minutes and United Artists were able to insist that they were accompanied by one of their own shorts - produced by one man, Harold Baim.
Harold Baim made nearly all his films from the 1950s in colour and many in wide-screen. Baim only filmed on sunny days; aware that his short features would be seen by audiences next to major features filmed in California or the Mediterranean he wanted to make sure they looked just as big and exciting. There is a story about filming “Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham”. When he awoke in his Birmingham hotel and was getting ready to tackle the second days’ filming the sky became overcast. It is alleged he phoned the Met. Office at Birmingham airport and asked when the sun would come out, only to be told “Not today in Brum. To get any sun you will have to travel south”. This probably explains the sudden appearance of the Cotswolds and Bibury Fish Farm in the middle of the film on Birmingham. Bibury is about 70 miles south of Birmingham by road. Images of the rich golden Cotswold stone of the village of Broadway allows Baim to give the line “You can give my regards to this Broadway anytime” to Telly Savalas, who did not visit any of the locations for the filming of these three titles. Savalas recorded the script provided by Baim at the studios of De Wolfe Music in London’s Soho.
It seems Harold Baim was solely responsible for the subject matter of his “quota” films and the people who worked on them. Baim is credited with discovering Michael Winner giving him his first on-screen credit as a writer and director on four short films and a feature film. Baim funded the productions and licensed their use to United Artists and other distributors. To guarantee that these “quota” films could be made there was an industry administered tax on cinema seats known as the “Eady Fund” after one Phil Eady who devised the system. The more “bums on seats” the more money the producer received. A short 15 minute film received more – double - money that longer 30 minute “Quota-Quickie”. So, the short film accompanying the Beatles “A Hard Days Night” was a real money-spinner. However this film, called “Jugglers and Acrobats”, has rarely been seen since its first release and was probably not watched in any detail by the excited, screaming and adoring Beatles fans who had only turned out to see the main feature. The negative was stored away by Harold Baim together with about 150 other film titles - and that was that. The film turns out to be a unique record of the last “Variety Acts” – Winston Foxwell, Vic Templar and Della Sweetman, Bobby Daniels, Verinoca Martell, Peggy Bourne and others all perform amazing juggling and acrobatic acts for the camera.
Harold used well known voices from BBC Radio and Television to read his often pun-filled scripts; Terry Wogan, Nicholas Parsons, Pete Murray, Franklin Engelmann, Peter Dimmock and Telly Savalas to name but a few, all voiced a Baim film or two. The music for nearly all the films came from the well known and popular De Wolfe Music library.
Harold Baim died in 1996. He was in his 80s. His legacy is a collection of films showing a colourful window on life in the middle of the last century. He recorded interesting topics not seen elsewhere and it truly ‘an accidental historian’. The Baim Collection is one of the largest collections of its kind in private ownership.
Clips of the films and stills of many of the restored titles are viewable on The Baim Collection’s web pages at www.baimfilms.com