This summary of an unreleased and untitled film is from the 'Grave and Gay' column of the Preston Herald for 7 December 1918:
In this film a man dreams that England is under German rule, and various scenes are shown depicting the organised brutality of the Boche. But, in the dream, there is a movement to throw off the German rule. The head of the movement is a chemist and inventor who has discovered a new force. Secret meetings are held in his underground laboratory, on the walls of which is a huge placard with the words, 'Eleven, Eleven, Eleven!' It is decided that the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is to be the hour of the successful uprising and of England's freedom. 1
A couple of things make this interesting, or at least unusual. One is that 'These scenes had all been actually photographed long before the armistice', and so the prominence of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the plot was both 'very remarkable and beyond the possibility of dispute'. 2 The other is that the film was produced by the Aerial League of the British Empire, which seems hard to explain, given the apparent lack of any aerial theme at all. So what was going on here?
The Preston Herald's columnist does provide some clues: 'About four months before the armistice [i.e. June or July 1918] the Aerial League of the British Empire [...] decided to produce a film for propaganda purposes', which was 'originally intended to be shown only at meetings of the Aerial League'; but 'Under the circumstances', it 'will probably be exhibited publicly in London and certain other towns'. 3 I can find no evidence that it ever was exhibited publicly; in fact, I can't find any references to the film in BNA or NewsVault, other than the Preston Herald column and a reprint in the Burnley Express a week later. 4 Fortunately, the archives of the Aerial League -- meaning for this period the minutes of executive committee meetings, chaired by Sir John Shelley-Rolls, Bart., or, after July, Philip S. Foster MP -- are more helpful. 5
The League's minute books confirm the basic narrative given in the Preston Herald, but being minute books they are better on describing what actions were taken than explaining why. Interestingly, film was clearly important to the League at this stage of the war: nearly every executive meeting in 1918 had some discussion of cinema work. Initially this was associated with E. Jerome Dyer and his 'Cinema-Lectures Scheme'. Dyer was hired by the League as an 'Organizer'; but he was more prominent as the Honorary General Secretary of the Vegetable Products Committee for Naval Supply, for which he was awarded the OBE in the 1918 New Year Honours. 6 At the February meeting of the executive, the Cinema-Lectures Scheme was said to be 'completing maturity' and Dyer had been to see Sir Henry Norman at the Air Ministry. He also had been in contact with the RFC in Ireland for recruiting, as well as the 'Fleet Cinema Committee'. In April Dyer’s scheme was authorised by the executive committee, so long as 'any assistants, lecturers, agents or others' were only employed on a monthly basis. Dyer himself was to be appointed 'Director of the League’s Propaganda work' at a rate of £624 per annum.
In May a new figure enters the picture: Barry Pain, a successful fiction writer. (Dyer was absent from this meeting but sent a letter.) The League had employed him to do 'literary work' (which evidently included setting up a library for the League as well as writing a history of 'the Aeroplane'). But he also 'hoped to produce three sets of Films as follows: - 1. Historical. 2. Dramatic. 3. Humorous'. The connection with Dyer’s Cinema-Lectures Scheme, if any, is not clear. In any case, Pain reported trouble getting promised assistance from Pathé Freres, among others, but the committee recorded its satisfaction with his progress. In June there was some discussion about a forthcoming matinee session at the Scala Theatre for which previously unseen 'RAF films' had been provided by the Air Ministry. 7 But this was actually the initative of the RAF Families Relief Fund, not the League.
At the July executive meeting, there was what seems to be the first clear mention of the 'Eleven, Eleven, Eleven!' film. The committee was shown a copy of a contract with 'Mr. F. W. Durrant of 1 Soho Square W. for the production of a Propaganda Film, provisionally entitled "The Dream of John Hunter"', along with a scenario, and this was approved. Durrant is best known as the director of The Picture of Dorian Gray, but also and possibly more relevantly The Raid of 1915, based on William Le Queux's The Invasion of 1910. Though there is no mention here of the 11th hour etc (unsurprisingly, since it didn't yet mean anything to anyone), the dream of John Hunter is presumably the dream described in the Preston Herald.
There was no meeting in August; in September there was a report by Dyer on 'Cinematograph Entertainments' for RAF camps in Britain, but again this seems to be something unconnected.
In October, there was no mention of cinematographical matters at the executive, but they were discussed in the report prepared for the annual general meeting held on 16 October:
We contemplate an active campaign ourselves in country meetings, with a view to establishing further branches and increasing the number of Members. For this purpose we are preparing our own exclusively owned Cinema films. One is ready and another is nearly complete. We also hope to do some useful work by this means in Aeroplane factories.
We have secured the services of Mr. Barry Pain in writing the scenarios of these films.
The report also mentions plans to offer cinema entertainment at RAF bases. Presumably the nearly-completed film is our one, though the connection between the plot as described in the Preston Herald and the aims of the League -- defined in this report as 'the Permanent Maintenance of our Air Force at its Fullest Capacity [...] so long as there is the least menace to our lives and homes and our country’s security' -- is still not clear. (Incidentally, this is also the meeting when the Aerial League of the British Empire voted to become the far less cumbersome Air League of the British Empire.)
That was the last wartime entry in the minute books. The next executive meeting was on 20 November, after the Armistice, and the minutes contain an item headed 'Films' which (finally) confirms the substance of the Preston Herald article -- and gives The Dream of John Hunter a new name:
The Committee considered what steps should be taken to make use of the films prepared by Mr Barry Pain and it was reported that it was now proposed to call the principal film 'Eleven, Eleven, Eleven,' in view of the fact that these words represented the hour, the day and the month at which the Armistice began, and that they appeared in the film in various scenes which had been produced and
And that’s all I have! That’s at the end of page 62, and the next page I have a copy of is page 65; obviously in my haste I skipped two pages at once while photographing the minute books.
I'll end on that frustrating note, but will resume the story of Eleven, Eleven, Eleven in a later post, where I will look at the League's quandary: what to do about the fact that they had managed to make a wartime propaganda film just in time for the end of the war, which by bizarre chance happened to be about the exact time and date of the Armistice but which nevertheless actually had nothing to do with the Armistice?
- Preston Herald, 7 December 1918, 2.
- Burnley Express, 14 December 1918, 10.
- Held by the Air League, London.
- London Gazette, 7 January 1918, 377.
- See also The People (London), 16 June 1918, 2.
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