'"SMITH, OUR FRIEND" (1946) Walter Lassally's original cut work print - Unseen for 70 years !

First shown Friday, 23rd September 2016 at Colchester Quaker Meeting House "SMITH, OUR FRIEND " An original film showing and discussion. Mick Patrick of Harlow Bedroom Tax and Benefits Justice Campaign spoke about fighting the housing act. How does this 1946 film impact present-day housing conditions and activism?

'Smith, Our Friend' (1946)'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Demobbed soldier returning home'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) RDemobbed soldier surveys bombed out streets


A short 16mm silent film documenting slum housing conditions and communist inspired squatting activism immediately after the Second World War. Shot with the cooperation of the residents of Stepney. Written by Derek York and Cinematography by Walter Lassally.

Start Title:

Bearing in mind progress

I would gaze at the smallest thing

that I might understand the greatest,

Regard the minute that

I might know the infinite.

for out of fragments are dominions

built - And destroyed.

'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Returned soldier surveys bombed out civilian streets Aldgate area

Returning from wartime military service demobbed soldier, Eric Smith, comes home to his wife and children, tenants of dilapidated slum housing in the bombed out city. Carrying a cardboard suitcase containing his demob suit of civvies he walks accross the cleared open spaces of the bombed streets of Aldgate and spots his waiting family. There is a joyful reunion and they return to their slum dwelling.

'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Returned soldier homecoming'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Checking the children

The accommodation the families are living in is shown with leaking roofs, crumbling plaster, damp, and mould. Continued applications to the local housing authority are bogged down by housing shortage and beaurocracy and the family continue to suffer in squalor.

'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Squatter activists unload furniture 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Squatter families 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Abbey Lodge squatters 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Fountain Court squatters 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Cranstons Ivanhoe Hotel squatters

Meanwhile, empty buildings with more appropriate sanitary and healthier accommodation are taken over by direct action. Publicity for the cause is seen in placards "We Were Homeless - These were Empty!" Police are shown and squatters take occupation of empty Abbey Lodge, Fountain Court, The Duchess of Bedford House, Kensington, and the empty Cranstons Ivanhoe Hotel in Bloomsbury Street. Donated furniture and provisions are delivered by lorry and unloaded by activists through windows of the locked buildings.

'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946)

Frustrated with their living conditions, the Smiths now move from their slum to join the squatters with improved accommodation and conditions. "600 Rooms Vacant - Why Be Homeless ?" A protester perched on the sill of an upper window of the Ivanhoe Hotel is arrested and five communist squatter leaders are remanded for eight days charged with 'conspiracy and incitement to tresspass.'

'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) Headline Bevan Acts against squatters 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946) 'Smith, Our Friend' (1946)

Aneurin Bevan was Minister for Health with responsibility for housing in the Atlee Labour government. He instructed local councils to act against the squatters. Soon the water mains, electricity, and gas suppy to the occupied buldings was cut off. The 300 resident squatters were forced to quit and the Smith family returns to the misery of their dilapidated slum dwelling and the ever dripping pail of water from the leaking ceilings.

End Title:

In this one raindrop

I see the ultimate torrent surging

into the final ocean

In the torment of one human frame

I see the dignity of all human emotion

overbalanced and walked upon.

For out of fragments........................................

......................................... are dominions built

___ And destroyed.


Written & Edited by: Derek York

Photography: Walter Lassally

Continuity: Barbara Gabbott

Location Assistants: Doreen Bovey, Oliver Coombs

Smith, Our Friend is supposed to include the then serving soldier, and RADA student, Bryan Forbes in his first film appearance. He did feature in the uncompleted Derek York, Walter Lassally sound short film 'Weekend.' However Bryan Forbes does not play the role of Eric Smith that he is credited with by the BFI and elsewhere.

Do you know the source and poet of the raindrop verse that frames the opening and closing titles of this film?

The Ealing feature film "Passport to Pimlico," made three years later, in 1949, well presents the atmosphere and landscape of the period as an entertainment film whose activists are shopkeepers rather than the homeless.

Walter Lassally recounts making a film about squatters part 1

Walter Lassally recounts making a film about squatters part 2


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