As I discussed in a previous post, the arrival of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 suddenly made the Aerial League of the British Empire's foray into wartime propaganda films irrelevant. Yet the bizarre coincidence that the film happened to give a prominent place to the time and date of the Armistice suggested the possibility that the League's investment might be recouped by somehow marketing Eleven, Eleven, Eleven as a novelty. The sole mention of the film in the British press, in the Preston Herald in December 1918, was pretty clearly planted with a friendly journalist in an attempt to do just that. 1
The cost of the film's production was certainly a problem, as the League's executive committee minutes show. 2 At the executive meeting in January 1919, a letter from the director F. W. Durrant was read out. He explained that although he had contracted to make Eleven, Eleven, Eleven for £800, it had actually cost £930; would the League mind covering the difference? The executive resolved to defer this matter, given 'the uncertainty whether any financial return would result from the use of this film for purposes other than propaganda', and pending 'the result of negotiations for the use of the film for cinema proprietors'. At the February meeting the money question was still not resolved (with £100 now said to be owing); but as the film would be completed within a few days, the committee seemed content to wait and see. Dyer, the producer, and Barry Pain, the scriptwriter, had been in talks with Sidney Bernstein about 'the exhibition of the film in London and possibly the principal towns in the country'. (This was possibly the Sidney Bernstein, much later the founder of Granada Television; he started out in London cinemas owned by his father, although he would have been only 20 years old at this time.)
But these efforts seem not to have gone well. In March, the executive resolved to give Pain notice of the termination of his employment; and a subcommittee was appointed to report on the matter of the films. On behalf of this committee, Bartley Denniss MP gave an unusually lengthy report in April, much of which was about insuring the films against risks while on exhibition. It also reveals that the second League film (possibly the first to be produced?) was called The Pacifist Pup and cost £435 to produce. Both Eleven, Eleven, Eleven and The Pacifist Pup were deemed to be 'suitable (?) for propaganda purposes', though to what end was not stated. 3 The 'Aircraft Department' (of the Air Ministry, presumably) was also reported to have supplied two 'official' films for propaganda purposes, suitable for showing at League meetings. The subcommittee asked that it not be dissolved due to the potential to show the League films in 'Canada and elsewhere'. Also at this meeting, regretful notice was taken of Pain’s resignation (how this squares with giving him notice in March is unclear). At the May executive meeting, a letter was read from Bernstein saying he had been unable to sell Eleven Eleven Eleven anywhere, and that he believed there were no further avenues to be explored. The executive still held out hope, resolving 'that efforts be made to dispose of this film elsewhere should opportunity arise'. In June, there was mention of the two films in relation to the League’s annual audit; it was suggested that they should be listed as assets (so that it can be written off?) In July, Bernstein reported that he had shown Eleven, Eleven, Eleven to a potential customer but, alas, there was still no sale. Apart from a notice in October that Pain had finally vacated his office, that was the last mention of the films.
Michael Paris briefly discusses the League's films in Winged Warfare, where he says that Eleven, Eleven, Eleven was shown in September and October 1918. That seems hard to square with the evidence from the executive committee, which makes it clear that the film wasn’t finished until early 1919. 4 Perhaps an early version was screened somewhere, though since 'eleven, eleven, eleven' had no significane at that point, presumably it would have been under the original title of The Dream of John Hunter. Paris also says the main figure of Eleven, Eleven, Eleven is 'an aircraft factory inspector', which I suppose is something of an aviation connection. 5 However it seems to differ from the account given in the Preston Herald which refers to 'a chemist and inventor who has discovered a new force'. 6 The inspector or inventor leads a strike; according to Paris this was due to the influence of a German agent. Then he has a dream of Britain under German occupation, and realising his mistake, calls off the strike. The other, possibly earlier League film was far more obviously aerial: according to Paris, its full title was The Pacifist Pup and the Bad Bulldog and it argued that 'retaliatory air strikes against German cities were justified and would shorten the war'. 7
I'm not sure what to make of Eleven, Eleven, Eleven. The Pacifist Pup and the Bad Bulldog seems more clearly within the League's remit; Eleven, Eleven, Eleven just seems like a strange confection. The basic intent seems to have been to spread an anti-pacifist and perhaps anti-union message, and an anti-Hidden Hand one too; all which of course would have been timely enough, at least in July when production began. But it doesn’t square with the statement that the Air Ministry had specifically asked for help with recruiting, and that the films were also to be used to expand the League’s own organisation. The end of the war turned it into an odd misadventure, even if it did raise (the ultimately false) hopes of being able to trade on its chance emphasis upon 11am, 11 November.
The films have almost certainly not survived, and I don't know of any other attempts by the League to make movies. In November 1920, however, a different scheme emerged: the executive committee entertained a proposal that 'films might be obtained from the Air Ministry for the use of the League's propaganda work', but also with an eye to selling the films on to 'film renters' and so making a bit of a profit for the League (as well as a charity nominated by the Air Ministry). The League's own attempts to get into film production might have failed, but the lure of the cinema remained.
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- Possibly through the offices of E. Jerome Dyer, in effect the film's producer; his name turns up in the Preston press quite frequently in connection with the Vegetable Products Committee which was active there.
- Held by the Air League, London.
- Actually, I'm not sure the word is 'suitable'; but that seems to be the sense of it.
- His source is Aerial League Bulletin, no. 1 (January 1919), which I haven’t seen.
- Winged Warfare: The Literature and Theory of Aerial Warfare in Britain, 1859-1917 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1992), 97.
- Preston Herald, 7 December 1918, 2.
- Paris, Winged Warfare, 97.