Sunday, 30 August 2015

Malcolm Arnold: Channel Islands

I have always had a soft spot for the Channel Islands and have long wanted to visit them. I had a school friend who used to go there with his parents, and I guess I was a little envious. At that time I was being taken to holiday resorts much nearer to my Glasgow home. Just a few weeks ago I sailed into St Peter’s Port and enjoyed exploring part of the beautiful island of Guernsey. For many years I have enjoyed the 1952 British Transport Film ‘Channel Islands’ and this was one of the icons that I had at the back of my mind when I arrived there.

The film is in colour and lasts for about 15 minutes. It was produced by the BTF stalwart Edgar Anstey. It is really a picture postcard with lots of scenes from most of the islands as well as a touch of history. At the time of filming the Channel Islands had only been liberated from German occupation for seven years. The advert for the film states ‘The Channel Islands have had a varied and exciting history. Jersey and Guernsey are ideal places for holidays. Jersey offers a wide variety of attractive bays for sport and relaxation; Guernsey still preserves something of an eighteenth-century atmosphere, and is a place for quieter enjoyment. It is an ideal centre for exploring the other smaller islands, and the film ends with a journey by boat to Herm.’

The other important thing about this film is the soundtrack by Malcolm Arnold. Most enthusiasts of the composer will know that he wrote much film music, for features such as The Bridge over the River Kwai, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, and on a lighter note the scores for all four of the original St Trinians’s films.  Less well known are Arnold’s contributions to the genre of documentaries. These were often for the Crown Film Unit, This Modern Age and Anglo-Scottish Productions. Channel Islands was the only score that Arnold produced for the British Transport Films.
During 1951/2 Malcolm Arnold had composed a large amount of music including the second set of English Dances, his one-act opera, The Dancing Master and the Concerto for piano duet and strings. Other film music included scores for The Stolen Face, Curtain Up! and The Island

The screenplay of  Channel Islands is a good exploration of the history, scenery and customs of the islands including Jersey, Guernsey and Herm. It opens with an overview from the prehistoric era and worship of the earth mother, through the rise of Christianity, to the Napoleonic alarums, the German occupation and the transition to peace. Then follows the excellent footage of the Battle of the Flowers, the tomato growing business (where have Guernsey tomatoes gone? one never sees them in British shops these days), and an American farmer buying a beautiful heifer and harbour activity.
The scenery is impressive with lovely shots of the sea, games on the beaches, clambering along clifftop paths and exploring the centre of St Peter’s Port. 
The music is perfect for this film. Arnold excels with the ‘sea music’ which reflects the stormy seas, the calm bays and the rocky headlands. There is a wonderful, typically Arnoldian, jazz influenced quickstep which accompanies the beach scenes. 
It is a score that would work well as a miniature tone poem or a suite of extracts.  

Unfortunately Channel Islands is not uploaded to YouTube, however it is available as part of the BTF Volume 8 Points and Aspects.

1 comment:

Paul Brownsey said...

You should have mentioned, as you mnention in a Music Web article, that some of the music in his Scottish Dances derives from music he wrote for 'The Beautiful County of Ayr'.