841.4061 Motion Pictures/103: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

118. My 116, February 9, 6 p.m.18 The information conveyed to me yesterday by an official of the Foreign Office that the reply to our memorandum of February 2 and oral representations of February 719 would be made through the British Ambassador in Washington was, [Page 17]I was told today, an error on the part of the official. The information which has been conveyed to Sir Ronald Lindsay was in reply to an approach made to him on the matter by Ambassador Kennedy. The official with whom I talked this afternoon informed me that our memorandum and oral representations had been conveyed directly to the President of the Board of Trade by Mr. Eden and that they had received full consideration in the highest quarters. In giving me the memorandum reply dated today and quoted in full below, the official took occasion to emphasize the importance of avoiding publicity of the fact that representations had been made to the British Government in regard to the changes. He said that it would cause serious difficulties in Parliament. The official referred to the real importance which is attached by the British Government to the cultural aspects of the films question.

“The following explanations are offered in response to the suggestion of the United States Government that definitive enactment of British film legislation should be delayed.

Existing legislation begins to expire at the end of March and cannot, for technical reasons, be extended beyond that date. The new bill must become law by then to avoid complete confusion which would otherwise exist in all sections of the industry. The bill has to go through further stages in the Commons and to pass through all its stages in the House of Lords. Its progress through Parliament cannot therefore be delayed.

In all proposals relating to the bill, His Majesty’s Government will continue to make every effort to ensure that its provisions are favorable to all sections of the industry. It will be appreciated, however, that it might have effects quite contrary to those which the United States Government desire if amendments were proposed to Parliament solely on the ground that they would be of advantage to United States renters or are advocated by the United States Government.

His Majesty’s Government have fully in mind, however, the points which have been put forward on behalf of the renters of United States films. The Government intend, subject to the over-riding authority of Parliament, to secure certain amendments during later stages in the progress of the bill which it is thought will go a long way towards meeting the more important wishes of the United States renters. It will be proposed that a film of which the labor costs amount to £30,000 shall count three times for renters’ quota for the renter who distributes it in the United Kingdom or twice for renters’ quota for the renter who acquires foreign rights.

It will also be proposed that the minimum price to be paid for the foreign costs of films of which the labor costs are more than £22,500 and less than £30,000 shall be reduced to £15,000.

With regard to the employment of foreign personnel, it will be proposed that for films with labor costs of £22,500 it will be permissible to exclude payments to two foreign subjects (of whom at least one must be an actor or actress) from the calculation of the requirement of British labor. It will be understood that there is great pressure for increased employment of British labor in film production and grave unemployment among all grades of studio workers. In cases in which [Page 18]two foreign subjects are excluded from the calculation referred to above, an increase to 80 in the British percentage of other labor will be necessary.

Some concern has been expressed about the inclusion in the bill of provisions for importations, at some later date, a viewing test on films which have passed the cost text. It should be understood, however, that general powers to institute such tests would only be taken after full enquiry had shown that a number of films which had satisfied the cost test had been found to be quite unsuitable for purposes of entertainment. It seems therefore impossible that it will ever be necessary to ask Parliament for such powers, and, in any event, they could only be obtained after a long investigation; followed by a discussion by Parliament; and would not operate until after the expiry of the period of grace allowed for in the bill. Moreover, the provision would even then only apply to individual films against which complaints were made which the Board of Trade considered were prima facie reasonable.

The question of the minimum labor costs of £7,500 for renters’ quota long films has also been raised. The limits within which this sum might be varied are to be removed in order that the Films Council may, if they find it desirable, recommend a larger variation. This has been done to meet the representations that a minimum of £7,500 even if reduced by the amount permitted in the bill as at present drafted may be too high for films of medium length, say 4,000 to 5,000 feet.

The foregoing particulars regarding the position are conveyed to the United States Government for their confidential information and it should be appreciated that it would be extremely embarrassing if news of the above-mentioned proposals reached either the industry here or the press before the President of the Board of Trade has had an opportunity to mention them either in the Standing Committee of the House of Commons or in the House of Commons on the report stage of the bill.”

  1. Not printed.
  2. See telegram No. 112, February 8, 7 p.m., from the Chargé in the United Kingdom, p. 14.