Look at Life was a regular series of short documentary films produced in Britain between 1959 and 1969 by the Special Features Division of the Rank Organisation for screening in their Odeon and Gaumont cinemas.
The films always preceded the main feature film that was being shown in the cinema that week and replaced the newsreel, Universal News, which had become increasingly irrelevant in the face of more immediate news media, particularly on television with the launch of ITN in 1955.
Produced on 35mm film in Eastmancolor, these ten-minute featurettes observed all aspects of life in 1960s Britain and combined a light-hearted magazine format with a more in-depth documentary approach.
Rank sent its camera crews all over the country to record Britons at work and play. They recorded Britain’s passions and fashions, ancient traditions and modern anxieties. Their cameras also ventured further afield to record Britons holidaying abroad and the men and women serving in the colonies and the Commonwealth.
Most of the subject matter falls into one of four categories: There are lightweight topical features such as ‘In Gear’, a look at mid-60s fashion; there are factual documentaries such as ‘Changes at the Tower’ (of London); Travelogues like ‘Report on a River’ following the Thames from source to docks; and features showing Britain’s role in a changing and uncertain postwar world.
Shot on high-quality colour film, over 500 episodes of Look At Life were produced altogether. They were never broadcast on television.
The films were generally narrated in the style typical of newsreel films with a principal voice-over while letting the images tell the story.
The narration was generally spoken over the subject’s natural sounds, such as motor traffic or the activities within a workplace and with musical accompaniment.
The narration was often provided by well-known celebrities and presenters, including Raymond Baxter, Eamonn Andrews, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and Sid James. Actor Tim Turner narrated the majority of the films.
At the end of each film, the caption “Take a Look at Life Again Soon” would appear on the screen.
Viewed today, the series offers unique insights into the passions, preoccupations and values of a pivotal era.
The 60s was an era when creativity flourished, youth culture was vibrant, and new ideas were adopted into the mainstream.
At this turning point in post-WWII recovery, Britons became more playful, tastes became more cosmopolitan, and new influences from abroad were embraced.