(above) A rare view of Trustee Incline, Eston Mines - taken from the 'Cleveland' film 1938.

In early 2014, The North East Film Archive (NEFA) got in touch to tell me they had received an old can of film that I would find of great interest. They weren’t wrong! It was a hitherto unknown 20 min. B/W silent documentary called “Cleveland: It’s Geography and Industrial Development”. Not the snappiest of titles I admit but the content was a revelation!

Someone long before me, in 1937-38, had gone around documenting the iron and steel story and when the mines were still working! When I was making my film, I had fantasised about finding such footage. Thanks to Wilf Shaw, Ralph Ayres and Wilf Maxwell aka ‘The Middlesbrough Film Unit’ it did exist. Given the technology of the time and the fact that Wilf and his colleagues were amateurs, ‘Cleveland’ is an impressive piece of work. It told the story well, was well shot and featured many rare views of our long gone industrial landscape. The British Film Institute described the film in their Monthly Bulletin of May 1938  as “very good, coherent and thoughtful”. (See below).

WILF SHAW 1915 – 2008

The film had been discovered by Sue Davies, the daughter of Wilf Shaw the film’s producer. I contacted Sue who told me that she had found the film whilst clearing her father’s house in Lincolnshire. Wilf had passed away at 93 and as recently as 2008. What a pity!  I wanted to thank him for creating such an important piece of work all those years ago. I wanted to ask him a thousand questions about how he made it. I could have made a film about him! I asked Sue if her father had ever got to see my film. She told me that he didn’t know about it; and that she didn’t even know about his films because he had never ever mentioned them!

Wilf’s filmmaking had ended when war broke out. He left Middlesbrough for a job in Middlesex in 1940. A keen photographer, he became an inspector of aircraft cameras and optical equipment for the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate. This was part of what later became the Ministry of Defence. In 1943, he achieved a first at the Institute of British Photographers and in 1950 the Royal Photographic Society awarded him an Associateship in Scientific Photography. His career at the MOD spanned almost 40 years and saw his involvement in the development of cockpit displays for the TSR2 and Harrier jets as well as windshields for Concorde no less!

Wilf retired to Lincolnshire in 1978. He never returned to his native Middlesbrough but fortunately part of his legacy now has! Thanks to Sue Davies and NEFA, the world can now discover his historical legacy film. Posthumous thanks aplenty to Wilf Shaw and The Middlesbrough Film Unit – Teesside documentary pioneers!

Craig Hornby

(Below) 'Cleveland' reviewed in The British Film Institute Bulletin May 1938.