(1898 - 1972)
The first man to coin the word ‘documentary
’ to describe the genre of film-making.
Dr John Grierson CBE was born in 1898 in Perthshire
, Scotland, son of a local school headmaster. His fame in the film industry as the pioneer of documentary film came when he produced for the Empire Marketing Board a documentary - Drifters
- about the herring fishing fleets. This received wide critical acclaim at its first public showing in London in 1929 with the British premier of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.
As one of the many legendary Scots in the British film industry, the name of John Grierson may not be as well-known as Sean Connery
or David Niven
, but Grierson was the man who pioneered the art of the documentary
film. Grierson took a doctorate in philosophy at Glasgow University
, despite the interruption of the Great War, in which he served on a minesweeper. Following a spell as a lecturer at Durham University
, he went to the USA to study the effects of the media on public opinion. It was he who first coined the word documentary in 1925, and on his return to Britain two years later he promoted the idea of a government-funded organisation to make educational and propaganda films.
In 1929 he made Drifters
, about the Scottish herring
fishing industry - it was a novelty to British cinemagoers, who were accustomed to movies which were filmed entirely in the studio. His film unit, the Empire Marketing Board, with a youthful group of innovative directors, later moved to the General Post Office
, where it was to produce some fine work, notably the documentary classic Night Mail
Grierson moved to Canada
just before the war, and as Canadian Film Commissioner, established the National Film Board of Canada. In 1945 he went to the USA, where he formed The World Today, a company for producing films to promote international understanding, He was subsequently appointed director of Mass Media at UNESCO
. He is probably best known in Scotland as the host of This Wonderful World
, which featured a selection of documentary films from around the world. Grierson died in 1972