The Tawny Pipit (1944)

Tawny-PipitWritten and directed jointly by Bernard Miles and Charles Saunders, this beautiful and atmospheric British comedy resonates with propaganda that aims to cheer up an audience that was now clearly tired after 5 years of war.

It was a film to show “what we were fighting for”, writes a recent Australian Imdb reviewer.

In an alliance of country folk, Soviet allies, a decorated air pilot, a bevy of Land Army women and child evacuees from the city, there is a willingness to rally round and protect a small but significant bird – a rare migrant to these shores and therefore all the more symbolic.

Plot

Jimmy Bancroft (Niall MacGinnis), a fighter pilot, who is recovering from injuries sustained during the Battle of Britain, and his nurse Hazel Broome (Rosamund John), come across a pair of rare birds nesting in a field. They want to protect them but have to overcome army regulations, thieves who realise the demand from egg collectors, resistant villagers and the Ornithology Society.

By the time the film was released the threat of invasion had subsided, but as an entertainment, it still effectively expressed love for a country where society could actually unite – in the making of this film and for a wider common good.

Trivia

1.     Although the fictional location is left unclear in the film, a sign on a pub advertises ales brewed in Oxford and, according to an Imdb reviewer, it was definitely filmed in Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Slaughter (just north of Bourton), in Gloucestershire. “I know because my mother is one of the children, front and centre, in the church choir scene. She was evacuated from London, living with her grandparents during the war.” So evidently a social document as well as entertainment.

2.     The birds in the film [spoiler!] aren’t actually Tawny Pipits, they are Meadow Pipits [surprise!]. Tawny Pipits are very rare in the UK (even more so in wartime) and it wasn’t possible to find any to film. The rarity of the Tawny Pipit, however, is a major theme in the story. It was decided to photograph a pair of ordinary meadow pipits and keep to shots which showed the back view only; the tawny has a plain breast and the meadow a speckled one, but their back plumage is very similar. (PS This is bound to come up in the local pub quiz, so commit it to memory!)

Reviews

Young viewers might find it all a bit Dad’s Army, but mature viewers will get the lovely feeling this films wants you to have.

What a marvelous little film this is with the subliminal message that nobody is going to change the English way of life. I made a point of visiting Lower Slaughter yesterday and the village is identical to how it was 62 years ago. The mill wheel and the bridge behind it remain the same … great film, great location and a marvelous slice of social and cinema history.   4 February 2005 | by Kym_Y (Australia)

The real essence of this delightful rural comedy is the message that civilized societies defend their weakest members and value every person, including eccentrics.

Remember that in the 1930s, many people saw totalitarianism as being the new, organized, “efficient” way – whilst western Europe was disorganized. The West’s governments were seen as being too hidebound and conservative, lacking answers to the chaos of the Depression.

Tawny Pippit showed that “old-fashioned” systems had the right stuff, because they valued freedom, the right to be different and protect the weak. Even if they seem disorganized, countries facing challenges succeed through shared morals and commitment from the people themselves without being dictated to – it proved that in the end, good government is the servant of the people.

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