Title ID 1264Collection ID161
TitleOut of the Dark
CollectionElectricity Council
Genre/TypeProfessionalFilm/Video companyInstitutionalNon-fictionPromotional/Publicity
ThemePublic Services
KeywordsBuildings Companies Education Entertainment Houses Industry Labour
LocalLondon Ely
RegionalGreater London Cambridgeshire
NationalEngland United Kingdom
ProductionMerton Park Studios in association with The Film Producers Guild
CameraA.T. Dinsdale and Leo Rogers
DirectorJohn Durst
ProducerFrank A. Hoare
Commissioning bodyElectrical Development Association
EditorAlex Camp
NarratorDr. Arthur Bryant and Professor C. Andrade
MusicCharles Dakin
Other creditsFred Ruff; George Haslam
FormatBlack & White Sound
Duration20 Min. 20 sec.
Copyright & AccessCopyright restrictions apply, contact Screen Archive South East for details


The story of gas and electric lighting, told by Dr. Arthur Bryant and Professor C. Andrade with reconstructed scenes and footage of ancient, industrial and modern lighting apparatus, produced at Merton Park Studios for the Electrical Development Association in 1951.


The film opens with music and an exterior view of the "Science Museum The National Museum of Science and Industry:in London. A young man walks through the entrance and looks around in awe of the engines and machines on display. Children turn the handle of a model traction engine. The young man visits the Illumination Gallery. He approaches a primitive stone lamp on display. Dr. Arthur Bryant sits at his desk with the museum objects, whose subject is History, 'the study of how things and people and events shaped the landscape of the past.' He picks up a roman lamp, which he explains, would have appeared very modern to the people who used it. A spot light illuminates an older lamp. 'Let's try to see it as it was in the days before history,' he says.

Countryside views follow, taking the viewer back to a time when forests and swamps covered the land, and people lived in small communities and the night was dangerous, the blackness absolute. A fire is seen, burning in the blackness, 'a little hollow in the night, where man could be warm and safe.' A burning torch is carried through the night. Firelight illuminates cave paintings behind it. The first lamp changed the whole life of man, Dr. Bryant explains, 'simple as it seems to us.' Hands shape a pot on a wheel, hoe the land and grind grain on a stone. These technologies did not change for a long time, 'even the Romans only altered the design and materials slightly,' he explains.

1000 years have passed, and the Roman civilization has been destroyed in Britain. In their place are the beginnings of the England we know. A Norman stone castle is seen. A fire illuminates its vaulting inside. Ely cathedral is seen, built in the centuries that followed, where statues and vaults are illuminated by candles, 'which only accentuated the prevailing gloom.' A monk sits, labouriously copying books by hand by the light of a candle, 'most activity was limited to the daylight hours.' A monk makes candles, pouring wax over a wick.

The modern age began 400 years ago, explains Dr. Bryant. A grand and ornate manor is seen, built after the Renaissance, a home of cultured living and luxury. A servant dressed in 18th century costume lights a magnificent chandelier with a flame. The servant demonstrates how to light a candle. He makes sparks with a flint and steal, and blows the tinder into flame to light a match before lighting the candle. Several servants crowd around one candle to work and read.

'But forces were already at work that changed all this,' explains Dr. Bryant. A worker shovels coal into a furnace. The mills and factories of the industrial revolution, which needed lighting on a new scale, are seen. Professor C. Andrade, Director of the Royal Institution, continues the story of lighting. The Royal Institution, founded in 1799, is seen in exterior views. It's Corinthian columns rising to the pediment above. Professor Andrade is seen at his desk. Bookshelves line the walls of the room. He presents a Temple of Vesta, a rich man's toy, used to light a pipe and amuse its owner's friends. The toy employs gas and electricity.

Oil lamps of the 17th century were inefficient, Andrade explains, needing solid or liquid fuel. Gas was used after 1800, to be lit whenever needed. Gas lamps in the home and on the street are shown, altering the character of street lighting. A man with a flame on a long pole lights the gas lamps one by one on a Regency street. American oil fields made oil lamps in the reach of everyone and their design was also improved. A woman lights a gas lamp inside a home.

Professor Andrade tells the story of electric light. In 1809, Humphrey Davey gave a demonstration in the lecture theatre at the Royal Institution, for which electric current passed through two pieces of charcoal. Fifty years later, a dynamo could produce enough current for practical purposes. Electric lights were installed in lighthouses, theatres and the streets. Illustrations of theatre lighting are shown. Joseph Swan and Edison in America reached the same conclusion for cheap electric light, carbon filaments inside glass from which oxygen had been extracted. Inventions spurred on others to do better, Andrade explains, providing lighting methods unimaginable a century before. Electric lights in homes and shops are seen in quick succession.

For the origins of the latest forms of electric light, the modern fluorescent lamp. Professor Andrade takes the viewer back 250 years, to a book by F. Hauksley [?]. By using different gasses, he found that electric light could be produced without unwanted heat. The electric current caused the gas to glow. These are shown, being fitted in an office. Science Museum displays are seen once more.

'We don't realise how much of our life depends on artificial lighting,' explains Dr. Bryant. Shops and amusements, lit up with electricity, are shown, allowing us to enjoy the night just as we enjoy the day. Young people attend a dance, where a mirror ball throws specks of light around the hall. Tottenham Court Road Underground station is shown, where strip lighting and lit signs line the passageways. Miners work underground with electric lamps on their hats. A surgeon works on a patient under an electric lamp suspended from the ceiling. Views of London at night follow, its buildings glowing in the darkness.