Title ID 8430Collection ID1194
TitleBeside the Seaside
CollectionEarly Films
ThemeSeaside Transport
KeywordsBeaches Boats Children Fairgrounds Family Entertainment Ferries Leisure Time Activities Motor Vehicles Performing Arts Piers [Palace Pier, Brighton] Tourism Railways Summer Swimming Beachwear Trains
LocalLondon Brighton Ovingdean Broadstairs Eastbourne
RegionalEast Sussex Kent Greater London
NationalEngland United Kingdom
ProductionStrand Film Company
CameraF. Gamage, George Noble
DirectorMarion Grierson, Alex Shaw
ProducerMarion Grierson
Commissioning bodyTIDA
WriterW.H. Auden
MusicBand of the 43rd Light Infantry Band, D.J. Plater
FormatBlack & White Sound
Copyright & AccessCopyright restrictions apply, contact Screen Archive South East for details


Margaret Grierson's film, with commentary written by W.H.Auden, presents a day out for Londoners at their south coast destinations. Leaving London during a heat wave, they make their way to Brighton, Broadstairs, Ovingdean and Eastbourne to swim, dance, chatter and enjoy the Palace Pier's amusements.


"This coast is continuous. The small rivers broaden, houses behind the headlands, constructions on the end of low proventaries, speak of the people whose daily decisions the swaying sound of the sea exerts a stable influence." "I do Like to be Beside the Seaside" plays.

The Ovingdean cliffs and empty beaches open the film. A lighthouse, coast guard and ships out to sea are seen. "Our courage lies in the deliberate avoidance of danger."

Images of a map of the south east of England is interspersed among scenes of scenes leaving port at Portsmouth, Brighton, Dungeness and Dover.

In London "the heat beats the streets." Elevated street views of London follow. A newspaper board reads "Heat Wave." Families pack cases with belongings, and set off on a bicycle, train or bus. People chatter at a train station booking hall. An animated map of the south east follows. Lines spring out of London and reach coastal destinations. Countryside views follow. Trains are seen speeding through the landscape to the coast.

Visitors alight the buses and trains at their destination and children run to the beach with buckets and spades. People walk down the steps at Ovingdean beach. Others sprint out of beach huts towards the sea wearing swimming costumes. Children ride ponies and a young woman practices cartwheels in a two-piece costume. Children play in rock pools and splash in the breakers.

Uncle Mack's Minstrels are seen on stage from the audience on Broadstairs sea front, Kent. A group sings and walks across the stage in unison, accompanied by a piano. Two performers are filmed telling each other jokes. All wear blackface make up.

Scenes at Black Rock swimming pool [?] follow. Young men and women slide into the water. A woman performs a dive, shown in slow motion. The camera pans across Kemptown from the beach. Below the beach is crowded with visitors. They swim in the breakers. One women lies on the stones as the waves wash over her. Families play ball games and play with inflatable lilos in the water. Beach huts line the beach. A couple talk as they pack up their belongings "Hurry up, it's time for lunch!"

An intertitle reads "After Lunch." Men sleep in two-penny deck chairs on the sea front. A brass band in uniforms play under a bandstand. Couples dancing are shown in slow motion. Visitors lie on the beach on towels wearing sunglasses. Sea gulls fly overhead. People walk over Beachy Head. A light aircraft prepares for take off as passengers climb on board. "I'm going to be giddy!", says a voice. The plane takes off and flies over the sea. Aerial footage follows, following the coast.

Elevated views of Brighton Pier follow. A ferry docks and passengers from overseas arrive. Two are seen and heard speaking in German. A sign over the pier reads "Brighton Greets You." Scenes of bumper cars, carousels, roller coasters and waltzers on the pier follows. Energetic music plays. Brass band music is now heard, late in the afternoon on the beach.

Now dark, the pier lights up. Neon light advertise an "Amusement Park." A crowd bustles beneath. Finally quiet, views of the sea and coast as the light is fading close the film. "I do like to be beside the seaside" plays quietly and builds gradually. "The End."

Contextual information

Marion Grierson ran the film unit of the Travel and Industrial Development Association (TIDA) in the 1930s. Her brother John Grierson, the "founding figure" of the British documentary movement, worked at the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit, to which TIDA was attached. Marion's sister Ruby Grierson was also a documentary maker for Strand and the Realist Film Unit in the 1930s. She made home front propaganda films for the Ministry of Food in the war years before she died in 1940 when the liner she was traveling on was torpedoed.

The British documentary movement of the 1930s and 1940s gave many female technicians a chance to direct and produce films, who had previously played only minor roles in British film production. Film careers were nonetheless short lived, as post-war attitudes towards women and work changed. Women who had productive careers in the documentary hay day were unable to break into fiction film with the ease of their male counterparts. Grierson left film altogether to raise a family in the 1940s.

Much of the footage in [Beside the Seaside] featured in the documentary [Southern Seaside], with intertitles rather than narration.

The film also features Uncle Mack's Minstrels, extensively filmed by Enid Briggs in Broadstairs, who's collection is also held at the Archive.

Uncle Mack’s Minstrels were an integral part of the Broadstairs summer entertainment in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1911 Uncle Mack’s Minstrels were voted the most popular troupe of the British Seaside resorts. Now considered unacceptable as a form of entertainment, black-faced entertainers were a popular act in the 1930s and were often seen at seaside resorts where the additional character of ‘Uncle’ befriended children and encouraged them to take part in singing and dancing competitions.

Related titles

Related resources


John Grierson Archive

Location: University of Stirling: Archives and Special Colelctions


BFI Screenonline profile: Marion Grierson