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The People at No 19

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Excerpt from The People at No 19 (1949) - courtesy of the BFI

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The Magazine's sex education film festival

Some of the elements of this film from 1949 will strike a chord with the lover of modern soap opera.

Joan and Ken (played by Desmond Carrington) are a young couple expecting a child, although still living at home with Joan's parents.

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Their world is rocked by the revelation that Joan has been diagnosed with syphilis. She arrives home in stunned disbelief, repeating "it couldn't happen to me" and finally announcing her terrible news, prompting emotional fireworks.

Joan contracted the disease, while Ken was away at war, in a fling while on a trip to the seaside with her friend. Wanton alcohol consumption is partly to blame.

The health message is covered - the syphilis is treatable and the baby can be protected from it - but there is a great deal of emphasis on the emotional nature of Joan's betrayal of Ken.

"All the quintessential ingredients of 'women's films' are called upon to drive home the message that marriage and motherhood is the right path to follow," says Katy McGahan, curator of non-fiction at the BFI national archive.

"The expressive lighting and exaggerated performances - and the raging marital accusations and and bread-knife brandishing that goes on behind closed doors at No 19 - align more to contemporary Gainsborough melodramas than to other, more sober, state-sponsored health warnings of the time."


Send us your comments using the form below.

It is interesting to see the anger and hostility in the film. British society from there through the 60s was typical of this. Child rearing in England was replete with hostile behaviour to mothers and children. I was brought up with this loud anger, certainly no sex ed. When we moved to Canada in the 60s I had sex ed in grade 6. My mother phoned the school in complete disgust over the idea of teaching such things to children under 21.
Gary Peare, Surrey, BC Canada

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