Phyllis Girling’s 1955 Story of The Nativity found in Full Circle Film Search, Tipton.

With only 49 days (and counting…) to Christmas, I thought it was about time I shared this story to get you in a festive mood…

I first met Roy Langford in September  at Tipton Library where The Tipton Harriers were putting on a display of old sporting memorabilia in celebration of their 100th birthday, it was whilst watching back some old cinefilm, and talking about some more that had been digitised in the Full Circle Project, that Roy first mentioned the other cinefilms he had at home .

We met again on the 10th October at the Tipton Harriers Centenary Event which took place at Tipton Sports Academy, where the Full Circle Project were able to digitise a selection of footage from Mick Orton & Tony Phillips Collections to show at the event. During the reunion event in The Snug, Roy came over to me and mentioned some cinefilm that he was interested in depositing with The Full Circle Project.

One piece of film was a 50ft reel of the 1967 Tipton Harriers Boxing Day Handicap race and the other reels dated back to 1955. These other films had been passed onto him by a lady called Phyllis Girling, and were titled  “P. Girling – Story of the Nativity film” and “P. Girling – National Federation of Parent Teachers Association – part 1. and part. 2”  

Miss Girling was Headteacher of Park Primary School, on Nelson Road, Dudley which is now the site of Jessons Church of England Primary School.

In a touching article in the St. Barnabas Parish News, Russell’s Hall, Dudley in March 1988, The Vicar wrote of Phyllis  ” With the death last December, we all lost a remarkable lady and a good friend.” He goes on to say how her devotion the her work as a teacher, will be remembered along with her outward looking attitude that she should use her birthday as an opportunity to raise a large sum of money for charity.”

The Vicar also mentions the “remarkable film of the Nativity which she showed us, made to a very high standard when she was a headmistress.” and said that “she never lost her enjoyment of childrens company and working with them.”

The Story of the Nativity which was partly filmed in the grounds of Dudley Castle and included the loaning of a camel and a couple of donkeys from Dudley Zoo, is a credit to her work as a teacher and one that we hope to share with Jessons C of E School, as a way of looking how the Nativity play differed back then.

Miss Girling wrote: “In October we decided to make a colour film suitable for showing during our Christmas Festivities. Dare we attempt the Story of the Nativity? Costumes would be easy to put together, but the setting should be in Palestine and we must produce our film in Dudley, a town in the Industrial Midlands.”

As a way of getting this film back into the community, I contacted Lucy Griffiths, Headteacher of Jessons Church of England Primary School to let her know about our discovery and she responded saying: “How interesting to hear from you. A film from 1955 sounds fascinating. Funnily enough, we are quite interested in film ourselves. We recently had a film project where every class made a short film, and we held a private premier at the local cinema. It was great! But back to your film – I’d be very interested in having a look and I’m sure the children will be too. After all, we still do nativity plays every year here – though we’ve never borrowed animals from the zoo.”

Phyllis Girling wrote: “A big worry might have been to find a camel, but we hoped that Mr. Risden, the Manager of Dudley Zoo, might be able to help us, and we were not disappointed. He gave us permission to use George, a haughty looking camel, and Jacob, a donkey living at the zoo at the time, if we filmed within the zoo grounds. The zoo of course lies within the grounds of Dudley Castle and we found one wing of the ruins ideally suited for the home of Mary and Joseph.”

My colleague, Richard Shenton – Head of Access and Learning at MACE says: “We are constantly looking to further the use of material in our collection in all areas of education.” So, it really will be lovely to see the reactions of both the pupils and teachers to a film that was made over 55 years ago!

Miss Girling was described as a “first-class Headteacher” whose “leadership created the excellent school that it was!”

Then school-girl, Laura, who was chosen to play Mary in the Story of the Nativity, described the making of the film as “ground-breaking”. In a letter to The Bugle Newspaper she said that “I can vividly remember thinking it was great fun to be on location filming and can recall many amusing incidents.”

A request was made in early 2001 as to the whereabouts of a movie film made by Park Primary School. “The caught the eye of Bugle reader Mr. Roy Langford of Tividale, and he was delighted to furnish us with a story that cheers the heart at this magical time of year. Miss Girling had been a next-door neighbour and great friend of Roy’s for 15 years, enjoying her retirement in Tividale.”

Roy hunted out the film that had been given to him by Phyllis and also discovered a manuscipt which told the making of the “Nativity Story”, and the various locations that were used in its production.

“Miss Girling had given me these papers in a box just before she died, almost as if she wanted the story told. Also in the box I found some painted Christmas cards, including one which showed a woman sat on a donkey, heading towards a girl holding a carrot and sandwiched in-between a kneeling figure holding a cine-camera. “Memories 1955″ was the wording used, so I knew at once that the film had been shot in 1955. The handpainted Christmas cards had been doen by fellow teacher Olwen Pearson.”

As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Full Circle project – we are able to copy the films into a digital format and preserve the orginals in the MACE archive, to ensure their future enjoyment for generations to come. The copies that will be made, will be in an accessible format, such as DVD that can be watched by people in the community and can be watched on the MACE archive’s online catalogue.

The ever-positive Miss Girling finishes her film-making manuscript by saying: “We are aware of the film’s many imperfections, but we realise many of these are overlooked because interest becomes centred on the convincing way in which children unfold a story they know and love so well.”

If you want to hear more about the Full Circle Project and our hunt for Midland’s Homemovies please get in touch with us here at MACE.

Lucie Kerley – Full Circle Curator. Tel: 01522 837756 or Mob: 07919 896 505, email




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