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‘The Papermakers’ – Tullis Russell in film

The Tullis Russell Paper Mills Collection (ms38973) contains records in a variety of formats – paper, photographic, audio tapes, VHS tapes and film reels. Previous blogs on Echoes have highlighted different parts of this collection, including the oral history tapes. As part of our preservation of this collection, we have had digitised some of the promotional films (both reels and VHS) commissioned by the company from the 1950s to 1990s, allowing us to see some of the films for the first time. In this blog we will showcase a couple of these films.

In the January 1953 issue of the Rothmill Quarterly (Volume XXIV No. 2), a magazine produced by staff at the Tullis Russell Paper Mills, an article reported the screening of The Papermakers film to almost 1000 employees of the firm. At the first screening the company director, Major David FO Russell, shared with the audience his belief that “the general public was not sufficiently aware of the vital importance of paper to-day” and that the aim of this film was to show the stages of the paper making process and the different uses of the final product.

To achieve this aim, Tullis Russell & Co. Ltd. had commissioned Campbell Harper Films Ltd. of Edinburgh to make the film The Papermakers (1952), produced and directed by Henry Cooper. The film is in black and white with narration by the actor Tom Fleming and BBC announcer Alastair MacIntyre.

The film opens with a brief history of the origins of paper, with scenes from the Great Wall of China, through Egypt, continental Europe and finally to the footage of the Auchmuty and Rothes Mill in Fife, Scotland.

Photograph of Auchmuty Mill, Markinch, 1913 (ms38973/P)

True to the aims as set out by Major Russell, the narrative of the film follows the progress of the raw materials used in papermaking – such as plant fibres, coal for power and water – to the cleaning, bleaching, beating and testing involved in reaching the final finished product.

The company was known for being a supportive employer, founding the Markinch Institute for the leisure and enjoyment of staff in 1926 and encouraging numerous clubs and societies, such as the Tullis Russell Band. The film narrator acknowledges that one of the most important ‘ingredients’ in paper-making is human skill – illustrated with footage of the town of Markinch and staff on their way to work.

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This film is one of the highlights of the Tullis Russell Paper Mills Collection, documenting the papermaking industry at the time, the local people who were vital to the business and also the versatility of paper. The video was a promotional tool for the company’s branded papers and boards such as ‘Ivorex’ and ‘Mellotex’, and sits alongside the various promotional material in the collection, such as these beautifully designed posters.

Advertising poster for Tullis Russell & Co. Ltd. (ms38973/TR/6/5/2/20)
Advertising poster for Tullis Russell & Co. Ltd. (ms38973/TR/6/5/2/20)

You can now see the entire digitised film here, alongside some of the other films commissioned by the company.

A similar film to The Papermakers was commissioned by Tullis Russell a decade later in 1964 – The Fibre Web. It was also produced by Campbell Harper Films Ltd. and directed by Henry Cooper. Our copy of the film is on a VHS tape, now digitised and available here.

Like The Papermakers this film takes the viewer on a journey through fibre becoming paper, though in this film there is the addition of colour!

Building upon The Papermakers, The Fibre Web draws more attention to the multitude of uses of the different types of paper produced by Tullis Russell. The film advertised the importance of paper in all aspects of life, such as the paper used for insulation in telephone cables and communication systems. Perhaps a reflection of the decade in which the film was made, The Fibre Web emphasises the impact of paper on technology.

These two films are just a small part of the Tullis Russell paper mill archive but are a wonderful resource both in explaining the process of paper making in the 20th century and in documenting the history of the mill and the people who worked for this Fife based business.

Sarah Rodriguez
Assistant Archivist (Modern Records)

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6 thoughts on "‘The Papermakers’ – Tullis Russell in film"

  1. Utterly delighted and thrilled with this email. To see history come to life. My father was Major David Russell, mentioned in this article. He was always keen to record history as it happened so to speak. He knew it would be important for the future generations. He would be happy and proud to see this, as would my grandfather, Sir David Russell be. Thank you.
    Cecilia Russell

      1. Huge positive response from family and the company. Although the Markinch site closed, it is still going at Bollington near Manchester and in South Korea. I forwarded the link to Fred Bowden the Chairman.

  2. This is so fascinating! I’ve been looking for educational materials for my students while we are doing distance learning and this is perfect. I loved The Papermakers, but For some reason though I haven’t been able to open the 1964 film. It says “undefined” when it tries to open. Could you let me know if there is another link? Thanks! Mary Wootton

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