Papers of John Grierson, 1898-1972, documentary film producer

Scope and Content

Papers relating to Grierson's university career 1919-1927, including:

  • University essays and papers from his period in America 1924-1927
  • Publications 1925

Papers relating to the period 1927-1933, including:

  • Papers relating to the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit including material on Drifters 1928-1929
  • Papers relating to the League of Nations and international film activity 1927-1929
  • Writings on film critiscism, documentary and film 1927-1933
  • Correspondence 1927-1933
  • Press cuttings 1926-1933
  • Publications 1928-1933

Papers relating to the period 1933-1939, including:

  • Material and scripts relating to GPO Film Unit 1937-1939
  • Papers relating to the Imperial Relations Trust and travels in Canada and USA 1938-1939
  • Lecture typescripts and other writings on film matters 1934-1939
  • Correspondence late 1930s
  • Press cuttings 1939
  • Notebooks with articles, letters, notes 1938-1939
  • Publications 1934-1939

Papers relating to the period 1939-1945, including:

  • Papers relating to Grierson's visit to Australia and New Zealand 1940
  • National Film Board of Canada and other Canadian papers 1942-1945
  • Papers relating to the USA 1938-1945
  • Writings, articles, broadcasts, lectures and speeches 1939-1945
  • Correspondence 1939-1945
  • Press cuttings early 1940s
  • Notebooks containing letters, notes, speeches and articles 1939-1945
  • Publications 1940-1945

Papers relating to the period 1945-1950 including:

  • Papers relating to International Film Associates and The Third World Today Inc 1945-1948
  • Papers relating to Unesco, the Central Office of Information, South Africa and the Canada Foundation1946-1948
  • Writings including articles and speeches 1946-1950
  • Correspondence 1945-1950
  • Papers relating to fim organisations 1947-1951
  • Press cuttings 1945-1950
  • Notebooks with letters and articles 1946-1950
  • Publications 1946-1949

Papers relating to the period 1951-1957 including:

  • Papers relating to Group 3 Ltd including scripts, minutes and accounts, 1951-1955
  • Papers relating to Films of Scotland Committee 1955-1956
  • Writings including articles and reviews 1954-1956
  • Correspondence 1952-1957
  • Papers relating to film organisations 1951-1957
  • Press cuttings 1951-1956
  • Personal expenses 1950s
  • Notebooks containing letters, speeches, articles, reviews, notes and comments 1953-1957
  • Publications 1951-1957

Papers relating to the period 1957-1972 (excluding Scottish Television papers) including: Films of Scotland Committee papers 1957-1971

  • Writings including typescripts, scripts and articles 1958-1971
  • Correspondence 1957-1970
  • Papers relating to organisations connected with film-making or festivals 1959-1971
  • Press cuttings 1959-1970
  • Papers relating to various organisations 1951-1970
  • Personal papers 1950-1970
  • Notebooks containing letters, notes, scripts, articles, writings and reviews, 1957-1971
  • Publications 1957-1971

Papers relating to the period 1957-1972 (including Scottish Television papers) including: Scripts and production information sheets for This Wonderful World

  • Scripts and production information sheets for other Scottish Television programmes c 1959-c 1967
  • Correspondence 1957-1968
  • Miscellaneous Scottish Television papers 1964-1968
  • Publicity material and press cuttings 1957-1968.

Posthumous material, and papers collected by the Grierson Archive, including:

  • Personal photographs and film stills undated
  • Periodicals 1932-1949
  • Papers (some photocopies), including: library records, extracts, reviews, articles, radio programme scripts, papers relating to the GPO Film Unit (1934-1939), correspondence, press cuttings, transcripts of interviews 1919-1972
  • Grierson's personal address books c1930-c1970
  • Obituaries 1972
  • Periodicals, press cuttings 1959-1976
  • Articles, correspondence, script, press releases, interview transcripts, all concerning Grierson 1938-1977
  • Correspondence between Grierson and others 1936-1953
  • Newspaper cuttings 1950-1951

Administrative / Biographical History

John Grierson (1898-1972 ), a documentary film producer, was born in 1898 in Kilmadock, Perthshire where his father was the local school headmaster. Grierson studied for a doctorate in philosophy at  University of Glasgow. After lecturing at Durham University he spent a period in America studying the effects of the media on public opinion, and it was there, in  1925 , he first coined the term documentary. He returned to Britain in  1927  and, after joining the Empire Marketing Board in  1928 , he produced a pioneering documentary film about herring fishing, Drifters (1929 ), which was shown at the premier of  Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin in London . From  1933  he was head of the British GPO unit where they produced hundreds of short films including the famous Night Mail, with a verse voice over by  Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973 ). Grierson moved to Canada just before the start of the Second World War and there established the National Film Board of Canada. In  1945  he returned to America, forming The World Today, which produced films promoting international understanding. From  1946-1948  he was Director of Mass Communications for UNESCO and from  1948-1950  he was the film controller at the Central Office of Information in London. From  1957-1965  he produced an international range of documentary films for television and was host of This Wonderful World.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information


Acquisition Information


Other Finding Aids

Records are catalogued within National Register of Archives Scotland survey no. 2199, which consists of A Semeonoff, The John Grierson Archive: List of Contents (Stirling, 1978).

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 559 procedures

Custodial History




Related Material

For further information about related material with a GB repository code consult the  National Register of Archives search page, hosted on the National Archives website.

Location of Originals

This material is original


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

Fonds level description compiled by H M Kemp and Alan Borthwick, Scottish Archive Network project, 10 May 2002.

Corporate Names

Geographical Names