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

Scope and Content

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

The John Grierson Archive was set up at the University of Stirling following a generous donation by Mrs Margaret Grierson of her late husband's papers and documents to the University; and the Archive has been boosted by donations and acquisitions from other sources, many arising from the work of H Forsyth Hardy (1910-1994). The aim of the Archive is to collect and preserve, for information and study, all data relating to John Grierson's life and career.

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Manager, Library Liaison and Training.

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