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

Scope and Content

John Grierson personal papers, 1919-1972, including:

  • Correspondence 1927-1970
  • Writings on film criticism, documentary and film matters 1927-1971
  • Papers of organisations with which Grierson was connected 1928-1972
  • Personal papers 1919-1970

Papers collected about Grierson, including:

  • Articles, press cuttings, published material, correspondence and personal papers 1930-1976

Papers of H Forsyth Hardy, 1927-1992, including:

  • Research notes on John Grierson 1963-1991
  • Personal papers 1952-1976
  • Papers of organisations with which Hardy connected 1954-1988
  • Writings on film matters and papers concerning Scottish cinema 1929-1992
  • Publications 1927-1982

Administrative / Biographical History

John Grierson (1898-1972 ), a documentary film producer, was born in  1898  in Kilmadock, Perthshire, Scotland, where his father was the local school headmaster. Grierson studied for a doctorate in philosophy at the  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 G(eneral) P(ost) O(ffice) 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

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

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

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

Corporate Names

Geographical Names