The Sunday Break – Toc H on TV

By Steve Smith

It was many years ago, during one of my frequent discussions with John Burgess about different aspects of Toc H’s history, that he mentioned The Sunday Break. It was, he told me, a TV show from 1961 about Toc H, in which he appeared and he would love to see it again. I did a little research at the time and concluded that it no longer existed; not all television was even recorded at the time (much was broadcast live) and even if it was, it was likely on expensive magnetic tape that was frequently wiped and reused. Nevertheless, I made a few notes about the programme and filed the information away.

Therefore, a few months ago, when I was checking eBay as I frequently do, I nearly jumped through the roof when I saw that someone was selling a 16mm cine film labelled Sunday Break – Toc H Dor Knap Centre. I had found the Holy Grail! This is the story of the programme, and how I came to obtain, and then digitize it.

As soon as I saw the film on eBay, I knew I had to get it; not for myself but for John, and for the Toc H archive at the University of Birmingham. I checked it out and saw that it was in an ABC-TV film-can and being sold by a reputable dealer. This was the real deal, so I put in a bid. Whilst I didn’t expect anyone else to bid on it because of its Toc H connections, I knew that there was a massive market for ‘missing presumed wiped’ television shows, whatever the subject matter. I anticipated a bidding battle and I got one. However, I wasn’t going to let this get away and ten days later, and over £100 poorer, the film was mine. But this was only half the battle, to coin a phrase well-known in Toc H. To preserve the film and to enable it to be widely seen, I needed to get it digitized.

Digitizing a cine film involved scanning every single frame at high-resolution and then rendering all those scans into a single, digital movie. Given that 16mm cine runs at 30 frames a second and the film was known to be around nine minutes long, we were looking at some 16,000 scans! I needed to find an industry recommended digitizer who would treat the project with the care and respect it deserved. Strangely, I found such a company based at Teignmouth, Devon, spitting distance from another old Toc H property, Lindridge.

The cost of digitization was high, so I started a GoFundMe to raise money and was pleased that various people and groups, including both Toc H and Talbot House, soon helped me reach the target. The film was duly sent off and then I had to wait. Being a well-respected company meant their services were in high-demand. After a few weeks though, the digitized film was ready, and I wasn’t disappointed. This blog is to share the fruits of this process with you all. The link to the film is at the end but don’t skip the rest of the blog, you might miss something interesting.

So what’s this film all about?

Penry Jones

Let’s start with a chap called Penry Jones. Jones was a member of the Iona Community and knew Toc H through Iona’s founder, George MacLeod, a friend of Tubby and a former staff member of Toc H Scotland. Jones was passionate about bringing religion to young people and occasionally spoke to gatherings of Toc H members.

In 1958, having spent ten years as the Industrial Secretary of the Iona Community, Jones joined ABC Television, part of the Independent Television network (ITV), as a producer. One of the first things he did in his new role was to develop a religious magazine programme called The Sunday Break. The 45-minute show, broadcast – unsurprisingly – on Sunday evenings for three weeks each month, invited well known figures such as pop stars, and groups of young people into a club set at the studio in Manchester to discuss topics of the day. Featuring skiffle, jazz, and rock’n’roll, with discussions ranging from religion to sex, The Sunday Break was one of the most controversial religious programmes of the time. It regularly got audiences of millions, knocking the BBC’s staid efforts into a cocked hat. Incidentally, the programme appears to have an identity crisis being sometimes known as The Sunday Break, and just as often, only as Sunday Break. It ran until 1962.

Meanwhile, Alec Churcher, a staff member of Toc H who had spent much of his time developing Toc H with young people as Schools Secretary, had – in 1959 – been appointed Secretary for Service and Training. At much the same time, Richard Ayshford-Sanford, a friend of Toc H’s Administrator John Callf, was made aware of a slightly dilapidated property near Broadway in the Cotswolds, on offer by its owner (Lord Dulverton) for a peppercorn rent. Originally offered to the Boy Scout Movement, they were put off by the amount of work needed; Toc H “disowned discouragement and leapt with joy at the task”. Dor Knap was brought into the fold, and became an ideal venue for Toc H conferences and training. Alec Churcher would become its leading proponent. (I’ve added Churcher to my list of future blogs, trust me he deserves his own).

Alec Churcher

In the early sixties, Churcher had devised a training session entitled The Life and Work of a Branch. It had already been run several times when, in early 1961, it was planned to be held at Dor Knap for one week from Saturday 12th August, led by Churcher himself. Penryn Jones got to hear of this and decided it would make a good feature for his Sunday Break and arranged for a film crew to be sent along.

Thus, for three days during that week in August 1961, director Frank Cadman and a crew, were buzzing around the Toc H people at Dor Knap making their short film. Thomas Edward Francis Cadman, was the son of a stage manager and had cut his teeth as a cinematographer with the Kenneth Graeme Film Company before moving to Ealing where he directed The Bailiffs starring Flanagan and Allen (who didn’t meet at Talbot House despite the enduring myth, although probably quite close by). He made further shorts of Fred Karno scripts but went on to make his best-known documentary, Commando-The Story of the Green Beret (Made in 1945 but didn’t get a cinematic release until 1952). Cadman then became a producer for Associated-Rediffusion’s Cine Holiday programmes and was amongst the first to broadcast amateur cine home movies on television. Perhaps those of us passionate about the history of Toc H will always remember him for his film on Dor Knap.

It was broadcast live by ABC Weekend TV – who held the weekend broadcast licence for ITV in those days – at 6.15pm on Sunday 26th November 1961, presented by Barry Westwood. The programme carried the overall title of Jews and Christians – how do they get on? and Rabbi Rosen was in the studio discussing this. Other guests included jazz musician Terry Lightfoot and singer Clinton Ford.  The Toc H film was included as an insert but Alan Hill (Assistant Schools Secretary) and David Dawson of Mark XXII (Putney) were in the studio.

Given that an integral part of Churcher’s training course was a discussion around the question, What would you consider the prejudices that separate men?, you’ll understand why it was included with this episode. Sadly, as I implied earlier, the bulk of the show either wasn’t recorded at all, or if it was the tape has long since been wiped and reused. Just the filmed insert survives. Our only hope of ever finding the whole show is that someone filmed it off the television with a cine camera at the time (Home video recorders did not yet exist). It seems unlikely. Perhaps slightly more hopeful is that someone recorded the audio only from the television on a reel-to-reel tape-recorder. If this also seems fanciful, remember this is exactly how the commentary of Tubby’s This Is Your Life show survives.

Another interesting fact about the filmed insert is that John Burgess is convinced Frank Cadman filmed it in colour. As a cinematographer of some renown, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility, and in the fifties Cadman was a strong proponent of cine films and home movies. Of course, other than a very few test broadcasts from Alexandra Palace, colour television broadcasts were nearly a decade away but John believes Cadman said that colour film captured the nuances of the scenes better, even if only broadcast in black and white. It is possible that the original films were colour but these would have been edited down to the nine minutes we see and a black and white print made for broadcast. It is highly unlikely any of the colour footage remain, if this is the case.

In the TV Times that week, an article by John Callf entitled Friends for 46 Years, introduced the large readership of the television magazine, to the work of Toc H.

Now, I know you are itching to watch the film, and it may help if you have a little knowledge of some of those to look out for.

It opens – in an obviously set up sequence – with two young men, manhandling their suitcases and walking up from the village of Broadway, to the house on the hill. These young men are the just turned sixteen, John Burgess (Colchester) and his colleague Cyril (Market Drayton). On arrival they are met by George Atkinson, who along with his wife Dorothy, were wardens at that time. After showing the boys around (and meeting two other guests whom I haven’t identified) John and Cyril meet Dorothy as she is arranging some flowers.

As they take their cases upstairs, a young man in glasses and a dark jumper emerges from the room to our left and goes outside. This is our first glimpse of John Mitchell, future Director of Toc H.

I can’t yet give you names of the parties clearing tree roots in the garden or repairing the road (other than John Mitchell appearing again in the latter). The deck tennis also needs work though I see John Burgess and Cyril watching the proceedings.

John Mitchell, a great disciple of Alec Churcher, leads the group discussion on Fairmindedness in the lounge, and John Burgess recognises Don Wilde in this scene.

The film then closes with the commentator reading out the Four Points of the Compass.

So there we have it. A piece of Toc H history encapsulated, first on film but now preserved digitally, hopefully for eternity.

And what of the main protagonists. Frank Cadman went on to make several shorts about the RAF but sadly went bankrupt in 1967 and died in 1980. Penryn Jones stood, unsuccessfully, for the Labour party at several seats during elections in the early sixties. He became head of religious broadcasting at the BBC, then Religious Programmes Officer at the ITA. Upon retirement in 1982, he became chairman of the Iona Heritage Trust, and he died in 2004.

Alec Churcher, remained a steadfast member of Toc H until his death in 1980. John Mitchell became a Director of Toc H and later organised many Toc H projects in the South East region. I know this because it was on a John Mitch project that I met my future wife. Of Cyril, I’m not sure, but John Burgess, well he started all this as far as I’m concerned, firstly by getting me involved with Toc H and then by mentioning there was this old film that he would love to see!

The Sunday Break film is available here or click the image below

Other films are available at my History of Toc H YouTube Channel here

And an earlier visual blog about Dor Knap here

And if you can find it, the story of Dor knap is told in this excellent book: Dor Knap – Its Toc H Life: The House on the Hill – By David P Encill, Ray Fabes, George Lee, and Lionel Powell

6 thoughts on “The Sunday Break – Toc H on TV

  1. Just a bit of information to sdd to the pot: my father, Albert Spurgeon Martin, played the violin in a troops entertainment band in Belgium during the 1914-18 war, based at Poperinge. I was born in 1932, and have always felt very proud of my father, who was a pacifist, eager to bring help and friendship to the troops. My father’s violin has been carefully looked after, and is even now being played by my son Julian in the Farnborough Symphony Orchestra. I am now 90 years old, living in Yateley, Hants. Best wishes to all. Philip R. Martin


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