THEY are the picture of innocence – two unknown Edinburgh boys playing in Riddle’s Close.
Yet, unwittingly, they are also part of a sophisticated propaganda effort designed to aid their country as it fought for survival against Nazi Germany.
The boys are among dozens of Edinburgh residents who appear in The Royal Mile – a film shot in 1943 and commissioned by the British Council to project the best of the Capital as the Second World War raged.
The film – now digitised – was made available to the public for the first time last week and its makers are calling for residents of today’s Edinburgh to help identify and share the stories of the people portrayed.
Briony Hanson, director of film at the British Council, said she and her colleagues wanted to use The Royal Mile to start an “intergenerational conversation”. She said: “People are coming forward already, so we are inviting people to e-mail us their stories.
“What was your grandad doing at that time? Was that you stopping to admire the view from Edinburgh Castle?”
Lasting just over 13 minutes, The Royal Mile was directed by Terence Egan Bishop and tells of a tour taken by three Allied servicemen – a Pole, a Canadian and a Czech – through the Old Town. It was one of more than 120 films produced in the 1940s to counteract Nazis’ messages that Britain was a country stuck in the past.
Ms Hanson said: “The British Council today is about building cultural relations between the UK and the rest of the world but back then it was about propaganda.
“The Royal Mile is about what you might call picture postcard views of an absolutely beautiful, unspoiled city. But you also have references to Edinburgh’s cosmopolitanism – and it’s the only film in the collection narrated from the perspective of outsiders.”
But for Dr Nick Higgins, senior lecturer in visual and cultural studies at the University of Edinburgh, the film portrays an outmoded view of the Capital. He said: “I think it’s really a curiosity more than being massively significant. It’s something that allows Scottish people to see how we were included in the British imperial narrative during the war.”
Justine Gordon Smith, 45, who grew up in the Canongate and plans to begin filming a series of documentary films about the Royal Mile next year, said: “When you know what you are starting from, it helps you have more of an insight into the present.”
To see The Royal Mile, visit http://film.britishcouncil.org/british-council-film-collection.
• Do you know the two boys or any of the other people featured in the film? Call our newsdesk on 0131-620 8734.
Powerful tools of propaganda
FILM was recognised as a powerful propaganda tool by all of the main combatants in the Second World War.
In Germany, Hitler created the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1933, and charged Dr Joseph Goebbels with controlling all film content.
Hollywood movies during the Second World War such as Casablanca – set in the eponymous Vichy-controlled city – helped the war effort by underlining the evils of fascism, while in Britain propaganda films by the likes of Humphrey Jennings were marked by their documentary character.