Many film studies students and even their lecturers today will probably not know the name Jim Cook. I’m proud and privileged to say that he was my colleague and my friend for almost 45 years and I know just how important his contribution to film education has been. Jim was born into a working class family in Warrington and remained a proper ‘Lancashire lad’ throughout his life. After a degree at Birmingham University in the early 1960s Jim spent some time in France and then returned to take up teaching English in London at Stationers’ Company School in Hornsey and the Jewish Free School. Throughout his time as a student, Jim had enjoyed his pursuit of two favourite forms, jazz and blues music – preferably live in pubs and clubs – and film, both Hollywood and European art cinema.
In the late 1960s Jim joined the Society for Education in Film and Television (SEFT) which from 1970 published the journal Screen and the separate Screen Education Notes. Jim quickly found himself on the SEFT Committee for 1968/9 and on the Editorial Board of Screen by the start of 1970. In those early days, SEFT publications were often concerned with readings of specific films that might be useful in classrooms and profiles of important directors (at a time when forms of auteurism were very strong in nascent film education provision). They were not yet concerned as much with pedagogy or with the politics of educational access and the culture of the classroom. It is significant then that Jim Cook was one of the SEFT members who contributed to a discussion about classroom film teaching that took place at the annual SEFT Summer School in 1969. The discussion was transcribed and appears in the January/February 1970 Screen. It was Jim who challenged the orthodoxy of the time (thematic approaches) and asked the difficult questions: “Where do we go from here?” It was also Jim who encouraged SEFT to continue to develop teachers’ groups outside London and to encourage those teachers to organise themselves rather than rely on the SEFT office all the time.
At this time major changes were taking place at SEFT and within the British Film Institute’s Education Department. Partly this was a result of major changes in personnel in both organisations and, with those changes, new ideas about the relationship between a publicly-funded body and a membership organisation which received support from that public funder. In the midst of this Jim Cook found himself Chair of SEFT from 1971-2 and responsible for a series of difficult negotiations. At the end of this process SEFT had become a different kind of beast with a clear sense of exploring new theoretical work in film and the BFI’s re-named Educational Advisory Service (EAS) was more clearly aligned to supporting teachers in the field. SEFT was also better resourced and in a stronger financial position.
Jim was appointed to a position in the Education Advisory Service of the BFI in 1973 with responsibility for developing film (and eventually ‘media’) education work with adult students. This covered at least three distinct but related activities. The BFI was partnered at this time with the Extra-Mural Department of London University and a four year programme of evening classes had been developed which enabled students to undertake assessed work and to sit an exam each year in pursuit of a qualification in Film Studies. Each 2 hour class ran for 24 weeks and included screenings and seminars. Classes were held on BFI premises in Dean Street, in Soho preview cinemas and at a number of other locations in London. The tutors comprised BFI staff and others chosen from the small group of film academics then teaching in a limited number of education institutions. In most cases staff worked in pairs and developed ideas about team teaching. This in turn led to discussion of pedagogy during meetings of all the tutors and introduced students to the idea that ‘authority’ figures don’t have all the answers – since the tutors sometimes themselves thought differently about approaches to film study and how to read the films.
As the Extra-Mural provision developed it was claimed that this programme of classes constituted one of the largest film education programmes in Europe. Jim Cook had a leading role in developing the programme as he also had in helping to set up one-off events such as Weekend Schools and crucially, the development of the annual BFI Summer Schools which became of great importance in the 1970s and ’80s. The BFI had run summer schools for several years but in the early 1970s they became more concerned with introducing new theoretical work in film. Organising the schools became a major focus for the EAS from 1972 and for several years they were held over two weeks at the University of Stirling with its wonderful Macroberts Centre Cinema and with support from the Scottish Film Council. They attracted international delegates and pushed forward theoretical ideas for anglophone film studies. The BFI took over the Summer School’s education role from SEFT and SEFT then began Easter Schools specifically for teachers in schools and colleges. Jim’s other main BFI role was to seek to develop adult film education in the regions and the nations of the UK supporting and stimulating local initiatives. In all these activities, Jim will be remembered for his enthusiasm, his wide knowledge of film and his ability to build networks – as well as his prowess in ‘free dancing’ and general carousing during late night relaxation at the disco.
In the early 1970s, with film and media studies still barely established in any sector of UK education, there were not many ‘academic’ books about film and certainly few which attempted to develop film teaching or to suggest new forms of classroom/lecture theatre work. Members of SEFT and the BFI’s Education Advisory service did not face the imperative to publish research findings as part of their employment contract as lecturers. But they did have a responsibility to publish guides and discussion papers to support the film education ‘project’. Jim took his work seriously and he contributed papers for day schools, seminars, summer schools, teaching packs, guidance notes and articles for journals distributed by SEFT and BFI Education.
In 1979 Jim co-edited a BFI pamphlet with Mike Lewington on Images of Alcoholism, drawing on an event at the National Film Theatre and in 1981 he edited, with Alan Lovell, one of the ‘BFI Dossier’ Series, No. 11 Coming to Terms with Hollywood dealing with US politics in the 1930s and the later period of HUAC, McCarthy and blacklisting in the 1940s and 50s. Again this was linked to an NFT season of films. Jim edited a second ‘Dossier’ in 1982, No. 17 Television Sitcom. In 1994, a year after he left the BFI, Jim edited another collection for BFI publishing, alongside
Jim Cook left the BFI in 1993 after 20 years in post. The BFI was changing, partly because of the changing funding context. Education too was changing. Film and media courses had been widely established in formal education, but the wider aim of media education for all was still some way off and the future for adult education and informal learning opportunities was beginning to look much more difficult. For the next few years Jim performed various roles including supervising dissertations at the Institute of Education in London, acting as an External Examiner at what is now London Metropolitan University and teaching film at the University of Warwick, which required onerous commuting. In the midst of all of this he also tried to write the novels he’d pondered over for several years. Sadly these attempts didn’t reach publication.
Jim gradually moved out of formal contact with the BFI and eventually out of London to join his partner Ulrike Sieglohr in Stoke-on-Trent, developing his friendships with her colleagues at Staffordshire University. He retired from teaching in 2002 but still enjoyed his cinema visits and the chance to discuss the films he saw. I learned a great deal from Jim. I had enjoyed teaching with him on the Extra-Mural courses and later I loved discussing the movies we’d just seen, at Cornerhouse and then HOME, in the fabulous traditional pubs he seemed to have found for our trips to Manchester. Adios compañero!
Screen Education – from film appreciation to media studies by Terry Bolas (Intellect 2009) was an invaluable resource for the early history of Jim Cook’s role in film education. I am also very grateful for help from Christine Geraghty and Ulrike Sieglohr in providing both information and guidance in compiling this tribute to Jim’s work in film education.
The British Film Institute is overseen by a Board of Governors. The Board can have up to 15 members [including a chairman) and most of them seem to be distinguished members of the Establishment. Their functions are set out in the Royal Charter of the Institute. Their appointment is proposed by a sub-committee of the Board: it has in the past advertised such vacancies. The Chairman has to be approved by the Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport. It was the case that Governors had to be approved by the UK Film Council but since its demise it is not clear if there is requirement for any approval beyond that of the Board.
There are also two member Governors, elected for a period of three years. The member Governors date from an earlier time when there was a large, angry meeting of members at the National Film Theatre: and expression of serious discontent with the running and organisation of the BFI. These Member Governors are elected by a combination of paid-up members of the BFI and subscribers to the Institute’s journal Sight & Sound. The latter is necessary as these days BFI membership is only worthwhile if one is resident in London or visits it regularly.
For the last few elections the Board has introduced a quota requirement on these elections: 10% of the electorate. The only other area of British elections where I can think of quota requirements are the Trade Unions: which speaks volumes about the values of the Board members. The recent elections for Police Commissioners, for example, had no minimum requirement regarding the proportion of people voting. The BFI, like the Commissioners, administer public funds, so this would seem the relevant parallel.
The most recent election of a Member Governor was in the autumn of 2013. The result was as follows:
As you are aware, voting for the election of a new Member Governor recently closed. The number of votes cast was commutated as follows as follows:
% OF VOTES CAST
% OF TOTAL ELECTORATE
Total Number of Votes Cast
Percentage of Electorate
Article 13 of the rules for electing a BFI Member to the Board of Governors requires 10% of the electorate to participate in the election. In circumstances where this is not the case, as in this instance, the election will be null and void. The Board of Governors will then determine how to fill the resulting vacancy.
I will contact you in due course to advise you of the determination of the Board.
Kind Regards Iain Thomson Board Secretary.
I have not seen any other communication on this topic, even as a voter. However, the minutes of the Board do contain further information. Following on from this at the October Meeting the Board members considered the election result and decided as follows:
a. Not to appoint the winning candidate in the BFI Member Governor Election 2013 owing to insufficient participation of the electorate and lack of a representative mandate;
b. To withdraw one of the two positions reserved for Member Governors on the BFI Board;
c. That the Nominations and Appointments Committee recommends a candidate to
the Board to fill the subsequent vacancy.
The above is recorded in the Minutes of the Meeting. The minutes are available online. However, the most recent minutes of those of the October Meeting though meetings are usually monthly. I should add that the only circular or reported information that I have seen from the BFI only records item a.: there appears to be no mention of items b. and c. anywhere.
A friend who is a member checked the Members’ pages online – and found a notice that I have not seen. It reported on the Election and ended with the following.
At a recent Board meeting it was determined that the vacant position of a second Member Governor will now be filled through the normal appointments process. A further vacancy will arise next year and the Board will decide on a course of action at that point.
It is likely that most readers of this will not realise that the ‘normal appointment process’ means what is actually recorded in the minutes.
In fact there is an information deficit on the Board. The minutes regularly exclude items on the grounds of confidentiality, though it is not clear what such items might be. There is sometimes information available on the Notice Board at the National Film Theatre. There are occasional Press releases, mainly about additions to the Board. I have not found any Press release about the withdrawal of one of the Member Governors.
The information on meetings is fairly brief. The meetings are attended by the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive, the Director of Finance & Resources, the Board Secretary and occasionally by other managers for particular items. Voting, if it occurs, is not recorded: neither is any individual comments or indeed if there are disagreements. So it is not possible to tell if the decisions on the Member Governor post were unanimous or not.
This raises a question for the remaining Member Governor, Peter Kominsky, who was in attendance at the October meeting. Did he question these proposals on behalf of the voters? Certainly there appears to have been little or no reporting back on the issue by him. There may be something on the Members section of the BFI website, but this is not accessible to Subscriber voters like myself.
In fact, there appears to have been little interaction by most Member Governors with their electorate in recent years. Apparently there is, or was, the notice board for this purpose outside NFT 3. At one point there was an opportunity for report back and comments at the National Film Theatre, but this was on a Tuesday evening so of limited access. I have also on a couple of occasions written to the Member Governor about issues. On one occasion I copied these to the Board Secretary and he confirmed these had been passed to the Member Governors. However, I never received a response. The honourable exception to this was the Member Governor who term ended last year, Cy Young. He was the most active representative in my experience with the Board. He told me that he had questioned the 10% quote rule at the Board Meetings. It seems that he received little support, even from his fellow Member Governor.
It is worth noting that in 2013 the Board approved five new members. These included three described in this Press release:
The BFI announced the appointment of three new members to its governing board on Friday (3 May).
Pat Butler, Charles Cecil and Oona King attended their first BFI board meeting the previous week (25 April) together with the eight existing governors, BFI chair Greg Dyke and the institute’s CEO Amanda Nevill.
In a statement Dyke said: “We are very pleased to have three such talented individuals join our board. They each bring a wealth of experience, from finance and management, politics and broadcasting, to the video games industry.
“With such a team the board is well equipped to face the significant opportunities and challenges in the years to come in supporting the BFI’s growth agenda and international strategy for film.”
The BFI also announced that Libby Savill – who has served on the board for two years – has agreed to become the BFI’s new deputy chair. According to Dyke, “Libby combines pragmatism with one of the best legal minds in the entertainment industries and she is a great asset to the board”.
Introducing the BFI’s new board members
New member Charles Cecil MBE has been a leading figure in interactive entertainment for over 30 years and has worked on some of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling games of recent years. He founded the company Revolution Software in 1990, whose Broken Sword is one of the world’s most successful adventure series, achieving multi-million sales. He is currently a visiting lecturer at both the University of York and the National Film and Television School.
Oona King, Baroness King of Bow, is a member of the House of Lords since 2011. She is a writer, broadcaster and political campaigner and has worked as a television presenter for Channel 4, BBC, Sky, Five and ITV. She has chaired the steering committee of the Cultural Diversity Network (an organisation representing all Britain’s major broadcasters) and is currently employed as diversity executive at Channel 4.
Pat Butler is the only appointment without a clear link to the TV, film or games industry. Butler is a former director of McKinsey &Co, international management consultants. He spent 25 years with the firm and has helped CEOs and boards of global companies in the UK, Europe, Middle East, North America and South Africa on issues of strategy, organisation and performance improvement. He is a chartered accountant and also sits on the board of the Bank of Ireland.
The three new Board members appear to be typical establishment candidates, two of them graduates of the honours system. It is extremely discouraging that in the same year the Board both declined to replace an elected member and then proceeded to discontinue that post.
The modern era started with the ringing demand of the North American colonists in their conflict with the then British Establishment:
No Taxation without representation.
But it is difficult to see what representation on the Board there is for the ordinary British tax payer, from whence the majority of the Board’s funding comes. And the electorate for Member Governors is presumably overwhelmingly composed of just such taxpayers.
Given the Boards actions over the recent election one can have little confidence that they will reverse these decisions. Certainly not without substantial pressure. I have written a letter to the Board for the attention of all the Governors. My points are:
- They should rescind the withdrawal of the second Member Governor Post.
- They should either appoint the winning candidate in the recent election to the Board or proceed immediately to a fresh election.
- They should withdraw the requirement for 10% in the election.
- They should increase the representation of Member Governors on the Board.
- And they should introduce an effective method of reporting back to members and electors.
The initial response was a suggestion that I write to the Deputy Chairman who supervises the Appointments sub-committee. However, I addressed my letter to all the Governors as these decisions were taken at a full meeting.
I would encourage any concerned members, subscribers or indeed users of the BFI to write in some similar fashion to the Board. Their next meeting is scheduled for January 23rd 2014. It would be good if by then they received a substantial number of complaints and demands to that or similar effect.
Note you can contact the Board by writing to the Board of Governors and also by email. The contact should be the Board Secretary Iain Thomson.
His Office is at the BFI main building, 21 Stephens Street, London W1T 1L
Can I add a note regarding Cy Young who died last autumn. In my experience he was the most effective Member Governor that there has been for years. He will be missed.