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Wellcome Film of the Month: Stoke Mandeville Games, 1972

7 Sep, 2012

It’s impossible to miss – London is currently playing host to the Paralympic Games, the most successful games in terms of tickets sales and gaining unprecedented media exposure for athletes with disabilities. The roots of the Paralympic movement are in the United Kingdom, at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which has historically specialised in spinal injuries. In fact, the first competitive games was set up by a neurologist, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who was working with paralysed veterans of the Second World War and ran parallel with the 1948 London Olympic Games. 64 years later, many of Paralympic GB’s athletes (often single or double limb amputees) have also served as soldiers in more recent conflicts around the World.

The journey from 1948 to 2012 has been quite long and this newly discovered film gives us the opportunity to rewind the home movie projector back to 1972 and watch this 16mm colour amateur film which features competitive summer games at Stoke Mandeville. The footage, made by an unknown person, features disabled participants taking part in the shot put, discus, javelin, archery, track races and basketball. Events have players who are either standing or seated. Proceedings are well organised with participants having numbers pinned to their clothing and performances being recorded.

The film was made in the year of the IVth Paralympic Games, which took place in Heidelberg, West Germany, 2-11 August 1972. At that point in time the Paralympic Games were intended for wheelchair users only, although on this occasion there were also events for visually impaired participants. The Stoke Mandeville Games, 1972, took place in the same summer, parallel to the ‘official’ games; this appears to have given non-wheelchair participants an opportunity to compete. The film also gives a brief glimpse of the scale of participation and attendance at the Stoke Mandeville Games – the audience for some events is at times many people deep. Towards the latter half of the film, there is an awards ceremony (although, unfortunately the film has no audio, which would have helped in the identification of winners). The presentation of the medals takes place encircled by a number of national flags and there are also a few identifiable teams with matching tracksuits. It is a relatively informal affair. There are also exterior views of the ‘Stoke Mandeville Sports Stadium for the Paralysed and Other Disabled’.

The film originates from a large collection of films donated to the Wellcome Library by Scope, a charity for disabled people and their families. Prior to 1994, it was known as The National Spastics Society.  Over four decades the Society made films as part of a sustained campaign for more provision for children and adults with disabilities. Examples from each decade are: Chance of their lives, 1952, which was made to campaign for specialised education and training for children; Every eight hours, 1960, looks at the setting up of residential schools for this purpose; The right to work , 1974, focusses on finding employment for people with disabilities and; Shift of emphasis, 1984, looks at how the Society can empower its members to have a greater say in their futures. More recently, Scope produced an oral history pack, Speaking for Ourselves, created from the testimonies of people with cerebral palsy who have lived through these changes.

Angela Saward, Wellcome Film  

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original files, which are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

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