LENGTH: 13 minutes
CATEGORY: Educational & Instructional, Sound, Black & White
SCRIPT AND MEDICAL ADVISOR: Dr. Mary Catterall
DIRECTOR: Ken Fensom
PRODUCER/PUBLISHER: British Medical Association and British Life Assurance Trust for Health Education
Angela Saward from Wellcome Collection, London, delves into the backstory of a film conceived by doctor and activist Mary Catterall. Upon arriving in Leeds, England in the late 1950s with her husband, also a physician, Catterall was shocked at the filthy air, soot-covered homes, and gasping children in this “black town” in England’s industrial north. She treated the ill, developed a mask to improve oxygen absorption for patients with breathing problems, and in her own words, “talked graphically and frequently to doctors, city councilors, trade unions, to administrators, anyone who would listen, and to those who would have preferred not to.” She also worked with student filmmakers to develop It Takes Your Breath Away, a film that graphically illustrates the conditions in Leeds and the devastating human impact of air pollution. At the time the film was made, such pollution was implicated in 30,000 deaths in the UK. In 2021, as this essay is published, comparisons can be made to COVID-19, an illness made more severe when complicated by exposure to harmful air particulates.
Stills from It Takes Your Breath Away
In the Collections of the National Library of Medicine
NLM Rare Books & Early Manuscripts Collection
NLM Prints & Photographs Collection
Related Resources from the National Library of Medicine
Medical Research and Control in Air Pollution [American Journal of Public Health, May 1952]
General Atmospheric Pollution, Los Angeles “Smog” by Charles R. Senn, Bureau of Sanitation, Los Angeles, July 1948
Letters from readers on the usefulness of gauze in the nostrils to ward off smog, British Medical Journal, Nov. 7, 1953.
Articles and Websites
“Links between air pollution and COVID-19 in England” by Marco Travaglio et al. in Environmental Pollution, January 2021.
Death in the Air feature from National Public Radio
Orphan Film Symposium 2020: Climate, Water, Migration. Essay author Angela Saward presented a talk on It Takes Your Breath Away at this event. Dozens of other rare titles dealing with the environment were also presented at the international conference.