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DATE: 1964

LENGTH: 13 minutes

CATEGORY: Educational & Instructional, Sound, Black & White


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….Read The Essay

Supplementary Materials

Stills from It Takes Your Breath Away

In the Collections of the National Library of Medicine

NLM Rare Books & Early Manuscripts Collection

Air pollution in Donora, Pa: Epidemiology of the Unusual Smog Episode of October 1948

Free Films on Air Pollution [Many of these films are available from the National Archives and Records Administration]

NLM Prints & Photographs Collection

Posted by:lmthan

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