How a 1970s public information film shot in Norwich became an unlikely internet hit with nostalgia fans

The "Not So Much A Facelift..." film features scenes in Norwich, Picture: BFI

The "Not So Much A Facelift..." film features scenes in Norwich, Picture: BFI - Credit: BFI

The ingredients are hardly a recipe for success - a folk singer, interviews about grants with city council officers and reconstructions of public meetings.

Part of Norwich's Golden Triangle feature in "Not So Much A Facelift...". Picture: BFI

Part of Norwich's Golden Triangle feature in "Not So Much A Facelift...". Picture: BFI - Credit: BFI

Yet, a public information film shot on the streets of Norwich some 40 years ago has proved an unexpected hit with nostalgia fans - making a list of the top 10 most viewed free films on the British Film Institute's website in 2015.

Click here to watch the film

Bill Burns, who was Norwich City Council's chief improvement officer, features in "Not So much a Fac

Bill Burns, who was Norwich City Council's chief improvement officer, features in "Not So much a Facelift..." Picture: BFI - Credit: BFI

The 24-minute 1976 Department of the Environment film, titled 'Not So Much A Facelift...' proved more popular than The Clangers and comedian Adam Buxton with people who logged onto the BFIPlayer's catalogue of hundreds of free films.


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Some weeks it was the most viewed film in the institute's Britain on Film collection, which, altogether, has had more than five million views since it was launched in early July last year.

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A reconstruction of a public meeting from the "Not So Much a Facelift..." film. Picture: BFI

A reconstruction of a public meeting from the "Not So Much a Facelift..." film. Picture: BFI - Credit: BFI

Described by the BFI as an 'enjoyably odd' public information film, 'Not So Much A Facelift...' charts Norwich City Council's efforts to convince people to take more pride in their homes and to take advantage of grants to make improvements to properties through a scheme called The Arlington Project.

The film, directed by Philip Harland, shows how a home in Rupert Street was converted into a makeshift council office to administer grants and loans, while Bill Burns, Norwich City Council's chief improvement project, explains the project - the creation of a 'general improvement area'.

A folk singer provides commentary, including that the quality of life there is 'better than a mile' when 'there's helpful understanding in the man from the council's smile'.

But it is clear that, as now, not everybody welcomes the council's involvement. A reconstruction of a public meeting features cynical - and sideburn sporting - homeowners questioning the scheme. One says: 'Participation? You're joking! No matter what we say and do the City Hall will go its own sweet way as it has always done'.

And Mr Burns admits: 'In the early days, we did not involve the residents in the same way we as we do now. We thought if we prepared and published plans we would get the result we were looking for.

'Instead, they formed themselves into property protection committees and this led to lots of misunderstandings, ill founded rumours and, above all, lots of unhappiness. Now, of course, we involved them right from the earliest stages.'

After visits to Blackburn and Oxfordshire, the film, which was launched at London's British Academy of Film and Television Arts in March 1976, then revisits Norwich to catch up with resident Mrs Fisher, who, after some persuasion, did sign up to the scheme.

Pictures show her home before and after the improvement and, she explains how she 'felt like a duchess' when she saw what they had done to it.

And the project, which cost more than £1m and saw some houses in the area demolished to make way for new properties, clearly got something right.

The Arlington area, which includes the likes of Newmarket Street, Only Street, Trinity Street, Gloucester Street and Mount Pleasant is now more well known as part of the Golden Triangle - considered one of the most desirable parts of the city to live in.

And in 1980, Mr Burns was made an MBE for his work - which saw him oversee improvements to more than 6,000 homes in the city.

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