Disabled Britain on Film is the latest free release by the British Film Institute (BFI) on the BFI Player and it includes three historic films made by the Le Court Film Unit and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire.

As well as on the BFI Player, disabled film maker Brian Line’s musical documentary Maybe Today can be viewed on the Rewind website. In this film, Brian tells a story of how disability can occur to a person and follows the efforts of the fundraising residents at Le Court Cheshire Home to build a new wing enabling them to have more modern accommodation. It includes footage of Brian taking part in a sponsored hitchhike, a folk soundtrack with songs composed by resident David Martin and volunteer Michael Cairns and performed by local band Scarlet Lace.

Five men in a posed photo at a film premiere
Nick Dance (left) with Brian Line and Leonard Cheshire at a film premiere with Lord Snowden

The film makes clear that residents led the way in not only fundraising but designing the home; resident Ms. Iris Chant chaired the building committee which considered all fixtures and fittings down to adapted taps, light fittings, the correct heights for sinks and intercom.

The other two films concentrate on Group Captain Cheshire’s humanitarian work and were made in conjunction with Hollywood film director David Lean and fleet street photographer Norman Potter. Norman’s photographs were used, interspersed with filmed footage of people living in Cheshire Homes alongside David’s interviewing skills.

two men sat in front of shelves of film reels
Leonard Cheshire and David Lean sat in a film archive

Whilst some of the terms used by Leonard Cheshire in a Hidden World are not used today, he attempts to demystify different types of disability and shows footage of real life experiences of disabled people. This film is of its time but is an interesting snapshot of how disability was viewed in the 1970s and gives an idea of what Leonard was trying to achieve through his work – to support disabled people to live the lives of their own choosing.

Chance Encounter sees David interview Leonard about how they met in 1950s India and the work carried out by Leonard Cheshire and wife Sue Ryder at Raphael in the foothills of the Himalayas. Raphael was the place where both humanitarians joined forces and it held a special place in their hearts. They made a final pilgrimage there in 1992 when Leonard received his diagnosis of Motor Neurone disease. This journey was documented by Anglia TV and David Puttnam in the film ‘Indian Summer’.

Leonard and Sue receiving an award from Princess Margaret
Leonard Cheshire and Sue Ryder receiving the joint Variety Club Humanitarian Award from HRH Princess Margaret in 1974