Conferencing the International


Being inaugurated in November 1930, the Round Table Conference took place well within the age of the newsreel. Short news clips were produced for consumption at cinemas in the United Kingdom and beyond. Advances in technology allowed for mobile filming to take place, recording delegates arriving at the conference, or even in motion across the seas between India and Europe. The Labour Government took the unusual step of inviting British Movietone News to record the concluding plenary of the first session of the Conference, to nearly disastrous effect. The arc lighting required to record within St James’s Palace was so startling that Ramsay Macdonald stumbled over his carefully prepared lines, while the noise, heat and glare produced by the machinery drove many delegates to distraction. Secretary of State Benn was keen that the recording be shown at cinemas across India, but enquiries made by the Indian government suggested there would be no appetite for such showings. For the second conference session Gandhi was the star turn, monopolising most of the film footage. The third session was of such diminished scale that little, if any, film was produced.

First Session

The King's Microphone (Pathé Super Gazette, 1930)

A specially commissioned gold and silver microphone had been made for the use of King George V. A silver plate was engraved with each occasion the King used the apparatus, his 1930 broadcast at the Round Table Conference being the ninth.

His Majesty opens momentous Round Table Conference at Royal Gallery, House of Lords (Gaumont Graphic, 1930)

Video available at British Pathé

Footage of delegates and prominent British politicians arriving at the Palace of Westminster for the opening of the conference on 12th November 1930. Special attention was drawn to the Aga Khan, who was known to the British public as much for his prominence in horse racing as for his political leadership in the Muslim community.

"May your names go down to history as those of men who served India well" (British Pathé, 1930)

Further footage of delegates arriving at Westminster ahead of King George V’s opening of the conference. Special prominence is giving to the visiting Princes, who would shortly surprise popular and official opinion by coming out in favour of a federation between British India and the Princely States.

Begum Shah Nawaz Talks to You (British Movietone, 1930)

Begum Shah Nawaz was one of only two female delegates invited to the Round Table Conference to represent Indian women. Her father, Sir Muhammed Shafi, represented India at the Imperial Conferences as well as the RTC. Any sense of the Begum being overshadowed by her father was dispelled after her first conference speech, which was widely reported in the national and international press.

Getting "Airminded" (British Pathé, 1931)

In January 1931, delegates of the Round Table Conference were entertained by a flying demonstration at Brooklands' Flying School in Surrey. Among the delegates was Sir Samuel Hoare, who had been Secretary of State for Air throughout most of the 1920s, and who with his wife had completed the first civilian flight from Britain to India in 1927.

The Final Session of the India Round-Table Conference (British Movietone News, 1931)

The concluding meeting of the first session of the Round Table Conference was recorded, to the consternation of many delegates, who found the heat and noise of the lighting and cameras unbearable. The Begum Shah Nawaz's speech was included, as was the reading out of a message from the King, which the delegates listened to upstanding.

Second Session

Gandhi's London Home in the East End (Pathé Gazette, 1931)

In London Gandhi stayed with Muriel Lester at Bow in the East End. Having stayed with Gandhi at his ashram in India, Lester had adapted many of his workings for her own campaigns against war and for the uplift of London’s poor. Here Lester describes Kingsley Hall, its purpose, and why it was felt to fit Gandhi's mission.

Mahatma Gandhi embarking on SS 'Rajputana' at Bombay on August 29, 1931 (Gandhi Films Foundation / GandhiServe)

Gandhi is shown departing Bombay and at ease aboard the SS Rajputana during his journey to Europe, including a stop at Aden. He is shown arriving at Folkstone, having taken a train across France from Marseilles and then crossed the English Channel. Finally, he is shown arriving at Kingsley Hall in the East End, where he was hosted by Muriel Lester.

Gandhi's travel to London (Gandhi Foundation)

Gandhi's travel to London, with his retinue, for the Round Table Conference caused a global media sensation. This footage charts his journey from Bombay, through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean to London.

Gandhi is – Here! (Pathé Gazette, 1931)

Footage of Gandhi arriving at Marseilles, introducing Mirabehn, and showing Gandhi refusing interviews. He was depicted driving to London, having got soaked at Folkstone and then again at Friends House at Euston, in front or large and enthusiastic crowds. On arrival in London, in the pouring rain, Gandhi was received at Friend's House on Euston Road. Commentators obsessed over his body (including his exposed knees) and clothing, especially during the miserable London autumn in which the Round Table Conference took place.

Gandhi in Lancashire Sees for Himself (British Movietone News, 1931)

The boycott of British cloth which Gandhi had led in India had compounded the effects of the economic depression on the textile industry in Lancashire. Gandhi visited workers in Lancashire but was uncompromising in his views, insisting that poverty in Britain did not compare to that in India.

Gandhi's Farewell Talk in Europe (Hearst Metrotone News, 1931)

After the disappointment of the Round Table Conference Gandhi toured France, Switzerland and Italy (including an interview with Mussolini) before departing for India. Here he explains his philosophy of non-violence in Geneva, the unofficial capital of internationalism.

Conferencing the International

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