Physical Fitness for the Nation (1936 British Pathé Video)

The 1930s were a tumultuous period of European history. Traditional political structures appeared to be faltering, fascist regimes were rising and the modern fitness levels appeared to be dropping dramatically. The following video, taken from the wonderful British Pathé archives, gives a snippet into the British government’s attempt to reverse the political tide and create a nation of strong and fit men.

As detailed by Charlotte MacDonald’s fantastic work, the 1930s saw the British government placed in an uneasy situation. Fascist regimes in Italy and Germany were becoming celebrated for their physical fitness. Britain on the other hand was cited as increasingly sedentary and unhealthy. The Government felt a need to increase physical activity but was concerned about the importance of democratic choice. Whereas Italy and Germany could use mandatory systems of physical training, British politicians wished to encourage, but not force, citizens to exercise.

The result was a series of ‘keep fit’ campaigns, which eventually culminated in the passing of the National Training and Physical Recreation Act of 1937. The Act, as explained by MacDonald, sought to fund voluntary organisations and thereby revive the British nation’s love of fitness. The above video represents the Act’s educational wing.


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