The Milky Way UK (1948)

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The Milky Way UK

Title The Milky Way UK
Year of production 1948
Country of production Royaume-Uni
Director(s) Donald Rawlings
Duration 35 minutes
Format Parlant - Noir et blanc - 16 mm
Original language(s) English
Production companies Wallace Productions Limited
Commissioning body United Dairies Limited
Archive holder(s) Wellcome Collection
Warning: this record has not been reviewed yet and may be incomplete or inaccurate.

Main credits

THE MILKY WAY. Direction Donald Rawlings. Camera J. E. Ewins. Supervision A. V. Curtice. Sound Peter Birch, R. A. Smith. Produced for United Dairies Limited by Wallace Productions Limited.



THE MILKY WAY. Direction Donald Rawlings. Camera J. E. Ewins. Supervision A. V. Curtice. Sound Peter Birch, R. A. Smith. Produced for United Dairies Limited by Wallace Productions Limited.

Main genre



FROM THE WELLCOME COLLECTION CATALOGUE "A comprehensive look at 'the milky way' - the process of milk delivery from cattle breeding to milk delivery on the doorstep. Having explained the need for pasteurisation, the film thoroughly illustrates the entire process: milking under hygienic conditions; delivery to country depots for testing; to processing depots for pasteurising; to central laboratory for final examination and bottling; to distribution depots; and, finally, delivery. The narration reminds viewers to rinse and return empty bottles (the film is sponsored by United Dairies) and then offers a glimpse of the washing process. Similarly viewers are reminded that, during World War II, pasteurised milk was vital to children's health. Stereotypes of British housewives in the 1940s appear throughout. This is offset with some good laboratory shots of female technicians testing milk quality."


This film on milk does not treat the question of nutrition. Like many sponsored industrial films, this film takes us to rural landscapes and inside factories that we would might not otherwise have a chance to visit. The topics of the film reflect the concerns of those working in dairy research and dairy production: agriculture, animal husbandry, animal health, increased production, and making milk safe by preventing spoilage and transmission of bovine tuberculosis. As a film produced by the dairy industry, it educated consumers where milk came from and on the lengths taken by the dairy industry to ensure that milk was safe for consumption. Here the dairy industry does not attempt to sell milk for its nutritive value.

The Milky Way was produced in 1948. It was estimated that 31 gallons of liquid milk per head were consumed on average by every individual in Great Britian in 1949 and that approximately 5 % of the total population of the country was supported by the dairy industry. At this time, notable discourse came on one hand from many acting against processing of milk, such as Lady Eve Balfour, author of the seminal volume on organic farming and the organic movement, The Living Soil (Faber & Faber, 1943 - its eighth edition published in 1948) who was particularly critical of pasteurisation. On the other, the medical bodies that pasteurisation increased in the 1940s, such as the Medical Research Council and Sir Graham Selby Wilson, bacteriologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, author of the landmark volume The Pasteurisation of Milk (Arnold, 1942) who developed the phosphatase test and promoted the merits of pasteurisation. The film notably features an animation to explain the HTST (High temperature short time) pasteurisation method introduced to Britain in the 1940s, a more efficient method than those used in the 1920s and 1930s. Pasteurization was debated in Britain from 1900 to 1945. Anti-pasteurisation activists were notably sceptical of modern technology adamantly opposed pasteurisation, as well as the use of fertilisers, chemicals and mechanised cultivation which would degrade soil fertility, while the medical sphere supported pasteurisation as a means to fight non-pulmonary tuberculosis (by ending the transmission of bovine tuberculosis) and the dairy industry saw pasteurisation as a means to extend the shelf-life of milk. In 1942, the Ministry of Agriculture implemented the National Milk Testing and Advisory Scheme. And after 1945, pasteurisation became increasingly common. (It became compulsory in Scotland in 1983, but never in England or Wales.) The film comes as a clear argument for pasteurisation with Mrs Harris representing the British population that was sceptical of modern technology and perceived a threat in unnatural or processed foods. The film demonstrates that this view to be rife with erroneous beliefs, and Mrs Harris is, like the spectator, enlightened by the film. The film argues modern (good) versus traditional (poor) practices. This however, does not directly address the ongoing argument for organic and natural food, which remained a strong movement in Britain.

United Dairies, formed upon the merging of a few smaller dairies in 1915, and based out of Wiltshire was one of the largest dairies in the United Kingdom by the 1950s; They acted for the sale of pasteurised milk from the 1920s. The company was also a large user of milk trains (like its competitor Express Milk) to transport milk to London.

Structuring elements of the film

  • Reporting footage  : No.
  • Set footage  : No.
  • Archival footage  : No.
  • Animated sequences  : No.
  • Intertitles  : No.
  • Host  : No.
  • Voice-over  : Yes.
  • Interview  : No.
  • Music and sound effects : Yes.
  • Images featured in other films : No.

How does the film direct the viewer’s attention?

The film takes the spectator to the pastures and dairy farms, to the milking rooms, along the roads and rails to the depots and bottling plants. By following the “way” of the milk from the cow to the doorstep, each step of milk processing is explained, with particular emphasis on testing schemes and pasteurisation. Not only does the film “convert” the doubtful spectator, but also illustrates what large dairies, like United Dairies, do.

How are health and medicine portrayed?

Health and medicine are present in the film as the motivation or argument for the processing of milk. That is, through processing, milk is pasteurised and repeatedly tested to make it safe for consumers and herein reduce infant mortality. The film does not discuss nutrition. There are multiple scenes of bacteriology laboratories, which figure as pivotal places in the milk production.

Broadcasting and reception

Where is the film screened?


Presentations and events associated with the film




Local, national, or international audience




Supplementary notes


References and external documents