Production company: Pat Hanna Productions
Budget: n/a, low
Locations: mainly Efftee's studio in the fire damaged Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne, with some newsreel war footage, and stock footage of London tourist highlights. Old Melbourne goal became a medieval castle
Filmed: beginning early October 1932, for a six week shoot.
Australian distributor: Universal
Australian release: the film was released as a double bill with Efftee's Harmony Row, beginning Hoyts Theatre De Luxe in Melbourne 11th February 1933 (running six weeks), and then as a double bill in other capital and regional cities, often with the Frank Thring/George Wallace comedy Harmony Row.
Rating: For general exhibition
35mm black and white
Running time: 72 mins (Oxford Australian Film)
While the film did relatively good business as part of an Australian double bill with Harmony Row, not much of the money returned to the producers, and Hanna almost certainly didn't make much money on the venture.
Hanna claimed that the film returned a net profit in a letter to the Courier-Mail on 7th March 1934, but that it had taken over a year "to receive back our cost of production."
Hanna tried one more time with Waltzing Matilda in 1933, again using his Diggers material, but convinced the system was stacked against independent producers, Hanna gave the game away. He was vociferous in his complaints to the government inquiry into film distribution in Australia at the way producers didn't get a fair share of the box office.
Diggers in Blighty did not travel well internationally, not even in Britain, with a storyline ostensibly designed for that market, but as with other Hanna titles, he continued to mine re-releases of the show well into the nineteen fifties.
None known, though the film did receive a belated screening in the second ever Victorian Film Festival in Melbourne's Exhibition Buildings in March 1953.
Not known outside the archive.
The comedy material and characters were derived from Pat Hanna's stage revue Pat Hanna's Diggers, as amended and cobbled together by a team of writers. The film largely used the cast from the stage show.
For more details of this source, see Hanna's first film venture on this site, Diggers.
The National Film and Sound Archive, in its notes on the film, lists silent movie director Raymond "The Sentimental Bloke" Longford as the director of the film, but the Oxford Australian Film lists Pat Hanna as director, and Longford as associate director.
Contemporary press references also list Longford as associate director, with Hanna credited as the director.
Given Hanna's proprietary interest in the Diggers property - he had been mining the characters and the material on stage in Australia and New Zealand since the early nineteen twenties - and his refusal to work with producer/director F. W. Thring after creative differences over the first film of Diggers, it is most unlikely Hanna would have offered Longford the key director credit.
Longford did however pick up an acting gig as a comical German officer, Von Schieling, along with helping out the film-inexperienced Hanna on directorial duties.
Previous creative arguments with Thring did not, however, stop Hanna from hiring Thring's Efftee studio, and then releasing the film in company with the Efftee production Harmony Row, featuring vaudeville star George Wallace.
However Thring's studio had its drawbacks. There were a number of complaints about the quality of the sound in Hanna's film - a "Niagra of Noise" - and Hanna later explained that the His Majesty's Theatre studio had significant technical issues.
While the stage was used as a de facto studio, the auditorium itself was a mass of twisted steel wreckage as the result of a fire.
"It would have to be abandoned", said Hanna, "because steel wreckage in the auditorium interfered with the recording equipment so much that it was at times almost impossible to record any scene without recording also wireless programmes being broadcast from various stations. "The place is ridden with wireless music," he said. "Even when speaking over the telephone you can hear a strong background." (Sydney Morning Herald, 24th February 1934)
3. Box Office:
The habit of covering theatrical "nut" (the cost of operating a theatre) and then some in Australian exhibition was established in the early days to the detriment of local productions.
Black books, cash in the paw, phantom tickets, and similar devices were favourite tricks of the trade, and distributors also learned the art of writing off costs to ensure that only a small amount of rentals would return to the producer.
There was an intimate relationship between theatrical chains and major US and UK distributors, and only companies like Cinesound - which had a sister company relationship with Greater Union - could hope for relatively fair treatment.
Independent producers like Hanna simply lacked clout and were vulnerable. Hanna gave evidence into the 1934 government inquiry into film which related to the box office for the double bill of Diggers in Blighty and Harmony Row:
"…In the suburbs of Melbourne, "Diggers in Blighty" and "Harmony Row," two feature comedies, together grossed £8,000. The producers jointly received £2,0000, which was 12½ per cent for each picture. In the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, the two pictures drew £3,079 in two weeks" (Sydney Morning Herald, 24th February 1934)
"…shown at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, had receipts for two weeks, according to General Theatres Corporation, of £3,079. Of this sum Mr. Thring and his (Mr. Hanna's) company received in all only £463, from which they had to pay for special advertising £150, leaving the small sum of £313 to be divided by Mr. Thring and the company as film hire. After a season of nine weeks in the De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne, which he believed, to be the record for any picture in that theatre, these two pictures were accepted and played throughout the circuit controlled by General Theatres in the suburbs of Melbourne. The takings were, he believed, about £8,000, which, if it was analysed, would prove that two Australian feature pictures each received 12½ per cent. of the takings. If these figures were compared with the terms which both Fox Films and British Empire Films received from independent exhibitors, the position became obvious that Australian pictures were playing under a tremendous handicap. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6th January 1934)
Thring knew the game, having acted as distributor and exhibitor in his days with Hoyts. C. E. Munro, managing director of General Theatres asked him at the inquiry:
Did you say when you were distributing films that 20 per cent was the most you could pay?
Thring replied: I might have said anything. I was selling films then (Laughter).
Mr. Asprey: You are producing films now. Are you "saying anything" now? - The point of view alters.
Mr. Thring said that the present position was that Australian producers had to prove the value of their pictures in a theatre before they could be bought, whereas English and American pictures were bought a year ahead. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6th January 1934)
After one more go at producing a film - Waltzing Matilda - Hanna gave the game away, and Thring, on his premature death in 1936, was said to have lost a net fifty seven thousand pounds on his feature film, short film and studio ventures.