A Gift for Love is a film about a seven-year-old girl, Judy, played by Amanda Humby, finding her mother the perfect Christmas present with the 6 shillings and 8 pence in her money box. The only problem is that they both live a fairy tale existence, not only do they have everything they want, her mother (according to the narrator, Michael Redgrave) also has a kind husband and her own bank account! Whilst shopping Judy notices her mother’s interest in a lavish designer brooch from New York made of platinum and diamonds.
As Christmas approaches, Judy notices a pretty brooch (made of glass) in the window of a shop but is distraught to discover that it is sold already. The kindly narrator intervenes and takes us on a journey to visit one of the makers of the jewellery, Margaret Penrose, a young “lonely” woman with cerebral palsy (CP), who painstakingly constructs another brooch using a number of aids in her home. As if by magic, the brooch appears on Judy’s Christmas tree together with a Christmas card (also made at home by a young man with CP, Tony Davey).
Charity cards are a familiar feature of our Christmases and the film observes “that Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a Spastics card on the mantelpiece” (millions had been sold by the 1960s). Added festive schmaltz is provided by Dame Vera Lynn singing ‘A Gift for Love’, which was specially written by John and Ian Dawson-Shepherd.
This heart-warming, seasonal tale was conceived and written by Ian Dawson-Shepherd, one of the founders of The Spastics Society now known as Scope. In 1951 along with Eric Hodgson, Jean Garwood and Alex Moira, they met to discuss the formation of a society to provide better educational provision for children with cerebral palsy. The aim was considered so elusive it was described at the time as “harder than entering the kingdom of heaven“. The National Spastics Society was created in January 1952.
During the 1960s the charity expanded rapidly, opening over 70 centres and schools. It was particularly successful in leveraging high-profile charitable support from various celebrities in films such as Penny Parade, which features Harry Secombe, and The Contact, starring a young John Hurt.
A Gift of Love was made by Libertas Film Productions. The producer, Margaret K. Johns, was one of only a few female film producers working in the 1960s. She was married to the Society’s founder Dawson-Shepherd. Libertas Films made many of the Spastics Society films, but was liquidated in 1967. Its most impactful film was Every Eight Hours, which re-enacts some of the Society’s early meetings, with narration by Richard Dimbleby.
Many of the films demonstrate a highly creative approach to telling a story and promoting understanding of cerebral palsy, mixing fictional elements and real people with the condition in the films about their lives. There are 26 film titles sponsored by the Spastics Society hosted by the Wellcome Library on YouTube and in the Library viewer. The films span the early days of the organisation from 1952 right through to 1983 when the focus turns towards empowering disabled people to speak for themselves. Speaking for Ourselves is also the title of an oral history series funded by Scope to capture the experiences of people with cerebral palsy born in the 1950s.
The Scope archive is deposited with in the Wellcome Library. It includes artwork and posters to add to the 161 boxes of organisational material transferred from Scope earlier in 2015.
UK Disability History Month is from 22 November – 22 December.