Mildred Elson speaking during the film. Picture: CSP/WCPT
Mildred Elson speaking during the film. Picture: CSP/WCPT

Historic film of WCPT's first congress rediscovered

A 60-year old film has come to light, providing a documentary record of WCPT’s first ever congress held in London in September 1953. Discovered by WCPT Executive Committee member Margot Skinner in the archive of a cinema in New Zealand, it provides a vivid record of one of the most important landmarks in the global development of the profession.

WCPT’s first President, Mildred Elson, is captured saying: “In physical therapy there are no barriers of language or communication. We have a common bond, a common interest – physical therapy for the patient.”

WCPT has put clips of the 17 minute film on WCPT's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/theWCPT.

Margot Skinner says that what has amazed her, looking back at this historic film, is that despite superficial differences between then and now – such as the abundance of hats in 1953 – so little has changed about the congress. “There’s the same incredible enthusiasm for WCPT, and the same excitement at physical therapists from all over the world getting together.”

“It’s fascinating that the subjects on the agenda for the first congress, such as occupational health, are still very much on our current agenda. It’s wonderful to see key figures from our profession so vividly – people who have become icons such as Mildred Elson. And London, in the year of the British Queen’s coronation, looks wonderful!”

She found the film after a colleague went to a private movie theatre in Wellington, and was told by the proprietor that he thought he had an old physical therapy film in his archive. Margot was looking for archive material to celebrate the centenary of the School of Physiotherapy at the University of Otago, where she is Deputy Dean, so she decided to enquire further. The movie house owner found the film, which was then transferred to DVD. 

Margot saw the film for the first time in early November, just before she brought it to London to show the WCPT Executive Committee at their meeting. She has no idea how the film ended up in the archive of a private movie collector. 

“It’s very striking how much organisation an event like this must have taken in the days before digital technology – even though there were representatives from only 25 countries then.”

The film was made by one of WCPT's founder members, the UK's Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, which organised the first congress. "It's wonderful that the CSP left us with such a fascinating record of a landmark event," said WCPT Secretary General, Brenda Myers.