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The discovery of penicillin.

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Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)
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About this work


A government produced film about the discovery of Penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming, and the continuing development of its use as an antibiotic by Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain. The film uses many modernist animations to depict the scientific research. British Industrial Film Association National Award, 1964; a First Prize, Fifth International Industrial Film Festival, London, 1964; a Diploma of Merit, Melbourne International Film Festival, 1964.


UK : Central Office of Information, 1964.

Physical description

1 encoded moving image (11.44 min.) : sound, color



Copyright note

Crown copyright, managed by BFI.

Terms of use

Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales

Language note

In English

Creator/production credits

A Central Office of Information film. Produced by T.V.C. London Limited, written by Donald Holms, animated by Dave Rich, Gordon Harrison and Dennis Hunt, camera by John Williams, edited by Alex Rayment, music by Peter Snade and directed by Denis Rich.


This video was made from material preserved by the BFI National Archive.


Segment 1 Paintings of scenes of poverty, hunger and disease are shown as a male narrator tells of how humans have been trying to fight these 'ancient enemies' for years. He explains that this film will tell the story of how one of the mightiest weapons against disease was forged. Opening credits. A laboratory is seen and he says that today, penicillins are only one group of antibiotics among many. Footage of Alexander Fleming, Dr E.B. Chain and Sir Howard Florey is seen, described as the team that brought curative power to millions. The story of how Alexander Fleming discovered mould growing on a bacteria culture in the 1920s is told. Animations are seen that represent his tests, finding out that a liquid version proved lethal to germs even when diluted. Fleming published his work and attempted to purify penicillin and extract its essence. However, he failed. Next, the story of Dr Howard Florey and E.B. Chain's research is told. An animated flow chart shows their work on purification and extraction of pencillin. They manufactured a brown powder, and Florey prepares for the 'great test'. Time start: 00:00:00:00 Time end: 00:05:39:12 Length: 00:05:39:12
Segment 2 Florey injects the germ streptococcus into mice (shown by animations) and treats half with the brown powder penicillin. They all survive and become healthy again. The team then attempt to purify it for use on humans. Dr Chain and another researcher, Dr Abraham try another method of dissolving it and passing it through a tube of layers, again shown in animations. The result could be successfully used on humans. By now, the Second World War was ongoing, and the drug was needed to treat soldiers. As it was in short supply, the United States was asked to help. The scientists there devised better methods and produced larger amounts on an industrial scale. After seeing the benefits of the drug, Alexander Fleming addressed the British government about the need for large scale production. Quotations from The Times and The Lancet are seen, supporting this cause. Britain begins producing penicillin, and photographs of the large production vats are seen. A map of the world is shown, with the narrator saying that people all around the world began to benefit from the drug. People from different countries are seen. Next, the development of other antibiotics in the penicillin family is described, again using animations. Footage of the three scientists at the Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine ceremony in 1945 is seen. Time start: 00:05:39:12 Time end: 00:11:44:12 Length: 00:06:05:00



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