Identity Cards in Passport to Pimlico (film still from Passport to Pimlico)

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

As the citizens of Pimlico celebrate their new-found independence from Britain in Ealing’s postwar comedy, they keep the pub open late, and it’s not long before the thorny issue of licensing hours comes up. When a police chief asks for the landlord’s identity card, it’s torn up in front of him. The bar patrons promptly follow suit, tearing up their identity cards and ration books and throwing the pieces into the air, in a scene likely to have gone down well with postwar British audiences. The banker (above) burns his.

The ID Cards had come in during 1939, as part of the National Registration Act, and the idea was as unpopular then as it is today. In 1950, Liberal Party member Clarence Henry Willcock was asked to produce his and refused, apparently telling the police constable “I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing”. He was prosecuted – the fine was ten shillings – and promptly mounted a campaign against the cards under the banner of the “Freedom Defence Association”. He even tore up his own card.

Willcock was the last person in the UK (for the moment, at least) to be prosecuted for not producing an ID card. They were eventually abandoned in 1952, although it looks like they may be on the way back.

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