Balloon Boy Found!

Picture taken from the Herald Tribune's interview with Bill Crawford.

A friend of the archive sent in a link to a Herald Tribune interview with 82-year-old Bill Crawford, discussing his fame as a balloon stunt child star. Crawford used to hang for dear life onto a giant balloon and hop all over his home town of Bradenton, and our friend was convinced they’d seen a video of this in the British Pathe film archive. We’re thrilled to say that yes, we do have a video of little Bill Crawford flying balloons at the tender age of just 4! We’ve uploaded the video onto our YouTube sister channel Sporting History so that you can all embed it into your own blogs, share it and enjoy it. Here’s the video:

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The History of Beatboxing: Rahzel Talks to British Pathe

We recently uploaded the video below onto our YouTube channel, titled “World’s First Beatboxing Champion in 1938“, in which an impeccably dressed man gives us some good spit on the Pathé Studios mic:

We were then surprised to see several comments accusing us of faking the video! “Just a bunch of guys dressed like the date, with a set for the date” suggested one viewer. And so we were forced to come clean and admit that yes, this clip wasn’t actually beatboxing (as we know it today) but was a man impersonating a “big string bass” – but that’s not to say it’s a fake. The video is an original reel from 1938.

The piece actually comes from this video The Radio Revellers from our free online archive, and the song is called “There’s a Tavern in the Town”

For the YouTube version we tightly edited the video, a few seconds prior to where the YouTube version takes off one of the Radio Revellers actually says that the guy is about to impersonate a big string bass (double bass / cello etc.) We also cropped the YouTube video’s frame size so that his hands (which are playing “air double bass”!) are less visible – fortifying the illusion that it is beatboxing. Our hope was that this would help the video fall before the eyes of a younger audience who like beatboxing and so subsequently introduce them to the thousands of delightful music hall clips in our archive.

Then, to our amazement, world-renowned beatboxing superstar Rahzel got in touch with us sharing some insight on the history of beatboxing. Rahzel told British Pathé “Your video is actually of scatting, and if you Google scatting that guy wasn’t the first. When technology kicked in in the 1980s, i.e. drum machines, Grand Master Flash made the Gemini drum machine called “the beat box”, and then a gentleman called Douglas E Fresh was called “the human beat box” because he imitated it so well, hence beatboxing was born.”

We asked Rahzel if beatboxing was derivative of scatting and learnt that it is in a way although if we look back further we can find beatboxing routes in the West African tradition “hocketing”.

Rahzel then asked if we could play the movies “Beat Street” and “Wild Style”. We’re not sure if these are feature movies, Rahzel beats, or just videos on YouTube – we were too shy to ask the mighty Rahzel (although we don’t think he was referring to any British Pathé reels!)

Although you may think us a bunch of archive woolies – we’d actually already heard of the beatboxer Rahzel here in the British Pathé archive as a couple of us here are Bjork fans and Rahzel provided the beats for Bjorks’ single Who Is It, as well as other tracks on her acapella album Medulla (beatboxing percussion is allowed with acapella you see!).

Here is Mr. Rahzel in action:


Words by Jack Cullen.

The Secret Story of the CIA’s Francis Gary Powers

Francis Gary Powers in 1962 meeting the Senate Armed Services Committee. Click on the image to find all of the videos mentioned in this blog post.

February 10th 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union handing over Francis Gary Powers in exchange for Colonel Vilyam Fisher. One of the highest profile cases in the Cold War, British Pathé followed the story from Powers’ crash through to his safe but controversial return. Other videos on this page include the original trial of Rudolf Hess, a press conference held by President Eisenhower and a British Pathé tour of a famous U-2 plane.

SEE THE FOOTAGE! – Already a Francis Gary Powers expert? To skip the post and watch the footage, click here!

Secret intelligence pilot Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane was shot down on the 1st May 1960 by a Soviet surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk. The target destination of Powers’ espionage mission had been the site of the Kyshtym Disaster.

Powers parachuted to the ground and was captured by Soviet troops, crucially he was unable to activate his U-2’s self-destruct mechanism before evacuating the plane. Back in America CIA didn’t realise this failure to destroy the vehicle and so when Powers’ plane finally landed (almost fully intact) Soviet intelligence were able to study its surveillance equipment and learn about U-2 technology.

Francis Gary Powers was the first pilot to be successfully hit by a Soviet S-75 surface-to-air missile, new Soviet technology that finally enabled them to counteract US espionage missions which had been taking place some 70,000 feet above the Soviet Union for some years. CIA didn’t know that Soviet Union now had the technology to hit U-2 planes as they were so high up, causing sceptics to doubt the circumstances of Powers’ crash and subsequent capture and some worried how much information has been sucked out of him during interrogations.

On August 17th 1960 following a very high profile trial Powers was sentenced by the Soviet Union and imprisoned for three years and then made to serve seven years of hard labour in Vladimir Central Prison (where Powers developed a good rapport with his fellow prisoners).

This British Pathé has coverage of the 1960 trial. This first reel “Powers Trial – Ike’s Comment” shows Powers’ wife and father entering the court in Moscow, and we see people inspecting the plane’s wreckage and other pieces of evidence. Eisenhower issues a statement from Washington refusing to comment on the trial itself in case this worsened Powers’ position in the trial. 

In another reel “The Powers Trial” we can see shots of the trial itself (no foreign journalists were allowed to attend). The narrator suggests the trial is more of an ideological battle than about the specific events of Francis Gary Powers’ mission announcing “Russia directed her venomous attack largely against America itself”

Eisenhower also appears in this British Pathé reel “President Defends Spying” discussing U-2 planes and stating “no one wants another Pearl Harbor. This means that we must have knowledge of military forces and preparations around the world, especially those capable of massive surprise attacks”

On February 10th 1962 Powers was exchanged along with an American student Frederic Pryor for the Soviet Colonel Vilyam Fisher (also known as Rudolf Abel like in British Pathé’s reel) who had been captured by the FBI in Berlin. Upon his return Powers was awarded CIA’s Intelligence Star, but was criticised by some for the various imperfections of his failed mission.

British Pathe have this video of the exchange in the archive called “Headlines In The U.S. – The Abel For Powers Exchange” with a commentary by Peter Roberts. The narrator explains how it was lucky that Abel had not been sentenced to death by the Americans upon capture as this would have meant they couldn’t swap him for Powers.

The original arrest of Rudolf Abel is shown in this 1957 newsreel “Red Spy Nabbed” filmed in Brooklyn. Used a building within view of the Assistant US Attorney’s office and had an office studio with high-powered radios. “He is the highest ranking Russian ever arrested here on spy charges, he could pay with his life”

In this British Pathé reel “Gary Powers Vindicated“, perhaps the most popular newsreel covering this entire subject, we see Powers explaining his crash to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and demonstrating with a model U-2 how his plane should have self-destructed. The press ask Powers what he told the committee, he replies “Well I don’t have much time, all I know is there seemed to be an explosion, I don’t know what caused it but I feel that it was not in the aircraft itself”. “So do you believe it was a rocket?” asks the journalist. “Well I can’t say that, but I think that it was external. How it got there I have no idea.”

A U-2 plane filmed by British Pathe in 1967 at a Bedfordshire airbase

British Pathe also have this interview with Powers’ father Mr. Oliver Powers after he attended a trial hearing Russia. He tells the press  “We are thankful to have the opportunity of seeing Francis, however briefly, once again. I should also like to voice our appreciation to the Russian people for their courtesy and consideration which they showed us.” When asked is Francis has any requests the father fights tears back and admits that he asked for warm clothing for the terribly cold Russian winter.

Powers died in a helicopter crash in 1977 when his Bell 206 Jet Ranger ran out of fuel. It is thought that at the last moment he’d noticed children playing where he’d intend to land, and so he sought alternative landing place. If he had landed where originally intended then he may have lived.

For more information on the U-2 planes themselves, this quirky British Pathé reel filmed in Bedfordshire is useful with good close-up shows of U-2 planes and a high altitude pressure suit demonstration from pilot Ken Mason.

Other material in the British Pathe Film Archive relating to the Francis Gary Powers story include this mini documentary “Espionage” has footage of the Francis Gary Powers trial.

Franz Reichelt Day! February 4th – 100th Anniversary of Eiffel Tower “Death Jump”

Today is the 100th anniversary of Franz Reichelt’s attempt to fly in Paris on the 4th February 1912. His choice of venue to demonstrate his solo flying contraption? The Eiffel Tower. The results? Not good.

British Pathé houses the shocking video of Franz Reichelt’s “Death Jump”. You can watch the only existing High Definition version that is viewable to the public for free on the British Pathé YouTube channel here:

The original canister notes are also a fascinating read and can be seen on our archive website here:

Notes and information regarding the Franz Reichelt Death Jump.

The video was never actually issued by British Pathé, perhaps due to its shocking nature as the video shows the exact second that Franz Reichelt dies as he plummets terrifyingly to his death, and the aftermath scene is rather shocking too as Parisien press members rush forward to measure the depth of the hole left by Franz Reichelt’s body.

However today this video is one of the most viewed British Pathé videos. A plethora of low-quality stolen versions appear on YouTube, but British Pathé are proud to have the best quality version of the reel on display.

New British Pathé Website! – Find Out What’s New and Start Enjoying our New Archive!

Sophia Loren in the British Pathe film archive, now viewable on iPhones and iPads.

Due to the increasing popularity of British Pathé we thought it was time to build a better website for you, and so we are thrilled to announce today the launch of our new online archive. Take a look at these exciting new features:

Surf British Pathé on the move: The entire archive can now be watched on iPhones, iPads and other smart devices using our improved video player.

A newly enhanced search facility: All 90,000 reels are now dated and correctly tagged, and so an extra 20,000 reels are findable using the new timeline search tool.

Editorial sections: including thematic stills galleries and archive features. New content will appear each week! Amongst our first batch of galleries is British Pathe’s Guide to Etiquette, Hollywood Goddesses and even a gallery about startling pairs of teeth from yesteryear!

Exclusive programmes: Online series that are free to view. First up it’s ‘Hall of Fame’ and ‘A Day That Shook The World’. Look out for rare British Pathé series from the past such as Secrets of Nature and Feminine Pictorialities.

Comments: That’s right – we are going to let you leave comments on our videos now! You can add details and facts, point out people you know, share your thoughts in general and perhaps be reunited with old chums!

Workspaces: You can now publish and share your own mini collection of reels within the archive, selecting clips of a certain theme or topic that interests you.

We’re really excited to have this new site which is now live, and proud to say that it is entirely free to use. No login is required but if Your British Pathé login details will still work just the same.

Check out the new archive now: NEW BRITISH PATHÉ ARCHIVE!


The History of the Helicopter: Early Helicopter Footage

We recently posted a compilation video of early helicopter footage onto our YouTube channel. The video uses eight different reels from the British Pathé film archive, and there are some others that didn’t make it into the final cut. The history of the helicopter and the quest for vertical flight in the early 20the century is a vast and interesting subject that was very well documented by British Pathé. We have to admit that in selecting footage for the YouTube video we went for a certain aesthetic, choosing images that “looked helicoptery!” when the truth is that there were several plane / helicopter hybrids such as the autogyro that pioneered for some years, as well as related projects such as zeppelin technology and bizarre prototypes for what would eventually become known as the hovercraft.

Here is an embedded version of the video and beneath it is links to the full length versions of each video used with the original Pathé title, dates and the length of the original reel (which you can watch for free by following the link).

And now for the videos used in this compilation:

Aerial Merry Go Round” (1921) – 1 minute 24 seconds

Shots of very large propellers slowly turning, we see an early helicopter taking off in a rather meandering fashion and men diving out of its way!

The Helicopter” (1921) – 1 minute 38 seconds

An early helicopter sporting a giant oblong balloon (as used in the thumbnail for the YouTube video) hovers and sways unsteadily with men rushing about beneath it and directing it along a field.

New Era In Flying” (1922) – 1 minute 22 seconds

Mr. Pescara, a key individual in the history of the helicopter, is seen with one of his first machines. The helicopter is much lighter than previous models and has four rotors.

Vertical Flight Soon” (1923) – 1 minute 14 seconds

Mr. Pescara appears with an improved version of his helicopter. The helicopter’s flight is still a rather higgledy-piggledy affair and the vehicle lands nose first.

Perseverance Rewarded” (1924) – 1 minute 41 seconds

The final video of Mr. Pescara used in the YouTube compilation. We see him in an open cockpit flying in his new and improved helicopter!

Helicopter Demo” (1940) – 1 minute 34 seconds

Various shots of helicopters (possibly Sikorsky helicopters) flying over factory rooftops and in group formations.

U.S. Air Force Tests Helicopter” (1943) – 1 minute 43 seconds

A great clip that didn’t make it into the YouTube edit, this video shows men jumping out of helicopters from a height of several metres, and good close-up shows of a man manoeuvring a helicopter a little bit like an arcade game!

Mass Flight” (1948) – 1 minute 45 seconds

Shots of photographers on the ground filming the helicopter as it takes off. Nine helicopters seen flying in formation and flying over water.

Welsh Airlift” (1949) – 1 minute 51 seconds

A Sikorsky S-51 helicopter is seen hovering over the Welsh hills in Croesor Valley, Festiniog. The YouTube edit uses a clip of the helicopter crashing and pilot Dennis Bryan leaving the vehicle seemingly unharmed before explaining what went wrong.

Helicopter Service For BIF” (1950) – 1 minute 56 seconds

A great clip showing the first ever public helicopter service, like a bus service. We see a sign with information about the service and then footage of people waving the helicopter off into the distance.

For more helicopter clips please do conduct your own search in the British Pathe film archive. We recommend going to the homepage and typing in “helicopter” into the search bar and then selecting the Sort By: Year option.

You can ask us any questions by joining our Facebook page, or by chatting to us on Twitter, or via the contact page on

On This Day: Donald Campbell Killed in 297mph Lake District Crash

The first Pathe News Special announcing Donald Campbell's death. The reel has some great (if not eerie!) footage of Coniston Water.

Today is the 45th anniversary of daredevil speed engineer Donald Campbell’s tragic death on Coniston Water in the Lake District, Great Britain. Campbell was only 45 years olds, he was attempting to break the landspeed record by breaking the 300 mph barrier. For decades Donald Campbell was a childhood pin-up to boys in Britain and around the world, and he had been a popular subject for British Pathé who filmed many of his world record attempts.

So popular was Campbell that when he crashed his vehicle Bluebird at Coniston Water British Pathé rushed to push a newsreel out to cinemas as soon as possible, and so they issued a Pathé News Special simply announcing the news of his death. They then followed this up with a more dramatic piece showing the crash itself.

In the Pathé News Special from 1967 the narrator announces “Donald Campbell the man who lived for speed is dead… his love for speed has cost him his life. During the past few weeks he was dogged by misfortune. Early engine trouble forced him to hold off a record attempt, then the weather was against him.. Pictures of the last tragic moments at Coniston are being rushed to this theatre!”

And here is that footage, a second newsreel issued by British Pathé called Fate Stepped In:

The second Pathe reel shows the crash itself. Here we can see Bluebird just seconds before it flips across the lake.

The macabre newsreel has an unusually shaky start as we hear the final words and sounds of Donald Campbell over the top of a blank screen, a rather sensationalist move on Pathé ‘s part. The Pathé narrator then explains how the conditions were actually quite smooth, but the night before Campbell “drew the Ace and Queen of Spades, the deadly shadow of remorseless fate – he was a superstitious man”.

It’s bizarre now to see a newsreel that is so speculative and melodramatic in its tone, but this style of news delivery has maintained itself partially across the decades. Although newsreaders are more regimented and factual today it is still quite common to see an on-location news anchor rounding up a reports with a relatively creative ending, perhaps incorporating a literary quote or an epigram. British Pathé was a forbearer of that emotive style.

Leading up to the crash scene we see incredible close-up shots of Donald Campbell’s vehicle bluebird setting off across Coniston. From 01:45 the lead up to the crash is shown, Bluebird speeding across the surface of the lake when suddenly it lifts into the air, flips and smashes down.

The narrator talks of Donald Campbell’s legacy as the newsreel ends with shots of the Bluebird K7’s wreckage and Campbell’s family and friends collecting pieces of debris.

To see British Pathe’s collection of all 16 Donald Campbell newsreels, including footage of his many fantastic world records, see below:

The Donald Campbell Archive

You can view all 90,000 British Pathé newsreels for free on