Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013

It has been announced that Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister, has died at the age of 87.

Although British Pathé ended newsreel production in 1970, before Thatcher came to power, there are a few films in the archive that may be of interest. In the 1990s, British Pathé and the BBC co-produced two series, A Day That Shook the World and Twentieth Century Hall of Fame, both of which had episodes on the Thatcher years. The brief summaries can be viewed for free on our website:

1. Hall of Fame: Margaret Thatcher  – Profile of Margaret Thatcher and her political career

2. British Pathé’s Falkland Islands collection – includes A Day That Shook the World episodes on the task force setting sail and the sinking of HMS Sheffield in the 1982 war.

3. A Day That Shook the World: IRA Bombs British Cabinet in Brighton

4. A Day That Shook the World: Thatcher Falls From Power

There are three additional films from the 1970s. One, a news report on Woolwich’s efforts to battle against the school milk ban (the source of Thatcher’s nickname “Maggie Thatcher the Milk Snatcher”) is worth a look. It can be viewed here.

The other two are not so interesting. There’s some brief shots of Thatcher getting out of her car and entering Number 10 part-way through this random assortment of Whitehall scenes and there’s some mute material featuring impersonator / comedian Janet Brown pretending to be Margaret Thatcher in Brighton in 1975.

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Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure whose impact upon the course of British politics and modern history is incalculable. Her premiership and her legacy will be debated for a long time to come. Feel free to express your own thoughts and feelings below.

British Pathé’s profile of Margaret Thatcher can be viewed here.

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The 2013 Grand National

This weekend, the 2013 Grand National race will be held at Aintree. The sometimes controversial competition (equine deaths are common, and you can read CNN’s interesting article here) has a long history, and British Pathé has footage dating back to 1919.

One of the most famous races is that of 1967, which included perhaps the most notorious pile up in Grand National history. Foinavon had odds of 100/1 to win the race. Even his owner Cyril Watkins did not both to attend Aintree because the chances of a win were wholly improbable. As expected, Foinavon did not play a competitive part in the race until at the 23rd fence, a loose horse cut across the riders causing all the horses to either fall, unseat their riders or refuse to jump. Foinavon and his rider, John Buckingham, are so far behind that they manage to bypass the shambles, jump the fence and take a lead of 200 yards. Although most riders were able to remount, no one managed to quite catch up with horse and rider, and no owner or trainer was in the winner’s enclosure to congratulate them!

Explore a chronological list of British Pathé’s Grand National collection here.

The 1919 Grand National.
The 1919 Grand National.

www.britishpathe.com

This Week’s Anniversaries and News

The Rolling Stones have announced that they will be returning to Hyde Park in the summer for the first time in 44 years. The last time they performed there it was 1969, and Pathé’s coverage of the concert can be viewed here.

In other news…

The Korean War

Tensions between North Korea and its Southern neighbour continue. British Pathé footage of the Korean War may be of relevance.

UK now made up of 7 classes

New research has revealed that the “working”, “middle”, and “upper class” model of British society is no longer adequate and that in fact there are 7 classes in Britain today. The British Pathé archive highlights class differences during the Twentieth Century. Some of the most interesting films can be viewed here.

Key anniversaries…

Martin Luther King  (4 April)

Today: It is 45 years since the great civil rights activist Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. The British Pathé newsreel covering his death is here.

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Grand National  (6 April)

The 2013 Grand National will be held this weekend. British Pathé has coverage of many Grand Nationals from as early as 1919, including Foinavon’s famous victory in 1967. Explore the collection via this link.

Jim Clark Killed  (7 April)

 45 years: Jim Clark died on the Hockenheim Circuit in Germany in 1968. The newsreel announcing his death is  here.

www.britishpathe.com

Unknown Yom Kippur War films

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The British Pathé archive holds nearly 90,000 individual clips. Most of the descriptions you’ll see on the website were taken from handwritten notes, composed either by the cameramen at the time of filming or by former archivists decades ago. The notes were all fed into a computer database at the beginning of the new millennium. Some amendments were made at that time, and steadily since, but there is still much work to be done.

Due to the sheer number of films in the collection, there are a great many that our staff members will never have seen and perhaps never will. This means that we need the help of the public to ensure that the information displayed is accurate. We’ve been fortunate to receive a great many emails over the last few years with some really terrific and helpful corrections to the descriptions, but the volume of them means that we just can’t keep up with all of the necessary changes. In fact, we currently have a backlog of about five thousand!

We therefore launched a comment facility when our new website went live and we’ve just updated the system to make things easier for you. It allows any registered user to leave a comment beneath a clip (to register, just click “join” in the top right-hand corner – It takes a couple of seconds and is completely free of charge). We’re able to monitor all of the comments made, so eventually we’ll be able to correct the descriptions based on what you’ve shared – and, in the meantime, at least all of that information will be available for viewers in the comments section.

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Our new comments box

We want your help identifying dates, locations, people and events throughout the entire archive. But, just to get you going, we’re making a specific request for information about these films from the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

British Pathé only has a few clips from that conflict and we’re unclear about many of the details. If you know the dates, locations, types of tank and armoured vehicle, information about the troops, etc., do please leave a comment beneath the relevant clip.

We are very keen to make our archive as informative and comprehensive as possible. The details that you provide will be of use to future generations of historians, researchers, programme-makers, and members of the general public. Thank you for your help!

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For British Pathé’s collection of Yom Kippur material, click here.

For an interview with Moshe Dayan from around the same time, click here.

The First Mobile Phone

You may have seen in the news today that it is the 40th anniversary of the first mobile phone call. However, there may be competition for the title. Only a few days ago a video came to light of a woman in 1938 using a device that looks suspiciously familiar to modern-day eyes. The Daily Mail carried an article about it which seemingly explains the mystery of the wireless phone.

But amazingly, the British Pathé archive has some even earlier footage of a mobile phone call being made – from 1922! It caused quite a large amount of interest three years ago, and although we have shared it before, we thought the occasion called for us taking another look. For those who haven’t seen it – the world’s first mobile phone.

Simon Atkins, an ex-Royal Signals Officer, explained to us how the device works:

“The two ladies are using a small simple HF radio, probably a ‘Cat’s Whisker’ type. For it to work it needs to be earthed, which is why it’s connected to the fire hydrant. The antenna or aerial is the wire in the umbrella. On the receiving end the telephonist is using an HF radio and puts the microphone next to the record player. For the two ladies to hear she would be pressing the pressel switch.”

One of the visitors to our site indicated that the device is probably a “Home-O-Fone”, produced by the Radio Receptor Co. in New York.

View the film here.

Everest Climbs

George Lowe, part of Edmund Hillary’s team that conquered Mount Everest in 1953, died on Wednesday at the age of 89. Obituaries can be read online – The Guardian‘s is here. There are now no living members of that pioneering expedition. Fortunately, their written accounts, the Conquest of Everest documentary, and various newsreels survive for future generations to enjoy. British Pathé sadly has no footage of the expedition itself (though there is material from earlier Everest expeditions), but we do have films celebrating the team members upon their return. You can view a selection here.

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Other Expeditions

On the 3rd April, it will be the 80th anniversary of the First Flight over Everest. In 1933, a British team set off for the pioneering mission. Footage of the team can be found via this link.

The British Pathé archive also contains coverage of the 1924 expedition, the 1952 Swiss expedition, and the American expedition in the 1960s. All the Everest films can be found in this collection.

For the Everest 1953 collection, click here

For the 1933 First Flight collection, click here

For the complete list of British Pathé material on Everest expeditions, click here.

The Closing of Alcatraz

On 21st March it will have been 50 years since that well-known prison, immortalised in numerous films and television shows, shut its doors in 1963. British Pathé covered the news in the film “Everybody Out!” which claims to reveal the interior of Alcatraz “for the first and last time” – though this seems to be an exaggeration since the interior features in earlier Pathé clips as well! In the minute-long clip, we see the last remaining convicts moved to other prisons (view the newsreel here). A film from the year before, “Alcatraz Replaced“, announces the decision to close the prison and also shows its replacement, called “Marion”, under construction.

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As the films explain, Alcatraz was originally an army fort. It was therefore an ideal location for an “escape-proof prison for America’s worst criminals”. It closed due to lack of space for the rising US prison population.

But “escape-proof” wasn’t an entirely accurate description for the prison. Break-out attempts at Alcatraz were numerous (14 in total during the island’s 30 year history as a state penitentiary) and three of them feature in films within the British Pathé archive. The first escape film seemingly dates from 1938, though it describes events of the year before, and warns the American public to be on the lookout for inmates Ralph Row and Ted Cole, who apparently succeeded in breaking out, though it is now presumed that they perished in the attempt.

Stretcher carrying covered body of Bernard Paul Coy, who started the revolt of 1946.
Stretcher carrying covered body of Bernard Paul Coy, who started the revolt of 1946.

The second film, from 1946, covers a dramatic gun battle between prison guards, marines and the prisoners. Some of the grenade explosions are caught on camera by newsreel staff eager to ignore the danger for the sake of some close-ups. The 44-hour battle left two guards and three convicts dead. Two other inmates were later executed.

The final film, “Daring Escape” (1962), features an image of a lifelike dummy in one of the prison beds used by the escapees to fool the guards. The fugitives were never caught, if indeed they survived the attempt. The events might be familiar, because they formed the basis of the 1972 Clint Eastwood film, Escape From Alcatraz.

Today, Alcatraz is a museum which, given its history, must be worth a visit if you are ever in San Francisco.

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View British Pathé’s Alcatraz collection here.