The Cats of Downing Street

Or should we say Meow-ning Street?

Today British Pathe paid a visit to 10 Downing Street! (apparently nothing to do with David Cameron’s recent history quiz on Letterman?!) We’re proud to have a wealth of footage in our archive of the iconic Number 10 building and British Pathe filmed some of the most momentous events to have happened there over the last 100 years.

We posted a photo of our staff member John outside the famous black door onto our Twitter page earlier today. But we also managed to take this snap, a photo of the resident cat “Larry” sitting on the windowsill just behind the front door:

Larry, the current mouser at Downing Street.

Cats have long been in place at Downing Street, sitting in and purring throughout important political discussions, brushing ankles with royalty. In the 1990s John Major’s cat Humphrey became a bit of a celebrity:

A police officer strokes Humphrey

Humphrey entered the premises during Thatcher’s time in office. She allegedly made the decision to keep Humphreys, claiming that £100 spent on cat food was better than £4000 spent on a pest control contractor who’d never managed to catch anything. He regularly featured in the tabloid press and even had his own picture book published by HarperCollins in 1995.

The first Downing Street cat to appear in our archive, to our knowledge, is this one in 1940:

A superstitious symbol just seconds before Anthony Eden met with Lord Halifax.

This still image is taken from the British Pathe video “War Cabinet” in which Eden meets Lord Halifax for a critical discussion.

Then we came across this cat sitting on the lap of Harold Wilson’s son at 10 Downing Street:

Clearly Harold’s son hadn’t yet learnt the rule of not looking directly into the lens.

We wanted to find the mouser of Downing Street during Churchill’s time at the top. We’re sure there’ll be a glimpse of cat in one of our Churchill reels. In the meantime we found this pussy who greeted Churchill when he visited Roosevelt in the states in 1940:

Roosevelt’s cat in 1940

The American cats seem to be a more acerbic breed than the more casual and leisurely Downing Street creatures.

Please do help us to find more Downing Street cats in our archive. You can get off to a head start and dive straight into our Downing Street videos by clicking here:

Let us know if spot one! And you can share your findings with us either by leaving a comment below, talking to us on our Facebook page, or tweeting us @britishpathe

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:

Remember all 90,000 British Pathe reels are searchable and viewable for free on

If you find anything too good to keep to yourself then you can share it on our Facebook page, or share it with us on Twitter @britishpathe

Extreme Bodies – Gigantism!

Two in One

Most of us are lucky enough to go about our daily lives fairly inconspicuously but there are some men and women who literally stand out from the crowd. Super sized humans have always attracted much attention and fascination and even our clips about the tallest people in the world are very popular with our viewers. So we thought it was time to dig the films out and celebrate these great ones.

Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) – 8ft11

Robert Wadlow & family - Officially he's the Tallest Man in History

Born in 1918, Robert is still to this day known as the tallest person in medical history. When the Pathe cameras went to film him in 1935, he was a mere  8′ 1 1/2″. When they returned the next year, he was 8ft4″. By the time of his  death at just aged 22, he had grown to 8ft11’’. In this clip, he is surrounded by his family and even though his father was 6ft,  none of them stand much above his waist.

Ted Evans (1924-1958) –  7ft8

"I really don't think you're 9ft3 are you Ted?"

According to the Pathe notes, Ted was “the tallest man in the world at 9 feet 3 1/2 inches”. This is actually a gross exaggeration because we now know that Robert Wadlow is officially the tallest man ever at 8ft11″. Ted’s height was greatly amplified during his lifetime most likely for publicity reasons. He was in fact 7ft8.5″ but still at this great height, he was the Tallest Man in Britain at the time.   Take a gander through some of our clips on Ted going about his usual day to day business.

A Tall Story – 1946

Tallest Man – 1950

Clifford Thompson (1904 – 1955) – 7ft5

Clifford Thompson is greeted by his wife

Also known as the Scandinavian Giant, our footage makes reference to Clifford Thompson’s height of 8ft7” but other sources have noted that he was more than a foot shorter than this; he was actually nearer 7ft5”…….tiny!

John Aasen (1890-1938) – 7ft2″

Tailor climbs stepladder to measure John Aasen

There seems to be a running theme within our footage where people’s heights are somewhat embellished. This 1920s film tells  us that Scandinavian John Aasen is  8ft10″ inches tall and is the tallest man in the world.  John was in fact 7ft2″; petite compared to Robert Wadlow’s final height. However, he was one of the tallest actors of all time and according to folklore his father was 8ft and his mother was 7ft2″ – statistics that we perhaps should take with a pinch of salt!

Swiss Miss – 8ft

8ft woman at Chiswick baths in London, 1927

I’ll gloss over the man this woman is chatting to at the Chiswick baths in London…Anyway this woman is called Colossa – the Swiss Miss. At the time of filming (watch here) she was 18 years old and apparently 8ft high! We would love to hear from anyone who has more information on this lady. And was she really 8ft? The screen grab below suggests she was but we all know how cameras can lie…

Is this proof "The Swiss Miss" was 8ft tall?

Christmas Stuffing: British Turkeys Through History. (No, Really.)

Will you be having turkey this Christmas day? A lot of people have beef or even fish don’t they, or if you’re a vegetarian, a nice nut roast perhaps.

When Bernard Matthews passed away last week we had to do a bit of turkey research in the archive and were surprised to discover just how many fascinating reels there were related to a topic that we though was, well, a bit parochial.

But no! From Christmas turkey fairs to 1950s communal freezers, from stately turkey farms to the introduction of the new ‘Gobblers’ plucking machine, we were thrilled to find some of these archive nuggets.

Admittedly some of the narrator wise-cracks are a bit cheesy, but to their credit there isn’t an awful lot to say about a turkey. What makes these clips so great however are the visuals, a great insight into Britain’s age-long tradition of having a turkey dinner at Christmas!

Here are 5 favourites to watch, and then a general link to more funny old turkey videos at the bottom.

“A Short Life and a Gay One”(1921)

I don’t imagine this is a Bernard Matthews farm, but quite the opposite as we see gianormous and luxuriant turkey proudly parading around some kind of stately grounds. “But this year’s turkeys can at least console themselves that they’re cheaper than last year”. The clip moves quite suddenly from a regal panoramic shot of the turkeys showing off their glorious tail plumes, to a heartless shot of dozens, killed and plucked, hanging upside down in a shop.

“Britain’s Christmas Stocking”(1948)

Set at Woolwich Barracks in London, the clip begins with officers inspecting the chefs’ hands, who then proceed to march into the kitchen. A propaganda edge emerges as we the narrator glorifies the wonders of a military camp Christmas, whilst a homesick looking boy gets to work on making a tonne of stuffing. The video ends at Olympia’s poultry show, as people inspect turkeys in lined up in their cages.

“Christmas Is Coming” (1938)

“There’s a vast difference between being brought up at Eton and brought up to be eaten” jokes the cheesy narrator in this 1930s clip of Christmas cattle at Norwich Castle in Norfolk. Considerations towards animal rights are clearly evident, even in the 1930s, although everything is still drenched in humour, for example “It may be tough on a turkey, but as long as he isn’t a bit tough on us”.

“Turkey Farm”(1969)

With a jazzy Hark The Herald soundtrack, this High Wycombe clips is silent but offers good colour footage of a turkey farm in the 1960s.

“GOBBLERS!” (1933)

Perhaps the British Pathé archive’s most sinister turkey clip, this one kicks off all jovial with a title frame announcing “Nature’s prize walking comedians – nearest rivals to the penguin”, followed up by the macabre line “It’s a good job they can’t see their future”, only to be trumped by “And here’s a new device, the automatic plucket – doe s an hour’s work in a minute”. Sure enough the clip continues and a woman demonstrates the plucking machine. Feathers fly everywhere, to say the least!

“Food Bank’s Not a Frost”(1959)

Over to Newbury in Berkshire, 1959 and Malcolm Warrell has had a brain wave. As so many people can’t afford turkeys in the run-up to Christmas, and have no place at home to freeze them, why not start up a turkey bank! Any kind of poultry is accepted, and so the video depicts two gents marching into the freeze vaults following a spot of game-hunting, pheasants in tow. One lady arrives with a beautiful plate or ornately arranged lobsters!

The ‘Turkey Collection – Watch more clips from the British Pathé archive on the subject of Christmas Turkeys here.

British Pathé’s Robot George enjoys his 15 minutes of Fame

Robot After All: George, the Tin Man with a very big heart

The British Pathé archive acts as a resting place to several robots of yesteryear, some scarier than others, but today it was our beloved Robot George (born in 1950, Saffron Walden, Essex) who enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame in the British press.

Designed by Tony Sale in the 1950s, Robot George is made out of scrap metal from a crashed Wellington bomber. As Metro newspaper put it – “he was then consigned to the scrapheap of history” – also known as Tony’s garage, for over fifty years. Until now that was, when George was resurrected and dusted off before he is introduced to his new home – The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.

This fantastic 1950s video of George in his heyday is well worth a watch as you can see him moving his head, mouth, and then walking forwards with arms motions. It really is quite cult horror, merging upon slapstick comedy. Also in the clip can be seen a dashing young Tony, aged 19 in his RAF attire, rushing about adjusting George and controlling him with the radio handset.

See more British Pathé clips on robots here

 You might like this large collection of inventions-related clips here too.

* * * * *

 To see Tony Sale and George back in the media today, check these articles from The Sun, The Telegraph and Metro:

Age Against The Machine – The Sun

Robot George: Early Humanoid Revived – The Telegraph

1950s Robot Back In Action – Metro

We send Tony Sale our kind regards from all here at the British Pathé archive, and good luck to George in his grand new home!

Kitchen Hats: Where No Gaga Has Gone Before

The pot calling the kettle yellow: We love Madeleine's steamy number.

The latest evidence of our long-term suspicion that Lady Gaga is inspired almost exclusively by the British Pathé film archive comes in the form of Kitchen Hats, a 1959 newsreel in which British housewives literally shove a kitchen appliance on their head and pose for a designer who then recreates it in fabric.

“The days when diamonds and furs didn’t mix with pots and pans appear to have gone for good” marvels the narrator. Above is a photo of Lady Gaga having forgot to put the lid on a blender of cake mix.

Our first uncanny canister moment that just screamed Gaga, also known as a “Garchive discovery”, was on the 24th of August when we stumbled across a lady in the 1950s wearing gigantic telephone earrings:

HELLO BERYL: Was Lady Gaga’s Telephone Obsession Inspired by British actress Beryl Reid?

Then when Lady Gaga marched up to grab an award in a meat dress, our telephone ears started ringing once more as we recalled this 1920s video of men wearing exclusively calves tails:

According To Custom (1928): Young apprentice butchers celebrate an initiation by wearing calves tails and dancing in a public fountain.

Below are photos from our latest Garchive discovery Kitchen Hats. Click on the stills to watch the wonderful 1950s newsreel. And if you happen to know of any other Garchive moments in British Pathé then please do get in touch via our Facebook group.

Deirdre causes a fashion pan-demic with this saucy headpiece.

Lady Gaga’s bad romance with the British Pathe archive continues on

Twist And Shout: The Launch of ‘Twister’ in 1966. Where? Butlins Of Course!


We all know Twister! The embarrassing MB game that always ends up with a pile of panting bodies with minor injuries. I used to fear the moment when a friend’s parent would drag out the dreaded Twister mat. The game fuses three of my biggest hates: Being trapped underneath another person, being physically stretched, and colour coding.

Disguised as a game that awards those with a flair for amateur acrobatics, Twister actually favours those with a talent for amateur dramatics, because it’s all about cheating. Victory depends on switching your left foot from green to yellow, or your right hand from red to blue in those snatched seconds when the loathed judicator isn’t looking. Although if you had my child minder, she was always looking. Enough said.

British Pathé have this newsreel in their online archive of the launch of Twister! The video shows several games of Twister being played at once on a lawn at Butlins. The canister notes admit that this reel would have been 1960s advertising for the game.

It's a colour coded battle of the sexes

I’ve no idea why the teenagers have to play in their underpants, and some of the older spectators look a bit too thrilled for my liking, but it wouldn’t be a 1960s family holiday camp without scenes that combine nudity and old age would it?

Going on holiday and being forced to play Twister with strangers is my vision of hell, but these guys seem to be having the time of their lives.

In this Butlins version the red coats announce the positions, and when opponents fall they are immediately replaced with a new eager contestant, like the dashing chap in yellow and black boxers who turns out to be no match for the brunette girl in a yellow knitted jumper. It’s like a predecessor to speed dating.

Click on the images to watch the Twister video. Or WATCH MORE VINTAGE BUTLINS NEWSREELS HERE.

The battlefield is spread out across the acid green lawn at Butlins