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:

http://www.britishpathe.com/search/query/downing+street

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

Pearl Harbor: 70th Anniversary Today

Click to view the fantastic new video on War Archives' YouTube channel

Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on the US naval base Pearl Harbor, a surprise attack conducted by the Japanese that led to America’s entry into World War 2.

Hollywood movies, books, essays and endless documentaries have been made on the topic of Pearl Harbor, a day that Franklin D. Roosevelt announced at the time “will live in infamy”, and still a hotly-debated military subject today.

However, like all history, nothing is better than watching footage of the actual events themselves if possible. In the British Pathé Film Archive we have a copy of the first newsreel to report on Pearl Harbour, and this footage was later used for a British Pathé documentary series entitled A Day That Shook The World.

This morning, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we uploaded these scenes onto our YouTube channel War Archives. Click on the screengrab above to view it now.

Less than a minute’s footage of the actual surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was recorded, and that was by accident by a local doctor trying out his new camera, but remarkably he managed to capture the blowing up of the Arizona – and so this features in our reel. The rest of the footage was recreated by John Ford in Los Angeles at Fox Studios immediately after the attack. The American War Department directed him to recreate the scene so that it could be issued around the world as a key piece of reasoning in why America had declared war on Japan and entered WWII.

Ford’s original feature was called 7th December and ran eighty-three minutes. However the War Department were worried about showing the full-length film because Ford did such a good job of depicting how unprepared the American troops were for such an attack, and were concerned therefore that the movie might damage morale.

Of course, as with all sensational moments in history, ambiguity gave way to conspiracy and some have claimed that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor never actually happened, or worse still, was conducted by American forces, and was used as a mechanism to trigger and kick-start America’s entry into the war.

To add to the confusion many news groups since, including CNN, have confused the recreated scenes for the real thing.

Pearl Harbor was made into a successful Hollywood film 60 years later, starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

www.youtube.com/wararchives

View all 90,000 British Pathé newsreels for free online at: http://www.britishpathe.com

Footage discovered of The Red Woman of Paris – the scandalous Madame Steinheil.

Marguerite Steinheil and Baron Abinger's wedding day, 1917
Every now and again a seemingly innocuous clip is brought to our attention when someone discovers there is more to it than meets the eye. A friend of Pathé, Commander Tony Bullock, who has been kindly researching naval footage within our archive, came across a fairly bland 30 second clip of a 1917 naval wedding. There is not much information attached to the footage apart from one name – Madame Steinheil. 

Boring? Yes perhaps but not until Commander Bullock looked into who this Madame Steinheil was, did he realise that this footage is of a notorious French woman with a scandalous reputation and sensational complex history who was dubbed the Red Woman of Paris. She was most famous for her association with the death of the French President Félix Faure and later she was implicated in the murders of her own husband and stepmother. She was quite possibly the most talked about woman in France at the turn of the 20th century.  

The French President Felix Faure

Marguerite Steinheil, (née Japy ) later known as  Lady Abinger and Mme de Serignac was born in to a wealthy family and after her marriage to a successful painter, Adolphe Steinheil, she immersed herself in Parisian high society and became extremely well connected to influential men within political and social circles, even counting the King of Cambodia as an admirer. Marguerite first met the French President in 1897 when her husband was awarded a contract.  Her husband’s frequent meetings with the President meant Marguerite became well acquainted with Faure and soon she became his mistress, often paying him visits in the private residence of the Palais de l’Élysée.

On 16 February 1899, Marguerite made one of her illicit calls to the palace. Many rumours and much speculation surrounded the events but it was widely reported that when servants were called to the boudoir, Steinheil was adjusting her clothing, her hair was tousled and the President lay dead from a seizure – allegedly brought on by a passionate session. Mme Steinheil was quickly ushered out the back door.

The French Femme Fatale

The embarrassment and shame that surely ensued after her connection with the death of the President did not, however, deter her having affairs with other men; in fact, she became the mistress of many more prominent men. Later doctors would go on to describe her as, “a highly neurotic subject with a pronounced tendency to hysteria, she seems to have exercised a curious spell upon all the men with whom she came in contact”. Her je ne sais quoi and femme fatale charms might explain why there were reports that men including the President even entrusted her with secret documents and manuscripts.

Scandal was not to stop there. On May 31 1908, Marguerite’s husband and stepmother were found dead having been gagged, bound and strangled with a cord. Marguerite was also found gagged and bound to the bed but notably unharmed.  Although she told police that there had been four intruders dressed in long black robes, she was a suspect from the start. The police initially did not have the evidence to prosecute but her stories began to unravel when she went on to deliberately frame her valet de chambre by planting a piece of evidence in his room. When her plot was unveiled she subsequently accused her housekeeper’s son of committing the murders. She was arrested later in the year and charged on complicity in the double murder.

Steinheil explains herself in court

The events surrounding the murder and the trial caused a feeding frenzy in Paris and there was a gender divided opinion.  And although the court had called her stories a “tissue of lies”, the rather theatrical trial climaxed with Mme Steinheil’s unexpected acquittal. After her narrow escape from the guillotine, Steinheil moved to England and in 1917 she married the 6th Baron Abinger, Robert Brooke Campbell Scarlett who served in the Royal Navy.

And so here you have it, British Pathé captured this newly married couple leaving the church on their wedding day. At first it seemed a fairly unexciting clip except now we know that this is footage of a woman embroiled in two of the biggest scandals of her time.

Behind every face, there is a story

Watch the short clip HERE.

Ronald Reagan Films: How The B-Movie Cowboy Became President

Smile and the world votes for you

Long before Ronald Reagan became an emblem of 1980s world politics he was a Senator of California, and an actor before that. Reagan’s early years are naturally shadowed by his later prominence, but thankfully British Pathe were there to capture Reagan’s formative years on film.

For example in this clip Ronald Reagan takes Patricia Neal to the Royal Command Film Performance in 1948 and meets the Queen. All of the women wear luscious fur coats, the men have their hair greased back. It’s useful to note the power that celebrity holds over American politics and the importance of building alliances with notable Hollywood figures.

Titled “Election Shocks” this British Pathe reel celebrates Ronald Reagan’s success in the 1966 election – “by a colossal million majority, the candidate is already spoken of as a Presidential candidate for next time”. This clip is also special as a historicak source in that it shows Edward Brooke laughing and waving as he is voted in to represent Massachusetts – “The first negro to win a seat there since the civil war”

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger today, Ronald Reagan became the Senator for California largely on the back of his celebrity and familiarity with the public. Whether this position will act as a middle ground too for Arnie between being an actor and a world leader remains to be seen.  Reagan was clearly a presence amongst the American political ranks for a good couple of decades before his appointment as President. He is name-checked here in a video documenting the 1964 election. President Johnson makes a dramatic and enraged speech, and then the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater makes a speech in a sold out Dodger’s Stadium. It’s interesting to learn that supporters bought tickets to hear Dodger talk.

You may be wondering which other famous figures were captured on camera by British Pathe before they reached the rocky heights of their career peak? To name a varied few – videos of George Orwell, David Dimbleby, Melanie Griffiths, and Arnold Schwarzenegger himself appear in the British Pathe archive.

Britain To Vote: Election Hysteria Sweeps 1950s Britain

News sites are buzzing today with General Election material now that the pivotal days has been called to take place on May 6th. Already journalists have been scooping for scandals relating to all MPs and parties involved, whether it be secret plans to increase death tax or B&B landlord bigots, and in the four week run-up matters are only going to intensify. Yet the sensation and apprehension around a General Election is nothing new, in fact, Britain is incredibly apathetic towards politics compared to decades past. This 1951 news reel entitled ‘Britain To Vote’ demonstrates just how heated public debate used to be regarding British politics.

The clips shows Clement Atlee leaving 10 Downing Street to make a speech, followed by rare footage of the 1950s “election expert” Lord Woolton  and other political candidates such as the dashing Labour Party secretary Morgan Phillips hard at work.

It is the 1950s vox pop though that makes this news reel utterly priceless. The cameraman interviews outraged members of the British public, apathetic glamour girls and even pokes a microphone into a man hole to interview a refuse worker –  “Well come on up and tell us what you think about it.” It’s hard not to laugh at these highly strung civilians, but maybe the joke is on us for being so blase.

Watch British Pathé’s rare video footage of the 1951 election hysteria here