Edifying Archive Footage: Thomas Edison – Rare Film Recordings

Film of Thomas Edison in 1928

Today it’s the anniversary of Thomas Edison’s death in 1931. Much to our astonishment there are clips of Thomas Edison in the British Pathé film archive, and various fragments of his film work.

A film by Thomas Edison ‘The Forge’ appears, and is one of the oldest items in British Pathé’s entire archive, dating back to 1894, although the exact date is subject to an academic debate in film history circles.

Then there’s this wonderful clip of Thomas Edison himself on his 84th birthday. He sits on a chair outside in the sunshine and talks about talking pictures:

“I have a little trouble now and then, but that’s because I’m getting old. What do I think of the talking pictures? Well I don’t know, I’ve never heard one!” he chuckles.

“What do you think of the Einstein theory?” asks the man next to Edison.

“I don’t think anything of the Einstein theory because I don’t understand it!”

See more Thomas Edison clips and footage related to the great man here:


Amy Johnson – 1930s Queen of the Air

Bravo Amy! Amy Johnson on her return from South Africa

Amy Johnson was a much- fêted and courageous English aviatrix. Back in the 1930s she set many ground breaking records, including being the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. A heroine of her day, the Pathé cameras would often be waiting for Amy to commend and report on her achievements.

In 1933, during a flight from South Wales to the USA, Amy and her aviator husband, Jim Mollison, crash landed in Connecticut and according to our Pathé notes it was “after Husband ignored Wife’s advice to stop and refuel”. One would have thought this would have been significant advice and urgently acted upon in a 1930s aeroplane!

You can watch an interview with the couple after their crash landing. The pair are wheeled out in bath chairs to talk to the press. Jim, with a cigarette in his hand, resembles someone who has been in a considerable brawl. He calmly states, “we didn’t arrive in quite the way we anticipated”. One can only imagine what a wife would be saying to her husband after such an event….perhaps along the lines of ‘I did tell you we needed fuel”.

"Jim, I told you we needed fuel"

The extent of both Amy and Jim’s celebrated status at the time can be seen in this film where 200,000 New Yorkers turned out for an extraordinary ticker tape parade in their honour. If it wasn’t for the enormous bandage taped to Jim’s head, the parade could be mistaken for a Presidential inauguration party.

Heroic welcome in New York

 The last film we have of Amy is from 1939 when she swapped her aeroplane for a fast car and took part in the Monte Carlo car rally. Amy died on a short flight in 1941 when her plane came down miles off course in the Thames Estuary. She was just 38 years old. Many conspiracy theories and rumours surrounded her death at the time and even to this day there is still not a clear explanation as to what happened. For such an accomplished woman whose decorated career and movements were filmed by Pathé, it does seem strange we have no film in the archive mentioning the tragedy that befell her. However, at least we only have positive reminders of this British star.

1939, Last Pathe footage of Amy Johnson

Ejector Seats for Dummies: British Pathe were there when everything sprang into action

Look - just smile for the cameras okay kiddo

Tinker, tailor, soldier, ejector seat guinea pig. It’s the sort of job a Briton just wouldn’t do these days, let alone in beautiful Buckinghamshire. But here they are, in broad 1950s daylight, rocketing men up towers of scaffolding to test ejector seats in Denham. As the narrator says – “You either like that sort of thing or you don’t”. Certainly, families part with a lot of money for similar experiences at funfairs and theme parks. Watch the lads playing with their ejector seat here, or see further below for unused reels from the same base. Ernest Greenwood and Toni Luchetti are noted in the canister notes as being two of the mechanics in the video.

Here in Philadelphia, they used giant safety nets to catch their ejected. Startling footage:

Is it a dummy? Is it a man? Don't tell us.

It’s 1964 now and we’re spending the afternoon with the Ministry of Defence in South Wales. Luckily they’re not ejecting unemployed actors this time, but crash dummies. When you see the speeds you’ll see why:

It was either this or a sheep.

The video below shows an ejector seat in action in California. The pilot springs out of the aircraft, hurtles through the air in his chair and lands in the ocean. Thrilling archive footage:

Now which button was the ice dispenser?

For more ejection take a look in the British Pathe archive online at www.britishpathe.com or perhaps retro shop dummies are more your thing? It’s all in there!

Valentina Tereshkova – The First Woman In Space – June 16th


Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space, 1963. Named Woman of the Century in 2000 by the International Women of the Year Association, Valentina is the only woman to have carried out a solo flight into space for over 3 days, and consequently has a crater on the moon named after her. 

British Pathé seemed to take a great interest in this female cosmonaut’s celebrity and worldwide fame that came about following her successful mission. 

This video shows Valentina Tereshkova visiting her hometown in Russia alongside her elderly mother. The pair are greeted by a group ecstatic local girls with flowers in their hair. Vast crowds gather in the town square to see Valentina. 

Then British Pathe released this newsreel of Valentina Tereshkova being welcomed by Nikita Khrushchev, the then Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Russia. 

Soon afterwards Valentina married another cosmonaut, sparking a media obsession with “The Cosmonaut Romance”. Valentina’s marriage to colleage Andrian Nikolayev  came be seen in this wedding clip here, the narrator comments – “Even in the lives of cosmonauts, there’s space for love” 

And in this video Valentina visits London: 

Woman Cosmonaut Honoured 

Valentina is now a retired cosmonaut who still makes appearances at international events and ceremonies. At the 2008 St. Petersburg Olympics Valentina became an official torchbearer in the torch relay. 

Early film footage of Valentina Tereshkova’s first (and only) space flight. (Picture below from this clip)  

Mum! I’m in Space!

Congratulations Valentina! You’re still an inspiration to us all today.

“Vesuvius – Terror of Italy!”

Volcanoes never fail to make the news. These sleeping giants that populate various parts of the earth are dangerous, merciless and – despite advanced geology and knowledgeable modern-day volcanologists – their activity remains largely unpredictable.

British Pathé documented dozens of volcanic eruptions over the years, sending brave cameramen up the Martian terrain of these exploding beasts to capture priceless footage of lava flows and toxic ash. The clip above is some brilliant 1935 footage of Mount Vesuvius erupting.

The rather poetic narrator romanticises this famous volcano that gives “voice to the penned up energy of the powers of the earth”, and he continues to warn the viewers that “one false step means a dreadful death.” This footage is genuinely unique and yet only one clip amongst hundreds in the archive that relate to volcanoes. Expect more detailed volcano posts from us in future.  For now, you can see 12 archive videos of volcanic eruptions here on the British Pathé Film Archive

The Guardian’s bulletin on the current Icelandic saga

Taking in the toxic view