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.
This weekend, HMS Belfast, the famous ship which has inhabited the Thames since 1971 as a museum, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of her launch. The Royal Navy cruiser was launched on 17th March 1938 at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. British Pathé has footage of the occasion in its archive, which can be viewed here. The launch can be found mid-way through the clip, which begins as an item about Mrs Chamberlain opening a new airport (though due to the fact that some footage has gone missing, the clip doesn’t feature Mrs Chamberlain at all!)
As well as the launch, there are some additional films in which HMS Belfast makes an appearance. The most substantial is an item about Royal Navy cadets taking the ship to Gibraltar. The 1963 newsreel, “Cadets Try Sea Life“, features some nice shots of HMS Belfast and the cadets lined up on her deck for her departure from Portsmouth.
There are two other films of note: “Tanganyika Independent“, about the celebrations for the independence of Tanganyika (later Tanzania) in 1961, shows HMS Belfast lit up at night in the harbour. “Royal Navy Ships“, filmed some time in the 1940s, shows some crew members messing around with an HMS Belfast lifebuoy.
There are also four items from the 1970s which show HMS Belfast on the Thames. You can find the films in this collection. British Pathé stopped releasing newsreels in February 1970 (see our History of British Pathé), and so much of the material in the archive from that decade is silent, unedited, and never released. This HMS Belfast footage is a good example, but the films are an enjoyable watch due to some beautiful aerial views of London and the River Thames.
HMS Belfast saw action in the Second World War, beginning with the arctic convoys. She also took part in the Battle of North Cape and the Normandy landings. Later, she was used in the Korean War. In the 1970s she became a museum ship and has been visited by scores of tourists and history-lovers ever since. It’s worth a visit if you’ve never been.
70 years ago, the submarine HMS Thunderbolt sank for the second time, with the loss of everyone aboard. It had sunk four years previously, raised, and renamed. British Pathé has footage of HMS Thunderbolt, its launch at Birkenhead, and the original sinking off North Wales. Click here to view the collection.
British Pathé conducted interviews with Sir William on his welfare report and covered his wedding in 1942. Click here to view the films. He died on 16th March 1963.
In other news…
Nick Compton recently made his England Test cricket debut (November 2012) and is currently touring with the team in New Zealand. Nick is the grandson of cricketer and footballer Denis Compton, who features heavily in the British Pathé archive. A selection can be found here.
The British Pathé archive has a great deal of footage for the Twentieth Century popes from 1922 until 1972. A selection for each can be found via these links:
Today marks two notable anniversaries for which the British Pathé archive has some relevant footage. Most importantly, Joseph Stalin died 60 years ago, on 5th March 1953. Stalin, the former leader of the USSR, has gone down in history as one of the most controlling and murderous dictators the world has ever seen. His regime of fear caused the suffering of many of his own people – some estimates put deaths at 20-30 million. We included him in our recent gallery, 10 Faces of Evil, along with Adolf Hitler and other notorious criminals.
But Stalin is not universally derided. Although Russia itself has since acknowledged the awful crimes of his decades in power (indeed, see Khrushchev denouncing Stalin in 1956), there has been news coverage today concerning the opposing views about him in Georgia, where he was born in 1878. Some there revile him, but others proclaim him a “local hero”. The BBC News report can be read here.
British Pathé holds a great many films related to Stalin, but also newsreels announcing his death and footage revealing the reactions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia to their leader’s passing. You can find the relevant collection of films via this link.
The second notable anniversary concerns a great feat of British engineering. 70 years ago, the Gloster Meteor flew for the first time in the UK. Footage of the plane in flight from the 1940s on can be found in the British Pathé archive. Click here to explore.
For British Pathé’s collection of newsreels on the death of Stalin, click here.
For British Pathé footage of Gloster Meteors, click here.
It has been reported in the papers today that high street retailer HMV has gone the way of Woolworths, Jessops, Comet, Zavvi (until rescued by HMV), and Fopp (until rescued by HMV) – into administration. As more people shop online on sites such as Amazon, stores that you can physically go to, particularly for entertainment products like DVDs or video games, are disappearing. Kindles may well prove to be the death of book stores too. Perhaps all this is no bad thing. But the long history of some of these companies, and their places within the British cultural consciousness, make these changes sad, even if necessary.
Given HMV stores’ association with DVDs, the younger among us might be forgiven for thinking that the company was established relatively recently, but in fact it was founded back in 1921. Originally it was a sound device manufacturer and music retailer and footage of the HMV factories from its early years can be found in the British Pathé archive.
As well as some general shots of an HMV factory in the 1930s (along with a look at a sign reading “His Master’s Voice”, which was abbreviated to HMV), you can also find singer Gracie Fields visiting the huge factory at Hayes pressing her four millionth record in 1933. Another clip worth highlighting is one from 1932 concerning “voice grafting – the latest miracle of sound science”, filmed at HMV studios. View it here.
Interestingly, the history of British Pathé is linked to HMV through the former ownership of both companies by EMI. The archive was at EMI and Thorn EMI from 1969 until 1986 and a visit to the archive during that period can be found here.
View all of the HMV clips within the archive via this link.
London Underground, known colloquially as “the Tube”, is the oldest subway system in the world. Since the first service was launched 150 years ago, on 10th January 1863, it has carried an unbelievable number of passengers (now over 1 billion a year!) beneath the streets of The Big Smoke. By the time British Pathé was producing newsreels in the 1910s, there were already a number of different lines, which probably explains why so little footage of the Underground features in the archive until the Second World War, when its use as air raid shelters presumably made it newsworthy again. Indeed, prior to 1939, British Pathé often seemed more interested in the subways of other countries than in its own.
British Pathé was mainly concerned with new construction. As early as 1925 the company released a newsreel on the removal of the statue of Eros necessitated by the building of a new Piccadilly station and the next year the creation of the world’s largest tube line – from Edgware to Hendon – also earned newsreel coverage (view it here). Following the war, Transport Minister Alfred Barnes could be seen in a newsreel from 1946 opening a 4-mile extension of the Underground to Stratford (which would prove vital for the 2012 Summer Olympics). The work cost £3.5 million, employing 2000 – “sizeable figures for 9 minutes travel”. In the film, we get glimpses of tube journeys in the 1940s, including some nice interior shots of the carriages. The next year, Barnes opened another extension in Essex on the Central Line and in the film documenting it, the cameras travel through the new stations from Wanstead to Gants Hill.
The opening ceremony for Stage 3 of the Victoria Line involved the Queen not only operating the vehicle from the driver’s cabin but taking her second-ever journey in a tube carriage. The newsreel, “Queen Opens New Victoria Line (1969)”, can be viewed here.
Aside from construction work, British Pathé was preoccupied with the work of cleaning and maintaining the tunnels and stations. In 1944, we took an “exclusive” look at women war workers, known as “fluffies” or “fluffers”, who cleaned the Underground every night. An interesting reveal is the extraordinary amount of fluff created by people’s clothing during just one day. Other features on tube cleaners followed, such as on the “Rubber Man” Leonard Ware, who was responsible for erasing graffiti (the cinemagazine names “the moustache” as the most common form of it). We don’t know what was cut from this clip, but the graffiti certainly seems rather mild – and it’s all in pencil! If only Tube staff today were so lucky. You can see the light-hearted 1947 film here. There are also films from 1949 and 1950 documenting cleaning work after hours.
British Pathé always liked to show things it believed to be unknown or unusual, so as well as “fluffies”, the company had a look at less mundane uses for the Tube. These included the Post Office’s own underground railway, the telephone exchange within an unused Tube tunnel and, of course, as air raid shelters during the Blitz.
British Pathé also documented some of the tragedies which occurred on London Underground during its long history. In 1939, a terrorist attack forced two damaged stations, Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road, to be shut temporarily. Only two days after the maiden service on the Stratford extension discussed above, two people were killed when a train collided with a second, thankfully empty, carriage. Any footage of the aftermath is currently missing, but the newsreel announcing the incident is here. 1953 saw another tube crash near Stratford in which 8 adults and 1 child were killed, with 49 others injured. The newsreel shows the damaged interiors of the carriages, as well as rescue workers bringing out the dead. Luckily, the fire on the unfinished Victoria Line in 1966 claimed no lives. And while the British Pathé footage ends with the Victoria Line in 1969, apart from a few silent clips from the 1970s, an episode of A Day That Shook The World documents the horrific events of the July 2005 London bombings. An interesting look at safety on the Underground is provided by a film from 1955 showing new recruits in training, which involved miniature railways and mock-ups of various safety devices.
Finally, British Pathé’s extensive collection of strike footage also includes the 1962 Tube Strike, which made people realise “how London depends on the Underground”.
And indeed it does. This 150th anniversary is one worth celebrating.
For British Pathé’s collection of clips on London Underground, click here.
The British Pathé Education service has been nominated for a 2013 BETT Award for its digital resource available to British schools and academies. For any of you who are interested, here’s a bit of information about the subscription.
You can also watch a demo of the subscription in action below:
If this is of interest to you or your school, you can find out more information here and get in touch with us.