It has been terrific sharing our collection with you over the last five years. We do hope you’ve enjoyed these blog posts (if you haven’t, we can only apologise) and that you’ll follow us to our new home. Our blog is leaving WordPress and will now be hosted on the main British Pathé website. You’ll find our favourite past blog posts up there too. And, just like with WordPress, you can enter your email address to continue getting new posts sent straight to your inbox.
Do let us know what you think of the new blog and the sort of posts you want to read. You can get in touch by emailing email@example.com, leaving a comment beneath this post, or connecting with us via FacebookTwitter.
Our very best wishes,
British Pathé is considered to be the finest newsreel archive in the world and is a treasure trove of 85,000 films unrivalled in their historical and cultural significance. Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage from around the globe of major events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, science and culture. The entire archive is available to view online for free via the British Pathé website and YouTube channel.
For the last few decades, holidaying in Iraq has, sadly, been almost impossible. The country has been synonymous with war, violence and oppression for such a long time that the idea of visiting seems very fanciful for anyone born after the 1960s. 40 years ago, Iraq was in fact a popular destination for tourists. But for now, we can only travel there through the medium of film.
We posted an article, “Iraq Before Saddam“, a few days ago, featuring ten films from the history of Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion. But one of them deserves special attention.
The Pathé documentary unit shot a two reel documentary called Ageless Iraq back in the 1950s. If you disregard that the film was probably made for propaganda reasons (the notes say the film was made for the Iraq Petroleum Co.) and instead just view it as a travelogue, it paints a fascinating and extremely appealing picture of this ancient land.
It is easy to forget that Iraq is in fact a country steeped in rich history and culture and as the first reel tells us, the very beginnings of civilisation started here. This is a country where writing was conceived and where man began cultivating the land. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through Iraq, fertilising the plains and during the 1950s agriculture production was thriving and self-sufficient. Iraq is also home to the ancient walls of Babylon and is the birthplace of the prophet Abraham.
Both reels show images of a landscape, culture and society that we just don’t associate with Iraq anymore: art, horseracing, music, cuisine and boats leisurely sailing down a canal in Basra otherwise known as “The Venice of the Middle East”.
The narrator states at the end: “Ageless Iraq, a new country but one that hasn’t forgotten the glories of its history. A country that is now emerging from the shadows of it past to a future bright with promise.” Let’s hope that this will soon be true again and that perhaps, one day, we will be able to book a flight to explore this fascinating land.
The Channel Tunnel opened on 6th May 1994 (this month marks its twentieth anniversary), but it was being discussed for decades prior. British Pathé chronicled some of the early discussions. These films from the British Pathé archive, available on YouTube, allow you to follow the development of the project from 1936 to 1968.
1. THAT CHANNEL TUNNEL (1936)
Various shots of William Low’s design for a Channel Tunnel.
On 31st December, Tracey Curtis-Taylor completed a mammoth solo flight from Cape Town to Goodwood in Britain. She had been expected earlier in the month, but bad weather hindered her progress. It was a terrific achievement that did not receive as much press coverage as it deserved. Curtis-Taylor was recreating Lady Mary Heath’s historic flight in 1928. British Pathé covered that journey and you can view the original newsreel here.
Lady Heath was a pioneering aviator and she was also filmed preparing to leave for a flying tour of America (also 1928) and regaining her pilot’s licence in 1931 following a terrible accident.
Helicopters have matured from unsteady, erratic machines that struggled to lift the pilots off the ground, into stylish contraptions with exceptional flying capabilities. Pathé recorded some of these early trials in which inventors desperately tried to get their machines to get off the ground.
3rd July 2013 marks 75 years since the famous steam locomotive “Mallard” broke the world speed record. British Pathé has some interesting films of this great engine. This collection holds all five films, or you can view the individual clips via the links below.
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.
Twice a month we blog about footage in the archive relevant to upcoming events or important anniversaries. There are always plenty, so we can only present a selection and you can search the archive for more at www.britishpathe.com
It will have been 100 years since the birth of Richard Nixon on 9th January 1913. The American President, who was disgraced by the Watergate scandal, features in a great many British Pathé newsreels. Explore them here.
85 years ago, the great writer Thomas Hardy died and his heart was buried separately from his body. British Pathé has footage of the burial of the heart in Dorset in 1928. Click here to view the newsreel.
We’ll be publishing a blog post all about this shortly, but we can’t miss it off this list of important anniversaries! British Pathé celebrates 150 years of the Tube with a collection of clips featuring construction footage dating from 1922. You can also see the tunnels used as air raid shelters during the Second World War, extensions of the lines in the late 1940s, and the work of cleaners and technicians after-hours. The innovations of the 1950s also get a look-in, while there is extensive coverage of the building of the Victoria Line, as well as its opening by the Queen. Click here to explore the collection.
Check back in two weeks for our next installment. In the meantime, you can visit www.britishpathe.com for more vintage films.
There’s been some sad news that the famous liner Queen Elizabeth 2 (or “QE2”) has been sold as scrap. [UPDATE: It appears that these headlines have been exaggerated. Although the QE2 has indeed been sold to the Chinese, there is no evidence that she will be scrapped.] She follows a great many other luxury vessels, such as Titanic’s nearly-identical sister ship Olympic, in this and it would come as little surprise had the announcement not been made in July that she was to become a hotel. The news is a great shame for ship-lovers. In tribute, then, to that great ocean voyager, we thought we’d share two newsreels about the QE2 from our collection (you can search the website for more).
The first is coverage from the launch of the QE2 in 1967. In the clip, the Queen examines the new liner, officially names it (seemingly after herself, though accounts differ as to whether the ship is intended as Queen Elizabeth the Second or the second Queen Elizabeth) and watches as the QE2 rolls down into the water. “May God bless her and all who sail in her.” It’s an impressive sight, as this image reveals:
The newsreel commentator ends with, “Like her great predecessors, the new liner will write a further chapter in the history of ocean travel.” Watch the film here.
The second we’d like to share is coverage of the QE2’s maiden voyage in 1969. The cameras take a brief tour and see the crew on the bridge of what is described as “the greatest ship of her type afloat”. She leaves Southampton and starts ploughing the sea as the passengers drink champagne and enjoy the journey below. Watch the film here.
After this maiden voyage, the QE2 went on to have a long and illustrious career. She left service in 2008 having carried 2.5 million passengers across nearly 6 million miles of water and had even taken part in the Falklands War. Plans to turn her into a floating hotel following her retirement failed, it is believed, due to the economic downturn.
From 1922 to 1969, British Pathé produced lengthy round-ups of the year’s news stories that collected together the most dramatic images and covered the most important events. Not confined to British politics, these reviews act as a whirlwind tour of the world at the time in which they were made, chronicling everything from war to royal christenings, technological innovations to key sports matches as they go. You can view the entire “Review of the Year” collection here or choose from the list at the bottom of this page.
Now, in that tradition, we take a look at the last 12 months in a review of 2012. Here are some highlights (one for each month) of this tremendous year for which the British Pathé archive holds some relevant footage:
Our review of 2012 begins with something that happened many years before, for January marked an important anniversary. 90 years ago, on 3rd January 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Egyptian pharoah Tutankhamun. British Pathé has footage of Carter outside his discovery, as well as coverage of the treasures found within. Click here to explore the collection.
It feels just like yesterday but it was in fact back in February that we all came out in celebration for the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. There was a royal river pageant (a gallery of previous royal barges can be found here), a concert, a Royal Tour of the country, and street parties across the nation.
British Pathé’s celebration of the life of Elizabeth II can be found here. Beginning with the Queen as a young girl with her grandmother, it features her marriage, her coronation, the royal tours, select royal visits within Britain, and the home life of the Royal Family. The collection concludes with footage of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
In March, the economic situation in the UK looked no better. Unemployment reached its highest figure (2.67 million) since 1995, though it was still not as high as in 1984. The ups and downs of unemployment can be traced via newsreels in the British Pathé archive. Click here to explore.
The Cutty Sark re-opened to visitors after a dreadful fire. But in April we also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the loss of Titanic. The British Pathé archive contains not only footage of the legendary liner herself, but also of her great sister ships Olympic and Britannic, both of which had accidents of their own. You can explore our centenary collection or read about the footage in the blog post, Titanic and the Other Two.
Yet another important anniversary, this time of Amelia Earhart’s crossing of the Atlantic 80 years prior. Interestingly, an expedition was launched in 2012 in an attempt to discover her remains. We wrote a blog post about it that included links to various clips featuring that amazing personality.
On 14th June 1982, the Falkland’s War came to an end, with Britain having reclaimed sovereignty over the islands following an Argentine invasion. June 2012, therefore, marked 30 years since the conclusion of the conflict. We wrote about it in our blog post When the Falklands Were Forgotten, and you can view relevant footage in this collection.
One cannot think of 2012 without thinking of the Olympics. British Pathé has footage of many Olympic Games, including the two other London years, 1908 and 1948. We also digitised 300 Olympics clips, making them available on the website for the very first time. You can read about them here.
One of the highlights of 2012 was the Paralympic Games, which began at the end of August and were also held in London. The Paralympics started life in the British village of Stoke Mandeville and the Ninth Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games (1960) are now known as the first Summer Paralympics. British Pathé’s collection of material on the Stoke Mandeville Games can be viewed here.
Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democrats to run for re-election. He went on to win the 2012 Presidential Election and became the only Democrat to have won the popular vote twice since Franklin Roosevelt. You can see some clips from Roosevelt’s three presidential election wins here.
A YouTube sensation! Felix Baumgartner broke the sound barrier, leaping from a balloon 24 miles above the ground.
It was the Queen and Prince Philip’s 65th (blue sapphire) Wedding Anniversary in November, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Windsor Castle fire in what was the Queen’s “annus horribilis“. You can watch footage of the fire and A Day That Shook The World episodes on the British Royal Family in Crisis and the separation of Charles and Diana, or view the the announcement of the Queen’s engagement and the coverage of her wedding.
In the final month of 2012, the world received the news that Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William were expecting their first child. We took a guess at possible baby names in this gallery. You can also vote in our poll here.
Have we missed something important for which the British Pathé archive has relevant material? Leave us a comment. You can also search our Ten Most Popular Clips of 2012 and visit our tumblr and Pinterest pages which were launched this year.
We hope you enjoyed 2012 as much as we did. Here’s to 2013!
This quick message is to tell you about our brand new Social Media pages. Don’t worry, we’re not neglecting the old ones. In fact, we’ve recently updated our WordPress blog page and started a new series of posts summarising the contents of the archive – such as our Animation Archive, War Archive and Undersea Antics – and the history of British Pathé (see Part I of IV here). But we’ve started a new blog as well. Mostly this mirrors our Facebook page, but there are also exclusives too – such as this article on great goals. You’ll find this new blog, hosted by Tumblr, here: http://britishpathe.tumblr.com/
We also recently started a Pinterest page. If you’ve never tried Pinterest, it can be quite a lot of fun. We’ve got plenty of collections dedicated to certain aspects of the archive. You can explore them here: http://pinterest.com/britishpathe/. We’ve only just begun these boards, so they’re not going to blow you away, but follow them now if you don’t want to miss out on our updates!
We’re delighted with how loyal and active our Social Media supporters have been – and all for what is, essentially, old news!Thank you all. You’ve written so many comments, shared many images and clips, and watched countless videos. Recently we reached 10,000 likes for our Facebook page, and are about to pass the 11,000 mark. Join us there if you haven’t already for daily links to clip collections or films: http://www.facebook.com/britishpathe. Or follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BritishPathe. And don’t forget that we also have a popular YouTube channel.
So take your pick of Social Media platform or follow us on all of them if you like. Let us know what you think and what you’d like from us. If you want to, you can do this anonymously here. And know that we appreciate the interest shown in our archive. It’s fantastic to know that this historic footage is not forgotten.
Visit our Pinterest page here or our tumblr blog here.
“That’s all very well, but what has the Pathé archive got for ME?”
It can be tempting to think of the British Pathé archive as being only of interest to those with a passion for the history of the Twentieth Century. After all, the bulk of the footage comes from around 1914 to 1969 – the earliest clip in the archive is from 1895 (New Blacksmith Shop) with the most recent material contained within a BBC/British Pathé co-production covering the collapse of Enron in 2006 – but there is in fact plenty for those with a preference for other historical periods, or those who have specialist interests, to explore. The Pathé archive isn’t all about the Queen and British politics.
An obvious starting place for those with an interest in history prior to the Twentieth Century, is the archive relating to Ancient Egypt. We have footage of Howard Carter in front of the tomb of Tutankhamun, as well as shots of the treasures found within. (Visit our Tutankhamun collection here.)
But as well as that famous pharoah and his discoverer, our extensive archaeology archive (click here) contains coverage from all parts of the world. You’ll be able to see Tudor and Roman Britain excavations, tour Pompeii, the Middle East, and dive the oceans to explore shipwrecks.
It’s true that none of these clips are necessarily going to help you study these periods (unless you want to look at how they were portrayed in the Twentieth Century), but they are surely of interest. What Egyptologist wouldn’t marvel at seeing Carter at the tomb, or the glistening treasures on display?
There’s also stuff for people who don’t even like history (if such people exist). Here we present just a few ideas for exploring the archive for those with specialist interests.
Fascinated by science, animals, or insects? Try the classic Secrets of Nature – it covers the amazing life-cycles of plants, via some stunning microscope photography, as well as detailing the lives of many species of animals, birds, and insects.
Haven’t travelled enough? Take the cheap option and travel the world through British Pathé’s collection of travelogues. Escape the humdrum of everyday life with these clips (for the most part in colour) of numerous sites – from the ancient cities of Jerusalem, Rome, and Thebes, to the culturally rich capitals of Paris and Moscow, to the childish delights of Disneyland in sunny California.
Like animation? See Jerry the Troublesome Tyke, a classic animated series from the silent era, addictive due to its immense charm and wealth of humour.
Always wanted to be an astronaut? Rewatch the moon landings or other significant events from the Space Race in our collection.
Or just want to pass the time with some wacky stuff? We’ve got a collection of crazy inventions, or just try searching for something. The still below is from our “Robot Boy” video, which has been popular recently. We found it by accident when looking for something else.
So search the archive for hidden gems at www.britishpathe.com. There’s 90,000 clips with something for everyone! Thought of some topics we’ve missed? Leave us a comment below. Happy searching!
An expedition has got under way [July 2012] to test the theory that the distinguished American aviatrix, Amelia Earhart actually survived her plane crash in 1937 and spent her last months as a castaway on Nikumaroro, a tiny coral atoll in the South Pacific. Earhart was on an impressive round the world flight with navigator Frank Noonan when her twin-engine Lockheed Electra plane disappeared. They had left New Guinea and were due to refuel on Howland Island before setting off on their final leg to California. However, Earhart’s final radio message stated that she could not find Howland Island. A massive air and sea search was subsequently undertaken but failed to find anything. The plane and her passengers simply vanished.
Over the last 75 years several theories emerged. Many researchers and historians believe that Earhart and Noonan ditched at sea and perished with their plane. However, the $2 million July 2012 expedition is working on the hypothesis that Amelia actually safely landed on the Nikumaroro atoll before the plane was washed in to the surf and rising tides. Clues which point to this theory include radio transmissions and calls for help from that area at the time of her disappearance. Previous excursions to the reef have also uncovered exciting artefacts including a bottle of anti-freckle cosmetic cream, a clothing zipper, unidentified bones and a pocket knife [similar to the one that Amelia use to carry]. Researchers believe this evidence points to a 1930s woman having once inhabited the island.
The search team will use sonar technology to try and detect any wreckage on the ocean bed. If they find anything, historians will finally be able to chronicle Amelia Earhart’s fate 75 years after she vanished.
Heroine of the Skies
Earhart was a celebrity of her time – an extraordinary adventurer who set many records. She is ultimately known for being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932 and her attempt at becoming the first pilot to circle the globe around the equator was to be her last flight before retirement. As such, Pathé News would always be ready to film her latest achievements. See below for some our best clips.
1932 – Good coverage following Amelia’s translantic flight. WATCH HERE
Often when we see footage or photographs claiming to be of the Titanic, we are actually looking at its very similar sister ships Olympic and Britannic, one of which shared a similarly terrible fate. British Pathé’s James Hoyle looks at the facts and explores the role that these two ships played in the infamous Titanic story…
It is hard to escape the knowledge that this year marks the centenary of the Titanic disaster. A plethora of documentaries are clogging up the channels, revealing little that we do not already know; Julian Fellowes’ miniseries is receiving mixed reviews; James Cameron’s epic hits the big screen again this week – re-released in three dimensions; new books are hitting the shelves; and earlier dramatic versions of the disaster will no doubt be replayed in our living rooms on well-worn DVDs. None of this is a bad thing. But those inflicted with Titanic Fever may yearn for a little variety, and perhaps something a little closer to the truth. For those of you who do, there are two related stories that are often overlooked:
It is easy to forget that R.M.S. Titanic, for all its fame and reputation as an unsinkable marvel unlike any ship the world had ever seen, was actually the second of three Olympic class vessels. Titanic was the first of them, but not the last, to sink with the loss of life.
R.M.S. Olympic was the original. Documentaries on Titanic often make use of material that was actually taken on Olympic. One ubiquitous shot is of Captain E. J. Smith, who was the commander of Olympic before he took Titanic on her maiden voyage and lost his life. An item in the British Pathé archive listed as containing Titanic footage actually contains shots of Olympic (and other vessels). The exteriors of the ships are indeed extremely similar, but there are telling differences in the design of the A-Deck windows.
Olympic’s maiden voyage was in 1911. That same year, with Captain Smith commanding (and held accountable by an inquiry), the ship crashed into a Royal Navy cruiser called H.M.S. Hawke. Olympic required extensive repairs.
Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. That story need not be retold here, but it had a substantial impact on Olympic and Britannic. The media storm resulting from Titanic’s insufficient number of lifeboats led to a mutiny by those serving on Olympic who, quite understandably, refused to sail on her before she was fitted with enough lifeboats for the number of people aboard. Britannic was still under construction at this time, but both she and Olympic were fitted with an inner skin for added defence in the event of a collision and with watertight bulkheads that went higher up the ship than those of Titanic.
Britannic was launched in February 1914. There is no denying her beauty, but Britannic would never carry her intended passengers on luxurious ocean voyages, for the First World War intervened. Olympic was commissioned to carry troops and earned for herself the nickname “Old Reliable”. Britannic meanwhile was converted into a hospital ship. For this purpose, she was painted white, with the traditional red crosses along her hull.
In 1916, H.M.H.S. Britannic met a similar fate as her infamous sibling. She struck a mine near Greece and sank. Amazingly, on board was Violet Jessop, a Titanic survivor now working as a nurse (she was also, bizarrely, aboard Olympic during that ship’s collision with H.M.S. Hawke). Captain Bartlett had ordered the ship to continue, hoping to run her aground, but confusion among the crew led to lifeboats being lowered while the ship was still moving. This caused two of the lifeboats that reached the water to find themselves in the path of the propellers. Thirty were killed as the tiny wooden boats were churned to pieces. The remaining passengers and crew survived, along with the Captain, who swam to a lifeboat when the bridge sank from under him. The wreck of Britannic was discovered in 1975 by Jacques Cousteau. Lying on her side under only 400ft of water, she can be visited by divers using only scuba gear. In May of 2009, Britannic claimed another life when Carl Spencer was killed diving at the wreck site.
Olympic continued to sail as a passenger ship long after the end of the First World War. The British Pathé archive contains an interesting little feature on the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII who famously abdicated and married Wallis Simpson) travelling on the ship in 1924, where he talks with Captain Howarth.
In her twilight years Olympic was still not free from the Titanic curse. In 1934, under the command of Captain John Binks, the ship ploughed into the tiny U.S. lightship Nantucket, causing considerable damage to the smaller ship, far more than it did to the colossal luxury liner. The unlucky Nantucket sank in just thirty seconds. A contemporary newsreel makes for interesting viewing. Captain Binks, looking as though he has been through the worst experience of his life, puts on a brave face while the wounded survivor of Nantucket standing beside him commendably absolves the Captain for his actions in the aftermath of the crisis.
The end of Olympic was a rather quiet one. No longer profitable, she was scrapped in 1935. Many of her interior features found their way into hotels, but it is undeniably a shame that she is not still with us intact today. Even in 1935, Titanic was a famous ship with books, plays, and films already produced documenting her story. Olympic would have made quite a museum and monument.
Titanic’s centenary will not go unnoticed by anyone. The anniversary of Britannic’s demise is unlikely to engender the same degree of public interest or media attention when it arrives in 2016. Nor is the anniversary of Olympic’s sad fate (2035). But these ships had interesting stories too, made all the more so by their close relationship with what has been called the most famous ship since Noah’s Ark. You can visit British Pathé’s clips related to Titanic and her neglected sisters here in a collection that is, rather tellingly, titled only “Titanic”.
We recently posted a compilation video of early helicopter footage onto our YouTube channel. The video uses eight different reels from the British Pathé film archive, and there are some others that didn’t make it into the final cut. The history of the helicopter and the quest for vertical flight in the early 20the century is a vast and interesting subject that was very well documented by British Pathé. We have to admit that in selecting footage for the YouTube video we went for a certain aesthetic, choosing images that “looked helicoptery!” when the truth is that there were several plane / helicopter hybrids such as the autogyro that pioneered for some years, as well as related projects such as zeppelin technology and bizarre prototypes for what would eventually become known as the hovercraft.
Here is an embedded version of the video and beneath it is links to the full length versions of each video used with the original Pathé title, dates and the length of the original reel (which you can watch for free by following the link).
A great clip that didn’t make it into the YouTube edit, this video shows men jumping out of helicopters from a height of several metres, and good close-up shows of a man manoeuvring a helicopter a little bit like an arcade game!
A Sikorsky S-51 helicopter is seen hovering over the Welsh hills in Croesor Valley, Festiniog. The YouTube edit uses a clip of the helicopter crashing and pilot Dennis Bryan leaving the vehicle seemingly unharmed before explaining what went wrong.
A great clip showing the first ever public helicopter service, like a bus service. We see a sign with information about the service and then footage of people waving the helicopter off into the distance.
For more helicopter clips please do conduct your own search in the British Pathe film archive. We recommend going to the homepage www.britishpathe.com and typing in “helicopter” into the search bar and then selecting the Sort By: Year option.
Today is the 45th anniversary of daredevil speed engineer Donald Campbell’s tragic death on Coniston Water in the Lake District, Great Britain. Campbell was only 45 years olds, he was attempting to break the landspeed record by breaking the 300 mph barrier. For decades Donald Campbell was a childhood pin-up to boys in Britain and around the world, and he had been a popular subject for British Pathé who filmed many of his world record attempts.
So popular was Campbell that when he crashed his vehicle Bluebird at Coniston Water British Pathé rushed to push a newsreel out to cinemas as soon as possible, and so they issued a Pathé News Special simply announcing the news of his death. They then followed this up with a more dramatic piece showing the crash itself.
In the Pathé News Special from 1967 the narrator announces “Donald Campbell the man who lived for speed is dead… his love for speed has cost him his life. During the past few weeks he was dogged by misfortune. Early engine trouble forced him to hold off a record attempt, then the weather was against him.. Pictures of the last tragic moments at Coniston are being rushed to this theatre!”
And here is that footage, a second newsreel issued by British Pathé called Fate Stepped In:
The macabre newsreel has an unusually shaky start as we hear the final words and sounds of Donald Campbell over the top of a blank screen, a rather sensationalist move on Pathé ‘s part. The Pathé narrator then explains how the conditions were actually quite smooth, but the night before Campbell “drew the Ace and Queen of Spades, the deadly shadow of remorseless fate – he was a superstitious man”.
It’s bizarre now to see a newsreel that is so speculative and melodramatic in its tone, but this style of news delivery has maintained itself partially across the decades. Although newsreaders are more regimented and factual today it is still quite common to see an on-location news anchor rounding up a reports with a relatively creative ending, perhaps incorporating a literary quote or an epigram. British Pathé was a forbearer of that emotive style.
Leading up to the crash scene we see incredible close-up shots of Donald Campbell’s vehicle bluebird setting off across Coniston. From 01:45 the lead up to the crash is shown, Bluebird speeding across the surface of the lake when suddenly it lifts into the air, flips and smashes down.
The narrator talks of Donald Campbell’s legacy as the newsreel ends with shots of the Bluebird K7’s wreckage and Campbell’s family and friends collecting pieces of debris.
To see British Pathe’s collection of all 16 Donald Campbell newsreels, including footage of his many fantastic world records, see below:
We’ve been enjoying Joanna Lumley’s recent ITV documentary series ‘Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey’, and were motivated by it to dig out our own documentary series on Greece. That’s right, British Pathé toured Greece with Sabena airways in the 1960s and recorded about ten detailed travelogues, one focusing on each of the following key places: Rhodes, Athens, the Temple of Apollo, Mykonos, Hydra, Delphi, Thasos, Corfu and Crete.
Not only are these travelogues an important document in that they capture Greece over 50 years ago in colour, featuring some of the first high quality colour footage of that nation, but they are also a brilliant piece of social history – an insight into the 1960s, not only the fashions and decor but also the beginning of something arguably more colossal than any of the temples – the beginning of the tourist industry.
Click on the stills to watch each video. Enjoy the retro swimwear!
‘Island of The Sun’ is an introductory video to British Pathé’s 1960s tour of Greece. It focuses on the luxury airline service (Sabena airlines!) that gives Greece-bound holidaymakers traditional Greek dishes and even dolls. Upon landing we see some scenic shots of Rhodes, the Parthenon and ruins at Lindos.
We are shown a state-of-the-art 1960s Greek hotel which looks rather like a British council flat block, and Pathé focuses its attention on a lady showering and bathing in the hotel pool! At the end of this clip a boy commands a host of black and gold butterflies by whistling, much like the community of whistlers that Joanna Lumley visited in Episode 1 of her documentary series.
We start off with Gaye Ashwood (the daughter of legendary British Pathé journalist Terry Ashwood) walking up the steps of the Acropolis. There some lovely shots of a neat and tidy 1960s aeroplane landing scene. The 1960s transport on the streets is fantastic too!
Here we are at Cape Kennedy, visiting the temple of Apollo. British Pathé compare Apollo the Greek God to Apollo the space rocket. We see shots of the famous amphitheatre that Joanna Lumley also visited in the first episode of her documentary series.
In this 1965 video on Mykonos the island is described as “a short sea trip from Athens, yet there’s a Dutch flavour about the water windmills which twirl in the Mediterranean breeze. There are tourists, but not enough to completely commercialise the old fishermen who make their souvenirs with pride and patience”
Whether Pathé were aware that Mykonos was a gay island we cannot be sure, they don’t acknowkledge the fact explicitly in the video but they do offer some strange pieces of narration that could be seen as metaphors running in tandem with gay culture such as, “Nothing seems to shake the islanders out of their leisurely stride.” The camera then follows a domesticated pelican who becomes a sort of mascot for Mykonos, described as being “no ordinary pelican”, he is “liberated” and has “no interest in settling down”. It speaks volumes that Pathé decided to focus so much of their Mykonos travelogue on an estranged pelican bird! Were the cameramen a little reluctant to capture the real Mykonos?
Although this footage of Hydra and Delphi is mute it offers beautiful and colourful shots of an unspoilt Greece in the sunshine. Lots of healthy and glamorous holidaymakers and young couples sunbathe, swim in the sea and potter about the harbour’s edge. It’s quite romantic to think that this almost 50 years ago. It is most interesting too to study the holidaymakers’ faces, one can really sense the nature of their relationships with each other, and the conversations and arguments that are having, a time capsule of one sunny afternoon by a Greek harbour. There are good shots of the ancient Greek ruins at Delphi and some art students sketching them.
“The Greek islands hang like an enchanting necklace around the throat of Greece. One of the loveliest jewels in the necklace is Aegina.” Pathé follow couples taking donkey rides from the shore up into the hills. The travelogue also covers the island of Poros. The narrator tells us that there are 1,800 Greek island, with almost half of them unoccupied! We visit the National School of Fine Arts, and see a boy sketching holidaymakers in Hydra.
Thasos is described here as an “undiscovered Greek island bypassed by the holidaymaking throngs”. With some lovely traditional music the reel takes us on a tour of Greek villas in Thasos. The video discusses a “breeze of change” and the sense that tourism will change Thasos (which is ironic considering British Pathé have sent themselves out there to record everything!)
The British Pathé Crete travelogue kicks off with a couple waterskiing. There are fantastic shots of the cliffs and some seashore caves that remarkably double up as holiday accommodation (is this still the case today?). The narrator talks about forgotten civilisation and sunken ports, suggesting that the ancient Cretans travelled to England in the past which is why Stone Henge shows a few similarities. We see ancient Greek laws carved out in rock, including references to adultery and adoption, before seeing the ruins of Knossos where legend states the Minotaur used to live.
If you’ve actually got this far, then well done and thank you! In this clip we see more of the same really, but if you’re enjoying the retro fashions, holidaymakers of yesteryear and fabulous details – then go ahead and have a garner at Pathé’s video of Corfu in the 1960s!
Who knew there used to be cinema carriages on trains? Or “saloons” as they were called…
Today we came across this exciting poster on the National Archives’ Flickr stream which reads – “There is a Comfortable & Luxurious Cinema Attached to this Train” – “Special Programme Compiled Exclusively For This Train by PATHE GAZETTE”, Commencing Monday, May 16th, 1938.
The poster is for an LNER train, which is the London North Eastern Railway service, so trains going from Kings Cross to places like Edinburgh. We can just picture the classy and demure travellers as they relaxed in the “Pathé L.N.E.R. Saloon”, the countryside silently sliding past them as they tucked into a feast of the latest British Pathé reels.
The films shown on the train were actually issued only 7 days before the scheduled event, so it was pretty hot off the press. It’s interesting to see that Ireland is quite well covered, and also that boxing appears to be the most highly-sought sport.
The train’s cinema carriage wasn’t free – it cost 1 shilling – so it would have been a bit of a treat, but think about it – people didn’t have televisions in the 1930s and they had to go to a cinema house to see moving footage. We love that the poster tells customers that the Pathé saloon is non-inflammable too! Of course earlier newsreels were made out of nitrate, and almost everybody smoked, so you can understand the concern.
ANYWAY. We were delighted to see that the poster then lists each reel that would feature in the screening. Using the date as a guide and searching the titles in the British Pathé film archive we’ve managed to find 32 out of 34 of the items on the trains bill, and we’ve put online links to each below so that you can pick and view the ones that interest you, or perhaps even re-live the experience and watch them all!
Anyone up for a holiday in Iraq? It does seem a fairly fanciful idea when Iraq has been synonymous with war, violence and oppression for such a long time and for anyone born after the 1960s the idea of Iraq ever having been a holiday destination seems fantastically peculiar. However, wind back 40 years and Iraq was in fact a popular destination for tourists and now there are signs, indeed very small, that international tour operators could be taking visitors back there one day.
The Pathé documentary unit shot a two reel documentary called Ageless Iraq back in the 1950s. If you disregard that the films were probably made for propaganda reasons (the notes say the film was made for the Iraq Petroleum Co.) and instead just view them as travelogue films; they paint a fascinating and extremely appealing picture of this ancient land.
It is easy to forget that Iraq is in fact a country steeped in rich history and culture and as the first film tells us, the very beginnings of civilisation started here. This is a country where writing was conceived and where man began cultivating the land. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through Iraq, fertilising the plains and during the 1950s agriculture production was thriving and self-sufficient. Iraq is also home to the ancient walls of Bablyon and is the birthplace of the prophet Abraham.
Both films show images of a landscape, culture and society that we just don’t associate with Iraq: art, horseracing, music, cuisine and boats leisurely sailing down a canal in Basra otherwise known as “The Venice of the Middle East”.
The narrator states at the end: “Ageless Iraq, a new country but one that hasn’t forgotten the glories of its history. A country that is now emerging from the shadows of it past to a future bright with promise.” Let’s hope that this time it is true and perhaps one day we will be able to book a flight to explore this fascinating land.