Titanic and The Other Two

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.

Captain Smith standing on the bridge of Olympic. This photograph is often used to illustrate Captain Smith onboard the Titanic, an incorrect statement that even the canister notes of this British Pathe newsreel claim.

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.

Captain Howarth and the Duke of Windsor (then Edward Prince of Wales) onboard Olympic in 1924.

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.

Olympic was scrapped in 1935, despite looking very similar to Titanic and thereby having the profitable potential to offer tourists and history enthusiasts a “Titanic experience”

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”.

WATCH NOW! – Archive Footage: The Titanic Centenary Collection

Contact: info@britishpathe.com



The History of the Helicopter: Early Helicopter Footage

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).

And now for the videos used in this compilation:

Aerial Merry Go Round” (1921) – 1 minute 24 seconds

Shots of very large propellers slowly turning, we see an early helicopter taking off in a rather meandering fashion and men diving out of its way!

The Helicopter” (1921) – 1 minute 38 seconds

An early helicopter sporting a giant oblong balloon (as used in the thumbnail for the YouTube video) hovers and sways unsteadily with men rushing about beneath it and directing it along a field.

New Era In Flying” (1922) – 1 minute 22 seconds

Mr. Pescara, a key individual in the history of the helicopter, is seen with one of his first machines. The helicopter is much lighter than previous models and has four rotors.

Vertical Flight Soon” (1923) – 1 minute 14 seconds

Mr. Pescara appears with an improved version of his helicopter. The helicopter’s flight is still a rather higgledy-piggledy affair and the vehicle lands nose first.

Perseverance Rewarded” (1924) – 1 minute 41 seconds

The final video of Mr. Pescara used in the YouTube compilation. We see him in an open cockpit flying in his new and improved helicopter!

Helicopter Demo” (1940) – 1 minute 34 seconds

Various shots of helicopters (possibly Sikorsky helicopters) flying over factory rooftops and in group formations.

U.S. Air Force Tests Helicopter” (1943) – 1 minute 43 seconds

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!

Mass Flight” (1948) – 1 minute 45 seconds

Shots of photographers on the ground filming the helicopter as it takes off. Nine helicopters seen flying in formation and flying over water.

Welsh Airlift” (1949) – 1 minute 51 seconds

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.

Helicopter Service For BIF” (1950) – 1 minute 56 seconds

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.

You can ask us any questions by joining our Facebook page, or by chatting to us on Twitter, or via the contact page on www.britishpathe.com

On This Day: Donald Campbell Killed in 297mph Lake District Crash

The first Pathe News Special announcing Donald Campbell's death. The reel has some great (if not eerie!) footage of Coniston Water.

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 second Pathe reel shows the crash itself. Here we can see Bluebird just seconds before it flips across the lake.

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:

The Donald Campbell Archive

You can view all 90,000 British Pathé newsreels for free on www.britishpathe.com

British Pathe’s Greek Odyssey

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!


1960s hotel in Rhodes

‘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.


The Acropolis, Athens

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!


Greek Ampitheatre

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.


A couple in Mykonos, 1965

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?


Ruins at Delphi in the 1960s

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 video shows unspoilt Greek islands in the 1960s

“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.


A loved-up couple holiday in Thasos.

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!


This finally video depicts some beautiful local dancing, set at the Castello Mimbelli, once a retreat of King George II of Greece and now a luxury hotel.

So, there we have it, British Pathé’s 1960s tour of Greece!

There is a Luxurious Cinema Attached to this Train! (PATHE GAZETTE EXTRAVAGANZA)

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!


Their Majesties In Lanarkshire

New Berth For Bananas

Hitler In Italy

Training For Royal Tournament

French Liner Ablaze At Le Havre

Rugby League Cup Final At Wembley

Demonstration of Kay Autogyro at Southampton

Ninety-Four Year Old Mrs. Anne Budd Takes Her First Flight

New German Ambassador in London

John Tussaud Celebrates His 80th Birthday

Fire Brigade Chief Retires

Boxing At Theatre Royal Dublin

Mille Miglia Car Race

US Thoroughbreds Prepare For Match Race

First President Of Eire

Boston Marathon

Blessing The Lambs in Italy

Dublin Spring Show

King Tours RAF Stations (Mute)

New Defence Balloons

Markham Pit Disaster

Italians Goosestep For Hitler  

Boys Boxing Comedy  

Plane Safety

How To Make Money

Cineviews In Brief No.73

The Emotion Machine

Al And Bob Harvey Famous Radio And Variety Stars

“Order To View” – Cannot Find

Model House – Cannot Find

Troy Town

Ted Andrews Canadian Singer And The Girl Friend

London In The Provinces

Novelties – Cannot Find

Suzette Tarri – Character Comedienne

Courtesy of www.britishpathe.com

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Welcome to Baghdad Madame!

Welcome to Baghdad Madame

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.

Afternoon sailing trip

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.

Baghdad – this could be a resort in any other holiday hot spot

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.

Ageless Iraq Reel 1

Ageless Iraq Reel 2

Basra - The Venice of the Middle East