The History of Beatboxing: Rahzel Talks to British Pathe

We recently uploaded the video below onto our YouTube channel, titled “World’s First Beatboxing Champion in 1938“, in which an impeccably dressed man gives us some good spit on the Pathé Studios mic:

We were then surprised to see several comments accusing us of faking the video! “Just a bunch of guys dressed like the date, with a set for the date” suggested one viewer. And so we were forced to come clean and admit that yes, this clip wasn’t actually beatboxing (as we know it today) but was a man impersonating a “big string bass” – but that’s not to say it’s a fake. The video is an original reel from 1938.

The piece actually comes from this video The Radio Revellers from our free online archive, and the song is called “There’s a Tavern in the Town”

For the YouTube version we tightly edited the video, a few seconds prior to where the YouTube version takes off one of the Radio Revellers actually says that the guy is about to impersonate a big string bass (double bass / cello etc.) We also cropped the YouTube video’s frame size so that his hands (which are playing “air double bass”!) are less visible – fortifying the illusion that it is beatboxing. Our hope was that this would help the video fall before the eyes of a younger audience who like beatboxing and so subsequently introduce them to the thousands of delightful music hall clips in our archive.

Then, to our amazement, world-renowned beatboxing superstar Rahzel got in touch with us sharing some insight on the history of beatboxing. Rahzel told British Pathé “Your video is actually of scatting, and if you Google scatting that guy wasn’t the first. When technology kicked in in the 1980s, i.e. drum machines, Grand Master Flash made the Gemini drum machine called “the beat box”, and then a gentleman called Douglas E Fresh was called “the human beat box” because he imitated it so well, hence beatboxing was born.”

We asked Rahzel if beatboxing was derivative of scatting and learnt that it is in a way although if we look back further we can find beatboxing routes in the West African tradition “hocketing”.

Rahzel then asked if we could play the movies “Beat Street” and “Wild Style”. We’re not sure if these are feature movies, Rahzel beats, or just videos on YouTube – we were too shy to ask the mighty Rahzel (although we don’t think he was referring to any British Pathé reels!)

Although you may think us a bunch of archive woolies – we’d actually already heard of the beatboxer Rahzel here in the British Pathé archive as a couple of us here are Bjork fans and Rahzel provided the beats for Bjorks’ single Who Is It, as well as other tracks on her acapella album Medulla (beatboxing percussion is allowed with acapella you see!).

Here is Mr. Rahzel in action:


Words by Jack Cullen.

The Secret Story of the CIA’s Francis Gary Powers

Francis Gary Powers in 1962 meeting the Senate Armed Services Committee. Click on the image to find all of the videos mentioned in this blog post.

February 10th 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union handing over Francis Gary Powers in exchange for Colonel Vilyam Fisher. One of the highest profile cases in the Cold War, British Pathé followed the story from Powers’ crash through to his safe but controversial return. Other videos on this page include the original trial of Rudolf Hess, a press conference held by President Eisenhower and a British Pathé tour of a famous U-2 plane.

SEE THE FOOTAGE! – Already a Francis Gary Powers expert? To skip the post and watch the footage, click here!

Secret intelligence pilot Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 plane was shot down on the 1st May 1960 by a Soviet surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk. The target destination of Powers’ espionage mission had been the site of the Kyshtym Disaster.

Powers parachuted to the ground and was captured by Soviet troops, crucially he was unable to activate his U-2’s self-destruct mechanism before evacuating the plane. Back in America CIA didn’t realise this failure to destroy the vehicle and so when Powers’ plane finally landed (almost fully intact) Soviet intelligence were able to study its surveillance equipment and learn about U-2 technology.

Francis Gary Powers was the first pilot to be successfully hit by a Soviet S-75 surface-to-air missile, new Soviet technology that finally enabled them to counteract US espionage missions which had been taking place some 70,000 feet above the Soviet Union for some years. CIA didn’t know that Soviet Union now had the technology to hit U-2 planes as they were so high up, causing sceptics to doubt the circumstances of Powers’ crash and subsequent capture and some worried how much information has been sucked out of him during interrogations.

On August 17th 1960 following a very high profile trial Powers was sentenced by the Soviet Union and imprisoned for three years and then made to serve seven years of hard labour in Vladimir Central Prison (where Powers developed a good rapport with his fellow prisoners).

This British Pathé has coverage of the 1960 trial. This first reel “Powers Trial – Ike’s Comment” shows Powers’ wife and father entering the court in Moscow, and we see people inspecting the plane’s wreckage and other pieces of evidence. Eisenhower issues a statement from Washington refusing to comment on the trial itself in case this worsened Powers’ position in the trial. 

In another reel “The Powers Trial” we can see shots of the trial itself (no foreign journalists were allowed to attend). The narrator suggests the trial is more of an ideological battle than about the specific events of Francis Gary Powers’ mission announcing “Russia directed her venomous attack largely against America itself”

Eisenhower also appears in this British Pathé reel “President Defends Spying” discussing U-2 planes and stating “no one wants another Pearl Harbor. This means that we must have knowledge of military forces and preparations around the world, especially those capable of massive surprise attacks”

On February 10th 1962 Powers was exchanged along with an American student Frederic Pryor for the Soviet Colonel Vilyam Fisher (also known as Rudolf Abel like in British Pathé’s reel) who had been captured by the FBI in Berlin. Upon his return Powers was awarded CIA’s Intelligence Star, but was criticised by some for the various imperfections of his failed mission.

British Pathe have this video of the exchange in the archive called “Headlines In The U.S. – The Abel For Powers Exchange” with a commentary by Peter Roberts. The narrator explains how it was lucky that Abel had not been sentenced to death by the Americans upon capture as this would have meant they couldn’t swap him for Powers.

The original arrest of Rudolf Abel is shown in this 1957 newsreel “Red Spy Nabbed” filmed in Brooklyn. Used a building within view of the Assistant US Attorney’s office and had an office studio with high-powered radios. “He is the highest ranking Russian ever arrested here on spy charges, he could pay with his life”

In this British Pathé reel “Gary Powers Vindicated“, perhaps the most popular newsreel covering this entire subject, we see Powers explaining his crash to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and demonstrating with a model U-2 how his plane should have self-destructed. The press ask Powers what he told the committee, he replies “Well I don’t have much time, all I know is there seemed to be an explosion, I don’t know what caused it but I feel that it was not in the aircraft itself”. “So do you believe it was a rocket?” asks the journalist. “Well I can’t say that, but I think that it was external. How it got there I have no idea.”

A U-2 plane filmed by British Pathe in 1967 at a Bedfordshire airbase

British Pathe also have this interview with Powers’ father Mr. Oliver Powers after he attended a trial hearing Russia. He tells the press  “We are thankful to have the opportunity of seeing Francis, however briefly, once again. I should also like to voice our appreciation to the Russian people for their courtesy and consideration which they showed us.” When asked is Francis has any requests the father fights tears back and admits that he asked for warm clothing for the terribly cold Russian winter.

Powers died in a helicopter crash in 1977 when his Bell 206 Jet Ranger ran out of fuel. It is thought that at the last moment he’d noticed children playing where he’d intend to land, and so he sought alternative landing place. If he had landed where originally intended then he may have lived.

For more information on the U-2 planes themselves, this quirky British Pathé reel filmed in Bedfordshire is useful with good close-up shows of U-2 planes and a high altitude pressure suit demonstration from pilot Ken Mason.

Other material in the British Pathe Film Archive relating to the Francis Gary Powers story include this mini documentary “Espionage” has footage of the Francis Gary Powers trial.

Franz Reichelt Day! February 4th – 100th Anniversary of Eiffel Tower “Death Jump”

Today is the 100th anniversary of Franz Reichelt’s attempt to fly in Paris on the 4th February 1912. His choice of venue to demonstrate his solo flying contraption? The Eiffel Tower. The results? Not good.

British Pathé houses the shocking video of Franz Reichelt’s “Death Jump”. You can watch the only existing High Definition version that is viewable to the public for free on the British Pathé YouTube channel here:

The original canister notes are also a fascinating read and can be seen on our archive website here:

Notes and information regarding the Franz Reichelt Death Jump.

The video was never actually issued by British Pathé, perhaps due to its shocking nature as the video shows the exact second that Franz Reichelt dies as he plummets terrifyingly to his death, and the aftermath scene is rather shocking too as Parisien press members rush forward to measure the depth of the hole left by Franz Reichelt’s body.

However today this video is one of the most viewed British Pathé videos. A plethora of low-quality stolen versions appear on YouTube, but British Pathé are proud to have the best quality version of the reel on display.

Today we heard news of… Miss France 1949!

Juliette was crowned Miss France in 1949 -  (click on the image to watch the video)

Last week a lady got in touch with us via the archive’s Facebook page saying that she had discovered a film in our archive of her mother winning the Miss France beauty contest in 1949!

Veronique Tissier’s mother Juliette Figueras won the contest in 1949 before going on to win Miss Europe in 1950 (the contest was held in Sicile, Italy). We are thrilled to say that Juliette lives near Antibes on the Cote D’Azur and is healthy still at the age of 82. You can watch the video by clicking on the image above.

 Here are some more recent photos that Veronique sent us of her mother:

A recent photgraph of Juliette - still looking great for her age!
Here is Juliette with her grandaughter (Veronique's daughter), and her mother. So all in all, including Veronique, that's four generations - fantastic!And here is Juliette being crowned Miss Europe in 1950!And here Juliette is being crowned Miss Europe in 1950!

Juliette’s sister will be visiting her from the Beaux de Provences soon and so Veronique is going to organise a surprise screening of the British Pathé video for her! Before discovering the video in our free online archive Veronique had no idea that the British Pathé clip even existed and only had photographs of the contest.

If anyone can locate footage or photos of the Miss Europe contest in Sicile, 1950 then please do get in touch. The British Pathé film archive sends its best wishes to Juliette and her family, we hope you all enjoy the surprise screening and enjoy life in the south of France!

There are lots of videos of beauty pageants and contests in the archive, so do have a rummage, you could start with these four videos, or just go to the homepage and start searching!

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Britain’s Hidden Archictectural Gems

British Pathe visited the Maunsell Sea Fort site in 1944 and received a warm welcome from the soldiers who lived there.


We enjoyed Shortlist’s feature this week on “Britain’s Hidden Architectural Gems” by Simeon de la Torre and were thrilled to see Maunsell Sea Forts in the top slot. Built in 1942 eight miles off the Kent coast in the Thames estuary these six alien constructions were visited by British Pathé in 1944.

The reel is called “England’s 1940s Sea Wall” and gives a good insider tour to the towers, explaining how they were built, the role they played in WW2 and offering some great shots including one of soldiers playing ludo out on one of the top decks!

Over 100 men lived out on these forts, each tower having three floors. Boat trips occasionally give tours too, more information can be found here.

Another hidden architectural gem in Simeon de la Torre’s feature was the Cruachan Dam up in Argyll & Bute, Scotland. We have some lovely videos of this in the archive too, including The Queen officially opening the dam in 1965.

The Queen opens Cruachan Dam in 1965.

We’ll have a rummage in the archive soon and pull out our own hidden architectural gems. But in the meantime, enjoy these two:

Italy In Wales” – A lovely 1962 report on the idyllic ornamental village Portmeirion in North Wales, made famous by the cult TV series The Prisoner.

Hexagonal Houses” – State of the art new homes are built near Coventry in 1964, we wonder if they’re still there today?

Stranded On Snowdon: Cars That Go Too Far

Four Reel Drive: Pathe recorded a group of men in the 1920s rescuing a vehicle.

Some of you may have seen this news story today on outdoor news website Grough (as well as other bigger news sites like the BBC) about a 4×4 vehicle that was abandoned near the top of Snowdon after 39-year-old Craig Williams attempted to drive up the 1,130m tall mountain.

The driver is to appear in court charged with driving on common land and neglecting the national park’s code of conduct.
Interestingly British Pathé happened to film a similar incident in the 1920s. You can take a look here:


The archived reel shows a group of people pushing a car up Mount Snowdon in the 1920s. The vehicle gets stuck repeatedly on the rocky path and has to be dislodged by the men. Eventually they reach the train line and they use the tracks as a makeshift road to push the car the rest of the way.

Does anyone know what kind of car this is? ~ ~

Bomber Crashes into the Empire State Building

On the 28th July 1945 a B-25 Bomber plane crashed into the Empire State Building, the first airplane to ever crash into a New York skyscraper. The incredible occurrence was lost in the press somewhat amongst much wider news of World War II ending. Still, it was a momentous day in American history, when one of New York’s proudest and most iconic skyscrapers was torn into by an aeroplane.

Watch the newsreel here via our new British Pathe YouTube channel:

The plane hit the 79th floor of the Empire State Building at 200 miles an hour. Luckily the event happened on a weekend when few were working, still, 14 people died in the accident. Remarkably one survivor was a woman who fell 75 floors in a freefalling elevator that had had its cables severed by the destruction of the crash! Franklin. D. Roosevelt had had lunch on the 86th floor only a few hours before the crash that day.

If the crash had happened during a working day, and if the Bomber had been loaded, then the event might have been one of the biggest disasters in American history.

Spookily just two weeks after the 50th anniversary of the Empire State Building plane crash, another accident occurred in the building when an elevator failed to stop at the 80th floor and slammed into the top of the shaft. Nobody was killed but several people suffered head and neck injuries.

Today is the 66th anniversary of the B-25 Bomber crashing into the Empire State Building.

The plane smashed into the 79th floor.