The Church On Tour: First Stop – Butlins!

One of the less explained pieces in the British Pathé film archive, these muted out takes of a 1961 clergy conference by the seaside are a bit of an art-house thriller. Vicars join in with a strange chopsticks dance in front of bemused deckchair stricken tourists, whilst other members of the clergy enjoy a few sherries in a bar with some ladies. Two priests get strangely entangled in a children’s climbing frame and the Bishop of Southwark parades around the seafront looking a bit out of place amongst the crowds of people in beachwear. Great shots of the bishops and priests taking running jumps into swimming pools.

Brilliantly rare footage of Butlins chalets, 1960s holidaymakers and a baffling insight into the Church of England letting their hair down.

The Orange Prize

He only asked for freshly squeezed juice

It’s 1967, and British Pathé are at the world orange peeling championships. Peeling the orange to emulate the crown jewels is optional, but the peel must be cut off in one piece. Jose Turpin ‘Don Pepe’ can peel an orange in 12.5 seconds! Bizarrely the boxer Henry Cooper judges the tournament, but the narrator kindly explains – “When Henry isn’t laying men flat in the ring he’s a green grocer” – so as you can see, his presence on the panel if justified. Don Pepe pins his orange peel to the lapel on Henry Cooper’s jacket. Rent-a-grin Henry shakes Don’s hand and then (blink and you’ll miss it) averts his eyes as if to say “WHY am I doing this? WHY?”

Sky Sports need to get their act together. Orange peeling championships need a comeback. Surely this is an advertiser’s dream that Orange phone network are missing out on? P.s. One fashion blogger fan of British Pathé drew attention to the video’s accessories too – particularly Don’s jet-embedded ring and Henry Cooper’s tie clip. Even the most trivial videos bare all sorts of historical importance.

British Pathé does the Cannes Cannes

Leading Ladies: the Sirens of Cannes

Today Twitter has been ablaze with talk of the Cannes Film Festival 2010. The Guardian have been commenting on this year’s “strong Asian and Russian presence”, others have been losing sleep over this Icelandic plume of volcanic ash which will have a devastating effect on the turn-out to this year’s festival and therefore the entire film industry (apparently). And once again Cameron Diaz has been pulled out of the press cookie jar with that timeless quotation – “So where is the Cannes film festival this year?”

To be timely, and since the sun is shining today in London,we thought we’d bunch together some of our rarest Cannes material from the archive for you. And yes – we do have heaps of it! From the very first Cannes festival in 1946 to the private villas parties of the 1960s stars – British Pathé were there documenting everything as furiously as you’d expect from the 20th century’s leading newsreel makers.

In this special Cannes archive that we’ve pieced together for you today you can enjoy rare clips of directors like Luc-Godard and Hitchcock; spy on famous actresses of the day like Sophia Loren or Jeanne Moreau; there’s ace beach footage and poolside gossip too, not to mention the Cannes street carnivals and red carpet arrivals. Why not pour yourself a Martini and sit back with some of this great archive footage of Cannes, the world’s most loved film festival.

The stars arrive at the first ever Cannes Film Festival

No two hands are alike!

"Or else fits of depression and nothing very great is achieved"

Today we were quite amused by this astrologer and palmist Gabriel Dee back in 1931. Gabriel explains the nation’s tragic fate according to their palms with absolutely no hint of humour or light heartedness. She comes out with some quite remarkable phrases like “If it reaches out across the palm then you will travel and die abroad”, or our personal favourite – “you’re absolutely incapable of sincere love”.

The diagram soon fills up with Gabriel’s linear annotations, telling us everything from our creative capacity to the extent of a jealous streak. She finishes on the rather dubious warning – “And remember! Your left hand is what you are born with, your right hand is what you make of it”

Full marks go to the creepy Wicker Man esque music at the beginning too. Watch Gabriel Dee’s lesson in palm reading here.

Grace Kelly: Archive Icon

Grace Kelly with her children in 1969

The V&A’s indulgently stylish exhibition Grace Kelly: Style Icon opens tomorrow and naturally several British Pathé clips will feature. After all, Grace was a popular focus for the British Pathé lens for several decades, from her glamorous silver screen presence of the 1950s all the way through to her notorious marriage to the Prince Rainer III of Monaco.

Dozens of Hollywood actresses have tried in vain to convey the elegance and effortless stardom of Kelly, a gift from God that the V&A’s site refer to as “her cool beauty, subtle sex appeal and professionalism”.

The photo above is taken from a rare holiday video of Grace Kelly in which the star tours a zoo with her children in Monte Carlo. Grace spends some fun time with her children, feeding seals and driving along the beautiful beaches of Monaco.

See another dozen rare pieces of Grace Kelly footage in the British Pathé Film Archive here.

Learn more about the exhibition here on the V&A’s site here

Grace Kelly: Style Icon is at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 17 April to 26 September

“Vesuvius – Terror of Italy!”

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

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

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

The Guardian’s bulletin on the current Icelandic saga

Taking in the toxic view

Halloween Come Early: Jaunting Easter Hat Parade

Don't move Margaret

A fan of British Pathé, Sam in Leamington Spa, emailed asking if we have any footage of tarantulas. We may well do, although tarantulas wouldn’t have been jotted down in the canister notes unless they were the main content, which is unlikely for a newsreel. However, this rather terrifying tarantula hat stars in an Easter bonnet parade from 1955. Easter has several odd traditions, and sadly hat parades are in decline, but they were one all the Easter rage. Hundreds of women would line up to flaunt their homemade creations in front of a panel of fashion experts and town councillors. This clip shows helicopter hats, race horse hats, a ballerina hat, hats that have been fashioned from straw, paper and plants. Watch this Easter Hat parade and others here

1950s Customs Training: Fancy a custard cream?

Drug trafficking was once a much merrier affair
The boys inspect a suspicious looking plank of wood

This 1958 clip of a customs school gives a glorious insight into the very gentle affair of detecting drugs trafficking in the 1950s. The dozen or so students are taught by their training officer how to look out for secret nooks and crannies in various vehicles, such as the waterproofing on a wooden boat. As the narrator helpfully points out “Not even a death watch beetle can call his home his own”. Drugs are referred to as “habit-forming narcotics”, whilst alcohol is quaintly quipped as “spirits much tastier than petrol”. It’s refreshing to see how customer service is top on the list in this customs training class. The boys are told they should “not bully or badger, but be courteous, efficient and firm.” How times have changed.

Watch the 1950s customs training reel on British Pathé here

One Archive To Rule Them All: British Pathé Star on The One Show

British Pathé was the star of The One Show yesterday, in what was the first chapter of a four-part mini feature exploring the famous archive. Former-MP-turned-telly-historian Gyles Brandreth guest-presents the features in which he delves into the British Pathé archive and pulls out his personal favourites. You can tune in to see last night’s episode of The One Show on their BBC iPlayer page.

Presenters Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley were thrilled with the British Pathé footage as Gyles Brandreth took them on a tour of old reels from Australian ballet of the 1960s and action-packed war clips to the nationwide announcement of King George’s death. As Gyles Brandreth put it – “It really has got the whole history of our nation.” You can watch all the British Pathé clips that featured on The One Show here.

Parts 2, 3 and 4 of British Pathé’s mini-feature series with The One Show are scheduled for 14 April, 26 April and11 May. Make sure to tune in!

Grand National Disasters

We all like a good bet at the Grand National, even if we have no interest in horse racing! Now in its 171st year, many of us will be traipsing down to our local bookies on Saturday morning to put money on a horse because we either like the name of it or we have an inkling it is going to make us lots of money…

Our archive has a lot of Grand National footage but there are certainly some films which fifty/sixty years on are still exciting and excruciating to watch. Take the 1956 Grand National where the late Dick Francis gallops towards the finish line on HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s horse, Devon Loch. Dick  is just yards away from the finish line and is undoubtedly about to win the race when suddenly Devon inexplicably jumps up and falls to his stomach. It was as if he thought there was a fence in front of him! ESB who was behind, swoops past Devon Loch who is still scrambling to his feet and wins the Grand National. The Queen Mother famously said, “Oh that’s racing” and Dick Francis retired from racing the following year and became a crime writer!

The 1967 Grand National was the scene of one the most notorious pile ups in Grand National history . Foinavon had odds of 100/1 to win the race. Even his owner Cyril Watkins  did not both to attend Aintree because the chances of a win were wholly improbable. As expected, Foinavon did not play a competitive part in the race until at the 23rd fence, a loose horse cut across the riders causing all the horses to either fall, unseat their riders or refuse to jump. Foinavon and his rider, John Buckingham, are so far behind that they manage to bypass the shambles, jump the fence and take a lead of 200 yards. Although most riders were able to remount, no one managed to quite catch up with horse and rider. Sadly no owner or trainer were in the winners enclosure to congratulate them!

The Bazooka Archive

Today we’re blogging about military footage from the British Pathé archive, after we came across some soldiers linking to our videos from forums on the ‘Army Rumour Service’ site –

The video above is from 1950 and depicts two soldiers enjoying a spot of bazooka practise, with a 3.5 Bazooka, which they use to destroy a mock-up of a Korean tank. Watch the Bazooka video here and find thousands of similarly action-packed newsreels.

Britain To Vote: Election Hysteria Sweeps 1950s Britain

News sites are buzzing today with General Election material now that the pivotal days has been called to take place on May 6th. Already journalists have been scooping for scandals relating to all MPs and parties involved, whether it be secret plans to increase death tax or B&B landlord bigots, and in the four week run-up matters are only going to intensify. Yet the sensation and apprehension around a General Election is nothing new, in fact, Britain is incredibly apathetic towards politics compared to decades past. This 1951 news reel entitled ‘Britain To Vote’ demonstrates just how heated public debate used to be regarding British politics.

The clips shows Clement Atlee leaving 10 Downing Street to make a speech, followed by rare footage of the 1950s “election expert” Lord Woolton  and other political candidates such as the dashing Labour Party secretary Morgan Phillips hard at work.

It is the 1950s vox pop though that makes this news reel utterly priceless. The cameraman interviews outraged members of the British public, apathetic glamour girls and even pokes a microphone into a man hole to interview a refuse worker –  “Well come on up and tell us what you think about it.” It’s hard not to laugh at these highly strung civilians, but maybe the joke is on us for being so blase.

Watch British Pathé’s rare video footage of the 1951 election hysteria here

The Boat Race Archive

It’s that time of year again – the notorious river feud between the world’s two most famous universities Oxford and Cambridge. We’ve slaved away behind the scenes for you in our archive and put together a comprehensive reel package so that you can watch the famous race through the years. It’s interesting to see the changing looks of the rowers over the decades, from old to young, broad to lean, and not to mention the everchanging kits from 1920s-style frumpy long scarves to the romantic white blouse-like attire of the glistening 70s. Take a look at the Boat Race archive area here.

Trapeze Wedding: Couple head for the clouds

The sun’s out in London today and so we felt like finding something sunny and funny. We’re loving this footage of a trapeze wedding in the sky from the summer of 1959. The wedding video begins with a topless man assembling scaffolding while a merry narrator speculates over what the cause of such “highly unconventional behaviour” could be.   There are several enjoyable details: a trapeze wedding cake with a terrifying swinging doll, two very toothy 1950s bridesmaids looking bemused and a Union Jack flying high above the groom. The 1950s narration is predictably cheesy and a tour de force of tenuous puns – “this cake is really going up in the world” / “One should be on top of the world on one’s wedding day” etc. etc.

Watch the full clip here

Easter Eggs Through The Years: The wood, the clad and the ugly

It’s Easter at the weekend and so we’ve pulled something from the archive for you. Interestingly, chocolate wasn’t always the gift du jour and easter eggs have a long and varied history, as this peculiar 1954 news reel demonstrates.

The Romans once used stone eggs to cool their hands, while in Russia (or “from behind the Iron Curtain” as the presenter prefers to say) the tradition was to give wooden eggs.

Silver nutmeg graters were once the buzz craze at this time of year, whilst the very wealthy occasionally gave each other ornately decorated ostrich eggs. One such specimen from 1900 can be seen in this clip. Enjoy!

Dressed To Kill – An Avengers Themed Fashion Show

Who said fashion shows had to be morose? In 1965 fashion legend Jean Varon took the popular television series The Avengers (starring a young Joanna Lumley) as his source of inspiration and had models conducting theatrical fights on the runway! Varon’s innovative designs often drew from contemporary artists from the period, notably the Op-Artist Bridget Riley, although it is his daring leather catsuits that the fashion world remembers him most fondly for. He even dressed Diana Rigg in one!

Click on the still above to watch our fantastic clip from this 1965 catwalk show. Having thrown a man to his apparent death, the model then continues to strut down the catwalk nonchalantly while a bemused frontrow of Sloan Street fat cats sit by and watch with crossed legs and cigars. The footage contains some brilliant pieces from Jean Varon’s 1965 collection, particularly a “bull’s-eye dress”.

The clips also shows Jean Varon’s dog range, then known as his “poodle pants”. 50 years before Paris Hilton the London fashion scene went crazy for dressing up their doggies!

For a collection of fashion videos from the British Pathé archives click here

To read a short biography on Jean Varon visit his page on The Fashion Spot

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