Ray Alan dead: 79-year-old ventriloquist Ray Alan dies in his Surrey home.

By Jove!

The popular British ventriloquist Ray Alan, most famous for his exceedingly posh and slightly peverse puppet Lord Charles, has died aged 79.

Ray Alan and his puppet Lord Charles used to star in the British Pathé travelogue series Britain By Jove, which is where this brilliant 1960s clip of Ray Alan on the beach comes from. We like the slightly abstract and unexplained lines like “Sorry dear, my monocle’s steamed over” during the night scenes onboard a boat in this clip.

Watch this video of Ray Alan and Lord Charles visiting Newcastle, the hub of the North East. Excuse the overly dramatic music. When the chauffeur sings appraisals of the city, Lord Charles blares out accusingly – “trying to sell it to us Lord Cavendish?”

Here in this Scotland travelogue Lord Charles makes inappropriate propositions towards a make-up girl, declaring “I wish you were coming to Scotland, I’ve booked a luxury retreat for us you know, it’s a distillery.” When the girl outrages “Lord Charles!” he replies “Oh don’t be so formal, you can call me Sir!”

The sincerity of Cavendish, considering he’s playing chauffeur to a puppet, is just brilliant. We’re not too sure about the little intermittent car horn peeps and the recurring union flags that punctuate the program, but televised serial sketch shows was still a relatively young genre in the 1960s.

Watch clips of Ray Alan with Lord Charles here in the British Pathe film archive

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Fred Perry Interviewed

He made his name in tennis, but immortalised it in fashion

One major area of the archive that we’re working on at the moment is tennis. After all, Wimbledon will soon be upon us and British Pathé are one of the only film archives to both own Wimbledon footage AND let the public watch it all for free online. We don’t see the point in being a dragon sat on a pile or reels, and so here you, have all of our Wimbledon videos and enjoy them with some strawberries and cream. To get you in the mood see our 1970s interview with tennis legend Fred Perry.

 Fred Perry speaks in more gentrified and morose tone that I expected. He told British Pathe about himself –

 “I was a strange breed of cat. I was a loner and if I may use such a word on television – I was bloody minded about the whole thing. I had won the Table Tennis Championship in 1929 in Budapest, and never played again. I said to myself ‘right from now on nothing I do will interfere with my tennis’. I played soccer and cricket at school, I was an even worse than bad wicket keeper, the ball was too hard. I started to play tennis, fiddling around in Ealing, and in 1929 I got into Wimbledon.

In the interview Fred Perry talks honestly about rivalry, bitching and the conflicts and injustice between private and state schools at a youth level. It really is an asset and a general strength of film archives, to present the public with interviews and insight into the lives of those who are no longer alive. Nothing beats hearing it from the sportsman’s mouth.

Fred Perry passed away in 1995. Read a bit about his life on his Wikipedia page here, including details of his celebrity relationships which boast a host of glamour actresses including Marlene Dietrich.

Watch 7 archive videos of Fred Perry playing tennis, and videos of Fred Perry winning Wimbledon here.

If you really are in the tennis footage mood then you can find a link to all of our old Wimbledon footage in our blogroll – check the list of links on the right > > >

Ronald Reagan Films: How The B-Movie Cowboy Became President

Smile and the world votes for you

Long before Ronald Reagan became an emblem of 1980s world politics he was a Senator of California, and an actor before that. Reagan’s early years are naturally shadowed by his later prominence, but thankfully British Pathe were there to capture Reagan’s formative years on film.

For example in this clip Ronald Reagan takes Patricia Neal to the Royal Command Film Performance in 1948 and meets the Queen. All of the women wear luscious fur coats, the men have their hair greased back. It’s useful to note the power that celebrity holds over American politics and the importance of building alliances with notable Hollywood figures.

Titled “Election Shocks” this British Pathe reel celebrates Ronald Reagan’s success in the 1966 election – “by a colossal million majority, the candidate is already spoken of as a Presidential candidate for next time”. This clip is also special as a historicak source in that it shows Edward Brooke laughing and waving as he is voted in to represent Massachusetts – “The first negro to win a seat there since the civil war”

Like Arnold Schwarzenegger today, Ronald Reagan became the Senator for California largely on the back of his celebrity and familiarity with the public. Whether this position will act as a middle ground too for Arnie between being an actor and a world leader remains to be seen.  Reagan was clearly a presence amongst the American political ranks for a good couple of decades before his appointment as President. He is name-checked here in a video documenting the 1964 election. President Johnson makes a dramatic and enraged speech, and then the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater makes a speech in a sold out Dodger’s Stadium. It’s interesting to learn that supporters bought tickets to hear Dodger talk.

You may be wondering which other famous figures were captured on camera by British Pathe before they reached the rocky heights of their career peak? To name a varied few – videos of George Orwell, David Dimbleby, Melanie Griffiths, and Arnold Schwarzenegger himself appear in the British Pathe archive.

Archive Androids: The History of Robots

Can you tell which is the robot?

We’ve taken a science fiction theme today and have been watching old videos in the British Pathe archive of robots and early computer technology. From roboticised shop mannequins to lipstick applying secretarial assistant androids – the development of robots in the 20th century was considered a fun and trivial affair. In the latter end of the archive there is a shift to much more serious robotic application however – post sorting robots, battery hen analysis and robots intended to fight wars.

Just taking the 1950s as an example here are three brilliant old newsreels related to robot science:

 “Atomic Robot a Handy Man” (1957 footage)

Video footage of a 1957 robot handing a cigarette to a secretary, applying her lipstick and then attempting to pinch her breasts!

Electronic Brain (1954)

Video footage of the Navy introducing its Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC) – Lots of mad lights and spinning tape reels!

Letter Sorting Machine (1956)

“Three times faster than a man” Includes excellent footage of an early “synthetic speech making machine”, known by many today as Microsoft Sam. The machine tries to mimic the human voice.

Keen to know more we Googled “History of Robots” and found a site called Mega Giant which has a fascinating history of robots. Did you know the history of robots dates as far back as 350 BC when Archytas built a mechanical bird that propelled itself using steam. In 322 BC the idea of robots occurred to Aristotle when he wrote “If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it… then there would be no need of slaves for the lords.” The word robot comes from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning ‘compulsory labour’.

See more computer technology films in the British Pathé archive here

The JFK Collection: Archive Videos of America’s Heroic President John F. Kennedy

 

America's finest leader?

If you Google “JFK Videos” it’s surprising how little shows up in search – a few grainy clips slapped onto YouTube, some pricey DVDs and conspiracy sites.

British Pathé is the proud owner of numerous John F. Kennedy videos, rare archived newsreels and clips that collectively document the whole JFK story. From his birth, education, early years and young career through to his presidential visits, private life and the assassination aftermath. Great clips of Jackie O can be found in the British Pathé archive too, notably her bereavement broadcast in which she thanks America for their kind letters of condolence.

Watch over 40 great JFK video clips here

The JFK film archive includes footage of the former president with Sir Winston Churchill; Jackie Kennedy with her children Caroline and John at the launch of a new ship; momentous footage of JFK speaking out against the Cuban missile crisis and priceless scenes of the furore following the assassination.

Cannibals On Film

1959

Today’s blog post is on the unusual but fascinating subject of cannibals. This 1959 clip follows Assistant District Officer Alan Jeffries as he arrests native tribesmen of New Guinea on charges of cannibalism, following a murder enquiry. Although the initial interest in this video stems from the core subject of cannibalism, the footage very rapidly becomes a piece of social commentary on social misunderstanding, colonialism, definitions of criminality and problems with cultural cohesion. The British police officer comes across as a bit of a Wicker Man esque Edward Woodward character, as he bounds about the jungle proclaiming charges according to his own country’s legislation.

Of course it is understandable why he would be angry, having discovered that his colleague was murdered and then eaten by the tribe. However, the British Pathe narrator is wincingly empiric when he announces –  “During their detention they’ll be taught the ways of white men, so that when they return home they’ll be able to reclaim others from savagery”.

The whole exercise comes across as ever so slightly farcical, as two naked New Guineans are handcuffed outside their shelter built from sticks. The newly taken prisoners, who naturally don’t speak English, then seem to assist the policemen in directing the party on their way across some river rapids.

The British Pathe archive has some incredible footage of previously unvisited tribes, including this incredibly early 1929 safety print of Dyak Pygmies – or this incredible 1931 material filmed in the depths of a Brazilian jungle.

LOOK AT WALES! (Retro 1956 colour video on reasons to visit Wales)

I can't! I can't!

This has to be one of the best Pathé newsreel titles to be discovered in the archive so far! “LOOK AT WALES” it screams in Caps Lock before a damp and rain stricken terrain of nonplussed sheep. Forget the cheesy tourism videos that we see on our screens today, this 1956 colour video takes tourism to new sarcastic heights. Unless the narrator is completely genuine when he declares “The sons and daughters of these farms have made their mark on history, yet remain loyally, even obstinately Welsh”. The dramatic music takes the viewers on an almost spiritual tour of Wales, whilst treating us visually to every aspect of Welsh culture, no matter how miniscule or obscure. Perhaps Wales should take on this very English, very alternative, patronising and borderline xenophobic marketing stategy once more. The clip has certainly left me thirsty for a holiday along the 500 miles of freezing coastline.

Watch the vintage promotional video LOOK AT WALES yourself now and see what all the excitement is about.