Amy Johnson – 1930s Queen of the Air

Bravo Amy! Amy Johnson on her return from South Africa

Amy Johnson was a much- fêted and courageous English aviatrix. Back in the 1930s she set many ground breaking records, including being the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. A heroine of her day, the Pathé cameras would often be waiting for Amy to commend and report on her achievements.

In 1933, during a flight from South Wales to the USA, Amy and her aviator husband, Jim Mollison, crash landed in Connecticut and according to our Pathé notes it was “after Husband ignored Wife’s advice to stop and refuel”. One would have thought this would have been significant advice and urgently acted upon in a 1930s aeroplane!

You can watch an interview with the couple after their crash landing. The pair are wheeled out in bath chairs to talk to the press. Jim, with a cigarette in his hand, resembles someone who has been in a considerable brawl. He calmly states, “we didn’t arrive in quite the way we anticipated”. One can only imagine what a wife would be saying to her husband after such an event….perhaps along the lines of ‘I did tell you we needed fuel”.

"Jim, I told you we needed fuel"

The extent of both Amy and Jim’s celebrated status at the time can be seen in this film where 200,000 New Yorkers turned out for an extraordinary ticker tape parade in their honour. If it wasn’t for the enormous bandage taped to Jim’s head, the parade could be mistaken for a Presidential inauguration party.

Heroic welcome in New York

 The last film we have of Amy is from 1939 when she swapped her aeroplane for a fast car and took part in the Monte Carlo car rally. Amy died on a short flight in 1941 when her plane came down miles off course in the Thames Estuary. She was just 38 years old. Many conspiracy theories and rumours surrounded her death at the time and even to this day there is still not a clear explanation as to what happened. For such an accomplished woman whose decorated career and movements were filmed by Pathé, it does seem strange we have no film in the archive mentioning the tragedy that befell her. However, at least we only have positive reminders of this British star.

1939, Last Pathe footage of Amy Johnson

Ejector Seats for Dummies: British Pathe were there when everything sprang into action

Look - just smile for the cameras okay kiddo

Tinker, tailor, soldier, ejector seat guinea pig. It’s the sort of job a Briton just wouldn’t do these days, let alone in beautiful Buckinghamshire. But here they are, in broad 1950s daylight, rocketing men up towers of scaffolding to test ejector seats in Denham. As the narrator says – “You either like that sort of thing or you don’t”. Certainly, families part with a lot of money for similar experiences at funfairs and theme parks. Watch the lads playing with their ejector seat here, or see further below for unused reels from the same base. Ernest Greenwood and Toni Luchetti are noted in the canister notes as being two of the mechanics in the video.

Here in Philadelphia, they used giant safety nets to catch their ejected. Startling footage:

Is it a dummy? Is it a man? Don't tell us.

It’s 1964 now and we’re spending the afternoon with the Ministry of Defence in South Wales. Luckily they’re not ejecting unemployed actors this time, but crash dummies. When you see the speeds you’ll see why:

It was either this or a sheep.

The video below shows an ejector seat in action in California. The pilot springs out of the aircraft, hurtles through the air in his chair and lands in the ocean. Thrilling archive footage:

Now which button was the ice dispenser?

For more ejection take a look in the British Pathe archive online at or perhaps retro shop dummies are more your thing? It’s all in there!

Videos of Bastille Day: Archive Footage of the French Revolution Commemorated

Every year Paris puts on a grand military parade to signify July 14th, the day that the Bastille prison was stormed, a symbol and defining moment of the French Revolution. For military and French history enthusiasts, you’ll be thrilled to know that British Pathe have dozens of videos of Bastille Day across the 20th century. Take a look at these reels:

Bastille Day 1916

Bastille Day 1932

Bastille Day 1937

Bastille Day 1938

Bastille Day 1942

Bastille Day 1943

Bastille Day 1947

Bastille Day 1948

Bastille Day 1952

Bastille Day 1955

Bastille Day 1956

Bastille Day 1958

Bastille Day 1959

Bastille Day 1961

Bastille Day 1962

Bastille Day 1963

Bastille Day 1966

Bastille Day 1968

Fringing on the Past: Edinburgh Festival Video Logs

The 'Fringe Faces' perform the "The French queer dance" !

The Edinburgh Festival will be bigger than ever this year, in fact, it will be physically impossible to watch even a tenth of the 2453 shows on offer. To get ourselves in the mood we’ve been watching some archive Fringe films, in particular this great 1963 video log.

We love some of the stranger acts on offer. Today many of the Fringe’s acts are mega stars, with appearances from television faces Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais and Simon Amstell. Back in the 60s it really was people on the outer fringes of stardom…!

The festival is understandably a very commercial affair today, but its roots are planted in a passion for the arts as can be seen in British Pathe’s footage of the festival. The 1963 video shows Benjamin Britten discussing music with the festival’s then artistic director Lord Harewood.

Some posters from the 1963 Edinburgh Fringe

It wouldn’t be National Kissing Day without the Snogometer

With the professionalism of a scientist, Malcolm watches his first pair of guinea pigs intently.

Today is National Kissing Day, and so the internet is full of stories from womens magazines and cosmetics brands on the subject of kissing. Do women in Britain enjoy less kissing than women on the continent? Which waxwork dummy is kissed the most by tourists in Madame Tussauds? (Answers at the bottom).

British Pathé were on the radio this morning because way back in the 1960s they filmed some startling developments in kissing technology. Indeed, British Pathé cameramen travelled to Trowbridge in Wiltshire to meet teenager Malcolm Pickard and his…. Snogometer.

Malcolm spent two pounds on the electrical equipment, and admittedly it’s quite hard to work out what the gadget does. The narrator tells us – “There were quite a few shocks when Malcolm introduced his invention to members of a local youth club”

The video shows the mother sitting and watching, knitting even, whilst Malcolm gets down to work on his experimenting with snogging teenagers! A 15 year old couple kiss and the Snogometer starts flashing wildly, but when an older couple kiss the light bulb blows!

The clip has a fantastic 1960s musical score which to teenagers today might remind them of Austin Powers or other comedic parodies of the era. But this is the real thing! “Holy smoke!”

Where can we get our hands on a Snogometer? And what happened to Malcolm Pickard? Did he start up a specialist electrical store in Trowbridge? We imagine he’d be in his 60s!

Watch the Snogometer video here!

The young lovers are eager to see how their snogging rates!

Oh, and those answers: British women are lagging behind other countries in the kissing stakes, with 24% admitting to having not been kissed in a year! However, Britons were voted the best country AT kissing. Boris Johnson is the most kissed waxwork in Madame Tussauds, beating George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

From Hot Pot to Blackpool’s Hotties: Lancashire’s Past On Film

Last Monday BBC Radio Lancashire spoke to Alastair White from the British Pathe film archive about Lancashire’s rich and varied history, much of which was captured on film by British Pathe. Certainly some of Lancashire’s most momentous moments, including an FA Cup victory and key milestones in the war effort, make for a fascinating watch.
Here are links to some of the videos discussed on the show, and below is a general link to the entire Lancashire collection.
One of the first challenges that archivists had to tackle whilst putting together this footage was sorting through hundreds of newsreels and videos on Liverpool and Manchester, both cities being listed as ‘Lancashire’ in the canister notes and filed away as so in British Pathe’s Pinewood vault, as the footage pre-dates the county’s boundary alterations!
Babies battle it out on the catwalk to be donned Lancashire's cutest


Blackpool Pier goes up in flames, 1938

Brilliant aerial footage, one of the biggest breaking news stories in Britain that day.

Geoffrey Lloyd leads a forboding Gas Mask demonstration in Blackburn, 1937

 Lancashire was at the forefront of the war effort.

"Every bit as nice as Miami" - A great 1930 swimwear show in Blackpool!

Beauty Pageants and fashion shows aimed at holidaymakers are a well established tradition in Blackpool. The British Pathe website has many videos of these fun events. Brrrr.

The Cotton Queen, 1936. A Beauty pageant for mill workers' daughters.

The narration in this Cotton Queen video is quite amusing. What happened to the Cotton Queen anyway? We think Lancashire should bring the contest back, don’t you?

Blackpool wins the FA Cup against Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in 1953.

Watch 60 more great archive videos of Lancashire’s past here in the British Pathe film archive.

Luxury Cruise Liner ‘S.S. United States’ Saved From Scrapper By Generous Millionaire – 1st July 2010

A sailor watches the maiden voyage in 1952

The famous luxury passenger ship S. S. United States has been saved from the scrapper thanks to a million dollar pledge being made by Philadelphian philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.

The much-loved ship, which has its own conservation group, has received financial support from notable figures including Bill Clinton in the past, he once enjoyed a cruise aboard the ship during the 1960s.

Several American news groups, including USA today and the Wall Street journal reported yesterday that a deal had been struck between Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Conservancy to save the ship.

British Pathé filmed the maiden voyage of the S. S. United States in 1952. The video clip in the British Pathé film archive is called ‘Blue Riband First Try’. Grace Kelly, a close friend of the British Pathé team, was another regular guest aboard the luxury ship.