A brief introduction to the (non-existent) British Pathé footage of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight.
There has been a bit of confusion over the years regarding British Pathé’s collection of Wright Brothers footage. The famous siblings flew successfully for the first time 110 years ago this month (on 17 December 1903). Sadly, only photographs exist to document this historic achievement.
However, this didn’t stop British Pathé from cheekily claiming in a film to have footage from 1903. A newsreel released in 1927 purports to take the viewer “back to 1903 to see one of Wilbur Wright’s first flights”. This may not be a deliberate deception – the text does say “oneof Wilbur Wright’s first flights” – but the footage has nevertheless been lifted from another newsreel which, according to the contemporary captions in the film itself, was shot on 18 December 1908. (The similarities in the dates of the two flights probably haven’t helped here either.) The film features some really great shots of the plane being prepared prior to take off as well as the flight itself. You can view it here.
The mistake happened again in the 1990s when the BBC/British Pathé series A Day That Shook The World chronicled the “Wright Brothers’ First Flight”, again making use of the 1908 material. The intentions were probably more honest than in 1927 and it is likely to be a genuine error based on a long history of errors! (You can judge for yourself here).
But footage or no footage, the Wright Brothers’ maiden flight was a landmark in the history of human progress which deserves celebration and any filmed document of the siblings’ achievements should be cherished.
Today marks two notable anniversaries for which the British Pathé archive has some relevant footage. Most importantly, Joseph Stalin died 60 years ago, on 5th March 1953. Stalin, the former leader of the USSR, has gone down in history as one of the most controlling and murderous dictators the world has ever seen. His regime of fear caused the suffering of many of his own people – some estimates put deaths at 20-30 million. We included him in our recent gallery, 10 Faces of Evil, along with Adolf Hitler and other notorious criminals.
But Stalin is not universally derided. Although Russia itself has since acknowledged the awful crimes of his decades in power (indeed, see Khrushchev denouncing Stalin in 1956), there has been news coverage today concerning the opposing views about him in Georgia, where he was born in 1878. Some there revile him, but others proclaim him a “local hero”. The BBC News report can be read here.
British Pathé holds a great many films related to Stalin, but also newsreels announcing his death and footage revealing the reactions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia to their leader’s passing. You can find the relevant collection of films via this link.
The second notable anniversary concerns a great feat of British engineering. 70 years ago, the Gloster Meteor flew for the first time in the UK. Footage of the plane in flight from the 1940s on can be found in the British Pathé archive. Click here to explore.
For British Pathé’s collection of newsreels on the death of Stalin, click here.
For British Pathé footage of Gloster Meteors, click here.