On 21st March it will have been 50 years since that well-known prison, immortalised in numerous films and television shows, shut its doors in 1963. British Pathé covered the news in the film “Everybody Out!” which claims to reveal the interior of Alcatraz “for the first and last time” – though this seems to be an exaggeration since the interior features in earlier Pathé clips as well! In the minute-long clip, we see the last remaining convicts moved to other prisons (view the newsreel here). A film from the year before, “Alcatraz Replaced“, announces the decision to close the prison and also shows its replacement, called “Marion”, under construction.
As the films explain, Alcatraz was originally an army fort. It was therefore an ideal location for an “escape-proof prison for America’s worst criminals”. It closed due to lack of space for the rising US prison population.
But “escape-proof” wasn’t an entirely accurate description for the prison. Break-out attempts at Alcatraz were numerous (14 in total during the island’s 30 year history as a state penitentiary) and three of them feature in films within the British Pathé archive. The first escape film seemingly dates from 1938, though it describes events of the year before, and warns the American public to be on the lookout for inmates Ralph Row and Ted Cole, who apparently succeeded in breaking out, though it is now presumed that they perished in the attempt.
The second film, from 1946, covers a dramatic gun battle between prison guards, marines and the prisoners. Some of the grenade explosions are caught on camera by newsreel staff eager to ignore the danger for the sake of some close-ups. The 44-hour battle left two guards and three convicts dead. Two other inmates were later executed.
The final film, “Daring Escape” (1962), features an image of a lifelike dummy in one of the prison beds used by the escapees to fool the guards. The fugitives were never caught, if indeed they survived the attempt. The events might be familiar, because they formed the basis of the 1972 Clint Eastwood film, Escape From Alcatraz.
Today, Alcatraz is a museum which, given its history, must be worth a visit if you are ever in San Francisco.
This weekend, HMS Belfast, the famous ship which has inhabited the Thames since 1971 as a museum, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of her launch. The Royal Navy cruiser was launched on 17th March 1938 at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. British Pathé has footage of the occasion in its archive, which can be viewed here. The launch can be found mid-way through the clip, which begins as an item about Mrs Chamberlain opening a new airport (though due to the fact that some footage has gone missing, the clip doesn’t feature Mrs Chamberlain at all!)
As well as the launch, there are some additional films in which HMS Belfast makes an appearance. The most substantial is an item about Royal Navy cadets taking the ship to Gibraltar. The 1963 newsreel, “Cadets Try Sea Life“, features some nice shots of HMS Belfast and the cadets lined up on her deck for her departure from Portsmouth.
There are two other films of note: “Tanganyika Independent“, about the celebrations for the independence of Tanganyika (later Tanzania) in 1961, shows HMS Belfast lit up at night in the harbour. “Royal Navy Ships“, filmed some time in the 1940s, shows some crew members messing around with an HMS Belfast lifebuoy.
There are also four items from the 1970s which show HMS Belfast on the Thames. You can find the films in this collection. British Pathé stopped releasing newsreels in February 1970 (see our History of British Pathé), and so much of the material in the archive from that decade is silent, unedited, and never released. This HMS Belfast footage is a good example, but the films are an enjoyable watch due to some beautiful aerial views of London and the River Thames.
HMS Belfast saw action in the Second World War, beginning with the arctic convoys. She also took part in the Battle of North Cape and the Normandy landings. Later, she was used in the Korean War. In the 1970s she became a museum ship and has been visited by scores of tourists and history-lovers ever since. It’s worth a visit if you’ve never been.
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.
Earlier in January, the Football Association kicked off celebrations to mark its 150th anniversary.
The FA was established in 1863 and codified the modern rules of that great English sport. Not too long after, in 1871, the very first FA Cup match was held. Sadly, this was too early to be captured by motion picture cameras and the first FA Cup material photographed by British Pathé seems to be some shots of the winning 1914 Burnley team (they beat Liverpool 1-0). The earliest actual in-game footage, though, appears in the clip “ASTON VILLA WIN English Cup for the sixth time – defeating Huddersfield in Cup Final by a lucky goal after extra time”. The film dates from 1920. Almost all of the Cup Final matches were covered by British Pathé from that date on, until the company finished newsreel production in 1970. A collection of the films can be explored here, in date order.
As well as coverage of the FA Cup, the British Pathé archive holds a wealth of other great games and classic football moments. Simply searching for “football” on our website brings up an astonishing 2333 clips – far too many to detail here! But some particularly interesting material can be found via these links:
Brazilian footballer Edison Arantes do Nascimento (or “Pele”) performed so well at the 1958 World Cup Final v Sweden that it was documented in an episode of A Day That Shook The World. Click here to view the episode.
The year before, it was the Hungary team which was scoring with exceptional skill. Ferenc Puskas, that legendary player and coach, was playing against England when he scored this terrific goal. Click here to view the film.
21st January 2013 is the inaugural Annual George Orwell Day. The date has been chosen for the day of his death (21st January 1950). British Pathé holds three films of direct relevance to the life and works of Orwell.
The earliest is a film entitled “Eton Wall Game” and it shows students at Eton celebrating St Andrew’s Day in 1921. Apparently, the film features a young George Orwell, something which has been verified by one of his biographers, D.J. Taylor. View the film here. If you know which one is Orwell, do leave us a comment below.
The other two clips date from after Orwell’s death. One covers the premiere of the film “1984” in London, along with a glimpse at an art director’s model of London, an arrow pointing to “Victory Square”. See the red carpet activities and the model here.
But the more interesting clip takes us behind the scenes of the animated adaptation of “Animal Farm” in the 1950s. We get to see storyboarding, animating and short sections of the finished film. Watch the fascinating three-minute examination of the work that went into the classic cartoon here.
London Underground, known colloquially as “the Tube”, is the oldest subway system in the world. Since the first service was launched 150 years ago, on 10th January 1863, it has carried an unbelievable number of passengers (now over 1 billion a year!) beneath the streets of The Big Smoke. By the time British Pathé was producing newsreels in the 1910s, there were already a number of different lines, which probably explains why so little footage of the Underground features in the archive until the Second World War, when its use as air raid shelters presumably made it newsworthy again. Indeed, prior to 1939, British Pathé often seemed more interested in the subways of other countries than in its own.
British Pathé was mainly concerned with new construction. As early as 1925 the company released a newsreel on the removal of the statue of Eros necessitated by the building of a new Piccadilly station and the next year the creation of the world’s largest tube line – from Edgware to Hendon – also earned newsreel coverage (view it here). Following the war, Transport Minister Alfred Barnes could be seen in a newsreel from 1946 opening a 4-mile extension of the Underground to Stratford (which would prove vital for the 2012 Summer Olympics). The work cost £3.5 million, employing 2000 – “sizeable figures for 9 minutes travel”. In the film, we get glimpses of tube journeys in the 1940s, including some nice interior shots of the carriages. The next year, Barnes opened another extension in Essex on the Central Line and in the film documenting it, the cameras travel through the new stations from Wanstead to Gants Hill.
The opening ceremony for Stage 3 of the Victoria Line involved the Queen not only operating the vehicle from the driver’s cabin but taking her second-ever journey in a tube carriage. The newsreel, “Queen Opens New Victoria Line (1969)”, can be viewed here.
Aside from construction work, British Pathé was preoccupied with the work of cleaning and maintaining the tunnels and stations. In 1944, we took an “exclusive” look at women war workers, known as “fluffies” or “fluffers”, who cleaned the Underground every night. An interesting reveal is the extraordinary amount of fluff created by people’s clothing during just one day. Other features on tube cleaners followed, such as on the “Rubber Man” Leonard Ware, who was responsible for erasing graffiti (the cinemagazine names “the moustache” as the most common form of it). We don’t know what was cut from this clip, but the graffiti certainly seems rather mild – and it’s all in pencil! If only Tube staff today were so lucky. You can see the light-hearted 1947 film here. There are also films from 1949 and 1950 documenting cleaning work after hours.
British Pathé always liked to show things it believed to be unknown or unusual, so as well as “fluffies”, the company had a look at less mundane uses for the Tube. These included the Post Office’s own underground railway, the telephone exchange within an unused Tube tunnel and, of course, as air raid shelters during the Blitz.
British Pathé also documented some of the tragedies which occurred on London Underground during its long history. In 1939, a terrorist attack forced two damaged stations, Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road, to be shut temporarily. Only two days after the maiden service on the Stratford extension discussed above, two people were killed when a train collided with a second, thankfully empty, carriage. Any footage of the aftermath is currently missing, but the newsreel announcing the incident is here. 1953 saw another tube crash near Stratford in which 8 adults and 1 child were killed, with 49 others injured. The newsreel shows the damaged interiors of the carriages, as well as rescue workers bringing out the dead. Luckily, the fire on the unfinished Victoria Line in 1966 claimed no lives. And while the British Pathé footage ends with the Victoria Line in 1969, apart from a few silent clips from the 1970s, an episode of A Day That Shook The World documents the horrific events of the July 2005 London bombings. An interesting look at safety on the Underground is provided by a film from 1955 showing new recruits in training, which involved miniature railways and mock-ups of various safety devices.
Finally, British Pathé’s extensive collection of strike footage also includes the 1962 Tube Strike, which made people realise “how London depends on the Underground”.
And indeed it does. This 150th anniversary is one worth celebrating.
For British Pathé’s collection of clips on London Underground, click here.
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:
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.