September 2014 marks 75 years since the beginning of the Second World War, triggered by the invasion of the sovereign territory of Poland by the forces of Nazi Germany, in collaboration with the Soviet Union and Slovakia. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany in response.
This episode of the series A Day That Shook the World, a BBC / British Pathé co-production narrated by John Humphrys, briefly summarises the invasion.
There’s an interesting film in the archive concerning the production of television commercials by Associated British-Pathé (as the company was known from 1933 to 1958). It is introduced by McDonald Hobley, better known for his work with the BBC, who takes the audience – in this case, prospective clients – on a tour of Pathé’s Wardour Street studio, the newsreel archive, and the history of the company. This presentation, entitled Introducing Ourselves, was intended to show advertisers the good work that Pathé could do on television commercials, a new media they had begun to exploit only eighteen months previously (circa 1954).
As Hobley’s presentation reveals, Pathé produced about two hundred commercials a year and some of them are included in the film as a showreel. Hobley tries to limit expectations of the selection, not terribly convincingly, by describing the choice as “random…Not necessarily the best that we have produced, but we have tried to limit our selection to those which offer the types of production which we feel will appeal to you – the advertisers – in this area.”
Some of the ads are really quite entertaining and worth a watch, if you can stomach twenty-five minutes of what we’re now used to just fast-forwarding through. The showreel begins with Dunlop Tubeless Tyres, then moves on to: Max Factor’s Top Secret hair spray, Dunkies doughnuts, Guards Trousers, Amami Wave Set, Hiltone, Mum antiperspirant, Brylcreem, Disprin, Twinings Teas, Maxwell House coffee, Black & Decker tools, another Maxwell House ad, Burtons trousers, Hi Fi Lipstick from Max Factor, Mac Fisheries, Blackstone Opticians, Electrolux vacuum, Fred Fearnley Ltd. Scooters and Motorcycles, Scentinel Quiff air freshener, D.D.D., Dinneford’s, Setlers, Fray Bentos, an ad for bread, Bristow’s Hair Tonic, Tide detergent, Wm Younger’s Beer, another Fray Bentos commercial, Heinz, Brylcreem again, Peter Robinson, another for Dunlop, Huntley and Palmers, M & B Bitter, Tide, and Esso Extra.
What’s somewhat odd is that there appears to be some additional later footage tacked onto the end of the presentation. This dates from the 1970s, and must have been added to the film when the archive was under EMI ownership. These are a trailer for Love Story, starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal and a “rather fab” Chrysler Sunbeam ad from 1978.
Introducing Ourselves is valuable for its enticing glimpse behind the scenes of Pathé in the 1950s, the way in which the newsreel archive has by then already been deemed of historical significance worthy of preservation, and for including the only – at least in our collection – examples of Pathé’s commercial work, often forgotten due to the organisation’s usual focus on cinema news and theatrical films.
Watch Hobley’s introduction and behind-the-scenes footage in Part Onehere.
Watch the various commercials in Part Two of the presentation here.
Last night, the BBC aired a special edition of its popular Countryfile series, guest-edited by Prince Charles. Reviews today have been good and it seems there is agreement that the Prince came out of the programme very well. Do watch the episode on iPlayer if you get a chance (link).
If you saw the programme, you’ll remember that Prince Charles was shown some archive footage of his time at Balmoral in his youth to stir up some memories.
The footage was from a British Pathé film, “Balmoral Holiday” (1957), which can be viewed in full here. Some additional clips shown to the Prince came from these cuts from a 1955 piece “Royal Family On Holiday”. The completed film can be seen too, here.
The “delightfully informal” footage shows Charles and his family enjoying the countryside, feeding the animals, and spending some time with each other away from their tiresome ceremonial duties.
A few years ago, what was then called “British Pathé News” began a production with the BBC called A Day That Shook The World. Two series were eventually made, the first narrated by John Humphrys, and they are available on our website to view (for free) in our programmes section. The last Pathé newsreel was released in February 1970, so this series and the associated series 20th Century Hall ofFamebring the archive beyond the twentieth century.
Topics covered by the series include September 11th, the Iraq War and the Capture of Saddam Hussein, the collapse of Enron, the Asian Tsunami, and the London Bombings. From this period, the series also covers the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla – not quite an event that “shook the world” but certainly an interesting one.
From the latter part of the twentieth century, the series documents the impeachment of President Clinton, the death of Diana, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf War, Chernobyl, and the Falklands Crisis. Prior to that we are in classic Pathe territory, with episodes succinctly summarising key events using Pathe footage that was captured at the time – the Somme, Hiroshima, Queen Victoria’s funeral, to name but a few. The series therefore acts as a useful entry point into an archive of 90,000 clips to wade through.
In 1958, Warner Brothers merged with Associated British Picture Corporation (parent company of Pathé-branded newsreel and feature film producers, Associated British-Pathé) to form Warner-Pathé. The new management oversaw the introduction of colour into regular news production (it had hitherto been saved for special documentaries such as Elizabeth Is Queen). But Warner-Pathé needed more than colour in order appeal to consumers who were increasingly getting their hard news from live television. Other newsreel brands went out of business, and the company needed to adapt if it was going to survive. The answer it found was to focus on the quirks of humanity.
“Cinemagazines” were not an invention of the 1960s. They actually date right back to 1913 and the Kinemacolor Fashion Gazette, though it was Pathé-Cinema which perfected the form with 1918’s Pathé Pictorial. But the 1960s were the cinemagazine’s heyday. Colourful, quirky, and fun, they were also light on information and hard news. In some ways, this footage is more valuable today than when it was filmed. At the time, mere light entertainment, it now serves as a window into the leisure activities of the British people in the 1960s. Indeed, the collection was used extensively in the 2012 BBC Four series British Passions on Film.
Regardless of the merit of the output, the company could simply not compete with the rise of television. In 1969, the final Pathé Pictorial cinemagazine was released, shortly followed by the last edition of Pathé News. This was when Associated British-Pathé went through a radical transformation, from an active news and film production house, into a dormant film archive.
As the Warner-Pathé staff on Wardour Street were wrapping up their long history of news and feature film production, they were purchased from Warner Brothers by EMI (which later became Thorn EMI). The cameras in Wardour Street may have stopped rolling, but an archive of historic importance remained. The value of its content was immediately clear and television programmes featured visits to the archive. One was Clapperboard with Chris Kelly, which was broadcast on ITV. The collection was now available to be mined by future generations of filmmakers and documentarians, and licensing became the chief occupation of the archive staff.
After a long period without much change, a significant development took place in the later 1980s. Thorn EMI was purchased by The Cannon Group in 1986, which sold the Associated British-Pathé newsreel archive the following year. Cannon did not, however, sell the assets of the feature film arm of Associated British-Pathé. Thus, for the first time, the Pathé-branded UK feature film and newsreel arms were separated, as they remain today. (The feature film assets now lie with StudioCanal.) By 1990, the archive was operating as British Pathé News. It was at this time that the company produced the respected series A Day That Shook the World and Twentieth Century Hall of Fame, as well as Year to Remember, which is still popular on DVD today.
1995 marks an important year in the recent history of the archive. Firstly, British Pathé News was purchased by the Daily Mail and General Trust. Secondly the name was shortened to British Pathé (plc, later Ltd). From 2003 to 2009 the archive was represented by ITN Source and became a respected resource for filmmakers, museums and educators. During this time, the entire archive was digitised in an effort funded partly by the National Lottery.
The Independent Archive
In 2009, British Pathé Ltd became, in essence, an independent archive (as opposed to a part of a larger corporation) for the first time in its history. This new era saw the introduction of a museum subscription service, an increase in licensing and programming (notably including The Story of British Pathé, a four-part BBC Four series), and an expansion in the company’s online presence (the entire archive is available to view online for free and is complemented by Facebook, Twitter and WordPress pages, as well as a YouTube channel). In 2012, the archive was awarded “Footage Library of the Year” at the Focal International Awards.
For the foreseeable future, British Pathé looks set to remain a remembered and respected brand within the British cultural consciousness.
British Pathé is always keen for corrections and additional information about its footage and corporate history. Please email us or leave a comment beneath the relevant clip on the website.
Due to the increasing popularity of British Pathé we thought it was time to build a better website for you, and so we are thrilled to announce today the launch of our new online archive. Take a look at these exciting new features:
Surf British Pathé on the move: The entire archive can now be watched on iPhones, iPads and other smart devices using our improved video player.
A newly enhanced search facility: All 90,000 reels are now dated and correctly tagged, and so an extra 20,000 reels are findable using the new timeline search tool.
Exclusive programmes: Online series that are free to view. First up it’s ‘Hall of Fame’ and ‘A Day That Shook The World’. Look out for rare British Pathé series from the past such as Secrets of Nature and Feminine Pictorialities.
Comments: That’s right – we are going to let you leave comments on our videos now! You can add details and facts, point out people you know, share your thoughts in general and perhaps be reunited with old chums!
Workspaces: You can now publish and share your own mini collection of reels within the archive, selecting clips of a certain theme or topic that interests you.
We’re really excited to have this new site which is now live, and proud to say that it is entirely free to use. No login is required but if Your British Pathé login details will still work just the same.
ITMA was a popular BBC sketch show during the war in the 1940s, with recurring characters and catchphrases, something between Carry On and Catherine Tate. This video shows the farewell show of the series with comedian Tommy Handley.
Fred Yule, Jean Capra and Dorothy Summers feature in the clip. It’s a wonderful example of classic BBC comedy. Well worth a watch.
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