Decline and Transformation: British Pathé from 1958 to the present day

by James Hoyle, archive co-ordinator for British Pathé

This post is Part IV of IV.

For the years 1895 to 1910, see blog post “Pathé Before British Pathé”.

For the years 1910 to 1933, see blog post “Establishing Itself”.

For the years 1933 to 1958, see blog post “A Golden Age”.

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.

Warner-Pathé offices on Wardour Street, 1963

“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.

The opening of the final edition of Pathé News in February 1970.

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.

The Archive under EMI ownership

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 British Pathé Ltd logo as it was in 2009

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.

DAILY MAIL launch EXCLUSIVE British Pathé DVD give-away!

This weekend Daily Mail readers will be able to get their hands on seven incredible DVDs of rare British Pathé footage. In collaboration with the archive, The Daily Mail is giving away to its readers copies of a piercing and poignant series entitled A Year to Remember.

November is always a time for nationwide gratitude towards Britain’s war veterans and for appreciating the colossal endeavours of troops overseas today.

 A Year to Remember: The War Years is a unique compilation of British Pathé newsreels and covetable archive footage from The Second World War that depicts and documents the most momentous events as they happened, drawing on the thousands of canisters locked away in British Pathé’s vaults.

Presented as a collectable series of seven DVDs (one for each year from 1939-1945) A Year To Remember will be available exclusively with The Mail on Sunday and The Daily Mail, so make sure to pick up a copy of The Mail this remembrance Sunday.

These discs will offer unprecedented depth with their fascinating and groundbreaking footage, giving an incredible insight into the global conflicts of yesteryear that still shape the world that we live in today. A must-have for history enthusiasts, students and lovers of archive footage, but also for anyone who wants to see dramatic footage of Britain’s role in The Second World War, both at home and on foreign soil, as it has never been seen before.

Tokens for each DVD will be available in the following issues of The Daily Mail:

(The Daily Mail) Saturday 13th Nov

(Mail on Sunday) Sunday 14th Nov

(The Daily Mail) Monday 15th Nov

(The Daily Mail) Tuesday 16th Nov

(The Daily Mail) Wednesday 17th Nov

(The Daily Mail) Thursday 18th Nov

(The Daily Mail) Friday 19th Nov

Q: How do you then get your copy of each DVD?

A: You then take the token to a WHSmiths, Tesco or Sainsbury’s to swap it for the DVD. Simple! (Not at petrol station branches or airports, but any other branches of these stores, however small).

We’ll be reminding you on Twitter from @BritishPathe each morning – look out for the hash tag #YTR

Let us know what you think of the DVDs on our Facebook page entitled ‘British Pathé Film Archive’