Around the time that what was then called “British Pathé News” was producing A Day That Shook The World with the BBC, work also began on a companion series entitled Twentieth Century Hall of Fame. Both series are important additions to the archive, for they bring its content into the 21st century (Pathé News ended in February 1970). It was not until this year, however, that the series were made available to view on the British Pathé website.
Twentieth Century Hall of Fame chronicles the lives of the most important and well-known figures of the last 100 years, whether they be politicians, musicians, or sports stars. This is a diverse collection of biographies, including such characters as Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Grace Kelly, and Muhammad Ali. Each episode succinctly summarises in four-minutes the life of the subject, serving as a useful introduction.
Many of the episodes are made up of footage already contained within the British Pathé archive, but some footage is unique to this series. This is the case primarily with those people who came to prominence in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s. These include Princess Diana, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Mother Teresa.
The episodes are dated by the year in which the subject was born.
We are now entering into the period leading up to Remembrance Day. We have already blogged this week about the history of poppies and why we wear them (see Poppies: An Illustrated History), but there is plenty more to discuss and explore. Since Pathé’s war archive is extensive, we present here some potential starting points, with links here to key collections that can act as a way in.
The archive of World War Two material filmed by British Pathé is wide-ranging. Pathé cameramen went with the troops all around the world, and documented the destruction at home. Footage details warfare on land, at sea, and in the air. Some collections that may interest you include our D-Day clips, coverage of the Battle of the Atlantic, the dramatic escape from Dunkirk, and the devastation of the Blitz.
The Korean War is often referred to as “The Forgotten War”. Two and a half million people lost their lives in this conflict, including many British soldiers. Our Korean War Collection (just a selection) can be found here, or you can search our website for what you want.
As we approach Remembrance Day, that important British anniversary on which we reflect on the great sacrifices of previous generations, it is interesting to look at the history behind its key symbol – the poppy. Why do we wear it, and how did this tradition come about?
The First World War was an earth-shattering global catastrophe that marked the end of the optimism of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It was this “Great War” which first introduced the use of the red poppy (the Papaver rhoeas) for the purpose of remembrance.
No Man’s Land, a zone dividing the trenches of opposing forces, was heavily bombarded during the conflict. The beautiful scenery and grasslands of France and Belgium were churned into wet mud and desolate wasteland. It was here that many brave men fell after going “Over the top” to meet the flying bullets of enemy guns. And it was also here that, when the fighting had died down, poppies grew and spread in abundance, their blood-red colour providing a strong contrast to the brown muck. One of the most well-known references to this phenomenon comes in the war poem, “In Flanders Fields” by Lt Col John McCrae. One key line is:
If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields
These lines inspired their first use in the United States, where they were adopted by the National American Legion, in 1920. It was not long before the wearing of poppies as a sign of remembrance had spread to the United Kingdom, and it is here and in Commonwealth countries that the practice remains most common. Promoted by Douglas Haig, the poppies were soon widely worn on Remembrance Days. Made and sold by the Royal British Legion, the funds go to helping ex-servicemen and servicewomen and their families.
A film in the British Pathé archive details the making of poppies for distribution by the Royal British Legion. Made at the Richmond poppy factory, established as early as 1922, it has employed disabled ex-servicemen to construct the huge number of poppies needed every year. At the time the newsreel was produced in 1968, the factory had 300 staff and manufactured 13 million poppies per annum. To achieve such a mammoth task, they work all year round. Today, the factory produces as many as 36 million poppies per year, though the number of employees is only a fraction of what it once was.
The full film also details the other stirling work done by the Royal British Legion. It can be viewed by clicking here. This year the charity hopes to raise £42 million.
There’s been some controversy in recent years about the wearing of poppies and their meaning. There are also rival poppies – the white poppy for pacifists, and the purple poppy to remember animal victims of war. But the traditional red poppy is no doubt here to stay, and serves as a reminder of great courage and sacrifice, and also of how lucky we are. But, of course, we cannot forget the men and women who still fight for our safety in ongoing conflicts around the world today.
Today is the 45th anniversary of daredevil speed engineer Donald Campbell’s tragic death on Coniston Water in the Lake District, Great Britain. Campbell was only 45 years olds, he was attempting to break the landspeed record by breaking the 300 mph barrier. For decades Donald Campbell was a childhood pin-up to boys in Britain and around the world, and he had been a popular subject for British Pathé who filmed many of his world record attempts.
So popular was Campbell that when he crashed his vehicle Bluebird at Coniston Water British Pathé rushed to push a newsreel out to cinemas as soon as possible, and so they issued a Pathé News Special simply announcing the news of his death. They then followed this up with a more dramatic piece showing the crash itself.
In the Pathé News Special from 1967 the narrator announces “Donald Campbell the man who lived for speed is dead… his love for speed has cost him his life. During the past few weeks he was dogged by misfortune. Early engine trouble forced him to hold off a record attempt, then the weather was against him.. Pictures of the last tragic moments at Coniston are being rushed to this theatre!”
And here is that footage, a second newsreel issued by British Pathé called Fate Stepped In:
The macabre newsreel has an unusually shaky start as we hear the final words and sounds of Donald Campbell over the top of a blank screen, a rather sensationalist move on Pathé ‘s part. The Pathé narrator then explains how the conditions were actually quite smooth, but the night before Campbell “drew the Ace and Queen of Spades, the deadly shadow of remorseless fate – he was a superstitious man”.
It’s bizarre now to see a newsreel that is so speculative and melodramatic in its tone, but this style of news delivery has maintained itself partially across the decades. Although newsreaders are more regimented and factual today it is still quite common to see an on-location news anchor rounding up a reports with a relatively creative ending, perhaps incorporating a literary quote or an epigram. British Pathé was a forbearer of that emotive style.
Leading up to the crash scene we see incredible close-up shots of Donald Campbell’s vehicle bluebird setting off across Coniston. From 01:45 the lead up to the crash is shown, Bluebird speeding across the surface of the lake when suddenly it lifts into the air, flips and smashes down.
The narrator talks of Donald Campbell’s legacy as the newsreel ends with shots of the Bluebird K7’s wreckage and Campbell’s family and friends collecting pieces of debris.
To see British Pathe’s collection of all 16 Donald Campbell newsreels, including footage of his many fantastic world records, see below:
Who knew there used to be cinema carriages on trains? Or “saloons” as they were called…
Today we came across this exciting poster on the National Archives’ Flickr stream which reads – “There is a Comfortable & Luxurious Cinema Attached to this Train” – “Special Programme Compiled Exclusively For This Train by PATHE GAZETTE”, Commencing Monday, May 16th, 1938.
The poster is for an LNER train, which is the London North Eastern Railway service, so trains going from Kings Cross to places like Edinburgh. We can just picture the classy and demure travellers as they relaxed in the “Pathé L.N.E.R. Saloon”, the countryside silently sliding past them as they tucked into a feast of the latest British Pathé reels.
The films shown on the train were actually issued only 7 days before the scheduled event, so it was pretty hot off the press. It’s interesting to see that Ireland is quite well covered, and also that boxing appears to be the most highly-sought sport.
The train’s cinema carriage wasn’t free – it cost 1 shilling – so it would have been a bit of a treat, but think about it – people didn’t have televisions in the 1930s and they had to go to a cinema house to see moving footage. We love that the poster tells customers that the Pathé saloon is non-inflammable too! Of course earlier newsreels were made out of nitrate, and almost everybody smoked, so you can understand the concern.
ANYWAY. We were delighted to see that the poster then lists each reel that would feature in the screening. Using the date as a guide and searching the titles in the British Pathé film archive we’ve managed to find 32 out of 34 of the items on the trains bill, and we’ve put online links to each below so that you can pick and view the ones that interest you, or perhaps even re-live the experience and watch them all!