Pathé’s Hidden Treasures

“That’s all very well, but what has the Pathé archive got for ME?”

It can be tempting to think of the British Pathé archive as being only of interest to those with a passion for the history of the Twentieth Century. After all, the bulk of the footage comes from around 1914 to 1969 – the earliest clip in the archive is from 1895 (New Blacksmith Shop) with the most recent material contained within a BBC/British Pathé co-production covering the collapse of Enron in 2006 – but there is in fact plenty for those with a preference for other historical periods, or those who have specialist interests, to explore. The Pathé archive isn’t all about the Queen and British politics.

An obvious starting place for those with an interest in history prior to the Twentieth Century, is the archive relating to Ancient Egypt. We have footage of Howard Carter in front of the tomb of Tutankhamun, as well as shots of the treasures found within. (Visit our Tutankhamun collection here.)

Howard Carter at the tomb of Tutankhamun.

But as well as that famous pharoah and his discoverer, our extensive archaeology archive (click here) contains coverage from all parts of the world. You’ll be able to see Tudor and Roman Britain excavations, tour Pompeii, the Middle East, and dive the oceans to explore shipwrecks.

It’s true that none of these clips are necessarily going to help you study these periods (unless you want to look at how they were portrayed in the Twentieth Century), but they are surely of interest. What Egyptologist wouldn’t marvel at seeing Carter at the tomb, or the glistening treasures on display?

There’s also stuff for people who don’t even like history (if such people exist). Here we present just a few ideas for exploring the archive for those with specialist interests.

A still from the series Secrets of Nature.

Fascinated by science, animals, or insects? Try the classic Secrets of Nature – it covers the amazing life-cycles of plants, via some stunning microscope photography, as well as detailing the lives of many species of animals, birds, and insects.

Haven’t travelled enough? Take the cheap option and travel the world through British Pathé’s collection of travelogues. Escape the humdrum of everyday life with these clips (for the most part in colour) of numerous sites – from the ancient cities of Jerusalem, Rome, and Thebes, to the culturally rich capitals of Paris and Moscow, to the childish delights of Disneyland in sunny California.

Like animation? See Jerry the Troublesome Tyke, a classic animated series from the silent era, addictive due to its immense charm and wealth of humour.

What about music? We’ve got the Rolling Stones! Or visit our Beatlemania archive.

The Power of Nature.

Interested in the power of nature? Watch volcanoes explode, the earth shake, and rocks tumble in this collection.

Want to see an eclipse? Look at these:

Always wanted to be an astronaut? Rewatch the moon landings or other significant events from the Space Race in our collection.

Or just want to pass the time with some wacky stuff? We’ve got a collection of crazy inventions, or just try searching for something. The still below is from our “Robot Boy” video, which has been popular recently. We found it by accident when looking for something else.

So search the archive for hidden gems at There’s 90,000 clips with something for everyone! Thought of some topics we’ve missed? Leave us a comment below. Happy searching!

Archive Androids: The History of Robots

Can you tell which is the robot?

We’ve taken a science fiction theme today and have been watching old videos in the British Pathe archive of robots and early computer technology. From roboticised shop mannequins to lipstick applying secretarial assistant androids – the development of robots in the 20th century was considered a fun and trivial affair. In the latter end of the archive there is a shift to much more serious robotic application however – post sorting robots, battery hen analysis and robots intended to fight wars.

Just taking the 1950s as an example here are three brilliant old newsreels related to robot science:

 “Atomic Robot a Handy Man” (1957 footage)

Video footage of a 1957 robot handing a cigarette to a secretary, applying her lipstick and then attempting to pinch her breasts!

Electronic Brain (1954)

Video footage of the Navy introducing its Naval Ordnance Research Calculator (NORC) – Lots of mad lights and spinning tape reels!

Letter Sorting Machine (1956)

“Three times faster than a man” Includes excellent footage of an early “synthetic speech making machine”, known by many today as Microsoft Sam. The machine tries to mimic the human voice.

Keen to know more we Googled “History of Robots” and found a site called Mega Giant which has a fascinating history of robots. Did you know the history of robots dates as far back as 350 BC when Archytas built a mechanical bird that propelled itself using steam. In 322 BC the idea of robots occurred to Aristotle when he wrote “If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it… then there would be no need of slaves for the lords.” The word robot comes from the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning ‘compulsory labour’.

See more computer technology films in the British Pathé archive here

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