British Council digitises unique film archive

Thursday 03 May 2012

The films can be viewed or downloaded at: http://film.britishcouncil.org/british-council-film-collection

Stills from a selection of films are available to download at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishcouncil/sets/72157629940815687

Over 120 films providing fascinating snapshots of the UK’s cultural, sporting, industrial and political heritage have been launched online to the public today thanks to funding from Google and the British Council.

The films are from the British Council’s own film archive which dates back to late 1939 – and give an insight not only into a bygone age, but also serve to capture how cultural relations has changed. For several decades, the Council was an enthusiastic commissioner and distributor of documentaries, designed to showcase Britain to the outside world and promote democratic values at a time when fascism was spreading across Europe. The films were largely shown at embassies, consulates and to students and schoolchildren around the world. 

Many of the films are the work of talented filmmakers who went on to carve out hugely successful careers in the film industry.  For the last thirty years this remarkable collection of films has been preserved in the BFI National Archive yet rarely shown. The films are now available to the public to stream and download for the first time at www.britishcouncil.org/film.

Today, the British Council’s cultural relations mission is somewhat different. It operates in over 100 countries worldwide. Work includes English, education and cultural projects designed to build trust and mutually beneficial relationships in places where the UK divides opinion - such as Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Burma - and engagement with emerging markets such as India and China. Working in the Arts, English, Education and Society, last year the British Council engaged face to face with 18.4 million people and reached 652 million.

The films have been digitised by Time/Image, an archive agency that grew out of work placements organised at the British Council by New Deal of the Mind as part of the Digital Domesday project.  

Briony Hanson, the British Council’s Director of Film, said: “This is a hugely exciting Collection available digitally for the first time so that audiences can watch, enjoy, use and play with the films in imaginative creative ways. Important in its own right, the Collection represents a significant chapter in British documentary film history with involvement from some of the UK’s cinema greats from Jack Cardiff to Ken Annakin. Much more than that, it also gives a unique insight into how Britain wanted to portray itself internationally – a portrait which was probably quite far from the truth. With our self image very much in the spotlight again this summer as the world watches the Olympics and the Jubilee, these films encourage us to ask timely questions about what it means to be British.” 

Highlights include:

1) Border Weave - Film shot in glorious Technicolor film by Jack Cardiff (who went on to work with Powell and Pressburger) showing the industrialised manufacture of Harris Tweed. Explores how the modern mechanisation of the industry it is still very much rooted in a classic tradition. 

2) Morning Paper - Illustrates in fascinating detail how a daily newspaper (The Times) is produced on old Fleet Street – the men and machines nobly serving the public appetite for news during the Blitz. 

3) Man on the Beat – Shows the rigorous training necessary to become a police constable. Our man on the beat documents the scene of a traffic accident, helps the general public, keeps the peace and occasionally fights crime. 

4) Hospital School - Shows the care, treatment, and education given to children with long-term illnesses at Lord Mayor Treloar Cripples Hospital in 1945. Features the Observation Ward, X-ray Department, Operating Theatre, and the Massage and Exercise Room, as well as showing the children in their beds on sunny terraces. 

5)  English Criminal Justice - A fantastically dramatised documentary, directed by Ken Annakin (Battle of the Bulge) that depicts the various workings of the English legal system - including a striking scene of a murderer being sentenced to death. 

6) Life Cycle of the Onion - Using time lapse photography and some incredible close-ups - very state-of-the-art for the time - we see the life cycle of the onion - from seed, to leaf, to flower, to harvest, and to seed again. Directed by Mary Field.

7) The Great Game - Beginning with the teaching of football to children, it moves on to follow well-known teams to the 1945 Football League War Cup Finals at Wembley and Stamford Bridge, attended by King George VI and commentated by Raymond Glendenning. 

8) Julius Caesar / Macbeth - Two famous scenes from Shakespeare, the ‘Forum Scene’ and ‘Murder Scene’, played by classic English actors of the era including Felix Aylmer, Leo Genn, Catherine Lacey, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Wilfred Lawson.  

9) City Bound - A patriotic look at the daily commute into town faced by Londoners in 1941. Particular attention is given to buses, trains, and the Underground network to highlight the busy atmosphere of London, despite the war. 

10)  London River – Starting at the Docks of East London our cargo makes its way up-river towards the Houses of Parliament via a bustling Covent Garden market. 

For more information, contact Mark Moulding in the British Council Press Office on +44 (0)207 389 4889 or mark.moulding@britishcouncil.org  

Notes to Editor

The British Council creates international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide. We are a Royal Charter charity, established as the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. 

Our 7000 staff in over 100 countries work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year through English, arts, education and society programmes.  

We earn over 75% of our annual turnover of nearly £700 million from services which customers pay for, education and development contracts we bid for and from partnerships. A UK Government grant provides the remaining 25%.  We match every £1 of core public funding with over £3 earned in pursuit of our charitable purpose.  

For more information, please visit: www.britishcouncil.org. You can also keep in touch with the British Council through http://twitter.com/britishcouncil and http://blog.britishcouncil.org/.