Thursday July 11, 2019
For many years, the British Pathé newsreel was as much a part of a visit to the cinema as the B-film (‘I tell you, Inspector, I was nowhere near Southampton Docks that night!’), the travelogue, the main feature and the over-priced confectionary. Their final newsreel was produced in February 1970, and today the Pathé back catalogue is free to access on YouTube. Here are just ten reasons why we so enjoy showcasing this quite incredible historical resource –
1) The Motor Shows
It is would be near impossible to select the finest example of Pathé’s coverage of Earls Court, but the coverage of the 1963 show is especially enjoyable.
Peter Sellers contemplates the new Ford Consul Corsair, Sidney James gazes at a Mercedes-Benz 600 – and that is before we encounter the Rover 2000, the Jaguar S-Type and the Hillman Imp.
2) The Off-Beat Inventions
The “Propeller Car” almost certainly created a sensation in Yeovil back in 1955 while those motorised roller-skates must have inspired Last of The Summer Wine - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=293YOel1mYY&list=PL3kG3TM8jFKjThrnKqVPPGV4_kH-LtLx8&index=8.
Finally, an invention with no connection with motor transport but we could not resist its inclusion - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JlDaeLhPeE
3) Road Safety
Pathé would regularly instruct cinemagoers in safety on the highway, be they motorist or pedestrian. In 1964 you could learn of the Advanced Driving Course (cue dramatic incidental music, Morris Oxford Series Vis and tweed sports jackets) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPJSNYdG6cI – and 12 years earlier there was information about the Kerb Drill.
Meanwhile, 1963 footage of a traffic experiment in Crowthorne is a veritable classic car show – Citroën ID Safari, Ford Zephyr-Zodiac Mk .I, E-Series Vauxhall Wyvern, Morris Oxford Series IV Traveller - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QPeMWRvM7s
4) The Rally Footage
A warning to readers – this section of the Pathé archive can prove addictive, particularly to those of us who enjoy reading back issues of Autocar and The Motor.
The coverage of the 1955 Monte Carlo is an experience that is, frankly, joyous from the two-door Austin A30 to, the Daimler Conquest.
In the ’64 East African Safari, we have Eric Carlsson in his two-stroke Saab 96 and the victorious Hughes/Young Ford Consul Cortina while earlier that year a certain Morris Mini Cooper S won “The Monte” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nB8QUyZtdUQ
5) How We Used To Live
Shades of a certain ITV Schools Programme, but nevertheless appropriate.
In days gone by, “Pricerite” supermarkets offering cream of tomato soup for just 9 ½d were a novelty, as was driving your Renault Dauphine to the Leicester Tesco in 1961 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nB8QUyZtdUQ.
And some of the footage is a reminder of the joys of winter driving in a car without a heater - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Vm5jrwoMYo
6) The Voiceovers
The studio employed a succession of narrators, of who Bob Danvers-Walker and David de Keyser are probably the best remembered.
Bob was a jolly sort while Mr. de Keyser, a brilliant character actor who excelled as sinister villains, gave an almost mocking edge to his commentaries.
This report from 1961 has David reflecting on a collapsible caravan towed by an Austin A95 Westminster Countryman with the distinct air of ‘aren’t you glad you are not there’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqKNg1jg6pc
7) Jolly Holidays
What could be more enjoyable than spending a weekend in a tent mounted on the roof of an E-Series Vauxhall Velox? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zZMCImPRu8?
Others might opt for (a rain-swept) caravan break with a Standard Vanguard Phase One tow car - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g45ojW3arqg.
One of my favourite Pathé items is 1960’s Caravan Rally, with its array of Humber Super Snipes, Ford Zodiac Mk. IIs – and various chaps in “Where’s Wally “ knitted woollen hats - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrPeMAQuAos
8) The Promotional Films
In addition to producing newsreels, Pathé also made PR features for various manufacturing concerns – almost all of which are totally addictive.
Thrill to various cravat-wearing types evaluating the new Morris Oxford Series II in 1954 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xnc4arJjWgk.
Marvel at the Austin 152 milk float in a jaunty two-tone green - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrPeMAQuAos – or simply thrill to Safety Fast, a quite brilliant promotional short for MG - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KBKgw5Cvz8.
There is also the opportunity to see Alex Issigonis at the wheel of a Morris 1100 at Nuffield Place - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUosuPi-pjw – while my favourite is A Policeman’s Lot.
In 1962 London was under threat from Rover P4 thieves and burglars who favour glue-on moustaches - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woRLIT1nJgg. Fortunately, the Austin A99 Westminster of the law is never far away.
9) The Incidental Details
It is not just the cars, the road signs and the fact that virtually every other adult is permanently smoking a Players or a Woodbine.
It is the Sunblest delivery staff with their oiled quiffs - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrPeMAQuAos.
It is the footage of Bank Holiday traffic in 1968, with a Ford Zephyr-Six Mk. I that looks as though it is held together with paper-clips - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KBKgw5Cvz8.
It is a 1958-vintage story about London parking issues, with a cameo from Stirling Moss in a Sunbeam-Talbot 90 saloon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdHv01IgcWs.
And it is two ladies commuting to work in the boot of a Ford Consul Convertible - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woRLIT1nJgg
10) The Past Was A Very Strange Country
In 1955, some wild types went so far as to ride a scooter while smoking a pipe (the young devils) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awIXNN5ITII – and nine years later, driving an MG 1100 could turn a respectable sort into a sun-shaded road hog - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHmVXfKdFgM.
1964 also the release of one of Pathé’s most jaw-dropping releases, which opens with our narrator ranting ‘Just see what a wacky ridiculous operation that wife has started out on.
Watch her sitting there so calm and confident’. This is not a Harry Enfield/Paul Whitehouse spoof but a genuine feature in which said lady has arranged for an Austin Mini to be treated to a 21 guinea respray - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeGPt6RgjZI.
‘Terrifying thought - it’s not wildly expensive, and it's so quick ‘your wife can alter the colour of the car as easily as she can have her hair dyed’.
Worse – ‘your wife can do it while you’re at work!’. As Peter Sellers/Anton Rogers look-a-like husband stares aghast at the newly pink Mini, the Mr. Voiceover actually sounds as though he is in dire need of therapy.
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