British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Wartime Newsreel British News Now Online

Issues of the newsreel British News is now online and available for download from the British Council Film Collections website. This war-time newsreel was produced for the British Council by the Newsreel Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This meant that every week one of the five major newsreel companies, which made up the Association, compiled an issue from the following newsreels: British Movietone News, British Paramount News, Gaumont British News, Pathe Gazette and Universal News.

This production had its roots in the newsreel produced by the Association for the British Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York from May to October 1939. Discussions about this production, known as the ‘New York Newsreel’, started in October 1938 between the British Council, various government departments and the Association. Notably the Association felt they should bear no expense since the newsreel was in their view furthering ‘National propaganda’ with its depiction of life in Britain (Newsreel Association Minutes from meeting on 11/10/1938). The newsreel had a very positive reception in New York and it continued to be produced for the duration of the Fair from May to October 1939. When discussion started again in early 1940 about production for the next season of the Fair these gradually moved from the production of a ‘New York newsreel’ to a ‘Colonial newsreel’. By the beginning of June the Association had agreed to produce it but on the clear understanding that the necessary newsreel staff were retained. British News required a larger print run since the distribution was far more extensive and was organised by the newsreel companies themselves.

The first issue of British News was probably released in June 1940 and is around double the length of usual bi-weekly one.

It’s interesting to compare this compilation with the original stories, many of which are available online and of course, easily done through News on Screen! The third story in British News No.1 is actually this Pathe Gazette story from 3rd June 1940, River Plate Heroes Convalescing. If you follow the link through to British Pathe’s site and view the story you’ll find virtually no difference in the commentary itself although the delivery has been altered. It’s surprising the extent this makes you focus differently on the visual element of the story and helps you appreciate how good newsreels like Pathe Gazette were in terms of pacing. It’s also worth looking at the running order in each, the context in which the story now finds itself & how the issue now works as a drama, a dimension you cannot divorce from the newsreel.

Now that the British Council has published these under a Creative Commons license you could compile a British News for today from the footage.

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