British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

British Movietone Newsreel Archive on YouTube

The entire newsreel archive of British Movietonews has been published on a Movietone YouTube channel by AP Archive who manage the collection.

What does this mean? The publication of thousands of news stories, in high quality, spanning half a century freely available to browse, share and embed. For those of us already used to viewing the British Pathe YouTube channel this provides a subtly different view of Britain and how it viewed the world.

Why is Movietone so important? Many reasons but the two main ones are sound and longevity. Movietone was the first newsreel to use sound and was the true pioneer of the technology. It’s strapline says it all ‘Movietone – it speaks for itself’. It launched its first sound issue in June 1929 and it would be five months before any of the other newsreels caught up. It would be difficult to over-estimate the sensation that the advent of sound in the news caused. It was a hyper-realism and although it seems clunky now, the effect at the time was quite different. One of the first sound stories was a political one, Ramsey MacDonald introducing his new Labour government in the garden of 10 Downing Street in June 1929.

It is a fascinating piece reflecting the first tentative steps of a Prime Minister attempting to communicate with the electorate in a completely different way. Refreshingly free from spin, it also marks the introduction of the first woman member of the Cabinet, Margaret Bondfield and reveals the mass of photographers & newsreel cameramen filming the event.

Movietone was the longest running British newsreel, exceeding Pathe by nearly a decade. There’s a treasure trove of 1970s colour material waiting for the social historian. It’s A World for Women from March 1970 is a great example of just what equality meant at the time

The caveat here, as with Pathe’s channel, is the metadata. The fields provided by YouTube are very limited so Pathe and AP Archive have to effectively strip out valuable information such as the release date, the issue number and even the name of the newsreel. So not only do you lose valuable context but it’s very difficult to search for something specific eg what was shown at a particular point in time. YouTube is a fantastic browse mechanism but not great if you want to dig deeper. [Research tip: I used the News on Screen database to search for the stories and then copied & pasted the title into the Movietone channel search to get the content.]

This final clip is Hot Gossip combining with designer Paul Howie in a fashion show from 1978. That puts paid to the staid black & white image of newsreels!


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