British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

The History of News on Screen

Data has been gathered on the British cinema newsreels for academic study since 1969, and under the care of the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) since 1974. What is now called News on Screen (NoS) has been built up through six particular phases:


The Slade Film History Register (1969-1995)

The Slade Film History Register was established in 1969 by Thorold Dickinson, Professor of Film at the Slade School of Fine Art, with a grant from the Social Science Research Council. The object was ‘to create a central register of film material likely to be of interest to historians in much the same way as the National Register of Archives had done for the country’s primary written documents’. The Register began to gather and index material, showing a particular interest in the newsreels. In 1974 the Register passed into the care of the then British Universities Film Council. By this stage its newsreel content comprised an index to 30,000 stories, and a growing collection of issue sheets (the documents on which the newsreel recorded the contents of each bi-weekly issue).


Academic interest in the newsreels was by this time starting to grow, and this interest in turn inspired a succession of publications from the BUFVC based on the Slade Film History Register holdings. Three volumes were published (in 1983, 1988 and 1993) of the Researcher’s Guide to British Newsreels, which included extensive abstracts, statistics, essays and other material relating to newsreel history. The complete collection of newsreel issue sheets in the Register was published as a set of 275 microfiche in 1984. The BUFVC were also co-organisers of two major conferences on newsreels, under the title The Story of the Century, held at the National Film Theatre in 1996 and 1998.

British Universities Newsreel Project (1995-1999)

In 1995 the BUFVC’s interest in newsreel research took a considerable step forward with the formation of the British Universities Newsreel Project (BUNP). Funded for four years by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, this project aimed to produce a computerised database of all of the newsreel issue sheets in the Slade Film History Register. The completed database, the British Universities Newsreel Database (BUND) comprised some 160,000 stories, representing the records of twenty-one British newsreels and cinemagazines. The result was published in March 2000 as a cross-platform (PC and Apple Mac) CD-ROM and as part of the BUFVC website, accessible to UK Higher and Further Education and BUFVC members only.

British Universities Newsreel Scripts Project (1999-2003)

In 1999 the BUFVC was awarded further funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to carry on the work of documenting the newsreels by adding digitised copies of 80,000 commentary scripts, cameraman’s dope sheets, assignment sheets, shot lists and other original documentation to the existing database. The British Universities Newsreel Scripts Project (BUNSP) ran from 1999 to 2003, and its bedrock was a substantial collection (some 40,000 documents) of surviving files for British Paramount News, Gaumont British News and Universal News, generously deposited with the BUFVC by Reuters Television in October 1998. The remaining scanned documents (up to 1962) came through generous co-operation with British Pathe, owners of the Pathe Gazette/Pathe News newsreel, who later donated their entire paper archive extending beyond this date to the BUFVC. Each document has been added to the existing record on the BUND and made available online in PDF format. In addition a selection of ephemera collected by the cameramen to provide additional information about their assignment, such as programmes, were published as an interactive map and oral history testmonies from newsreel cameramen were streamed online (available to UK HE/FE only). Yesterday’s News: The British Cinema Newsreel Reader was published in 2002.

Cinemagazines and the Projection of Britain (2004-2007)

In 2004 the BUFVC was awarded a three-year AHRC Resource Enhancement grant, which saw significant new data added to the British Universities Newsreel Database (BUND). The project, ‘Cinemagazines and the Projection of Britain‘, produced the first-ever academic study of the cinemagazine, weekly or monthly news-related films such as Mining Review, The March of Time and Britain Can Make It, which were allied to the newsreels. Over 17,000 additional stories were added from over sixty series, including Around The Town (1919-1923) and Look At Life (1959-1969), and were published online as part of the BUND together with substantial biographical information. Projecting Britain: The Guide to British Cinemagazines, was published in 2008.

David Lean and Gaumont Sound News (2007)

In 2007 the BUFVC was awarded a grant by the David Lean Foundation to research the history of the early sound newsreel Gaumont Sound News (1929-1933) and the role of one of its editors from 1930-1931, David Lean. The project added over 2,000 stories and biographical data from this significant newsreel to the British Universities Newsreel Database (BUND) and through it, researched the transition of the newsreels, particularly in terms of the editing process, from silent to the sound format we recognise today. This was presented through a dedicated website, including a timeline with examples of the films themselves, David Lean and Gaumont Sound News.

News on Screen and Newsfilm Online Cross-Linking Project (2009-2010)

In 2009 BUFVC received funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to enhance the  database and cross-link with the digitised newsreel films published as part of  Newsfilm Online (NfO). The project, due for completion in March 2010, will add a substantial amount of data to the existing Gaumont Graphic record on News on Screen. This will include approximately 1,800 stories inputted from issue sheets from 1910 to 1915 as well as identifying missing stories, where possible, to form a more complete record of the newsreel from 1915 to 1924. The metadata from both resources will be checked and amended where necessary to enable the user to move directly between stories, gaining both moving image content and context.

Newsreels: OCR, Oral Histories and Ephemera (2011 – 2012)

This project has three separate elements, all which should add substantial value to the resource as well as enabling BUFVC to explore new ways of presenting sound and text in an easy and intuitive way.

When the 80,000 newsreel production documents published on News on Screen (NoS) were first digitised in 2000, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) was in its infancy and only a very small percentage were recognised! So the documents were made available as pdfs for download. With this project we will OCR all the documents so that users will be able to search them, as well as the records, giving their research greater depth and the collection greater accessibility.

Five oral histories of newsreel cameramen and soundmen (from the BECTU History Project) will be published with synchronised transcripts, along with over 100 specially cleared programmes and leaflets that were picked up on assignments to inform the editorial process.

This project has been funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).