Free: British Pathé Puts Over 85,000 Historical Films on YouTube

British Pathé was one of the lead­ing pro­duc­ers of news­reels and doc­u­men­taries dur­ing the 20th Cen­tu­ry. This week, the com­pa­ny, now an archive, is turn­ing over its entire col­lec­tion — over 85,000 his­tor­i­cal films – to YouTube.

The archive — which spans from 1896 to 1976 – is a gold­mine of footage, con­tain­ing movies of some of the most impor­tant moments of the last 100 years. It’s a trea­sure trove for film buffs, cul­ture nerds and his­to­ry mavens every­where. In Pathé’s playlist “A Day That Shook the World,” which traces an Anglo-cen­tric his­to­ry of the 20th Cen­tu­ry, you will find clips of the Wright Broth­ers’ first flight, the bomb­ing of Hiroshi­ma and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, along­side footage of Queen Victoria’s funer­al and Roger Bannister’s 4‑minute mile. There’s, of course, footage of the dra­mat­ic Hin­den­burg crash and Lind­bergh’s dar­ing cross-Atlantic flight. And then you can see King Edward VIII abdi­cat­ing the throne in 1936Hitler’s first speech upon becom­ing the Ger­man Chan­cel­lor in 1933 and the even­tu­al Pearl Har­bor attack in Decem­ber 1941 (above).

But the real­ly intrigu­ing part of the archive is see­ing all the ephemera from the 20th Cen­tu­ry, the stuff that real­ly makes the past feel like a for­eign coun­try – the weird hair­styles, the way a city street looked, the breath­tak­ing­ly casu­al sex­ism and racism. There’s a rush in see­ing his­to­ry come alive. Case in point, this doc­u­men­tary from 1967 about the won­ders to be found in a sur­pris­ing­ly mono­chrome Vir­ginia.

Here’s a film about a tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion that curi­ous­ly didn’t take off — an amphibi­ous scoot­er. The look of regal dig­ni­ty on the driver’s face as his vehi­cle moves down the Thames is price­less.

In an ear­ly exam­ple of a polit­i­cal bloop­er, there’s this footage from 1942 of Bess Tru­man try­ing valiant­ly to smash an unyield­ing bot­tle of cham­pagne against the fuse­lage of a brand new bomber.

And then there’s this news­reel from 1938 on the wed­ding between Bil­ly Cur­tis, a 3’7” night­club bounc­er and his 6’4” bur­lesque star bride. The jaun­ty, spec­tac­u­lar­ly un-PC voiceover should prob­a­bly be filed under “things were dif­fer­ent then.”

If you have sev­er­al weeks to kill, you can watch all of the videos here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Film: Claude Mon­et at Work in His Famous Gar­den at Giverny, 1915

The Weird World of Vin­tage Sports

The World’s First Mobile Phone Shown on 1922 Vin­tage Film

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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Comments (11)
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  • Daniel says:

    I think this is won­der­ful, as a film­mak­er and as an avid stu­dent of his­to­ry. Kudos to British Pathe for doing this.

  • Nicolas Diaz says:

    The archive goes from 1910 until 1970.

    1896 was the year the French Pathé start­ed, their british office opened some years lat­er.

  • kyle abent says:

    That “Vir­ginia (1967)” Video was great.

  • Leon g pellaton says:

    It sounds to good to be true,

  • Leon g pellaton says:

    I said the first time that it sounds to good to be true,

  • Leon g pellaton says:

    I am out of here,

  • Leon g pellaton says:

    I have wrote to you two times and both times you have,done how can I write some thing I don’t no about,thank you ,

  • Leon's little helper says:

    Some­one help Leon g pel­la­ton :)

    Very good new indeed. I just regreat that noth­ing was told about the cir­cum­stances (why ? how ?) sur­round­ing this British Pathé gift to the pub­lic domain. For sure, it would have been very inter­est­ing (in my opin­ion).

  • Barbara Waxer says:

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, these works are not in the pub­lic domain and require a license agree­ment, the terms of which are unknown. When asked on their Word­Press site, BP respond­ed

    “The British Pathé Archive says:
    April 22, 2014 at 17:20
    “…shar­ing the YouTube video is absolute­ly fine and free of charge. But if you want to extract the film from the YouTube play­er or edit it in some way, you’d require a licence. This can be acquired via / +44 [0]20 7665 8340. The licens­ing team would need to know where the footage would be shown, in what ter­ri­to­ries, and how long for. All best BP.”

  • Lison says:

    Ha ha! You can spell fuse­lage but not cham­pagne!

  • John Yetman says:

    Great stuff! The bias­es are so clear and bla­tant. These work great for teach­ing his­to­ry. The footage is very real and the pro­pa­gan­da is very clear.

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