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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