We are constantly surrounded by floods of news and information, some of it genuine, a lot of it fake. Social media, the internet, TV, radio, podcasts, newspapers and the list goes on, mean that we can’t hide from the headlines. Can you imagine our world without a constant, 24-hour flow of world news as it unfolds?
In the time before television and the internet, this was actually the case. In wartime Britain, other than newspapers, the only way people could see news coverage and footage of World events was to head out to their local cinemas and watch public information films.
British Pathé – pioneers of ‘information overload’
This was the job of British Pathé (previously known as Pathé News). They delivered cinemas across the country with news footage to keep the public informed, and their news bulletins were an essential feature before the main film.
It all began when French filmmaker Charles Pathé came to London in 1910 to introduce British audiences to the cinema newsreel.
Starting out in their newsreel office in Wardour Street, London, British Pathé provided bi-weekly footage to cinemas, which were silent until 1928 and only ran for about four minutes.
For many years this is how the public learnt about what was happening across the world. Not from the comfort of their living rooms, but packed together in a film theatre, in silence.
Seeing the horrors of war for the first time
British Pathé’s relevance and notoriety peaked during the First World War. With their Pathé Animated Gazettes, they provided the population with their only insight into the truth of what was occurring outside their homes and local communities in wartime Britain. It was the first-time newspapers had faced any real competition.
By allowing the population to ‘see’ the true horrors of World War One Pathé has been credited with changing the public’s perception of war irreversibly. Before their footage-filled newsreels were available, the war was glamorised as an exciting and noble event. But after seeing death, the wounded and total destruction truly caused by war for the first time, opinions began to change.
By 1930, British Pathé’s reach and productions expanded to not just cover news, but to include other separate productions for entertainment, culture and sports. They reported on everything from conflicts and political crises, to curious hobbies and the ordinary eccentric lives the British public were leading at any point in history.
British Pathé today and ‘A Year to Remember’
As television exploded and more and more homes were able to afford their own TV sets, the audience for British Pathé's newsreels diminished. By the 1970s the newsreels were discontinued.
With it’s rich archive of quality, and unique historical footage British Pathé has a worldwide reputation for being one of the best sources of historical news footage.
Today they have a treasure trove of over 85,000 films of great historical and cultural significance, and the most important events across the contemporary world have been recorded since moving footage was first invented. For example, the moment suffragette Emily Davison was hit by a racehorse at Epsom Derby in 1913 was captured on film. She died from her injuries.
Some of their early film reels are missing. The earliest still in existence is believed to be footage of the departure of the Terra Nova, Captain Scott’s ship that took him to the Antarctic. Much of their most dramatic footage of key historical events still exists today, such as footage of the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day landings.
Their most important footage has been complied in the series A Year to Remember. A series of hour-long documentaries from British Pathé, each chronicling the most important events in each year of history using high resolution footage from their celebrated archive, starting from the 1940s.
Together the collection becomes an encyclopedia of world history on film.
British Pathé’s A Year to Remember series chronicles the greatest events in our history, year by year. You can view the full collection HERE.