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The British Council Film Archive

8 May 2012
by Kendall Martin-Robbins

Our film department has recently launched a new online archive of rare documentaries produced by the British Council in the 1930s and 40s.


The 120 films were produced during a time when the British Council was working to promote 'Britishness' and combat the negative perceptions generated by the Nazis.  The films worked as a form of cultural propaganda to showcase British life.  They were screened in over 100 countries to millions of people between the 1940s and 1960s.  They provide a curious illustration of how Britain wanted to be perceived at the time.


The collection has been carefully preserved by the BFI National Archive over the years.  In 2010, with an inspired idea from New Deal Of The Mind,  an organisation which works to gain recognition for the economic social and cultural value of Britain’s creative talent. Together with 'Thinktank',Counterpoint, they’d come to the Council looking for a project that a small group of young unemployed creatives might take on.  The project they alighted on was to delve into the archive treasure chest that was this Collection. Turning themselves in to creative film archive consultancy, Time/Image, with generous financial support from Google, embarked on some brilliant detective work in order to find, catalogue and carefully digitise the Collection in order to make it available and accessible to a generation of new viewers.


Alongside the films are pieces of trivia, background information and photographs.  Most excitingly, the films are all available to download! Our film team is encouraging users to use them not only as a creative resource, but to also reinterpret them, play with them and share them with the world.  This will particularly take the form of an international competition, which they will be launching this summer.


Of course, here in ADF we have our favourites.  In terms of fashion, be sure to check out Border Weave, about the Scottish wool industry.  There's also Queen Cotton, which is the story of woven and printed cotton made in the UK.  Seeing the pioneering technology and chemistry that was behind the fabrics at this time, it's sad to think these industries are disappearing in the UK today even though we're still pushing the boundaries of fashion and technology.  Be sure to watch this film all the way to the end for the fashion show.


You can also explore the historical architecture of the UK in Architects of England, which includes everything from the Battersea Power Station to the Royal Crescent.  There's even one on the history of British town planning - Development of the English Town


Check out the archive.



British Council Project