Dawn of a New Era Reel History of Britain


Dawn of a New Era

Archive footage telling the history of modern Britain. A look back to the 1900s, when the invention of the film camera put everyday people in the picture.


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Transcript


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Just over a century ago, the motion camera was invented,

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and changed for ever the way we recall our history.

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For the first time, we could see life through the eyes of ordinary people.

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Across this series, we'll bring these rare archive films back to life

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with the help of our vintage mobile cinema.

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We'll be inviting people with a story to tell to step on board

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and relive moments they thought were gone for ever.

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They'll see their relatives on screen for the first time,

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come face to face with their younger selves

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and celebrate our amazing 20th-century past.

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This is the people's story.

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Our story.

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Our vintage mobile cinema was originally commissioned in 1967

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to show training films to workers.

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Today, it's been lovingly restored

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and loaded up with remarkable film footage preserved for us

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by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives.

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In this series, we'll travel to towns and cities across the country

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and show films from the 20th century that give us

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the Reel History of Britain.

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Today, we're pulling up in the early 1900s at the dawn of a new era...

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..when the invention of the film camera put everyday people in the picture.

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We're in Albert Square in the middle of Manchester

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and we're here to see rare and remarkable films that are

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a unique record of life in this country over 100 years ago, from factories to football matches.

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Coming up, captured on camera,

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the children who risked their lives in the cotton mills of Lancashire.

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So there were some quite serious accidents.

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There were some children in fatal accidents.

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A fairground owner comes face to face with his great-grandfather.

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I'd heard that much about him and, actually seeing him, it's just unbelievable.

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And the moment a treasure trove of old film was discovered.

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The first time they saw these films, our jaws dropped.

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Reel History has come to Manchester because it was here, at the turn of the 20th century,

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that working people's lives were first captured on camera.

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Two local pioneering filmmakers, Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon,

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were among the first film-makers to use the revolutionary technology of the time, the motion camera.

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Before its invention, the only visual records we had were photographs and paintings.

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But now, for the first time,

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people could record moving images of all aspects of everyday life.

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It wasn't just in the north-west that pioneering film-makers

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embraced this new technology, it happened across the country.

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One of the earliest films ever made was the Epsom Derby horse race,

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shot in 1895 by Birt Acres and Robert Paul,

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who built Britain's first 35-mil camera.

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Pharmacist-turned-film-maker James Williamson filmed this scene

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on Brighton Pier in 1898.

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And another pioneer, Cecil Hepworth, based in Walton-on-Thames,

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filmed Royal events, such as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

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But it was the discovery of a collection of early 20th-century films

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made by Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon that would change our picture of the past for ever.

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And thanks to the incredible work of the British Film Institute,

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who restored and preserved these rare films, we now have

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a unique insight into Britain at the dawn of the 20th century.

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My guests here today have come from all over the country to share with us

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their stories of relatives captured in these early films.

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'Many of them have never seen the films before. They'll be sharing precious memories

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'and photos passed down through the generations.

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'Margaret Coppins' dad, Norman, was only 12'

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when he first went to work in the cotton mills of Bolton.

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Norman was one of over 300,000 children employed in factories across the country.

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He went to work when he was 12, in the local cotton mill.

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He came home from school one day and his father said,

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"I'm getting thee a job, lad.

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"You're going working at John Harwoods's mill." And that's what he did.

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And when he was 13, he went full-time in the mill as a little piecer.

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What does "little piecer" mean? It sounds Dickensian.

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-I think it was.

-The children were little piecers.

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As if they were little pieces themselves.

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Their job was to get underneath the mill machinery

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and clean out all the cotton and the dust that collected under there.

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We're about to take Margaret back nearly 100 years to a time

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when millions of people just like her father worked in factories up and down the land.

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The film-makers Mitchell and Kenyon made money by charging working people

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to see themselves captured on screen.

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Seeing the children reminds Margaret of her father.

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When I was watching the films, I was really looking to see if I could see him anywhere,

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but there were so many faces, it's so difficult.

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The children leaving the factories in these films look happy enough.

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Yet, despite the wealth they created,

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many of them lived in ill health and great poverty.

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I found it very interesting watching them.

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I think the people there, they looked extremely poor.

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But they looked extremely happy, as well.

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And there was a lot of... They were...community,

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like a community spirit amongst them. Even coming out of the factory, they were all together and laughing.

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When I saw the little ones, I thought they looked absolutely wonderful. They did, really.

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All dressed up and so well-behaved.

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I can't imagine today's youngsters coming out quite like that.

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And doing somersaults and throwing their caps up in the air and all that sort of thing.

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They were, yeah, they were lovely.

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These were the early days of film

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and only still photographs exist of the horrendous conditions

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thousands of children like Margaret's father endured inside the factories.

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It was very hot and it was very humid.

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The floor was very slippy,

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with the oil that came off the machinery.

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So they worked in their bare feet.

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It was very noisy.

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They used to use sign language

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and they would have to learn to lip read.

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They had to get down on their hands and knees

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and get under that machinery while it was still running.

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So there were some quite serious accidents.

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There were some children in fatal accidents, I believe.

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But the harsh existence

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her father lived through as a child in the cotton mill still haunts Margaret today.

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They started at six o'clock in the morning

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and then they had a break about eight o'clock for breakfast.

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Then they carried on till 12 o'clock

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and then they had lunch and then he went to school in the afternoon.

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And, the week after, it was reversed.

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He would go to school in the morning and to work in the afternoon.

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It's just unbelievable, really, when you look around at ten and 12-year-olds now.

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You can't ever imagine them doing a job like that.

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It's been a very moving experience for Margaret.

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Seeing the boys in these films has reminded her of her father

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and the kind of life he experienced in the cotton mills of Lancashire when he was a boy.

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A world that no longer exists here.

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I also felt it was tinged with sadness when you looked at those children coming out.

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They hadn't had a proper childhood.

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I am very, very proud of my dad. He deserves a mention.

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All the little piecers do. Hmm.

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When he was a boy,

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how much was he paid for a week's work?

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He got paid two and sixpence,

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which is 12-and-a-half pence in today's money.

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As I understand it, he worked in that place for the rest of his working life.

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He did. He worked in the mill for 53 years.

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He moved himself up by going to night school

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and he finished his career as a mill manager,

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-which was a really big achievement.

-It was.

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-And then lived another 27 years.

-Yes, he was 92 when he died.

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-An amazing life, isn't it?

-Yes, it was. Yes.

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Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon weren't the first film-makers

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to spot the commercial potential

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of filming men, women and children coming out of the factories.

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But they certainly exploited it.

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Billed at the time as "local films for local people,"

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they filmed everything, from factory gates to football matches,

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because every extra face in the crowd was another ticket bought at a later viewing.

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Peter Sedgwick has come from Blackpool to tell us about his great-grandfather,

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Augustus Sedgwick. He was one of the showmen

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who commissioned the film-making duo in the early 1900s.

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How did your great-grandfather get involved with Mitchell and Kenyon?

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He employed them to take films of local people at work

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and going about their daily life.

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And at night, he would show them in a mobile cinema and charge them tuppence to go in

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and make his money that way. So it was all part of the fairground,

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travelling funfair, that we used to be involved in.

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That is him himself in later life.

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-I like the pipe!

-Yeah. And his gold chain with his sovereign.

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-Yes.

-That was one of the shows that he had, the Sedgwick's Menagerie.

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He fetched wild animals over and showed them.

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-At the end of the 19th century?

-That was 1868, I believe.

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-Is that him?

-Yes, that's him, that's him.

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THEY LAUGH

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Peter followed in his great-grandfather's footsteps and now he runs

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his own fairground on Blackpool's North Pier.

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He's about to come face to face with the man who started

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the family business more than 100 years ago.

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What a thrill to see it. I'd heard that much about him

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and actually seeing him on stage, it's just unbelievable.

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They didn't know what films were in those days

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and he travelled all over the country doing this.

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You're talking 15 years before Charlie Chaplin.

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My grandfather must've thought, "There's money here to be made.

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"If we can go round showing people themselves on moving films,

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"we can earn money." I know it was only tuppence to go in and see it,

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but, in them days, it was a lot of money.

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He employed Mitchell and Kenyon making the films

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and then they'd have men walking about with banners on,

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advertising, "Come and see yourself, we've filmed you today."

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Peter's father, Victor, died before these films were discovered,

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so he never got the chance Peter has had today to see old Augustus work the crowd.

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I'd love my dad to have seen it, because my dad told me stories,

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but he'd never actually seen his grandfather. He died well before he was born.

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There are not many people who see that, is there?

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It was electrifying to see it.

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And it was such a different era to what we're used to, what we do now.

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It's unbelievable.

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Well, you've just seen your great-grandfather.

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Yes, fantastic, absolutely fantastic. Couldn't believe it.

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-He toured this around the north of England.

-He took it all around the country.

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-As far as he was concerned, Mitchell and Kenyon was a good franchise?

-Yes.

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They made him a lot of money. Yeah, yeah.

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Fancy having a mobile cinema like that?

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You couldn't get enough in, at tuppence!

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Today we've come to Manchester to hear extraordinary stories about people

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who were captured on film more than 100 years ago.

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The film-makers Mitchell and Kenyon were innovators, as well as businessmen.

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Some of their most iconic images used filming techniques way ahead of their time.

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Shots from trams or moving vehicles give us dynamic portraits

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of Edwardian life, like this one filmed in Morecambe in 1901.

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But what's most incredible is that, for nearly a century,

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all their films lay forgotten in the basement of their old shop.

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They only came to light when the building was due for demolition.

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In 1994, in Blackburn, Lancashire, there was an amazing discovery.

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Hundreds and hundreds of rolls of film, which were themselves almost 100 years old.

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When people looked at them closely,

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they discovered that they'd got a cache of films which showed the early social history

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of this country over 100 years ago as never seen before.

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Painstaking preservation techniques were used to produce remarkably scratch-free images,

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adjusting the speed to smooth out variations

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in these hand-cranked films taken on a Prestwich camera.

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It took the British Film Institute three years to print 1.5 million frames of the negatives.

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And, in the process, it's been claimed that the history of British film was redefined.

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Thought of as one of the most exciting film discoveries of all time,

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the collection has been awarded United Nations status, making it a world treasure.

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I'm meeting up with Patrick Russell,

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a senior curator from the British Film Institute,

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to find out more about this incredible discovery.

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When this film came your way, what was your reaction to it?

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It was quite astounding. It was any film archivist's dream.

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To have not only 826 rolls of film survive from the early years of the 20th century,

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but that they should all be original negatives.

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The actual pieces of film stock in Mitchell and Kenyon's camera in the early 1900s.

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Extraordinary. That was before we'd seen the footage.

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What did you and your friends think when they first saw the content?

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I think I speak for everybody,

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the first time that they saw these films, our jaws dropped. It was an incredibly moving moment.

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Because the image quality was so high and because Mitchell and Kenyon's filming

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is so often about the human being and capturing so many human beings in the film frame,

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it was an extraordinary and emotional experience.

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They are such human films. They made Edwardian Britain look different

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than it had looked before in the mind's eye.

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But to have films from this early on in the 20th century in this form,

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it was like striking gold, in some ways.

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-Three years working on them, what were you doing in those three years?

-We were doing a number of things.

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One of them was working on the physical films themselves,

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to ensure that they could be safely printed onto new film stock.

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And we also had to deal with all of the problems that those rolls of film had faced

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in the intervening years. So this included things like shrinkage.

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They'd been in metal barrels for decades in the basement of a shop.

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It included things like discolouration,

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and these films were made before the manufacturing of film was standardised,

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so there were all sorts of problems associated with that.

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Alongside this, we were looking at the films as they were printed and researching their context.

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What we know now is that the Mitchell and Kenyon films

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gave the masses their place in recent history.

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So we owe them a lot.

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They didn't just capture people's working lives,

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they captured the national obsession - football.

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The collection holds dozens of films of football games, including up-and-coming clubs

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like Newcastle United, Bradford City and Manchester United.

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Some things never change!

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Clearly, match day was just as much a part of people's lives then

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as it is today.

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The Football League was founded in 1888 and, by 1905,

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first division matches attracted five million fans every year.

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About 13,000 spectators turned up to each game.

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George Harrison, from Preston, has come along today to tell us

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about his grandfather, Peter McBride,

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who played for Preston North End in the 1900s.

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They were the first team to win the League and FA Cup double in 1889.

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-My granddad came to Preston.

-Right.

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That's my granddad, there.

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He played for Ayr United and he came down to Preston.

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He was a goalkeeper.

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What do you make of him? You knew him, didn't you?

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I knew him, yes.

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He could be very sharp.

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But talk about football, and you'd got him.

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You know, you'd got him.

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We're now about to show George a rare film of a football match that took place more than 100 years ago.

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How will he feel seeing his grandfather lead his team onto the pitch?

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When I saw my granddad coming onto the pitch,

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I felt very strange about this, because

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my granddad was in his 20s when that film was taken.

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It didn't seem right for me to see my granddad at a much, much younger age.

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Talking to men that had actually seen him play years ago, when I was a young lad,

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they said what a brilliant goalkeeper he was,

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one of the finest they'd seen.

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From all reports, he was a good 'un.

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This is George's grandfather's team playing Wolverhampton Wanderers on 19th November 1904.

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His days as a top footballer were a world away from the footballers of today.

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They used to wear the old boots that had the big toecaps on.

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And he used to go to the local police station.

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And he'd scrounge, for want of a better word!

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He'd get a pair of woollen gloves that the policemen used to wear

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and he wore them when he was playing in goal.

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And when they went out training,

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they'd got to blow the ball up first before they could do any training.

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Unlike nowadays, they get them all blown up for them, ready to start.

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This match against Wolverhampton Wanderers ended in a 2-2 draw.

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Seeing his grandfather as a young man in his prime

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is a bittersweet experience for George.

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Yes, you felt a bit choked, that...

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He were... At that time, he would have been famous.

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I felt very proud that he were my granddad.

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In the early 1900s, factory workers across the country

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got just half a day off on a Saturday and, as well as football,

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in their spare time they adopted cricket as a national obsession.

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-Seeing those films is interesting, isn't it?

-Yes. Yes.

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86-year-old Edna Grimshaw has come along to tell us about her granddad, Billy Ormerod,

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who started playing cricket for her local town of Accrington in 1898.

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But the trouble was,

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he's on a photograph here, that was taken when he was young.

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I hate to say this, but the fact that you weren't a boy

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-and you couldn't play cricket, was it a disappointment?

-It was.

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THEY LAUGH

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We're showing Edna one of the earliest cricket matches ever captured on camera

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and her grandfather is in the film.

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She's never seen him play cricket and, with only one photo of him as a young man,

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spotting him could be a problem.

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On my old photograph, he has a tache.

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The only one on the photograph with a tache.

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But when all the men walked past, they nearly all had a tache!

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I thought, "Now then..." But I thought I saw him. I really did. Yes.

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I'm the only one living that remembers him at all.

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In fact, this is Billy, he's the man in the white hat.

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This match was filmed in 1902 at a local derby between Accrington

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and their biggest rivals, Church.

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I know he held the batting record for years and years at Accrington.

0:23:450:23:50

If he had 50 runs at one match, they used to collect for him.

0:23:500:23:58

So they used to say that my granddad was very, very wealthy.

0:23:580:24:04

I'm afraid he wasn't wealthy, no!

0:24:040:24:07

In Manchester today, I've been meeting people like Edna

0:24:170:24:21

whose relatives feature in these rare, 100-year-old film archives.

0:24:210:24:25

But who exactly were the two men behind the camera?

0:24:280:24:32

I want to know more about them,

0:24:320:24:34

so I'm meeting Sagar Mitchell's granddaughter

0:24:340:24:37

at one of Manchester's most iconic buildings, the John Rylands Library.

0:24:370:24:42

-How did your grandfather get into the business of making films?

-He was a cabinet maker by trade.

0:24:440:24:51

And he used to make his own cameras, obviously wooden cameras.

0:24:510:24:55

-He met up with this other man.

-Kenyon.

-He met up with Kenyon. How did they work together?

0:24:550:25:00

He was a shopkeeper in Blackburn, as well.

0:25:000:25:02

He dealt in furniture and cabinets and things like that.

0:25:020:25:05

So they had a career in common.

0:25:050:25:09

This is a rather splendid photograph.

0:25:090:25:12

Yes, I think he is probably around 21 when that was taken.

0:25:120:25:15

-A very dandyish young man.

-It looks like it.

-Top hat, cane.

-Yes.

0:25:150:25:20

When he started the shop, he went into photography then,

0:25:200:25:25

which was developing and printing.

0:25:250:25:29

This part of the shop would be full of Meccano models,

0:25:290:25:35

train lay-outs and Dinky toys.

0:25:350:25:38

And I always used to be miffed,

0:25:380:25:40

because I wasn't tall enough to reach this counter.

0:25:400:25:43

I couldn't see and he was my grandpa.

0:25:430:25:46

SHE LAUGHS

0:25:460:25:48

That's you and your grandfather on your third birthday party?

0:25:480:25:52

That is quite a treasure, yes.

0:25:520:25:55

I just thought he was a lovely grandpa.

0:25:550:25:57

Every time he visited us,

0:25:570:25:59

if I looked underneath my panda nightdress case, there was a thruppenny bit.

0:25:590:26:04

There's also his driving licence.

0:26:070:26:09

-Let's have a look at that.

-That's 1905.

0:26:090:26:14

-And he is, in Britain, the 1,042nd person to have a driving licence.

-He was.

0:26:140:26:21

And he passed his exam and then he could drive a petrol car.

0:26:210:26:25

A petrol car. One of those!

0:26:260:26:28

When you see these films, what thoughts do they bring to you?

0:26:280:26:32

I think it's absolutely amazing, really, and I can't believe, in a very small way, I'm part of it.

0:26:320:26:39

What I do think is, he would be thrilled by what has happened to it.

0:26:390:26:45

He would be absolutely thrilled that all his work was being respected and shown.

0:26:470:26:54

That would be really good.

0:26:540:26:56

The popularity of Mitchell and Kenyon's films had begun to wane before the First World War

0:27:010:27:05

as the novelty of people seeing themselves on screen wore off.

0:27:050:27:09

The partnership between Mitchell and Kenyon was formally dissolved around 1922.

0:27:110:27:16

Kenyon died in 1925.

0:27:160:27:19

Mitchell lived to the age of 85 and died on 2nd October 1952.

0:27:190:27:24

But thanks to the careful preservation work carried out by the British Film Institute

0:27:270:27:31

and film archives all over the UK,

0:27:310:27:33

we now have a national treasure that's a window into a lost Edwardian world.

0:27:330:27:37

Any further discoveries like these will be in the safe hands

0:27:400:27:43

of the BFI's new master film store at Gaydon, Warwickshire, which will preserve and protect

0:27:430:27:49

the National Film Collection for future generations.

0:27:490:27:52

What struck me most about these films is the energy and the happiness

0:27:570:28:01

of the crowds who rushed through the factory gates

0:28:010:28:04

or in the streets, or at the football matches,

0:28:040:28:06

as if they wanted to be in the picture, and they are in the picture

0:28:060:28:10

and they are in the social and historical picture of this country for ever.

0:28:100:28:14

Next time on Reel History,

0:28:140:28:15

we're in Blackpool with our ice creams and our knotted hankies

0:28:150:28:19

to celebrate the '50s heyday of the British seaside holiday.

0:28:190:28:24

It was typical summertime, freezing rain, gales blowing!

0:28:280:28:32

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:380:28:41

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:410:28:44

Reel History Of Britain is on tour

0:28:580:29:00

and this weekend we're going to Leicester.

0:29:000:29:02

So come along and see the archive and get hands-on with your history.

0:29:020:29:06

Full details are on the BBC website.

0:29:060:29:09

Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a vintage mobile cinema, travels across the country to show incredible footage preserved by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives, to tell the history of modern Britain.

In Manchester, Melvyn looks back to the 1900s and the dawn of a new era, when the invention of the film camera put everyday people in the picture.

Margaret Koppens talks about her grandfather, who was one of the thousands of children who risked life and limb in the cotton mills of Lancashire. Fairground owner Peter Sedgwick comes face to face with his great grandfather, who started the family business back in 1900. Plus, how a discovery of film stock in a Blackburn basement ended up a world treasure.


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