Views on Colour: finding the filmmakers, technicians and archivists

Sarah Street (University of Bristol), Liz Watkins (University of Leeds), Paul Frith (University of East Anglia), and Carolyn Rickards (University of Bristol)

14 January 2020


Professor Sarah Street:

Since the 1970s oral history has become increasingly accepted as a valuable, even essential methodology in understanding the recent past. Interviewing people who remember events, represent particular communities or who were experts in their particular fields can offer unique insights rarely found in conventional historical documentation. When devising two AHRC-funded research projects on the history of colour filmmaking – The Negotiation of Innovation: Colour Films in Britain, 1900-55 and The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-85 – interviewing practitioners was incorporated into their methodologies as an integral element of the research process. The first project (conducted 2007-2010) covered a period following the arrival of sound cinema in which colour films were the exception to the rule, consisting of a relatively small but highly respected corpus of Technicolor films. The second project (conducted 2016-19) dealt with the mass adoption of colour in British filmmaking by the end of the 1960s, made possible by cheaper Eastmancolor stocks that did not require the special cameras that had been essential to maintaining Technicolor’s monopoly over colour production in previous decades. Both projects provided opportunities to expand the available record of information about colour filmmaking, investigating and interrogating notions of expertise as it pertained to the many people involved, from cinematographers to costume designers and lab technicians, in producing colour films.

The idea to interview surviving practitioners was in part influenced by the availability of an existing archive of interviews conducted for the BECTU Oral History Project (now absorbed and available via the British Entertainment History Project website: https://historyproject.org.uk). For the Technicolor years we found interviews had been conducted with cinematographers such as Oswald Morris and Chris Challis. Jack Cardiff, perhaps the most famous British Technicolor cinematographer, had been interviewed numerous times, while Duncan Petrie interviewed a number of key figures for his book The British Cinematographer (BFI, 1996). Yet we knew that a greater range of opinion could be recovered, in addition to creating a comparative set of interviews in which recollections obtained nearer the events in question could be compared with longer-term memories as practitioners became older, sometimes offering different, even conflicting reflections on the films they helped to create. While technical manuals describe how colour processes work they did not always record practical problems or how inventive practitioners often had to improvise during a shoot in order to deliver a desired effect or look. The interviews were transcribed and published as offering a unique focus on ‘the creative decision-making which goes into the life cycle of a colour film’ (Brown, Street and Watkins, British Colour Cinema: Practices and Theories, BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2013: 2). We aimed to provide an informed sense of the collaborative contexts of colour filmmaking, recording the ingenuity behind working with now obsolete technologies while accessing memories that often ranged beyond technological issues such as studio cultures, gender and class.

Figures 1 – 3: Stills taken from interviews conducted as part of the Eastmancolor Revolution project (Peter Suschitzky, Evangeline Harrison, Alan Masson)

Since The Eastmancolor Revolution project covered later years of colour filmmaking the potential list of participants was more extensive. The issues were however familiar: tracking down individuals who had not previously been interviewed, but also those who were used to repeating well-honed recollections about particular films and technologies. The preparation for each interview had to take into account previous documentation so that as much new information could be gleaned as possible. Being responsive to interviewees’ interests was also important to allow for ‘off-script’ impressions which might not have been anticipated by the interviewer. Awareness of ethical issues involved in conducting interviews was also of paramount importance in setting up the structures and obtaining the necessary documentation. We also sought to make the record more inclusive, when possible interviewing those with expertise in skills less documented than cinematography such as costume, production design and laboratory work.


Dr Liz Watkins:

The interviews discussed in this section were carried out by Liz Watkins with Sarah Street as Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project: ‘The Negotiation of Innovation: Colour Films in Britain 1900-55’ at the University of Bristol.

Identifying the interviewees (questions, research, context): behind the film images and texts lay a history of materials, technologies and practices: Technicolor’s dye imbibition process (c.1935-55) combined technical innovation with western aesthetics to produce the first full-length feature films in ‘natural colour’. The Technicolor Colour Advisory Service advocated the use of colour design to highlight aspects of the image (costume, make-up), establish a network of connections between characters and locations, and to emphasise the dramatic tone of a scene: the concept of a ‘natural colour’ image was embedded in the ideologically complicit narrative form of classic cinema. Published accounts of the dye imbibition process – from Natalie Kalmus’ ‘Color Consciousness’ to press book essays by Technicolor cinematographers such as Guy Green – attest to the commercial imperative of Technicolor design in the promotion of their colour process through marketing tie-ins (lip-color, dress patterns) and as integral to film narratives, interests which coalesced in the star image.[1] Technical handbooks and industry publications can tell us how the dye imbibition process was intended to work. However, the project interviews with industry personnel were to offer another perspective. The interviews addressed the practicalities and quirks of the process, its materials and technologies, alongside the stylistic and pragmatic interpretation of Advisory Service directives as made by the filmmakers that they worked with. This reminds us that there is of course another dimension to film production behind the spectacle of new technologies. For example, the work of the film laboratory was vital to grading, printing and maintaining control over the Technicolor dye imbibition process. The Technicolor system used a specialist camera to record three ‘colour’ records on reels of black and white filmstock from which matrices were produced and combined – printed in layers – to form a ‘natural colour’ image. The rushes seen by the director and cinematographer were screened in black and white prior to the printing of the colour image in Technicolor’s film laboratory. This history of labour in film production has too often been sublimated in the study of film image and text.[2]

What emerged as we researched and scheduled the interviews was the material history particular to each film, from production to laboratory, cinema screening and archive. The research methodology was to identify connections and overlaps in the production notes, trade papers, scripts, essays and reviews specific to British films that had been made using Technicolor’s three-strip process. This approach allowed us to cross reference information and to understand the theories, technologies and practices that formed a Technicolor movie.

Resources: research for the interviews included working through several decades of Kinematograph Weekly, the British Journal of Photography and American Cinematographer for the international circulation of British films and on Technicolor as a US company. This approach identified essays published in trade papers, such as the Journal of the Association of Cine-Technicians (1935-1956) and the British Guild of Camera Technicians’ Eyepiece Magazine, including some written by the people we were to interview. [3] Publications such as the Monthly Film Bulletin, Picturegoer and newspapers offered reviews contemporary to the initial release of the films. The National Film Theatre Programmes and Journal of Film Preservation indicated information on the conservation and restoration of the three-strip Technicolor productions. The list of potential resources was extensive, thus important to maintain focus on colour films made in Britain between 1900-1955.

The archive of BECTU History Project interviews, were (c.2007-10) accessed via audiotape cassettes and transcribed at the BFI Library when it was still based at Stephen Street. It was a time consuming, yet worthwhile process.[4] Interviews with union members – Syd Wilson, Jack Houshold, Bernard Happé who had worked with black-and-white film, Technicolor and Eastmancolor – detailed the nuances of processing dye-imbibition prints, from the use of registration keys to align the three colour matrices with a grey record to increase contrast to the practicalities of maintaining and cleaning the machines to ensure that a clear image would be projected on screen. The BECTU archive interviews with Directors of Photography, although broad in their scope, assisted in shaping the interviews that Sarah Street and I conducted with Oswald Morris OBE, BSC and Christopher Challis OBE, FRPS: interviews that were dedicated to the question of colour. Oswald Morris was Director of Photography on Technicolor films including Moby Dick (John Huston, 1956) and Moulin Rouge (Huston, 1952) as well as Eastmancolor – The Man Who Never Was (Roger Neame, 1955) and The Odessa File (Sidney Lumet, 1974). Christopher Challis was DoP on Tales of Hoffmann (Michael Powell, 1952), Footsteps in the Fog (Arthur Lubin, 1955), Raising a Riot (Wendy Toye, 1955), and worked as an assistant on Technicolor’s World Windows travelogues (1937-40) and as DoP for Eastmancolor films including The Boy Who Turned Yellow (Michael Powell, 1972).

Interviews and transcription: The interviews offered a sense of each film as it was in its making, from the connections and negotiations between the Studios, film directors and the Technicolor company and lab that occurred at every stage through to the unexpected and experimental aspects of working with new technologies. Morris, for example, recalled his encounters with Eliot Elisofon, who was stills photographer and Special Colour Consultant on Moulin Rouge (John Huston, 1952) and as a second photographer on set with a stated interest in colour and light. Elisofon’s practice was directed toward publicity outside of the film, yet he assisted in ‘securing the filters’ that Morris needed ‘to capture Toulouse Lautrec’s colours on screen’.[5] Both Morris and Challis emphasised the environments they had worked in – such as the management of fog and smoke as it responded to the movement of workers on set, the effects of extreme temperatures on the filmstock used for the World Windows travelogues, and the interpretation of Advisory Service recommendations regarding the reflection of light from mirrors and white textiles – ‘Tech dipped 1, Tech dipped 2’ – adapted to the making and promotion of a colour image using the dye imbibition process. The interviews included the occasional anecdote – tales of filmmaking 50 years ago – and it was in watching a section of film with Morris that new details of technique or happenstance in photographic practice were recalled. The Directors of Photography themselves were brilliant, astute, humorous and as it turned out knew each other.

The transcription of our project interviews was an intriguing process: finding a balance between perhaps too close an attention to the details of the audio recordings – laughter, hesitations and intonation that nuance conversation – and the process of evolving in to a text for publication. The information is sound – the names, film titles and dates have been cross-referenced with trade and technical papers, but peripheral noises mattered too – Challis’ dog “Swinger” barking and hunting for biscuits in the background and the church bells ringing near Morris’ house and that I could recall from the BECTU tape recording that I’d listened to in the BFI Reading Room.[6] Our aim was to record their notes on film production, which we did, yet there’s a substantial amount of information that remains outside the transcript. Permissions were sought and agreed with each person – with very few amendments requested – for the printed publication of the interviews.

Toward the later stages of the project we found that the interviews with film curators and conservationists took us back to the laboratories and the programming of the Technicolor and Eastmancolor films that now formed part of the BFI National Archive. The insights offered by Paul de Burgh[7], Keiron Webb (BFI), Giovanna Fossati (EYE Filmmuseum) and Paolo Cherchi Usai (at Haghefilm Conservation BV in 2010) on materials and methods, described film conservation and restoration as the continual work of the archive in which the specific characteristics of each process – the nuance of colour in materials images and texts made using Kinemacolor, Dufaycolour, three strip Technicolor, Eastmancolor – affect the ways that analogue and digital forms intersect.

Practicalities: Some questions recurred in each interview (e.g. how would you describe the role of DoP/ Archivist/ curator etc) offering a framework for those lines of enquiry that were tailored to that interviewee (specific films, techniques): a practice that assisted in structuring the meeting. I would recommend sending the questions in advance. It was useful, I found, that the interview scenario was familiar to some of the people that we spoke to. The transcripts were, with the agreement of the interviewees, included in the project publication British Colour Cinema: Theories and Practices (BFI/ Palgrave Macmillan: London 2013) https://www.bloomsbury.com/au/british-colour-cinema-9781844574131/ .

Figure 4: Autobiographies by Challis and Morris with British Colour Cinemas


Dr Paul Frith and Dr Carolyn Rickards:

This section refers to interviews undertaken as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council- funded project ‘The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-8’ which was led by Professor Sarah Street with co-investigator Professor Keith Johnston (University of East Anglia).

Interview questions and publication: To begin the task of formulating interview questions, we initially decided to refer back to the main aims and objectives of our project. In tracking the introduction and development of Eastmancolor across a thirty-year period, what could – or should – the interviews reveal about the issues, challenges and outcomes generated by this colour process during this time? What insights could our interviewees bring to pre-established histories of British cinema? And how could we formulate questions that would evoke memories and invite responses that would resonate with our project themes?

Figures 5-7: Stills taken from interviews conducted as part of the Eastmancolor Revolution project (Brian Pritchard, Chris Menges, Colin Flight)

It required extensive preparation and organisation. We decided to send the interview structure and questions in advance to enable interviewees time to think about their answers beforehand. This also meant that some people were able to prepare collected materials and documents which proved an added bonus when discussing their work. However, what we found was that our well-planned structures did not always follow through on the day! The interviews often drifted on to other topics which although interesting were not always relevant and occasionally films we thought provided exciting examples of colour filmmaking were either skipped over or mentioned in passing. This was no fault of either the interviewee or interviewer, but rather down to the natural process of conversation and our role was to maintain a congenial environment in which to elicit good responses. Adopting a more semi-structured approach encouraged some great insights however, although we factored in plenty of time, it would have been fascinating to ask the interviewees what films they considered to be exemplary in terms of colour production, and particularly within a British cinema context.

In addition to more standard methods of research dissemination such as print or online publication we also considered alternative approaches which included the creation of several video essays. One of these essays takes the form of a short documentary focusing on key issues relating to the history and legacy of Eastmancolor in British cinema, combining new interview footage with stills and clips of relevant films. Given that the total duration of our recorded interviews runs at over fourteen hours, the documentary format presented the opportunity to focus on the most significant themes concurrent throughout the responses from our interviewees. While excerpts from each of the interviews have contributed significantly to other project outputs, the documentary format provided a concise narrative from the perspective of the industry personnel themselves. With the understanding that the project interviews would be incorporated into a number of audio-visual outputs, it therefore became essential to maintain broadcast quality recording throughout; a factor not typically a pre-requisite of interviews conducted as part of a larger research project. This decision was also significant in determining the legacy of these interviews beyond the lifetime of our project. The relationship established between the Eastmancolor Revolution project and the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) ensured that each of these in-depth interviews would remain available to future researchers via the BEHP website (historyproject.org.uk). As a record of key personnel discussing one of the most significant developments within the British film industry, these interviews provide unique insights into a technology previously neglected within accounts of British cinema.


[1] Natalie Kalmus, ‘Color Consciousness’, Journal of the Society for Motion Picture Engineers 25:2 (August 1935) pp.139-147. Guy Green, ‘Colour heightens splendours of Blanche Fury’, Blanche Fury (Marc Allegret, 1948) press book, 1948.

[2] Peter Wollen, ‘Cinema and Technology: A Historical Overview’, eds. Teresa de Lauretis and Stephen Heath, The Cinematic Apparatus (Macmillan: New York, 1980), pp.18-19.

[3] For context see Bernard Knowles, ‘COLOUR- The New Technique’ Cine-Technician Nov-Dec 1938, vol.4, no.18, pp.110-111. For interviewees see Paul de Burgh ‘Optical Printing: a talk given by Paul de Burgh of Denlabs on A.C.T’s own Lecture Course’ in A.E. Jenkins (ed.) Cine-Technician vol.18, no. 96 (1952), pp.66-68.

[4] Many of the BECTU interviews have been transcribed by other people and are now available online. See BECTU History Project https://www.uea.ac.uk/film-television-media/research/research-themes/british-film-and-tv-studies/british-cinema/oral-history-project and the British Entertainment History Project https://historyproject.org.uk/content/about-collection both accessed 22nd November 2019.

[5] Oswald Morris, Huston, We Have a Problem, A Kaleidoscope of Filmmaking Memories (The Scarecrow Press, Inc: Oxford 2006), p.69. Elisofon ‘Reflections on Color’, The New York Times, 17 November 1957, p.x7. Elisofon’s photographs were published in LIFE Magazine. The connection between Morris and Elisofon and the concepts of colour harmony and control inform my research fellowship at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

[6] Oswald Morris, interviewed by Alan Lawson, BECTU Tape 9 recorded 1987. Oswald Morris, interviewed by Liz Watkins and Sarah Street recorded 6th August 2008. Both interviews were at the same address. The tenure and duration of Morris’ career can be read from his filmography and autobiography, but that sense of time past – born in 1915 working in the film industry for 55 years – is something that I realised most acutely in the peripheral sound of the church bells ringing 20 years apart.

[7] Paul de Burgh worked on the BFI National Film Archive conservation and restoration of three-strip Technicolor films in the 1980s-90s. This interview (18th February 2009) was conducted by Liz Watkins and Dr Simon Brown (Kingston University). I also interviewed de Burgh for the BECTU History Project with Kieron Webb (BFI).


Biographies:

Sarah Street is Professor of Film at the University of Bristol. Her publications on colour films include Colour Films in Britain: The Negotiation of Innovation, 1900-55 (2012) and two co-edited (with Simon Brown and Liz Watkins) collections, Color and the Moving Image: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive (2012) and British Colour Cinema: Practices and Theories (2013). Her latest books are Deborah Kerr (2018) and Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s (2019, co-authored with Joshua Yumibe). Her latest project is as Principal Investigator on STUDIOTEC: Film Studios: Infrastructure, Culture, Innovation in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, 1930-60, a European Research Council-funded Advanced Grant.

Dr Liz Watkins, University of Leeds. Her research interests include colour – its theories, technologies, and materiality – in cinema; the history and ethics of colourisation; gender and representation; the imbrication of fiction/nonfiction in early 1900s polar expedition films, photography and their exhibition. Liz has published essays on Eastmancolor, Technicolor, early colour photography, film and archives in Screen, Journal for Cultural Research and Parallax. Her co-edited collections include Gesture and Film (2017) with Nicholas Chare and British Colour Cinema (2013) and Color and the Moving Image: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive (2013) with Simon Brown and Sarah Street. Her book project, with Routledge, is on colour and cinema, analysing the converse effects and counterpoints of colour design that track the gendered and social structures of narrative cinemas (gothic, melodrama, horror and experimental film forms).

Dr Paul Frith is an Associate Tutor at the University of East Anglia. His research specialism is in British cinema with an emphasis upon colour, censorship and horror. His work on these subjects has appeared in a number of publications including the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and the Journal of British Cinema and Television and he is also the co-author of Colour Films in Britain: The Eastmancolor Revolution to be published by Bloomsbury in 2021.

Dr Carolyn Rickards is a researcher based at the University of Bristol. She has published in the Journal of British Cinema and Television, Screen, Fantasy / Animation: Connections Between Media, Mediums and Genres (Routledge, 2018) and is also the co-author of Colour Films in Britain: The Eastmancolor Revolution to be published by Bloomsbury in 2021.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

REPORT: BRITISH LIFE ON FILM: HISTORY AND THE FILM ARCHIVE SYMPOSIUM, 11 MAY 2019, KING’S COLLEGE LONDON

Stephen Morgan, King’s College, London (KCL)

17 June 2019


The flourishing of digital resources in recent years has undoubtedly transformed the practice of film scholarship, especially the work of film historians. Digital access to archival records, as well as repositories such as the Media History Digital Library, the British Newspaper Archive, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove Newspapers collection (amongst many others), have greatly increased our flexibility in drawing upon disparate sources to shape more rounded understandings of the past, and have arguably allowed for a much greater sense of the media and cultural ecosystems within which film texts emerge at particular historical moments.

Alongside these resources – and running in parallel to the rise of mainstream video streaming services such as Netflix – has been the increased access to archival films afforded by institutional websites and social media. In Britain, this has been led by the BFI Player, which draws not only on the national collection, but also from the collections of regional film archives across the UK. Digital platforms such as these have become a primary way of engaging with archival film, and many scholars and creative practitioners – whether casually browsing or searching with intent – have found such resources shaping their work in a myriad of interesting ways.

These engagements with digital archival resources – particularly the BFI Player’s Britain on Film portal – formed the basis for British Life on Film, a one-day symposium hosted by Lawrence Napper at King’s College London. Across a full day of papers, speakers were invited to consider the impact of these repositories in helping to shape, or re-shape, our approaches to film research, practice, and pedagogy. In doing so, the symposium was consciously picking up the baton of recent thinking about ‘useful cinema’, which aims to move the focus of film scholarship beyond the sacrosanct world of the theatrical feature film as entertainment and/or art. As a result, the day also shared considerable terrain with the recent British Women Documentary Filmmakers symposium held across the Strand at LSE.

Screenshot from Amateur Talkies (Sid Douglas, 1956). Source: BFI Player

Drawing together film historians, media scholars, educators, programmers, and archivists, the day provided a fascinating and stimulating range of papers, all sparked by – or directly relevant to – this recent proliferation of online archival film, and associated digital technologies.

The day began with a panel focused on the use of archival film in various forms of practice. Angela English kicked things off with a discussion of her work engaging local audiences from ‘new towns’ with films from regional archives, and a consideration of some of the ‘microhistories’ this opens up. In a paper that combined some heavy theorising with some equally mesmerising imagery, Marc Bosward (University of Derby) outlined some of the approaches that underpin his PhD in creative practice, for which he draws upon the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and some digital wizardry to create stunning works of ‘realist collage’.

More technical wizardry was required to facilitate the final speaker of the first panel, Alberto Gerosa, who introduced us to Think Young LAB’s Deep Memory Pier project, which aims to consolidate a sense of identity and community in the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood of Hong Kong through shared memories and experiences. The outputs of this fascinating project include a collaborative sci-fi film (inspired by Chris Marker’s La Jetee), and the simultaneous creation of an ‘amateur’ moving image archive that documents the everyday realities of life in Asia’s ‘global city’.

Teaser for Deep Memory Pier (ThinkYoung LAB, 2018)

After a well-earned coffee, the day’s second panel began with Lucie Dutton, whose stellar work in reviving the reputation of British film director Maurice Elvey has taken her down some rather interesting, often fruitful, research routes. For this paper, Dutton treated us to the virtues of archival streaming as investigative tool, ably demonstrating how a newsreel allowed her to highlight a key detail in the making of Elvey’s ill-fated masterwork The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918).

Also on the second panel were two papers demonstrating the importance of regional archives in helping to uncover overlooked contributors to amateur film collections. Zoe Viney (Wessex Film & Sound Archive / University of Southampton) outlined her PhD project, which seeks to look beyond the ‘man with the movie camera’ by exploring questions of gender and class that arise within the amateur holdings of WFSA. This was followed by a part presentation, part-reminiscence, led by filmmaker Martina Attille, who introduced us to the work of prolific Teesside-based amateur filmmaker Betty Cook, via the reflections of Betty’s son Martin Cook and the work of the North East Film Archive.

Screenshot from Teeside Inaugural Procession (Betty Cook, 1968). Source: North East Film Archive / Yorkshire Film Archive

The lunch break allowed for much needed reflection on a morning packed with stimulating papers, and a brief respite before another fascinating panel, this time shifting the conversation to the place of archival film in pedagogy and programming. Kulraj Phullar (King’s College London) proposed a shift away from the standard view of British Asian cinema, and one that places great importance on the greater integration of short films and television – much of which is available via the BFI Player – in helping to reorient ourselves towards a specifically anti-racist vision of British film history. This direct challenge to the established canon was further underscored by the work of SUPAKINO founder, Ranjit S. Ruprai, whose searches of online film archives have helped shape his curatorial practice, and given added impetus to his Turbans Seen on Screen project. In the final paper of this panel, Shane O’Sullivan (Kingston University London) highlighted his Archives for Education project, a pedagogical resource that seeks to open up the digital archive to creative re-use, and provides an illustrative case study of how archival film can enhance the teaching of documentary film practice, whilst also engaging students with local and national histories.

Kulraj Phullar on ‘British Asians and Anti-Racism: In and With the Archive’

The potential for archival film to help disrupt the canon was also central to the final panel of the day, which contained a trio of papers highlighting the intersections between political, activist, and instructional filmmaking. Stephanie Cattigan (University of Glasgow) offered an account of the work of the Scottish Film Council’s Industrial Panel, and how film’s use as a promotional and instructive tool shaped its very production and circulation in post-war Scotland. George Legg (King’s College London) drew upon several films – including Chris Reeves’ 1980 documentary H-Block Hunger Strike – to help articulate the importance of monotony and control in the incarceration practices employed during the Northern Irish Troubles. Finally, Hannah Hamad (University of Cardiff) sought to place the Leeds Animation Workshop’s Give Us a Smile (1983) in its precise historical context, demonstrating its role in making sense of persistent cultures of misogyny in post-‘Ripper’ Yorkshire.

Extract from Give Us A Smile (Leeds Animation Workshop, 1983)

Despite a packed day of stimulating papers, one of the disappointments of this symposium was that the inclusion of such a broad a range of topics inevitably left relatively little space for discussion and debate. This was particularly evident during the rather truncated closing roundtable, which nevertheless allowed for both summarising remarks and some brief provocations.

As Head of Non-Fiction at the BFI National Archive, Patrick Russell queried the nature of academic engagement, or the perceived lack thereof, with archival film. A longer roundtable may, perhaps, have got around to debating persistent issues of access, with the contention that academics are ‘finally’ engaging with archival film having a lot to do with legacies of inaccessibility, especially for scholars who were not within easy distance of physical archives. Other questions of access, meanwhile, spoke to the public’s engagement with online archives, and thus to their ‘usefulness’ for the general public.

Likewise, the question and answer sessions after each panel consistently threw up questions of ethics, not just in terms of production, but also the role of memory and the creative reuse of archives. Indeed, among the persistent themes of the day were the political implications and applicability of archival films, not only as texts themselves, but also in terms of the institutional systems and structures that govern what is made available and when.

Regardless of academia’s history of engagement with archival film, British Life on Film: History and the Film Archives highlighted the growing importance of online archives in our ongoing intellectual engagement with British cinema, and its intersections with social, cultural, industrial, and political histories. In drawing together both practitioners and academics – many of whom are current or recently graduated doctoral researchers – this symposium went some way to demonstrating that such engagements should occur not just in the supposed ‘ivory towers’ of elite institutions, but within the public sphere in which these archival films are being given a new lease of life.


Dr Stephen Morgan is a film and cultural historian, programmer, and occasional moving image archivist. As well as teaching film studies at King’s College London and the University of Greenwich, he is the screening coordinator for the Menzies Australia Institute (KCL) and assistant programmer for the London Australian Film Society. (www.drsmorgan.com)


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.


 

A Day at the Archives …. The Times (News UK Archives)

Hélène Maloigne, University College London (UCL)

4 June 2019


Tucked away in the corner of an industrial estate in northeast London is one of the country’s most important newspaper archives. The News UK Archives, which incorporate The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The TLS among others, are housed by a records management firm in one of its large storage facilities in Enfield. The small reading room provides access for only two to three researchers at a time and boasts an impressive library of books in addition to the correspondence files and newspaper issues.

I visited the archive conducting research for my PhD thesis, which explores how archaeologists in the interwar period communicated with the public. My main sources for this are the texts, and the visual and aural materials written and created by archaeologists for a general public. They offer a unique and underexplored source for the historian of the discipline of archaeology as much as for the historian of the interwar period. The sheer volume of books, articles and radio talks attest to the popularity of archaeology – whether it was practiced in Britain or abroad – across society and throughout the period. Focussing on British archaeologists working in Iraq, I explore the collaborative, socially and historically rooted character of archaeology. The history of archaeology is often told as a procession of great discoveries, leading scholars like Ariadne’s thread along a linear path of progress towards knowledge and the refinement of method. The men making these discoveries are often portrayed as lone explorers in an uncivilized foreign country ‘discovering’ lost cities, similar to the image of the scientist making ground-breaking discoveries shut away alone in his laboratory. Yet, it has been conclusively shown that science – and the generation of knowledge more generally – never happens in a social or historical vacuum. Similarly, archaeology is a collaborative activity, especially excavation or fieldwork.

My own background is in archaeology of the Ancient Near East and I still work in the field during the summer excavation seasons. But over the years I have become interested in how we as archaeologists talk to non-specialists. Many people I meet have a particular period in the past they are fascinated by and have visited museums or read books or seen films about it. While most archaeologists roll their eyes when someone mentions Indiana Jones I fully embrace the impact this character – and the real-life inspirations for it I study – has had on the popular imagination.

The interwar period (the setting for the Indiana Jones films) is often called the golden age of archaeology. It was a time of spectacular discoveries such as the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt, the amphitheatre at Caerleon in Wales, the Indus Valley civilization in modern-day Pakistan, or at Lubaantun in modern-day Belize. In the Middle East, archaeologists were working at Ur in southern Iraq, discovering the spectacular ‘Royal Graves’ of the 3rd millennium BC, digging down to the 5th millennium at Nineveh and finding a whole host of prehistoric sites which revolutionised the understanding of the development of urban spaces, the invention of writing, the domestication of animals and many other aspects of human society. The aesthetics of these ancient civilizations, so uncannily familiar and at the same time strikingly new, were taken up in modern art, fashion and applied arts, and clearly spoke to a wide range of readers (and listeners). This popularity allowed archaeologists with a talent for accessible writing to speak directly to their public.

Archaeology was, and still is, strongly intertwined with politics, the creation of national communities and, through its reliance on exploration and conquest, with the colonial and imperialist aspects of Western society. The demise of the Ottoman Empire after World War One had led to the creation of the British and French Mandate areas in the Middle East. The increase in archaeological activity in the 1920s and 1930s in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon was dependent and facilitated by the ease of access to governing bodies, transport routes and local labour well-connected archaeologists enjoyed. In turn, this propelled fieldwork and analytical methods ahead in great strides, leading to a professionalization of the discipline, which expressed itself in the founding of university institutes, professional societies and academic journals.

My research looks at this intersection of archaeology; the making of the professional archaeologist and the public fascination for her/his work.

This somewhat long-winded introduction thus leads us back to my visit to the News UK Archive. The interwar years were an age of mass media, especially newspapers. The archaeologists I study were shrewd publicisers of their work, and newspapers and magazines of the Twenties and Thirties abound with articles written by archaeologists reporting on their work. But writing a newspaper article that captures the attention of the lay reader on her morning commute or at home after a long day at the office or the factory requires very different skills than publishing in a scholarly journal or presenting at a conference, and not all archaeologists were equally good at it. Charles Leonard Woolley (1880–1960), my main case study, was one of them. Between 1922 and 1937 he published 58 articles about his excavations at Ur in The Times (in addition to a number of other newspapers), and it was these I was interested in exploring further.

Woolley never held a university or curatorial position after his return from World War One intelligence work (he spent part of the war as a PoW in a Turkish camp), focussing instead on a career in fieldwork. Before his appointment as the director of the Ur excavations in 1922, he had worked in modern-day Turkey, Britain, Italy, Sudan and Egypt. The Ur excavations were co-funded by the British Museum and the University Museum – now called the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia – but the project suffered from chronic underfunding, exacerbated by the Great Depression from 1929 onwards. Writing newspaper articles was therefore not only a great way of announcing discoveries, it also contributed significantly to Woolley’s uncertain income.

The Times had made one of its most successful arrangements with Howard Carter (1874–1939) and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (1866–1923), the excavators of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which Carter discovered in 1922. The newspaper paid £5000 upfront for the exclusive rights to the story as well as for worldwide syndication. This demonstrated to readers, editors, newspaper proprietors and archaeologists alike that archaeology paid well. The Times thus approached Woolley proposing a similar arrangement, which he turned down, as he preferred not to be bound to one publication. Nevertheless, his articles appeared regularly in The Times and I wanted to know what price its editors put on archaeology. Unfortunately no correspondence between Woolley and staff at the newspaper’s offices survive, but Anne Jensen, Assistant Archivist at the News UK Archive, suggested I view microfilm copies of issues marked up with what a contributor had been paid for his or her article.

Figures 1 and 2: Marked-up copies of The Times, 7 July 1927

While I am mainly interested in articles published under the archaeologist’s name, these mark-ups are also particularly useful for understanding anonymous contributions, as the author’s name is recorded along with his fee. Woolley received between £3.2.0 in 1922 and £21.0.0 in 1928 for an article, the year of his major discoveries in the ‘Royal Graves’.[i] This wide scale is difficult to understand without further supporting archival material. The Times introduced its first picture page in 1922 or 1923 and photographs of the excavation were priced individually, usually at £1.0.0 or £1.1.0. Pictures, most often showing views of the site or objects, accompanied about half of the articles.

While article length and the number of images supplied certainly played a role, my research indicates that more significant, or rather more ‘spectacular’, discoveries commanded higher fees. But Woolley wrote not only about gods, graves and gold vessels; he also capitalized on the foreign and ‘exotic’ setting of his work. He often wrote about the people he worked with, and the support he received from his wife Katharine Elizabeth Woolley (1888–1945), an archaeologist, illustrator and author in her own right, and his foreman and life-long friend Sheik Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim el Awassi (c. 1875–1953). In these ‘life on a dig’ articles he talked about months spent in a barren landscape, working long hours, often from sunrise well into the night, overseeing a workforce of up to 400 men, and excavating anything from monumental temple towers to tiny fragments of gold leaf. These reports proved popular with The Times readers (as well as The Daily Mail, The Observer, and The Illustrated London News, where he also published) and Woolley wrote three to five of these per year, in addition to articles describing excavation results. The fees for these two types of articles did not differ substantially; the mark-ups show a range between £5 and £17 across the years I looked at.

The development of archaeology as a discipline is intricately bound up with its place in society. The better an archaeologist was at popularising his work and connecting with the public, the more successful he was in securing funding, commanding a place amongst his peers and subsequently contributing to the maturing of the discipline. We therefore must look beyond internalist accounts of methodological or theoretical ‘progress’ and the string of ‘great discoveries’ to understand how knowledge is created and shared both among professionals and with the public. Newspaper articles and archival material contribute substantially to this task and researchers will find a wealth of unexplored sources at News UK Archives.

Further information on the News UK Archives can be found at:

@NewsUKArchives

https://newslicensing.co.uk/en/page/show_home_page.html

The archive is open to accredited researchers on 2 days per week by appointment only. It is located near Southbury station in Enfield, north London.

Contact News UK Archives on: archive-sm@news.co.uk


[i]      The conversion of worth into current terms is notoriously difficult. https://www.measuringworth.com/index.php [Accessed 1 April 2019]


Hélène Maloigne is completing her PhD at the Department of History at UCL. Her study looks at the way in which British archaeologists working in the Middle East in the interwar period communicated with the public via books, newspapers and radio broadcasts. She has studied archaeology, ancient languages and art history in Switzerland and museum studies at UCL. She has worked in museums in Switzerland and the UK, as a teaching assistant at UCL and, since 2012, as the small finds registrar at the Tell Atchana/ancient Alalakh excavations in Turkey.


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