From cen­tury-old home movies to a 1934 Os­car-win­ner, the BFI’S ar­chive cel­e­brates our en­dur­ing love of the coast

An ar­chive of evoca­tive films dat­ing back to 1898 proves that we’ve al­ways loved to be be­side the sea

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - NEWS - — Jes­samy Calkin BFI’S Bri­tain on Film: Coast and Sea, is avail­able on BFI Player at player.bfi.org.uk/ bri­tain-on-film/

THE VERY NO­TION of ‘the sea­side’ evokes a de­gree of yearn­ing and ev­ery­one has their own child­hood mem­o­ries. It’s a slightly mis­lead­ing im­age, of course, in Bri­tain – not so much sun­shine and white sand as break­wa­ters, peb­bles, rugs and teeth-break­ing sticks of rock. But the BFI has as­sem­bled a cat­a­logue of nos­tal­gic films that cel­e­brate the glory of the British beach.

It is an ad­di­tion to its mam­moth project – Bri­tain on Film – which was launched a cou­ple of years ago, a vast ar­chive which the pub­lic can ac­cess via an in­ter­ac­tive map. Now 600 newly dig­i­talised films have been added for Bri­tain on Film: Coast and Sea – bring­ing the to­tal to 7,500.

The coastal films, which date from 1898 and span just over a cen­tury, orig­i­nate from many sources and cover a huge ge­o­graph­i­cal range – the en­tire UK coast­line, in fact, stretch­ing from Shet­land to the Isles of Scilly. There is also a vast di­ver­sity in con­tent, draw­ing on ev­ery type of film from news­reels to pro­mo­tional trav­el­ogues to home movies.

What emerges from the col­lec­tion is a feel­ing that although the tech­nol­ogy and qual­ity of film­ing has changed be­yond all recog­ni­tion, the fo­cus re­mains the same – it’s just what we love about the beach. A long look back to the days when a hol­i­day treat in­volved sand­cas­tles, ice creams, don­key rides and fish and chips, when bathing cos­tumes were de­signed to cover, not re­veal, and the dads sported shirt­sleeves and

straw boaters rather than tat­toos and Speedos.

Some of the ear­li­est in the col­lec­tion are the short films of the Pass­more fam­ily, which one of the cu­ra­tors, Pa­trick Rus­sell, thinks is pos­si­bly the old­est sur­viv­ing home movie col­lec­tion in the world. Crackly black-and-white footage dat­ing from 1902 shows the fam­ily frol­ick­ing on the beach in Ed­war­dian at­tire. Then there are bon­nets, para­sols and boaters on Vic­to­ria Pier, Black­pool, in 1904, and by 1917 we have knock-kneed chil­dren shiv­er­ing in the sea with their trousers rolled up, and sol­diers wrestling in the sand.

In 1937, the tech­nol­ogy was a bit more so­phis­ti­cated and the cos­tumes were knit­ted. By 1940 in St Annes, on the Lan­cashire coast, colour had come in, the shorts were shorter and the horse­play on the beach was quite fruity. Com­pli­cated men’s bathing cos­tumes are on dis­play in Hol­i­day

Time in Clifton (1946), along with for­mal pic­nics in­volv­ing teapots.

‘In terms of film-mak­ing, ev­ery­one now goes off on their hol­i­days with their phones, cap­tur­ing footage rather more cheaply and eas­ily than you could with a film cam­era,’ says Rus­sell. ‘But they will be film­ing a lot of the same things as th­ese old films. The psy­chol­ogy of hol­i­day film-mak­ing hasn’t changed that much.’

And nor has the ac­tiv­ity. Be­hav­iour might have been slightly bet­ter. The chil­dren were def­i­nitely skin­nier. But de­spite the carthorses drag­ging boats up the sand, and chang­ing fash­ions, there is

a time­less na­ture to the sub­ject mat­ter, and that is what th­ese films pay trib­ute to.

Aside from the home movies there are some charm­ing pro­mo­tional films – such as Ship­shape, made in 1947 by the RNLI, and

Bet ween the Tides (1958), made by British Trans­port Films, en­cour­ag­ing hol­i­day­mak­ers to take the train to the coast. ‘It ’s a bril­liant ex­am­ple of soft-sell ad­ver­tis­ing,’ says Rus­sell af­fec­tion­ately, ‘with ex­cel­lent cin­e­matog­ra­phy.’ There is even an Os­car-win­ner among them, in the shape of The Pri­vate Life of Gan

nets, a fas­ci­nat­ing early nat­u­ral his­tory doc­u­men­tary from the 1930s, filmed on an is­land off the coast of Wales, in which you can spot a rudi­men­tary ver­sion of many of the tech­niques and sto­ry­telling used in nat­u­ral his­tory pro­grammes to­day.

Head cu­ra­tor Robin Baker de­scribes the ar­chive col­lec­tion as ‘part Fa­mous Five ad­ven­ture, part Carry On film, part pure nostal­gia’. What emerges most over­whelm­ingly, from the pen­sion­ers on the razz in Black­pool, to the sand- jump­ing com­pe­ti­tions and don­key rides, is a feel­ing of joy that ’s hard to lo­cate else­where.

Clock­wise from far left Dune jump­ing at St Annes, 1940; early nat­u­ral his­tory film footage in The Pri­vate

Life of Gan­nets, 1934; re­fresh­ments all round, Whit­ley Bay, 1940; sim­ple plea­sures on Fi­ley beach, north York­shire, 1937

Right Broad­way Cin­ema, Wal­ham Green: Old Age Pen­sion­ers’ Sea­side Hol­i­day To Southen­don-sea, 1938

Above A fam­ily hol­i­day to Portrush is cap­tured in Many Happy Re­turns, 1956

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