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Lowestoft life as seen on the newsreels

PUBLISHED: 08:07 03 September 2010 | UPDATED: 09:50 16 September 2010

UNTIL recently, it was only available to historians and film researchers. But now the Pathé organisation, of cinema newsreels fame, has opened its archive to anyone, providing free access to its incredible historical records and giving us a fascinating insight into Britain, and our own neck of the woods, in days gone by.

UNTIL recently, it was only available to historians and film researchers. But now the Pathé organisation, of cinema newsreels fame, has opened its archive to anyone, providing free access to its incredible historical records and giving us a fascinating insight into Britain, and our own neck of the woods, in days gone by.

“There are 90,000 individual films on the site,” said Pathé's general manager, Alastair White.

“We've got all the big history, all the big state occasions. We've reconfigured the website to make it much more accessible to the public. If you go on our advanced search page you can drill down into our archive looking at different decades.”

Wars and famines, technological advances such as early flight and space travel, coronations, and sporting occasions such as England's victorious 1966 World Cup final against West Germany, are all there.

All are included in an archive of newsreels, documentaries and reportage that would take a lifetime to watch. As well as events that shaped history on the world stage, Pathé's cameras trained their lenses on everyday life in Suffolk and Norfolk as they captured the news and oddities of life on film for cinemagoers. The company's trademark crowing cockerel introduction was known in picture houses up and down the land.

“We've got various Norwich football matches from years back, and also tons and tons of footage of social interest - people doing everyday things,” said Mr White. “It's like travelling back in time looking at it, it really is.”

Searching for Suffolk on the Pathé website brings up more than 300 items. Among newsreels of local interest to Lowestoft folk are one from 1968 entitled 110-Year-Old Woman that features one of the town's great characters of modern times, Ada Roe, then the country's oldest person at that time but still sprightly and serving customers with bottles of milk at her Lowestoft dairy.

Going back still further, sailing and beauty queens come into focus in Broadly Speaking, a 1931 film that includes scenic shots of yachts at Oulton Broad, along with glamour girls standing beside an outdoor swimming pool at what could be a beauty contest or fashion show. We then see a swimming race and a man doing various comic dives.

Black-and-white footage is superseded by colour for the 1959 film, Dog Safety School, which tells of fish merchant John Dawson's idea to introduced a new activity: weekly instructional class for dogs. He got the idea, the commentary tells us, after reading how many accidents on the road were caused by untrained dogs. The well-behaved pooches being put through their paces by their owners at Lowestoft harbour seem to show that the training was having some effect!

There are interesting scenes of the town centre as it was just over half a century ago as the dogs practise crossing the road.

Lowestoft shares the bill in the 1926 film, Happy Holiday-time by the Sea, with Clacton and Dover.

An on-screen title page reads: “At Lowestoft 'King Carnival' finds it hard to judge the prettiest ankles.” We then see a row of young women hiding behind a long sheet. All we can see are their feet and the top of their hats as two men both in comical costumes walk down the line inspecting the women's ankles and clowning about. The fun seems to take place on the pier.

There are many films in the archive featuring royal visits, including two of local interest.

The first, Duke of Lowestoft (aka Duke and the Drifters), from 1956, features a visit to the town by the Duke of Edinburgh. There are some fascinating pictures of activities at the fish dock as the royal VIP walks down a jetty accompanied by officials. Prince Philip also casts off the rope of the trawler Boston Herald on her maiden voyage.

The second, Duke of Edinburgh visits Birds Eye Frozen Food Factory, is from 1960. On the this occasion he is greeted at the factory by general manager Mr T N G Crawford. He walks past crowd of factory girls and, wearing a trilby hat, tours the factory and speaks to workers, watching kipper filleting and sprouts being cleaned, graded and packed.

Other films covering Lowestoft include a number featuring the fishing industry, including fishermen on strike in 1946, royal jubilee celebrations in 1935 and a new lifeboat being launched in 1966.

So, do take a look - and it's possible you can help Pathé to catalogue its collection in more detail, thereby adding to the value of this precious archive.

Mr White said: “When the archive was made, the descriptions were written by film researchers for film researchers. It would say a man punting down a river but it wouldn't say what man and what river.”

To see the Pathé archive, go online to www.britishpathe.com

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