< Back to News

Britain on Film offers unique look at Scotland’s hidden on-screen heritage

From 1950s water-skiers on Loch Earn to a jazz-scored look at industrial Edinburgh, via marauding Vikings in 1920s Lerwick and Skye fishermen grappling a shark, rarely and never-before-seen footage has been digitised and is available to all via the BFI player from 7 July.

A unique insight into Scotland’s people and places will become available to everyone online this July as part of a major nationwide Britain on Film project from the BFI, Scottish Screen Archive and the UK’s other national and regional archives.

The films – which span from the 1890’s to the present day are a fascinating mix of rarely and never-before-seen amateur, commercial and documentary footage and have now been digitised and made available to watch for free online for the very first time via the BFI Player. By 2017, thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be digitised.

Highlights from Scotland include:

Old Norse Vikings Festival – fascinating early footage from the 1927 Up Helly Aa Viking Festival in Lerwick, which is still going strong in 2015. The whole town gets into the spirit, dressing up as everything from walruses to sheep.

The Skimsters – the brave guys and girls bring a touch of bright Hollywood glamour to Loch Earn’s waterskiing competition in the 1950’s. This award-winning amateur film features some dazzling action camera-work.

Peddlers’ Progress – a gloriously colourful 1940’s romp through Loch Lomond and Glen Coe as a clean-cut gang of youngsters get on their bikes for a summer of sight-seeing. This charming travelogue features many of Scotland’s youth hostels and is infused with a post- War sense of optimism.

Beneath the Skyline – Mark Littlewood’s experimental urban soundscape paints a uniquely industrial portrait of 1960’s Edinburgh

Salmon Fishing in Skye – traditional Hebridean salmon fishers encounter a large shark in their nets off the coast of Skye in this documentary footage from 1938

Mike Gets the Message – an endearingly deadpan exercise in road safety and the dangers of hanging off milk floats from Aberdeen High School’s class of 1966. 1 Over 90% of the film and TV content is free 

Great Western Road 1980 – a real-time journey down the famous Glasgow thoroughfare, taking in shoppers, idlers, church-goers and businesses long-gone and still flourishing like Cooper’s pub.

The public are encouraged to use the archive and its special interactive map to explore their own film heritage, as a living document of their local area and personal family history.

While researching the project, Heather Stewart, Creative Director, BFI, discovered her great grandmother, grandmother and mother together on film in scenes from Children's Excursion (1952) featuring Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway, the village she grew up in. Heather said “I have never seen my family on film before so to discover three generations together was a wonderful surprise. The emotional power of film is huge and Britain on Film has the ability to touch everyone in the UK. It’s vital that the UK’s film and TV archives – Britain’s national collection – can be enjoyed by everyone. Britain on Film changes the film and TV archive landscape forever. We have now created a way for the British public to discover and engage with their heritage like never before.”

Robin Baker, Head Curator, BFI said “For 120 years cameras have captured almost every aspect of life in the UK on film, but too often these have been inaccessible to all but the most determined researchers. Now, Britain on Film is transforming access to films from the UK’s archives and giving new life to them by making them available, no matter where you live.”

As part of the Britain on Film project, the BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) will be staging 85 screening events in 46 locations from Belfast to Canterbury and southern Wales to Inverness. Scottish highlights will include a pop-up cinema at Pollok House in Glasgow screening STV's version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1978) and David Lean’s Madeline (1950) alongside regionally specific archive footage. More details about all the Scottish Britain on Film screenings will be shared in the coming months.  

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Sign up to receive our enewsletter to keep up to date with all the latest news and events. Sign up to our newsletter