Before television, people came to movie theatres to watch the news. British Pathé was at the forefront of cinematic journalism, blending information with entertainment to popular effect. Over the course of a century, it documented everything from major armed conflicts and seismic political crises to the curious hobbies and eccentric lives of ordinary people. If it happened, British Pathé filmed it. Now considered to be the finest newsreel archive in the world, British Pathé is a treasure trove of 85,000 films unrivalled in their historical and cultural significance. British Pathé also represents the Reuters historical collection, which includes more than 136,000 items from the news agencies Gaumont Graphic (1910-1932), Empire News Bulletin (1926-1930), British Paramount (1931-1957), and Gaumont British (1934-1959), as well as Visnews content from 1957 to the end of 1984. All footage can be viewed on the British Pathé website.
Pathé News was a producer of newsreels and documentaries from 1910 to 1970 in the United Kingdom. Its founder, Charles Pathé, was a pioneer of moving pictures in the silent era. The Pathé News archive is known today as British Pathé. Its collection of news film and movies is fully digitised and available online.
Its roots lie in 1896 Paris, France, when Société Pathé Frères was founded by Charles Pathé and his brothers, who pioneered the development of the moving image. Charles Pathé adopted the national emblem of France, the cockerel, as the trademark for his company. After the company, now called Compagnie Générale des Éstablissements Pathé Frère Phonographes & Cinématographes, invented the cinema newsreel with Pathé-Journal. French Pathé began its newsreel in 1908 and opened a newsreel office in Wardour Street, London in 1910.
The newsreels were shown in the cinema and were silent until 1928. At first, they ran for about four minutes and were issued fortnightly. During the early days, the camera shots were taken from a stationary position but the Pathé newsreels captured events such as Franz Reichelt‘s fatal parachute jump from the Eiffel Tower and suffragette Emily Davison‘s fatal injury by a racehorse at the 1913 Epsom Derby.
During the First World War, the cinema newsreels were called the Pathé Animated Gazettes, and for the first time this provided newspapers with competition. After 1918, British Pathé started producing a series of cinemazines, in which the newsreels were much longer and more comprehensive. By 1930, British Pathé was covering news, entertainment, sport, culture, and women’s issues through programmes including the Pathétone Weekly, the Pathé Pictorial, the Gazette and Eve’s Film Review.
In 1927, the company sold British Pathé (both the feature film and the newsreel divisions) to First National. (French Pathé News continued until 1980, and the library is now part of the Gaumont-Pathé collection). Pathé changed hands again in 1933, when it was acquired by British International Pictures, which was later known as Associated British Picture Corporation. In 1958, it was sold again to Warner Bros. and became Warner-Pathé. Pathé eventually stopped producing the cinema newsreel in February 1970 as they could no longer compete with television. During the newsreels’ run, the narrators included Bob Danvers-Walker, Dwight Weist, Dan Donaldson, André Baruch and Clem McCarthy among others.
The library itself was sold with Associated British Picture to EMI Films and then others, including The Cannon Group (which split the feature film and newsreel divisions) and the Daily Mail and General Trust, before relaunching in its own right in 2009. The feature film division is now part of StudioCanal and is not connected with Pathé, the French company and original parent of British Pathé. In 2002, partially funded by the UK National Lottery, the entire archive was digitised. The British Pathé archive now holds over 3,500 hours of filmed history, 90,000 individual items and 12 million stills. On 7 February 2009, British Pathé launched a YouTube channel of its newsreel archive.
From March 2010, British Pathé relaunched its archive as an online entertainment site, making Pathé News a service for the public as well as the broadcasting industry. In May 2010, The Guardian was given access to the British Pathé archive, hosting topical videos on its website. In May 2012, British Pathé won the FOCAL International Award for Footage Library of the Year. In April 2014, British Pathé uploaded the entire collection of 85,000 historic films to its YouTube channel as part of a drive to make the archive more accessible to viewers all over the world.
By 2020, the British Pathé archive now includes material from the Reuters historical collection. Additionally, as historically the British Pathé newsreels covered events in the island of Ireland, while it was variously part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Irish Free State, and later a Republic, that part of the archive was shared with the Irish Film Institute‘s Irish Film Archive, curated as “The Irish Independence Film Collection”. This also resulted in a more accurate cataloguing of the locations, people, and the historical context, than the UK office would have historically had.
British Pathé produced a number of programmes and series as well as newsreels, such as Pathé Eve and Astra Gazette. In 2010, BBC Four reversioned the 1950s Pathé series Time To Remember, which was narrated by the actor Stanley Holloway, and broadcast it as a thematic 12-part series. BBC News continues to use extracts in its coverage of various events, such as Windrush, and World War II.
British Pathé has been known under the following names:
- C.G.P.C. (1910–1927)
- First National-Pathé (1927–1933)
- Associated British-Pathé/RKO-Pathé (1933–1958)
- Warner-Pathé (1958–1969)
- British Pathé News (1990–1995)
- British Pathé (since 1995)
American Pathé News
The British and American newsreel companies separated in 1921 when the American company was sold. In 1947, the film assets of the successor companies of Pathé News, Inc. were purchased by Warner Bros. from RKO Radio Pictures, which had acquired them in 1931. Warners, as had RKO before them, continued to produce the theatrical newsreel Pathé News, its title changing from RKO-Pathé News to Warner-Pathé News Warner also produced a series of 38 theatrical short subjects and 81 issues of the News Magazine of the Screen series, which added to the Pathé film properties and were part of the company’s extensive film library. Producer/editor Robert Youngson was primarily responsible for these series and won two Academy Awards for them.
In 1956, Warner Bros. discontinued the production of the theatrical newsreel and sold the Pathé News film library, the 38 theatrical short subjects, the Pathé News Magazine of the Screen, the crowing rooster trademark and the copyrights and other properties to Studio Films, Inc.—shortly thereafter named Pathé Pictures, Inc.— At this time, the new owners, Barnett Glassman, Samuel A. Costello and Joseph P. Smith acquired ownership and subsequently relinquished the name and film properties of both companies to Pathé News, Inc.
A 50% interest in the Pathé News Film Library was sold to Sherman Grinberg in 1958. The Sherman Grinberg Film Library licensed the marketing rights to the Pathé News Film Library. Pathé News, Inc retained the sole exclusive right to sell the library. The series of 38 theatrical short subjects and 81 issues of the News Magazine of the Screen series, Milestones of the Century, the Men of Destiny series, Showtime at the Apollo, as well as many other titles are marketed by Historic Films Archive, LLC.
In 2016, the children of Joseph P. Smith, acquired 100% of the stock. Today, Pathé News, Inc. is a family-owned private company.
Other U.S. newsreel series included Paramount News (1927–1957), Fox Movietone News (1928–1963), Hearst Metrotone News/News of the Day (1914–1967), Universal Newsreel (1929–1967) and The March of Time (1935–1951).
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