'Treasure trove' of film records unlocks history of British Cinema

October 15, 2012, Queen Mary, University of London

A film historian at Queen Mary, University of London has been uncovering the secret past of British cinema in a private collection of production records for thousands of films, including such iconic titles as Dr No, The African Queen, and Zulu.

The unique production archive is owned by Film Finances Ltd, underwriters of many major British films made since the 1950s. The company has kept complete documentation for every production it has guaranteed, including letters, telegrams, shooting schedules, scripts, storyboards and even doctors' certificates.

In 2009, Film Finances (FF) invited Charles Drazin, from the Department of Film Studies at QM, to delve among the millions of papers that it has accumulated over the past 60 years.

Astonished to find such a wealth of material, Drazin told the company that they were sitting on the "single most important collection of primary materials relating to the history of the post-war British . Adds Dr Drazin: "The archive also provides an unrivalled insight into the production challenges of each film and the personalities involved."

In 2011, Dr Drazin wrote A Bond for Bond, a book documenting Film Finances crucial role in the making of Dr No, the first ever Bond feature; FF stepped in when the film ran substantially overbudget.

Over the past year, Film Finances has been compiling an inventory of papers for 600 films made between 1950 and 1980 that it intends to make publicly available. Already some of the world's most important film libraries, including the British Film Institute, are keen to acquire and curate the collection.

Some Snippets from the FF Archive:

Progress report for The African Queen, 7 June 1951:

"The African Queen was found to have sunk this morning but the unit managed to pull her out of the water by 1pm. At 11am half the unit went down to the raft and lined up. The other members carried on helping to get the boat up."

Bond producer Harry Saltzman offers a recipe for success in the movies during the shooting of Dr No (18 February 1962):

"Cubby and myself feel very optimistic about the commercial possibilities of this picture. I feel we should recover our entire production cost out of the UK. The picture has size, movement, excitement and no message."

Film Finances representative Colin Lesslie spots an unlikely star during the shooting of Zulu (31 March 1963):

"I am very glad to be able to tell you that in my opinion and from the little he has done so far, Michael Caine as 'Bromhead' is very good indeed. When he was cast for the part I couldn't see it but I think (and hope) I was wrong."

Cy Feuer, producer of Cabaret, expresses his gratitude to Film Finances consultant John Croydon (13 March 1972):

"I look back on our association with a great deal of pleasure and I particularly enjoyed our experience together in Berlin. I'll always think of you as the coach who laid out the game plan and then sent me in during the last period to sew up the victory."

Explore further: The digital film reel

Related Stories

The digital film reel

September 7, 2010

Movies are becoming more and more digital -- from the shooting to the cut to the showing. At the International Broadcasting Convention IBC in Amsterdam that is taking place from Sept. 10-14, 2010, Fraunhofer movie experts ...

From Grain to Pixel

June 22, 2009

Not only video shops are struggling with the digitisation of films. Digitisation is also giving rise to problems in a completely different area. Film archives and laboratories have built up their work around the analogue ...

Kodak taking Kodachrome away

June 22, 2009

Kodak is taking Kodachrome away. More than 35 years after Paul Simon immortalized the color film in song, the company announced on Monday that it would be ending production of Kodachrome.

30-Year-Old 3-D movie made from viking data gets new life

July 27, 2011

Back in 1979, scientists at Stanford University created a 3-D movie from images sent back by the Viking landers on Mars. It was rather novel in that, while 3-D movies had been around since the 1950′s — mostly for ...

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.