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The newsreel’s influence on early British Television news


It is sometimes suggested that television news services, which started in 1955 in the U.K. were developed with fresh ideas by people who had no previous experience in the production of daily news services.

I believe that the newsreels had, and have had since, an enormous influence on the development of daily news.

Question: If the developing television daily news services were to be greatly different from the newsreels, why did they seek staff from the newsreels ?.

In 1952 the BBC acquired the services of cameramen Ronnie Noble from Universal.  In the late forties, David Prosser from Movietone joined the BBC to work on their Children’s Television Newsreel. There were others.

In 1955, ITN started broadcasting with Movietone’s Raymond Perrin as Head of Film Production and Alan Haythorne with Greville M. Kent, both editors, all from Movietone.

In the camera department, Martin Gray, George Richardson, Peter Brown and George Collins were poached from Movietonews.  They also recruited others from Pathe and the, then, defunct Gaumont, Universal and Paramount newsreels.  I cannot recall their names and in some cases, I never knew them.  Derek Stiles (aka Scott-Leslie), also of Movietone, joined them as a sound recordist.


British Movietone News By Leo Reynolds

Most of these people worked for their respective companies until retirement.

In June 1955, I was responsible for the gathering, pre-editing and despatch of daily newsfilm to Alexandra Palace where the BBC ran its television service which included the news department.  At that time, the BBC had their own U.K. based crews although, from time to time, they made use of Movietone’s freelance cameramen located around the country.  In the beginning, all foreign locations were covered by Movietonews cameramen.

On a daily basis, I would phone Alexandra Palace to give their editing staff a run down on stories going through the pipeline and when they could expect to receive them.  Dope sheets, re-written, and added to, by the UPI staff at Bouverie Street, were relayed to AP by teleprinter, so that they received all the available information long before they received their film.

Movietonews, working with UPI as United Press Movietone Television, supplied the BBC with newsfilm and special shooting material around the world until 1964.  They contributed to Panorama and Tonight programmes.  There were no complaints about the style of the material they received.

Movietone’s relationship with the BBC was nothing new, it dated back to the opening day of BBC Television from Alexandra Palace in November 1936, the very first item to be shown after the speeches was British Movietonews. (It was also shown again as last item).

The original ITN logo, as used between 1955 an...

The original ITN logo

When the BBC News programme, followed later by the ITN bulletin, the style of shooting and the style of editing was identical with that of the newsreels.  Why would it be anything else ?  The main difference was that the film content of the programme did not run continuously.  The film was interrupted by stories, for which there were no pictures, which were read by the newsreader.

The BBC even used story titles as the newsreels had done.

The newsreels were confronted by considerable obstacles.  They were dependent upon film processing, printing and country-wide distribution. It took them, on average, two days to get a news story into the cinemas and, on occasion, much longer. They had a shortage of print stock for much of their existence.  They were, finally, overcome by the development of television.

However, taking into consideration the obstacles, the equipment available at the time and the processing of film, the newsreel people were, at least, as quick at providing news as the present day operatives in television.

One might ask why the great film production companies of the day, owners of a newsreel division, such as Gaumont-British, Paramount Pictures, Pathe, 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, should succumb to the inroads made by television.

The answer was simple, television offered a threat to the cinemas themselves.  Thousands of cinemas would close down over the next twenty years.  The owners of the newsreels adopted the attitude that said  “Let’s leave television alone, it might go away”.

I understand that, after the end of the Second World War, the newsreels, that is probably Movietonews and Gaumont, were invited to, once again, supply the BBC with a current newsreel for broadcasting.  They turned down the offer.  What might have happened had they accepted ?

It should be remembered that CNN was launched under the direction of Burt Reinhardt and Reese Schonfeld both formerly of UPITN.  Bert was Head of Movietonews New York up to the early sixties.  I cannot imagine that he did not use some of  his newsreel experience in setting that company up.

Those people who had worked in the newsreel industry and then went into broadcast television adapted to their new-found surroundings.  A cameraman’s original film would come into their building where it was processed within a maximum of forty five minutes.  It would be edited and scripted in about twenty minutes and then it could go straight on the air.  Why would they not be enthusiastic about these new-found conditions ?.

Additional link: History of the BBC: The First TV Era – details of the BBC’s opening night’s programming.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles on Newsreels click here.

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