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Reel History

October 27, 2011

I’ve been thinking about that first line from the Go Between The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there as I’ve watched Melvyn Bragg’s Reel History series, the BBC2 social history film archive programmes celebrating ordinary lives. He talked to the first package tour holidaymakers to Spain in the 70′s (all inclusive for £48!) and Butlins Filey campers which struck a cord with me as we did both as children.


The beauty of seeing archive film is seeing distant history come alive. People just like us except in different clothes and contexts.

I recently spent an afternoon in the Northern Region Film & Television Archive and watched a 30′s home movie of a day trip to the beach. The young bride turns to wave to her husband before stepping into the sea. There’s such a poignancy about people waving to us from the past, reaching out. We also share the intimacy between the gaze of the subject and her cameraman husband.

There’s a wealth of heritage TV programmes at the moment attempting to bring the past to life. The most successful do that through people and tapping into memory. It’s what makes us human that unites us across time.

On that note enjoy a 70′s package tour doc When we Get to Callela it’s going to be great! which presents the experiences of families from Liverpool and two girls from Burnley on an early ‘package’ holiday to Spain. The programme documents the whole process from travel agents to sunburn. What is revealed is that a holiday is much more than merely time spent away from home; the packing, travelling and memories are just as valuable as sitting on the beach.

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