Most of us have them, lurking at the back of dusty cupboards; films of births and marriages, new houses and trips to the seaside, home movies shot to serve as a personal chronicle for family and friends. But as archivists we’ve seen how home movies can be much more than that, documenting social as well as a personal history.
Some of the most remarkable films in our collection are home movies shot in the North of England from 1959 and into the early 1960s by local man Gordon Richards. Far from the gritty, stereotypical North with grey smoky cityscapes, Richards takes the viewer on a trip through vibrant bustling streets, shimmering in the early summer sunshine.
What sets the footage apart from many home movies of the era is the quality of the film stock, whereas most home movies in the early 1960s were shot on 8mm film, and often in black and white, Richards shot on expensive colour 16mm stock. It’s hard to imagine these days when many of us have an HD video camera on our phones but in the early 1960s to shoot home movies in high quality colour was a huge privilege, and incredibly rare for a normal working man.
The quality may be professional but the intimacy and access to the people he shot tells of how these were films made by a local man with his camera.
They seem relaxed and unselfconscious of being observed as we see in this footage filmed in his local market.
The 1960s were a time of great change for the North of England. Whilst much of the focus on the change has been the decline of the industries, Richards instead filmed urban regeneration as old buildings were demolished and replaced with new modern blocks as part of post WWII building projects. The demolitions were a local spectacle drawing many onlookers (including some other home movie makers).
Taking his camera off the streets Richards also filmed local ballroom dance classes and competitions. Here’s a joyous moment of teenage rebellion when kids at the Butlin's Social Club in Stockton, shake off the formal moves of ballroom and dance to rock and roll.
Seeing the past through the intimate eye of a local filmmaker, brings our social history to life. Filming not for public consumption, but for his own personal record they are free from any institutional or political motivation and present a world that is a far cry from the ‘Grim Up North’ stereotype of the time.
Curator — Serena Sharp, Kinolibrary