From TV soaps Albion Market and Family Pride to children’s TV programmes Metal Mickey and Animal Kwackers, vintage interviews with Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Robin Williams and Benjamin Zephaniah to groundbreaking multicultural factual television shows Eastern Eye and Here and Now, today BFI Replay launches across the UK offering free access to the public to 60 years of their screen history, newly available for the first time in decades, in public lending libraries across the country.
BFI Replay is a unique free-to-access, digital archive resource from the BFI, the result of one of the UK’s largest mass digitisation programmes. Designed to preserve UK moving image archives video tape collections most at risk from technical obsolescence, 100,000 items that would otherwise be lost forever have been digitised across a range of tape formats spanning video’s 60 year history. Thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, thousands of these newly digitised moving image stories are now exclusively available to view on BFI Replay in UK-wide public lending libraries.
Drawn from the collections of the BFI National Archive and partner UK Regions and Nations Film Archives, they also include historically significant material from ITV and Channel 4, some stories familiar and memorable, others forgotten gems, rare and unseen for decades, to build a revealing nationwide picture of public life in the video era.
Content highlights include a focus on TV Soaps, peeling back the years of some of Britain’s best-loved soap operas such as Coronation Street, Brookside, Emmerdale and Crossroads as well as less well remembered shows including Albion Market, General Hospital and Family Pride, the first British-Asian soap opera. Fondly remembered classics of Children’s TV also feature with episodes of Metal Mickey and Animal Kwackers amongst others. A perennial favourite, the public information film, is explored in a new collection, Be Careful Out There! alerting viewers to a new raft of dangers including online predators, texting while driving and the threat of the ‘Millennium Bug’.
BFI Replay also features interviews and profiles with some of the brightest literary stars such as Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Kathy Acker taken from the ICA’s long-running Writers in Conversation series. Filmmakers and actors explain their craft in a series of vintage interviews with Ben Kingsley, Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory, Robin Williams, Mike Leigh and other film notables. The Camera is Ours: Women Documentary Filmmakers, is a companion collection to the BFI National Archive’s recent restoration project, celebrating Britain’s women documentarians from the 1930s to 1960s. This new collection focuses on a second generation of women documentary filmmakers, such as Kim Longinotto who emerged from the 1970s and 1980s.
Groundbreaking multicultural TV from the 1970s onwards is explored through a number of magazine shows intended to address diverse audiences, from LWT’s tough factual reporting on Skin (plus a passionate tribute to Bob Marley), to Channel 4’s Eastern Eye and Black Bag, as well as Central TV’s Midlands multicultural arts review series Here and Now, featuring a young Benjamin Zephaniah.
Exclusively available only in UK public lending libraries, BFI Replay is already live in the 13 library services who have worked with BFI to develop the new platform. A full list of libraries already signed up can be found here. Full national rollout of BFI Replay is underway with over 40 new library services coming on board soon, and many more libraries signing up across the UK.
The library audience is vast and broad. According to The Reading Agency there were 214 million visits to UK libraries in 2019-2020, spanning all age groups and ethnicities. Libraries are the beating heart of many local communities. They are one of the few free, safe, accessible spaces for all, where people come to find information for research and study, to explore and enjoy stories as well as a place to stay warm and connected. Libraries have always been about access to books and information, but have increasingly evolved a role as cultural destinations where users can enjoy a range of activities including music and theatre, dance, comedy and film, with many libraries being the home of local history collections.
BFI Replay enriches this cultural offer for libraries giving democratic access to all library users to the newly digitised video content where they can browse and enjoy interesting, entertaining and historically valuable screen histories. Selected from diverse sources, including news reports, documentaries, adverts, charity videos, magazine shows, dramas, oral histories and local community video archives, BFI Replay showcases the world as we knew it in the video era. A record of the UK’s diverse and vibrant social history it helps people connect with their stories through the communities who lived it.
Curated collections also reflects the making of the modern world, exploring themes such as technological change, including news of the Sinclair C5 and Teletext, the changing nature of work and climate change as well as focusing on key historical events from the video era including the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, with reports from leading current affairs series Weekend World alongside independent productions focusing on the community response. The impact of AIDS is felt in ‘Before Stonewall: An Oral History of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community’, a 2003 Heritage Lottery Funded project organised by Brighton-based organisation ‘Gay and Lesbian Arts and Media’ (GLAM).
BFI Replay also celebrates the heyday of regional television, much of which has now vanished including popular figures such as Richard Whiteley in Yorkshire TV’s Calendar People interviewing famous Yorkshire names and Ulster TV’s travelogue Lesser Spotted Ulster. BFI Replay is a living digital archive that will grow and evolve as newly digitised content from the UK Regions and Nations Film Archive partners continues to be added.
Arike Oke, BFI Executive Director of Knowledge and Collections said:
“BFI Replay gives democratic, UK-wide, free access to our regional and national film and television archives which for too long have been inaccessible to many. Through the public libraries network we’re able to meet people where they are, regardless of their digital proficiency or home access to the internet. Connecting people in each UK nation to their stories and vital histories on screen.”
Isobel Hunter, CEO Libraries Connected said
“We’re thrilled to be a BFI Replay partner and help libraries share this extraordinary national collection with their users. BFI Replay will give library teams the skills to curate targeted content for their local communities, to engage existing library users and attract new audiences who might not expect to find this material within a library. The project has received strong support across the public library sector – libraries see it as an exciting addition to their existing cultural programme and an opportunity to open up public access to this incredible archive.”
Alison Holdom, Funding Manager – Lead for Arts and Heritage, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
“BFI Replay will open up access to a valuable resource that will strengthen cultural and digital engagement in communities through their local libraries. We’re excited by its potential to bring people together to discover their local history and build confidence in using technology.”
Emma Smart, Head Librarian, BFI said:
“Working with library colleagues across the public library sector as part of our BFI Replay Library Network has been an immensely rewarding experience for us. These founding member libraries have been with us from the beginning, helping us to test ideas for the BFI Replay platform and informing our content decisions along the way, and I think the partnership has helped us a create a truly unique streaming service that visitors to libraries across the whole country are going to enjoy for years to come.”
BFI Replay collections has been curated under 4 main content pillars:
‘The Time Machine’
A journey into the past through archive film, television and video, with curated collections exploring key events and eras in British history, as well as a search tool to search by date or decade.
• The Miners’ Strike 1984-85
Remembering the defining industrial conflict of modern times, as it was represented in television with reports from leading current affairs series Weekend World as well as in independently-produced video collections exploring the strike and its impact in Wales, the North East and elsewhere, revealing some surprising new insights even nearly 40 years on.
• That Was the Future
What did the future – the world we live in now – look like to our parents and grandparents? These films and programmes take us back to the early years of a technology revolution in the 1970s and early 1980s that was just beginning to transform not just our workplaces and our homes, but education, healthcare, fashion, transport and almost every facet of everyday life.
‘The Making of Us’
Times change, and so do we. Featured collections explore our communities and shared memories through archive film, television and video from across the UK.
• How We Learned
From classroom to lecture hall to living room: a look at the many ways TV and video shaped our learning experiences over the years, Think Tank, Yorkshire TV’s Don’t Ask Me science show with Magnus Pyke and ITV’s Kids Aid
• Our Language – Ein Hiaith
A collection celebrating Cymraeg, the Welsh language, an endangered tongue that survives against all odds. Curated by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.
A voyage of discovery into screen history, uncovering classics and forgotten gems from TV yesteryear, adverts, government films, filmmaker interviews and much more besides.
• Be Careful Out There! – Public Information Fillers
A companion to BFI Player’s evergreen Public Information Films collection, taking up the story from the 1980s. Among the usual subjects – such as anti-smoking and road safety campaigns – we find new fears, from texting while driving, rogue internet traders, online predators and Crimewatch’s Nick Ross advising on beating the ‘Millennium bug’.
• Regional TV
A series of collections bringing together some of the most popular and sometimes surprising programmes from the golden age of regional television programming including Ulster TV’s travelogue Lesser Spotted Ulster; Tyne Tees Television’s Charles Boden’s The Last… series, exploring dying ways of life in the North East; and the late, great Richard Whiteley in Yorkshire TV’s Calendar People, interviewing famous Yorkshire folk including All Creatures Great and Small author James Herriot and novelist Jilly Cooper.
Closer To Home
Film and TV can take us to distant lands – real or imaginary. But they can also bring us stories from our own cities, towns, villages or neighbourhoods.
Here you’ll find collections spanning the breadth of Britain’s regions and nations, drawn from the digitised holdings of moving image archives across the UK. Telling stories strongly rooted in location or regional resonance, these curated collections bring together films, videos and programmes made by, for or about local communities to library locations, as well as places, issues and events from across each nation and region.
BFI Replay is made possible thanks to funding from the National Lottery and and the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. More information is provided in the BFI Replay Introductory User guide available at bfi.org.uk/replay.
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