Reeling back the years with films from Oxford's past

Josh Carr and Hannah Lucas from the education media services department of Oxford University’s video unit.  Picture: OX68738 Simon Williams

Josh Carr and Hannah Lucas from the education media services department of Oxford University’s video unit. Picture: OX68738 Simon Williams Buy this photo

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering North Oxford, Jericho and Summertown. Call me on 01865 425498

WHEN we think back to the decades which have gone by it is easy to see everything in black and white.

But as recently discovered film reels show, Oxford was just as colourful in the 1940s as it is now.

It is part of a project being run by staff at Oxford University’s video unit, who are trying to collect footage of what the city used to look like before the 1980s.

They are asking residents and former pupils and staff to dig around for any old or forgotten film spools lying around in their attics.

Project leader Peter Robinson said: “The university only really has archive footage from the 1980s onwards, so we obviously feel there is a big gap to fill.

“Over the years bits and bobs have come up, but we are now trying to put in a big effort, because many of the people who shot the footage, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, are getting quite old now.

“For me some of the footage, particularly what we have recently found from the 1940s, is really exciting and unique.”

The group recently received digitised film reels from a relative of US airman Major James R Savage, who shot footage in 1944.

He was a photo reconnaissance officer, based in RAF Mount Farm, the former air base located three miles north of Dorchester with the 14th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of the US Air Force.

That meant he had access to portable filming equipment, as well as coveted 16mm colour film from America.

Mr Robinson said: “Colour film was very difficult to obtain back then.”

In the footage, Major Savage is shown taking a boat trip with Salter’s Steamers, from Folly Bridge to Sandford Lock. On the way he passes through Iffley Lock and past Kennington and also a housing estate.

Mr Robinson said: “We do not think the film has been shown to anyone else before. You see static pictures all the time, but to actually see these kinds of moving images is really quite incredible.”

The group has also come across other rare footage of Oxford’s town centre from the Second World War, he said. He added: “We have seen clips of the city across the decades and some areas, like Jericho in the 60s, were quite different to how they are now.”

Video unit member Hannah Lucas: “With the recent publication by British Pathé of 85,000 archived films to its YouTube channel, as well as the advent of the centenary year of World War One, interest in historical films is at a peak.

“We can use the footage to compare how traditions have survived throughout the years, in spite of adaptations to the time period.”

The group, which is normally responsible for publishing lectures as video podcasts, has said it will publish recovered footage online.

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