Thursday, 3 February 2011

I'm Still Going On About The BBC Archives

The sharp-witted among you will remember with warm, fuzzy nostalgia the post I did a while back about the amazing BBC Archive microsite and the treasure of Bondy booty within. Since then, and hopefully not as a direct result of my post, the BBC have announced a 25% cut in their online budget, which is about as welcome as the removal of a favourite genital. Whether or not this affects the BBC Archive I don't know because nobody replied to my query. Perhaps they've been sacked already.
Anyway in order to drum up a bit more business for them, I am hereby directing you to another of the movie-type collections on there, Hollywood Voices, an internet pie whose filling is made of the tastiest radio interviews with actors and directors from America's golden age of cinema. Chaplin, Hayworth, Huston, Stewart, Flynn, Cagney, Lemmon, Marx, Crawford, Welles, Karloff... all the greats are there. And John Wayne.

There are currently 71 clips in the collection and in all honesty I haven't listened to them all. But in the interests of knowing vaguely what I'm on about, I have listened to some. Here's what I thought, as if you care:

Talking Of Films: Buster Keaton (Network Three, 1961)
A 66-year-old Keaton treats interviewer Herbert Feinstein like a retarded child, which is exactly how you would hope Buster Keaton spoke to interviewers. He talks about how Houdini gave him the nickname "Buster", how his films were cheaper than Chaplin's and Harold Lloyd's and goes on to call Chaplin "very lazy" for making anything less than two films a year. He even finds time to have a pop at Bob Hope's physical comedy skillz, the old grouch. It's the first time I've heard Keaton's voice and he's as tetchy and irascible as his 1920s screen persona implies, thank Christ.

Alfred Hitchcock (1972)
The Greatest Director What Ever Lived talks to Anthony Friese-Greene about the use of music in his films. Broadcast as Hitchcock was in post-production on Frenzy, Friese-Greene spends a lot of time referring to an interview Hitch did in 1933 and asking him if he still feels the same way, which seems almost as lazy as writing a blog post about something you already wrote about a few weeks ago. Still, The Master talks acres of common sense about how music should or shouldn't be used in film, refuses to be put off by a phone ringing in the background and hints at a vague contempt for musicals because they can't be translated into other languages and therefore don't succeed in foreign markets. Has he never heard of dubbing? Or subtitles? Honestly, what an amateur.

Woman's Hour: Fay Wray (Radio 4, 1990)
Silken-voiced broadcasting goddess Jenni Murray interviews a then-83-year-old Fay Wray about her experiences on King Kong, and with various other, less hairy leading men. She reveals, with more lucidity than most 83-year-olds I know, how she intended for her screams to be heard a mile away, and what it was like to act in front of a rear projection screen so big she couldn't even tell what was on it. Wray goes on to describe with woozy, golden-tinged nostalgia what it was like to be caught up in the magic of 1930s Hollywood and how writers are sexier than actors because "they think more widely", whatever that means. I think it might be sexual.

And because I couldn't resist it, I went back to the James Bond collection to check out another of its ancient gems:

Tonight: James Bond Car (BBC1, 1964)
In the kind of piece Top Gear would do nowadays only with more exploding caravans and unbearable presenters, plummy Tonight reporter Kenneth Allsop presents an offbeat film as part of the massive Goldfinger promotion machine in which he trades his E-Type Jaguar for Bond's Aston Martin DB5. In the process he demonstrates the trick number plate that rotates with all the smoothness of a rusty mangle, a radar scanner built into the wing mirror that never featured in the film and, inexplicably, a fake finger he finds under the driver's seat. There's every chance it's the gold finger (DO YOU SEE?) that Honor Blackman wore at the premiere but as it's in black and white it just looks like Bond's left an uncomfortable-looking sex toy behind.

So do yourself a favour and visit the BBC Archives before some bureaucrat deletes it as part of a cost-cutting measure. Chances are you've already paid for it with part of your TV licence so you may as well enjoy it. At any rate it's better than anything on BBC Three.


  1. I wonder if Anthony Friese-Greene was related to William Friese-Greene who filed a patent for a 3-D movie process in 1894.

  2. I'm working my way through the golden age BBC archive interviews which are fascinating. There never was a golden age for interviewers as the questions asked then were often banal or ill informed. The Incredible Suit would have easily done a better job. With True Grit out now it is funny to hear John Wayne being asked in the 60s if the Western was dead. Gloria Swanson & Mary Pickford talked about how easy it was to get into films in the early silent days. Stage actors treated film as below their dignity. A bit like the BBC in the 40s when someone failing to get into radio was told to try their luck in the much inferior world of television at Alexandra Palace.