The small gauge film format 9.5mm is not as well known today as other popular formats such as 16mm, standard 8mm and super 8mm. However, this may change now that it has reached its centenary and become the subject of a number of events which have been created to celebrate its history and impact on film culture.
Pathé 9.5mm film projectors in the apparatus collection of NLW Screen and Sound Archive
It was December 1922 when the French Pathé company launched its new 9.5mm format. It was a radical miniaturisation of both film exhibiting and film making technology which enabled significant reductions in costs. This in turn had the effect of making home cinema and home cinematography accessible to a much wider global public. The initial offering was of a movie projector – The Pathé Baby – which the company supported with a supply of films from its extensive back catalogue. Diverse short subjects and even edited down feature films all originally made on 35mm standard gauge were available for purchase or hire, printed down to 9.5mm. In many ways it was the VHS or Netflix of its day, the means for a re-dimensioned experience of cinema in the home. One year later Pathé added a camera to its new system which by then had a new competitor in the shape of 16mm film, backed by the American companies Kodak and Bell and Howell.
A camera magazine or ‘charger’ of 9.5mm film, showing its distinctive central perforation
The existence of these relatively affordable complete tools for small gauge filmmaking had the effect of making widespread amateur film culture possible. Although various now obscure formats had existed for well-heeled amateurs from the beginnings of cinematography in the late Victorian era, their use had never become a mass market phenomenon. Within a few years Pathé had sold 100,000 of its Baby projectors. The home movie making genie was finally out of the bottle!
An undated sales leaflet for the Pathé Baby projector
It is no coincidence that the moving image snapshots of everyday life which institutions like the National Library of Wales Screen and Sound Archive hold in their collections begin in the 1920s and are well represented from the 1930s onwards. Movie making became a popular pastime and was further democratised by the establishment of cine clubs in which members would share the costs and collaborate on story films and documentaries.
From 2013 to 2017 many such films in the UK’s national and regional film archives were digitised and contextualised as a part of the Unlocking Film Heritage project. NLW’s Screen and Sound Archive was a partner of the BFI run project and 57 of its 9.5mm home movies were scanned and made freely and indefinitely available on the BFI player. Representative examples include:
These are clips from films made by Jack Clark of Brecon. The Clark family were multi-generational residents of Brecon and still operate a family business to this day. Jack Clark owned and ran a Photographic supplies shop and studio which may have helped with supplies of film stock and developing chemicals. Some of his films can also currently be seen in the Brecknock Museum exhibition. For the centenary of 9.5mm we are making available a further clip from the Clark collection which shows areas of the town close to the river – Llanfaes Bridge and around the Cathedral – flooded in the 1930s.
In this case, we present an overscan of the material so that the characteristic features of 9.5mm can be seen. These include the central perforation and the notch cut into the side of the film at the point of an intertitle which triggers a still frame mechanism in the projector. The often associated melted frame is also visible, as is damage to the image from the action of the projector claw. Aside from the historical value of images of the flooding, something made newly relevant by our current concerns about climate change, this clip is an interesting example of the ‘remixing’ potential of 9.5mm in which Clark as a home movie maker has edited commercial footage together with material which he has shot himself. We cannot be sure how intentional this action was but it is suggestive that the scenes of flooding have been connected to the cartoon images of taking ‘an unexpected bath’.
Scanning 9.5mm film on the MWA Flashscan at NLW Screen and Sound Archive
In 1932, a new even more economical format, 8mm, joined the now buoyant market for home movie making. Despite this increased competition, 9.5mm continued to thrive as both a medium for making and showing films. Pathé’s catalogue of film titles continued to expand and new hardware catered for the development of 9.5mm sound film which meant contemporary releases could be heard as well as seen.
The gauge had a devoted following who appreciated it being less costly than 16mm but having a comparable picture quality, certainly far superior to 8mm. When, in 1960, Pathéscope UK went into receivership, it might have been the end of the format but these devotees banded together to form a new cine club which successfully recreated support structures for the gauge. Members of Group 9.5 continued to collect and show the prints produced by Pathé and some of them – and similar groups in other countries – also kept production of 9.5mm home movies going, in some rare cases even experimenting with new cinematographic techniques such as the use of anamorphic lenses for a widescreen image.
On the left, a section of the 9.5mm film strip of a film by Group 9.5 member, Hugh Hale. On the right, the expanded widescreen image as seen when projected using a 1.5x anamorphic lens
Now operating in the age of super 8, which was introduced in 1965, these latter day nine fivers were ploughing an idiosyncratic furrow and with more limited exposure the gauge gradually slipped out of the public consciousness, becoming, in the phrase reported by Lenny Lipton, ‘a living corpse’. It is perhaps kinder to say that, as a practical filmmaking medium and as a means of dissemination of theatrical film content, it is now something of an archaeological curiosity, but one which can nevertheless give valuable insights into the vastly different practices of media consumption experienced by earlier generations. What’s more, as the carrier of a hundred years’ worth of global memory, it is our hope that, through the preservations carried out by the library and other archives, this storied centenarian will live forever.
It is unlikely that a film promoting a hospital today would show you the boiler room or the septic tank (unless both had revolutionary green credentials) but both take pride of place, along with the local engineers, the X-ray department and the Llandinam maternity ward, in a c.1942 film appealing for funds for the Khasi Hills Welsh Mission Hospital at Shillong in eastern India.
If you would like to view Shillong Hospital (with the permission of the Presbyterian Church in Wales) please get in touch via email@example.com.
In similar vein, Cardiff Royal Infirmary – please give generously provides detailed footage of milking at the Pentrebane Dairy, St Fagans, which produces the Grade A milk supplied to the hospital. There are also shots of the hospital’s butchery, its soda water and ice producing plants and its bread-cutting and potato-peeling machines, all modern innovations in 1937 when the hospital was appealing for funds for a planned extension.
The non-medical and the medical aspects of the hospitals receive equal attention, showing financial contributors where their money goes and emphasising how important modern facilities are – in every area – for patient and staff health and well-being.
But is pride in progress just pride before a fall? The global Covid pandemic, coinciding with the rise in right-wing extremism, climate change and Black Lives Matter protests, has led to a widespread re-examining of everything that may have been taken as a given for so long. The Archive’s films reflect the history of the times – geographic, economic, social and cultural – in which the footage was shot and so are as open to re-evaluation as anything else.
David Lloyd George, prime minister of Britain (1916-22), was all for modern, mechanical development and can be seen on his farm ‘Bron-y-de’ in Churt, Surrey, putting two enormous machines through their paces in 1938. Being a producer of honey and apples, he might have come to rue the kind of progress that such machines contributed to: industrial farming.
Cory’s “Motor Spirit” allowed the use of such heavy machinery and the rise in ownership of cars, and the promotional film Energy (1935) – with English and Spanish inter-titles – celebrates its collieries in south Wales and its oil refineries throughout the world. Cory’s fossil fuels made the industrialised world go round but the price for using such fuels is being paid today.
‘Small is beautiful’ has rarely been used as strapline for progress in the industrial world and the Archive holds many films that commemorate enormous feats of concreting, of steel making, of human ingenuity, of environmental desecration. Jack Howells’ film Mine Shaft Sinking follows the making of “a fascinating hole in the ground” – shaft 4 at Cynheidre Colliery, near Llanelli. The work is shown in detail and the commentary gives the extraordinary concreting statistics of the project.
If you would like to view Mine Shaft Sinking please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Queen is always in demand for the opening of such major industrial schemes. On 26th October 1962 she was in Llanwern, Newport, for the opening of Richard Thomas and Baldwins’ new Spencer Works, which was recorded in the film A Great Day. The Speech of Welcome from RTB refers to the removal of 40 miles of hedgerow, the use of 10 million bricks, the laying of 39 miles of railway track, the building of 27 miles of road. It sounds similar, but on a smaller scale, to the felling of ancient woodland and hedgerows and the loss of nature reserves and SSSIs for the HS2 development, which in itself only highlights what must have been the scale of environmental damage undertaken to provide us with the original UK rail network (which, like HS2, was initiated to serve business interests). The RTB representative does goes on to remark that, “in all this upheaval and hub-bub, wildfowl and swans have declined to desert the area and we are leaving a few ponds on the site for their especial enjoyment and our own pleasure.”
Like the Newport wildfowl and swans, hedgehogs are small and beautiful and in need of help. They are in decline in rural and urban areas for a variety of humankind-made reasons, so we are glad to have an enchanting record of one filmed by farmer Ion Trant, in Powys. It is seen curled up, in close-up, and encouraged to unfurl by the wafting of a boiled egg under its nose.
Julie Kenny and Katy Stone, volunteers for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project reflects on their experience of cataloguing the Cardiff Business Club Collection.
As trainee archivists at Aberystwyth University, we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to participate in the ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH) project, a UK-wide project that aims to help preserve the nation’s sounds and provide access to them for generations to come. The first collection we were tasked with cataloguing comprised of recordings of speeches given at dinners hosted by the Cardiff Business Club. This organisation promotes business inspiration and initiatives to its members, and is the leading organisation of this nature in Wales. Its patron is HRH The Prince of Wales.
The recordings covered interesting topics including: human rights; environmental impact and sustainability for businesses such as Ford, the National Grid, Mercedes Benz; healthcare systems; international interest in NICE and its future work in relation to drug development and possible clinical guideline expansion; political agendas; economic growth including inflation and the recession; the real estate market; BBC broadcasting and the charter review; the development of Wales’s biggest house builder Redrow; Margaret Thatcher’s axing of public works; the objectives of World Rugby and the opportunities offered by events such as the Rugby World Cup and the Olympic games; the effect of epidemics on businesses and the role of businesses in reducing outbreaks; Brazil’s relations with the UK; the Welsh economy; and the history and development of Cardiff Bay.
Some of the more well-known speakers include Shami Chakrabarti, Lord Tony Hall, Rt. Hon. David Cameron, Brett Gosper, and Professor Dame Sally Davies. Tributes were paid to Sir Cennydd Traherne, who was Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan.
We found listening to these recordings raised interesting points that we hadn’t considered before. It is clear to us how they could benefit a wider audience.
All in all, the time we have spent volunteering at the National Library of Wales (NLW) has been extremely valuable. It has contributed to our studies, and enabled us to develop skills that will be useful to us in our future profession. The staff at NLW have been very welcoming and accommodating, and we would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in protecting our sound heritage to volunteer.
By MA Archives Administration students Julie Kenny and Katy Stone.
Here’s Oscar Seager one of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage volunteers talking about his experience working on the Drake Sound Archive Collection.
Since volunteering in the Screen and Sound department of the National Library of Wales on the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project from February of this year, I have listened to numerous different audio clips on the Drake Sound Archive. These clips, while mainly focusing on business-related topics as they took place in the Cardiff Business Club, surprised me on the variety of talks that took place.
Many clips that I have listened to were recorded in 1998. However, more recently, many clips have moved to the 21st century. The topics that were mainly covered in this period were in relation to the Euro and the concerns that people faced in uniting under a single currency in terms of trade. However, other clips covered other topics that gave an interesting insight into things that I would never have come across in my academic studies in my History course including filmmaking (which was surprisingly discussed by Richard Attenborough) or the more random discussions such as the benefits of alcohol upon the body (discussed by Dr Thomas Stuttaford). While I had a fundamental understanding of what was being discussed in any clip, to be able to listen to a professional in that line of work discuss it is of significance to me.
However, it is not simply the fact that these clips are interesting that make my involvement in the UOSH feel worthwhile but also that these tapes have no longer been set aside but are now being made available in the British Library catalogue for others to listen to, truly unlocking our sound heritage for everyone to take full advantage of! Seeing my own work appearing on the library catalogue brought about a moment of pride and accomplishment to me as I was actively contributing to a historiography and also gaining valuable experience for my MA in Archive Administration at the same.
This post is a part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
Wales is often described as the country of song. But where did our musical tradition begin, and how did it develop?
Our new exhibition Record: Folk, Protest and Pop’ explores the musical tradition of Wales throughout the centuries – from the crwth to Catatonia – using various items from The Welsh Music Archive and Screen and Sound Archive.
Nia Mai Daniel from the Welsh Music Archive tells us more …
Although Wales is known as ‘The Land of Song’, we don’t have a great memory of early musical works. The folk tradition is an oral tradition, with harpists and balladeers travelling around the country, entertaining people in markets and public houses, and committing the melodies to memory.
By the eighteenth century folk melodies were recorded on paper, and many notable collectors compiled these at a later date; it is thanks to the tireless work of individuals such as Nansi Richards, J Lloyd Williams and Meredydd Evans that our folk tradition was saved and protected.
The establishment of the Welsh Folk Song Society in 1906 and the revival in the folk tradition in the 1970s, when folk singing coexisted with popular music, have also contributed to preserving the tradition.
One of the main figures in the evolution of music in Wales was Meredydd Evans, or Merêd, who spent his life contributing to Welsh life and culture as a collector, historian, musician, editor, nationalist and passionate campaigner for the Welsh language.
Merêd and his wife Phyllis Kinney collected songs which had been in danger of disappearing, and believed that the tradition could not grow and adapt without giving life to these songs which he discovered in old manuscripts and musical scores.
As well as his work as a collector, Merêd was also a gifted performer, recording an important collection of songs for the Folkway Records label in New York in 1954. For a decade from 1963 he was head of BBC Wales’ light entertainment, where he worked tirelessly to create popular Welsh light entertainment programmes.
“It’s about time we have more extreme singing in Wales today, more screams and wild drums…” were the words of a member of the first Welsh rock band, Y Blew, which formed in 1967.
The Wales of the 60s and 70s was a country that saw political agitation as well as musical ferment. Folk and pop music became tremendously popular, and the first Welsh language record label, Sain, was established in 1969. But what pushed Welsh music onwards was the ‘protest’ song. Rather than composing love songs, these young Welsh artists would take their guitars to the local pub and sing satirical and political songs.
By the 1980s a new group of bands and record labels emerged, ones that created a very different sound compared to the pop music usually heard from the country’s stages and radio waves. Groups such as Anhrefn, Datblygu, Llwybr Llaethog and Y Cyrff were experimental and revolutionary.
During the 1990s many Welsh language groups and individuals started to produce work in English as well as in Welsh such as Catatonia, Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. The breakthrough into the English language music scene led to a growing interest in Welsh language culture and music across the world.
By the late 1990s and early twenty-first century the Welsh language was expressed through a variety of styles, from hip hop, reggae and ska, and returning back to its traditional folk roots.
Today, the music scene in Wales is alive and well, with an abundance of talented artists writing, recording and performing in Welsh, and more independent record labels than ever before working to release Welsh records.
For the last 14 weeks as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the Library has welcomed 10 students from the MA Archive Administration and MSc Digital Curation courses from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Information Studies to work on one of our sound collections. We would like to thank the students for all their hard work and contribution towards the project, and to Crystal Guevara for writing this Blog about their time spent with us.
Timber, forest fires, road building, and World War II stories are just some of the subjects that are covered in a collection made up of 167 MiniDiscs, each containing interviews recorded from people who worked for or around the Forestry Commission.
As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the National Library of Wales is working on preserving and making available sound recordings that tell the story of wales through oral histories. Dr. Sarah Higgins, professor at Aberystwyth University arranged for ten students in the post-graduate Archive Administration course to help the Library work on a project called the Story of the Forest.
I was one of ten students that got to work on the project and I found that my appreciation for the people who had started the work for this story grew from admiration to urgency so that more people could hear and learn from the experiences of the forest workers who transformed the landscape of rural Wales.
The majority of these recordings are in Welsh, the remainder being in English. To place you somewhere in the timeline of history we’re talking about mid-Twentieth Century Wales. Due to a high demand for timber, the Forestry Commission bought slate quarries and farms to transform those areas into plots for forestry farming. Naturally, this meant an adjustment in lifestyle and some people adjusted well to it while others longed for the way that things used to be. The people who were a part of these changes weren’t interviewed until 2002 and 2003 by a team of interviewers who were motivated to get on record the rich details of this time of transition and change.
Because the interviews were recorded on MiniDiscs, they needed to be rescued from becoming completely inaccessible, since so much of the technology around MiniDiscs has already become obsolete. So, our job as archive students was to digitise the recordings on the MiniDiscs, catalogue all of the interviews, transcribe them, and then put together an online exhibit to showcase some of these interviews along with old photographs provided by the interviewees. To get all of this done we got to work with some of the Library staff. They gave us guidance on what to do and we in turn strategized the timetable and roles and responsibilities.
Everyone on the team got to perform unique tasks and we sought to rotate everyone through all the necessary jobs to get a chance at trying different things out. Each task required a different learning process and each one was vital to make these stories publicly available.
During the digitising I was able to appreciate having technology that allowed us to continue preserving these stories. While transcribing, I got to hear first-hand the core of what we were doing. Listening to the interviews, was insightful and eye-opening. They contain stories about forestry policy, road building, nursery work, farm life, and other topics like Land Army Girls, Prisoners of War, and life post-World War II. Then, while cataloguing we strived to do things meticulously, but efficiently to create useable information that would help future users navigate through the collection.
To become more connected with the project and feel the real human connection with the interviewees and their stories, we organized a trip to Corris. Corris is one of the places mentioned often in the oral histories and only a 40-minute drive from Aberystwyth. While we were there, we could see for ourselves the different types of trees in their separate sections, covering the hills. We took pictures of our visit to include in the online exhibit and add our own perspective to continue telling the story of the forest.
It was a great journey beginning to end. As we are only aspiring archivists at the moment, we relied heavily on the knowledge of all the library staff helping us work the technology and understand the metadata standards. Alison Smith, Berian Elias, Rhodri Shore, Gruffydd Jones, and Elena Gruffudd were especially helpful. That in and of itself was a lesson applicable in how to help and educate people who are learning to use archives.
To see these oral histories start off in a cardboard box and now find them searchable on the British Library catalogue brought a great sense of accomplishment for the entire team.
17 of these stories are now available to listen to online on the People’s Collection Wales website, along with more detailed stories about the specific process of cataloguing, digitising, transcribing, and work on the exhibit.
As International Conscientious Objectors’ Day is taking place across the globe today – 15th May, The National Library of Wales’ Screen and Sound Archive would like to draw your attention to a short film available on the BFI Player entitled Defending This Country Only Means Attacking Another. The title was taken from a Peace Pledge Union [PPU] placard seen in the film which was shot by Mr J. Fred Phillips, a cinema operator in Brynmawr from 1923 to 1958. He was also captain of the Monmouthshire Golf Club, Abergavenny, and husband of Pollto Williams, a finalist in several national ladies golf championships at Llandrindod. Other placards indicate the PPU beliefs: Mass Murder is No Defence of Liberty and Peace is Indivisble – We Seek Peace on Earth, Goodwill to ALL MEN. Hand-crafted placards that have a drawing of a blood splatter on them accompanied by the words Munitions from Ebbw Vale suggest that this could be a protest against the opening or operation of such a factory in the area. The Society of Friends (Quakers, pacifists) had set up projects for the unemployed (e.g. boot and furniture making – see also the film Eastern Valley on the BFI Player) in Brynmawr and area during the 1930s but many of the unemployed found work in munitions factories in Ebbw Vale during WWII. Or, given that the PPU undertook a Carlisle to London peace campaign in 1938, could this footage show a campaign visit to Ebbw Vale?
The Peace Pledge Union [PPU] was initiated in 1934 by Canon Dick Sheppard who had been an Army Chaplain during WWI. He wrote a letter to the newspapers asking men (as women were already active in the peace movement) to sign a pledge if they were sickened by what looked like the stirrings of another war: ‘I renounce war, and I will never support or sanction another.’ He was overwhelmed by the response. The movement included women from 1936. Today, the PPU is the provider of the white poppies worn on Remembrance Day. Such poppies were first worn, at the instigation of the Co-operative Women’s Guild on Armistice Day, 1933 (Armistice Day became Remembrance Day after the Second World War). Many of the women had lost loved ones during WWI and despaired at on-going preparations for further war. It was also felt that remembrance should include all the non-military victims of war too. The pledge today is as follows: ‘War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war.’
The National Library of Wales is one of the 10 Hub partners across the UK participating in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, which is funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library.
The British Library and the 10 Hubs will digitally preserve half a million rare and at risk sound recordings, and make 100,000 available online.
From September 2018 until September 2021 the National Library of Wales will digitise, catalogue and assess rights for 5,000 sound recordings from Wales. They will include a range of subjects from oral history, lectures, dialect to Welsh pop and folk music.
The aim is to transform access to sound collections in Wales making them available online and on site at the Library. In order to fulfil this, we will be working with some of our partners in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Tredegar.
We are looking for volunteers or students who wish to gain work experience to support the project.
We have a range of activities on offer from creating inventories, help prepare digitisation work and content research. Training will be provided.
If you have an interest in learning more about Welsh history and sound recordings, keen to learn and develop new skills why not join our warm and friendly team.
The HTV Wales archive is a significant record of Welsh popular culture, politics and history captured on both film and video and it constitutes a large part of the Screen and Sound Archive. An archive of that size and age will have an assortment of conservation challenges, especially in the area of restoration. By far the most common problem with old tape is Sticky-shed syndrome (SSS) or hydrolysis. SSS is symptomatic of the breakdown of the tapes’ polyester binder due to absorption of moisture.
The tell-tale squealing of the tape as it passes over the playhead and the accumulation of dirty deposits upon the guide and playhead indicate a tape has SSS. A tape with SSS will, amongst other issues, exhibit ‘crabbing’, i.e. the moving from side to side of the moving image, and if not treated continued playback could further damage the tape.
So how do we restore that believed lost episode of ‘Gwesty Gwirion’? The answer may surprise you! The standard practice is to bake the tape at low temperatures for relatively long periods of time, such as 130 °F to 140 °F (54 to 60 °C). Strictly speaking we don’t ’bake’ our tapes but instead use a commercial food dehydrator that removes all moisture from the tape pack. How long we do this to the tape will depend on the severity of the SSS; up to a week we’ve discovered is time enough. We have been successful with the majority of the tapes that have undergone the process, with many lost gems brought back from the brink of oblivion. You can see some of them on the ITV Wales YouTube channel or view them at the Library.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library. The project is part of the ‘Save Our Sounds’ programme which aims to preserve and provide access to sound recordings across the UK. Ten Network Audio Preservation Centres have been established across the UK and will receive funding for three years to deal with the threat facing sound recordings. These institutions are:
National Museums Northern Ireland
Archives + Manchester
Norfolk Record Office
National Library of Scotland
University of Leicester
The Keep in Brighton
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
National Library of Wales
London Metropolitan Archives
The project will focus on digitising and preserving rare unique sound recordings, those that are under threat of physical deterioration and those at risk of being lost because the playback equipment is no longer available.
The British Library will lead the project, sharing skills and supporting hubs across the UK to preserve their own unique and rare sounds while making them available to the public.
By the end of 2021 the National Library of Wales will have digitally preserved and provide access to unique and rare recordings from our own collection and from partners’ collections across Wales.
The recordings will be used in learning and engagement activities and will raise the profile for collections for Sound Archives across the UK. By the end of 2021 more people will have engaged in sound recordings and a new website will allow listeners to listen and explore a selection of online recordings.
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.