2011- Reel History

This is not so much a piece of Whitstable history but a recollection of an event that was to be linked as such.

As a result of a couple of telephone conversations with the researcher for a BBC television series in production I was invited to take part in the filming of the episode relating to the fishing industry. This was to be carried out at Great Yarmouth on the 19th April 2011.

The Reel History series was based on many of the BFI archive films produced between 1920 and 1970 showing industries or social aspects of life in the UK at those times. They had a number of sea fishing related film clips including the one shown on this site here.

My wife and I arrived in Yarmouth the evening before, having booked a hotel, as shooting was to start in the morning. Just as we arrived and parked I received a telephone call giving me the news that Tony Blake, a dear friend and Whitstable’s highly regarded social historian, has passed away. As often with such news this was not totally unexpected, but nevertheless came as a sad blow. I once more regretted that, with a busy life, I had not spent enough time learning from someone who knew so many of the answers I sought. That evening I decided to continue alone with the joint projects that we had tentatively planned.

The next morning, with a heavy heart, I met up with the film crew at the local museum. As others who had been invited arrived I realised that my attendance had been a mistake. All the other guests had worked in, or grown up with, fishing industries and had so many first hand experiences that were ideal for inclusion in the programme, whereas I was merely representing a town and its industry purely because it had been captured on celluloid ninety years ago.

When this meeting ended and the guests had shown the pictures and memorabilia they owned, we walked to the quay to where the mobile cinema was parked. The BBC had hired the last surviving Ministry of Technology mobile cinema vehicles which had been restored to its former glory and updated with digital projection equipment.

Ministry of Information mobile cenema at Yarmouth

We spent some time going on and off this vehicle, being shown some of the BFI films they hoped to use whilst filming us all the time. As I had decided that any contribution I could make was inevitably minor compared to that of many of the other guests I just spent my time talking to the others as background filming went on of us all and putting some of those at ease who were feeling nervous at being interviewed. At this point Melvin Bragg, who was to be fronting the programme, came and spoke to us all individually. The cameras never stopped. In the meantime I was fielding telephone calls from the local papers after quotes about Tony Blake. In addition I was trying to convince a Yarmouth historian who had told me the BFI film voice-over had errors that she should tell the crew, for if this film became the de-facto reference for the trawlermen then it was her duty to make sure it was correct.

Filming Reel History in Yarmouth

Filming Reel History in Yarmouth

After the BFI films had been shown and all the background shots completed several guests were interviewed. I was included but felt relaxed about this as I knew it would never make the final cut. I was correct, it didn’t, for ‘technical problems with the sound’.

We left them to it, popped into town for a bite to eat and drove back via the Norfolk Broads which I had wanted to see and experience since reading Arthur Ransome books as a child.

There is no moral to this story except to take time to reflect on the experiences the love of a town and its bounty can sometimes produce.


The BFI page of films shown on this episode. http://beta.bfi.org.uk/4e302dec99395

The Ministry of Technology mobile cinema web site. http://www.vintagemobilecinema.co.uk/