The Nottingham Historical film Unit – a lost archive rediscovered ?


The names of Richard Iliffe and Wilfred Baguley are familiar to many as co-authors of some of the best books of photographs of Nottingham’s past. More than one person who has come in to our Past Lives open days has mentioned ‘Dick’ Iliffe’s books and one woman recalled winning her copy of Victorian Nottingham on a phone-in to Dennis McCarthy’s The Sunday Show on Radio Nottingham.

vic nott

The sub-title on the cover of these books – A Nottingham Historical film Unit Publication – gave me momentary pause for thought: film Unit ..? Well perhaps they were referring loosely to the fact that the stills camera also used celluloid films…

Then some connections brought to light another possibility…

A chance remark by someone else at one of our open days about a film society that had bequeathed it’s collection to a Nottingham college sent me looking around. The British Universities Film Council web site lists such an archive as having been given to New College Nottingham some years ago. I contacted them and we went to meet their videographer, Adrian Todd.

It turned out that Adrian had been preserving the remnant of a collection of 16mm films – with no immediate resources to look at them in detail. Thanks to Adrian, they have not diappeared completely; he showed us the cans but we needed a safe way of looking at the content that would not risk damaging the ageing films. Ideally we needed a hand-wound viewer like a Moviescop that would not overstress the ageing films and whose low-intensity bulb runs no risk of burning the celluloid if the film stops moving through the viewer.

Noviescop Off to Tony Trafford of The Production   Outfit, who kindly lent us his Moviescop and winders – pieces of film history in themselves that hadn’t seen action for a good while.

After 2 hours of improvising, dismantling and cleaning of the optics  – (Adrian actually managed to find thmoviescop2e original manual online !)  – Images began to flicker across the Moviescop for thefirst time in maybe 25 years


A Bowler hatted man feeding the pigeons in Slab square…  a flooded…Nottingham main street in the 1930s…a motorcycle rally…NCN viewing

A society wedding at Wilford…Nottingham Forest’s FA cup victory parade through the town in 1959…

Some of the material has clearly been ordered from national archives like the British Film Institute by someone prepared to trawl through catalogues and pull out anything relating to Nottingham. There are also some more general histories of silent film featuring greats like Chaplin, Buster Keaton & W.C. Fields; but the rest was shot locally and sets out to document changes in Nottingham from the 1960s onwards – such as the old streets of the St Ann’s Well Road area before demolition.

The more I saw, the more I wondered who was behind this collection. Most of the footage had no titles but some time into the viewing session, a film came up with a brief heading: ‘C.R. Iliffe – Editor’ and then another title flashed up: ‘A Nottingham Historical Film Unit production’. It seemed that I was looking at a portion of the film archive of Richard Iliffe and Wilfred Baguley.

But were these films copies or originals: was the archive already preserved elsewhere?

Part of that question remains to be answered: the B.U.F.C. website refers to an origina gift of 100 cans of film plus an extensive collection of transparencies – presumably those featured in the series of books that Iliffe and Baguley published. I saw only 40 cans of film – did the rest find a home elsewhere or are they lost?

As to whether these films are copies or originals, Tony Trafford’s wide experience of film editing was again invaluable; he took a closer look at the various types of 16mm film stock used in the locally shot footage of the 1970s and pointed out that much of it is Kodak reversal stock; the nature of this film stock and the style of editing imply that these productions were put together directly from the camera rolls, meaning that these particular films are one-offs… unique artefacts created by Iliffe & Baguley.

I looked into more cans…

Hot air balloons at Wollaton Park in the 1970s; the demolition of the Midland Station; a portrait of Radio Nottingham in the 1970s; ‘the last of the trams’ – footage of the tracks being taken up; a documentary film about the newly-opened Nottingham Playhouse in early ’65 showing John Neville in rehearsal for Richard the Second – this one shot by students of the College of Art & Design…

Many of the films are silent, but a handful are credited as being narrated by Dennis McCarthy

To go though the archive in detail and to identify and conserve all the unique footage it contains would take some time, but it would surely be worthwhile;

and considered as a whole, the collection has a historical significance- being originally curated by two of Nottingham best loved historians…

Iliffe or Baguley

2 thoughts on “The Nottingham Historical film Unit – a lost archive rediscovered ?

  1. there is something fascinating looking at the films of the past. I myself must have shot miles of standard 8 and sound super 8mm film. I have just sent a 50 foot sound super 8mm 1977 wedding film to timeless moments to be put on dvd and if I can afford it I shall have the last days of steam winding at Langton colliery and Bentinck plus the blowing down of Langton pit chimney but being a 200 foot reel it may have to wait a while.

  2. Hi i have some 35mm positive rush adverts “PEOPLE LOVE PLAYERS” from john player advertising dept, yours if you want them, and some other bits and bobs, contact me .

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