Film ID:
YFA 3899



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BBC Nation on Film: This is the story of a newly discovered amateur archive: a record of life in post-war Britain. For twenty years a husband and wife recorded the life around them. It wasn't just a hobby, it was fascination with film. They captured middle class life in the north of England after 1945 but who were these forgotten film makers and what is their legacy?

Title-Nation on Film The Ramsden Collection JOU/A . 442. E/71, 16:9 FHA Stereo BBC Birmingham Post Production.

Titles BBC Nation on Film.

In the spring of 2006 a case of films was donated to an archive house in Yorkshire. The collection belonged to the late Betty and Cyril Ramsden a couple of film makers from Leeds.

Title - Binny Baker - Yorkshire Film Archive.

BINNY - When you first look at a collection, when we first looked at Cyril and Betty you look at the cans and I could tell I liked the look of them.


DAVID - This is from the heyday of Betty and Cyril's amateur filmmaking career: preparations in Leeds for the 1953 coronation. It's one of fifty films, mostly in colour capturing life after the war. Cyril often features in his own movies.

BINNY - With Cyril and Betty in particular I think there is a warmth and intimacy in their films that shines out and that's to do partly with loving the medium of film and being really keen not obsessive but keen about the subject they were shooting.

DAVID - Their hobby began here in the house where they lived and worked. Cyril was a dentist and his wife Betty was a teacher who gave up her job to manage his practice in Leeds. The Ramsdens had a passion for producing films. For two decades they recorded their surroundings. For one historian it's a window into a middle class life after World War Two.

TITLE - Selina Todd - Social Historian.

What are extraordinary are even the films of their daily life in the garden or home is very rich partly because of their good quality and because they give us such an insight into peoples privet lives. It's not something we know very much about as historians or generally about the way people lived in the past.

DAVID - This is the oldest film in the collection. It's May 1945 and Betty and Cyril are in the Yorkshire dales with friends. Around them cities have been bombed. But for a lucky few life is comfortable. There's even an early version of what later became known as the bikini.

SELINA - I think it's really an extraordinarily interesting collection of film partly because it gives us an insight into the daily lives of professional families also in terms of leisure the opportunities they had even in the immediate post war period is staggering.

DAVID - At the end of the war the Ramsdens could afford a holiday in France and no expense was spared. This is one of the earliest serving films of the Silver City Air Ferry a converted military air craft.

SELINA - Air travel was still something of a luxury and it does give us an indication of just how well off a dentist and a teacher were that they were able to take a holiday like that.

DAVID - The seaside resort LaTooka was still scared by fighting after D-Day but Betty and Cyril captured French life returning to normal after four years of occupation. More than 60 years later one of the Ramsdens companions on that trip still remembers it well.

TITLE - Muriel Woodhead - Betty and Cyril's friend.
It was a great adventure because it was just after the war when people were just finding means of going abroad. In those days none of us had been abroad before.

DAVID - Muriel's husband Colin was also a keen amateur cameraman. Both couples took their film making very seriously.

MURIEL - We used to meet on a Sunday evening towards the end of the war and talk about what subject we would do next.

DAVID - At home the Ramsdens hobby was taking over. Cyril's bathroom resembled a film lab. They joined their local cine club where enthusiasts shared ideas and showed their films. In the '50s these clubs were booming and Betty and Cyril were having fun trying to impress their friends.

SELINA - They are breaking down a clich? that historians have about life in the late 1940s and early 1950s which is that people, particularly middle class people, kept themselves to themselves and they didn't go out. This is a couple who clearly enjoys socialising and going out to friends' houses and taking part in a very sociable activity the cine club.

DAVID - In the late 1940s the Ramsdens and the Woodheads collaborated on a spoof horror film "The Uninvited". A ghostly visitor had arrived at Betty and Cyril's home. It was a parody of a film of the same title a supernatural thriller which was a big success in the cinema. Soon after Muriel Woodhead gave up film making to look after her children. From now on Betty and Cyril would go it alone.

They had high standards and wanted the best equipment. The camera which Betty bought in the early 1950s still survives.

TITLE - Bob Geoghegan - Film archivist.
This camera new was £90 which is the equivalent of £3000 today so it was a lot of money although it doesn't seem like much because it's a small little camera but it is well made and produces beautiful pictures.

DAVID - It was an expensive past time. The Ramsdens insisted on using professional quality 16mm film which had to be imported from America.

BOB - Starting with 16mm really says that they mean to go and make films that weren't just the family films of people on the lawn etc. They would spend time with their hobby making quality films.

DAVID - They even won a national amateur film award for this short feature about the life of a moth. Shot in the Ramsdens cellar Cyril designed the close up camera equipment and Betty recorded the pictures. The film took two years to make.

BOB - Betty was the one with the ideas for the films and Cyril was the technical expert. Betty would come up with the idea to shoot for a lot of the films and Cyril would work out how it would all happen.

DAVID - In 1980 Bob made a report for the BBC where Betty talked about her work.

TITLE - Betty Ramsden - Speaking in 1990

When I went to college it was one of my subjects. I took advanced art and that really did me a power of good because like everything else it gave you the basics and rules that you need to know like if you are taking a picture with a horizon you don't want the horizon sloping across the middle of the picture it should be in 1/3 or 2/3's and you don't want a bear foreground of a field with nothing and the lovely view in the background you want something in the foreground. And if it's a person it's no good having a person standing there looking out of the picture because your eyes follow the person. You have to have the person standing and looking into the picture at the view and then the eyes follow that.

DAVID - For Betty, Cyril was the best film making partner.

BETTY - I would have the ideas and he would say you can't do that and I would ask why and we would stop and debate and it always turned out that he could do it and he did things like making things, he was wonderful at that.

BINNY - More Coxwold Gymkhana 1951

DAVID - In Yorkshire Binny Baker has found something intriguing. Betty and Cyril filmed repeatedly at the same Yorkshire village of Coxwold. Apart from their home, Coxwold was the Ramsdens favourite location from the 1940s onwards. Betty is here working in the beer tent. But what was so special about Coxwold. Binny has come to the village hoping the locals will be able to help.

BINNY - It's a great journey to go through and look through these films and find out what's really inside them. You want to know who the people are and how they were connected, where did that passion start how did it begin? And there are lots of unanswered questions.

BINNY - I'm delighted to be here to bring you the films of Coxwold.

DAVID - Half the village has turned up and it seems Betty and Cyril was a big hit.

The Ramsden's footage records the rebuilding of village life in the 1940s and '50s. They filmed the fairs and community events as post war Coxwold returned to its peace time routine. It seems tonight Binny is in luck. The film of a Christmas Eve hunt is about to stir the memory of someone in the audience.

Kathy Hudson is on the right in the red coat. The gathering of the Christmas hunt was one of the biggest events in the village year. Kathy was looking after a neighbour's daughter when she was filmed.

BINNY - Do you remember the hunt coming?

KATHY - Yes, I remember because I used to work there and look after the two kiddies and the girl used to ride.

BINNY - We do shows like this all the time and this one was really good because the community was really excited about seeing themselves they were thrilled that Betty and Cyril had spent time filming their village and they loved it as much as the people here tonight did and all those memories of families and friends that makes a really good evening.

DAVID - Betty and Cyril's motivation wasn't to record history but when events unfolded on their door step they were ready. In 1956 they shot the Last Lawnswood tram out of Leeds.

BETTY - The bits that we wanted looking down on the tram was easy because it was out our bedroom window all we had to do was look down.

DAVID - For one celebrated writer who grew up near the Ramsden's surgery, the tram film brings back memories of his childhood.

TITLE - Martin Wainwright - Writer.

It's a defining moment in the history of Leeds and of northern towns generally because the tram is historically seen as a northern thing and it was by and large. So to see that wonderful machine going off into history like that is very moving.

DAVID - At other times the Ramsdens made simple documentaries in 1956 they spent their annual holiday at Hull docks.

BETTY - To get into the docks we had to go to the harbour master and he asked what day we wanted the permit for and I laughed and said a fortnight.

DAVID - What they actually made was a film that historians can analyse half a century later.

SELINA - What's very interesting about that film which was made after the docks were nationalised in 1948, in a period of near full employment, is that those docks are absolutely bustling. You get the impression of Hull in particular as a very cosmopolitan city receiving ships from mainland Europe from the USSR and from other parts of the world. Northern England in the late 1940s and 1950s seamed a remarkable prosperous place and these films reflect a wide spread degree of post war optimism about society after the war and the society that was still to come.

DAVID - Throughout the post-war years Betty and Cyril filmed their family and friends at Christmas and New Year parties. Once again they were shooting a fragment of social history. It was the early 50s and meat, sugar and butter were still rationed but the Ramsdens had never had it so good and they loved to have a party.

SELINA - You could get hold of alcohol and party food which we see here on the films. We see it's a luxurious and spacious home. There is a range of ornaments in the background and some nice looking furniture which suggests affluence. The year is 1952 and what's very interesting is that this family own a TV which was very rare at that stage. It was still quite special to have access to a TV in the early 1950s. It really blows away some of the myths about middle class life in the 1950s. The middle classes are seen in popular history as very buttoned up privet people who are quite conservative. What's fantastic about this film is both it reminds us of the importance of a home for socialising and not just a place where people spent time with their family but it also demonstrates with people dancing and laughing that people weren't so buttoned up after the Second World War they were very much wanting to have a good time. There is very little film of everyday life in the 1940s and 1950s available to us and very little of that material that is available actually focuses on the provincial middle classes so from that point of view these films are terrifically valuable.

DAVID - From short sound recordings of Betty and Cyril's parties have survived. We have matched up the audio to some of their films. This is the first time Bob Geoghegan has heard them.

"The next recording is made of three reels on New Year's Eve 1957".

BOB - You hardly ever hear the sound. You never normally see amateur footage inside because of the lighting; here we have amateur footage inside. They are enjoying themselves and we are hearing sound that is quite unique, it's a real gem.

"Oh my darlin' Clementine".

DAVID - Outside their home things were changing with a new welfare state it was an era of social change and community spirit. Betty captured the mood as hundreds of school children gathered at a park in Leeds.

BOB - I think the Children's Day film is amazing she was able to get some quality material because she had a press pass and it was probably the only time she ever got one because she was able to get in there and her eye she was able to get some very remarkable material.

MARTIN - I was entered by my mother for the bonny baby or beautiful baby competition, needless to say I didn't win and was near the bottom. Vast people turned out and I think one of the explanations was that there wasn't the range of home entertainment. So to go out and participate in some great civic spectacle that was underway was terrific.

SELINA - It's very interesting that this was filmed but also that this event took place. The Queen is dressed in what looks like velvet and silk. The page boys and the maids are dressed in what looked like very luxurious outfits. The ceremony is defiantly meant to be something which off sets the drabness of everyday life in the early 1950s that gives ordinary people a chance to dress up and to be part of something quite grand if only for one day.

DAVID - The film features the seven year old page boy called Kevin. 50 yeas on, he has come back to the park.

TITLE - Kevin Hazelgrave.

We came in through the main gates and came round the arena. It was the first car I had ever ridden in. Dressed in the suit you could just imagine how I felt. I can remember it being made and the buttons on the front. There was a mini Olympics where they all came from the local schools and competed against each other at Roundhay Park and it was an honour to win there.

DAVID - Betty's film reflects the sentiment of the day as the children are trained to be good citizens.

SELINA - In some ways it stems from the same psyche that gave rise to the enthusiasm for national service and daily drill. I think it's a sign of how much emphasis was placed on the rising generation in post war Britain and in keeping and promoting health and fitness.

DAVID - At the archive house Binny has found films featuring a young boy who should have known Betty and Cyril well, their nephew Tim.

BINNY - You can tell just by looking at these films there is a strong and intimate bond within the family. Obviously very close and they want to make these films as a record of this child's life because they didn't have children of their own.

DAVID - 50 years later the little boy from the film lives in a Spanish farm house. We have brought him archive footage of his child hood. Tim is one of the few people who remember filming with Betty and Cyril.

TITLE - Tim Fear - Betty and Cyril's nephew.

There were two or three takes on the sledging mainly because they wanted me to throw snow balls but they didn't want me to get the heads of the children pulling me which is what I did the first time. These films represent the rich tapestry of Yorkshire life in the 50s looking back you have memories but memories change and film doesn't it shows you exactly how you were. We were all very comfortable with the camera; nobody was self-conscious at all. They were all extremely close friends so there was nothing really to be self-conscious about they were just having a good time. They were very close family gatherings which they recorded on the film. Being able to see it moving is a very moving experience.

DAVID - The record of Tim's childhood is unfinished. When he was eleven years old Betty and Cyril stopped filming him.

TIM - Thinking about it there is a phase when cine just seemed to not be fashionable any more. I don't know why they just seemed to stop and I can't think of any reason why.

DAVID - By the mid-1960s the Ramsdens had scaled down their filming. This is one of the last home movies, a trip to the country with Betty's sister and brother in law.

TIM - You see them growing older there must be many people who see this and can draw parallels in their own personal life. The only thing they didn't have was the extremely good luck to have someone there to film it the whole time.

DAVID - For two decades Betty and Cyril captured their time and place on film this is their legacy a portrait of their family and friends and a record of a rarely seen way of life.

BINNY - I think what they didn't realise and what is so wonderful is how important these films are for future generations and as archivists now you think it was only 50 years ago that's all it was 50 years ago but it could be another world.

TIM - I think really because they didn't have any children their children were their films.

BOB - One of the central qualities of their films were capturing around them and capturing life and they were made in a period where there were other people making films but not quite like theirs.

SELINA - What's so lovely about the films is that there is so much scope for us to decide what they were trying to do. You get the impression that at one level they were simply enjoying themselves but on another they were trying to provide some kind of document of everyday life and that's quite a special thing to do.

"Old Lang Syne."