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From high-heeled protesters to anxious trawlers and ice cream-faced toddlers, snapshots of coastal northerners from the past 100 years can be viewed online as the British Film Institute launches Britain on Film: Coast and Sea, an online collection of over 600 newly digitised films, ranging from 1899 to 2000. Britain on Film launched in 2015, allowing people to explore their heritage online, and last year it took a closer look at rural life across the UK.

News and documentaries, promotional travelogues and educational shorts, amateur home movies and artists’ moving images all feature as Coast and Sea charts our changing relationship with the land and the sea and the intrinsic connection with our national self-image. The films come from the BFI National Archive and the UK’s national and regional film and TV archives, including the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University. There are scores of films from the North West and Yorkshire, which can be easily located using an interactive map.

From holidaymakers enjoying all the seaside has to offer, and coastal towns changed beyond recognition, to the mixed fortunes of fishermen and the lasting impact of industry, tourism and development on our fragile environment, Coast and Sea paints a rich and diverse portrait of our island nation. The collection highlights activities and traditions in the north that still survive today, or have made an unexpected resurgence, as well as looking at those customs, skills and trades that have dwindled or disappeared over the last century.

Robin Baker, head curator, BFI National Archive, says Britain on Film has been a transformative project for the BFI and its partner archives. “It has demonstrated that millions of people across the UK want to engage with their film heritage. It has highlighted some of the lesser known films from our collections, some of which not even curators had seen before, and provided them with audiences that are often bigger than on their first release.”

Big Issue North takes a look at some highlights from the north, courtesy of North West Film Archive, Manchester Metropolitan University and the BFI.

North West coastal compilation

This compilation of films includes footage from Ban The Bomb (1964, Blackpool) – a fascinating reel from filmmaker Henry Iddon that shows visitors to the town with protest in mind rather than holiday making. It records a march against the atomic bomb and the subsequent rally on the beach, where, packed as tightly as any August bank holiday crowd, they listen to speakers, including Canon John Collins. It also features highlights from Wish You Were Here (Southport, 1975), a promotional film that engagingly captures the British seaside in its declining years, and Moon’s Men (Morecambe Bay, 1964), a poetic film of shrimp fishermen in North East England going to work along moonlit sands.

Happy seaside holidays

This wonderful amateur film features family days out at various seaside resorts on the east coast of Yorkshire, Blackpool, Southport and Skegness, filmed in Kodachrome in 1956. All the joys that made these resorts such great attractions in the post-war period are on display, from paddling in the sea to puppet shows on the beach, and showing that rides for children don’t have to be of the giant theme park variety to be great fun.

Blackpool Promenade

This captivating early film by an unknown film maker offers a glimpse of glorious Blackpool and the many delights it offers holidaymakers. From Jan Hurst’s orchestra at the Grand Pavilion and a stroll along the promenade to donkey rides on the beach and some rather uncanny talking dolls to entertain the children, it’s a charming short travelogue. The real treat is the close-ups of gleeful beachgoers enjoying themselves.

Ones to watch

Netting The Tide (1978, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University). Absorbing documentary profiling Tom Smith, who reflects on his work as the last Lancashire shrimp fisherman to use a horse and cart on the sands of Morecambe Bay.

Life Apart: Anxieties in a Trawling Community (1973, BFI). Made by one of Britain’s greatest documentary film makers, Michael Grigsby’s stunning documentary on the work and life, onshore and off, of the trawlermen of Fleetwood, is an unforgettable depiction, both visceral and sensitive, of a workforce and community facing danger and exploitation.

The Launch of Formby Lifeboat (1916, BFI). In this rare fragment of film, shot during World War One, lifeboatmen conduct a practice launch on Formby Beach, with horses from an artillery regiment stationed nearby towing the lifeboat John and Henrietta out into the waves.

Liverpool Tall Ships (1984, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University). A great port celebrates the days of sail, as the Cutty Sark Tall Ships race comes to Liverpool. Crowds of onlookers throng the dockside and waterfront to see training ships such as the Gloria, Kruzenshtern, and Sir Winston Churchill, and watch the young crews at work on their vessels in the summer sunshine.

Moving North: Coastal is a touring programme of film screenings where audiences can watch more footage and find out more about the films. It visits: St Johns Church, Blackpool, 19 July; Scarborough Art Gallery, 10 August; Spotlight Theatre, Bridlington, 6 September; Carnegie Theatre, Workington, 8 September; Staithes Festival, 9-10 September; and Saltburn Arts, 1 October. For more information click here.

Main image (clockwise from top left): stills from Wish You Were Here, Blackpool Promenade, St Annes, and Happy Seaside Holidays

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