Old footage of London - there's a lot of it about. Jumpy, black and white videos of a bygone time never cease to fascinate. But much of the freely available material online is short, on one subject and usually lacking in narrative. That's where this new set of DVDs comes in.
London on Film chronicles the changes in the capital from the 1900s to the 1970, plundering the archives of ITN Source. The eight volumes cover the East End (2 DVDs), the docks, the Krays, the 1950s (2 DVDs), the railways and (a somewhat odd inclusion) haunted London.
There are no flashy production effects or yawnsome bonus material here. You simply get an hour of good-old-fashioned documentary. We spun up the two editions chronicling the 1950s, when the city started as an impoverished bombed-out wreck and emerged as a burgeoning centre for rock & roll and youth culture. While many of the buildings and views look the same, the honest Londoner has changed beyond recognition. Immigration from the Caribbean and elsewhere had begun, yet the throngs of Piccadilly and Regent Street appear almost entirely white. And we were immediately hit by how incredibly posh you had to be in order to broadcast. In one clip, the newsreel commentator's accent is so preposterously high-and-mighty that we have genuine difficulty understanding what he is saying. Even the working class folk dress in clothes whose smartness would shame our finest evening wear.
The discs would make excellent gifts for anyone who remembers the era with fondness, or simply for the armchair historian. It's a shame there seems to be no bundling option, though, as we'd find it hard to choose just one or two from the set.
The London on Film DVDs, from Independent Studios UK, are available to buy from branches of HMV and Waterstones or online for about a tenner each.