Chimps Throw Tea Party At Selfridges And Other Vintage London Xmas Videos

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 21 months ago
Chimps Throw Tea Party At Selfridges And Other Vintage London Xmas Videos
The cutting of the Baddeley Cake, 1928. Image courtesy of BFI

A white Christmas

Though London's been crippled by snow in recent memory, there hasn't been a white Christmas here for a while. Hark back to when Christmasses were Christmasses with this silent movie from 1931 showing the city coated in the white stuff — be-chimneyed roofs given a generous dusting, bobbies directing traffic through blizzards and snowball fights in Trafalgar Square. Runs a title card: "'The only place suitable for snow', said a policeman, 'is a Christmas Card — not London.'" We couldn't disagree more.

It snowed in 1927 too, as proved by this reel, which sees polar bears enjoying London Zoo more than they probably would usually.

Weird traditions

Drury Lane's Theatre Royal has an old tradition that, every Twelfth Night, the actors feast on cake and wine bequeathed to them by the 18th century actor Robbert Baddeley. The cutting of the Baddeley Cake has happened since 1795, and although this video doesn't go quite that far back, it's still fascinating to see the actors of 1928 get stuck into the merriment.

Polar bears at London Zoo get into the Christmas spirit. Image courtesy of BFI

Shopping and lights

"The doubts and fears that nagged at our minds for previous post-war Christmases have passed away," chirps the narrator of this buoyant, if partially staged and definitely a bit sexist, reel from the London of 1959, when the economy was on the up, and Oxford Street and Regent Street was peppered with men lugging about Christmas trees and stacks of parcels, while their 'silly women' wives parked in no stopping zones.

That's not to say there wasn't shopping delight in the London of 1955, where Selfridges, Simpson's of Piccadilly and Austin Reed are dolled up all festively; and this film of Selfridges from 1954 features some classic noses-pressed-against-the-toyshop-window shots. (By the way, we're not sure if these mechanical toys are in London or elsewhere, but they're sure as heck frightening).

A swinging Christmas is going down in 1967 as the lights of Carnaby Street are switched on, and youths wander around brandishing fake tommy guns, because Bonnie and Clyde are, like, so cool.

Ghostly tales

If it's a good Christmas spooking you're after, BFI Player has a couple of ghostly London gems: one is this 20-minute silent take on A Christmas Carol from the London Film Company. It might not quite have the production value of The Muppet Christmas Carol, but bear in mind it was made over a century ago, and the transparent effect of the ghosts is pretty good, too.

BFI also has what it claims is the earliest film version of a classic Christmas ghost story. The Mistletoe Bough is a creepy gothic short, with a new soundtrack written by Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs. It's thought to have been recorded at Clarendon Studio on Limes Road in Croydon.

A version of A Christmas Carol that's over 100 years old. Image courtesy of BFI

Mass turkey plucking and Cockney feasts

A newsreel from 1961 takes us to the National Poultry Show at Olympia, a hellish greenhouse of an event where birds are stripped of their feathers by a terrifying contraption ("any sensible bird would fly miles from such apparatus" suggests the voiceover), and heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper doles out prizes for fattest turkey.

Talking of turkeys, we'd love to travel back to 1962, for this Old Kent Road nosh-up hosted by a pearly king and queen, who've just got back from Canada.

Singing and partying

British Pathe also has some wonderful footage of choristers belting out carols at a relatively new Royal Festival Hall in 1953, and snippets of the London Palladium's Cinderella from 1926. The best clip of all though? A chimp's Christmas tea party at Selfridges from 1965.

For more vintage videos of Christmas in London visit BFI Player and British Pathe.

Last Updated 10 December 2015