10 London Videos From The BBC Archive That You Have To See

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 22 months ago
10 London Videos From The BBC Archive That You Have To See

Explored the BBC's online video archive? It's an absolute treasure trove of vintage vids — and there's lashings of London content. We've cherry-picked 10 right gems.  

John Noakes perched on the very top of Nelson's Column
Clammy palms. every time. Image: BBC

Big Ben drops a clanger

We all have our off days, and Big Ben's no different. In 1986, an emergency clock repair team was called out to perform emergency surgery on the London landmark, when it lost one of its chimes. And the Beeb were there, armed with a fistful of, er, timely puns.

Going for a McDonald's in Hammersmith

From Big Ben to Big Macs. In the real life version of Look Around You's legendary casserole skit, the bold and intrepid John Craven ventures to Hammersmith and orders a Big Mac (with small fries, he's not that wild), in a bid to fathom if this whole 'fast food' thing is just a fad. Seriously though, if they still served you in 25 seconds at McDonald's, we might go more often.

A trip to the Science Museum

Remember the good old days, when children were entertained for hours by an automatic door? This spiffingly polite video from 1959 sees C.L. Boltz join a gaggle of school kids in the Science Museum, and there's a magical moment when a boy records and plays back his own cockney voice: "Allo my darlin'!"

A maestro of the motorway

Alan Whicker (you know, that zany moustachioed character the Pythons created) meets a composer with a cartoonish barnet, who gets inspiration for his music from the roaring traffic on the North Circular. "Of all these songs you've written, have you had any published?" asks an incredulous Whicker. To which our motorway maestro replies chirpily: "No, not yet".

Cutty Sark sails the Thames

We're used to seeing the Cutty Sark as an over-zealous marker along the London Marathon route, but this wonderful 1951 newsreel shows the nifty tea clipper actually sailing on the Thames, on its way for an MOT in Millwall, where it's to be determined if it's shipshape enough to be permanently moored somewhere, or otherwise smashed up. They made the right decision.

John Noakes' terrifying climb up Nelson's Column

Anyone else's palms getting clammy? Admirably masking his terror beneath a weak smile and a soft Halifax accent, John Noakes proves that being a Blue Peter presenter isn't necessarily the plum job it's made out to be — as he scales the side of Nelson's Column. On a janky ladder. With no harness. When he gets near the top, and the ladder angles outward... sorry, too much sweat on the keyboard to finish this.

A remarkable woman remembers a remarkable time

This video's certainly done the rounds on social media too — a florid but incisive precis on how the advent of television revolutionised the world as we know it, from an East End woman who experienced it first hand. No disingenuous lamentations on how TV killed conversation and civility. Instead our heroine quips: "What the bleedin' hell we was talking about before television, I don't know."

Bob Hoskins gets angsty with developers

Bob Hoskins wanders around Waterloo with Barry Norman (of film/pickled onion fame), and channels his splenetic Harold Shand character, as he goes on a vindicated rant about how developers are destroying the area with their concrete high-rise 'Mars bars'. It's good to rant.

A drive-through of the 1953 coronation route

Wish you could get a Queen's-eye view of the 1953 coronation? This drive-through footage is the next best thing, taking us along the heavily-festooned route of the parade on the eve of Elizabeth II's coronation. Just a shame that they didn't upgrade to colour film, like they did for the big day itself.

And finally...

Skateboarding ducks are a longstanding trope for the 'and finally' segment of the news, so thought we'd end with this quacking video. In 1978, the Nationwide programme went to visit Croydon-based duck Herbie, who eats cornflakes, fights with dogs and bullies kids off their skateboards. Different times.

Last Updated 30 June 2022

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