WATCH: Archive films shine a light on our past

From Shiela Graber's animated film The Pigeon Cree.
From Shiela Graber's animated film The Pigeon Cree.

FILM enthusiasts, as well as anyone interested in social history on screen, will be thrilled by the latest venture by the British Film Institute (BFI).

This is the Britain on Film project which now makes thousands of archive films available to watch on BFI Player.

It’s an astonishing collection - all free to access on-line - and featuring films and TV which capture life as it was in the familiar places where people grew-up, holidays etc.

Its joys, for instance, include The Pigeon Cree, made by South Shields film maker and animator Sheila Graber nearly 30 years ago.

This pastel-coloured animation, which lasts nine minutes, is based on a story by the writer, the late Sid Chaplin, who was born into a mining family at Shildon during the First World War.

The story centres on an old miner - said to be based on Sid himself - who defends his appealing little cree from the unwelcome advances of the Council, and even his own wife.

Filmmaker Sheila Graber

Filmmaker Sheila Graber

It is narrated by that legendary TV anchorman of the era, Mike Neville.

Search for it at

You can also view The Pigeon Cree on YouTube.

Meanwhile, another film treat, which captures gritty images of Tyneside in the 1960s, comes out on DVD this week.

This is the film Payroll, starring Michael Craig and Billie Whitelaw, which when it was made - before Get Carter - explored the criminal underworld of the North East.

It was one of the first films to be set and shot in and around Newcastle and Gateshead, and offers wonderful vintage views of parts of Newcastle, such as Grey Street, Dean Street and Barras Bridge.

Once again, Payroll, and another film being released, The Yellow Balloon, made in 1953 and set in London’s East End, starring Kenneth More and Sid James, are part of the BFI’s Britain on Film project.

Payroll, directed by Sidney Hyers, is available on DVD, rrp £17.99.