About The Collection

About The Collection

The British Council Film Collection is an archive of 112 short documentary films made by the British Council during the 1940s designed to show the world how Britain lived, worked and played. Preserved by the BFI National Film Archive and digitised by means of a generous donation by Google, the films are now yours to view, to download and to play with for the first time.


The British Council is the UK’s cultural relations organisation working to create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and building trust between them.  During the 1940s,  British Council was a very different organisation operating in a very different political and social climate. As part of its programme then it was concerned to promote an idea of ‘Britain and Britishness’ – and did so by becoming an enthusiastic commissioner of documentary films. Over 120 films were produced as 'cultural propaganda' to counteract anything the Nazis might throw out and to refute the idea that ours was a country stuck in the past. These films were designed to showcase Britain to the rest of the world, at a time when Britain itself was under attack.

Seen by millions of people in over 100 countries worldwide from the 1940's to 1960's, they present an historic snapshot of Britain, portraying its industry, its landscapes, and its people. The Collection is fantastically varied, covering anything from how a bicycle is made, to how the British spend their Saturdays. They provide us with a unique insight - not necessarily into how Britain actually was, but more into how Britain once wanted to be perceived by the rest of the world.

By the late 60s the Collection had largely fallen out of sight. Thankfully in the interim between then and now, the films have been carefully preserved by the BFI National Archive, waiting to have a second moment in the spotlight.  The foundation of that started in 2010, with an inspired idea from New Deal Of The Mind,  an organisation which works to gain recognition for the economic social and cultural value of Britain’s creative talent. Together with 'Thinktank', Counterpoint, they’d come to the Council looking for a project that a small group of young unemployed creatives might take on.  The project they alighted on was to delve into the archive treasure chest that was this Collection. Turning themselves in to creative film archive consultancy, Time/Image, with generous financial support from Google, embarked on some brilliant detective work in order to find, catalogue and carefully digitise the Collection in order to make it available and accessible to a generation of new viewers.

In 2012 we began the process of making the whole Collection available right here, not simply as a fully catalogued resource available to watch once again, but to download too - and you are all actively encouraged to play with the films!  

In May 2014, we added the final tranche of films online to make the Collection complete - AND we've launched a Competition - VIEW FROM HERE - to encourage viewers to play with the Collection. Deadline for entry to View From Here is Friday 29 August 2014.

Alongside basic credits and production information, you can find some fascinating pieces of trivia, photos, and screen grabs, as well as the original synopses that the films were distributed with. Some of the films give you the option to go even deeper, to learn a little more about how the films was made.  And, perhaps most importantly, you can not only watch the films online but download them too.

Digitisation isn’t a replacement to archiving, but a means to provide anyone around the world with unlimited access to films that need great attention and care. With digital technologies and ever-wider internet access and faster speeds, it means that we can both protect the original film stock whilst providing the public with 24-hour worldwide unlimited access.

We don’t want this collection to be just a static directory of old films; we want people to use it as a creative resource, to seek inspiration within its varied content and unusual history. We want you to download these films, to reinterpret them, and to share your interpretations with the world.

Enjoy the British Council Film Collection!