Britain on film: coast and sea

15 June 2017

Last year Britain on Film took a closer look at rural life across the UK, today the BFI announces Britain on Film: Coast and Sea,an online collection of over 600 newly digitised films ranging from 1899 to 2000,from the BFI National Archive and the UK’s national and regional film and TV archives including the North West FIlm Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University. More than 50 films featuring the North West feature amongst content spanning the whole of the UK, available (mostly) for free on BFI Player via an interactive map.

Coast and Sea highlights from the North West include: Netting The Tide (Morecambe - 1978, NWFA), Launch of Formby Lifeboat (Liverpool - 1916, BFI), Ban the Bomb (Blackpool - 1964, NWFA), Wish You Were Here (Southport - 1975, NWFA) and A Life Apart: Anxieties in a Trawling Community (Fleetwood - 1973, BFI).

Since Britain on Film’s launch, over 30 million people have accessed their country’s film heritage through BFI Player and social media channels. With this new collection over 7,500 films can now be seen online – 97% of which are free. By 2018, thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be newly digitised and available to view.

There is also an exciting nationwide programme in partnership with the BFI Film Audience Network (FAN), with nearly 200 archive film screenings and special events taking place at coastal locations around the UK, with screenings already confirmed in Lancashire, Merseyside and Cumbria presented by the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University, offering audiences ways to discover, explore and engage with the coast and sea relating to local stories in their own area. The Independent Cinema Office (ICO) will also tour their latest Britain on Film on Tour compilation to cinemas and community groups, bringing Britain’s diverse coastal screen heritage to life this summer.

Coast and Sea charts our changing relationship with the land and the sea and the intrinsic connection with our national self-image.  Using the Britain on Film map, with the click of a mouse viewers can plot their own course, circumnavigating over 11,000 miles of varied coastline through film, from the southernmost tip of the Scilly Isles to the northernmost reaches of the Shetland Islands, to search and explore locations which hold a deeply personal connection, or collective concerns which occupy us a whole; leisure, industry, environmentalism, the weather.

From holidaymakers enjoying all the seaside has to offer, and coastal towns changed beyond recognition, to the mixed fortunes of fishermen and the lasting impact of industry, tourism and development on our fragile environment, Coast and Sea paints a rich and diverse portrait of our island nation.  The collection highlights activities and traditions in the North West that still survive today, or have made an unexpected resurgence, as well as looking at those customs, skills and trades that have dwindled or disappeared over the last century.

Coast and Sea represents all types of film, from news and actuality footage to documentaries, promotional travelogues and educational shorts; the rare intimacy of amateur home movies, as well as fictional subjects and artists moving image, from the earliest days of film, The Launch of Formby Life Boat (1916, BFI), to examples from the end of the last century, Piers of the Realm (1992, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University).

Robin Baker, Head Curator, BFI National Archive said, “Britain on Film has been a transformative project for the BFI and our partner archives. It has demonstrated that millions of people across the UK want to engage with their film heritage‎. Comprising over a century of filmmaking, Britain on Film has highlighted some of the lesser known films from our collections, some of which not even curators had seen before, and provided them with audiences that are often bigger than on their first release. There are over 600 newly added films, contextualised by curators, exploring lives led and holidays enjoyed around the UK coast. As such there are now even greater opportunities for people to while away hours watching and making discoveries about British film heritage”.

Geoff Senior, Collections Assistant, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University said, “From the busy mouth of the River Mersey and the Port of Liverpool to the far reaches of the Cumbrian Coast, the landscape of the North West of England’s coastal reaches is one of great contrasts and changes. The North West Film Archive with its Moving North screenings takes you on a tour of these areas, through the eyes of the film makers who have captured them in detail over the last 100 years and more. From the heady seaside resorts of Blackpool, Southport and Morecambe, through the bustling industrial ports of Liverpool and Barrow, to the tranquil fishing grounds of the estuaries of the Rivers Lune and Leven we explore these areas through cinema newsreels, promotional films and home movies.”

Viewers can indulge in a filmic cornucopia of culinary delights, with Morecambe shrimps, smoked salmon caught from the River Dee and Blackpool rock all on the menu, washed down with the Navy’s favourite tipple. Iconic figures are also remembered in films such as The Burial at sea of Sir Thomas White (1938, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University), a tribute to the leader of the Liverpool Unionists and chairman of the Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee.

Britain on Film curators have again found extraordinary footage of ordinary people and places, to shed a fascinating insight into our shared cultural and social history on film.  

Coastal towns often feature as central characters. Blackpool is a good example of these changing towns, as depicted on film over the decades, reflecting physical and social redevelopment. See Edwardian holidaymakers strolling along the seafront as work continues on the new promenade, Blackpool Promenade (1924, BFI), to the colourful nostalgia of Kodachrome home movies showcasing Blackpool’s post-war attractions in Happy Sea Side Holidays (1956, YFA) and a fascinating account of the promenade as a place of political protest and activism in Ban The Bomb (1964, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University); when CND came to Blackpool for a rally on the beach.


  • Netting The Tide (1978, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University) Absorbing documentary profiling Tom Smith, who reflects on his work as the last Lancashire shrimp fisherman to use a horse and cart on the sands of Morecambe Bay.
  • St. Annes, Sept 1940 (1940, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University) You would have no idea that we were at war in this lovely, rare, colour home movie of a carefree family holiday during wartime Britain, shot by amateur filmmaker Harold Brickhill.
  • Life Apart: Anxieties in a Trawling Community (1973, BFI) Made by one of Britain’s greatest documentary filmmakers, Michael Grigsby’s stunning documentary on the work and life, onshore and off, of the trawlermen of Fleetwood, is an unforgettable depiction, both visceral and sensitive, of a workforce and community facing danger and exploitation.
  • Moon’s Men (1964, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University) A Poetic study of shrimp fishers in Morecambe Bay, Cumbria, going to work along moonlit sands.
  • Wish You Were Here (1975, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University), A happy holidaymaker writes to her family in this promotional film for Southport, which engagingly captures the British seaside in its declining years. As our heroine tours the town, discovering the delights on offer to the prospective visitor, it is hard not to warm to the vista of an old-fashioned seaside staycation, with all the traditional trappings.
  • The Launch of Formby Lifeboat (1916, BFI) In this rare fragment of film, shot during World War One, lifeboatmen conduct a practice launch on Formby Beach, with horses from an artillery regiment stationed nearby towing the lifeboat 'John and Henrietta' out into the waves.
  • Liverpool Tall Ships (1984, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University) A great port celebrates the days of sail, as the Cutty Sark Tall Ships race comes to Liverpool. Crowds of onlookers throng the dockside and waterfront to see training ships such as the 'Gloria', 'Kruzenshtern', and 'Sir Winston Churchill', and watch the young crews at work on their vessels in the summer sunshine.


The Independent Cinema Office (ICO) are screening a specially curated Coast and Sea film compilation at cinemas and community centres across the UK; their fourth programme from Britain on Film on Tour.

From travelogues enticing holidaymakers to the beach to promotional films celebrating the work of fishermen and shipbuilders, the selected films capture the traditions, industry and joyfulness of the British coast.

Full details of the selected films featured in the compilation and how to book the programme can be found at

BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) organisations with funds from the National Lottery and lead by Film Hub Central East (Broadway Cinema Nottingham) are staging a programme of over 21 projects and nearly 200 screening events throughout the summer at coastal locations around the UK. It includes special screening events on the beach, the promenade, the ferry and using dramatic backdrops of rocks, sails and even a lighthouse to help audiences connect with the rich diversity of our extensive coastline.

Full details of upcoming screenings and events can be found at:


ENGLAND – MOVING NORTH COASTAL, North West: Delivered by the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University in partnership with North East Film Archive and Yorkshire Film Archive, Moving North Coastal is a fascinating archival tour from the bustling mouth of the River Mersey to the far reaches of the Cumbrian coast, showcasing the contrasting landscapes in the North West through the eyes of the filmmakers who captured coastal life there over the last 100 years.

MOVING NORTH COASTAL (Yorkshire and the North East)is a new summer touring programme of tailor-made film screenings, exhibitions, and short film compilations revealing the most astonishing variety of archive footage from the vaults of the Yorkshire the North East Film Archives and is part of a major new UK wide project, Britain on Film – Our stories. Our Lives.  Uncovering extraordinary treasures as the film and TV archives of the UK are opened up for the British public to enjoy.

SCREEN-ON-SEA, East: With a programme sourced mostly from the UEA’s East Anglian Film Archive, Cambridge Film Trust’s Screen-on-Sea celebrates the rich archive of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, with a series of outdoor pop-up screenings, touring resorts including Southwold, King’s Lynn, Felixstowe and Aldeburgh as part of summer festivals, concerts, carnivals and Heritage Days including a special screening for International Lighthouse Heritage Day in the shadow of the iconic Happisburgh Lighthouse in Cromer.

NORTHERN IRELAND – COAST TO COAST: Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive have programmed a mix of screenings, exhibitions and performances along their coastline celebrating Northern Ireland’s coastal and maritime heritage, including a new commission by local musician Malojian and filmmaker Colm Laverty, who have curated a collection of coastal-themed archive film for Malojian’s new video single, Some New Bones.

SCOTLAND – THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, MADE BY THE SEA, FOLLOWING THE FLEET: Edinburgh’s remarkable FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility hosts a unique 80th anniversary screening of Michael Powell's St Kilda-set The Edge Of The World, as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.  Made by the Sea features rarely-seen archive gems exploring the drama of Scottish life on the coast and sea, drawn from the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive. Following The Fleet re-traces the historic route down Britain’s east coast, following the journey of the herring shoals and drifter fleets, with internationally renowned beatboxer and sound artist Jason Singh performing his astonishing live soundtrack to John Grierson's seminal 1929 silent documentary Drifters.

WALES – SINEMAES, THE NATIONAL EISTEDDFOD OF WALES: Film comes back to the Maes for a second year with a full programme of Welsh language features, special events and archive coastal film at the world-renowned cultural festival in Anglesey, working with The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.

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