BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

28 October 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

BBC Homepage
Inside Out
East Midlands
North East
North West
South East
South West
West Midlands
Yorks & Lincs
Go to BBC1 programmes page (image: BBC1 logo)

Contact Us

  Inside Out East: Monday January 5, 2004


Reel of film
Flammable films are being transferred to new stock

Inside Out has gained access to one of the country’s most important film archives. The priceless footage it contains is so flammable, that it could literally burst into flames at any time.

The Imperial War Museum nitrate film store at Duxford holds footage dating back more than 100 years.

Rare sepia images of the First World War, shot by the Germans, are some of its most valuable treasures.

Watch some of the footage

Holiday in Kashmir
Home movie footage shot in 1945 by Lady Eleanor Smith..

Paramount newsreel
Shot in the 1940s, troops are seen showing pictures of movie stars in their helmets.

Maiden flight
Royal Air Corporation footage showing the launch of an early aeroplane.

Troops in Africa
King African Rifles making their way through the scrub to the front.

Building tests
The proposed design of the new nitrate film store is tested.


Footage © Imperial War Museum

David Walsh, Head of Preservation at the archive says, "The film archive is extremely important. It has a huge range of films.

"It's a great social record of life and times during the war... It's an enormously useful resource for the nation."


Most of the early footage was shot on 35mm film containing nitrate, which is highly flammable. This old stock can literally burst into flames at any time.

Once alight, the film will even burn under water, making it almost impossible to extinguish.

Considering its fragile yet potentially hazardous composition, safely storing the archive is a huge challenge.

New home

Until recently, most of the collection’s film was stored in London. It has now moved to a new, purpose-built facility in Duxford, Cambridgeshire.

Duxford's nitrate film archive
The separate blocks of the film archive

The Nitrate film store is probably the most advanced in the world. It is a building comprising eleven separate blocks and experiments have confirmed that a fire in one block could be contained, and it would not spread to the rest.

This ensures that if one of the rolls were to ignite, the whole collection would not be destroyed.


Preserving the footage is also a constant battle. A team at the Imperial War Museum are transferring the old film onto new stock.

Original equipment dating back to the 1930s is being used for this process.

Currently the archive has over a 100,000 rolls of old film. Just to transfer them onto new film will take at least 20 years.

See also ...

Inside Out: East
More great stories

On the rest of Inside Out
BBC Inside Out Online: Alexander Archive

BBC Nation on Film
BBC History: Wars and conflict

On the rest of the web
Imperial War Museum Collections

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

This week's stories

The Pilgrims' Way
Take a journey on one of the South East's most historic routes.

Cornish tea
Inside Out goes behind the scenes at Cornwall's tea plantation.

Storm chasers
Join the storm chasers in search of Yorkshire's worst weather..

More from Inside Out

Inside Out: East
View the archive to see stories you may have missed.

BBC Where I Live

Find local news, entertainment, debate and more ...

Beds, Herts & Bucks

Meet your
Inside Out
Go to our profile of David Whiteley (image: David Whiteley)

David Whiteley
your local Inside Out presenter.

Contact us
Contact the East team with the issues that affect you.

Free email updates

Keep in touch and receive your free and informative Inside Out updates.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy