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National Treasures
Wednesdays 9:00-9:45am, repeated 9:30pm.
National Treasures presented by Lawrence Pollard.
Programme details
Wednesday 15 August 2007
Listen to this programme in full
the Cutty Sark & archive film canisters
Should we spend £30 million on preserving the decaying tape of the British Film Archive or restoring the fire damaged Cutty Sark?
The Cutty Sark v The British Film Institute National Archive

Dr Colin White - Cutty Sark

Terence Davies - BFI National Archive

Director Terence Davies (Distant Voices,Still Lives,The Long Day Closes, The House of Mirth) argues that the BFI National Archive is in urgent need of help to prevent its thousands of reels of film from decaying, whereas Dr Colin White (Director of the Royal Naval Museum) advocates that the historic tea clipper the Cutty Sark should be restored to its former glory following this year's fire.

Which National Treasure deserves £30 million?


Mark Fisher - Labour MP and former Arts Minister

Martha Lane Fox - Co-founder of and now non-exec director of Marks and Spencer and Channel 4. Martha's latest venture is in the karaoke business, with Lucky Voice.

Robert Hewison - Critic, cultural historian and associate of the think tank Demos.

Larry Phillips - Decision analyst.

For more information on the Cutty Sark and the BFI National Archive, see:

The Cutty Sark Trust
National Historic Ships guide to the Cutty Sark

BFI National Archive
Mediatheque - Free access to the BFI National Archive
Listener votes, listener comments:

Each week we're taking the temperature of the audience opinion on the issues. Use this page to vote on this week's issue, (vote closes 21st August 5pm) or to send us your comments. As Lawrence Pollard explained on air, cultural funding decisions aren't quite this stark in real life nor is our vote intended to be rigorous.

The final programme in the series on Wednesday 5 September will discuss how, in real life, public opinion is captured and used in public funding decisions about the arts, culture and heritage.

National Treasures Vote

Which do you think would be the better investment?

  1. The restoration of the Cutty Sark
    69 votes
  2. The preservation of the BFI National Archive
    330 votes

Total votes: 399

This is not a representative poll and the figures do not purport to represent public opinion as a whole on this issue

Have Your Say
Which is more deserving of a £30 million handout and why? Let us know what you think and cast your vote.

Please state clearly if you wish to remain anonymous as your message may be read out on air or published electronically.

Mark Fuller, Bristol
Much as I love ships in general and the Cutty Sark in particular, the ship has been recorded to the nth detail, and can now be reproduced ad infinitum for as long as the teak supply holds up....whereas, when a film image is is lost. Forever. Film, fiction, and non-fiction alike, gives an insight into the past of our parents and grandparents that still photography, diaries and letters can only hint at. The national film archive must be preserved, and made accessible too, at all costs. We regularly have appeals for Old Masters to be 'Saved For The Nation' and get asked to raise £m25-30 to stop it being sent overseas...this is a need for our entire film archive to be saved from destruction for the same price....a bargain in comparison.

Bill White, London
Britain's internatonal reputation over centuries has been founded on maritime trading achievement, for which the Cutty Sark is an icon. We forget the significance of the sea both now and in the past at our peril, and the nation needs more such icons as a reminder. Without this, institutions such as the BFI would probably not have been possible Restoration of the Cutty Sark is essential

Paul Temple, Glasgow
A lot of people seem to be missing the point here. Unless the BFI's archive is funded now, the films will be gone - for ever. As the speakers on the programme said, there's no money to preserve the films that are crumbling away and only enough to digitise a tiny fraction of them. We are in danger of completely losing one of the most important parts of our heritage. Unless they are preserved, there will be no films left for the BBC to use in future documentaries.

Mark Churchill, Portsmouth
There is huge cultural and historic significance to preserving/conserving both the BFI and Cutty Sark, making a choice extremely difficult.Considering the BFI, transferring the archives onto modern digital mass storage media can only be regarded as temporary (c.20-30 years) before it too degrades/delaminates and needs repeating - and at what cost then? On the other hand, Cutty Sark was being massively conserved when she caught fire and, if my understanding of the plans are correct, she will require significant ongoing maintenance expenditure, but will at least be best preserved and, vitally for me, be always available for everyone to visit and enjoy in her majestic setting at Greenwich adjacent to the former Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum and the Greenwich Observatory. My vote is for Cutty Sark!

Roy Mullender, Fareham
Cutty Sark gets my vote she is the inspiration the young need from our history. I have stood on deck in the moonlight and looked up in awe at those great spars. Young men and teenagers were once tough enough to work aloft in the ice and cold of the Great Southern Ocean. You can touch Cutty Sark and feel the history under your hands. Much of the original remains. Only a media obsessed land of whimps would ever consider not rebuilding her. Lets get on with it. Roy Mullender, Chairman, International Association of Cape Horners.

Steve, Poole, Dorset
Eventually, far more people from future generations will experience these national treasures, if preserved, than people alive today and from the past. If we were faced with the choice of experiencing an ancient film archive (if such a thing could have existed) or an important example of an ancient form of transport, which would we choose? Effectively we are making this decision for future generations. I know which one I would most like to experience given the choice.

Alison Henderson Winchester
Greenwich is very much at the heart of our seafaring history through the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory, which tells the story of longitude so beautifully. Cutty Sark should be preserved because she is the physical embodiment of that history and one of the prime examples of how our shipbuilding industry once conceived and delivered so many revolutionary vessels.

Leo Enticknap, York
Thom Gorst writes:"Of course, the intellectual content of the films is priceless, but is it essential that the original negatives are preserved? Is the £30m going towards preserving the originals, or towards making digital copies? I would preserve the original Cutty Sark; but films can be replicated, so I would be happy to make copies."As a former film archivist and now an academic researching moving image preservation and restoration, I can condidently say that it is simply not that simple. A digital copy of a film is analogous to rebuilding a replica of ship which no longer exists, using the information which survives about it.The film preservation landscape has fundamentally changed in the last 20 years or so. Until the late 1980s, it was believed that the only way to preserve the content of nitrate and acetate film was to copy it, because there was no way to stop the original material from decomposing. From research done since then, we now know that, stored in a cool and dry atmosphere, these materials can actually be preserved for centuries. Black-and-white photographic emulsion (and colour images can be stored this way by recording three separate red, green and blue images as b/w records) is also one of the most stable and reliable archival media known.In contrast, there is no reliable way of preserving digital data. Does Thom still have any 5 1/4 floppy discs from the 1980s? If so, does he still have a computer with a disc drive to read them? I thought not. 'Continual format migration' is the scourge of video and digital media archivists. And furthermore, if any change to the data has to be made in the process of copying it (e.g. transcoding a lossy compression format), you lose image quality in the process.There is also a whole lot of information about a film which is not preserved in the digital capturing process. For example, edge markings can tell us what year the film stock was made. The shape of the perforations can tell us who made it, and where (in many cases). The shape of the frame can tell us what sort of camera was used. All this information would be lost if we made a digital copy and discarded the original.All the arguments which support preserving technological artifacts such as the Cutty Sark, therefore, apply equally to films. A film does not just contain intellectual content, but archaeological and provenance information as well.

Linda Ebrey, Friston
At a recent event I attended, people were snapping up lapel pins in support of the Cutty Sark Appeal. I cannot imagine them doing the same for theBFI ! The Cutty Sark, like Victory and other historic ships, captures the public imagination and feels like a precious and personal possession - so personal that people are happy to wear apin for her with pride.

Janis, Kent
I greatly enjoyed this discussion and Colin White was very eloquent in putting the case for our maritime history and Cutty Sark. There is no doubt in my mind that the ship must come first. She represents a way of life, a heritage and a history of an island people in a most tangible way. There are so few pieces of living history left to us, please preserve this for the future. The BFI is about a far more ephemeral history, much of it relates to art and entertainment and though these are vital they cannot compete with Cutty Sark!

The British Film Institute's collection holds films that, collectively cost billions of Pounds to make and its enduring content cannot have a price put upon it - an asset for everyone in this country.Not everything can be copied unless it receives proper attention in the hands of archive professionals. Funding is absolutely essential.

Michael Maydon, Brighton
As a passionate collector of orphaned home movies I can testify to the extraordinary content of amateur cine films. Interestingly, sailing and shipping were a frequent subject matter for amateur film makers, recording holiday trips on board vessels. I have on-board footage of a Royal Mail Steam Packet (1929), sailing on the Norfolk Broads (1946), the Skye ferry to Kyleakin (1957) and a 'crossing the line' ceremony on the Canberra (1970). Oh yes, and a family visit to the Cutty Sark (1968).It was heartening to hear Terence Davies' enthusiasm for these unheralded treasures. Witnessing the emotional responses of audiences at my home movie showings has encouraged me to make my collection accessible to a wider public, so a cine to web transfer process is underway. The BFI probably have about 1000 times as much footage as me – a daunting task. Mind you, a thousandth of £30M would get my web site up a lot quicker. £30K to spare anyone? Martha?

W.E. Falck, Alkmaar, The Netherlands
I guess this is an unfair choice. Both have their own intrinsic value as material heritage. So much money is spent on 'fun' things these days. Given that there are about 50 Million inhabitants of which perhaps are half in 'drinking' age, it should be easy to collect the money for both projects, if the latter ones would give up a pint or two on only one weekend and donate the money. The odd foreigner or two might throw in a pound as well.

The Cutty Sark must be saved. It is not clear what is proposed for the National Film Archive. The archive has received money from the National Lottery, the government and private sources for film and video preservation.Is the money required for preservation or digital copies. If it is digital copies I do not think this would as important as preserving/restoring the Cutty Sark. If the Film needs to be preserved then money should be made available.

Joan Smith - London
I believe they are both deserving of the money, but the BFI gets my vote as the films will be originals, not just British films and be there for generations to come.

David Clement
Cutty Sark is the only remaining example of a vessel of her time and genre in the world, and whilst BFI is deserving it does seem to me that at the very least the award should be apportioned between both players - £15m each, albeit I feel the Cutty Sark is more deserving.

Gamble, Essex
Neither deserve it, both should get a share in it? 15m each would go a long way to help....

R Hallett
This seems like a no-brainer to me. The BFI archive's 3/4 million films must surely tell us more about our histories, identities and cultures than any library of books - and far more vividly, too. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of hours of information this must contain? We are in danger of losing the most potent and accessible record of life in Britain there could be. This archive needs not only to be saved, but to be digitised so that we can all get to see what it contains.

Ian Mitchell (Amesbury near Stonehenge)
Another excellent discussion. The arguments on air and above seemed well focussed on the criteria, especially on the relative preferences between moments of time caught on film versus physical objects. Can we see the definitions of the criteria and the scores on the website?

Julie Horner, Dover
The Cutty Sark of course. Film archives are very interesting but will need a great deal of work to make them available to all. Old newsreel is very interesting when shown on tv but is unlikely to be something that anyone is going to be able to access in any other way. The Cutty Sark is there on the embankment and I can go and see it anytime

Berwyn, Swansea
Leave the Cutty Sark alone and put a film of it sailing up instead. The BFI Archive must have thousands of films of sailing ships and more besides.

Ged Parker, Washington
A contemporary ship of the Cutty Sark, the Adelaide, is rotting away in Scotland. Arguably as a transporter of migrants it is more representative of our history and deserves the £30m. A central London artifact can easily find the funds. The BFI material? As precious as the Dead Sea Scrolls. I rank its case above the Cutty Sark

David Lee, Gillingham, Kent
Give them £15m each.

Gemma, London
Why can't they have £15 million each? Both are deserving causes.

Barry Weeden, Essex
The BFI is a unique institution and definitely deserves the vote. While the Cutty Sark is an interesting exhibit, there are other examples throughout the country of interesting ships of a historic nature that unfortunately do not get the support or media exposure they deserve.

Bob Rust Basildon
When I go to Greenwich I see a solid three dimensional ship. If I went to the film archive all I would see is tins of film. It would then need a projector to see the work of the producer and actors captured on the film. So what I am seeing is information stored on a highly unstable medium. All that information could be just as well kept in digital form. Apart from the paper archive the real substance of the BFI is transient images that need third party reproduction.

Dorothy Sebuliba
In terms of preservation of the BFI , the argument seemed to have a lot of emotional currency which perhaps is a reflection of the experiences of those taking part in the debate. I wonder whether such a debate aimed at preserving assets for future generations should have involved those future generations ie- including a younger age group e.g 12yrs to 21years- would they have evaluated these assets differently?

howard j bills rivenhall essex
they should both be saved for the nation! at 30 million each a positive snip! especially when you think that we were all party in some way or other to the biggest waste of money since the dawn of man! ie, the dome! shame upon us all as we seem to have become a nation that not only has lost it collective box of common sense but we are now able to put a price on anything but are unable to determine its value.

preserving film archives will ultimately hold more value to the history of cinema and culture in the UK. A ship, albeit interesting to preserve is not going to be the original.

Charlie Warmington. Lagan Legacy.
As a former BBC journalist/executive producer etc. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this programme. It was hugely educational, entertaining and informative. As someone currrently working in maritime heritage I found the arguments for and against each project intriguing. Only one tongue-in-cheek error! Surely our Titanic should have been mentioned in the three leading maritime icons!!! Though personally I call Titanic Belfast's weapon of mass DISTRACTION. The River Lagan launched thousands of famous ships and the world only remembers the one that sank!

Margaret Stevens, Hook Norton, Oxfordshire
I think the BFI is more important historically than the Cutty Sark. The original keel is not important, historians have seen it and recorded it, now a replica would satisfy the general public.The BFI on the other hand, give us a glimpes into the way people lived and gives us continuity. Those of us who lived through the30s, 40s and 50s, are reminded of how we lived, and younger people can see how it was. It can make us glad or sorry that life now is as it is. The films also give us a glimpse of the horrors of war and remind us that we should live in peace with our neighbours and other ethnic people.The Cutty Sark is a minute glimpse, the BFI give us a much wider view of society, not always authentic of course, but the majority of the Cutty Sark is not authentic

Diana Mackenzie - Edinburgh
I think the BF1 is more deserving of the money because it will be truly national and seen nationally, whereas the Cutty Sark is for the south east of England.

Tony Rowe (W Sussex)
I think the Cutty Sark was under-sold. Apart from the qualities discussed it has an important message for us today. It transported cargo round the world and it's carbon footprint was about zero. There were sailing ships which carried more but Cutty Sark represents the ultimate design for this type of ship. For this reason I think it deserves to be preserved as representative of world wide commerce and an inspiration for using natural resources.P.S.I like the BFI too.

Thom Gorst, Bath
I am currently researching into the ways in which we put value on maritime heritage, so I found this programme very interesting indeed. Despite my own involvement, I am sure the panel came to the right decision. However, I am not clear on the issue of authenticity: it was discussed at length with regards to the Cutty Sark - is it the real thing or not? - but the BFI archive was not subjected to the same scrutiny. Of course, the intellectual content of the films is priceless, but is it essential that the original negatives are preserved? Is the £30m going towards preserving the originals, or towards making digital copies? I would preserve the original Cutty Sark; but films can be replicated, so I would be happy to make copies.

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