The BECTU History Project (BECTU Conference Agenda Article 2015)

There are many reasons why knowing our history is important, and this is particularly so for trade unionists and trade unions.

In this era of YouTube, the iPhone, 3 D movies, Facebook, ultra high definition television , the BECTU History Project links us to a time when we worked in a different way. It tells the stories of the workers in our industry over the last 100 years – it tells about the challenges they had to overcome, the skills they developed, the enduring human relationships they forged as Britain developed into one of the world’s major centres of the film and television industry.

The BECTU History Project began in 1986 when a group of workers in the British film and television industry under the guidance of Roy Fowler, set about collecting and archiving the oral testimonies of retired co-workers. Supported by the Union which gave them the resources and the autonomy to get on with the work in hand, it is now an archive of international importance of more than 670 interviews made with the men and women who have made their working lives in the film, television, radio and theatre industries. Among the famous voices in the collection are Lindsay Anderson, Richard Attenborough, Sheila Hancock, Karel Reisz and David Puttnam.  But there are also interviews with hundreds of other men and women from all walks of life who have worked in our industry over the last 90 years.  There are DoPs, film editors, hair and makeup artists, actors, projectionists, matte artists, writers, neg. cutters, electricians, dubbing mixers, costume designers - every craft is there.  It is a vast store of knowledge and experience.

The project is run by a group of volunteers with a variety of skills and from a variety of backgrounds who undertake the filming, the interviewing, the logging and management of the collection. We are constantly looking for new contributors to film; help with the shooting of the interviews in different parts of the country and transcribing of the completed interviews.  We receive invaluable administrative support from BECTU and storage support from the British Film Institute. We believe that by carrying on the work of the Project’s pioneers we are capturing valuable testimony for future generations. The Project works with academic institutions, the industry guilds and others who have been able to access funding and resources to continue transcribing the interviews in the archive.

The Project has had a strong year. With the ongoing support of BECTU in supplying us with resources we continue our programme of recordings. Our industry grows and changes every year producing new areas of activity for us to capture. We recently completed interview number 666 with our former   President Tony Lennon who gave us a vivid interview covering, not only a comprehensive history of the union over the last 30 years, but also his own personal history working for the BBC and BECTU. The interview had the added poignancy for us all as it was filmed during the final days of the BBC’s tenure at Television Centre. Tony took us on a remarkable tour of TVC as the bulldozers moved in, providing us with his own commentary about the building as a unique work place and the people who produced such memorable programmes there.   It was a clear reminder of why the work of the History Project is so important.

We continue to collaborate on behalf of BECTU with academics and fellow trade unionists. We are currently working with the Britain@ Work group and SERTUC to   contact different trade unions with a view to extending the involvement of trade unionists in the creation and documentation of workers’ own history. Discussions are being held with the aim of encouraging more trade unions to include a history dimension in trade union organization and education and to organize their own oral history and archive building activities. We plan to give them every support.

The BECTU History Project has a website ( where you can go to get a flavour of oral history as told through the voices of the hundreds of contributors we have interviewed over the last thirty years.  

Our recordings can be accessed by anyone with an interest in them: students, researchers, trade unionists, teachers, writers and film and television enthusiasts. A list of interviewees can be obtained via the website. If you want to view or listen to any of the interviews they can be accessed from the British Film Institute.

Our thanks go to Teresa Debrou, Sharon Elliott and Tracey Hunt in particular from Head Office for their support of the committee. Our thanks also to the union as a whole for its encouragement and support.

Our main priority in the coming months is to develop easier and wider public access to our interviews. We believe we have an extremely important archive which is of worldwide interest .We are currently developing the potential of our website by creating a BECTU History Project Channel on YouTube similar to the BECTU Channel with clips of our interviews.  We are constantly exploring the exciting possibilities raised by the use of new technology and new applications to help us increase the effectiveness, relevance and longevity of the History Project and its archive.

The Project remains entirely voluntary with a small organising committee and a wider participating membership. We meet monthly at BECTU Headquarters.  We are an open organisation and have members from a wide range of ages, backgrounds and crafts. Our interviewing is ongoing and we are open to your suggestions for potential interviewees and new topics which we might cover We welcome all offers of practical assistance either in undertaking the interviews, transcribing, or in providing the camera and sound skills needed for the recordings.

If you want the opportunity to help capture the lives and work of the men and women of our industry who want to pass on their skills, their ideas, their craft, their passion, to future generations then the BECTU History Project is the place to come to.

For more details and offers of support please contact Mike Dick who is the Chair of the BECTU History Project at