Anne Fleming

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Interview Date(s): 
21 Apr 2017
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Interview notes





Notes taken by David Sharp at the Anne Fleming interview on 21st April 2017.

11.35am, start; b Old Montrose, Scotland. School and then Edinburgh University (Hons degree in English literature and language, and history) joined Film Society and helped out at Edinburgh Film Festival.

Spell teaching English as a foreign language in Sicily. Applied for post at Imperial War Museum [IWM] as a Keeper in Information Retrieval, which would have involved cataloguing film and all the holdings of IWM, was interviewed but didn’t get the post. Follow up letter from Noble Franklin to say two more jobs were coming up and these involved cataloguing and film programming. Franklin, Chris Rose (Deputy Director), Clive Coulthas and Frances Thorpe and a computer person made up the panel. This was 1970 so relatively early in computer terms, with attendant problems. The work involved materials inherited from ministries, other collections, and photos and documents. The ambition was perhaps a bit ahead of the game.  The programming aspect was to compile a monthly including weekend programme of screenings. There were two projectionists and a preview theatre, where Anne watched masses of material, some of it “record” film unedited plus other material. Clive Coulthas Keeper of Film Rapidly changing period of museum reorganisation. The film section was part of Collections (i.e. non-objects) with a single keeper.

From 1971 there were “Heads” of documents, printed books etc. They started interviewing people with a focus on those who hadn’t been published. There were loans of film and programming still to carry out and liaison with TV companies. The Film section had John Sutters and Iris English in it. The Great War series and Life and Times of Mountbatten were key and demand grew. More admin and more deputising arose. Cataloguing in detail; shot listing. This was in parallel with what was happening at the British Film Institute [BFI] where Ernest Lindgren was still around, shortly to be followed by Kevin Gough-Yates (acting) and then David Francis.

So at that stage there was really just the NFTVA [National Film & Television Archive] and the IWM. Late 1970s the Scottish Film Archive (David Bruce) and then into the 1980s the regional film archives started. North West (late Marianne Gomes) and East Anglia (David Cleveland). The BFI was seen as slightly imperialistic… and there are good reasons (regional knowledge for example) to have the regionals. Anne talks about assisting in research relating to World at War, Secret History. And then becoming Keeper of Department of Film around 1984/5. Clive was overseeing photographs and sound recordings. There was a restructuring of the galleries including introduction of touch screens. 1989 Alan Borg oversaw, The emphasis was now very much on income generation. Christopher Rose negotiated rights for overseas earnings as well as lump sum. There were rights clearance issues on the Great War series. There was also the Palestine series, which IWM only had involvement with for episode 1. There was interest in “secret histories”, film of German and British technical innovations in films of record. Brian Johnson mentioned.

25 minutes. Talks about the Allied Control Commission’s brief regarding newsreel, features that were Nazi related. The Enemy Property Act 1953 covered museums exploitation on behalf of the crown in the UK (and possibly the Commonwealth). In the late 1960s and 1970s the Germans resented this. The USA repatriated a lot of this type of material to Germany in the Kennedy era.

The visit of Dr Faltanhauser (who had worked for Goebbels); Transit films difficult meetings at the German embassy. Release only in the UK. The danger of some of the propaganda elements eg Riefenstahl Triumph of the Will. Such powerful images show the dangerous appeal of national socialism. Prof Hans Kohl came to preview it and Anne was summoned because of the “odd” behaviour of two of his colleagues, who were marching up and down saluting the screen. This type of viewing was to be avoided in the future. “Atrocity” footage was kept off screen due to lack of viewing copies. Some “secret” films were requested, which showed in some cases unstable or failing experimental military gadgets, such as the pre D-Day Great Panjamdram. Some of this material was classified, but Mountbatten got that over-ruled.

New people joining the team. Paul Sergeant, Jane Fish the public face. As a consequence of Anne’s secondment to UNESCO, Taylor Downing [BEHP Interview No 699] came in on a temporary project contract to catalogue (mainly) amateur film. Anne went to help establish JTV in Jordan to set up a film and television archive. Taylor moved on to work on Palestine.

So, after twenty years at IWM Anne was thinking about moving on; she did some travelling. Changes at the BFI (departure of David Francis and Michele Snapes) left two vacancies. Clyde Jeavons [BEHP Interview No 694] replaced David Francis, and Anne would be his deputy.

FIAF discussion: IWM was not a member in the 1960s. Christopher Rose applied then when Clive separated off the film archive (which had been founded in 1917) it became an associate member, and then later a full member. Talk about a film archivist being a rare occupation. More archives as well, some without “celluloid”. Curator v Archivist, and the distinctions in museum work. Archivists not dealing with the single “object” but retaining original negatives and a contemporary print gives a fighting chance of producing another copy. No two copies are ever identical, though digital technology may change all that.

45mins. There are subjective judgements, shared by film makers. The big Hollywood studios are now remastering via celluloid, though DCPs are used for distribution, even if the original was “born digital”. It is so easy to damage film by projecting and screw up the soundtracks. Conserving the original is what we are all about. Nitrate. Battle of the Somme on diacetate. There is now more information in the picture now because it can be seen.

FIAF isn’t the only organisation: there is AMIA and SEAPA. There is a new interest in preserving film culture.

Joined BFI on September 3rd 1990. It was a different scale of a collection, outstripping other collections. So much bigger: IWM had 35 staff including outstations. (Hayes – nitrate; Duxford – safety stock). BFI had c 30ish staff just at Stephen Street. 100 plus at Berkhamsted and Gaydon. A change of scale. Departmental meetings were held at Berkhamsted, which is where related materials and special collections were also stored. This was the era of Wilf Stevenson (1990 – 97) then John Woodward, and Jon Tekman, and the 1990s seemed to be an era of constant restructuring.

55mins. There was some stability in the department, but it became difficult drafting budgets including salaries. This was very much the era of computerisation and legacy data. The SIFT database (Summary of Information on Film and Television) held filmographic information whilst an Oracle based system called TecRec (Technical Records) held detailed holdings information, including the existence of viewing copies. SIFT did not include the book library catalogue, although it did hold journal references [Clarified by DS at the end]. There were a lot of staff with technical skills, uncommon elsewhere. Mention of the HLF bid in the 1990s. A new build bid, a collections management plan. C£20 million to include staff costs, including cataloguing staff, and technical staff at Berkhamsted. £19million was supposed to be matched by £5million from other sources. Challenging. Getty agreed to release matched funding in stages as required. Discussion on Legal deposit. BFI argued for it. It would have meant a copy of a film would be acquired intact, rather than scavenged. This would have enabled more economic activity, rather than having to save the “Warner collection under the tarpaulin in the yard”. This would be far better than industrial archaeology.

70mins Television – Clyde brokered an agreement with the BBC to acquire their material on Super VHS, with viewing copies on VHS. ITV/Channel 4 were recorded off-air on 1inch master tape, again with VHS viewing copies. This was selective: documentaries, comedies, soaps. Then 2 inch tapes from the BBC put onto digibeta. Brian Jenkinson changed formats. Recording TV was a 24hour job, and archive responsibility meant retaining 2inch tape machines. Another period of restructuring around 1996 saw Clyde Jeavons leave the BFI. Henning Schou came in, based at Berkhamsted. Anne led the curatorship from September 1997. John Woodward came in and appointed new “headships” with Caroline Ellis as Head of Collections. Henning left, Anne moved to Berkhamsted. For 1999 and 2000. HLF project was under way. Photographic prints were stopped in 1996/97. Some jobs were saved.

Left BFI in 2000. Found it was a difficult, untenable position. Planned to work at BUFVC (British Universities Film and Video Council) on a funded project. Murray Weston appointed Head of Content for Mass Media Online. Brief discussions on Stanley Foreman’s ETV collection acquired with the BFI.

Brief coda on the big challenge regarding digital content, on different servers and vulnerable as never before from cyber-attack, and the recent examples of Sony being hacked by North Korea. Now there is both technological change and the issues of constantly migrating formats, with masters being vulnerable. Yet there is hope as well.


One interjection: had Anne had to sign Official Secrets Act to work at IWM?  Yes.

Finish c1pm duration c 85minutes


These are based on written notes and are not exact nor a complete transcript.