Mitchell and Kenyon Films (How they where found)
I watched the series on the BBC about the find of the Mitchell and Kenyon Films I am saddened by the lack of recognition I truly deserve.
The BFI (British Film Institute), The BBC and Media have taken the word of Mr Peter Worden at face value and not looked at the full facts of one of the most historical film finds ever.
So in a vain attempt to correct the facts, this is the real story about how Peter Worden came to acquire the films.
Back in 1994 my optician was Peter Worden and during an appointment one day he asked me what I did and I explained that I made videos of weddings and cine to video transfers. Peter was very interested in this and told me of his love affair with old cine film and scenes of the past. I remember to this day him saying to me if you ever get any footage of old Blackburn let me know!
Months went by and one day I got some old 9.5mm Black and White Film came in for transfer. I didn’t have a projector to do this so I asked Peter if he had one that I could lend or hire from him. Peter lent me his machine and in turn I think I gave him a copy of the video footage. It was then that Peter told me about his involvement with the North West Film Archives in Manchester and how they restored Cine film on to Betacam Video Tape to preserve history for the future generations.
Little did I know that within months the most important find of film history was about to land on my doorstep, when in 1994 two Irish workmen were clearing out the basement of a shop called Mercers in Northgate, Blackburn. During the clearout they came across 3 milk churns with aluminium tops on them. They looked inside and found hundreds of small spools of 35mm silver nitrate film. The milk churns were put on their wagon with other prices of scrap metal ready to take to the scrap metal processors less than half a mile from my business. One of the workmen knew that on the way to the Lethbridges Scrap Metal Processors in Mill Hill, Blackburn he had seen my shop that advertised Cine Film to Video Conversion. That premise I own and is called Magic Moments Video in Shorrock Lane , Mill Hill, Blackburn and one of the Cine Film signs still exists today in 2005.
The workmen stopped & dragged a very heavy churn into my shop and asked me to take a look inside asking, “are they any value to you” they asked?
My heart stopped because the first thing I noticed was the strong smell from the 35mm nitrate film and just how much there was of it. I carefully removed a spool from the churn and found myself looking at film from the early 1900’s. I was the very first person to look back in time. I was amazed at the quality of the film and quickly realised how important this find was.
What now I asked myself? – What kind of value do we put on this lot? £50, £500, £5,000, £50,000, or even £5,000,000 or they could quite literally be priceless….
I thought, I know, I’ll ask Peter Worden what I should do.
When I rang Peter (who was totally unaware at that time of the find or even where they had been found), the excitement in his voice was all to evident, he said to me that they where either going to be old films made by the Bancroft family or films made by Mitchell and Kenyon. He asked where they where found I told him and I sensed he had to sit down. After a few seconds with a shaking voice he said, “Right listen to me and listen good, we don’t want to get these workmen excited or they may realise that the films could be of value, so tell them I will give them £20 if they bring them down for me to look at.” I then made a stipulation with Peter that he must ensure that the films go to the North West Films Archive for the Public Domain. He agreed to this and at that point the telephone conversation ended.
Now was the difficult bit how do I convince the workmen to take it to Peter’s? I told them the truth about the films I told them that they where Nitrate Film and incredibly dangerous. I even showed them how dangerous it was by setting fire to a small piece of the film. The workmen said that £20 was not a lot to offer and that they couldn’t be bothered and asked me for £50 to make it worth there while. I rang Peter again and told him that they wanted £50 and did he want me to pay them and he could settle up with me later. I also asked would the NWFA pay him back, he said that really wouldn’t be a problem, and told me to tell them that they would have to deliver them for £50. In the end the workmen agreed and that was the last I saw or heard about the films until 2004. During the 6 year period my understanding is that Peter placed the films in a chest freezer and registered them as the finder with a solicitor. Apparently my understanding is that the law says that if you keep something for 6 years with no claim made to legally become the owner of the goods. My understanding is this was the only reason Peter kept them in the chest freezer.
In December 2004 (10 years later) an invitation arrived on my doorstep to Gala Launch of the Mitchell & Kenyon Film collection at the King Georges Hall Blackburn in January 2005. Reading the invitation I noticed the statement that the collection had been found by Peter Worden! – “That’s not right I thought”, and sent an email to the BFI (British Film Institute) telling them of my involvement and how I was saddened by the fact that due recognition owed to me wasn’t mentioned. It got worse the local evening papers wrote articles about the find and again it was “the hero” Peter who found them….
The BBC had even made a three part series starring Starring: Dan Cruickshank. They interviewed Peter on his find and still NO mention of the truth about the find and my involvement. Now OK you may think at this point that it’s unfair and you would be right. I was asked to attend a Gala Launch of the film and the reception afterwards and I thought surely now the BFI knowing the truth would tell it at such an important moment in history but NO! I was forced to listen throughout the evening to even more untruths. Well enough was enough & I was extremely upset. My wife Elaine noticed this and was very annoyed, upset and couldn’t stand it anymore. Suddenly she got up out of her seat and said she was going to the toilet when in fact she had seen the Director of the BFI Amanda Nevill standing not to far away and confronted her with the facts. Somewhat stunned at Elaine’s anger Amanda asked for us to speak to her later that evening at the reception afterwards and that the issue would be rectified. Amanda expressed that she couldn’t do any thing about the content of the BBC’s series as this was an undertaking by themselves. Obviously she must have spoken to some of her colleagues who must have confirmed our story and in a vain attempt to make things right she introduced me to the current Mayor of Blackburn and Janet Anderson the leader of the Lancashire County Council for photographs. I was also asked to talk to a local BBC radio presenter to put my story forward. However I did not hear any transmission of my interview.
I now resort to the power of the internet in the hope that anyone who reads this story will read the true facts about the find of the film, and realize as the Mayor of Blackburn said, ” if it wasn’t for me the world would most surely have lost the most important piece of English film history forever!”, “the nation owes you a debt of gratitude”.
The BFI described the find as “the film equivalent of Tutankhamun’s treasure”
Surely it’s not to much for me to ask that they put the record straight and present the public with the true facts behind the find instead of the “fairy story” expressed by others.
Finally: If you have had the opportunity to see what the BFI have painstakingly done with this film footage you along with myself will be in no doubt that they have done a absolutely fantastic job in preserving, restoring and presenting the most important film footage of our time.
Whilst I don’t want to take away the fact that Peter Worden did uphold his agreement somewhat ensuring that the films went in the public domain I still feel badly let down by Peter Worden for not making the full facts of the film find more apparent and for the lack of fair share in the massive financial benefits he obtained.
In short, if it wasn’t for my professional knowledge and quick thinking at the time of the find, these films would have indeed been “The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon”, forever.
As mentioned at the beginning of this story, since I have published this page on the internet I have had quite a few interesting replies and I have decided to in all fairness to keep readers updated. You will find these updates listed below.
Many thanks for reading my story,
Nigel Garth Gregory
Director. Gregory Audio Visual Ltd, Inc… Magic Moments Video Productions. Blackburn
PS. If you have any further questions or comments about this story you can Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org