Vintage film helps bring the past back to life

A still from Joe the Clip.
A still from Joe the Clip.

A vintage movie depicting agricultural life in the late 19th century has received its world premiere, as part of a nostalgic film collection saved from a unique archive.

Joe the Clip is the latest trip down memory lane in the Bygone Coquetdale series, produced by The Upper Coquetdale Film Group.

Screenshot from Joe the Clip.

Screenshot from Joe the Clip.

The organisation was started more than four decades ago by Dr Keith McKay, who rallied a number of residents to record local events.

From the early 1970s, the group began to make several 16mm documentary films featuring the landscape and people of the Coquet Valley.

One of these was Joe the Clip. The planning and filming in the Cheviot landscape had been carried out in the 1990s, but the unexpected death of Dr McKay in 2001 brought a sudden halt to the production and the film was unfinished.

However, the piece has now been completed after the lost film was rediscovered earlier this year. All the parts in the movie are played by people who lived in Coquetdale at the time of filming.

Local dialect poet and real-life shepherd, Alan Wood, plays Joe, an itinerant Coquetdale worker who made his meagre living shearing sheep, digging ditches and building dry-stone walls.

It proved a hit at last Friday’s unveiling at Coquetdale Music Heritage Centre in Thropton. The group’s chairman, Ian Thompson, said: “It was a hugely successful evening. It brought back a lot of memories for people.”

The documentary was captured on 16mm film and has been restored to a modern-day standard.

Ian said: “We came across this unfinished version which was entitled Joe the Clip. The footage was there, but we had to come up with an original script and score.”

Joe the Clip is priced at £9.99 and is available from Shepherds Walks and Phillips newsagents, both in Rothbury. It can also be purchased from tourist information centres around the county.

The film depicts the daily grind of a typical rural worker in the late 19th century. Hard work, long hours, poor pay and vile beer.

The first part of the DVD is titled The Film Makers’s Story. This tells the tale of the film group and combines interviews of surviving film group members with digitally re-mastered archive film and excerpts from six earlier films to tell a fascinating, heart-warming and, at times hilarious film-maker’s story.

Funding support has come via Northumberland National Park and Northumberland County Council.

Joe the Clip is the seventh DVD in the Bygone Coquetdale series. All of the pieces were recorded by the group a number of decades ago on 16mm film.

As technology moved on, the reels languished in sheds and lofts, until they were saved by volunteers. They were then catalogued and digitised to broadcast standard and released as DVDs.

The titles of the DVDs are John Barleycorn, Coquet Meander, Sett for Sunday, Coquetdale Past and Present, Dippie’s View and Rothbury Carnival.

The films are part of a larger archive of footage which was captured by the group over the years. It has been future-proofed in high definition and copies of the archive reside at the county archives at Woodhorn. It includes hours of raw footage of valley characters. Sound recordings of their voices exist on 3/4”reel-to-reel.

Painstaking technical work has been carried out by Keith Hartnell, helped by Rob Fitzgerald, of Blagdon Studios.

It is hoped further archive material can be put onto DVD.