The Lost Newsreels – unseen film of Coquetdale at work and play in the 1970s, 80s and 90s

By Katie Scott at the celebration event to commemorate the completion of the Lost Reels Project

Tuesday, 24th September 2019, 18:23 pm
Updated Monday, 30th September 2019, 13:20 pm
The Lost News Reels committee, Nicola Mason Crane, Hazel Mason, Tom Mason, Ian Thompson, Didi McKay, Kirsty McKay (Film Group committee) and Keith Hartnell, Linden Studio films.

The Lost News Reels are a remarkable series of 12 ‘newsreel’ style films featuring events such as Thropton Show, Rothbury Music Festival, the Raft Race, The Pipe Band, the Queen's Jubilee and Vintage Farming Machinery.

The Coquet Valley is an extraordinarily special place. Not just the spectacular landscape, but also the people; their dialect, music and poetry, the wildlife, the myths and legends that underpin everyday aspects of day-to-day life.

How enormously grateful we are for the vision of a most generous and talented man, the late Dr Keith McKay, who had the great foresight to record aspects of ordinary life at a time when such things were mostly undocumented.

Kirsty and Didi at the celebration.

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Keith was a frequent visitor to the Valley since the 1950s. He loved the area and settled here with his family in 1989. He noted with respect and interest the people at their work; crafting traditional tools, shearing sheep, building walls. He loved the dialect, the humour the music and the poetry.

Although a GP, Keith was also an amateur filmmaker. He made great friendships with locals in the community. In the late 1960s Keith shared his ideas for making a film. Everyone was enthusiastic, and so the Upper Coquetdale Film Group was formed in 1970.

The first film they made was Coquetdale Past and Present. As the group planned and made more films, their professionalism grew.

Keith’s daughter, author Kirsty McKay, recounts: “They got funding from the British Film Institute and Northern Arts- and this was a great thing. Along with the enthusiasm of the local people, the funding gave the group confidence that they were making something worthwhile and meaningful”.

Kirsty McKay and Didi on a film shoot in 1970.

Several films were made. Ian Thompson remembered: “I took them round WIs, village groups, all over. This wasn’t an easy job. It was reel to reel, there was no lip sync, the sound came via a separate tape recorder. You can imagine what it was like; sometimes we had to slow the film down, sometimes we had to speed it up. And sometimes we had to just say ‘sorry’ and start again! It was difficult, but people appreciated it and they enjoyed it’.

Over time, sadly, the reels were more or less forgotten about. Physically, they began to deteriorate. Luckily, about fifteen years ago, a group of dedicated people decided to do something about preserving this important heritage. Hazel and Tom Mason, Didi McKay, Allan Wood, Andrew Miller and Ian Thompson formed a Committee, and they approached Keith Hartnell, from Linden Studio films, for help.

Keith recalls: “I originally worked on the long films, the stories, that got put onto DVD. However, as I was going through the archive, I kept seeing bits that didn’t seem to belong anywhere. We began to check and we realised there was some scraps – literally on the cutting room floor. I put together some bits and pieces that had been filmed years earlier but never used’.

It was fortunate that Keith spotted these ‘oddments’ as these are what have been turned into The Lost News Reels. “The difficulty was that they were never logged, nothing was ever intended to do with them. They were genuinely lost amongst all the films”.

Dr Keith McKay.

But none of this renovation work would have taken place if it was not for the tenacity, resourcefulness and determination of Nicola Mason Crane. Everyone at the celebration event agreed that her inspired fundraising had been phenomenal. When she stood up to declare: “We’ve done it!” the audience burst into applause and all stood to cheer Nicola and the Film Group for this amazing achievement. Kirsty also thanked all the kind people who donated to the fundraising page.

The resulting films are fantastic. As Rothbury councillor Steven Bridgett states: “The video history that has been filmed gives us a superb look into how the landscape, the wildlife and the people in it have evolved and changed over the past 49 years. The footage records and digitally preserves our oral history, the local dialects and the stories and poems that are familiar to so many who live here”.

The Lost Newsreels are available on YouTube: www.youtube.com/channel/UC0_VHsA6UgkvHbNXkHMbHng

The series of DVDs has been digitally re-mastered from the original 16mm film and are available from Northern Heritage at www.northern-heritage.co.uk/ and are also housed in the Northern Film and Television Archive.