From first viewing, it’s nothing very much to look at, a rather grainy piece of silent colour film lasting just under two minutes.
Simply recorded as (Lifeboat Launch) the film was dated rather vaguely as ‘1950s’ with an ‘unknown location’. Time to send in the cataloguers.
The first thing to do was identify where it was! There was a harbour, lots of crowds (some in uniform), a Royal National Lifeboat Institution boat and loads of bunting. I decided to look at the map of lifeboat stations on the website of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, comparing those images to the still I had from the building on the harbour (see above). I randomly chose Arbroath and worked my way anti-clockwise, stopping at Mallaig. This was needle in a haystack stuff, nothing matched. I printed the photo and distributed it to my colleagues. They came up trumps with Broughty Ferry. (Note: I should have gone clockwise!)
We were then able to investigate events featuring a heavy presence of bunting in Broughty Ferry Harbour in the 1950s. The Queen’s coronation in 1953 immediately sprung to mind. But it turned out to be the naming ceremony of the lifeboat ‘The Robert’, on 15th May 1960 by the Duchess of Kent. Such a happy event was tinged with sadness when we discovered the lifeboat that came before, the Mona, had capsized with the loss of eight lives in 1959. We even preserve a film related to that event in the Scottish Television Collection: Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Disaster (1959)
Cataloguing film is all about making these interconnections, contextualising and interpreting the visual clues we have. Facts must be checked. Places, people and events must be correctly identified as we add moving image to Scotland’s rich cultural memory bank.
The film discussed here will now be re-titled to reflect the event it records and will be published on the catalogue with the remainder of the collection (all 102 cans of it). All new collections brought in to the moving image archive are routinely digitised and made available to view here at the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall
…. and I will now never, ever forget what Broughty Ferry castle looks like.
Here are some other lifeboat related films you can view and enjoy on the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive catalogue, meantime: