BFI Gives ‘Orphans’ A Home For Christmas

❉ Today the BFI has made a collection of over 170 films available to view free online for viewers internationally via the BFI’s YouTube Channel.

Today the BFI has made a collection of over 170 films known as Orphan Works available to view free online for viewers internationally as well as the UK via the BFI’s YouTube Channel. These film ‘orphans’ are films protected by copyright for which rights-holders are positively unknown or uncontactable. This new BFI YouTube collection includes rare performances by Christopher Lee, David Jason, Honor Blackman, John Le Mesurier, Lupino Lane, Madeleine Carroll, Norman Beaton, Peter Ustinov and Richard Burton as well as interviews with footballing legends George Best, Jack and Bobby Charlton. The collection also features early literary adaptations, including a truly magical version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl (1914), with beautiful colour tints and early special effects, Tom Brown’s School Days (1916) and Hobson’s Choice (1920).

The earliest orphan work is British filmmaking pioneer G. A. Smith’s The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) and the latest orphan on the list is Hangman (1985), a grizzly safety film about working on building sites. The Orphans YouTube collection covers a cross-section of filmmaking types across commercial fiction features, student shorts, corporate films, adverts, animation, documentaries and home movies.

Orphan works include all creative material; films, books, newspaper articles, texts and ephemera protected by copyright who have no clear rights-holder. It is estimated that there are at least 91 million orphan works in the UK, in libraries, museums, public broadcasters’ archives and other public institutions. The BFI estimates that 10% of the holdings in the BFI National Archive are orphan works. Until recently, without permission from a filmmaker/author or their heirs, nobody could digitise or disseminate these works. Such prohibition also applied to cultural institutions, holding back wider public access to a considerable part of the UK’s shared cultural heritage.

The EU Directive for Orphan Works of 2012 was designed to solve this problem by setting out common rules for the digitisation and online display of orphan works first published in the EU, including the founding of a database for registered orphan works; the EU Intellectual Property Office (IPO) Orphan Works Database (

In October 2014 UK Copyright law was amended to implement the EU Directive for Orphan Works, and in particular, orphan works held in the collections of EU cultural heritage organisations. This amendment provided an exception to copyright for certain uses of orphan works, subject to a diligent search for rights-holders and registered on the EUIPO’s Orphan Works Database.

The BFI has made use of this new copyright exception primarily for the Unlocking Film Heritage (UFH) programme, a National Lottery funded project which has digitised 10,000 British films for preservation and free public access in the UK, from the BFI National Archive and Regional and National Archive partners. From the 5,000 films digitised from the BFI National Archive, diligent search has been carried out on 370 films with rights-holders being traced for 106 titles and 273 titles designated as Orphan Works, registered with the EUIPO and published via BFI Player and now being made available on the BFI YouTube channel. For more information on the requirements of the diligent search the BFI is an associate partner on the EnDOW project

In addition the Intellectual Property Office’s UK Orphan Works Scheme permits organisations and individuals non-exclusive use of copyright material which has already been registered as an orphan work. The IPO’s orphan works scheme allows all creators to lawfully incorporate part (or the whole) of another work in their own creation, without fear of claims from any returning rights holders during the term of the agreed license. As well as offering peace of mind this scheme enables filmmakers and artists opportunity to build a much broader range of existing creative works into their own art.

Providing as wide a public access as possible through digitising and rehoming the UFH registered orphan works via BFI Player and YouTube, the BFI is helping to unlock film ‘orphans’ cultural value, giving these films a new lease of life with audiences in the UK and internationally.

Highlights from the BFI’s Orphan Works playlist include:

The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899): Pioneering British filmmaker G A Smith’s earliest surviving example of screen editing and Britain’s earliest known big-screen kiss.

The Little Match Girl (1914): Beautiful early adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s magical fairy tale featuring colour tints and trick photography.

Studdy’s War Cartoons (1915): Animated compilation by innovative cartoonist George Studdy, creator of Bonzo the Dog.

Pimple’s Uncle (1915) / Pimple Has One (1915) / Pimple in the Whip (1917): One of the most prolific comic characters of the silent era and at the height of his career a rival to Chaplin, Fred Evans made more than 200 short films as the lovable, clownish rogue Pimple. Sadly only a handful of films have survived.

The Dummy (1916) From one of the great Hollywood silent film comedians, a surviving fragment from one of Lupino Lane’s earliest pre-Hollywood films.

Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1916): Patriotic early feature film adaptation of Thomas Hughes’s classic novel.

Hobson’s Choice (1920) The earliest of three film versions of Harold Brighouse’s classic play, with Arthur Pitt as overbearing shop owner Henry Hobson.

It Might Be You! (1938): Madeleine Carroll (The 39 Steps) front this Tuberculosis charity appeal film for Papworth Village Settlement (now known as Papworth Hospital, the UK’s main centre for heart and lung transplants)

Lock Your Door (1949) / The Reformation of St Jules (1949): Renowned weird fiction author Algernon Blackwood narrates these uncanny fireside ghost stories taken from his Strange Experience With… series

Green Grow The Rushes (1951): Ealing-esque comedy about brandy smuggling in a small Kent village. A pre-fame Richard Burton stars alongside Honor Blackman and Roger Livesey.

Cross-Roads (1955): Two years before donning the cape as Dracula, Christopher Lee makes his earliest supernatural performance in this fascinating low-budget short, as a ghost who returns to seek revenge.

Cabaret Girl (1956): Guy Blanchard’s colourful ultra-kitsch documentary about Murray’s Cabaret club in Soho, where Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies worked as showgirls before the Profumo Affair.

The Charlton Boys (1968): The story of Jack and Bobby Charlton, even during their playing days – as seen in this 1968 documentary – is one of legend. This insightful film includes interviews with the brothers as well as their parents.

Good Strong Coffee (1968): This psychedelic cinema promo advertisement for an unknown coffee brand is groovy, baby.

George Best (1969): Sir Matt Busby and George Best are interviewed here by Michael Parkinson (a couple of years before his move to BBC) at a pivotal point in Best’s football career.

Using the Telephone (1970): A young David Jason tries and fails to master sales calls in this highly enjoyable 1970s corporate film.

A Couple of Beauties (1972): Innuendo-laden crime caper starring Northern drag star Bunny Lewis (What’s A Girl Like You…).

Nice (1984): West Indian monologue performed by the legendary Norman Beaton (Desmonds) and written by Farrukh Dhondy (Tandori Nights).


❉ Visit the BFI YouTube ‘Orphans’ Playlist:

 ❉ News source: BFI. |

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