LONDON — Former U.S. President Ford was well known as a man who “could not walk and chew gum” but lost archive of vintage 16mm United Press Intl. Television News footage reveals he also had trouble negotiating stairs.
Ford’s indelicate descent down a stairwell at Salzburg airport in Austria where he stumbles and nearly falls as he exits Air Force One was captured by a UPITN camera in 1975.
Saved by members of a welcoming delegation who rush to help him, Ford swiftly recovers to make a wisecrack at a press conference.
The remarkable scenes are part of a huge archive of news footage from the 1960s and ’70s that has lain neglected and all-but forgotten for 30 years in an underground bunker near London’s Tottenham Court Road that once housed D-Day commander Dwight D. Eisenhower’s wartime base.
The 20,000 cans of film stored in the basement of the concrete blockhouse were aired on news shows around the world once — if at all — and then put away.
The paper catalog was lost during successive changes of ownership. UPITN became Worldwide Television News in 1985 before being acquired by the Associated Press in 1998.
Now a multimillion-dollar project to identify, catalog and restore the 3,500 hours of footage to HD digital standard is making the archive available for the first time to program makers, researchers and film directors.
Fresh images of world leaders and newsmakers make the archive an unparalleled source of material.
A young Saddam Hussein, seen on a visit to a French nuclear reactor in 1975, reveals an early interest in radioactive material for the nascent Iraqi dictator.
Shots of Elizabeth Taylor’s 40th birthday bash in Budapest show her with Richard Burton and guests that include members of the Beatles.
The footage, 20,000 clips of which are already available, is being cleaned up by Laboratoires Éclair in Paris before being shipped back to AP in London to be digitized and placed on the agency’s website.
HD digital videotapes are also available for professional program makers.
“We are all so used to certain images from the 1960s and 1970s but, boy, do you get fed up with using the same shots all the time,” AP’s director of international archives Alwyn Lindsey tells Variety.
“What this archive offers is breadth and depth and images that have not been seen since the original stories were shot.”
There are the pictures of the worldwide tour by the American astronauts involved in the first manned moon landing giving producers the opportunity to screen different images for one of this year’s big anniversaries — the 40 years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
“The footage is in wonderful condition — most of it has hardly been handled,” adds Lindsey, who worked as an archivist at the U.K.’s ITN news before moving to AP.
Stuart McKay, a freelance archivist with more than 30 years experience who is one of a team of five working on the restoration project, says stories about the wealth of fresh material to be found in the archive had long circulated.
“Some of the footage has never been seen. There are fantastic images of Beirut before the bombs and Phnom Penh in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge.”
And one of his personal favorites? The 1972 interview with Friends of the Earth founder David Brower, who expresses opinions about the environment that have become even more pressing with the passage of time.