Rhossili’s sad saga. Highlight of a new free film collection.
Rhossili’s “Sad Saga of the Sands”
A 1959 film set on Rhossili Beach shows the dramatic local event when a Destroyer, HMS Cleveland ran aground at Rhossili. The film also provides a fascinating snapshot of a time when the way we spent our leisure time and indeed our fashions were perhaps somewhat different. We were certainly as curious back then as we are now!
When I was a youngster, growing up in Cornwall I well remember the day a £1 million pounds worth of cocaine was apparently smuggled into a local quiet bay and going down to peek at the isolated bay and wonder about the owner of the seaside cafe who was apparently implicated in the crime. I also remember with sadness the local tragedy when my school friends’ father and two brothers were lost at sea in a trawler in the North Sea and what an overwhelming day that was for all the local people in our small local fishing community. I will also always remember our many trips to the beach: traipsing down the steep cliffs with handmade beach bags, (remember them!) to secluded spots only the locals knew of and spotting the then common massive lumps of tallow, rounded pebbles of black tar yet a total lack of plastic rubbish on the beach. The highlight for me was most definitely the ice cream man who came in on a boat to deliver cheap choc ices to the waiting kids. What I wonder were the experience of people here in Swansea of beach life and coast visits.
How times have changed over the generations! Take a look at ‘Sad Saga of the Sands’ for example. The film tells the tale of the demise of HMS Cleveland. It is among 600 Coast and Sea movies released online by the British Film Institute which is now available for free.
The beaching of the HMS Cleveland was clearly a big event locally here in Wales. The HMS Cleveland, a Destroyer built for service in WWII, survived support and convoy escort duties in the Channel, the Mediterranean and the Aegean but broke her tow when being moved in 1957 from Cardiff, where she had been laid up, to the breakers at Llanelli, and ran aground on Rhossili Beach, Gower.
Efforts to refloat her failed and she was eventually destroyed by dynamite and broken up on the beach, having attracted a lot of interest from the public, many of whom ignored the ‘Keep Off’ signs.
This film was shot by Evan Morgan of Pontypridd, a member of Cardiff Amateur Cine Society, a keen motorcyclist, and camper. His wife and daughter feature amongst those looking at the huge, monolithic, but broken hulk. It is highly recommended viewing to get a snapshot of the time.
Many of the films that feature as part of the Britain on Film collection have remained unseen since the time they were first shown.
Other highlights from West Wales include:
At the seaside – in cold climes and hot (1929)- Delightful beach scenes on the Gower and further afield from the 1920s. The swimming costumes are a style unto themselves, crying out for the addition of elastane, which was a few decades off.
Our Holidays 1932 – Tenby – This film was discovered, together with a small collection of other reels, in a junk shop and was then passed on to The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales in case they proved to be of interest.
The Private Life of the Gannets (1934) – This film focusses on Grassholm in Pembrokeshire and the life and habits of a nesting colony of gannets. It caught the attention of the Oscars committee and it won the award for best short film in 1937.
Welsh Magic (1946) – A travelogue celebrating the diverse landscapes, cities and industries of Wales. It describes Swansea as “another great dockyard town of Wales”.
They are now available free on BFI Player via an interactive map.
Robin Baker, Head Curator for the BFI National Film Archive, explains:
Britain on Film has been a transformative project for the BFI and our partner archives. It has demonstrated that millions of people across the UK want to engage with their film heritage. Comprising over a century of filmmaking, Britain on Film has highlighted some of the lesser known films from our collections, some of which not even curators had seen before, and provided them with audiences that are often bigger than on their first release. There are over 600 newly added films, contextualised by curators, exploring lives led and holidays enjoyed around the UK coast. As such there are now even greater opportunities for people to while away hours watching and making discoveries about British film heritage”.
Iola Baines of Wales’ National Screen and Sound Archive, added:
We often long for the days long gone, especially those spent at the seaside. Through Britain on Film we are offered a nostalgic glimpse of what life was like, maybe even the chance to see familiar faces and places. I’m really excited about the release of 50 Coast and Sea titles from Wales – family holidays on the beaches of Wales in the roaring 20s, post war travelogues, footage of fishermen plying their trade, locals exploring shipwrecks. There really is something to delight everyone.
Since Britain on Film’s launch, over 30 million people have accessed their country’s film heritage through BFI Player and social media channels. With this new collection of over 7,500 films can now be seen online – 97% of which are free. By 2018, thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be newly digitised and available to view.
A selection of the Coast and Sea films will be screened at the National Eisteddfod in Anglesey in August. Following 2016’s successful debut, Sinemaes – the cinema tent – will once again set up camp led by BAFTA Cymru in partnership with Film Hub Wales, Chapter, Into Film, Ffilm Cymru Wales, the BFI NET.WORK, The Royal Television Society, ITV Wales, S4C and TAC.
Using the player you can search through over 100 years of archival coast and sea film. There are over 50 films of Wales-wide content. To see more go to BFI Player, Britain on Film.
Credits for all images: A Sad Saga of the Sands (1959) courtesy National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales available on BFI Player part of Britain on Film, Coast and Sea.
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