15 January 2016

Missing British, wartime film rediscovered. Welcome Mr. Washington (1944) returns to BFI National Archive

Welcome Mr Washington directed by Leslie Hiscott (1944), a wartime film starring Peggy Cummins has been rediscovered. It was last seen in the UK on television in 1961. Since then the film has been missing, presumed lost and was on the BFI’s Most Wanted Films list issued in 2010 to mark the 75th anniversary of the BFI National Archive.

Peggy Cummins, star, has just seen the film at a private screening, the first time since 1944, and just in time for her 90th birthday.

The 16mm re-released print of Welcome Mr. Washington was discovered by an eagle-eyed film enthusiast in the Cinema Museum collection in London. The BFI acquired this print, then, during discussions with Paramount it emerged that they too had a print, also 16mm and also cut for re-release. So while it’s unfortunate that the full-length version doesn’t appear to exist, there is now a version of this light, warm-hearted Home Front tale in the BFI National Archive with a sparkling performance performance by star Peggy Cummins.

Peggy Cummins said, “I am absolutely delighted to be able to see this early film of mine again. It was at a key stage in my career and it was very important to me. I am very pleased that the film has been brought back to the BFI. I’m also very grateful for the effort the BFI has gone to in order to bring the film back to the screen.”

Welcome Mr. Washington will be screened on 29th & 31st January 2016 as the climax of a BFI Southbank season of films exploring Britain in the Second World War. On 31st January Peggy Cummins will introduce the screening. The BFI Southbank season is complemented by a major new collection Home Front on BFI Player which includes which includes many rare and previously unseen titles, newly available.

The print of Welcome Mr. Washington was digitised by Paramount, then using funds from the Unlocking Film Heritage project the film’s clean up and transfer to DCP was completed for its first major public screening in about 70 years.

Andrea Kalas, VP Archives, Paramount Pictures said, “Collaborations between archives are key to finding and preserving film. The Paramount Archives is thrilled to have located this film which is now formerly on the BFI’s “Most Wanted” list.”

Robin Baker, Head Curator, BFI National Archive said, “The rediscovery of a ‘lost’ British film is always cause for celebration, but goes to underline quite how fragile our film and TV heritage is. It’s great to be able to be able to present this charming wartime drama featuring the wonderful Peggy Cummins. It’s an important addition to the riches of our holdings of the cinema of WW2. Thanks to Paramount Archives and the Cinema Museum for all their help.”

For audiences eagerly awaiting the release of Dad’s Army next month, there’s a chance to discover the world of Britain’s Home Front (mostly for free) with a special collection of wartime treats, from Ministry of Information shorts on how to make your rations go further, the joys of dried eggs or rabbit pie, how to recycle scrap metal, instructional documentaries on how to save money or tips to avoid getting lice to great feature classics including Millions Like Us (1943) and many more. http://player.bfi.org.uk/collections/the-home-front/

In addition Ration Books and Rabbit Pies: Films from the Home Front, a new BFI DVD collection brings together a selection of public information films, propaganda shorts and adverts from the Second World War, drawn from the BFI National Archive - released on 18 January 2016, it contains films that give essential advice to a nation living in an age of austerity.

Under 16s £6, adults £11.75,
(Members pay £1.50 less)

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