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Topical Budget (1911-1931)

'The Great British Newsreel' captured the early 20th Century on film

Main image of Topical Budget (1911-1931)

Topical Budget (1911-1931) was one of three major British newsreels of the silent era, its main rivals being Gaumont Graphic and Pathé Gazette. Produced by William Jeapes' Topical Film Company, its first issue was released in September 1911. Of several newsreels on the market in this early period, by the middle of the First World War only three survived: Topical, Pathé and Gaumont.

Despite its vitality, it's unlikely that Topical Budget, with fewer resources than its rivals, could have continued for much longer, had not the War Office been looking for a fresh outlet for its official films of the war. The War Office Cinematograph Committee (WOCC) entered into negotiations with Jeapes, and in May 1917 the War Office Official Topical Budget was launched, essentially the old newsreel with exclusive access to film shot by official cameramen on the various war fronts. The situation proved awkward, and in November 1917 the WOCC bought up the Topical Film Company, a move which preceded the newsreel's increasing success as a propaganda tool and audience attraction to the end of the war.

In 1919, Topical was purchased by newspaper proprietor Edward Hulton, owner of the Daily Sketch, Evening Standard, among other titles. Under Hulton's control, Topical underwent its period of greatest popularity and effectiveness, reaching a weekly audience of up to five million, and securing a number of important scoops: cameramen inside the Hall of Mirrors for the signing of the Versailles peace treaty and with the British Expeditionary Force in North Russia in 1919; the first film taken inside 10 Downing Street; the first film shown publicly of the excavations at Tutankhamen's tomb; and exclusive coverage of three FA Cup finals, including the first Wembley final in 1923.

After Hulton's death in 1925 Topical continued to prosper, but lost some of its distinctive character. When sound arrived Topical Budget was allowed to wind down, closing in March 1931. The company transferred its business to laboratory work at Brent Laboratories. When Brent went into liquidation in 1986, the collection passed to the National Film Archive (now the National Film and Television Archive), though much of the First World War period of the newsreel is held by the Imperial War Museum, and few Topical films now survive pre-1914. Some 7,500 films (of 10,000 originally produced) now survive, offering a marvelous portrait of the period and an illuminating guide to the early development of newsfilm.

Luke McKernan

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