Long-Lost Nestlé Film Collection

One of the big on-going jobs in the archive is the curation, restoration and conservation of the Nestlé UK film archive. In other words: I found a massive stash of long-lost films in a wall cavity in 2009 and I’m still rummaging through them, working out what we’ve got, writing lists, getting them cleaned, converted into digital formats and putting them away into cold storage.

still from a long-lost Nescafé ad

Why is it taking me so long? Well, films are tricky things. Old film stock (and our film stock varies in age from 1940s – 1980s) is too delicate to be played on an ordinary projector. To even find out what’s on a reel of film you need a gadget called a Steenbeck editor (which looks a lot like a big DJ’s mixing desk).  We thread the film onto the Steenbeck, fire it up, and watch as the film flickers into life on the Steebeck’s tiny screen.  Sounds easy? Well, before we can even get to that stage there’s a lot of cleaning and repair to be done.

Packing Milkybars by hand: a still from an in-house film

But how did I come to be surrounded by this veritable treasure trove of mystery film delights? Well, re-wind to 2009 when the newly-established Nestlé UK archive was in its infancy (we re-opened the archive in Sept 2007), and I was running around gathering material from all over the company to preserve in our historical collection. The excellent chaps in our facilities department heard about what I was up to and got talking about the archive. I wish I had been there for this conversation, because apparently someone piped up “What about those films in the wall?” Of course, all his teammates did a double-take and asked “What films in the wall?!”

A few minutes later the head of facilities had been summoned and was standing in front of a wall cavity where around 300 reels of film (of varying lengths and sizes) had been stowed away for safe-keeping.

We have no way of knowing who hid our film collection there, but we do know that they must have been put away sometime around 1983, because that’s when the latest film dates from. The earliest film is a later copy of a 1920s information film, so it’s quite a varied collection.

spike milligan entertains us on a steenbeck editor

The films themselves are mostly television advertisements, from Britain, Australia, France and the USA. We have an old Nescafé commercial featuring a very young “Lou Carpenter” (of the Aussie soap Neighbours), late 1940s/early 1950s clips from the Jackie Gleeson Show, and a very funny series of ads starring Spike Milligan.

Incidentally, we don’t believe the Milligan ads were ever aired. They were clumsily held together with a kind of special effects tape that makes me suspect that they were a screen test.

Among the television ads are a wonderful hotch-potch of company information films (the usefulness of 1970s vending machines is my particular favourite), factory shots and ‘mystery’ films, like the two little tins of pre-production rushes of the Disney film The Aristocats. In our version of the film, unfinished pencil sketches move around the screen to the well-known sound-track.

pre-production rushes of Disney's Aristocats

We’re not sure why, or how all of these films found their way onto our collection (the Disney film was possibly sent to persuade Nestlé executives to make a tie-in Aristocats chocolate bar) but we’re eternally grateful to the employee that had the foresight to put them all in a safe place.

Due to copyright restrictions we haven’t tried to upload any of the films to our website, but we have shared some of the highlights with the BBC on the One Show, and we hope to be able to broadcast more in future. Keep watching the NUK archive blog for updates.