Picture Palace of Movie History – the Ronald Grant Archive

by Julian Jackson

Modern Times
Modern Times

The Ronald Grant Archive is one of the best privately-held collections of cinema images in the world today.  Founded in 1971 along with its sibling The Cinema Museum in 1984, it covers the  history of cinema.  In its temperature-controlled vaults lie over 1 million images from the beginning of the movies in the 1890s to around 2010.

Martin Humphries, the CEO and co-founder explains, “We are a specialist collection which is broad in what it covers: more than 50,000 British, US, European and World Cinema titles, and we also offer in-depth material – publicity shots, posters, on-set and behind-the-scenes content, as well as images of movie theaters themselves, the picture-palaces of yesteryear.”

They have a huge range of material. During the years I spent researching they were one of the three places I would always go for cinema images, the other two being Kobal (now licensed by The Picture Desk) and the British Film Institute.  If you are interested in classic film stars like Audrey Hepburn or Charlie Chaplin, they are here, as well as stuntmen, animations, special effects, film industry people, and goodness knows what else.  They also have an extensive collection of  UK and US TV programs, variety and musical performers, popular and classical musicians, singers and songwriters, as well as song sheets and theatre related material.

Roman Holiday
Roman Holiday

It is more effective if you are interested in a particular actor or director to search the online collection by film title, rather than the person’s name as sometimes this has not been sufficiently cross-referenced. If you have a list of films that you are interested in, this will speed up the process.  Or you could always give them a call:  the staff pride themselves on their film knowledge and expertise. I don’t often reckon many people can out-film-geek me, but in this case I bow down and murmur “Respect!” Martin Humphries says, “What we offer is a bespoke service, without the frustration of searching the internet.  In our field, we have either got it, or we can point you in the right direction if we haven’t, we don’t just say “No sorry,”  in the unlikely event we can’t satisfy your request from our vast archives. Sometimes we get asked for a particular image from a film that someone has found on the internet, and if it is a frame-grab, then unfortunately it probably isn’t good enough for quality print reproduction and there may not be a still from that particular scene.”

In searching the archives I had a jolt of memory. I recall sneaking in under-age into my local picture house to see a double bill of classic British horror The Wicker Man, followed by Don’t Look Now. I staggered out a bit shell-shocked by the power of cinema.  Over the years I have begun to doubt that I could have seen those two great films together, but the archive has a front-of-house card showing that my memory was correct.

The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man

The Ronald Grant Archive shares its building with The Cinema Museum, a lovely collection of movie-making equipment, décor and design. They are basically two arms of the same organisation. A few years ago they were threatened with eviction from their premises, which would have meant the break-up of both collections, but negotiation and a campaign to stop this by film buffs eventually made the landlord relent.  Now they hope to buy the building so they can have a secure future. Although they are located in South London, not far from the Imperial War Museum, they are easily reachable from Central London, so would be worth a visit (by appointment only) if you are in London. One of the best collections in the world for movie-related projects.

Stagecoach
Stagecoach

All images copyright of Ronald Grant Archive and may not be reproduced without permission.

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