Thursday, 23 June 2016

Archive Visits: M&S and ITV

Last Monday, Dave and I went on an Archive Trainees Group visit to the M&S Company Archive and the ITV Archive in Leeds.

The Michael Marks Building

The afternoon started with a presentation at the M&S Company Archive. The presentation covered a brief history of M&S, which began in 1884 as a market stall in Leeds, and the type of archives held by the company. As a business archives, the collections are very different to those held by Hull University and cover everything from the usual paper documentation, through photographs and marketing material, to M&S homeware, food packaging and clothing. In fact, because the archive contains such a significant mixture of paper archives and objects, the staff have to be fluent in the different descriptive standards used by both archives (ISAD(g)) and museums (SPECTRUM). M&S are clearly proud of their archival collections and actively use the material to support the brand. Recently, the collections have been used to inspire a new clothing line by Alexa Chung and old marketing images have been reproduced on homeware items, such as tea towels, to capitalise on the growing trend for anything retro. To increase internal use of the material, the archives have also created a bespoke online catalogue to cater for non-archival users and regularly respond to requests for images and information for immediate business needs.

WW2 fashions

Although, predominantly focused on supporting M&S needs and internal users, the archives also provides access to outside researchers (by appointment only) and operates a significant outreach programme. The programme incorporates school visits and workshops, group tours and reminiscence sessions for dementia sufferers. There is also an exhibition which changes every six months, of which we were given a tour, and a small shop. The exhibition is particularly impressive and contains some lovely examples of M&S clothing through the decades, TV advertising and audio material. There are also children’s activities available and an emphasis on interactivity.

M&S were the first to transport fresh refrigerated chicken dishes

During the visit, it was clear that the archives are particularly proactive in their collecting, ensuring that it is closely aligned to key company achievements. Collecting is focussed upon innovative items (e.g. use of new technologies), bestsellers, iconic pieces and weaker areas within the collection (apparently vintage menswear is difficult to acquire!). The archive also maintains ‘Archive Ambassadors’ in departments across the company, who regularly retain material for eventual deposit. As such, it appears that the archive is viewed as a positive addition to the company, an area that can help generate greater brand awareness, and not an unnecessary use of profits. Moreover, the building itself, named after M&S founder Michael Marks, has been designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible, in line with the company’s ‘Plan A’ to reduce waste and help protect the planet.

Having said goodbye to the M&S team, we walked the 20 minutes to the ITV Archive on Kirkstall Road, also home to some of the interior sets for Emmerdale. Although another example of a business archive with similar general priorities to M&S, the set up is very different, with the archive established as part of the wider Content Management and Rights Team.

Dusty bin anyone?

The visit began with a presentation covering the various sections that come under the wider team, with a focus on content and rights issues. Owing to its nature as a television broadcaster, ITV needs to be clear on which rights it owns or has use of, and the financial implications of those rights. In all, there are 6 different teams, working on similar but distinct areas of rights management, and the intricacies and complexities involved did sound a little overwhelming at times! However, their work is supported by a well-maintained, bespoke content management system, which is available to all ITV staff and includes entries relating to archival material. Such work is vital to the running of the business and involves a lot of short turn-around times!

The presentation was followed by a tour of the archives: an impressive run of storage rooms filled to the rafters with tapes, videos and film reels. In total, the archive holds approximately 240,000+ hours of film on 1.2m assets. There is a master and safety copy of every film and a significant amount of production material including rushes. However, owing to a need to create more space, some of the rushes are currently being sorted and disposed of, with only high value production material (e.g. bloopers) retained.

Some of ITV's thousands of films

Other ongoing projects include the installation of flood defences after a recent flood (which thankfully didn’t damage any material) and the consolidation of film reels obtained from different production companies under the ITV umbrella. Dealing with issues such as technological obsolescence is also a constant demand on resources and staff time and, with many other archives at the moment, ITV are taking their first steps into digital preservation.

All-in-all, the visits proved hugely interesting and provided fascinating insights into the different demands upon and priorities of business archives compared to university archives, such as Hull. And finally, of potential local interest: ITV are the proud custodians of the Rank Film Collection, which contains the original copies of many of Rank’s best known titles including the Carry On films!

Verity Minniti

Archives Assistant

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