Peter Jewell at the 25th anniversary event

Peter Jewell

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum celebrates quarter of a century milestone

One of the country’s largest and most respected collections of material and memorabilia relating to cinema and the moving image in Britain is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum has amassed more than 86,000 artefacts in the quarter of a century since it opened its doors to the public – from rare 18th century prints and an original 1896 Lumière Cinématographe, to a treasure trove of exhibits relating to stars such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and memorabilia from the latest blockbusters.

The museum, based on the University of Exeter campus, welcomes thousands of visitors a year and is free and open to all.

To mark the anniversary, the museum hosted selected guests for a special event, including its patron, the film-maker Carol Morley, and Peter Jewell, whose joint collection of film-related items, amassed with his friend, the renowned filmmaker Bill Douglas, helped found the museum.

“Bill Douglas always wanted the collection he and Peter put together to be something that was shared with others and that would continue to grow,” says Dr Phil Wickham, the museum’s curator. “He wanted others to experience the same wonder at moving images that he did and remembered how the magic of the cinema got him through his traumatic childhood. Now, The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is the foremost museum of moving image history in the UK. Nowhere else can compare to its breadth, depth and accessibility.”

Many of the artefacts were collected over 30 years by Douglas, now acknowledged as one of Britain’s greatest directors, and Jewell, who shared his passion for film history and culture. After Douglas’ death, Jewell donated the collection, then around 50,000 objects, to the University. The collection was catalogued and installed by experts led by Professor Richard Maltby and Dr Richard Crangle and hosted a visit prior to opening from her late Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II.

Since it opened its doors to the public in 1997, the museum’s collection has been augmented by gifts from many other donors, from famous film personalities, such as producer Don Boyd and critic Mark Kermode, to members of the public.

Today, the museum’s artefacts include:

  • 23,000 film books
  • 1,500 stereoscope cards
  • More than 1,000 items relating to Charlie Chaplin
  • 650 magic lantern slides and 23 magic lanterns
  • The leading collection in the UK on the panorama
  • Shadow puppets from around the world, including Turkey, Indonesia and China
  • An original 1896 Lumière Cinématographe, business cards and autographed letters belonging to Auguste and Louis Lumière as well as a books signed by Thomas Edison and annotated by his inventor W.K.L Dickson.

In addition to its public engagement role, the museum is an important contributor to the student experience at the University, with items from the collection used in more than 100 classes a year across a range of disciplines. It also plays a key role in supporting research in film and the visual arts at Exeter, as well as for visiting academics from other institutions and from around the world.

“The museum and its collections are a unique asset for the University and the South West,” adds Phil. “On its 25th anniversary, it’s a fitting moment to reflect upon how far it has come, but also the role it plays, and will continue to play, in celebrating film culture and advancing knowledge through teaching, research, and public engagement.”

Date: 9 November 2022

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