Special Collections

Our Special Collections include the papers of individuals and organisations, stills, posters, costume and production designs, animation cels and promotional material, and many other unpublished items including scripts, storyboards and autographed letters.

BFI Special Collections Christmas and New Year Closure

The last day Special Collections will be open for research appointments is Thursday 18 December and bookings for the New Year can be made from Tuesday 13 January.

Scripts, documents and ephemera

We have over 600 named paper archive collections relating to producers such as Michael Balcon, David Puttnam and Betty Box, directors including David Lean, Joseph Losey, Michael Powell, Carol Reed, Mike Hodges, Muriel Box and Derek Jarman, writers such as Emeric Pressburger, Janet Green and Trevor Griffiths and documentary filmmakers such as Humphrey Jennings, Derek Armstrong and Michael Orrom. We have a collection of BBFC Scenario reports spanning the 1930s and 40s as well as large archives relating to organisations such as Associated Rediffusion Television, the Film Society and Granada Cinemas. Recent acquisitions include the archives of Ken Loach, Richard Lester, Karel Reisz, Jack Clayton, Ken Annakin and Halas & Batchelor.

The collections cover all sorts of roles within the cinema and television industries. We also hold the archives of actors, cinematographers, editors, script supervisors and cinema owners as well as many others. There are over 30,000 unpublished film and television scripts in the collection as well as 30,000 press books, music cue sheets and individual items of ephemera.

Access to scripts, documents and ephemera collections

You can search the collections for scripts, documents and ephemera.

Access to the collections is by appointment at BFI Southbank. Our appointment times are Tuesday-Thursday 10.30am-1pm and 2-5.30pm. The collections are all held off site at the BFI National Archive and demand for materials is high so it’s best to give as much notice as possible, typically two-three weeks.

Please get in touch through our contact form to book an appointment, or if you wish to discuss your project with a member of the team.

Unpublished scripts

Our collection of 30,000 unpublished scripts can usually be viewed without an appointment at the BFI Reuben Library with one week’s notice. Using our contact form, up to three unpublished scripts can be requested at any one time. If required, scripts can be held on site for up to two weeks for you to consult during the BFI Reuben library opening hours. Please include the title of the film and the script reference number (for example, SCR – 0001) with your requests.

Press campaign books

The majority of our press book collection has been transferred onto microfiche and can be viewed at the BFI Reuben Library without prior notice. If you would like to check whether a particular title is available then please enquire using our contact form.

Use and handling of materials

These are unique and valuable materials. We ask that researchers observe the following rules when handling the collections:

  • Only pencils or laptops should be used when taking notes, no ink pens are permitted.
  • No food or drink is permitted while you are consulting special collection materials and bags must be left in a locker.
  • Researchers are required to have clean dry hands when handling archival materials. For some materials gloves will be provided.
  • Do not lean on or rest objects on items.
  • Do not mark, annotate or deface the materials.
  • Research access to the Special Collections is restricted to the BFI’s premises and no photocopying or photography of any material is permitted.
  • Researchers are required to acknowledge BFI Special Collections in any written work produced.

With the exception of BFI materials the BFI Special Collections does not claim legal rights for publication or other types of commercial use or reproduction of materials in its holdings. Researchers are responsible for obtaining all necessary rights, licenses, or permissions from the appropriate companies or individuals regarding any information or images obtained from the BFI Special Collections.

Stills

Our collection contains over 2 million images from more than 150,000 films and television programmes (the TV stills collection alone contains around 750,000 images). These photographs capture moments on and off the screen and feature portraits of the world’s most famous stars as well as the legends behind the camera who made them famous. The stills collection also features incredible images of studios, cinemas and special events from 1896 up to the present day. Over 80,000 images from the collection have been digitised and can be viewed via our database in the BFI Reuben Library. For commercial enquiries regarding stills please visit our stills sales and archive footage sales pages.

Posters and designs

Our collection contains around 15,000 film posters from all over the world. These span the early 1900s up to the present day, and as well as feature films the collection includes posters for newsreels, cinema events and some television programmes.

We have over 3000 original costume and production designs from renowned figures such as Julie Harris, Alfred Junge, Hein Heckroth and Paul Leni. The collection also includes storyboards, sketches and animation cels and we have significant animation collections relating to John Ryan and Halas & Batchelor.

A large part of the posters and designs collection has been digitised and can be viewed via our database in the BFI Reuben Library.

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

  • BFI Reuben Library

    BFI Reuben Library

    We provide free access to a huge collection of books, journals and documents about the world of film and television.

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