Britain on Lockdown: The online videos shaping the crisis #8

We round up the celebrity videos that have made a mark during lockdown: the ones to remember, and the one to forget.

Lisa Kerrigan

Kate Winslet on How Stopping the Spread Is in Your Hands (2020)

Kate Winslet on How Stopping the Spread Is in Your Hands (2020)

While making and posting videos online has become part of daily life in recent years, the unique situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic has made how we document our experiences more important than ever. When we reflect on this period in the future, these videos will be among the primary sources we turn to.

#BritainOnLockdown is a BFI National Archive project mapping the huge variety of online videos that represent the UK’s COVID-19 experience. With the help of the British public, we’ve gathered hundreds of suggestions, and the wide range of fascinating submissions can be sampled in our most recent blogs on video diaries and time capsules. If you would like to nominate a video you have enjoyed or been affected by, please use our online form.

The majority of videos submitted have been made by, and are about, members of the public dealing with the extraordinary situation, whether they are key workers in professional environments, families locked down at home or groups of people coming together online.

But it’s not just we members of the public who have been housebound during lockdown, so have the stars of film and television, and they have been making and sharing their own videos reflecting their experiences of the pandemic.

A week before the start of UK national lockdown, actor and director Idris Elba tweeted the news of his COVID-19 diagnosis. His video communicated some of the vital messages we have seen repeated over the last few months: the ease with which the virus spreads, the occurrence of asymptomatic transmission, and the importance of social distancing and hand washing:

In the following months Elba kept his followers updated about his health and wellbeing during quarantine. In a follow up video, he talked about receiving many messages from people who felt that the news of his diagnosis had made the dangers of the virus feel closer to home. That aura of familiarity and connection is the essence of celebrity, and during lockdown it’s been used in online videos in a number of ways.

In the US, Columbia Public Health enlisted help from some of the stars of the film Contagion (2011) to communicate public health messages. In the video below, Kate Winslet explains what she learned in preparing for her role as an epidemiologist in the film, as well as demonstrating good hand-washing technique:

During the heyday of government sponsored public information films, celebrities were regularly featured in memorable ways to get messages across to the public. In our collection of public information films on BFI Player, for example, Morecambe and Wise have advice against drink driving, while Terry-Thomas delivers instructions on how to correctly address an envelope. In the 1980s, Ernie Wise returned with Glenda Jackson to front a campaign for blood donors.

During lockdown, UK government messaging has been more simple, relying on graphics and advice from Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty. However, social media has given a huge platform for celebrities, production companies and brands to add their own public health messages. This video from the presenters of The Grand Tour exhorts their motor-loving fans to follow government advice and stay home: 

However, not all well-meaning celebrity online video efforts have been greeted with enthusiasm. In March, Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot gathered a collection of starry names to perform a version of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’, which was widely derided. When Chris O’Dowd was featured as a guest on Louis Theroux’s podcast, Theroux had to quiz him about his part in the notorious video:

Other remotely coordinated duets and choruses have been more successful. Actor and comedian Matt Lucas revived the song ‘Thank You Baked Potato’ from 90s comedy panel show Shooting Stars and released it as a single to raise money for Feed NHS, a charity providing meals for NHS workers. The song inspired a huge number of video singalongs, particularly from children. Lucas performed the song as a duet with celebrities including Brian May, Myleene Klass and Rick Astley. Perhaps the strangest rendition came from actress Pam Doove (as played by Reece Shearsmith):

Another revived song adapted for lockdown came from TV presenter Paddy McGuinness. In the wake of the Dominic Cummings lockdown scandal, he asked: ‘Is This the Way to Barnard Castle?’:

Sports commentator Andrew Cotter put his skills to good use in lockdown by explaining athletic rivalries much closer to home:

And, just as many of us kept in touch with grandparents over video calls during lockdown, Judi Dench’s grandson Sam Williams went a step further by getting his famous grandmother to do some TikTok dances.

Finally, let’s have Sophie Ellis-Bextor play us out with a lockdown kitchen disco, something which became a Friday night ritual during lockdown:

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