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Spain in the 60s: Seen through the eyes of British audiences

British Pathé’s fascinating collection of archive newsreels illustrates how far Spain has come in the last 60 years but also exposes how British reporting on “sun-soaked España” could be comically patronising.

Spain in the 60s: Seen through the eyes of British audiences
The tone used to talk about Spain and Spaniards by English newsreaders wasn't exactly politically correct. Photo: AFP

Before news was on the ‘telly’, viewers would get their current affairs fix at the cinema.

British Pathé was a pioneer in this sense, gracing British audiences with their colourfully narrated newsreels and documentaries from as early as 1910.

Since then, the classic film company has uploaded thousands of these films onto YouTube, an amazing archive which has left viewers in awe, in part due to the videos’ breathtakingly casual sexism, racism and overall lack of political correctness. 

(Scroll down to watch archive videos)

One of the light news segments the film company developed in the 1960s was named “The Magic Carpet”, a travel programme of sorts where the presenter, on or off camera, would give viewers a very ‘British’ account of life in a far-flung land.

Inevitably, Spain was often the focus of British Pathé’s ‘exotic’ documentaries, with an ample serving of the usual Andalusia-heavy stereotypes of flamenco and bullfighting.

But that doesn’t make these archive films any less captivating. They open a door into life in a very different Spain and – despite the buoyantly condescending tone of the newsreaders – they reveal how the British public was already falling for Spanish culture and, of course, its climate.

We’ve selected five of these Spain-themed hidden gems for your enjoyment. Remember to take the narration with a pinch of salt!  

Canary Islands, 1962

British Pathé overlooks the Atlantic archipelago’s two major cities, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and focuses instead on traditions and working life in rural Canarias.

Banana plantations and fishing were central to the islands’ economy prior to the tourism boom, but by the 1960s the archipelago was undergoing fast development and had two major ports open to the world.

That makes the British newsreader’s comments, “where strange forgotten people have to grapple with the elements”, “poor by our civilized standards” and “there’s little these islanders need to learn beyond making sunshade hats and tying up tomatoes” pretentious at best. (Video starts at 0:27)

Jerez, 1964

The British film company takes a trip to the land of sherry, placing special emphasis on the influence British families and traditions have had in the otherwise dusty vineyards of Andalusia.

“You’ve more right to be here than even the Spaniards because 7 out every 10 bottles of sherry produced find their way to Britain,” the narrator claims.

 

Gibraltar, 1962

The narrator in this travel news package on Gibraltar goes on a bit of a rampage of patriotic and hyperbolic comments, starting off by calling The Rock “the most colourful corner that you can find in this wide, wide world”.

“We’ve made this fortress into a pleasure garden,” he adds proudly, as if to claim all the credit for Britain rather Gibraltar itself.

And never mind 5th Avenue, Las Ramblas or the Champs de l’Elysées, “Main Street Gibraltar is the centre of the universe.”

“Ask a policeman where you can find colourful life in the open air”. What seems to be this obsession with colour? Was England even bleaker then than it is now?

 

Barça vs Wolves, 1960

Ah yes, the Barcelona giants against the Black Country beasts. El Clásico of the sixties (maybe not).

In all honesty, British football commentators seemed as prepared then to sing the praises of Spanish teams over English ones as they do now.

“For skill and ball play it was Barcelona first, Wolves nowhere”. Brilliant.

 
 
 

Mock bullfighting in Hampstead (London), 1960

If you were wondering if British Pathé’s newsreaders were only politically incorrect towards foreigners, it may serve as some sort of feeble consolation to discover they were also outrageously sexist.

“The hard working bull is his wife,” says the narrator as he speaks of the Herrys, a London couple that have developed a passion for bullfighting.

“She no doubt feels that these perspiring exertions are preferable to slaving over a hot stove as other women do.” 

 
 

DISCOVER SPAIN

The hotel in Spain that’s so posh guests can only stay if invited

Set amid the rolling hills and lush vineyards of La Rioja, this house is so exclusive that you can’t simply book a night, you have to be sent an invitation instead.

The hotel in Spain that’s so posh guests can only stay if invited

La Casa Cosme Palacio is part of the Historic Wineries of La Rioja in the north of the country, one of the most famous wine-producing regions in Spain. 

The old winery dates back to 1894 but has been faithfully restored and transformed into ultra-luxurious accommodation complete with a 24-hour butler, costing between €5,000 and €10,000 per night, depending on the season. 

It’s in fact not really a hotel at all, but a property that can be rented out in its entirety by extended families, groups of friends or colleagues for a work event. 

The bedrooms at the Cosme Palacio in La Rioja. Source: Cosme Palacio
 
The house is located just outside the village of Laguardia, approximately a 20-minute drive northwest of the capital of the Rioja region – Logroño. An attractive medieval village of honey-coloured historic architecture, it’s looked over by impressive jagged peaks and is one of the region’s wine hubs, filled with several bodegas. 
 
 
The house can sleep 26 guests in nine rooms and four suites and covers an area of 4,000 metres squared over three floors. 
 
Those who are lucky enough to receive an invitation, not only benefit from the services of their 24-hour butler, but also gastronomic menus prepared under the supervision of the Basque Culinary Centre by renowned chef David Fernández, accompanied by wines from the house’s own cellar of course. 
 

There are plenty of cosy nooks to relax in at Cosme Palacio. Source Cosme Palacio
 
Guests of Cosme Palacio can also request a range of activities while staying at the property from wine tours and private tasting sessions to electric bike rides through the vineyards. 
 
In the cellar, you can still see the old stone galleries that were once used to store wine, as well as the old stables, which have now been converted into a small museum filled with wine-making tools and memorabilia. And it is said that there are still countless subterranean passages that run throughout the property.
 
There is also a small gym for those who want to keep fit during their stay and a room for beauty treatments such as relaxing massages. 
 

The old wine cellars inside the house. Source: Cosme Palacio
 
In 1894 the building was owned by Cosme Bermejillo who took over the management of his family winery that his father had founded in Laguardia in 1863. Shortly after he move to France to winemaking and returned with countless innovative ideas, making it one of the most advanced wineries in the area at the time. 
 
When he died, the winery stayed in his family all the way until 1986, when it was bought by a management company. In 1997, it was sold again to the Entrecanales family – Jose María Entrecanales and his wife, Blanca Domecq Zurita. 
 
The building was completely renovated in 2015 by the architect Gregorio Marañón and in 2021 was transformed into an exclusive hotel by Entrecanale’s grandson Gonzalo who owns the company Entrecanales Domecq e Hijos. 
 
Anyone wanting to enquire about staying at La Casa Cosme Palacio and hoping to secure an invitation can find out more here
 
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