How to look for records of... Film, television and performing arts records held by other archives

1. Why use this guide?

This research guide provides an introduction to important historical sources on film, television and performing arts in archival collections held by various archives.

The collections of records outlined in this research guide are held in various locations; they are not held by The National Archives.

2. Searching for records

Search Discovery, our catalogue, to find records from over 2,500 archives across the UK, as well as from The National Archives itself. Your search results will include details of which archives currently hold the records.

Click on the title of a result for the contact details of the archive which holds the record – you will need to contact this archive for further information about the collection or the record itself.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the description of a record, the search results are displayed under the ‘Records’ tab.

Where the keywords you searched for appear in the name of the institution or person that originally created the record (often not the same as the institution or person that currently holds the record), the search results are displayed under the ‘Record creators’ tab. For further tips on searching, see our Discovery help pages.

3. Major collections

These repositories and institutions hold major collections relating to film, television and performing arts.

Film and television

BBC Written Archives Centre has two main collections: policy, programme and contributors’ files; and other related holdings. The former includes material on BBC Television’s programme output and correspondence regarding contracts of production staff and performers. The latter includes TV and radio news bulletin and drama scripts, programme-as-broadcast logs, and a collection of BBC publications such as Radio Times and the BBC Year Book. The Centre also holds manuscript and other material relating to individuals connected with the BBC, notably its founder Lord Reith.

Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture houses the Bill Douglas and Peter Jewell collection on the history of cinema and popular culture, and has a public museum and an academic research centre.

British Film Institute Archive holds the most important collection in the UK relating to the history of film and television. This includes the records of the British Film Institute (BFI) itself, a number of television companies, other organisations connected with the industry and the papers of many prominent individuals from film and television. The BFI Reuben Library holds important printed sources for the history of film and television. The collections are international in scope, focusing mainly on British Film and television.

The East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA) was the first regional film archive in the UK, established in 1976. The archive holds collections of film and television relating to the six counties of the East of England, including the Anglia Television collection, BBC East and the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers.

The Imperial War Museum Film and Video Archive holds material covering all aspects of 20th and 21st century conflict involving Britain, the Commonwealth and other former empire countries. The collections are available to search online.

The Independent Television Commission (ITC), formerly the Independent Broadcasting Authority, is responsible for licensing and regulating independent television. As well as its own records the ITC retains the records of its predecessor bodies and also those of the Cable Authority. There are collections of press cuttings on broadcasting and reports on audience research. The ITC can advise on locating the records of independent television companies.

The Lincolnshire Film Archive was set up in 1986 to locate and preserve motion film showing life and work in all parts of the County (including what was formerly South Humberside). A list of holdings is available online.

The Media Archive for Central England (MACE) collects, preserves and makes available the moving image heritage of the English Midlands. The collections can be searched online.

The National Media Museum collection includes more than three million items covering film, television, photography, radio and the web. These include the world’s first negative, the earliest television footage and what is regarded as the world’s first example of moving pictures – Louis Le Prince’s 1888 film of Leeds Bridge. Information on the collections and searching is available online.

The North East Film Archive (NEFA) finds, preserves and provides public access to moving image made in or about the North East region from Middlesbrough in the south to the Scottish Borders to the north.

The North West Film Archive preserves moving images made in or about Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside and Cumbria and offers a variety of access services to users in the public, academic and commercial sectors.

The Royal Television Society retains its own records dating from its foundation in 1927 and collects material relevant to the history and development of television.

The Scottish Screen Archive is a film and video collection of over 100 years of Scotland’s social, cultural and industrial history, reflecting the lives of ordinary Scots and achievements of Scottish film-makers. The collections include documentaries, newsreels, educational, television, public information, industrial, advertising and promotional film and video. A catalogue is available online.

The Screen Archive South East is the public sector moving image archive for the South East of England. The collections cover the four counties of Surrey, Kent, East Sussex and West Sussex and the unitary authorities of Brighton & Hove and Medway. Their Screen Search catalogue is available online.

The South West Film and Television Archive is the official film archive for the South West of England. It holds nearly 130,000 films and tapes, dating from the start of film making in the 1880s to the present day and covering every aspect of life in the South West of England.

The Yorkshire Film Archive (YFA) finds, preserves and provides public access to moving image made in or about the Yorkshire region.

Drama and poetry

University of Bristol Theatre Collection holds a vast collection of original documents, photographs, film footage and artefacts from theatres, actors, performers, designers and theatre historians relating to the history of theatre in Britain. Major collections include: the Mander and Mitchenson Collection; the Robinson Collection of 18th and 19th century playbills; the Southern Collection of prints, photographs and models of theatres; the papers of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree; correspondence of William Macready; and the Ernest Thesiger Collection.

British Library, Manuscript Collections include the papers of a number of prominent dramatists and actors (including Lord Olivier) and records relating to the censorship of plays by the Lord Chamberlain prior to 1968. The British Library catalogue for manuscript collections is available online.

The Garrick Club Library holds material relating to British drama and the theatre, with special emphasis on the 18th and 19th centuries. Major collections include the Garrick Collection, consisting of material relating to David Garrick himself; the Northcote Collection which includes the archives of Drury Lane Theatre; a major art collection of theatre history; playbills and theatre programmes from the 18th century onwards. The Library catalogue is available online.

Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department The University holds the Scottish Theatre Archive, which includes the records of many theatrical companies as well as individuals’ papers, programmes and scripts. Collections include: the scripts of BBC Scotland Radio; the Citizens’ Theatre Archive; the Jimmy Logan collection of theatre memorabilia; and the Scottish Ballet Archive. The catalogue is available online.

The Poetry Library is based in the Southbank Centre in the Saison Poetry Library. Major collections include the Arts Council Poetry Collection. In addition to books and periodicals, the Poetry Library holds collections of press cuttings and recordings of poets performing readings of their work.

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) retains its own archives which are an important source for the history and development of British theatre.

National Theatre Archive Established in 1993, 30 years after the first performance took place at the Old Vic, National Theatre Archive holdings include the administrative and technical records of the theatre, prompt scripts, production and press photographs and press cuttings. The catalogue is available online.

V&A Department of Theatre and Performance (formerly) the Theatre Museum Archive. The Gabrielle Enthoven Theatre Collection forms the basis of the collections, which are a major resource for the history of theatre, ballet, pantomime and circus in Britain from the early 18th century. The British Theatre Museum Association Collection has extensive coverage of London theatre dating from the 18th century. Non-manuscript material includes designs for Gilbert and Sullivan operas, circus photographs and the Arts Council Collection of modern theatre designs. The collections are catalogued at a broad level on the National Art Library Catalogue.


British Library Music Collections include extensive holdings of published sheet music and collections of papers of important composers and musicians. Catalogues are available online.

Britten-Pears Library Established in 1973, the library holds the papers of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears along with the records of the English Opera Group, manuscripts of other composers and proofs of published material. A catalogue is available online.

Birmingham: Archives and Heritage Service The library houses the British Organ Archive, which includes the records of many organ-building firms collected by the British Institute of Organ Studies. A catalogue is available online.

The Elgar Birthplace Museum has a unique and nationally important collection of manuscripts, letters, press cuttings, concert programmes, diaries, recordings, books, personal possessions and memorabilia associated with the life, work and influences of Sir Edward Elgar. It is the largest and most wide-ranging collection of material associated with the composer.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera Archive holds the records of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (founded 1934) and its touring company. It also collects material relating to the singers who have worked there and has an oral history project to record interviews with singers, conductors and members of administrative staff.

The Institute of Popular Music is based at the University of Liverpool. It holds major collections including: the Recorded Sound Collection; the Robert Shelton Archive; the Robert Pring-Mill Collection; the Mikis Theodorakis Collection; the Music Journalism Collection; and International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) archive. Information about the collections is available online.

The British Library Sound Archive (also known as the National Sound Archive or NSA) holds a vast collection of published and unpublished recordings, ranging from wildlife noises to parliamentary debates, music and recordings of poetry and drama. The archive also hold records of BBC, ITV and C4 television programmes and BBC radio broadcasts. The only public access to the BBC sound library is via the NSA. The NSA also maintains a reference library.

Plymouth Theatre History highlights the extensive archive of playbills, photographs and programmes from the 18th century to the present day held in their collections. Access to archived versions of the previous Applause South West theatre history website is also available.

Royal Opera House Collections The collections of playbills, programmes, photographs, correspondence, designs and administrative files concentrate on performances given at the House, the individuals who took part in them and performances by the company elsewhere. The majority of the collections date from 1850 onwards. A catalogue, arranged by performance is available online.

The Royal Academy of Music Library houses the records of the Academy, dating from its foundation in 1822, together with collections of early printed music, early recorded sound and manuscripts of past pupils and teachers of the Academy, including Sir Henry Wood.

The Royal Northern College of Music holds records of its predecessor bodies; the Royal Manchester College of Music and the Northern School of Music, together with collections of private papers, early printed works and historic musical instruments.

The Royal College of Music The extensive holdings of this institution include records of the college and manuscripts of those connected with it, a museum of historical instruments, the most comprehensive collection of portraits of British composers and musicians, a reference library and large collections of opera designs and concert programmes.

The Scottish Music Centre Founded as the Scottish Music Archive in 1969, the Centre is a member of the International Association of Music Information Centres. Its holdings include manuscripts and scores of many Scottish composers, together with recordings of performances of classical, jazz, folk and popular music. Resources include: a comprehensive database with information and contact details on artists, composers, promoters, venues, festivals, services, recording, agents and so on; an online events diary; historical information on Scottish music; a sound archive representing over 30 years of recordings; and a reference library with over 10,000 scores, song and tune collections. A catalogue is available online.

The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library is the library of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, holding the archives of the Society and its predecessor bodies the English Folk Dance Society and the Folk Song Society, together with field recordings and research papers of many British collectors of folk songs. There is a published catalogue of the collections. Information on access to the collections is available online. Online resources and the catalogue are also available.

The National Museum, Cardiff holds extensive collections of Welsh social and cultural history including the records of the Welsh Folk Song Society and a film and sound archive. Information on the collections is available online.


English National Ballet Archives were set up in 1975 to maintain the records of the English National Ballet. Collections include material relating to the history of ballets in the company’s repertoire and dancers who have performed with the company.

Rambert Dance Company Archives was created in 1982 to document the work of Britain’s oldest dance company. Collections include include: dance notation, designs, photographs, music, costumes and programmes; sound recordings, videos, press cuttings; administrative records and board papers. There are also files for people and productions connected with the Company and a number of small collections, including papers of Andrée Howard and Walter Gore.

Trinity Laban: Laban Library and Archive holds extensive research collections of library and archive of material relating to dance. Information on the collections is available online.

University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections Department catalogues are available online.

The National Resource Centre for Dance holds the records of many dance associations and societies, as well as collections of dance companies and individual collectors’ papers.

4. Useful websites

The Archives Hub provides descriptions of collections held at archives in UK universities and colleges. At present the descriptions are primarily of the broad themes and subject matters of the collections, although where possible they are linked to more detailed descriptions of the records that make up each collection.

Archives in London and the M25 area (AIM25) is a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over 50 higher education institutions and learned societies within the greater London area.

Association of Performing Arts Collections (APAC) provides a specialist network for those working with performing arts collections in the UK. The current members include the institutions responsible for much of the UK’s performing arts heritage.

British Library Newspaper Collections holds the most important and extensive collections of national and provincial newspapers, journals and trade papers relating to Britain and selected overseas countries. These are an invaluable source for copies of reviews, commentaries and articles on film, television, music and the performing arts.

Cecilia: mapping the UK music resource. This project, which is a joint initiative involving Ensemble, the Music Libraries Trust and the United Kingdom branch of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres (IAML(UK)) will create a web-based collection level map of music resources in UK libraries, archives and specialist music institutions.

The Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) – the project aims to revolutionise access to Scotland’s archives by providing a single electronic catalogue to the holdings of more than 50 Scottish archives.

5. Further reading

Peter Beal, Barbara Rosenbaum et al, Index of English literary manuscripts, 4 volumes (1980-1993)

Francesca Franchi, Directory of performing arts resources (1998)

Location register of 20th century English literary manuscripts and letters, 2 volumes (1988)

Location register of English literary manuscripts and letters: Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 2 volumes (1995)

Elizabeth Oliver, Researcher’s guide to British film and television collections (third edition, 1989)