Alan Whicker collection donated to the BFI National Archive

After two years of meticulous curating, the extensive archives of the pioneering investigative TV journalist Alan Whicker, have been moved to the British Film Institute’s National Archive in Berkhamsted.

The collection, donated by Whicker’s World Foundation’s founder Valerie Kleeman contains detailed records of one of the most enduring and influential careers in British television history, spanning the late 1950s into the 21st century.

The extensive and significant donation represents a unique insight into the production methods of a master documentary maker. Alan Whicker’s films are brilliantly crafted and revealing studies of people and places, spanning a variety of subjects from going behind the scenes of the Miss World competition and interviewing Papa Doc in Haiti, to exposing the lifestyles of the hippies of San Francisco, with an enquiring mind and a sceptical tone. Clad in Gucci tie and blazer, Alan Whicker found his way into the nation’s hearts as he explored landscapes and cultures that his audience could only have dreamed off.

His meticulously kept archive spans the years 1938-2014. It includes a school report from 1938, documents relating to his war career, letters, photographs, production files, audience reports, interview notes and questions (including Whicker’s hand-annotated question cards) and transcripts of every TV programme he made, along with some, as yet, unidentified films. The collection gives an insider’s view of some of the key events, social trends and personalities of the 20th century, while fully documenting the changing world of television reportage across more than five decades.

The material will be stored at the BFI National Archive’s paper store at Berkhamsted, where it will be able to be consulted by researchers and students of television history once cataloguing is fully completed.

Robin Baker, Head Curator, BFI National Archive said, “This is a major collection which gives us a unique insight into one of the great figures of 20th century television. Alan Whicker was a household name, famed for his daring and insightful investigations of people from all walks of life, from close to home and around the globe. His standards were meticulously high and his programmes set a benchmark for longform television documentary. The Alan Whicker collection is a very generous and important donation from Valerie Kleeman of the Whicker’s World Foundation, for which we are extremely grateful. We’re delighted that Whicker’s papers are now part of the national collection of film and television.”

Valerie Kleeman, Whicker’s partner in life and work for over 40 years said, “The Whicker’s World archive is now where it belongs – in the safekeeping of the BFI – where, I hope, its content will be of help and guidance to generations to come.

The 90 boxes, carefully curated by archivist Catherine Kirby, contain an intimate and personal take on the last half of the 20th century. Beginning with a letter informing him he has passed his School Certificate and continuing throughout his life in the Army Film and Photographic Unit, journalism and television, Alan Whicker observed both the light and the shadows of life.

Often he witnessed history in the making: war trials in Strasbourg, race riots in Alabama. He had access to the unaccessible: dictators, witch doctors, cults – and even the occasional royal. ‘Whicker’s World’ covered everything from bullfighting and the first gay weddings to the horrors of Papa Doc’s Haiti, always with intelligence, often with humour.

Whicker wrote and filmed what he saw, he had no preconceived ideas, no axe to grind. His motivation was to stimulate, to interest, to entertain…..and to allow viewers to come to their own conclusions.

The archive contains 60 years of carefully documented work: transcripts, notes, diaries and photographs, a lifetime of watching the world through thoughtful, quizzical eyes.”

Alan Whicker’s paper archives are accessible to the public by booking an appointment to view the BFI National Archive’s ‘Special Collections’. It is hoped that in future the Whicker collection will be freely available online as well. 

Text from BFI Press Release & Robert Pyburn