Former newsreel production company British Pathé recently uploaded its entire archive of 3,500 hours of historic footage to its YouTube channel, including a number of films from Iceland dating back to the 1930s. We went through these films and transcribed some of the funnier quotes, which are revealing of how Iceland was seen through British eyes a few decades ago.
“Nothing artificial about these banana plants. They are real ones and they are growing in Iceland without artificial heat.” (NOTE: The production of bananas never really took off. This is somewhat of a myth)
“Even the swimming pools are hot and so pleasant and popular that the Icelandic equivalent of the business lunch is the dip before breakfast. Instead of pinching a deal over the third bottle of Burgundy, you sort it out while you’re up to your waist in warm water, which is healthier, cheaper and probably more efficient though less helpful to the expense account.”
“The constant supply of hot water on the island is a washer woman’s dream come true.”
“Conveyed by pipes, the naturally heated water serves the hot houses, in which are grown a wonderful variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Crapes, grapes and tomatoes like the pictures on seed paintings and according to our cameraman these other things are bananas.”
“Where the people are as hard as nails. Iceland, land of strange contrasts.”
“For 19 days six men clung to this route. Three of them died and were bedded at sea. On a strip of wood and improvised log was kept recording the agony of six men adrift in the ocean 100 of miles from land and left to die by the Nazis. With a pocketknife a notch was carved to mark every 24 hours and underneath two of them crosses mark the death of three of the ship-wrecked men. For nearly three weeks, three men kept alive on a drum of water and a tin of biscuits. Henrik’s two remaining comrades are still in bed but these cod-hearted seaman are counting the days to be back at sea again.”
“For many years the men were forced to resort to the highly dangerous occupation of collecting and selling eggs from the nests of wild birds that gather here in the summer in their thousands. They don’t need to these days, but in a tough hardy race like the Icelanders old habits die hard.” (NOTE: Our editor’s grandfather appears in this one.)
“No more will British tanks roll across Iceland’s fields or British guns rumble over the roads, for the YANKS ARE COMING! The Icelanders will miss our boys, but Uncle Sam is relieving us from some of our responsibilities.”
“But blow me down, it’s not all candies and cookies in Iceland. When the gale comes sailing down from the Arctic even the nissen huts afford mega protection. Sweeping down at 85 miles an hour it whips the sheet-iron huts to pieces.”
PLUS: THE ICELANDIC YOUTH
“But not only is the country and its climate interesting but the people too. Children, for example, go to work during their long summer holidays AND THEY ENJOY IT. The reason is that the summer holidays last four months, so that children can spend as much time in the open air as possible during a period when there’s daylight for 24 hours a day. So that they don’t get bored and into trouble, they find work.”
Watch also: An Iceland Item (1931)
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