It was Britain’s biggest street party: when the Nazis surrendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945, people laid out trestle tables, danced in the streets, paddled in fountains and took part in tug of war races.
Now, as the 75th anniversary approaches during lockdown Britain, Channel 4 producers have discovered rare footage of people celebrating VE Day around the world.
As well as showing scenes across Britain, the programme VE Day In Colour: Britain’s Biggest Party, screened on Sunday, has images of Parisiennes partying on the Champs-Élysées, troops parading in Moscow’s Red Square and prisoners being released from the German concentration camp Dachau.
Two soldiers and two women posing for a picture while celebrating on Trafalgar Square in London. Diana, from Croydon, told the programme about travelling to the landmark on the train as part of the D-Day celebrations
A group of young people stood on a plinth at Trafalgar Square wave Union Jack flags in the VE Day celebrations, with parties across Britain after the Nazis surrendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945
Britain’s biggest street party: Families celebrating in Tyneside, North East England. People laid out trestle tables, danced in the streets, paddled in fountains and took part in tug of war races across Britain as part of VE Day celebrations
One person plants a kiss on another’s cheek in the footage which shows celebrations across the world. Mr Coleman said: ‘When the VE Day celebrations broke out there were a glut of people with cameras and film’
Two boys in Lambeth, a district in south London, eating ice cream cones and holding a Union Jack flag. Nik Coleman, chief executive of Coleman TV, said the footage is ‘not secret’ but has been ‘ignored for a long time’
Children at a street party on a trestle table in East London on the day of the celebrations. As well as showing scenes across Britain, the programme has images of Parisiennes on the Champs-Élysées and troops parading in Moscow’s Red Square
A group of young people, including troops, climb on one of the plinths at Trafalgar Square. Diana recalled: ‘My memory mostly is about how many people there were and the pushing and shoving’. She described the celebrations as ‘spectacular’
Troops and ladies in London. Despite much of the footage showing celebrations across Britain and around the world, the majority of the 8mm film came from American archives as the American GIs had Kodachrome colour film
Nik Coleman, chief executive of Coleman TV, which made the programme, said: ‘We used a lot of content, which were offcuts and B-roll knocking around in archives. We have not digitally colourised any of them. We do not have the capability to do that.
‘We have digitally restored and very heavily colour improved a lot of content. Some of it was of quite low quality and we have spent extensive time bringing it back to broadcast standards.
‘This is not secret footage. It’s just that this has been ignored for a long time because it hasn’t been significant. It is ephemeral. Now the notion of people dancing in the streets after being released from lockdown is highly prescient for all of us.’
Children in East London play a game of tug of war as part of the celebrations. Members of the Royal Family and Boris Johnson will take part in a series of video calls with Second World War veterans for VE Day on May 8 this year
Crowds pictured near Trafalgar Square in London. Diana, who visited the area on VE Day, says on the programme there was lots of ‘pushing and shoving’ as the square was ‘packed’, adding: ‘It was a very exciting time’
Crowds captured smiling towards the camera at Trafalgar Square in London, with some making the ‘V for Victory’ sign, which was introduced in January 1941 as part of a campaign by the Allies of the Second World War
A banner reads ‘1918 Lest we Forget 1945’ in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, on VE Day. Mr Coleman, 59, who comes from Norfolk, was inspired to make the colour documentary by his 92-year-old mother Sheila
Children play a game of musical chairs during the celebrations with numerous Union Jack flags seen in the background. VE Day in Colour: Britain’s Biggest Party is screened on Channel 4 at 8pm on Sunday May 3
Four buses in London, advertising Wrigleys chewing gum, Hovis bread and Schweppes lemonade, attempt to navigate through the huge crowds as people gather to party and celebrate in the streets of the capital city
A woman with a bicycle wearing the colours of the US flag at the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France. Mr Coleman said: ‘Now the notion of people dancing in the streets after being released from lockdown is highly prescient for all of us’
Coleman, 59, who comes from Norfolk, was inspired to make the documentary by his 92-year-old mother Sheila, who was 17 when the war ended. She is interviewed in the programme.
‘She had just left school and she had gone to Martin’s Business College in Norwich to learn to type and do shorthand,’ he said.
‘She met my father Brian when they were 15 at a dance at a very famous dancehall in Norwich, The Sampson Hercules.
‘They were together until Dad’s death last year from cancer and celebrated VE Day together.
HM King George VI (second to right) and Queen Elizabeth (second from left) with Princess Elizabeth (left) and Princess Margaret (right), joined by the Prime Minister, Churchill (centre), on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London on VE Day
Former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill pictured waving from a car driving through huge crowds in London. Channel 4 producers discovered the rare footage as the 75th VE Day anniversary approaches during coronavirus lockdown
A young group of people playing in the fountain at Trafalgar Square in London. The official commemorations on May 8 will begin at 11am with a national moment of remembrance and a two minute silence to mark the historic occasion
People dancing in the street as part of VE Day. This year, the Queen will address the nation to mark the 75th anniversary on an extraordinary day of virtual commemorations during the coronavirus lockdown
‘He was a very, very enthusiastic photographer and had acquired reels of old footage. I found them in a brass log box in the hall.’
But the majority of the 8mm film came from American archives as the American GIs had Kodachrome colour film. ‘They were coming back coming back through the UK with unused Kodachrome film,’ added Coleman.
‘So when the VE Day celebrations broke out there were a glut of people with cameras and film. They were then shipped back to the USA where the majority would go into archives because they were of no operational use. They have probably not been seen for a very, very long time.’
VE Day in Colour: Britain’s Biggest Party is screened on Channel 4 at 8pm on Sunday May 3.