Film buffs and avid fans of the history of cinema take note. Named after filmmaker Bill Douglas, the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is both a public museum and an academic research facility. It houses one of Britain’s largest public collections of books, prints, artefacts and ephemera relating to the history and pre-history of cinema.
Located on the Streatham Campus of the University of Exeter, the museum was founded in 1994 and opened to the public in 1997, six years after the death of its namesake.
Founding the museum is the collection that Bill Douglas put together with his life-long friend Peter Jewell. Many other donors have adding added to the holdings since, expanding to expand the collection to over 80,000 artefacts from the seventeenth century to the present day: thereby creating one of the largest collections of moving image memorabilia in Europe.
The museum houses a significant collection of material on optical media prior to the invention of cinema, including holdings on magic lanterns, shadow puppets, panoramas and dioramas, optical illusions and peep shows. There are also significant holdings on cinema pioneers, early and silent cinema, film stars, such as Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, and film publicity material and merchandising up to the present day. The diversity of this collection provides an insight into the changing dynamics of the moving image and the history of our relationship with it.
A number of filmmakers’ production archives are held in the collection, providing a strong emphasis upon modern British independent filmmaking. The archives include Bill Douglas’ working papers and the archives of others. These include personal papers and items from actor, producer and director Peter Cotes; scripts and correspondences from screenwriter Anthony Attard; and business papers and production materials from producers Gavrik Losey and James Mackay
The museum has two galleries of exhibits, which are open to the public free of charge every day from 10am to 5pm, except for the time between Christmas and New Year.
The ‘Lower Gallery’ explores the development of pre-cinema visual culture up to 1910 and the ‘Upper Gallery’ celebrates cinema from 1910 to the present. All visitors are welcome to visit the galleries seven days a week (except bank holidays and between Christmas and New Year).
To locate items of interest, the centre’s online catalogue lists the items held in the museum. You can create a collection of items online that can be retrieved for consultation in the reading room when you visit. In some cases, there are images to accompany the description of the item, however, to see most items they will need to be consulted in the Reading Room.
The Reading Room is available for researchers to access and consult materials from the collection, which is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday by appointment.