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The Mediatheque at the BFI

Home > London > Cinema | Fun Things To Do
by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published February 11th 2010
London has a reputation for being an expensive city, and while there may be no such thing as a free lunch, it's really easy to see a film for free or catch up with some of the highlights of British TV – from its silent beginnings to the 'ooo matron' comedies of the 60s, and gritty 80s dramas to the most recent regeneration of Doctor Who. These cherished rainy day freebies are found at the BFI's Mediatheque.

The Mediatheque is a merging of two genius ideas. One: the creation of a playable database of the best of British TV and film from the British Film Institute's impressive archive. And Two: the construction of a haven of screen systems in sound proofed, carpet-covered comfort, in which many different people can watch many different programs all at the same time.

There are 16 'booths' (screen and bench set ups), seating between one and four, which you can
book in advance before you arrive, but always seem to be magically easy to book when you turn up on the day. The worst that can happen is that you have to pop next door to the BFI's benugo cafe for a coffee while you wait (This review may change this, but I've never had to wait more than 20 mins. for a booth to become available.).

When it's your turn the attendant will give you a set of headphones and a code with a time limit in increments of 30 mins. attached to it (I've never asked for more than an hour and a half, and I've gone back and asked for top ups, so I don't know how long you're technically allowed.). Then type the code in and there you have it: thousands and thousands of hours of free, classic audiovisual entertainment – which is being added to month by month.

Some of the collection's highlights are a rarely seen 1955 version of Orwell's '1984', the documentary '28 Up' from the year 1984, Hitchcock's '39 Steps', 'Abigail's Party' from 1977, 'Absolutely Fabulous' from 1992, footage of a fly circus from 1910, footage from the UK government's 1985 AIDS campaign, the very first film of 'Alice in Wonderland' made in 1903, episodes of British classics like 'Are you Being Served' and 'Grange Hill', and some rip roaring wartime footage and wonderful little public health warning films like 'A nasty surprise for the friends of loose Sally'. And that's just a small selection from the 'A list'.

The only problem with the Mediatheque is that they enforce a strict no food and beverage policy. But that aside there's no better way to spend a wet London afternoon than watching 'Withnail and I' on your very own flat screen TV, warmly encased in head phones that block everything else out of sight and mind. If they served drinks people would probably start moving in.
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Why? FREE FILMS - need we say more
When: Tue 13:00-20:00 Wed - Sun 11:00-20:00
Where: BFI Southbank, under Waterloo Bridge, nearest station Waterloo
Cost: Free
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