Three hundred and fifty-nine degrees

More than coincidence?

William Kennedy Laurie Dickson left the employ of Thomas Edison in 1895, having established the 35mm film standards that persist to this day. He was already involved in a partnership that became the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company for which be became a travelling cameraman, in due course coming to England in May 1897. It was known that he had filmed in Worthing on the Sussex coast. So having recently published a book about film-making in the more important film centre of Brighton & Hove, I thought it might be worth checking out more about Dickson’s time in Worthing. The results were meagre. It seems he spent only a couple of days in the town, filming the swimming club, among other things.

However, the search threw up one snippet worth noting, although at the moment for nothing more than mere curiosity. In trying to find out why he was not present in the 1911 British census (conducted on 2 April), it turns out he sailed from Liverpool to New York on the White Star liner Baltic on 25 March 1911. My eye was caught by the name two lines above his in the passenger list: Mr Eugene Lauste. He had also worked for Edison, between 1886 and 1892 and with Dickson had  developed the Latham loop, about which patent battles were to be fought, used in the wide-film system  known as the Eidoloscope. Not long before that transatlantic crossing Lauste had achieved a practical sound-on-film recording, something he had been working on for several years.

Maybe their journeying together to America had no greater significance than two old colleagues travelling together. Maybe…


Booked up: Cinema-by-Sea

Blogging seems to come easily to some. Not here by the looks of it. Nearly three years since the last post. Then there’s a message to say someone is following this blog. Wow! Fame at  last.

Amazing that the publication of Cinema-by-Sea: Film and Cinema in Brighton & Hove since 1896 has gone unremarked in this space. It was published late November 2012 and has been selling steadily ever since. Actually, it’s been selling well, considering it’s currently available only in bookshops in the Brighton area and online from Amazon. You can read all about it at and even order it from that page. It aims to be the most comprehensive account of all the films made in Brighton and Hove, plus histories of all the cinemas, the stories of the invention of colour cinematography in Southwick and the sad case of the lost studios of Whitehawk, and over 200 biographies of people associated with film who were born, lived worked or died in Brighton.

Cinema-by-Sea cover small




Made in Brighton Film Festival 2

The new website is now online and the main section of the programme is uploaded. Only the short film aspects are still to be finalised, partly because more requests to include films have been arriving almost daily.

Twelve feature films covering 60 years (albeit with a 40-year gap in the middle) are at the core of the festival. These include the world premiere of Heathen, which, although it has had a DVD release, has yet to be seen on the big screen. This is one of four recent feature-length independent productions, each of a noticeably higher quality than some of the older B-feature films.

This aspect of the resurgence of British film-making is largely ignored. With so many movie channels, not to mention digital channels that also show movies, it is astonishing—nay appalling—that such films never get even a television screening. They are much more a part of our national culture than the silly American high-school movies that are regularly screened, even though their quality leaves as much to be desired as their relevance. The fee for one such airing would probably cover the budget. It must be hoped that the development of an alternative content market in cinemas with digital projection facilities will also change the way British production is encouraged and stimulated.

Made in Brighton Film Festival

The latest project is a spin-off from the nearly-finished book, nay encyclopaedia, about film and cinema in Brighton & Hove since 1896. Planning actually began last autumn but has been picking up speed over the past couple of weeks. The best way to sum it up is to post the first press release, which has still to go out to the press, so you get to read it here first.



A celebration of more than a century of local film-making

Brighton & Hove’s long association with film will be celebrated during this year’s Brighton Festival Fringe. Brighton was one of the first places in the world where films were made, starting in 1896, little more than a few weeks after the wonders of moving pictures were first witnessed by astonished audiences.

There have been numerous film festivals in the city before but none devoted to the many films made in Brighton & Hove. The Made in Brighton Film Festival, part of the Fringe at this year’s Brighton Festival will assemble around 50 films ranging from the very earliest silents (Scene on the West Pier from 1897), through archive documentaries to recent low-budget independent features and short films. The festival, to be held at the Old Courtroom in Church Street, Brighton (opposite The Dome), runs from 1-21 May.

Among the films lined up for the festival are several feature films from the 1950s and 1960s. Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951) is a comedy by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliatt about rigged beauty contests that stands comparison with the Ealing comedies of the period and includes scenes in the Regent ballroom, in Saltdean and up Albion Hill. Much British film-making was arguably not at its finest then but the selections are very much of their time. The Gelignite Gang (1954) is a crime story with scenes in Kemp Town and Hove. Interior scenes were shot at Brighton Film Studios in St Nicholas Road, as they were for The Battle of the V1 (1958), in which Shoreham beach, gasworks and airport are turned into the Nazi rocket site at Peenemunde; the resistance headquarters are in the Rothbury cinema in Portslade.

‘Part of the fun of watching these films is spotting the locations,’ says media historian David Fisher, the festival’s organiser. ‘A few of the places have disappeared but many are unchanged—some even more than a hundred years later.’ Locations from Shoreham to Rottingdean, from the West Pier to the downs will be seen on screen.

From the 1960s comes the underrated Smokescreen (1964), with a stunning opening sequence that leads into an intriguing story of insurance fraud. Be My Guest (1965) is a product of the swinging sixties, with David Hemmings and Steve Marriott (later of the Small Faces) playing the leads in a musical that features performances by the Nashville Teens, Jerry Lee Lewis and, yes, Slash Wildly and the Cutthroats. Another side of the swinging sixties is on show in the films of Brighton-born Pete Walker, such as Strip Poker (aka The Big Switch, 1969)—‘not sixties Georgy Girl,’ as he himself put it, ‘this was sixties naff.’ Nonetheless, the climax on a snowy West Pier is a classic B-feature moment.

If Brighton & Hove were used in those earlier times by visiting productions, in the new century the city has developed a thriving, if half-hidden film culture of its own. The festival will be screening four feature-length works by local film-makers, typically made for less money than the cost of the coffees on ‘major motion pictures’, although cheapness rarely shows now in the way it did 50 years ago.

Ross Shepherd’s Heathen (2009) is a stylish psychological mystery that uses local settings to great effect. In Ambleton Delight (2009) a town is divided over plans to build a motorway across the nearby downs. It won director Daniel Parkes the award for Best Feature Film at the British Independent Film Festival 2010. Mark Jay’s Dolphins (2007) is an action romance set among the boy racers and the local indie music scene. Richard III (2005) is indeed Shakespeare’s play but is excitingly transposed by director Maximilian Day from the Plantagenet court to the gang world of Brighton’s Whitehawk estate.

As well as these feature films the festival will include a wide variety of short films from the very earliest times to archive documentaries and recent independent short fiction films. The festival will also include talks and discussions about aspects of making films, featuring directors and actors, as well as experts in funding and distribution.

Watch for regular reports about the development of the festival.


Ally Pally with Freeview

This is the National Media Museum's set

A Marconiphone Model 702 from 1936. This is the National Media Museum's set

The BBC News website has a story today (21 July) about a 1936 Marconiphone television receiver being used to receive digital television channels via a Freeview box. The set apparently turned up as a result of a competition run by  Digital UK, the organisation co-ordinating the switch to digital television. The story is to support Digital UK’s contention that ‘just about any television, however old, can be used to show digital channels’ (BBC website quote).

What a great way to get that message across! No sooner do we get used to the idea that you don’t need to have an HD-ready flat-screen set with integral digital tuner (although it helps), than the news comes out that all you need is a pre-war set working on the 405-line Marconi-EMI standard and a Freeview box. Oh, and perhaps a 625-to-405-line standards converter with time-base correction and preferably a gizmo to strip out the chrominance. (Not sure where you can buy those. They don’t have them in Comet.)

Of course, there is a risk in showing an antiques-collecting electrical engineer*  watching Freeview channels on his old Marconiphone with all the sophisticated gubbins necessary to make it happen. The message that really comes across is that watching digital channels is not the simple plug-and-play operation that it is meant to be.

This could set television back 70 years! (or do I mean a television set from 70 years back?)

*aka nerd to the television viewing public still resistant to digital


On demand

Books can now be produced almost as quickly as photographs.

Books can now be produced almost as quickly as photographs.

More than 30 years ago, when watching Kind Hearts and Coronets for maybe the third of the dozen or more times I’ve seen it, I noticed in the small print of the credits that the film was based on a novel called Israel Rank by Roy Horniman. For more than 30 years I have checked periodically in second-hand bookshops and, since it became possible, online for the book. But never a hint of a copy. Even Amazon, which has a habit of listing any and every book that ever existed, didn’t seem to know of it.

Now I have a copy, courtesy of Faber Finds, the new publishing-on-demand imprint. The idea that it is possible to order a book that has yet to be printed and have it delivered three working days later is remarkable, almost as much as bringing such a long search to a successful conclusion. (The only downside is the astonishingly bad typography of the cover, especially as Faber is a publisher for whose design I have always had the highest regard.)

Of course, this acquisition has been done the easy way and an on-demand paperback is not the same as a dusty casebound original edition. On the other hand, I have spent all those years looking in secondhand bookshops and finding much else along the way. Sadly the serendipity of discovery in such circumstances has almost disappeared. In the 1970s I had a route through the centre of Brighton that took me past (actually in and out of) at least a dozen secondhand bookshops. All but two have gone, partially replaced by charity shops. Ironically, bookdealing has been in the forefront of online selling.

The news that Warner Bros is now offering the DVD equivalent—manufacturing on demand—raises expectations that have yet to be fulfilled. Not only is the website sufficiently obscure to make it difficult to find the titles on offer, when they are found they tend to be ones that are already available on DVD, often at budget prices. And pricing is an issue. Charging a premium price for a film that made its money years ago and now costs a few pennies to copy is out of tune with the times.

Maybe Warner Bros is not the best studio to launch the practice as it has been the most active in developing the video and DVD markets over the past 30 years (that same time-span again!) and has marketed its back catalogue in some depth. The idea still has some way to go.



It came as a surprise to discover an advertisement for a little known film format being shown in Brighton in 1896. Cinographoscope was the cumbersome name of a film system developed, like the Cinématographe,  by two French brothers, Alexandre and Jules Pipon, manufacturers of photographic apparatus at 15 boulevard Saint-Denis in Paris. It was patented earlier in the year (2 March 1896) and had replaced the Lumière Cinématographe at the Olympia music hall in Paris from 23 July. How it differed from the Cinématographe or any other film technology of the time is not clear. However, it came to the Imperial Hotel in Brighton in late September 1896. R W Paul’s ‘celebrated Animatographe’ was just coming to the end of a successful three-month stint at the Victoria Hall on the seafront in Brighton. The Imperial Hotel was a small establishment just down the road from the station.

Although little seems to be known about the Cinographoscope, at least it is an identifiable film system. When the first film show began in Brighton at the Pandora Gallery on 25 March 1896, it was described as ‘the Cinématograph’ (with an accent but no final e). This was soon changed, in the advert for 4 April, to ‘the Cinématographe or Vitascope’. The former suggests Lumière but the latter is a puzzle. The projector known as the Vitascope, designed by Thomas Armat and produced by Edison, was not even shown to the press in the USA until that same date. No one seems to know who ran the shows at the Pandora Gallery, which may have been created and so named especially for the event. By the time R W Paul ran his Animatographe shows there three months later it was called the Victoria Hall. How ‘Vitascope’ came to be associated with it equally remains a mystery.