My recent book on Robert Paul was just one of a number of studies in recent years that have taken a fresh view of the beginnings of cinema in Britain. Indeed that was (almost) the title of the ground-breaking series of books by John Barnes that appeared between 1976 and 1997, discussing the period from 1894 to 1901 in England at a new level of detail and sophistication. Barnes’ series largely superseded the History of the British Film that Rachael Low had begun in 1948, covering 1896-1939, at least for the earliest years. But since these two monumental achievements, there have been close-up studies of the ‘Brighton pioneers’, of Cecil Hepworth and Charles Urban, and Mitchell and Kenyon, as well as major revaluations of such figures as William Friese-Greene, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Eadweard Muybridge, Birt Acres and a number of less familiar ‘workers of the eleventh hour’, in Laurent Mannoni’s evocative phrase.
Malcolm Cook and I convened an online symposium in May this year to bring together as many as possible of the scholars and researchers who have been active in this field. Happily, many responded with presentations on what they have discovered, and how they now view the figures they researched. This has now been edited in two parts, including discussion that followed some contributions – and an ‘outside broadcast’ from the Morecambe Winter Gardens, where Vanessa Toulmin was about to chair a meeting of trustees of this historic venue, now undergoing restoration. Here’s a link to Day One; and Day 2 will follow soon.