There is a cryptic reference in a 1943 obituary of Paul to him having ‘travelled the world on his father’s ships’ during school holidays. I don’t know how reliable this claim is. Although George Paul was certainly a ship-owner by the early 1900s, he doesn’t seem to have been at this level during the 1880s, when young Robert was at school (City of London) and college (Finsbury Technical). But presumably the obituarist had something to go on, from knowing Paul personally, which underlines how little we know about his private life.
Once his filmmaking career got under way, it’s clear he believed in combining business with pleasure. The one case we know for certain is when he was Invited to Stockholm in 1897, to deliver a projector to King Oscar II, who happened to be king of Norway at this time (see earlier blog-post ‘A Summons from the King of Sweden’, June 2017). Paul filmed eleven scenes of Swedish life, and followed this with no less than 18 scenes filmed in Norway in 1903 – one of which has happily survived: a 360° pan around the remote arctic port of Hammerfest, recording its appearance before it was destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1945.
But there’s every reason to assume that Paul filmed in many more holiday locations. The first of five subjects taken on Brighton beach dates from July 1896, which he would include in the town’s first extended film show, at Victoria Hall. An 1897 series, which he may well also have filmed, covered tourist sites on the Isle of Man.
Paul undoubtedly loved messing around in boats, perhaps influenced by his father’s business. According to a family friend, the Pauls would later keep a launch on the Thames, and one of his earliest staged films, Up the River, showed a not very convincing child overboard being rescued, allegedly by Paul himself. However, in June 1898, his enthusiasm for being on the water resulted in being on hand to film and help rescue survivors from the H. M. S Albion launch tragedy (see forthcoming post). The Oxford-Cambridge boat race, Henley Regatta, racing at Cowes and even the America’s Cup all feature extensively in the early catalogues, which suggests that Paul may have put his recreational interests to good use.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an engineer, his other enthusiasms were railways and motoring (more about this to come). The catalogues contain many rail scenes and series, culminating in a multi-part London to Penzance from 1904 – which would be every train-spotter’s dream, if it ever turned up. How many of these might have been filmed by Paul himself must be pure speculation. But knowing that he remained very much a hands-on producer, it seems unlikely that he would have left all the fun to others.