Haunted Hoxton

The Pepper’s Ghost illusion at the Polytechnic, 1863, (the same year as the Britannia Theatre play), from Illustrated London News

Source: Edmund Yates, ‘Haunted Hoxton’, All the Year Round, 27 June 1863, vol. 9 no. 218, pp. 420-424

Text: At last my guilty wishes are fulfilled! At last I am enabled to look back into the past, and think that one great object of my life has been realised, for I have seen a GHOST! Shade of (ah! by the way, I forget the name of the shade, and I’ve left the document which could inform me in my overcoat-pocket! never mind!) sacred shade, who appeared simultaneously to me and to some hundreds of entranced people, thou hast, so far as I am concerned, set the vexed question of apparitions at rest for ever. My interest in the ghost subject has been intense. I have read every story bearing upon it, and worked myself up to a delightful pitch of agonised excitement. Alone, and in the dead of night, do I peruse the precious volumes: the mere fact of the scene being laid in “an old castle in the Black Forest,” gives me a pleasing sensation of terror; when the student seated alone in the tapestried room finds “the lights begin to burn with a blue and spectral hue,” I shake; when there “reverberates through the long passages a dismal clanking of chains,” I shiver; finally, when “the door bursts open with a tremendous crash,” and there enters “a tall figure clothed in white, with one clot of gore immediately below its heart,” I am in a state of transcendent bliss, and only long to have been in the student’s place. Some years ago I thought I had a chance of realising my hopes. I read a book called, I think, The Nightgown of Nature, the author of which announced that he—or she— was thoroughly well acquainted with several houses where spectres appeared nightly with unexampled punctuality—houses “within a convenient distance from London, and accessible by rail,” as house-agents say—and I wrote to him—or her— for the address of one of these houses, stating that I intended to pass a night there. He—or she—replied that though his—or her—statement was thoroughly correct, he—or she— must decline giving the address of any particular house, as such a course would be detrimental to the value of the property, and might render him—or her— liable to an action at law on the part of the landlord. So I was disappointed.

I heard, however, the other day, that a real ghost, real as to its unreality, its impalpability, its visionary nothingness, was to be seen in a remote and unknown region called Hoxton, I had previously heard that the same, or a similar spectre, haunted Regent-street, but I laughed at the notion. Regent-street! with the French boot-shop, and the ice-making man, and the Indian pickle depôt opposite! A ghost in juxtaposition to electrical machines, a diver who raps his helmet with halfpence, and the awful insects in the drop of water! But Hoxton—there was something ghostly in the very name, and the place itself was as unfamiliar to me as Tierra del Fuego. Nobody to whom I spoke knew anything about it; they “had heard the name;” it was “somewhere out north,” they thought. Ah! in an instant my fancy sketches the spot. A quaint old suburb, where the railway has not yet penetrated, where sleepy cows chew the cud of peace in quiet meadows, where ploughmen whistle o’er the lea (whatever that may happen to mean), where huge elms yet stand waving their giant limbs before square red brick mansions. One of these mansions for years untenanted, roofless, dismantled, a murder was committed in it years ago: an old man with silver hair, a spendthrift nephew, a box of gold, a carving knife, a well in garden where weapon is discovered years afterwards, a wailing cry at twelve P.M., a tottering figure wringing its hands—yes, that must be it, or something very like it! I determined to go to Hoxton that night.

There was no railway—so far I was right—and I went to my destination in a cab. After a little time I found we were striking out of the great thoroughfares of commerce into narrow by-lanes, where a more pastoral style of living prevailed, where fried fish of a leathery appearance lay in tangled heaps on the slabs of windowless fish- shops, where jocund butchers, seemingly on the best terms with their customers, kept up a perpetual chorus of “Buy, buy!” and slapped the meat before them with a carving knife and a gusto that together seemed to give quite an appetite to the hesitating purchaser. We passed several graveyards deep set in the midst of houses—dank, frouzy, rank, run-to-seed places, where Pelions of “Sacred to the memory” were heaped upon Ossas of “Here lieth the remains,” and out of which the lank sapless grass trembled through the railings and nodded feebly at the passers-by. Good places for ghosts these! City ghosts of misers and confidential clerks, and trustees who committed suicide just before the young gentleman whom they had had in trust came of age, and would have infallibly found out all about their iniquities. I peered out of the cab in quest of any chance apparition, but saw none, and was very much astonished when the driver, to whom I had given particular instructions, pulled up before a brilliantly lighted doorway, round which several cadgers were disporting themselves. These youths received me with great delight, and one said, “You come along with me, sir! I’ll take you to the hout and houtest old spectre in the neighbr’ood. This way, sir!” He led the way along a lighted passage, between rough brick walls, until we arrived at a barrier, where—after a muttered conversation between my guide and the janitor—a shilling was demanded of me, after paying which I was provided with a card talisman and left to find my way alone. Down a broad passage on one side of which was a recess where sandwiches lay piled like deals in a timber-yard, where oranges were rolled up in pyramidal heaps of three feet high, and where there was so much ginger-beer that its simultaneous explosion must infallibly have blown the roof off the building, down a flight of asphalted stairs, at the bottom of which a fierce man wrung my card talisman from me and turned me into a large loose box, the door of which he shut behind me. A loose box with a couple of chairs in it, a looking-glass, a flap table—a loose box open on one side, looking through which opening I see hundreds of people ranged in tiers above each other. Turning to see what they are all intent on, I see a stage—I’m tricked! I’m done! the loose box is a private box, and I’m in a theatre.

Left to myself, what could I do but look at the stage, and, doing that, how could I fail to be intensely interested? I speedily made myself acquainted with the legend being there theatrically developed, and, beyond that the colour was, perhaps, a little heightened, I did not find it more or less preposterously unlike anything that could, by any remote possibility, ever have occurred than is usual in dramatic legends. The scene of action being laid at the present time, I found the principal character represented to be a BARONET (he had a name, but he was invariably spoken of by everybody, either with yells of hatred or shoulder-shrugs of irony, as “the Baronet”), and certainly he was the most objectionable old gentleman I have ever seen. The mere fact of his walking about, in the present day, in a long claret coloured coat, a low crowned hat with a buckle in the front, and boots which, being apparently made of sticking- plaster, had tassels like bell-pulls, was in itself irritating; but his moral conduct was horrible. He seemed to have an insane desire for the possession of his neighbours’ property, not felonious in his intentions, but imbued with a buying mania, and rabidly ferocious when said neighbours refused to sell. First among his coveted possessions stood the house and garden of a clergyman’s widow (no mistake about her widowhood! the deepest black, and such a cap, all through the piece!), who obstinately refused to part with an inch of her ground. Baronet smiles blandly, and informs us that he will “have recourse to stratyjum.” Widow has two daughters, one very deep-voiced and glum, the other with her hair parted on one side (which, theatrically, always means good nature), and funny. Funny daughter is beloved by Baronet’s son—unpleasant youth in cords, top-boots, and a white hat, made up after Tom King the highwayman, vide Turpin’s Ride to York; or, The Death of Black Bess (Marks, Seven Dials), passim. Baronet proposes that son should get clergyman’s daughter to steal lease of premises, promising to set son up in life, and allow him to marry object of affections. Son agrees, works upon daughter’s vanity; daughter, who is vague in Debrett, is overcome by notion of being called the Right Honourable Mrs.——, a title which, as the wife of a baronet’s son, she is clearly entitled to—steals the lease, hands it to son, who hands it to Baronet, who, having got it, nobly repudiates not merely the whole transaction, but son into the bargain: tells him he is not son, but merely strange child left in his care, and comes down and winks at audience, who howl at him with rage.

That was the most wonderful thing throughout the evening, the contest between the audience and the Baronet. Whenever the Baronet made a successful move (and Vice had it all its own way for nearly a couple of hours), the audience howled and raved against him, called “Yah!” whistled, shrieked, and hooted, and the Baronet advanced to the footlights and grinned across them, as though he should say, “I’m still all right in spite of you!” When a villain who, for a sum of money advanced by the Baronet, had murdered an old man, and was afterwards seized with remorse, stole the lease from the Baronet’s pocket, the multitude in the theatre cheered vociferously; but the Baronet, after proving that the purloined parchment was only a copy, and not the original document, which he still retained, calmly walked down to the front of the stage, and literally winked at the people, tapping his breast, where the lease was, in derision, and goading the audience to the extremity of frenzy.

There were several pleasant episodes in which the Baronet was the mainspring: hiding fifty-pound notes in the glum sister’s bundle, accusing her of robbery, and having her locked up in his house, whence she was rescued by the murdering villain who had previously (out of remorse) set the house on fire; but at length the widow, who a minute before had been remarkably lively, and had “given it” to the Baronet with great vehemence and cap-shaking, suddenly declared her intention of dying, and though a young gentleman with a sugarloaf hat and a coat with a little cape to it, like the pictures of Robespierre, announced himself as a lawyer, who would defend her and hers against anything and everybody, she forthwith carried out her intention, sat down on a chair, and died, out of hand. There was a faint pretext of sending for the doctor, but there was an evident fear on the part of most lest that practitioner should really restore the patient, and thus burk the great effect of the piece, so the idea was overruled, and the Baronet, advancing to the footlights, rubbed his hands in derision at the audience, and the audience, cognisant of the fact that the decease of the widow was necessary to the subsequent appearance of her ghost, merely answered with a subdued “Yah!” At this point my former conductor opened the box-door and beckoned me out. “Come in front,” he said; “it’s ghost time!” The words thrilled to my very soul, I followed him in silence, and took my place in the boxes, close by a lady whose time was principally occupied in giving natural sustenance to her infant, and an older female, apparently the child’s grandmother, who was a victim to a disease which I believe is popularly known as the “rickets,” and which impelled her at three-minute intervals to shudder throughout her frame, to rock herself to and fro, to stuff the carved and hooked black bone handle of an umbrella, that looked like a tied-up lettuce, into her mouth, and to grind out from between her teeth, clenched round the umbrella-handle, “Oh, deary deary me!” On my other side were a youth and maiden, so devoted to each other that they never perceived my entrance into the box, and I had not merely to shout, but to shove, before I could effect a passage, when there was such a disentanglement of waists from arms, and interlaced hot hands, and lifting of heads from shoulders, that I felt uncomfortable and apologetic, whereas the real offenders speedily fell back into their old position, and evidently regarded me as a Byronic creature, to whom life was a blank.

The ghost did not appear at once. Though the widow had slipped into a very stiff position in her chair, and everybody around her had said either “Ha!” or “The fatal moment!” or “Alas!” or “All is over!” as their several tastes led them, it was thought necessary to make the fact of her death yet more clear, so upon the front parlour, where the sad occurrence took place, fell a vast body of clouds of the densest kind, out of which, to slow music, there came two or three ethereal persons with wings, which wagged in a suspicious manner, bearing the widow’s body “aloft,” as Mr. Dibdin has it with reference to Tom Bowling, and thereby copying in the most direct and unequivocal manner (but not more directly and unequivocally than I have seen it in theatres of grand repute, where critics babbled of the manager’s transcendent stage- direction) Herr Lessing’s picture of Leonore. To meet these, emerged, in midair from either side of the stage, other ethereal persons, also with wings, whose intended serenity of expression was greatly marred by the obstinacy of the machinery, which propelled them in severe jerks, at every one of which the set smile on their faces faded into a mingled expression of acute bodily pain and awful terror lest they should fall down: while, on a string like larks, or a rope like onions, there swayed to and fro across the proscenium, a dozen of the stoutest and most unimaginative naked Cupids that ever got loose from a valentine, or were made by a property- man.

As the act-drop fell upon this scene, which in itself represented something not to be met with in everyday life, some distrust was expressed in my neighbourhood lest there should be nothing more ghostly than we had just witnessed, but the old lady with the umbrella set us to rights by recovering suddenly from a severe attack of rickets, and exclaiming, “Them ghosts! Oh no, sir! In the next act we shall see her, and which the music will play up for us to give attention.” So accordingly, when the fiddles wailed, and the trombone and clarionet prostrated themselves figuratively in the dust, I looked with all my eyes, and saw the curtain rise upon the Baronet’s apartment, which was the most singularly constructed room I ever beheld. The portion of the floor nearest to us was perfectly flat, as is the case with most floors, but after about three feet of flatness there rose in its centre, and stretching from side to side, a long, sloping, green mound, in military language a “glacis,” up which the Baronet had to walk when he wanted to proceed towards the back of the apartment, where all the chairs, tables, and furniture generally had withdrawn themselves, and up which he himself climbed, as though M. Vauban had taken the place of Mr. Cubitt, and as though outworks and entrenchments were as common in London drawing-rooms as lounging-chairs and grand pianos.

On the top of this entrenchment stood, on either side, two thick dumpy pillars, supporting a heavy piece of masonry, which joined them together at the top, and which looked like a portion of the ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Baalbek seen through the wrong end of the opera-glass: or, to use an illustration nearer home, like the front of the catacombs of Kensal- green or Highgate cemeteries. Between these pillars was a hazy vista into which the Baronet walked, and seating himself on a stool in the corner, so as to be quite out of the way, commenced informing us (without any apparent necessity for the statement) of his disbelief in all supernatural appearances, and of his thorough contempt for Death—ha! ha! The second of the two vocal double-knocks given by him in ha! ha! had scarcely been given, when there appeared in the middle of the empty space behind the pillars a stereoscopic skeleton exactly like that which dances in the Fantoccini—so like, that one looked for the string which guides that puppet’s movements (and which, of course, in the present instance, was not to be seen), and expected him momentarily to fall to pieces and re-unite in a comic manner. At this sight the Baronet appeared a little staggered; he said, “Ha! do I then behold thee?” and retreated several paces on his heels, but recovering himself, exclaimed, “‘Tis a dream, an ill-yousion!” and advanced towards the skeleton, which disappeared, to return immediately armed with a dart, or harpoon, with which it made several well-intentioned but harmless thrusts at the Baronet, who appeared immensely flabbergasted by the harpoon, and begged piteously to be spared. Either the skeleton was moved by the appeal or he had work somewhere else, for he disappeared again, and no sooner was he gone than the Baronet so plucked up that he declared he defied Death altogether, and was beginning to be offensively joyous, when in the place where the skeleton had been, appeared the ghost of the widow in her shroud! No mistake about it now! There she was, a little foreshortened, a little out of the perpendicular, leaning forward as though accustomed to a cramped and confined space, and not daring to stand upright! For the Baronet this was, to use a vulgar metaphor, a “corker.” He rubbed his head, but there was nothing there; he tried a taunt, but the ghost answered him with deep-voiced briskness; he rushed towards her, and rushed right through her! Finally, he picked up from the table, where, as we know, they always lay in libraries, a long sword, with which he aimed a very unskilful blow at his visitant. The sword passed through the ghost, who was apparently tickled, for it exclaimed, “Ha! ha!” and disapeared, and the Baronet fell exhausted in the very spot where the ghost had been! Up went the lights, down went the curtain, and the audience gave one great gasp of relief, and pretended they hadn’t been frightened—which they had!

Unquestionably! undoubtedly! The skeleton had been a failure; ribalds in the pit had mocked at him—had given tremulous cries of feigned terror—shouted “O-oh! m—y!” and pretended to bury their heads in their jacket-collars; boys in the gallery had called upon him to dance, and had invited their friends to “look at his crinoline;” the arm of the youth in front of me tightened round the waist of the maiden with evident conveyance of the idea that that alone could them part; and the old lady with the umbrella had considered him a “mangy lot.” But the ghost was a very different matter; when it appeared, not a sound in the pit, not a whisper in the gallery; all open-mouthed, eager, tremulous excitement! The old grandmother clasped the umbrella like a divining-rod, and muttered a hoarse “Deary—dea—ry me!” the mother let the infant fall flat and flaccid on her lap, the youth’s arm unbent, and the maiden, rising stiffly three inches from her seat, said, “Go’as!” and remained rigid. Only one sound floated on the air, and that was emitted by a French gentleman, with more buttons on his waistcoat than I ever saw on a similar amount of cloth (how on earth did a foreigner penetrate to Hoxton?), who clutched his curly-brimmed hat between his fat fists and hissed out, “A—h! Superbe!” It was his testimony and it is mine!

Comments: Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894) was a British journalist and author. He was a good friend of Charles Dickens, to whose journal All the Year Round he was a regular contributor. Yates reports on a production of the play The Widow and the Orphans; or, Faith, Hope and Charity, by C.H. Hazelwood, which featured at the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, London as a means to showcase the invention of ‘The Ghost’ or ‘Pepper’s Ghost’. This was an optical illusion invented by Henry Dircks and exploited professionally by John Henry Pepper – in which, by means of projected light and a hidden inclined sheet of glass, the reflection of a ghost-like figure could be made to materialise on a stage. It first featured in a stage production of Dickens’s novella The Haunted Man at the Royal Polytechnic on 24 December 1862. In The Widow and Orphans the ghost was played by Mary Henderson.

Links: Dickens Journals Online

Nights in Town

Source: Thomas Burke, Nights in Town: a London autobiography (London: Allen & Unwin, 1915), pp. 110-112

Text: Then baby goes in care of the maid to bed, and Mother and Father and Helen, who is twelve years old, go to the pictures at the Palladium near Balham Station. There, for sixpence, they have an entertainment which is quite satisfying to their modest temperaments and one, withal, which is quite suitable to Miss Twelve Years Old; for Father and Mother are Proper People, and would not like to take their treasure to the sullying atmosphere of even a suburban music-hall.

So they spend a couple of hours with the pictures, listening to an orchestra of a piano, a violin, and a ‘cello, which plays even indifferent music really well. And they roar over the facial extravagances of Ford Sterling and his friends Fatty and Mabel; they applaud, and Miss Twelve Years Old secretly admires, the airy adventures of the debonair Max Linder – she thinks he is a dear, only she daren’t tell Mother and Father so, or they would be startled. And then there is Bunny – always there is Bunny. Personally, I loathe the cinematograph. It is, I think, the most tedious, the most banal form of entertainment that was ever flung at a foolish public. The Punch and Judy show is sweetness and light by comparison. It is the mechanical nature of the affair that so depresses me. It may be clever; I have no doubt it is. But I would rather see the worst music-hall show that was ever put up than the best picture-play that was ever filmed. The darkness, the silence, the buzz of the machine, and the insignificant processions of shadows on a sheet are about the last thing I should ever describe by the word Entertainment. I would as soon sit for two hours in a Baptist Chapel. But, fortunately, there is always Bunny; or at least Bunny’s face. Bunny’s face is … But no. There is no use in attempting to describe that face. There is only itself with which to compare it. There has never been anything like it in the theatrical world. It is colossal. The first essential for bioscope work is to possess a face. Not merely a face, but a FACE. And Bunny has a FACE of FACES. You probably know it; so I need say no more. If you don’t, then make acquaintance with it.

Comments: Thomas Burke (1886-1945) was a British writer of stories and essays about London life, whose worked was twice adapted by D.W. Griffith for the films Broken Blossoms (1919) and Dream Street (1921). Nights in London is a series of essays on the night-life in different parts of London. The section above comes from the chapter ‘A Domestic Night (Kensington and Clapham Common)’. John Bunny (1863-1915) was an American comic actor, the most popular film comedian before Charlie Chaplin. When the essay was republished in 1918, Bunny’s name was dropped and replaced by that of Chaplin’s (see earlier Picturegoing entry).

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

What's It All About?

Source: Michael Caine, What’s It All About? (London: Century, 1992), pp. 10-11

Text: When I was a teenager used to read a lot of biographies of actors to see if I had anything common with them, because by now I had dreams of becoming one as well. My avid reading as a teenager taught me that I had little in common with any actor – particularly the British stage greats. In fact they sounded as though they actually came from another plane. All their stories seemed to start from the same point: the first time that they ever saw an actor was when their nanny took them to the theatre, and as the curtain rose and the lights went up on the stage they just knew the theatre was going to be their life’s work.

In stark contrast to this, the first actor that I ever saw was the Lone Ranger and it was at a Saturday morning matinée for kids, which in my area was a cross between an SAS training camp and the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. The first obstacle in the assault course was the queue, which developed into a full-scale riot as some of the bigger kids who came late tried to push in front of others. Once inside, another riot started as everybody rushed for the front seats. And even when we were all seated comfortably and it seemed that our troubles were over missiles started hurtling around and an orange hit me on the back of the head. My friends had told me that after the lights went out and the picture started everything would be all right, but when I was plunged into darkness it turned out to be an overcoat which had been thrown down from the balcony above on top of me. It was finally dragged off me and thrown back up. accompanied by a lot of words that I did not understand but had heard before when my father stubbed his toe on the bed legs.

At last the lights went down, the film started, and on came the Lone Ranger. I sat there as entranced as those privileged actors before me with their nannies and I knew that this was what I wanted to be. A half eaten ice cream cone suddenly landed in my lap but even this could not break the spell; I just wiped it up, without taking my eyes off the screen.

After a while I got cramp, so I put my feet upon the back of he seat in from of me and stretched my legs. At this point the entire row of seats that we were sitting on tilted back on to the knees of the kids in the row behind. Yells of pain and indignation filled the air as the unfortunate patrons behind us tried to extricate themselves, but we were lying in our seats half over backwards with our feet flailing in the air. The lights went up, the picture stopped and the usherettes came rushing down to sort things out. I was pointed out as the culprit (there was no mention of the boys who had unscrewed the seats from the floor before we came in) and given a hefty whack round the ear. The lights went down, the picture started again and I sat there and watched through a veil of tears as my future profession unfolded before my eyes. I wonder what nanny would have made of that outing.

Comments: Michael Caine (b. 1933) is a British film actor, born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. This part of his memoirs concerns his childhood in London before the Second World War.

A Journey Round the Globe

The interior of Wyld’s Great Globe, Illustrated London News, 7 June 1851, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Anon., ‘A Journey Around the Globe’, Punch, or the London Charivari, vol. 21 (1851), pp. 4-5

Text: We did not even take a carpet-bag, or a tooth-brush, or a clean collar with us. All our luggage consisted of a walking-stick and a postage-stamp. The latter we parted with at the end of our journey, to acquaint our friends that we had been round the Globe in perfect safety.

We have our doubts whether ladies will approve much of this new style of travelling. It dispenses with everything in the shape of luggage.

Our only passport was a shilling. This passport is very convenient. It requires no viséing. No allusions are made in it to your eyes; no questions asked about your name, residence, or nose. You present your passport at the door; it is taken from you; and you never see it any more. We wish every passport was as easy to obtain, and as easy to get rid of.

We like traveling round the Globe. First of all, there is not a single turnpike on the road. There is no dust, nor any throwing of eggs nor flour, as on the journey from Epsom – and again, there are no beggars, as in Ireland, — no revolutions, as in France – no monks or mosquitos, as in Italy, – and no insults, as in America. It is as easy as going up stairs to dress, and coming down in to dinner.

The journey is made on foot. Young ladies who cannot travel anywhere but in their own carriage, must abandon all thoughts of travelling round the Globe. It is true, the journey might be made on horseback, but then the horse must be one of those “trained steeds” from ASTLEY’s, which are taught to run up ladders without missing a single step. The travelling, it must be confessed, is rather steep and resembles very much a journey up the Monument. This resemblance, however, arises entirely from the peculiar formation of the interior.

In this respect MR. WYLD has made a grand discovery. He satisfactorily proved that the interior of the Globe is not filled with gases, according to AGASSIZ; or with fire, according to BURNET; neither has he filled it, like FOURIER, with water, as if the Globe were nothing better than a globe of gold fish. No; MR. WYLD has lately shown us that the interior of the Globe is occupied by immense strata of staircases!

These staircases rise above one another, like the steps in the Duke of York’s Column. This new theory must make traveling remarkably easy for persons who are occupied all day long in running up and down stairs, and seems as if it had been purposely laid down for maids-of-all-work, or poor relations on a visit.

Our first flight through the Globe – that is to say, when we came to the first landing place – convinced us that the crust of the Earth very much resemble the crust of a beefsteak pie that had been considerably overbaked. The inequalities on the surface, where the mountains are supposed to rise, represented to our ingenious fancy the bumps caused by the potatoes slumbering below, whilst the cracks through which the rivers are imagined to roll, disclosed to our mind’s eye the crevices in the crust that sometimes display such tempting glimpses of the rich gravy that is flowing underneath.

This notion of the pie is not in the least overdone; for really the heat of the Globe is equal to that of any baker’s oven. We don’t wonder at this, when we observed at every turn that there were small jets of gas bursting out of the Earth, in a number almost sufficient to roast a prize ox at any of the ensuing elections. The combustion of these several gases raises the atmpsphere of the almost to boiling point; and we are confident that if any one, anticipating a long journey round the Earth, took his dinner with him, he could cook it on the spot, free of expense.

The most curious thing is, that the higher a person ascends in the World, the hotter it becomes for him; so that when he has reached the greatest elevation man can attain, he suddenly finds the World too hot to hold him, and is obliged to come down again with a run. This is a fine lesson of world ambition, which we experienced, for once, ourselves. We felt the heat so excessive, and, fancying the Arctic Regions must be of all regions the coldest in the World, we steamed our panting way up there; but, will it be believed? – accustomed as we are always to be at the top of the Pole – we could not stand the climate of early peas and pine-apples, that is almost at forcing-height in those icy districts; and we were compelled to run down stairs to the Tropics as fast as we could, in order to get cool again. It is lucky that there are parts of the Globe where a person can breathe with comfort, or else MR. WYLD would have made us regret that we had ever come into the World at all!

Exterior of the Great Globe, Illustrated London News 7 June 1851, via Wikimedia Commons

And of this we should have been profoundly sorry; for, to speak the truth, this World is a most beautiful one. It is most agreeable to stand in the centre of the Earth, and to see yourself surrounded by oceans and continents, – first, to, feast of a bit of land, and then to drink in with your eyes a whole Atlantic-full of water. Drink as much as you will, you cannot take all the water in. You dread lest the waters should close in around you, and swallow you up like a cork in the middle of a water-butt. You cling to the railings for support; but the sight of land cheers you the next moment. All the World is before you; you have only to choose where to go to. With a patriotic rush your eyes run to England, and you are wonder-struck at a country which occupies so large a space in the thoughts of the world, should take up so little room on the surface of it. England, that has filled so many leaves in the world’s history, is scarcely the size of a cabbage leaf; and London, which prides itself upon being the centre of civilisation, is not half so big as TOM THUMB’s nose.

The World, as has often been remarked by moralists before, is exceedingly hollow; but then, if it were not, we could never have seen it for one shilling. This is very lucky; for it has enabled MR. WYLD to present to us the Globe in the shape of a geographical globule, which the mind can, take in at one swallow. You see the comparative heights of all the mountains, and the comparative sizes of the different continents. Everything is measured to the nicety of a fashionable tailor; and we must say, that in no worldly quality do we admire MR. WYLD so much as in the moderation of his measurement. Most men when they are given an inch take an ell; but MR. WYLD, with a modesty that is beyond all measure, was given ten miles, and he has only taken an inch! – for that is the magic scale with which he has compressed volcanoes into a thimble, and condensed lakes into the size of a tea-cup!

Not only are the features of the different continents carefully portrayed but an attempt has also been made to give the face of each an individual complexion. For this purpose MR. WYLD has called in the assistance of MR. BEVERLEY, whose brush must now enjoy, if it did not before, a world-wide renown. Warm colours are given to warm climates – dead colours to barren districts — neutral colours to countries of which little is known; whilst a generous couleur de rose is thrown over those parts where the Sun of civilisation is supposed to shine the strongest. Here and there, you see glittering red points burning away like the tops of the lighted cigars that are made in chocolate. These are volcanic mountains, and the authority for painting them that colour, has been taken from the celebrated Mountain in the French Chambers, which we all know is excessively volcanic, and particularly Red.

The general effect is very curious. Here a country looks like an immense cabbage-leaf, flattened out, half green and half decayed, with an immense caterpillar crawling right over it, in the shape of a chain of mountains. There a country resembles an old piece of jagged leather hung up against the wall to dry, with large holes that have been moth-eaten out of it. On one side you will see a cluster of islands, like dead leaves on the water, whilst, opposite to it will be some large tract of land looking vesicated, with the rivers running close to one another, like the veins in an anatomical engraving. Above your head will be hanging an old rug, like Russia, looking half-burnt and half-blistered by live coals that had fallen upon it, whilst underneath your feet may be spread Africa, like an immense skin – in some parts red and tawny, like a lion’s — and in others a rich yellow, with beautiful black marks, like the stripes on a leopard’s back. Fancy these, and many hundred others, hung up, in monster frames with endless margins of blue-water, and you will have a vivid conception, though perhaps not a very picturesque one, of the Globe which WYLD has suspended, like a fine, suggestive, picture, on the wall, for us to look at. The great pity is, you cannot see the picture all at once. It is cut in two by the hideous stair case. But this may have been run up purposely to show us that “one half the Globe doesn’t know what the other half is doing.”

Comments: Wyld’s Great Globe was a panoramic entertainment built in the shape of a globe, which was exhibited in London’s Leicester Square 1851-1862. It was created by the British mapmaker and MP James Wyld (1812–1887). The Great Globe was hollow, with iron staircases and platforms enabling visitors to see the world’s surface displayed on the inside to a scale of 10 miles to the inch, in plaster of Paris. It was 60 ft 4 ins in diameter, and was contained within a building around 180 ft square with 20 ft walls and a domed roof. As Punch notes, the gas lighting, combined with the crowds, made the interior uncomfortably hot. The entrance price was a shilling, two shillings and sixpence on Thursdays and Saturdays. The exhibition was accompanied by hourly lectures, moving panoramas, and displays of cartographic equipment in adjoining galleries. The Great Globe, which opened on 2 June 1851, was a huge success in its first year of operation, boosted by crowds that came to London for the Great Exhibition. It remained in Leicester Square for another ten years, after which it was torn down. Mr. Beverley was William Roxby Beverley, a theatrical scene painter.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Silent Magic

Source: Ivan Butler, Silent Magic: Rediscovering the Silent Film Era (London: Columbus Books, 1987), pp. 27-31

Text: During the early part of the 1920s my own cinema-going was restricted by the confinements of boarding-school during term time, and in the holidays (to a lesser extent) by the fact that at least in our neighbourhood ‘the pictures’, though tolerated and even enjoyed, were still regarded as a poor and slightly dubious relative of the live theatre, the picture gallery and the concert hall. Their passage towards respectability was not helped by scandals in Hollywood such as the ‘Fatty Arbuckle Affair’. I can still recollect the atmosphere of something sinister and shuddersome that surrounded the very word ‘Arbuckle’ long after the trials (and complete acquittal) of the unfortunate comedian, even though my innocent ideas of what actually took place in that San Francisco apartment during the lively party on 5 September 1921 were wholly vague and inaccurate – if tantalizing. In his massive history of American cinema, The Movies, Richard Griffith writes, “During the course of the First World War the middle class, by imperceptible degrees, became a part of the movie audience.’ ‘lmperceptible’ might be regarded as the operative word. However, when it comes to paying surreptitious visits a great many obstacles can be overcome by a little guile and ingenuity, and I don’t remember feeling particularly deprived in that respect. I managed to see most of what I wanted to see.

Our ‘local’ was the cosy little Royal in Kensington High Street, London – a bus journey away. The Royal has been gone for half a century, its demise hastened by the erection of a super-cinema at the corner of Earl’s Court Road. To the faithful it was known not as the Royal but as the Little Cinema Under the Big Clock in the High Street. The clock itself is gone now, but on a recent visit I though I could spot its former position by brackets that remain fixed high in the brick wall. The entrance to the cinema was through a passageway between two small shops, discreetly hidden except for two frames of stills and a small poster. A pause at the tiny box-office, a turn to the left, a step through a swing door and a red baize curtain, and one was in the enchanted land – not, however, in sight of the screen, because that was flush with the entrance, so you saw a grossly twisted pulsating picture which gradually formed itself into shape as, glancing backwards so as not to miss anything, you groped your way up to your seat. To the right of the screen was the clock in a dim red glow, an indispensable and friendly feature of nearly all cinemas in those days, and a warning – as one was perhaps watching the continuous programme through for the second run, that time was getting on. Prices were modest: from 8d (3p), to 3s (15p). This was fairly general in the smaller halls; cheaper seats were available in some, particularly in the provinces, others – slightly more imposing demanded slightly more for the back rows, possibly with roomier seats and softer upholstery, but such elitism was not, to my memory, practised at the Royal.

Projection was to our unsophisticated eyes generally good, preserving the often marvellously crisp and well graded black-and-white photography. Programmes were changed twice weekly (but the cinemas were closed on Sundays, at any rate during the early years) and continuous from about 2 o’clock. They consisted as a rule of a newsreel such as the Pathé Gazette with its proudly crowing cockerel (silent, of course), a two-reel comedy (sometimes the best part of the entertainment), Eve’s Film Review, a feminine-angled magazine the high spot of which was the appearance of Felix the Cat walking, and, finally, the feature film. This was before the days when the double-feature programme became general. Somewhere between the items there would be a series of slide advertisements – forerunner of Messrs Pearl and Dean – which always seemed to include a glowing picture of Wincarnis among its local and ‘forthcoming’ attractions. The average moviegoer of those days (much as today, though perhaps to a greater extent) went to see the star of a film rather than the work of its director; Gish rather than Griffith, Bronson more than Brenon, Bow more than Badger, Swanson more than DeMille though as the years went by the names of the directors became more familiar and their importance more fully recognized. Criticism was often surprisingly informed and uncompromising.

Musical accompaniment at the Royal was provided by a piano during the less frequented hours, supplanted by a trio who arrived at a fixed time regardless of what was happening on the screen. I remember well the curious uplift we felt as the three musicians arrived, switched on their desk lights, tuned up and burst into sound, perhaps at a suitable moment in the story, perhaps not. Meanwhile the pianist (always, I recollect, a lady) packed up and left for a well deserved rest and cup of tea. The skill of many of these small cinema groups, even in the most modest conditions, was remarkable; their ability to adapt, week after week, often with two programmes a week and with little or no rehearsal, to events distortedly depicted a few feet before them, was beyond praise. The old joke about William Tell for action, ‘Hearts and Flowers’ for sentiment, the Coriolan overture for suspense and that’s the lot, was an unfair and unfunny gibe.

I have described the old Kensington Royal in some detail as it was fairly typical of modest cinemas everywhere in Britain at that time. Most were at least reasonably comfortable and gave good value for little money, maintaining decent standards of presentation. Very few deserved the derogatory term ‘flea-pit’, though ‘mouse parlour’ might sometimes have been an accurate description. On one occasion the scuttering of mice across the bare boards between the rows of seats rather disturbed my viewing of a W.C. Fields film (Running Wild, I think it was), though the print was so villainously cut and chopped about that the story was difficult to follow in any case. But such cases were infrequent. I have forgotten the name of the cinema, and the town shall remain anonymous.

Sometimes, in early days, films would be shown in old disused churches, and it is supposedly through this that the employment of an organ for accompaniment in larger cinemas became general. The first exponent was probably Thomas L. Talley, who in 1905 built a theatre with organ specifically for the screening of movies in Los Angeles. It was soon discovered that such an organ could be made to do many things an orchestra could not: it could fit music instantaneously to changes of action, and simulate doorbells, whistles, sirens and bird-song, as well as many percussive instruments. On one later make of organ an ingenious device of pre-set keys made available no fewer than thirty-nine effects and even emotions, including Love (three different kinds), Anger, Excitement, Storm, Funeral, Gruesome, ‘Neutral’ (three kinds), and FULL ORGAN. This last effect, with presumably all the above, plus Quietude, Chase, China, Oriental, Children, Happiness, March, Fire, etc. all sounding together, must have been awesome indeed. […] Before long the organ interlude became an important part of any programme, as the grandly ornate and gleaming marvel rose majestically from the depths of the pit in a glowing flood of coloured light.

Nothing, however, could equal the effect of a large orchestra in a major cinema, which could be overwhelming. The accompaniment (of Carl Davis conducting the Thames Silents Orchestra) to the 1983 screening of The Wind, for instance, was a revelation that will never be forgotten by those who had never before ‘heard’ a silent film in all its glory, particularly at the climax of the storm.

Admittedly, at times, particularly from the front seats, the presence of a busy group of players could be distracting; their lights would impinge on the screen, their busy fiddle bows and occasionally bobbing heads would make concentration on what the shadows behind them were up to a little difficult. In general, however, their mere presence, apart from the music, added immeasurably to the sense of occasion and until one got used to it the cold vacancy below the screen in the early days of sound had a chilling effect. Those cinema musicians are surely remembered with warm affection and regard by all of us who were fortunate enough to have heard them.

[…]

In these days of multi-screen conglomerates it is difficult to imagine the awe and excitement that could be aroused by the greatest of the old-style movie palaces; the thick-piled carpets into which our feet sank, the powdered flunkies and scented sirens who took our tickets with a unique mixture of welcoming smile, condescending grace and unwavering dignity, the enormous chandelier-lit entrance halls, the statues, the coloured star portraits, the playing fountains, the rococo kiosks – all leading through cathedral-dim corridors to the dark, perfumed auditorium itself, the holy of holies where we would catch our first glimpse of Larry Semon plastering Fatty Arbuckle with bags of flour.

Prices, of course, were rather grander than in the smaller, humbler houses, roughly (for variations were wide) from about 1s 3d (6p) or 2s 4d (12p) to 8s 6d (43p) or even 11s 6d (57p); but once you had paid your tribute to the box-office every effort was made to see that you felt you were welcome, were getting your money’s worth and were someone of importance – that this whole occasion was especially for you.

Comments: Ivan Butler (1909-1998), after a career as an actor, went on to become a notable writer on the art and history of cinema. His Silent Magic is a particularly evocative memoir of the silent films he could remember when in his eighties. The American comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was accused of the rape and manslaughter minor actress and model Virginia Rappe. Though acquitted, thanks to lurid reporting his career was ruined. The scandal helped lead to the formation of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America to self-govern the American motion picture industry. The Eve’s Film Review cinemagazine was produced by Pathé, who also made Pathé Gazette. Thames Silents was the name given to a series of theatrical screenings and broadcasts of restored silent films with orchestral scores by Carl Davis, produced by Photoplay Productions and Thames Television over 1980-1990.

The Private Diaries of Sir Henry Rider Haggard

Source: D.S. Higgins (ed.), The Private Diaries of Sir Henry Rider Haggard 1914-1925 (London: Cassell, 1980), p. 261

Text: 27th July, 1923
This morning I went to Pathé’s to see the cinematograph film which their representative made of me here a week or two ago. It was very good, especially of my poor old spaniel, Jeekie, but as the bright sunlight seemed to turn my hair snow-white, it made me look even older than I am. These cinemas, however, go so fast that it is difficult to take in details. In future generations they will form interesting records of persons of our age, that is if they are kept as Pathé people told me they were. It seems that these photographic interviews go all over the world and are very popular with the masses.

Comments: Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was a British novelist, who had a strong interest in cinema following the film adaptations of his popular novels such as She and The Lost World. Pathé was as good as its word – the film ‘interview’ with Haggard at his Ditchingham home survives and can be found on its website.

Links: ‘Camera Interview’ with Henry Rider Haggard on British Pathe site

Passages from the Life of a Philosopher

Source: Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1864), pp. 180-181

Text: One day Herschel, sitting with me after dinner, amusing himself by spinning a pear upon the table, suddenly asked whether I could show him the two sides of a shilling at the same moment.

I took out of my pocket a shilling, and holding it up before the looking-glass, pointed out my method. “No,” said my friend, “that won’t do;” then spinning my shilling upon the table, he pointed out his method of seeing both sides at once. The next day I mentioned the anecdote to the late Dr. Fitton, who a few days after brought me a beautiful illustration of the principle. It consisted of a round disc of card suspended between the two pieces of sewing-silk. These threads being held between the finger and thumb of each hand, were then made to turn quickly, when the disc of card, of course, revolved also.

Upon one side of this disc of card was painted a bird; upon the other side, an empty bird-cage. On turning the thread rapidly, the bird appeared to have got inside the cage. We soon made numerous applications, as a rat on one side and a trap upon the other, &c. It was shown to Captain Kater, Dr. Wollaston, and many of our friends, and was, after the lapse of a short time, forgotten.

Some months after, during dinner at the Royal Society Club, Sir Joseph Banks being in the chair, I heard Mr. Barrow, then Secretary to the Admiralty, talking very loudly about a wonderful invention of Dr. Paris, the object of which I could not quite understand. It was called the thaumatrope, and was said to be sold at the Royal Institution, in Albermarle-street. Suspecting that it had some connection with our unnamed toy, I went the next morning and purchased, for seven shillings and sixpence, a thaumatrope, which I afterwards sent down to Slough to the late Lady Herschel. It was precisely the thing which her son and Dr. Fitton had contributed to invent, which amused all their friends for a time and had then been forgotten.

Comments: Charles Babbage (1791-1871) was a British mathematician, philosopher and inventor. He is considered to be the father of computing for his work on his difference engines. The Thaumatrope was an optical toy popular throughout the nineteenth century. Two related images on either side of a card, when spun via a connecting thread, would appear to form a single a picture (such a bird and a cage coalescing to form a bird in a cage). The Thaumatrope appeared in 1825, supposedly the invention of British doctor John Ayrton Paris. Babbage’s anecdote suggests that William Henry Fitton (a geologist) was the inventor, inspired by the principle set out by the astrnomer John Herschel. Joseph Banks died in 1820, which ought to put this story in the 1810s, but it is assumed that Babbage’s memory was slightly at fault, with the mid-1820s being far more likely.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Television Starts – Where Will It End?

Source: Anon., ‘Television Starts – Where Will It End? “Era” Special’, The Era, 4 November 1936, p. 1

Text: Television for domestic purposes is like a home movie with sound. In a typical Baird receiver the images are thrown on to a mirror about the size of a woman‘s handkerchief.

They are brilliant miniatures, especially when a film is being used, and there is a slight suggestion of eye-strain at this stage. The images behave unexpectedly, as did the early films, but are surprisingly free from atmospheric interference, though the coil ignition systems of passing cars are liable to throw a few flashes on the mirror.

Lord Selsdon, who, in presence and manner, to say nothing of experience, seems cut out to be a Television star, made the important announcement at the opening ceremony last Monday, that people who bought receiving sets now could be assured that there would be no radical change in receiving sets for at least two years, and that the effective range of the Alexandra Palace station was twenty miles, with local variations that might reach much further.

The price of the Baird Television set, manufactured by Bush Radio, on which we saw the demonstration, is 85 guineas.

There is a population of 10,000,000 within the area covered by the Alexandra Palace station, equal to, say, 2,500,000 families. If only one family in a hundred purchases a set of some kind, there is obviously a considerable immediate market for the new attraction.

It will be a tremendous boon to such aspects of broadcast entertainment as “Music Hall,” travel interludes, the news bulletins, and “In Town To-night” – simple, direct things – but it is unlikely, at first to affect the course of radio drama.

Its power, as a rival attraction to other entertainments, depends largely on the amount of money spent on it, and it would appear that the B.B.C. has already pawned its shirt to provide the not very elaborate entertainment now being broadcast from the Alexandra Palace.

We are unable to see that Television increases the menace of radio as a rival to existing forms of entertainment, though it may do something to arrest the decline in the entertainment appeal of radio.

Television calls for so much fixation of attention that an hour at a time is likely to be the limit of the average man’s endurance.

On the whole, it seems to us that the entertainment professions should congratulate themselves on the birth of an entertainment from which they will be able to extract substantial fees, leaving Posterity to decide whether Television is to be a comprehensive umbrella for all forms of entertainment.

Comments: The first regular BBC television series began on 2 November 1936, broadcast from Alexandra Palace in London. Irregular experimental transmissions had taken place since 1929. The regular service alternated for its first six months between the Baird mechanical 240-line system and the EMI-Marconi electronic 450-line system, before the BBC elected to continue with the latter. The first programmes were Opening of the BBC Television Service, a British Movietone News newsreel, a variety programme headed by Adele Dixon, shown 15:00-16:00, followed by Television Comes to London, Picture Page and another Movietone newsreel, shown 21:00-22:00. The Era was a journal for the theatrical business, hence its particular take on television and radio.

Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys

Source: Journal des voyages de Monsieur de Monconys, Conseiller du Roy en ses Conseils d’Estat & Privé, & Lieutenant Criminel au Siège Presidial de Lyon (Lyon, Horace Boissat & George Remeus, 1665-66), vol. 2, pp. 17-18, diary entry for 17 May 1663. Translation in Herman Hecht (ed. Ann Hecht), Pre-Cinema History: An Encyclopaedia and Annotated Bibliography of the Moving Image Before 1896 (London: Bowker Saur, 1993), p. 19

Text: 17 May 1663. After we had eaten we went to Longuecker [Longacre] on the way back to see Mr Rives [Reeves] who makes telescopes which he sells at six Pounds Sterling each. But he had none ready and deferred us to another time as regards this matter and also to show us how a bulls-eye lantern works which has a crystal half-sphere of about three inches in diameter and which represents the objects well. The latter he puts between the light source and the crystal, using a glass-plate on which objects are painted. This plate, which is like a frame, he slides into a square box which obtrudes from the lantern and which contains the half-sphere crystal.

Toutes les allées font bordées ou de jonquilles ou de geroflées ou de lis. Aur etour apres auoir fait collation nous fufmes encore à Longuexer, chéz M Riues qui fait les Telefcopes, qu’il vend fix liures fterlin piece. Mais il n’en auoit point de prets, & il nous remit à vne autre fois tant pour cela que pour voir l’effet d’vne lanterne fourde qui a vn demi-globe tout entier de criftal , d’enuiron poulces de diametre, & qui porte bien loin la reprefentation des obiets qu’il met entre la lumiere, & ce criftal, par le moyé d’vne feüille de verre fur laquelle ces obiects font peints, laquelle lame ou feüille il fait couler comme vn chaffis dans l’eftuy quarré qui auance au dehors de la lanterne, & qui enferme le demi-globe de criftal.

Comments: Balthasar de Monconys (1611–1665) was a French traveller, diplomat and diarist. He travelled to Portugal, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands (where he met Vermeer), the Near East and England. On a visit to London he saw a magic lantern demonstrated at the shop of the optician Richard Reeves (also referred to in Samuel Pepys’ 19 August 1666 diary entry about seeing a magic lantern demonstrated). This is the first known reference to the magic lantern in Britain.

Links: Copy in French at Hathi Trust

Kinoplastikon

Filming Kinoplastikon, from Scientific American, 18 April 1914

Source: Anon., ‘Kinoplastikon: As Seen From the Stalls’, The Bioscope, 8 May 1913, p. 391

Text: The cinematograph industry, from its very inception, has been so prolific of novelties and sensations, that we have now grown almost accustomed to living in a condition of perpetual astonishment. The biggest surprise of all, of course, was the cinematograph itself, but since then we have had colour films. speaking films, singing films – in fact, films of almost every character it is possible to imagine or desire. Celluloid has become the embryo of a new universe, which seems to contain everything that was in the old world, and a great deal besides that the old world never dreamed of.

One of the latest wonders to come forth from the inexhaustible womb of the moving picture camera is kinoplastikon, the remarkable “living, singing, talking camera pictures,” of which, as our readers will remember, an enthusiastic description was given in our issue of March 20th. by our special correspondent, Mr. John Cher, who saw them in Vienna, before they had been brought to this country. As most people know, they have now come to England, and are to be seen each night in the west-end of London, at the beautiful Scala Theatre, where we had the pleasure of making their acquaintance the other evening.

Kinoplastikon pictures are certainly very surprising when you first set eyes on them, especially when they come, as they do at the Scala, in the middle of a programme of ordinary cinematograph films. The curtain goes up, and the stage is revealed, bare, to all appearance, of everything but a conventional set. Then, suddenly, you hear the grating of a gramophone beginning to work. The orchestra strikes up in accompaniment. And, without warning, two white pierrots dance on from the wings – as naturally and as easily as though they were beings of real flesh and blood. They give a xylophone duet – their instrument apparently resting on a table which has been placed there beforehand, in full view of the audience, by a solid human attendant – and then, their performance finished, they skip off the stage to make their bows in answer to the riotous storm of applause which marks the conclusion of their “turn.” Five other pictures follow, one of them a flute solo and the other vocal performances.

The appearance of these amazing spirit creatures is curious. They resemble the figures of an ordinary cinematograph film, cut away from their original background with a pair of scissors, and set to caper and gesticulate, their vitality unimpaired, upon a wooden stage. Some of them are in black and white only; others are coloured artificially.

To offer any explanation of how Kinoplastikonis “worked” would be imprudent without investigating it more closely – and we have not yet had an opportunity of examining these “picture people,” except at a respectful distance from the auditorium. Speaking without prejudice, one would imagine that they are related, more or less nearly, to the famous ghosts of the late lamented Professor Pepper, the maker of mirror miracles. They are advertised as being presented “without a screen”; one rather fancies, however, that the screen is invisible, as, on the left-hand side of the stage, the creatures disappeared a trifle before they reached the wings. In, mid-air, also, are occasionally noticed white spots, which seemed to suggest scratches upon a black film.

Kinoplastikon produces a stereoscopic effect, because the figures in its films stand in the middle of an ordinary stage, and thus really have space before and behind them, In themselves, however, they are not stereoscopic, a fact which was observable in the last film shown, where a woman stood in front of several other people, the latter appearing unnaturally small and out of perspective, as is the case in an ordinary photograph.

It is difficult to make speculations about the future of Kinoplastikon without knowing more of its modus operandi. Even if it accomplishes nothing more than the sort of thing which may be seen at the Scala, however, it may always be safely relied upon to make a novel and effective item in a variety programme. And it certainly constitutes a remarkably fine example of the “talking picture.”

Comments: Kinoplastikon was a means of showing coloured motion pictures, with sound, in stereoscopic relief. The original system was the invention of the German film pioneer Oskar Messter, who named it ‘Alabastra’. Based on the ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ stage illusion, whereby seemingly life-like images could appear on stage via reflected projection from a mirror, Messter extended the idea to employ motion picture film, hand tinted and with musical accompaniment. An adaptation of Alabastra was exhibited in Vienna under the name Kinoplastikon, subsequently appearing in Britain in 1913 at the Scala Theatre, London. The films were produced in a studio lined with black velvet (the actors had to be dressed entirely in white) on the roof of the Scala theatre, with synchonrised sound-on-disc accompaniment using Cecil Hepworth’s Vivaphone system. The director was Walter Booth. As the reviewer suspected, a screen was used, though hidden from view.

Kinoplastikon excited much comment, with suggestions that it was the future of entertainment, but as Hepworth observes in his autobiography, Came the Dawn, “It suffered, I suspect, from the usual fate which almost always dogs the steps of any ghost-illusion. Very few people are interested in an illusion of that kind as an illusion. They may think it is clever but do not bother to wonder how it is done; they don’t even care. Unless it tells some story, or belongs to some story which cannot well be told without it. it very soon ceases to intrigue them”. Kinoplastikon was exhibited in Austria, Britain, France, Russia and the USA, but it swiftly disappeared.

Diagram of Kinoplastikon stage setting, where O = proscenium, P = projector, A = translucent screen, B = transparent sheet of glass, C = back cloth and D = sloping floor. From F.A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (1923)