Popular science

The birth of the popular science film – Francis Martin Duncan appears as the scientist in Cheese Mites, the notorious film he made for Charles Urban in 1903. The full film was only recently discovered by Oliver Gaycken (lurking on YouTube under a made-up title) Two books are to be published shortly which cover theRead More

Brief lives

I have begun writing the lives of two people. I have been given 1,000 words in which to encapsulate the achievements, character and significance of two filmmakers, George Pearson and Albert E. Smith. It’s a commission from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for which I have written several such short biographies already, on ArthurRead More

The newsreel man

A recent article by Andrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books has caused quite a stir. Written in the aftermatch of the Jimmy Savile scandal, it exposes a culture of child abuse from past decades perpetrated by various BBC personalities. One of these was the commentator and producer Lionel Gamlin. As a historian ofRead More

Wendy Toye

How sad to learn of the death of Wendy Toye. Most film histories don’t mention her, but that’s the usual fate of choreographers, not to mention women directors. Toye was both, and though she directed just a handful of films, there is one cast-iron classic among them, and as a choreographer she kept British filmsRead More

Ian and Johnny

Death makes strange bedfellows. The obituaries columns are marking the deaths of Ian Carmichael and Johnny Dankworth, rightly praising each for their contributions to art and culture. Yet though there is no obvious connection between the two, they do share a paradoxical relationship to British film – what you might call invisible significance. Ian CarmichaelRead More