Biographies

Jack AveryJohn Gilman Avery (1873-1927), known as 'Jack', was one of Urban's closest associates, being his friend, brother-in-law and camera operator for many years. Jack Avery and Urban first met when the latter was working in a stationery store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Urban was becoming interested in Jack's half-sister Julia, whom he later married. Urban made a promise to do for the young Avery what he could, and when he became manager of the Warwick Trading Company in Britain, he invited him to join the company, which Avery did in 1899. He was appointed cameraman and assistant manager, and became one of Urban's most reliable workers, as well as a close friend. He naturally joined Urban at the Charles Urban Trading Company in 1903, and subsequently became manager of Kineto Limited. He later joined the Trans-Atlantic Company before trading under his own name as a film broker.

Joseph D. BaucusJoseph Deyhoe Baucus (18??-19??) was an American lawyer, who had been educated at Princeton, and had practised law in Newark, New Jersey and Wall Street, before he joined Franck Maguire in business, and as Maguire & Baucus they became agents for the Edison Kinetoscope in Europe. The company they set up for this purpose was called the Continental Commerce Company, and in 1897 they took on Charles Urban as its British manager. Urban admired Baucus for his worldly manner, but thought little of his business acumen. He recalled: "He had a charming personality and only applied himself to business, when finance had to be procured to pay for his many costly amusements and mode of living". Maguire & Baucus had other interests beyond film in Britain, including electrical supplies to underground railways, but only their film business prospered, which had been renamed the Warwick Trading Company. When Urban left the company in 1903, Baucus slipped out of film history.

Theodore BrownTheodore Brown (1870-1938) was a life-long experimenter in a variety of optical entertainments, working in such fields as stereo pictures, pop-up books, cinematography, 3-D movies, jigsaw puzzles and assorted moving picture colour publications. He became prominent in the British film industry as editor of the trade journals the Optical Lantern & Cinematograph Journal , which became the Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, where he regularly reported on Urban's activities, writing thoughtfully on Kinemacolor. He patented the Spirograph (shown left), a means of showing motion pictures on a disc, in 1907. Urban purchased the rights and spent over fifteen years trying to develop the invention commercially. Brown's remarkable Kinoplastikon system, which showed a kind of 3-D motion picture with colour and sound at the Scala Theatre in 1913, was also financed by Urban, as probably were Brown's experiments in monocular motion picture stereoscopy (the only sort the one-eyed Urban would have been able to see).

Alfred DarlingAlfred Darling (1862-1931) began his engineering business in Brighton in 1894. He came into contact with the group of photographic and cinematographic experimenters living in Brighton and Hove at that time, among them G.A. Smith, James Williamson, Esme Collings and William Friese-Greene, and designed their cinematograph equipment for them from late 1896 onwards. He began working for the Wrench firm in 1897, manufacturing and patenting film machinery, then in 1898 he became Urban's engineer at the Warwick Trading Company, responsible for improvements to the Bioscope and devising the small gauge 17.5mm Biokam projector for amateur use. Darling's engineering business prospered, and he was an investor in the Charles Urban Trading Company when it was formed in 1903, serving as a company direcor for a while. His printers, winders, measurers, tripods, cameras and projectors were used by hundreds in Britain and across the world, and were vital in supporting the early British film industry.

W.K-L. DicksonWilliam Kennedy-Laurie Dickson (1860-1935) is most famous for being, in effect, the inventor of motion picture films, as it was he who headed Thomas Edison's motion picture project which led to the successful production of the Kinetoscope in 1892. Dickson took all of the first Edison films up to 1895, before he took to working secretly with other inventors on rival projectors and was fired by Edison. He became a co-founder of the American Mutoscope Company, and in 1897 came to Britain as technical manager and cameraman for its British branch. During his time as a producer with British Biograph (1897-1903?) he became a great rival of Urban's, British Biograph competing with Warwick in the production of quality actuality films. Urban recalled that the aloof and fastidious Dickson "did not like me one little bit", but admitted that he "rather liked Dickson's arrogance". Dickson's most notable film work was during the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa, a conflict filmed for Urban by Joseph Rosenthal.

Francis Martin DuncanFrancis Martin Duncan (1873-1961) was the son of a noted scientist, and himself became a scientist and naturalist of note, specialising in photography and microphotography. In the years before cinema in Britain, he had already experimented with chronophotography (sequence photography) and showing the results in motion on a Zoetrope. His use of the microscope and still photography came to Urban's attention in 1903, and together they launched a long-running and popular film series at the Alhambra music hall entitled The Unseen World, advertised as being shown by the 'Urban-Duncan Micro-Bioscope'. Such titles as The Octopus, Water Fleas and Rotifers, and the notorious Cheese Mites, the views of which were preceded by a scene of a man horrified by what he sees in a piece of Stilton through a magnifying glass, excited much fascination. Duncan further pursued a career as a zoologist and populariser of nature subjects, writing such books as Our Insect Friends and Foes, The Book of Animals and Plant Traps and Decoys.

William Friese-GreeneWilliam Friese-Greene (1855-1921) was Charles Urban's nemesis. A portrait photographer and keen inventor, he is best-known among all British film pioneers through the romantic account of his efforts towards the invention of moving pictures in the 1951 feature film The Magic Box, in which Friese-Greene was portrayed by Robert Donat. The claims for Friese-Greene to be the inventor of cinema are now largely discredited, but he persisted with invention and turned his attention to colour in motion pictures. Working in Brighton, and acquainted with the same circle of photographers and filmmakers of which G.A. Smith was a member, he put his faith in a system employing alternately-stained frames of red and green. The system became known as Biocolour, but attempts to develop it commercially were frustrated by the Kinemacolor patents, and Friese-Greene (with financial backing from motor racing driver S.F. Edge) took Urban to court in 1913. Friese-Greene's victory on appeal destroyed Kinemacolor, but his own colour system was in no position to take over. Eventually a refined version produced by his son Claude enjoyed some small success in the mid-1920s, but William himself died in 1921 after delivering an incoherent speech on the ails of the British film industry, thus setting in motion his own myth.

Walter GibbonsSir Walter Gibbons (1871-1933), after early employment in a Wolverhampton nail factory, became a touring singer. He acquired an Urban Bioscope projector and set up his Anglo-American Bio-Tableaux variety show, which used Warwick films. He also in 1900 produced a series of synchronised sound musical shorts, under the title Phono-Bio-Tableaux. Urban, who considered Gibbons to be his protégé, angrily accused Gibbons of making illegal dupes of Warwick films, and Gibbons left the moving picture business and made a fortunate marriage to the daughter of music hall magnate G. Adney Payne. He inherited and developed a music hall empire, opening the London Palladium in 1910, and was subsequently knighted. Boardroom wrangles forced him away from the music hall business, but he returned in the late 1920s with an attempt to continue the mixture of film and variety with which he had first found success. He was made bankrupt shortly before his death.

Cecil HepworthCecil M. Hepworth (1874-1953) was one of the most accomplished people in the early British film industry, and sustained a successful career for longer than most of the pioneers. The son of a noted magic lanternist and scientific lecturer, he became well versed in photography and was involved in British filmmaking from 1896 both as a practitioner and writer. In 1898 Urban invited him to join Maguire & Baucus after Hepworth had made some practical improvements to the Bioscope projector. Hepworth shot the first films made by the Warwick Trading Company and constructed an automatic developing plant, before being sacked and his printing work being taken over by G.A. Smith. He then flourished as an independent film producer, based at Walton-on-Thames, and the Hepworth Manufacturing Company became Britain's most distinguished film company of the pre-war period, with a company of popular players such as Chrissie White, Alma Taylor and Henry Edwards. His company expanded into feature film production, but floundered with the rest of the British film industry in the early 1920s, and Hepworth went bankrupt in 1924. His pre-war films remain some of the most delightful of their period.

Henry JoyHenry William Joy (1872-19??) was Charles Urban's longest-lasting technical associate. His background was in marine engineering, particularly torpedos, then work as a general mechanical and electrical engineer, before his discovered motion pictures around 1900. He took particular interest in the challenges of stereoscopy and colour film, and joined the Charles Urban Trading Company as engineer in 1905. He came particularly to the fore with the production of Kinemacolor, and after Urban and G.A. Smith parted company, Joy became Urban's new right hand man. Following the demise of Kinemacolor, Joy worked on a modified version entitled Kinekrom (originally known as the Urban-Joy Process) which reduced the interval between the red and the green record, which was the cause of the problematic fringing, but did not remove it entirely. Joy moved to America with Urban after the First World War to continue work on both Kinekrom and the Spirograph projector, the invention of Theodore Brown, but neither project progressed from Joy's many years of careful experimentation to successful commercial production.

H.M. LomasHarold Mease Lomas (c1873-1926) was a chemist-turned-amateur photographer of great skill, with a particular interest in photographing hunting scenes. Around 1902 he first approached Charles Urban with the idea of making hunting films along similar lines to his photographic studies. Of these, the recently rediscovered Hunting the Red Deer with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, filmed by Lomas in 1904, is a brilliantly photographed and edited work, if appalling in its detail. Lomas filmed animal studies for Urban while managing the darkrooms of the Charles Urban Trading Company for a short while, and undertook three filming trips to British North Borneo in 1903, 1904 and 1908. He travelled widely as an independent filmmaker, made other 'sporting' films, and in 1914 wrote a technical guide to film studio work, Picture Play Photography. In 1920 he became cameraman for Adrian Brunel's Minerva Films, making comedy shorts that starred Leslie Howard, before joining British Instructional Films in 1921 and filming some of the famous Secrets of Nature series, alongside another former Urban cameraman, Percy Smith.

John MackenzieJohn Mackenzie (1861-1944) was one of Urban's leading cameramen. Born in Inverness, Scotland he trained as a watchmaker, became a touring magic lantern operator, then graduated to motion picture cameraman in the late 1890s. He joined the Charles Urban Trading Company, specialising in travelogues, including a notable trip with journalist Harry de Windt to the Balkan states in 1907. At the Natural Color Kinematograph Company he took many of the Kinemacolor films that first promoted the colour system around the world, including the first Kinemacolor films made in America. He moved to America before the First World War, where several of his children became involved in the industry, including a son, Gerald, who became a leading figure in the Technicolor laboratories.

Distin MaddickDr Edmund Distin Maddick (1857-1939) was the manager of the Scala Theatre, London, where Urban's Kinemacolor flagship Kinemacolor show enjoyed its triumphant run 1910-1914, and where the Delhi Durbar films were premiered in February 1912. Maddick was a doctor of renown, who had become a surgeon in the Royal Navy, rising to become Admiral Surgeon of the Fleet. He enjoyed an active place in high society and counted among his friends King Edward VII himself. Thanks in part to his social connections, Maddick was appointed as a liaison officer for British film camera operations on the Western Front in 1915, an appointment which infuriated Urban. The two men fell out bitterly, and Urban believed that it was Maddick who had told the Evening News of his (Urban's) misjudged dealings with the Hearst press in America, which led to false but damaging accusations of pro-German sympathies.

George RogersGeorge H. Rogers (18??-19??) was one of two American cameramen who worked for Urban (the other was Jack Avery). Previously a props manager for the American-Hungarian impresario Bolossy Kiralfy, Rogers joined the Warwick Trading Company in 1900, working initially in the stores and shipping departments, and soon became one of Urban's most trusted colleagues. He spoke French, German and Russian, and was made manager of Warwick's Paris office in 1902, and he stayed with Urban when the latter formed the Charles Urban Trading Company, where his most notable project was filming the Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 (Joseph Rosenthal filmed on the Japanese side). The photograph shows Rogers filming in Siberia during the war. He never came near to the warfront, but he filmed extensively in Russia and Manchuria, securing a notable film showing the beheading of a Chinese bandit, a scene illustrated with relish in the Urban catalogues. Rogers was also a director of the Charles Urban Trading Company, and managed its Paris branch until the formation of the Eclipse company in 1909.

Joe RosenthalJoseph Rosenthal (1864-1946) was Charles Urban's star cameraman. When Urban first joined Maguire & Baucus in London, which soon turned its film side into the Warwick Trading Company, the person in charge of film sales was Alice Rosenthal. When Warwick started making films in 1898, she told Urban of her brother Joseph, a chemist with an interest in photography. Joe Rosenthal swiftly became Warwick's leading cameraman, renowned for his war work. He was Warwick's leading cameraman during the Anglo-Boer War, which he covered from January-May 1900, travelling with Lord Roberts's column. He then filmed the American conflict in the Philippines, the opening of the Australian parliament in 1901, and in 1902 a series of Canadian views sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Rosenthal returned to the warfront in 1904 when he covered the Japanese side of the Russo-Japanese War for the Charles Urban Trading Company. He subsequently set up his own film company, Rosie Films, making short documentaries and rather poor comedy films. His films of the Anglo-Boer War will always be revived, and have given him a deserved and lasting fame.

G.A. SmithGeorge Albert Smith (1864-1959) was Charles Urban's closest collaborator. In the early 1880s he developed a hypnotism act in Brighton which purported to demonstrate 'second sight', and came to the attention of the Society for Psychical Research, for whom he conducted many bogus experiments, becoming private secretary to its honorary secretary Edmund Gurney. From 1892 he ran a pleasure garden in Brighton, then in 1896/7 became interested in cinematography and started making innovative trick films. He became a film processor and undertook work for the Warwick Trading Company. In 1903, at Urban's invitation, he carried on Edward R. Turner's experiments in colour cinematography, and in 1906 patented Kinemacolor. Kinemacolor brought Smith great acclaim and a silver medal awarded by the Royal Society of Arts. He quarrelled with Urban after he sold his rights in Kinemacolor, believing that Urban had cheated him, while Urban believed Smith had sold colour secrets to his rivals. They were reconciled only when Urban moved to Brighton in 1938. A remarkable man of varied talents, Smith's highly inventive trick films are now some of the most admired of their period.

Percy SmithF. Percy Smith (1880-1945) was a modest but brilliant pioneer of scientific filmmaking. He was a clerk with the Board of Education whose hobby was photographing nature, notably magnified pictures of insects. One of these, a photograph of a bluebottle's tongue, came to Urban's attention, and in 1907 he invited Smith to do similar work with a motion picture camera. Failing to persuade his employers of the value of film as an educational tool, Smith joined Urban full-time in 1910. Smith's films soon gained considerable attention, notably The Balancing Bluebottle and The Birth of a Flower, showing plant growth through stop-motion cinematography in Kinemacolor. Smith's films were made at his Southgate home and involved meticulous preparation over many months. When war broke out in 1914 he made a series of animated war maps for Urban's Kineto company before becoming a photographer with the Navy. After the war he did a little more work for Urban before he found greater fame with the Secrets of Nature series of nature films, made for British Instructional Films, which gained wide acclaim and were popular for two decades. He is one of the great names in scientific filmmaking.

Ada Aline UrbanAda Aline Urban (1868-1937) was the leading female figure in British film in her day. She was the daughter of Anton Gorecki, a professor at Glasgow University, and first married Alexander Jones of Butcher's Film Service before marrying Charles Urban in 1910 (it was his second marriage as well). She put the £5,000 that enabled Urban to purchase the patent to the two-colour system that would later become Kinemacolor from its inventor G.A. Smith. When the Natural Color Kinematograph Company was formed she became one of it directors. She was also a director of Urban's company Kineto, and of Colorfilms, the short-lived successor to the Natural Color Kinematograph Company. She moved with her husband to America during the First World War, and returned with his to Britain following his business collapse in 1925. As a financier and as a strong influence behind the scenes, she played a major part in Kinemacolor's great success.