Tag Archives: Arthur Melbourne-Cooper

Poll: Which British silent film-maker is worth £20?

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The Bank of England doesn’t usually let the public have a say in its decisions, but there is a first time for everything. Having decided to boot Adam Smith’s profile off the £20 banknote, the Bank asked the public to help them choose a replacement – although the institution itself has the final say. Those of us who spend rather than print the money were invited to nominate a visual artist for the bank to select from. An astonishing 29,701 bids came in, resulting in a longlist of 592 British visual artists that someone out there deems worthy of having their face on folding money. The Bank will draw up a shortlist from these names for the Governor to examine, and they will announce the chosen face in early 2016, with the new £20 note finally coming into circulation in 2020.

This is the selection criteria for the new face of the score note:

Through its depiction of historic characters on its banknotes the Bank seeks to celebrate individuals that have shaped British thought, innovation, leadership, values and society.  We do this by representing a person or small groups of individuals whose accomplishments or contributions have been recognised widely at the time, or judged subsequently to have been of lasting benefit to the United Kingdom and, in some cases, beyond.

In choosing the character or characters to appear on a specific note, the Bank takes account of its past decisions.  This is because the Bank intends to celebrate achievement and contribution across a wide range of skills and fields and aims, through time, to depict characters with varied personal characteristics, such that our choices cumulatively reflect the diverse nature of British society.

Did you vote? I suspect some of you might have done, because the longlist is a fascinating read: so many esteemed, and not so highly esteemed, artists appear, including film-makers from Carol Reed to Stanley Kubrick. And there are definitely a few cinematic stars who fulfil that note about “a wide range of skills and fields”, as well as “characters with varied personal characteristics”, although not perhaps reflecting the “diverse nature of British society”. More specifically, I was heartened to see some key figures from the silent era there: from the expected nods to Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin, to more leftfield choices such as Maurice Elvey and Louis Le Prince.

Continue reading Poll: Which British silent film-maker is worth £20?

Arthur Melbourne-Cooper: matchstick man of the early silent era

This is a guest post for Silent London by Robyn Ludwig.

The British Animation Showcase at the 2012 London International Animation Festival screens this Thursday evening. Yet 113 years before these contemporary animators would bring their cartoon characters to life and to audiences, St. Albans-born Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (1874–1961) began making primitive stop-motion films, arguably the first and oldest surviving animations.

Trained by his father in photography, Melbourne-Cooper began his career in 1892 as an assistant to Birt Acres, another cinematic forerunner who has been credited as the first person to take 35mm film in Britain. Melbourne-Cooper was a cameraman on a number of Acres’ newsreels and trick films, until 1899, when he directed his first stop-motion animated short, Matches: An Appeal.

The film is a highly inventive advertorial piece, both a fundraising appeal and an advertisement for Bryant & May matchsticks. Using matches jointed by wire and captured frame by frame, Matches: An Appeal features a sprite little stick figure writing a propagandistic message on a wall, asking the audience to donate one guinea to send a free box of matches to a British soldier fighting overseas.

But with the original 35mm reel long lost, the release date of the film remains a contentious issue. Melbourne-Cooper, along with his descendants, insisted that the film dated to the beginning of the Second Anglo-Boer War, ahead of J. Stuart Blackton’s vanguard animation The Enchanted Drawing of 1900. Researchers, however, have argued that Matches was released in 1915, as an appeal for the First World War. Film historian Denis Gifford adds to the confusion by suggesting: “Recent research sets it as produced in the Great War of 1914. This may, however, be a reissue as the setting of this film is identical with Animated Matches (1908).”

Debate over provenance also surrounds Animated Matches Playing Cricket (1899) and Dolly’s Toys (1901). The latter is a live-action and stop-motion puppet animation, credited variously to lightening sketch artist and trick filmmaker Walter R Booth (1869-1938) or to stage hypnotist and filmmaker George Albert Smith (186-1959). Again Gifford seems uncertain, noting that “the plot is so similar to many later films made by Arthur Cooper that it could be his first production” or conversely, that “it could be another of … Booth’s regular trick films made at… Animatographe Studio”.

Less controversy over authorship surrounds Melbourne-Cooper’s Dreams of Toyland (1908) though the film is often listed as A Dream of Toyland (1907). In Dreams, a little boy falls asleep and his toys come to life, a surreal but spasmodically animated fantasy with a confounding array of playthings. The film, undeniably, replicates the motif from Dolly’s Toys, only this time with a male protagonist, and Melbourne-Cooper would repeatedly revisit these storylines, themes, characters and techniques in such films as The Enchanted Toymaker (1904), The Fairy Godmother (1906), In the Land of Nod (1908), The Toymaker’s Dream (1910) and Road Hogs in Toyland (1911).

Clearly Melbourne-Cooper was a prolific animator, in the nascent years of cinema to the outbreak of war in 1914, producing dozens of short films combining stop-motion and live-action. Regrettably he has become a dubious footnote in silent animation history, and has been consigned to an obscurity shared with Walter Booth, George Smith, Anson Dyer and other British animators of the era.

Animated Matches Playing Cricket, Matches: An Appeal, Dreams of Toyland and Road Hogs in Toyland can be viewed online at the East Anglian Film Archive.


Gifford, Denis. British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. Inc., 1988.

Robyn Ludwig holds a Master of Film and Literature from the University of York, U.K., and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of British Columbia, Canada. Her current research interest is animation from the silent film era. In addition, she has been an administrator in the charitable arts and culture sector for the past ten years, a fundraising consultant for film festivals, and a television critic for the Vancouver Observer.