A Cockney Coster and His Asinine Companion

Christina Hink, King’s College London

22 March 2019


Through the course of two series and more than twenty episodes, Harry B. Parkinson and Frank Miller invited viewers to cinematically travel through London’s famous and lesser known attractions in a travelogue series entitled Wonderful London. The short films first appeared in British cinemas in 1924 and eventually were exported throughout the British Empire. Each episode, about ten to twelve minutes in length, was shown before the comedies and main feature as part of a larger programme (except in Australia where they were spliced together as a ‘super-feature) and allowed audiences to explore the capital from the comfort of their local venue [i][ii]. Simple in form and comprised mostly of static long shots, the series offered superlative views of the teeming metropolis. Recently restored by the BFI National Archive, the twelve extant episodes afford modern viewers (and the historian) with unrivalled visual insight into London of the mid-1920s.

Scholarship coinciding with the BFI restoration suggests Wonderful London takes inspiration from a 1922 eponymous magazine series. While no evidence has been adduced suggesting otherwise, the relationship remains unsubstantiated. Comparing the two manifestations, however, the connection between the magazine series and the travelogue films is tenable.

Figure 1: Cover From Wonderful London volume 1, number 6

Wonderful London first materialised as a twenty-four issue fortnightly magazine in 1922. Edited by St. John Adcock, readers were treated to articles by contemporary authors and cultural critics, such as Stephen Graham and Alec Waugh, as well as stunning views of the city processed in Photogravure. Each issue generally contained five articles; the contents of which ranged from historical explorations to contemporary insights and travel advices to points of interest in the capital. Like today’s television cliché ‘to be continued’, the publishers included only half of each final article, with the remainder printed at the beginning of the subsequent issue.

In reading the six issues contained in George Walton’s collection at the V&A Archive, I was astounded by the chromatic covers, the exquisite photographs, and the ‘insider tips’. William Pett Ridge’s “From Mayfair to Whitechapel”, for example, takes readers on a walking tour of London. Beginning near Hyde Park Corner and ending in Barking, East London Ridge takes readers past notable stops, pausing to offer advice along the way. Lingering by Burlington Arcade behind Bond Street, Ridge offers my favourite advice: “Courage and a cheque book are required to enable you to patronise any establishment hereabouts.”[iii]

In “London Types”, humourist Barry Pain celebrates the characters distinctive to London – flower girls and kerb merchants, the costermonger, the butler, and the tailor, to name a few. “The internal combustion engine wiped out some interesting London types,” writes Pain, “We had the driver of the horse ‘bus, swift in repartee and able to do miracles.” [iv] Pain concludes his article by inviting readers to investigate the city for themselves: “There are indeed a thousand types that cannot be mentioned in the space of one brief article. Come to London and see them for yourself. It is not at all a bad place.” [v]

Figure 2: “London Types” by Barry Pain

The magazine offers inordinate insights into London of the 1920s, but it is the magazine’s cinematic incarnation that truly has the power to transport modern viewers to another time while revealing a variety of peoples and interest points, some extant and some lost. While each episode is unique and delightful in its own right, I would like to focus on one episode in which a Coster, a street vendor who pedals goods from a cart, takes us through London’s lesser-known periphery.

In London’s Outer Ring a cockney Coster, one of Barry Pain’s ‘London types’, attempts to goad an unconvinced donkey called Rudolph into a joy ride around the fringes of London. Of the roughly fifteen localities the Coster discusses with his asinine companion, nine are extant in some fashion or another today. The model cottage at Kennington Park, Brixton Windmill, St. Augustine’s Tower in Hackney, Hampstead Heath, the remnants of Richmond Palace, Strand on the Green, Hammersmith Bridge, and Old Kent Road remain intact and bare resemblance to their 1920s structures.

Figure 3: Coster and his asinine companion from London’s Outer Ring

Although Eltham Palace endures, it has undergone significant refurbishment since the 1930s. A royal residence “from the time King John signed the Magna… what-d’yer-call-it, up till King Charles lorst ‘is bloomin’ ‘ead”, as our Coster informs us via colloquial intertitle, the palace, according to English Heritage, in the 1920s was in a phase of decline.[vi] Given the picturesque long shots of the palace ground with individuals strolling through leafy overhangs down emptied earthen paths, it is difficult to imagine its deterioration in London’s Outer Ring. In 1933, millionaires Stephen and Virgin Courtauld contracted architects Seely & Paget to redevelop Eltham into a modern home. What remains today is “a unique marriage between a medieval and Tudor palace and a 1930s millionaire’s mansion.” [vii]

Two locales shown in Outer Ring are truly remarkable, as the structures have long been destroyed. The Crystal Palace was originally assembled in Hyde Park to accommodate the Great Exhibition of 1851, which saw an excess of twenty five thousand visitors on its first day alone. [viii] Six months later the Great Exhibition ended and had accepted more than six million people through the Crystal Palace. [ix] In 18XX, the Palace was relocated and reconstituted atop Penge Peak near Sydenham Hill as an amusement site for the masses, where it remained until a spectacular fire destroyed the structure in 1936 [x]. What remains today are remnants of the upper terrace – wide, stone steps leading up to a sizeable scarred lawn.

Figure 4: Crystal Palace c. 1924 from London’s Outer Ring

For the Franco-British Exhibition in 1908, “20 huge palaces and 120 exhibition buildings were built on a 140-acre site by a workforce of 120,000 men.” [xi] Eight times the size of The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, White City hosted the 1908 Olympic Games and continued to be used for exhibitions throughout the early twentieth century. During the First World War, the larger buildings were converted to manufacture aeroplanes and, later in the Second World War, to make parachutes. The stadium housed greyhound racing and sporting events until it was demolished in 1985. The complex is now occupied by White City Place, a “new and exciting business district.” [xii]

Figure 5: White City c. 1924 from London’s Outer Ring

While the historian may lament the loss of historic London landmarks, London’s Outer Ring, as well as the other Wonderful London, episodes provides unrivalled cinematic views into the past. Our Cockney guide, though, might be disappointed to learn the fate of his two favourite “boozers.” The Maypole in Chigwell, mentioned in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, is now a derelict property and permanently closed, while the Burlington Arms on Church Street in Chiswick is now a private residence (a swanky one, at that).


References

[i] Bryony Dixon, “Wonderful London,” In Wonderful London (DVD accompaniment) (London: BFI, 2011) 1.

[ii] “Wonderful London”, The Brisbane Courier, Jul 5, 1926: 17; ‘Wonderful London’, Warwick Daily News, July 13, 1926, 3

[iii] William Pett Ridge, “From Mayfair to Whitechapel”, Wonderful London 1, no. 6 (April 27, 1922): 262.

[iv] Barry Pain, “London Types,” Wonderful London 1, no. 2 (March 2, 1922): 51.

[v] Pain, “London Types,” 57.

[vi] “History of Eltham Palace and Gardens,” English Heritage, accessed Mar 1, 2019, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/history/

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Jeffrey A. Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1951: A Nation On Display (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press) 1.

[ix] Auerbach, Exhibition of 1951, 1.

[x] Auerbach, Exhibition of 1951, 200 and 211.

[xi] “History of the White City Site,” BBC, accessed March 2, 2019, http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2004/05_may/11/mv_history.pdf

[xii] Ibid.


Christina Hink is a PhD Candidate in Film Studies at King’s College London. She holds a BA in History from Texas A&M University and an MA in Museum Studies from UCL. She is currently researching silent British and American war films in relation to war and memory, with an emphasis on the representation of women and disabled veterans.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.


 

 

 

THE 2019 IAMHIST- MICHAEL NELSON PRIZE FOR A WORK IN MEDIA AND HISTORY

*CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR 2019 HAS NOW CLOSED*

The IAMHIST-MICHAEL NELSON PRIZE FOR A WORK IN MEDIA AND HISTORY is a biennial prize awarded for the book, radio or television program or series, film, DVD, CD-ROM, or URL making the best contribution on the subject of media and history, which has been published or shown in the preceding two years.

The prize is dedicated to Michael Nelson, whose passion for media and journalism inspired IAMHIST throughout the years.  For more information on Michael Nelson, please consult: www.michaelnelsonbooks.com

Two awards will be made.  The first, a prize of $1000, will be for the best contribution by a book; the second, a prize of $1000 will be for the best contribution by a (multi) media contribution.  This second prize will consider media such as films, CD-ROMs, and URLs separately from print media, in the hope of encouraging the submission of scholarly work in non-print media.

Submissions for the 2019 IAMHIST Prize for a Work in Media and History should reach the committee before September 30, 2018. The prize will be awarded for a publication and (multi) media contribution on the subject of media and history published or shown between September 2016 – September 2018.

The prize was awarded for the first time in 2007, at the XXII IAMHIST conference in Amsterdam. The winner was Wendy Webster (University of Central Lancashire), for her book Englishness and Empire, 1939-1965 (Oxford University Press, 2005).  Thanks to an especially strong field of entries, two winners were chosen in 2009: Reconstructing American Historical Cinema from ‘Cimmaron’ to ‘Citizen Kane’ (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009) by J. E. Smyth (University of Warwick, and Voices in Ruins: West German Radio across the 1945 Divide (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) by Alexander Badenoch (Technical University of Eindhoven). Both works were cited by the prize committee as making outstanding contributions to the field, based on excellence of research, originality, accessibility, and scholarly usefulness.  In 2011, the prize was awarded to It’s the Pictures That Got Small: Hollywood Film Stars on 1950s Television (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2009), by Christine Becker (University of Notre Dame).  In 2013, the first year of the multi-media prize, the recipients were: J. Edgar Hoover goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood’s Cold War (New York: Cornell University Press, 2012) by James Sbardellati, and The Media History Digital Library (www.mediahistoryproject.org). In 2015, the recipients were How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), by Ruth Feldstein (Rutgers University), and Brave Little Belgium, produced by VRT. In 2017, the sole recipient was Shelley Stamp’s (University of California, Santa Cruz) Lois Weber in Early Hollywood (California: University of California Press, 2015).

Rules of the IAMHIST prize:

  1. The prize is awarded biennially.
  2. Invitations for submissions and names of the winners will be published in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, on the IAMHIST website, on flyers, displayed in the universities of teaching members of IAMHIST, and by letters to appropriate bodies.
  3. The prize will be awarded for the book, radio or television program or series, film, DVD, CD-ROM, or URL making the best contribution on the subject of media and history to have been published or shown in the preceding two years (which, for the 2019 prize, will be from September 2016 – September 2018).
  4. Three copies of the work must be submitted to the IAMHIST prize sub-committee chair by 30 September of the year preceding the award (in this case, September 30, 2018).
  5. The submitted work must be in the form of printed text, audio tape, VHS cassette, DVD or CD-ROM. It must be accompanied by back-up material, as appropriate, such as scripts and shot lists.
  6. Works which are not in English must be accompanied by an English translation or an English synopsis.
  7. The winner will be selected by a sub-committee of the Council of IAMHIST, under the chairmanship of IAMHIST Treasurer, Cynthia Miller.

Submissions should be sent to:  Professor Cynthia J. Miller 484 Bolivar St. Canton, MA  02021 USA. Email: Cynthia_Miller@emerson.edu

 

Hands On TV History

John Ellis, Royal Holloway University of London

8 March 2019


Huge amounts of TV material are now becoming available for historical researchers, thanks to digitization. Digitization makes old programming visible, but at the same time it obscures how those programmes were made. As access gets easier, understanding the footage as source material is getting harder.

The proliferation of potential sources range from the carefully curated to the anarchy of YouTube:

  • Learning on Screen’s Box of Broadcasts (BoB) contains thousands of hours of analogue-originated programmes
  • The substantial amounts of ITN news material, once curated by Learning on Screen for Jisc, is now available again through Proquest’s Alexander Street subsidiary: https://alexanderstreet.com/products/mediaplus 
  • Organisations as diverse as Kaleidescope, BBC Archive, Ident Central, Talking Pictures TV and Network Distributing are all actively engaged in making old programming available
  • Europeana, the European Digital Library has over a million TV items from the EUscreen project
  • National broadcaster archives, inspired by the vast resources of France’s INA, are increasingly making their factual material visible to academic or even public users
  • YouTube contains vast amounts of analogue TV, much of it posted from digitized VHS tapes

How TV got made in the analogue era has now become an urgent question for anyone wanting to understand or use this footage, whether for teaching or historical research or even for its value as data. Making TV used to be a rare and difficult activity. It used expensive and cumbersome technologies that required teams of skilled individuals to work them, and the resources of large organisations with the funding to afford them. The TV footage we have from the last century (and the earlier years of this century) are profoundly determined by the affordances of analogue technologies and the systems that went with them. TV tended to record what was convenient or accessible, and in forms that were manageable and predictable. This has determined the nature of the visual record of that time: what was chosen to be shown and how it was shown.

So how do we find out how TV used to be made? The television industry itself provides only clues. There’s only so much that you can learn from looking at old equipment, and even less from photos of them. Broadcaster archives contain very few programmes explaining how TV used to work. Fortunately, many of the professionals from the fifties onwards are still around, and there is an international network of collectors who still maintain “obsolete” equipment in working order.

For the ADAPT research project, funded by the European Research Council, we seized this time-limited opportunity to reunite working equipment with the professionals who once used it. We challenged them to make a programme as they used to. We used contemporary ‘fixed rig’ video methods (14 cameras for one shoot) to produce over 160 videos in all. Our  promotional video gives a good idea of the scope of this work.

They show how TV professionals in the UK filmed and edited using both video and 16mm film. The processes of both video and film are explained at www.adapttvhistory.org.uk, and all the videos can be downloaded from the repository at https://figshare.com/collections/ADAPT/3925603

We have extraordinary revelations: how quickly and economically a film crew used to work; the sheer difficulty of getting a live show on air; the crucial importance of repair and maintenance; the time and effort it took to line up cameras.

We see how the 16mm Éclair camera and Nagra sound tape recorder revolutionised what was possible. We see how one (energetic) person can run an entire film lab. Our footage enables a comparison between film and videotape editing, as well as an appraisal of AVID’s early digital system.  

It shows the combination of many different items of equipment that were required to make the simplest of sound and image material, the heavy cables, the cumbersome tapes, the long waits for equipment to warm up.

We concentrated on the everyday production of everyday TV, to present examples that were as typical as possible. The equipment used is mainly British or European and the professionals involved had all once worked for the BBC. But the work routines and the basic arrays of equipment were similar even then. Many of the crews interact in ways that are startlingly similar to those reported by Beth Bechty in her ethnographic studies of US freelance film crews in the early 2000s. They show the same rituals of exaggerated politeness and mutual respect. The biggest difference is in the social composition of the professional group we were calling on: they were overwhelmingly male and white.  

The equipment (and some attitudes) may be retro, but this work is no exercise in historical recreation akin to a Civil War battle recreation. Instead it is a combination of hands on history and memory work. These professionals recall past actions that, more often than not, are deeply embedded in body memory. The additional challenge to create again brings forward all their professional skills.   The participants are ‘playing’ their younger selves, encountering long abandoned equipment: “Come to Daddy” says one of the cinematographers unselfconsciously on picking up the Éclair camera.

Our videos are edited to different lengths: a bitesized two minutes that can be used in a lecture; a medium length for seminar use and full length versions for research and concentrated study. [See the playlist on YouTube here]. Taken together they show clearly why archival TV is as it is: they reveal the strengths and limitations of a whole, lost, era of television production. It was an era when filming was not the commonplace activity it is now: it involved scarce resources, large expenditure, individuals with highly specialized skills. The decision to film was a weighty one that involved considerable planning. When you watch these professionals at work, and see their demonstrations of the equipment they wrestled with, it seems remarkable that they achieved so much.    

This material can serve as a guide for those students and researchers fortunate enough to have access to hands on collections of old equipment. There is a growing network of ‘hands on history’ collections which allow students to handle old equipment, the better to understand its limitations and capabilities. This is not yet common in the UK, but there are interesting initiatives at Groningen, Colorado and Humboldt universities. 

The videos can help decode the mysteries of circuitry and reveal the industry work-arounds. It is also a miracle that this equipment is still in working order, and this is due to the dedicated private collectors, the owners and maintainers. Museum display equipment may look spectacular, but if it is not maintained, it loses its ability to speak to us. Our material is intended to restore at least some of that ability, to bring the  back to life.

The ADAPT project received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 323626).


John Ellis has been Professor of Media Arts at Royal Holloway University of London since 2002 and was the principal investigator on the ADAPT project. He began his career teaching film studies at the University of Kent, and published Visible Fictions in 1982. That year, he set up, with two other producers, the independent TV company Large Door www.largedoorltd.com and produced TV documentaries for the next two decades. He is now the chair of Learning on Screen and an editor of View, the online peer reviewed journal of European TV history www.viewjournal.eu His other books include Documentary: Witness and Self-revelation (2012) and Seeing Things (2000). The ADAPT project was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 323626).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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