Hepworth, Cecil

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Nationality: British. Born: Lambeth, London, 19 March 1874. Career: Patented hand-feed lamp for optical lantern, 1895; assistant projectionist to Birt Acres, 1896; became cameraman for Charles Urban, 1898; formed Hepwix Films at Walton-on-Thames, worked as actor and director, and patented film developing system; formed Hepworth Manufacturing Company, 1904; patented Vivaphone "Talking Film" device and became first chairman, Kinematograph Manufacturer's Association, 1910; founded British Board of Film Censors, 1911; founded Hepworth Picture Plays, 1919 (company goes bankrupt, 1923); technical advisor and producer, National Screen Service, 1936. Died: In Greenford, Middlesex, 9 February 1953.

Films as Director:


Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (short); The InterruptedPicnic (short); Exchange Is No Robbery (short); The Immature Punter (short); The Quarrelsome Anglers (short); TwoFools in a Canoe (short)


Express Train in a Railway Cutting (short)


Wiping Something off the Slate (short); The Conjurer and theBoer (short); The Punter's Mishap (short); The GunpowderPlot (short); Explosion of a Motor Car (short); The Egg-Laying Man (short); Clown and Policeman (short); Leap-frog as Seen by the Frog (short); How It Feels to Be RunOver (short); The Eccentric Dancer (short); The Bathers (short); The Sluggard's Surprise (short); The ElectricityCure (short); The Beggar's Deceit (short); The BurningStable (short); Topsy Turvy Villa (short); The Kiss (short)


How the Burglar Tricked the Bobby (short); The Indian Chiefand the Seidlitz Powder (short); Comic Grimacer (short); Interior of a Railway Carriage (short); Funeral of QueenVictoria (short); Coronation of King Edward VII (short); The Glutton's Nightmare (short)


The Call to Arms (short); How to Stop a Motor Car (short)


The Absent-minded Bootblack (short); Alice in Wonderland (short); Firemen to the Rescue (short); Saturday's Shopping (short)


The Jonah Man (short)


Rescued by Rover (short); Falsely Accused (short); The Alien'sInvasion (short); A Den of Thieves (short)


A Seaside Girl (short)


John Gilpin's Ride (short)


Tilly the Tomboy (short)


Rachel's Sin (short)


Blind Fate (short); Unfit or The Strength of the Weak (short); The Hills Are Calling (short); The Basilisk; His Country'sBidding (short); The Quarry Mystery (short); Time theGreat Healer; Morphia the Death Drug (short); Oh MyAunt (short)


The Canker of Jealousy; A Moment of Darkness (short); Court-Martialled; The Passing of a Soul (short); The Bottle; The Baby on the Barge; The Man Who Stayed at Home; Sweet Lavender; The Golden Pavement; The Outrage; Iris


Trelawney of the Wells; A Fallen Star; Sowing the Wind; Annie Laurie; Comin' thro' the Rye; The Marriage ofWilliam Ashe; Molly Bawn; The Cobweb


The American Heiress; Nearer My God to Thee


The Refugee; Tares; Broken in the Wars; The Blindness ofFortune; The Touch of a Child; Boundary House


The Nature of the Beast; Sunken Rocks; Sheba; The Forest onthe Hill


Anna the Adventuress; Alf's Button; Helen of Four Gates; Mrs. Erricker's Reputation


Tinted Venus; Narrow Valley; Wild Heather; Tansy


The Pipes of Pan; Mist in the Valley; Strangling Threads; Comin' Thro' the Rye (second version)


The House of Marney


Royal Remembrances


By HEPWORTH: books—

Animated Photography, London, 1898.

Came the Dawn: Memories of a Film Pioneer, New York, 1951.

By HEPWORTH: articles—

"My Film Experiences," in Pearson's Magazine (London), 1920.

"Those Were the Days," in Penguin Film Review (London), no. 6, 1948.

On HEPWORTH: books—

Barnes, John, The Beginnings of Cinema in England, London, 1976.

Barnes, John, Pioneers of the British Film 1894–1901, London, 1983.

On HEPWORTH: articles—

"Cecil Hepworth Comes Through," in Era (London), 3 May 1935.

"Hepworth: His Studios and Techniques," in British Journal ofPhotography (London), 15 and 22 January 1971.

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The son of a famous magic lanternist and photographer named T.C. Hepworth (who authored an important early volume titled TheBook of the Lantern), Cecil Hepworth was—along with Robert W. Paul—the best known and most important of early British film pioneers. In the first twenty years of British cinema, Hepworth's place is easy to determine. He was a major figure who wrote the first British book on cinematography, Animated Photography, the A.B.C. of the Cinematograph (published in 1897) and who produced Rescued by Rover, which is to British cinema what D.W. Griffith's The Adventures of Dollie is to the American film industry. But as the industry grew, Cecil Hepworth failed to grow along with it, and as the English critic and historian Ernest Betts has written, "although a craftsman and a man of warm sympathies, an examination of his career shows an extremely limited outlook compared with Americans or his contemporaries."

A cameraman before turning to production in the late 1890s, "Heppy," as he was known to his friends and colleagues, founded the first major British studio at Walton-on-Thames (which was later to become Nettlefold Studios). He experimented with sound films before 1910 and was also one of the few British pioneers to build up his own stable of stars, not borrowed from the stage, but brought to fame through the cinema. Alma Taylor, Chrissie White, Stewart Rome, and Violet Hopson were his best known "discoveries." So omnipotent was Hepworth in British cinema prior to the First World War that major American filmmakers such as Larry Trimble and Florence Turner were eager to associate with him when they journeyed to England from the United States to produce films.

Hepworth's problem and the cause of his downfall was shared with many other pioneers. He did not move with the times. His films were always exquisitely photographed and beautiful to look at, but they were totally devoid of drama. The editing techniques which he had displayed in Rescued by Rover were forgotten by the teens. His productions were all too often like the magic lantern presentations of his father, lifeless creations featuring slow dissolves from one sequence or even one bit of action to the next, even when it was obvious to others that quick cuts were needed. Hepworth appeared to despise anything that would bring movement to his films, preferring that the camera linger on the pictorial beauty of the scene. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hepworth's best-known feature, Comin' thro' the Rye (which he filmed twice, in 1916 and 1922). As Iris Barry was forced to admit, when writing of the latter version, it is "a most awful film." Bankruptcy and a closed mind drove Cecil Hepworth from the industry which he had helped to create. He returned late in life to supervise the production of trailers for National Screen Service, and also served as chairman of the History Research Committee of the British Film Institute, at which time he also wrote his autobiography, Came the Dawn.

—Anthony Slide