William Friese-Greene: Close-Up

An Introduction

This series of posts is in memory of my grandfather Henry, the impoverished Victorian street kid, later war hero, film studio electrician and communist, who cared for his family and taught by example. Stephen Herbert, 2022.

Bronze statue of William Friese-Greene by Diana Thomson FRSS, unveiled at Shepperton Studios on 15 January 1999. There are also three busts of Friese-Greene, sited at Pinewood Film Studios; Panavision, Greenford, Middlesex; and Panavision, California. Photo: Alex Thomson BSC (British Society of Cameramen).[1]


It doesn’t really matter who William Friese-Greene was or what he did, but what we are told about history does matter, for much bigger reasons. Even, perhaps especially, today. As we now know, it matters who we choose to build golden statues to, and there are several busts and a larger-than-life bronze of Bristol boy William Friese-Greene.

How & Why Bumper Wonder Book No. 2 (London: Transworld, 1977). ‘Friese-Greene is usually given credit for the invention of cinematography. He filmed riders in Hyde Park in 1889, taking the photographs very quickly by turning a handle on the side of the camera.’ Text by Gyles Brandreth, illustrator not credited (Stephen Herbert Collection).

A general introduction to this series

This series of posts is my attempt to establish a new perspective on the early ‘moving image’ film work of William Friese-Greene and, more importantly perhaps, his associates. It is based on my research and technical activity over several decades, but also much new research over the past year, and includes fresh ideas and realisations that have become apparent to me very recently as my searching has revealed new information.

If you’d like an email notification of every new Optilogue post, why not Subscribe here?

Friese-Greene family photograph, Brighton, shortly after William Friese-Greene’s imprisonment for criminal deception in 1904. He is seen here with his second wife Edith and sons. From Ray Allister, Friese-Greene: Close-Up of an Inventor (London: Marshland, 1948).

All the others

Why am I interested in William Friese-Greene? Well, his story crops up with ‘the others’, the moving image ‘pioneers’ (before successful cinematography) in whom I have long had a deep interest, including Eadweard Muybridge, Louis Leprince, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe, to name just a few.

One of the ‘Friese-Greene’ cameras, the only early camera to survive. In fact, despite a later brass label bearing Friese-Greene’s name, this 1890 camera was patented by Frederick Varley alone, perhaps at Friese-Greene’s instigation, and was used by Friese-Greene before he patented an almost exact copy in 1893. The surviving camera has no elements of Friese-Greene’s re-patented version. The images on the right are from an original paper strip of a sequence shot in Hyde Park. The film shown in the camera is a modern copy (object and photo, Science Museum).

Supposedly, according to many accounts including his own, Friese-Greene invented the first practical apparatus for cinematography. The details have always been contentious, and his fame and credibility have waxed and waned over more than a century. In 1970 I saw The Magic Box (1951), the film industry’s tribute to him, and was intrigued. Not so much by the story, but by ‘the elephant in the room’ – why were there no shows immediately after the lone policeman’s privileged screening? The fictional elements were obvious. Also of course the ‘spot the stars’ performances were hugely engaging, and Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor cinematography was wonderful. What impressed me most then perhaps, and does still, was the structure: how the ‘highlight’ of this life, which happens when Friese-Greene is still a relatively young man (though actor Robert Donat looks much older), is manipulated by the order of the flashbacks to form the dramatic structure necessary for a feature film.

My interest in the ‘early days’ continued

For many years, from the 1980s to the 2000s, I included William Friese-Greene in my talks about moving image history and the beginnings of cinema. Also, in the early 2000s, I provided technical information for the construction of three Friese-Greene related replica cameras for Gordon Trewinnard’s 15-year project The Race to Cinema. It’s taken me a while to get back to Friese-Greene. Too long, in truth. What finally prompted me to actually do some new work was the opportunity a blog provides to get information out without going through the frequently painful business of article/book publishing, and without the usual lack of opportunity for follow-ups and corrections once such work gets into print. I was also inspired by Ian Christie and Malcolm Cook’s suggestions concerning possible future publishing arrangements, and their Domitor forum Re-Mapping Early British Cinema. Another key factor, of course, was the publicity around the centenary of Friese-Greene’s death, and the 70th anniversary of the biopic The Magic Box. I was pleased to learn earlier this year that Peter Domankiewicz was about to embark on a PhD project focused on Friese-Greene, and this has also been a spur for me to take another look myself, now that so many digital resources have become available, including the huge increase in the number of word-searchable newspapers and periodicals. Countering this is the limited access that Covid restrictions have imposed; I am not in a position to visit archives, libraries, or museums. This is frustrating, but with the selfless help of colleagues I have had to work within those limitations.

Stereoscopic image showing man holding his own head. Friese-Greene’s mentor John Arthur Roebuck Rudge, designer of moving picture apparatus in the 1870s-80s, experimented with special effect photographs on the screen. This is his type of subject. (Photographer not known, c.1875).[2]

I do not intend to delve too deeply into the details of Friese-Greene’s mentor, the fascinating eccentric engineer and talented inventor John Arthur Roebuck Rudge, but do acknowledge the major and lasting influence that he had – personally and through his clever glass slide moving-image projection mechanisms, used by Friese-Greene – on the young photographer. In the next part of this series we shall take a look at the first ‘moving picture’ cameras with which William Friese-Greene is associated.

The other names on the patents

The intention is that this will be an occasional series – a long string of Friese-Greene posts might be too much all in one go – with episodes popping up as and when I am able to work on them. I am particularly keen to delve into the interesting work of the many design engineers and technical specialists with whom Friese-Greene was associated. We have long known the names of Mortimer Evans and Frederick Varley, neither of whom have been examined in any detail in their relation to Friese-Greene; John Prestwich, and a few others. There were many more.

Patent list from Allister, Friese-Greene: Close-up of an Inventor.

In her enigmatic book Friese-Greene: Close-up of an Inventor, Ray Allister (the pseudonym of Muriel Forth) listed some 75 British ‘William Friese-Greene’ patents. Even finding the existence of all of these is very difficult, as British patents have not been systematically digitised, with just a few random items being available on the web. I have not been able to physically access the official Patent Office books giving name-lists of patentees, which would have provided that information, so the Allister list has been a very useful start. However, Allister lists them all as being in Friese-Greene’s name, without any indication of which were in joint names. I’ve found that at least 20 of those patents have a second name in the application, some of whom would have been investors, while others were specialist design engineers. Also some of the patents listed were applications only, and never completed or granted.

Twisted tales and a series of rabbit-holes

I hope to look at the contentious and twisted tale of the 1890 phantom ‘film screenings’ in Chester, perhaps the interesting question as to whether film pioneer Birt Acres was influenced by relevant patents, and the knotty tangle of Friese-Greene’s involvement with colour cinematography. There are many rabbit holes to get lost down, but I’ll try to climb out now-and-then to display my findings. I had intended to stay within a certain time frame and concentrate on the technology, but the hiccups in Friese-Greene’s life have been impossible to ignore as they influenced his progress so much, and the ‘threads’ of the technology sneak back further than previously expected, and also forward into the 20th century. As my research has continued, there have been some startling revelations. The details are disturbing even to me, and I have been involved with William Friese-Greene research for half a century. Here is an example.

The patents – a revelation in 1909

Issued to the trade on 30 June 1909, published soon afterwards in the trade press:

July 1, 1909 NOTICE

To all and everyone dealing in and using Animated Pictures in Black and White or Colour and whomsoever it may concern. Sir,— I am informed that you are using and have used Motion Picture Machines with Transparent Picture Photograph Films which infringes one or more of the following letter Patents mentioned in my 9465 of 1905 Patent taken out by me at the British Patent Office –
No. 22954 of 1893. 22928 of 1896. 29363 of 1897. 21649 of 1898. 13883 of 1900. 9465 of 1905. 11791 of 1908.
You are hereby notified that your use of these Patents is in violation of my rights of the Patent laws, and failure on your part to discontinue such use or to obtain a license from me, will subject you to a suit for an injunction and accounting for profits and damages arising from your infringement. Should I not hear from you within ten days from the above date, I shall place the matter in my Solicitor’s hands, instructing them to commence proceedings forthwith for damages.— Yours faithfully, W. FRIESE-GREENE.

‘Everyone dealing in and using’ – here Friese-Greene was saying that all film production and exhibition had to be under his license, as he had taken out and controlled the relevant patents. When he published this 1909 ‘Manifesto’ to the trade William Friese-Greene had already been imprisoned at least once for patent/loan deception (in 1904). The response to this 1909 affront was not long in coming.

‘A great game of Spoof

The Bioscope 8 July 1909:

THE BIOSCOPE. A COMIC-OPERA MANIFESTO. […] Our investigations have proved that Mr Friese-Greene’s threats are not worth the paper upon which they are printed, and it will be amusing to watch the efforts of the wily inventor to extract fees from the bioscope trade. Time is fleeting. His ten days have already elapsed, and no doubt the solicitors have been duly instructed. Proceedings of the most awe-inspiring kind have probably (in accordance with Mr Greene’s solemn threat) been “forthwith” commenced, and the film and projector users of the whole civilised world are, doubtless, fearing the worst. Black ruin will be the unhappy lot of every picture man in this unhappy land. Prosperous shows will be closed, exhibitors in despair will emigrate to a more favoured clime, and Mr Greene will be left in undisputed control of the whole business. But, perhaps, it’s only a ha’penny earthquake, after all. What? [3]

Kinematograph Weekly 22 July 1909:
A patent expert points out lapsed claims, and also warns that Friese-Greene may have action taken against him for ‘threats’:

Mr Friese-Greene’s Claims. To the Editor, KINEMATOGRAPH AND LANTERN WEEKLY. SIR,— A short time ago we were consulted by a client on the subject of Mr Friese-Greene’s manifesto to the trade, and as to our client’s possible liability in the matter. As the writer has a considerable acquaintance with the history of animated photography we were able without much difficulty to satisfy our client as to his position, and as the matter is one of considerable interest to the trade generally we think a résumé of our investigation and its result will be of interest to your readers.
The Manifesto
‘It will be remembered that Mr Friese-Greene issued on the 30th a notice addressed to “all and everybody dealing in and using animated pictures in black and white or coloured” and claiming that such persons were using or had used motion picture machines with transparent picture photograph films which infringed one or more of his patents, the numbers of which were given.
The recipients of this notice were informed that their “use of these patents is in violation of my rights of the patent laws, and failure on your part to discontinue such use or to obtain a licence from me will subject you to a suit for an injunction and accounting for profits and damages arising from your infringement. Should I not hear from you within ten days from the above date, I shall place the matter in my solicitors’ hands, instructing them to commence proceedings forthwith for damages.”
Mr Friese-Greene was undoubtedly one of the pioneers in the motion picture industry, and as a practical worker and inventor in this respect is entitled to high place in the history of motion pictures; but the claims which he puts forward are something very different from that, and are clearly a demand for a monetary acknowledgment. We are only concerned here with the latter point, involving the question of infringement and licence. Mr Friese-Greene in his notice to the trade makes no claim for acknowledgment as a pioneer inventor, but he does make a distinct charge of infringement and a demand for the trade to take licences from him. Now, shortly, the facts are as follows.

Seven patents are mentioned, and of these all but two have been void for several years, as will be seen from the following list: No. 22954 of 1893.— Void for non-payment of renewal tax in 1903. No. 22928 of 1896.— Void for non-payment of renewal tax in 1903. No. 29363 of 1897.— Void for non-payment of renewal tax in 1901. 21649 of 1898.— Void for non-payment of renewal tax in 1902. No. 13883 of 1900.— Void for non-payment of renewal tax in 1904. No. 9465 of 1905.— In force. No. 11791 of 1908.— In force. We may mention that there was an application to the Privy Council for an extension of the 1903 patent [i.e. 22954 of 1893], but this applicant was we believe informal and was not granted [correct]. According to section 20 of the Patent Act a patentee can apply for the restoration of a patent which has become void “owing to his failure to pay the renewal fee within the prescribed time,” under certain conditions, but no such applications have up to the present been made in these cases. Default therefore of such revival of the patents anyone appears at perfect liberty to use any of the first five patents without infringing any rights of Mr Friese-Greene, as the inventions therein described are now in the public domain. It is therefore incorrect to say that use of these five patents “is in violation of his rights of the patent laws,” as he has, by failure to renew the patents, forfeited any patent rights he originally had. He has patent rights in the 1905 and 1908 inventions which, however, relate to the use of colour in motion pictures and which certainly do not cover the wide field claimed by Mr Friese-Greene in his notice.
Threatening letters
Probably neither Mr Friese-Greene nor the recipients of his notice are aware of the section of the Patent Act of 1907 dealing with the question of threats of the kind issued by Mr Friese-Greene. This section is as follows: “Where any person claiming to be the patentee of an invention, by circulars, advertisements, or otherwise, threatens any other person with any legal proceedings or liability in respect of any alleged infringement of the patent, any person aggrieved thereby may bring an action against him, and may obtain an injunction against the continuance of such threats, and may recover such damage (if any) as he has sustained thereby, if the alleged infringement to which the threats related was not in fact an infringement of any legal rights of the person making such threats: Provided that this section shall not apply if the person making such threats, with due diligence commences and prosecutes an action for infringement of his patent.”
Whether it would be worthwhile to institute proceedings against Mr Friese-Greene under this Section is of course a matter for consideration by the receivers of these threatening letters, but they would apparently experience no difficulty in obtaining an injunction against the continuance of such threats, and damages for any loss sustained thereby.
If the “Stroller’s” interview with Mr Friese-Greene is correctly reported in the issue of the KINEMATOGRAPH AND LANTERN WEEKLY for the 8th inst., there can be no doubt as to the nature of Mr Friese-Greene’s present claims. He is reported to have said that “if only some recognition was tendered him, for the amount of time and money he had spent on the subject of motion pictures … unless the trade give me some assurance that I shall receive recognition I shall within ten days proceed to vindicate my position. What I should like would be for the trade to meet me and compromise matters, instead of taking any harsh or unnecessary proceedings and spending hundreds in law expenses.” The words “recognition” and “compromise” are further explained by the suggestion that royalties should be paid.
Thus Mr Friese-Greene has issued his manifesto not with the object of obtaining recognition of his inventions, but of obtaining some monetary payment for the present use of patents most of which expired years ago. It is scarcely worth while noticing the interviewer’s curious statement that he learnt much which strengthens his (Mr Friese-Greene’s) “claim and seems to prove that his 1905 patent holds good and that on the strength of this his prior patents can be made valid even though their time had lapsed.” We need only remark that a patent which has lapsed cannot possibly be revived by mentioning in a subsequent patent, that it is an improvement on or related to the subject matter of the earlier (lapsed) patent. This appears to be what the interviewer thought. Our client informed us that he was certainly not using anything covered by the 1905 and 1908 patents, and we therefore, advised him to ignore Mr Friese-Greene’s notice, and await any possible further developments without anxiety.— Yours, etc.,
DICKER & POLLAK, Chartered Patent Agents
37 Furnival Street, Holborn, E.C.

Shortly after this, Friese-Greene was in court again, for deception and unpaid loans and repeated failure to produce accounts demanded by the Courts. That story will continue in our later posts.

My views on the central character himself I will mostly leave for the final posts in the series, by which time I think readers will have been able to make up their own minds from the facts presented. Perhaps at the end we shall also look in some detail – in association with Ivan Rose, an expert in such things, who can evaluate the many clues in a single photograph – at Friese-Greene’s earlier commercial photographic studio work, which is most interesting. So I’ve spent several months, on and off in the background of my current projects, starting to put together my version of some parts of the story.

An appeal to the non-technical reader

“Industrial archaeology is ultimately concerned with people rather than things […] machines are of interest only as products of human ingenuity, enterprise, compassion or greed – as physical expressions of human behaviour. From whatever standpoint the subject is approached, man is the basic object of our curiosity. Each machine tells us something about its inventor – about the capacity of human ingenuity to meet the needs of the new technology.” (David Smith) [4]

Pen-and-ink sketches of various early motion picture mechanisms, made by Brian Coe during his experiments and research at Kodak in the early 1950s. Readers do not need to understand all this. Coe did, so that we don’t have to. (Originals, Stephen Herbert Collection. Collage by Stephen Herbert).

I’m asking a lot. This account of a fascinating but contentious chapter in the history of the introduction of photographic moving images includes a good deal of technical description. If that’s not your thing, because you’re not interested in that aspect, or because you don’t think you have sufficient practical experience to understand it, please don’t skip those passages. Interspersed amongst the technical melée of sprockets and shutters and cams there are, I think, fresh concepts and new suggestions that can be understood by anyone. Don’t worry if the technical bits are somewhat opaque. Read through, and some painless osmosis will gradually take effect. Although I’ve made it as easy as I can it won’t be easy for everyone – it’s still far from easy for me, I’m a technician not a design engineer – but if you have time please read it all anyway.

The concentration on technical aspects is not simply a fetish based on objects for their own sake and their association with particular individuals, but rather a necessary attempt to more fully understand what was endeavoured and what was actually achieved at the time; an ongoing process.

Why does it matter?

I have made a determined attempt to incorporate the science and technics with other equally important strands of the narrative, including where relevant the personal circumstances of the protagonists, and the commercial context. In later sections I have also included some details of the way in which this ‘history’ has been manipulated subsequently, because the historiography is a particularly fascinating aspect, unique in the narrative of cinema’s origins in Britain, in its complexity and the way in which it has influenced the public perception of its subject. As I wrote earlier, ‘it doesn’t really matter who William Friese-Greene was or what he did, but what we are told about history does matter, for much bigger reasons. Even, perhaps especially, today.’

This series of occasional posts should be considered work in progress. I would like to state here that I owe a great debt to those serious post-war historians who have already researched and written on this thorny subject, which suffers from so much ‘popular’ historiographic distortion, and I have considerable respect for the work they did in the days before digital searching made it all so (relatively) easy. If we think of it as a jigsaw puzzle of 200 pieces: in the past, exhaustive searching revealed perhaps 30 random pieces of the picture. Putting together a whole coherent view from that fractured landscape was not possible. Even so, some came close to an understanding of the main points. Today, we can easily find perhaps 100 of the pieces that are out there to be found. With objective analysis, the entire picture starts to appear.

My method of working is to bring in my personal experiences where appropriate, to give the reader some understanding of how I have arrived at certain conclusions.

‘Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.’
Bette Davis as Eve Harrington, All About Eve (1950)[5]

Stephen Herbert, January 2022

If you find The Optilogue useful, and haven’t already done so, why not Subscribe here to get email notification of every new post?

Concerning references and permissions

This series of posts includes many images from the Collections of the Cinémathèque française. These are reproduced by specific permission of Laurent Mannoni, Directeur scientifique du Patrimoine et du Conservatoire des techniques, Cinémathèque française, January 2022.

Other picture sources are given wherever possible, and permissions are being sought where necessary. I cannot pass on those permissions to third parties.

All references are given freely, and you do not need to ask my permission to cite them. They are history. For accuracy, you might want to check back to ensure that the source is correct.


I am indebted to a long list of friends and colleagues who have assisted me over recent months in particular, often delaying their own more important work to do so. Their names and details of those contributions will appear in the relevant posts. None of this could have been written without the support of my partner Mo Heard.

Notes and references

  1. See Allen Eyles, ‘Our Centenary or Not?’ The Cinema Veteran No. 170 (Summer 2021). ‘This enables the following conclusion: the death of William Friese Greene had no direct connection with the birth of the [Cinema] Veterans but did stimulate the eventual setting up of the Cinematograph Trade Benevolent Fund (now the Film+TV Charity).’ Also ‘1924 – the birth of the Veterans – an editorial investigation’. [return to text]
  2. Illustration from S.F. Spira, Eaton S. Lothrop and Jonathan B. Spira, The History of Photography as Seen Through the Spira Collection (New York: Aperture Foundation, 2001). [return to text]
  3. The full quotation from 8 July The Bioscope, 8 July 1909, is:
    THE BIOSCOPE. A COMIC-OPERA MANIFESTO. It is unfortunately true that only a minority of those engaged in the film industry can be expected to take things seriously – even though rain fall on twenty-nine days in the month of June. Close and constant connection with the picture business would seem to engender a spirit of levity suggestive of an overflowing measure of prosperity – and too much prosperity is bad for all of us. Manufacturers and hirers complain that life in the land of films is too strenuous; there is not sufficient time to attend adequately to motoring and golf; billiard matches have to be rushed through far too hurriedly, and the amount of work between meals is increasing in a most objectionable manner. Therefore, the arrival of a No. 1 sensation in the form of a “manifesto” by a wild inventor will, no doubt, be received with acclamation. Further discussion of the Philosophy of Commerce at the Salisbury? will be postponed sine die. The production of original plots must go hang for the present. New theatres of luxury with their tea-rooms and lady-orchestras will cease to be topics of general conversation; all will give place to the Manifesto. And such a Manifesto! Read it, on page four. Think of it, ye manufacturers of films and projectors. Weigh its awe-inspiring threats in all their twaddlesome and ungrammatical exuberance. Then crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after you. Freeze-Green’s a-coming! He has sent up a rocket to warn you of the impending danger. Earthquakes will be mere child’s-play compared with the sensation that Mr Freeze-Greens will produce when he gets fairly on the job. There is a terrible time coming for the bloated capitalists whose ill-gotten gains are mercilessly wrung from the unrequitted labour of the down-trodden inventor. No quarter will be given to the iniquitous exhibitor whose unnatural accumulation of unearned increment rightly belongs to the holder of Letters Patent number so-and-so. Yea! verily, the inventor of all the animated pictures that ever flickered will injunct you with, a mighty injunction. But we fear that even this, our solemn warning, may fail to strike terror into the hearts of the back-sliding violators of other people’s patents. We can only trust that a more spluttering pen than ours may be wielded in the cause of justice and humanity to Frizzly-Grems, Rockett and Company. But in spite of our ponderous seriousness, there is perhaps a lighter side to the great Freeze-Greens drama. Let us suppose that the 4,000 manufacturers, hirers, and showmen in this country should refuse to be scared by the wild inventor’s stage thunder. Suppose they should elect to fight this low-comedy attempt to ruin their industry. The capital invested in the picture business in England alone exceeds £5,000,000 sterling. And every man in the trade would join in a powerful combination to resist the imposition of a tax upon the industry. Like his prototype, that other hyphened, double-barrelled tax-collector, Lloyd-George, it is probable that Mr Frieze-Greene is after hen-roosts. But he will find that the granting of licenses will not keep him very busily employed. Picture men are not quite so simple as they look. As to the connection of THE BIOSCOPE with this comic-opera Manifesto, a word of explanation may be necessary. On, or about, June 1st, a Mr Houghton Rockett presented himself at our offices with a request for an interview with the Editor. It was not possible to grant this request at the time, so Mr Rockett left a packet of manuscript, and laid much stress on the “great importance” of its contents. Next day the editorial chief glanced over the precious MS, and decided that there was nothing particularly new or startling in its subject matter. But Mr Rockett would not be denied. He called again. Then he wrote, urging the publication of his “article,” in justice to Mr F. Greene. Now, THE BIOSCOPE, although a hard-hitter when there is any fighting to be done, is always ready to help even the most insignificant unit in the great picture business. Therefore, Mr Houghton Rockett’s communication, though lengthy and windy, was published in our last week’s issue. It now seems that Mr Rockett’s piteous solicitation for his poor friend, Mr Greene, was merely a part of a great game of Spoof, for no sooner was last Thursday’s BIOSCOPE in Mr Friese-Greene’s hands than he issued his egregious circular. Our investigations have proved that Mr Friese-Greene’s threats are not worth the paper upon which they are printed, and it will be amusing to watch the efforts of the wily inventor to extract fees from the bioscope trade. Time is fleeting. His ten days have already elapsed, and no doubt the solicitors have been duly instructed. Proceedings of the most awe-inspiring kind have probably (in accordance with Mr Greene’s solemn threat) been “forthwith” commenced, and the film and projector users of the whole civilised world are, doubtless, fearing the worst. Black ruin will be the unhappy lot of every picture man in this unhappy land. Prosperous shows will be closed, exhibitors in despair will emigrate to a more favoured clime, and Mr Greene will be left in undisputed control of the whole business. But, perhaps, it’s only a ha’penny earthquake, after all. What?
    4,000 INJUNCTIONS. INTERVIEW WITH MR FRIEZE-GREENE. The unrestrained boldness of design exhibited by Mr Frieze-Greene in his circular to users of bioscopes seems to suggest that there may be a lot of fun in store for those who watch the march of events. In order to gather, at first hand, the views of the Great Inventor upon the possible results of his campaign, an interviewer was specially instructed to draw him out. “Is it really true,” asked the man of ink, “that you are claiming damages against all users of motion picture machines and films?” “Perfectly correct,” replied the Benefactor of his Race; “I’m going for the lot of ’em.” “But why have you waited so long?” queried the cross-examiner. “Well, you see, I’ve been ’waiting my opportunity,” said the Specialist in Patents. “The moving-picture people are all making fortunes now, and it’s about time I got a bit of my own back. I’ve been working and experimenting for sixteen years on animated photography, and have spent over £13,000 in experimental research.” “Where did I get the £13,000 from? That’s no business of yours, but I may add that I now have £20,000 at the back of me, and I mean to bring all the exploiters of my brains into line.” “Do your claims only extend to England?” asked the reporter. “Not by any means,” was the reply. “I am going over to Paris to make arrangements for protecting my position there. After that I shall go to the United States, where I expect to be received with open arms. The Americans are a great people, and their fondness for paying license fees of so-many-dollars-a-week-for-each-machine-operated is proverbial.” Sir Friese did not give any detailed information as to his visits to Japan, Hawaii, Timbuctoo, Patagonia, or the Mile-End Road. But he evidently has great ideas as to the possibilities of exploiting the picture business. May he get more than he deserves.
    [return to text]
  4. David Smith, Industrial Archaeology of the East Midlands (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1965). [return to text]
  5. OK, the actual quote is “… a bumpy night.” But you get the idea. [return to text]

5 thoughts on “William Friese-Greene: Close-Up

  1. Dear Stephen,

    Another interesting post – thanks very much.

    I thought it might be good to find the identity of the illustrator of the 1977 Bumper Wonder Book, since he put in some hard work! A bit of digging reveals that this Friese-Greene illustration originally appeared in the section on “Using a Cine-Camera” in the 1974 How and Why Wonder Book of Photography by the same publishers – see https://www.scribd.com/document/379132163/How-and-Why-Wonder-Book-of-Photography The page image is attached.

    The illustrator was the remarkably prolific Peter Archer (1933-2018).

    Best wishes,



  2. Hello Nick.
    Thank you! Now that’s detective work. What a comprehensive and well produced publication. It’s always pleasing to be able to give credit to the artists, who added so much to such books.
    Very best,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: