Sunday, 2 April 2017

The King's Shorts (film, that is)

Hi readers! I'm not dead. Today I'm here to tell you about a hypnotist, hoaxer, magic lantern operator, and one of the earliest pioneers of film. And, of course, his connection to the King!

While it could never be said that he's a household name, as many of today's most famous filmmakers are, George Albert Smith is truly one of the most important people in Victorian and Edwardian cinema. I went to Brighton Museum to have a look around the Experimental Motion exhibition on early film in Brighton and learn more about him. What better setting for a King's Ginger piece than The Royal Pavilion?

Side note: I've never actually been to Brighton Museum (inside the grounds of the Royal Pavilion) before, despite the many, many trips to the town I've done in my life. The Royal Pavilion itself has an obvious connection with the King. Well, slightly. Queen Victoria was its last royal owner. Having been built for the Prince Regent (later George IV) in 1787 and extended into its current style (domes and minarets) in 1811, it would get passed down to subsequent monarchs. Queen Victoria, however, disliked Brighton. She went to stay in the Pavilion in 1841 with Albert, coincidentally around the same time that Brighton became accessible by rail to Londoners. So the Queen was unable to go and walk around outside, as she drew constant attention. Apparently, the royal couple "found themselves surrounded by tourists and errand boys when they went out for a walk, with members of the public peering under her bonnet to see what she looked like". Said Victoria, "the people here are very indiscreet and troublesome". So the Pavilion was sold to the town of Brighton itself.

As King Edward VII was born in November 1841, then I'd say the chances are very good that he *did* visit the Pavilion, albeit inside his mother... but that's far too easy a story. So, back to the proper one... where was I?  

Let's start at the beginning! George Albert Smith was born in Cripplegate, London in 1864, but ended up moving to Brighton as a child, when his mother relocated the family following the death of his father. When Smith was in his early twenties, he partnered up with a chap called Douglas Blackburn for 'psychic' stage performances at the Brighton Aquarium. They would do different acts - one where the blindfolded performer would direct the other to a 'hidden' item within the theatre, and 'muscle reading' where the (still blindfolded) performer identifies objects belonging to the audience. So convincing was Smith that his claims of genuine telepathy were believed by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and he even ended up becoming the private secretary to the SPR's official Honorary Secretary, Edmund Gurney. Gurney would often allow himself to have 'hypnotic experiments' carried out on him by Smith and became something of a celebrity. Smith probably faked all the results and Gurney later died in mysterious circumstances... by his own hand or not? That's a story for another time. Mainly because I have no idea.

Anyway, Blackburn later admitted that their early shows were a hoax. So the rest undoubtedly were too.

Smith must have earned himself a lot of money in his time at the SPR, because after he left, in 1892, he acquired the lease to St Ann's Well Garden in Hove and apparently turned it into a popular pleasure garden and a tourist attraction.

This biography of Smith has a quote from a Hove newspaper, describing St Ann's Well Garden as, 'this delightful retreat ... presided over by the genial Mr G. Albert Smith, is now open ... In the hot weather the refreshing foliage of the wooded retreat is simply perfect, while one can enjoy a cup of Pekoe in the shade'. It also talks about "lawn tennis, 'ferns, flowers, grapes and cucumbers for sale in the glass houses' a gypsy fortune-teller, a monkey house, lantern exhibitions given by Smith of 'dissolving views' and the occasional 'thrilling parachute descent' provided it with a distinctive character."

But more important that tea drinking and monkey tennis, was the film factory that the garden soon became. After seeing the work of another British film pioneer, Robert Paul at the Alhambra Music Hall in Leicester Square in March 1896, as well as a film demonstration by the (very famous) Lumière brothers; later that same year or early in the next, Smith bought his first film camera.

It would have looked very much like the one on the left above, which is a, 1896 42mm experimental camera by Alfred Darling & Sons Ltd of Brighton. Alfred Darling apparently worked closely with the early filmmakers like Smith, to produce these innovative machines, which then sold worldwide. The camera on the right is from 1900, and is a very early 'special effects' camera, with special plates that give the illusion of looking through binoculars. More on this, shortly.

Smith was a prolific filmmaker, making at least 31 films in 1897, that first year; and hundreds in total. He started using special effects like superimposition by the following year, to show the magical arrival of Santa Claus. And in 1899, he made a short film called The Kiss in the Tunnel, where three pieces of film (train entering tunnel, a man and woman kissing on the train, train leaving tunnel) were edited together in a very simple but effective film sequence. Thus came the birth of editing and film continuity.

His output the following year included Grandma's Reading Glass, which has been credited as the first film in cinematic history to use a close-up shot, using a camera just like the one on the right in the photo above, also made by Alfred Darling & Sons. Smith also pioneered other special effects and processes such as double-exposure, reversing and dream sequences.

Alfred Darling undertook a lot of work for George Albert Smith and his contemporaries, as detailed in the business journal displayed in the exhibition. As well as serving Brighton-based filmmakers, Darling made cameras for London-based folks like one Charles Urban... another enormously important chap in early cinema and a name to remember for later.

Smith got busy over those early few years, turning St Ann's Well Garden into a busy and productive studio. He also turned the pump house into a space for developing and printing film. By the end of the 19th Century, Smith had become a successful commercial film processor. Fellow moving picture pioneer and local chemist James Williamson, whose short films were also on show in the exhibition (the steamrollered man in 'An Interesting Story', could easily have been made today about someone glued to their smartphone), apparently sold Smith the chemicals he needed for film processing. Charles Urban (him again), became a large customer.

Smith's wife, Laura Eugenia Bayley, acted in many of his films. Mary Jane's Mishap is a really funny comedy short made by Smith in 1903, and starring Laura in the title role. It's on display in Brighton Museum and was one of his last significant films.

Forgive me for glossing over the man's illustrious career so quickly (he did make many, many more important films, lots of which survive to this day), but I'm going to sum up the last decade of his movie career now.

By 1905, he had sold St Ann's Well on and moved to Southwick where, where with finance from Charles Urban, he went on to develop what was called the Lee-Turner Process, (acquired by canny mogul Urban following the death of the eponymous Turner in 1903) into the first successful colour film process, Kinemacolor. In May 1908, Smith and Urban unveiled the first colour film, staggering its audience. Urban turned Kinemacolor into a new enterprise, the Natural Colour Kinemacolor Company, which went on to produce over 100 short features at its studios in Hove between 1910 to 1913, before a patent suit put it out of business in 1914. And thus, Smith's movie career ended along with his company. He faded into obscurity before apparently being 'discovered' again in the 40s and was finally recognised for his immense contribution to the industry and inducted into the British Film Academy hall of fame. Smith died in 1959.

As always, you may well ask, what is the connection then, if it's not the Royal Pavilion itself? Well, it's an interesting one! In 1902, Smith collaborated with the very well-known early French filmographer Georges Méliès - who was also a great friend of his - to create and direct a 'pre-enactment' of the Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. It was commissioned and produced by none other than Charles Urban after a rival film company, Mutoscope and Biograph apparently acquired the rights to film the actual event.

It was a potted version of the ceremony, lasting only five minutes instead of three hours, and filmed using actors, including a man who is indistinguishable from the real King Edward, who was apparently a washroom attendant. After editing, it was ready to be released on the day of the real event in June 1902, which was itself then delayed two months until August of that year while his Majesty recovered from a nearly deadly bout of appendicitis. What happened to the 'real' coronation video, I'm not sure.

How brilliant that this film can now be watched in its entirety today, and even with some handy and informative annotations (not done by me)? Enjoy:

So that's the story of George Albert Smith, Victorian and Edwardian film pioneer, who may or may not have actually met the King himself (Smith's IMDB page has a few other documentary shorts starring the royal couple, so it's likely he did), but definitely met a man who looked identical. Nearly the same thing!

Thanks for joining me in this new instalment of my longest-running series, which I just love doing. I shall leave you all again with the news that this blog is finally almost ready for a makeover and a reinvention. So stay tuned and I'll be back soon... for real. 

Fleur xx

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Eight Years of Blogging Christmas

Forgive me, oh readers, this is a bit of a cheat post. I just read lovely Retro Chick's Christmas outft post & wanted to rip off her idea. But because I'm nothing if not resourceful and have done this in the past, I'm basically reposting almost exactly what I did last year. But this blog needs a seasonal revival and what's easier than a good old copy/past/update post? So here it is, the Eight Years of Blogging Christmas, since 2008, when DoaVG was born!

(This time, I'm going to add some different angles & bonus photos. Well, it is Christmas...)

For the 2008 Everything's Jumpin' Christmas swing dance in Kingston I wore a two-piece candy-cane striped playsuit & skirt. I couldn't remember the brand last year, but I can confirm it was by Miss Hussy, a now defunct Aussie brand. I 'met' the owner again on Facebook this year, in a vintage group. Small world!

This repro velvet dress from Able Grable (also sadly gone) from 2009 has been a festive winner for many subsequent years. Here's me and my bro, looking young - he's now more grown-up than me, being married and with a 1 year old little girl.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

The King & The American

Would you look at the time? I'm going back to 1892 to tell you all another story about a certain late King. It's quite the interesting tale. Welcome to Two Temple Place...

Two Temple place is a gothic mansion, situated on the Victoria Embankment of the River Thames. It was built for William Waldorf Astor in 1892 (completed in 1895), from Portland stone and in the Early Elizabethan style. The inside was described by one Donald Strachan as 'Victoriana meets Disney' and is full of completely bizarre details, which I'll come to shortly. It's also not generally open to the public, only opening its doors during periodical exhibitions. I've wanted to go along to see it in person for a few years, partly because of the connection with King Edward VII, thus making it a great topic for one of these blogs, but also because it just seemed really interesting and unusual. And it certainly didn't disappoint!

Let's start from the beginning. William Waldorf 'Willy' Astor, later known as the 1st Viscount Astor, was an extremely wealthy american gentleman, born in 1848. He was an attorney by trade and hailed from New York, growing up in Germany and Italy before returning to his native country as a young adult. He entered politics in the 1870s, with some success, but it was in 1890, when his financier father died, that he inherited an enormous fortune. Enough to make him the richest man in America.

Among the first things he did with his newfound wealth was to build the opulent Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. You might have heard of it! But in 1891, he got into a family feud with Caroline Webster "Lina" Schermerhorn, the wife of his uncle, over whether it was she or Astor's own wife Mary who should be known as the official 'Mrs Astor'. Unfortunately, Willy lost the argument. In a very strange turn of events, in order to disappear from the American public eye, Astor apparently faked his own death from pneumonia and moved to England in 1892. Obviously, this ruse didn't last long and he was roundly mocked by the American press. Nevermind, eh? He was in England now!

Upon arrival in London, he rented a home, but immediately began work on Two Temple Place, later buying a country estate, Cliveden in 1893. The work was completed in 1895.

Two Temple Place has everything an eccentric billionaire could want. Elaborate carvings, complicated metalwork, crenellations, novelty lampposts, cherubs on the telephone (it was brand new technology then), a fancy weathervane - all on the outside.

But the inside takes it another step further still. It's extraordinary. Carved wood, wood figurines, gilt plating everywhere, spectacular stained glass on the ceiling and windows. Have a look.

At opposite ends of the Gallery are these amazing windows. 
And there's gold plating everywhere... very dark for photos unfortunately.

The main stairwell has this ridiculous ceiling and a frieze starring characters from Rip Van Winkle and Last of the Mohicans among others, as well as Shakespearean carved figures and other characters from both fiction and history. Anne Boleyn is there somewhere. The staircase has not one but SEVEN mahogany carvings of characters from Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, allegedly Astor's favourite novel.

Add caption
 Not sure - Athos?

It was designed and built by architect John Loughborough Pearson, the founder of Modern Gothic architecture. The budget was so high, he spared no expense on hiring skilled craftsmen. Aside from the crazy and amazing interior, Two Temple Place had many useful features as well. It was Astor's office, was a home away from the US where he apparently felt his children were at risk from kidnapping, the largest strong room in Europe and other fortified safes.

From Wikipedia

But the interesting story of Two Temple Place is all well and good, but what is the connection with The King's Ginger, you might well ask? There are almost too many to detail in one blog (and keep it interesting). Firstly, he may very well have met our hero when still in the USA, as a founding father of the Tuxedo Club - which the Prince attended in New York, as detailed in a previous blog post I wrote on tailor to the King, Henry Poole.

But later in life as a London resident, Willy Astor became very interested in British society, specifically his standing in it. He donated widely and generously to charities - Great Ormond Street Hospital was one such recipient, as well as countless universities, schools, hospitals, benevolent funds, war memories, children's charities and, notably for this piece, donated £5,000 annually to King Edward's Hospital Fund (you can see an earlier piece on this hospital!). While rumours abounded that he wanted to marry into royalty, he controversially gave a very extravagant wedding gift to Princess Maud of Wales, King Edward and Queen Alexandra's youngest daughter -  a bracelet with a diamond larger than a hazelnut. The Evening Telegram in 1896 said of it, 'The ornament is an extraordinary one, even for a many times millionaire to give to a Royal bride, and that giver but a ‘commoner,’ say some of the gossipers.'

Maud of Wales

But even more interestingly, as transcribed in this great blog post, in 1896, the Chicago Tribune reported that the generousgift of the bracelet probably came as a result of Astor's closeness with the then Prince of Wales, because Astor had paid off some of our Playboy Prince's mounting debts:

... the Prince looked around him on every side for another benefactor, whom, the probabilities are, he found in the person of William Waldorf Astor, who was only too delighted at the opportunity thus offered to place the future King of England and Emperor of India under so heavy an obligation to himself.
The Prince is not ungrateful, and he has shown by his visits to Cliveden, by his influencing the other members of the Royal family to accept Mr. Astor’s invitations and by his inviting him far more frequently than is stated in the newspapers to Sandringham, how much he appreciates the assistance afforded.
One of the most significant features of the situation is the superb wedding present given by Mr. Astor to Princess Maud of Wales the other day. It was an unset diamond of huge size, of perfect purity and luster, and of immense value.  It was a gift which a brother-in-law might give to a sister-in-law or a kinsman to a relative, but hardly one which any mere acquaintance of the family, a comparative stranger, would dream of sending.
The Royal family are very particular about the origin of presents, and many a gift has been refused because the Prince and Princess did not consider that the value thereof was warranted by the degree of intimacy or of friendship.
The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that William Waldorf Astor, descendant of the German pelt-peddler and late of America, is not only considered an intimate friend of the family of the Prince of Wales, but is in a position steadily to intensify that intimacy and worm his way to the throne, the left-handed consort’s throne, itself.
London society is convinced that this is Mr. Astor’s purpose, and those luminaries of it who best know its inner workings consider that his chances of success are good. 

And as a final amusing note, Astor's son, Waldorf Astor, had a second marriage to another American emigré to England, Nancy Witcher Langhorne. Nancy Astor was famous in English society for being a bit saucy in her speech - she was apparently charming, witty and interesting (if also very devoutly religious). The couple lived in another of Willy Waldorf Astor's homes, the aforementioned Clivedem. On the Cliveden site (now National Trust), it states:
In the early twentieth century, King Edward VII was eager to meet the newly married Nancy Astor. On one occasion during a visit to Cliveden, Edward VII asked to play bridge which Nancy declined, famously saying ‘I am afraid I can’t tell a King from a Knave’ – much to the King’s amusement.
I suspect the King might have had designs on her...

That's all for now. Here are a couple more photos of the amazing Two Temple Place, where Astor and the King may or may not have drunk together. The exhibition on inside during my visit was on Egyptology - fascinating but the building itself was worth the trip alone. It's now closed to the public until their next exhibition in 2017. I encourage any history lovers to go along when you can, it's amazing!

D'Artagnan in the foreground there.

This is the ladies loo! It's the worst photo I took, but I'm sharing for posterity!

In the meantime, drink loads of The King's Ginger - it's getting to that season after all. Especially at this weekend's Goodwood Revival, where there's a lovely Berry Bros. & Rudd Bar! Cheers!

Fleur xx

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Go Hard or Go Frome (part 1)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (or rather last June in Somerset), much fun was had. It was actually a hen do, and all in honour of Jeni aka Yesterday Girl, who got married in Vegas last July. A fabulous time was had by all (and documented on Instagram) but then the photos got lost on a hard drive and so no blog post was written. But then, a couple of months ago, they got found... hooray!

So anyway, last June, my girl gang and I drove in convoy to Frome (yes it's pronounced Froom, rather than to rhyme with home but oh well), with me in my little yellow Panda and Bethan in her red Ka. We stayed in a lovely holiday cottage called Stonehenge (s/o to all you Spinal Tap fans) that we found through Snaptrip, which had a pool and games room next door. And we celebrated Jeni's forthcoming marriage with almost none of your standard hen party accessories. Except willy straws. Oh, and willy cutlery.

I will simply post this as a visual diary of our excursions. There's Wookey Hole, which was quite literal cheesy fun in caves (clogs not recommended), the vintage amusement arcade and mirror maze plus the dinosaur trail outside. We also did a trip into Frome to poke about the vintage shops. While other people's holiday photos can be dull, I assure you all there are lots of good vintage outfits and hair to be seen here! Part 2 coming soon and by the way, all these photos are from Jeni's amazing camera, which explains why they are much better than my knackered old Canon can manage.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Feelin' Vinyl

Yesterday was really quite special. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my oldest and dearest friends Naomi Thompson, but I got to dress up and have my photo taken in a fabulous 1970s dress with hair and makeup, too. Exhibit A:

As a newly converted 1970s aficionado, it was a bit of a dream. The shoot was in honour of the new HBO series Vinyl being released for digital download, today. Firstly, and most importantly, here's what Vinyl is all about:
VINYL is a ride through the sex- and drug-addled music business of 1970s New York at the dawn of punk, disco and hip-hop. Richie Finestra, the founder and president of American Century Records, is trying to save his company and soul without destroying everyone in his path. With his passion for music and discovering talent gone by the wayside, and American Century on the precipice of being sold, he has a life-altering event that reignites his love of music, but severely damages his personal life.
It has been created by none other than Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, author Rich Cohen and multi-gonged producer Terence Winter who is known for "The Wolf of Wall Street; HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire”, so if that's not a recipe for an amazing series right there, I don't know what is!

The aim of the day was for the dream team of Naomi and Natasha from Pretty Me Vintage to transform a select few journalists and bloggers into (imaginary) characters from the series. Think glitzy, moneyed 1970s New York music industry clothing, rather than boho, wild-child hippies or English Laura Ashley frocks.

It's fair to say, they got it spot on!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Welcome Home (The King's Sanatorium)

It's time for another delve into English Edwardian history for The King's Ginger. This time, we're going back to a darker time, when tuberculosis was a scourge. Men, women, children, rich or poor - no one was safe, and a cure was not yet known. But the luckier (and not necessarily wealthier) victims of consumption did have more of a chance, thanks to a state-of-the-art sanatorium that bore the King's name...

Back in my teens, all I really knew about TB was that the leading lady in La Boheme had it and I got a very painful BCG inoculation against it. But in the early 1800s, TB was the cause of an astonishing twenty-five percent of all deaths in England. By the turn of the 20th century, rates of death from consumption were still high, with a vaccination more than twenty years away and a cure, almost fifty. It was only a couple of decades previously, that the medical profession discovered that TB was infectious. It was certainly had no respect for money or class status. But it's fair to say there was a huge difference in the treatment of poor TB victims and the wealthy ones. Both were isolated from society, but the poor went into sanatoriums that were essentially prisons or workhouses and the more well-heeled benefited from plush hospitals, relaxation, fresh air and sunlight.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Snapshots of Berlin

After an insanely busy six weeks, last Monday I ran away to Berlin for a couple of days. One of the nice things about being a freelance copywriter and social media type, is that with a bit of preparation, I can theoretically do my job from anywhere in the world. So, off I flew!

My lovely man had gone to Hamburg the previous weekend to watch St Pauli play (I had to work, which was a convenient excuse to get out of watching football) and came to meet me in Berlin on Monday night. We stayed in the awesome Michelberger Hotel, a place that's 50% boutique hotel and 50% budget hotel, and 100% hipster, but in a cool way. The way East London was about five years ago, before it became too knowing about its own hipsterness! It's in Friedrichshain, in what was previously East Berlin, which was then the poorest part and is now arguably the most fun and creative part. We especially loved neighbouring Kreutzberg with its independent shops, bars, restaurants and venues.

What I present here are some snapshots of my trip, more for personal record than anything else. That disclaimer comes because I have a brand-new camera (a Canon 70D) which I haven't quite got to grips with yet, so these photos are really just holiday snaps and not beautifully-composed blog photos. And because sometimes it's better to capture moments with an iPhone than it is to grapple with a DSLR beast!

The most delicious German breakfast, at Tante Emma

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Having a Grape Old Time!

It's about time I took a foray back into the more distant past for a fresh King's Ginger adventure. Luckily enough, I have had one up my sleeve for a few months, ready to unleash on my loyal readers at the most opportune moment! This particular story revolves around sparkling wine (and horses), and what better time to enjoy such things than in the lead up to Valentine's Day? Well, sparkling wine, not horses. Though what you do with your own time is no business of mine.

Onto the tale!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

From Hobby to Career – Becoming a Vintage Seller

In the second of my two posts for Shurgard's blog, I am asking: so, you think you have a good eye for vintage clothing and accessories? Perhaps, after many years devoted to your own collection – honing your eye for a bargain – you realise you prefer hunting down vintage and antiques more than your actual job. Well... why not try and make a living out of your hobby? Seriously! You'll have to get used to early mornings, become a photographer, get to grips with social media marketing and, most importantly of all, genuinely have a passion for what you're doing. But the rewards are so worth it! 

Keep your eyes peeled

The casual collector scours eBay and Etsy and probably frequents vintage sales, charity shops and carboots. But the serious stock sourcer needs to think bigger. You can find big lots on eBay if you look, but it's being first through the door at sales of all kinds that reaps the rewards. Pro sellers are the ones lining up at opening time, sweeping through and leaving before the hobbyists have even got out of bed! You can even try going to proper vintage clothing auction houses like Kerry Taylor to battle it out with other dealers, hitting foreign flea markets or making friends with local house clearance companies.

Promoting your collection 

When you've acquired some stock, what then? Sure, you can book spots at fairs, boot sales and so forth, but if you don't have transport, it can be difficult. Selling online is the answer, but it's an art all in itself. Taking decent photos is key. A decent camera (or cameraphone), a plain backdrop (or bedsheet!) and a cheap mini tripod are good to have. It's definitely fair to say that the better your photos are, the more you are likely to sell, and potentially command higher prices.

Take a look!

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