Arthur Melbourne-Cooper

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Arthur Melbourne Cooper
Born(1874-04-15)15 April 1874
Died28 November 1961(1961-11-28) (aged 87)
Coton, England, United Kingdom
  • Photographer
  • Filmmaker
  • Kate Lacey
    (1908–1961; his death)
  • Audrey Wadowska
  • 2 others

Arthur Melbourne Cooper (15 April 1874 – 28 November 1961) was a British photographer and early filmmaker best known for his pioneering work in stop-motion animation.[1] He produced over three hundred films between 1896 and 1915, of which an estimated 36 were all or in part animated; these include Dreams of Toyland (1908) and according to some sources Dolly’s Toys (1901), as well as Matches: An Appeal (date disputed), which Dutch independent researcher Tjitte de Vries has claimed may have been the first animated film to be shown in public.[2]

Since his death, Cooper has become a controversial figure among film historians with disputes arising over his professional relationship with film pioneer Birt Acres; seven films known as the GRG-Series, which archives such as the BFI's currently credit to Brighton-based filmmaker George Albert Smith; and the re-dating of the aforementioned Matches: An Appeal, which archives such as the BFI's currently date to 1914;[2] the claims were debated in a series of articles in Film History journal from 1999 to 2002,[3][4][5] and in response to the book on Cooper published in 2009 by de Vries.[6]


Early life and career[edit]

Animated Matches: Cricket

Born in St Albans, Cooper was the son of a local photographer Thomas M. Cooper, who educated him from very early on in his profession. By the age of 16, he was working as an assistant at his father's shop on New London Road, St. Albans,[7] he claimed to have gone to work for film pioneer Birt Acres in 1892, at the age of 18; this claim has however been disputed as Acres himself was working for Elliot and Sons up until 1895 and is felt unlikely to have hired an assistant before this time.[5]

During the late 1890s and early 1900s, Cooper performed "rush work" filming and developing topical subjects, such as the 1898 launch of the Albion (for Acre), the 1902 Coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (for the Biograph Company) and the 1903 Grand National among others.[5]

Animated Matches: Football

Dutch researcher Tjitte de Vries, based on later reports by Cooper and his daughter Audrey Wadowska, controversially claims that during this time the filmmaker also produced the Animated Matches series of films more commonly dated to 1914 and the GRG-Series of films more commonly attributed to George Albert Smith.[3][5]

Continuing to live at London Road with his mother and siblings and work as a cameraman, he began to think about establishing his own company following his father's death in 1901.[5][7]

Alpha Trading Company[edit]

MacNab's Visit to London

By 1906 Cooper had established the Alpha Trading Company, and started film production in his own right,[5] his productions at this time include MacNab's Visit to London (1905), in which he plays the title role in a slapstick comedy about golf, and The Motor Pirate (1906), in which bandits in an armoured car make the roads unsafe. That year he also became one of the founder-members of the British Kinematograph Manufacturers Association.

In 1907 Cooper set out on a special observation car, attached to the front of a train to film the 3,000 feet (910 m) long phantom ride film London to Killarney (1907) which was one of the longest to have been made at that time and was distributed in four parts. At the end of the ride he also filmed the comedy Irish Wives and English Husbands (1907), starring local girl Kate O'Connor, which was the first fiction film to be made in Ireland.[8]:29[9]:7

A Dream of Toyland

By 1908 Cooper had established the Alpha Production Works in St Albans,[5] his productions during this time include his earliest uncontested animation Dreams of Toyland (1908), which includes storylines, themes, characters and techniques he would return to in later films. Earlier, contested, animated productions include Dolly’s Toys (1901), which has also been credited to Walter R. Booth and George Albert Smith, and the Animated Matches trilogy which has been variously dated to 1914 and 1899 by different researchers.[10]

Alpha Picture House[edit]

On 27 July 1908, Cooper opened Hertfordshire's first permanent cinema, the Alpha Picture House, on London road; the building designed by Percival Blow contained a restaurant, swimming pool and hairdressing salon as well as the 800 seat cinema, which has been described as the first cinema as we know them today.[11] The cinema failed inspection following the passing of the 1910 Cinematograph Act and was sold through liquidation to George Arthur Dawson the following year; the cinema continued to run as the Poly until 1926 and was destroyed by fire the following year. A new cinema was built on the London Road site, which continued in operation until the 1990s.[12][13]

In February 1909, he visited Paris where he had been once or twice before on business, but this time to represent his Alpha Trading Company at the first international film congress, the Congrès International des Éditeurs du Film, in order to secure the rights of film producers. In the same year, encouraged by the success of his new cinema in St Albans, he opened in Letchworth a second Picture Palace; this was not a success in a town populated by church-going people who disliked the moving pictures. Two fires in the cinema got Cooper into serious financial difficulties.

Kinema Industries Ltd[edit]

After twelve years, Cooper folded up his businesses in St Albans and, with his wife and young children, he moved to Manor Park, Lee. During the day he made here a series of surprising puppet animation pictures for Butcher's Empire Films, which had its studios at the back of his garden. One of his most beautiful animation films was Cinderella (1912), which was distributed in hand-coloured versions. In the evenings Cooper, for a while, became manager of a new cinema in Harrow, paying his debts in St Albans.

With his assets of the Alpha Trading Company and capital of a semi-retired officer, Andrew Heron, Cooper established Heron Films Ltd., a company which set out to produce longer films, comedies and dramas, with the theatrical company of Mark Melford, a well-known actor in those days. Cooper also established Kinema Industries Ltd, for which he made several documentaries and newsreels, among which the notorious The Suffragette Derby of 1913 at Epsom, in which suffragette Emily Davison can be seen being trampled to death by the King's racing horse, it was filmed by Cooper with his camera at the finish and his brother Hubert at Tattenham Corner.

Both companies were wound up at the outbreak of the First World War when Andrew Heron reported himself for active service. Cooper became munition inspector in Luton, while the family lived nearby in Dunstable.

After the First World War, Cooper and his family moved to Blackpool where he became manager of Animads, a subdivision of Langford's Advertising Agency Ltd, he made a number of animated advertisements films. Among them: Cadbury's chocolates, Paddy Whiskey, Swiss Rolls, and Clean Milk Campaign.

Later life and death[edit]

Melbourne-Cooper retired in 1940 and moved to Coton, Cambridgeshire, where he died in 1961; he is buried in the cemetery of St Peter's Church, Coton alongside his wife, who died in 1962.


In 1955, Audrey Wadowska, the daughter of Cooper, attended an exhibition on film history in London, where she saw stills from a series of films credited to Brighton-based film pioneer George Albert Smith, which she claimed contained members of her family and must therefore have been filmed by her father;[3] the series is known as the GRG-Series,[5] after Grandma's Reading Glass (1900); the significance of this particular film is its pioneering use of interpolated close-up.[14] Wadowska's campaigning, championed by Dutch researcher Tjitte de Vries, has resulted in the films being re-attributed to Cooper by New York's Museum of Modern Art Film Archive, but other archives, including the BFI National Film and Television Archive, have not done the same.[3][5]

Dutch researcher Tjitte de Vries has also championed the claim by Cooper and his daughter that the series of three stop-motion animation films that includes Matches: An Appeal (date disputed), was not produced in 1914 as previously suggested by study of the now lost original negative by curator of Harrow's Kodak Museum Dr. R.S. Schultze,[2][15] and instead dates production to 1899; the significance of this is that it would predate any other known use of stop-motion animation techniques.[5]

In 1996, the city of St Albans with the British Film Institute, to celebrate 100 years of British films, erected a plaque on a flat building at the corner of Alma Road and London Road, commemorating that Cooper once had on this spot his Alpha Cinematograph Works. Although the picture house that Cooper founded on London Road was destroyed by fire, the site continued to be used as a cinema when a new building was erected in 1931. Known variously as the Regent, the Capitol and the Odeon, the cinema remained in operation until it closed in 1995; the building was restored and re-opened in 2014 as The Odyssey Cinema.[13][16]


Date Title Credited as Notes
Cinematographer Producer Writer Director
1902 Village Church Scene Yes Yes Yes Actuality.[17]
1905 Macnab's Visit to London a.k.a. MacNab's Visit to London Yes Yes Yes Comedy featuring Melbourne-Cooper.[18][19]
1906 Motor Pirates Yes Yes Yes Crime chase film.[20][21][22]
1907 Irish Wives and English Husbands Yes Yes Yes Film featuring Kate O'Connor.[23]
1907 London to Killarney Yes Yes Yes Phantom ride on the train across Ireland.[24]
1908 Animated Matches Yes Yes Yes Trick film featuring animated matches.[25]
1908[a] Dreams of Toyland a.k.a. A Dream of Toyland Yes Yes Yes Fantasy blending live action and stop-motion animation.[26][27][28]
1908 Grandpa's Pension Day Yes Yes Yes Drama featuring an old man getting drunk, jailed and bailed.[29]
1908 In the Land of Nod Yes Yes Yes Trick film mixing live action and animation.[30]
1909 The Tale of the Ark Yes Yes Yes Animated drama.[31]
190? Policeman Beaten Yes Yes Yes Comedy.[32]
1910[b] The Empire's Money Maker Yes Yes Yes Actuality inside the Royal Mint.[33][34]
1911 Road Hogs in Toyland Yes Yes Yes Animated comedy.[35][36]
1912 The Life of a Racing Pigeon Yes Yes Yes Documentary assisted by The Racing Pigeon magazine.[37]
1912 The Manufacture of Walking Sticks Yes Yes Yes Documentary inside Henry Howell & Co.[38]
1912 The Wooden Athletes Yes Yes Yes Animated film.[39]
1914[c] Animated Matches: Cricket a.k.a. Animated Matches Playing Cricket Yes Yes Animated promotional film for Bryant & May matches.[40][41]
1914[d] Animated Matches: Football a.k.a. Animated Matches Playing Volleyball Yes Yes Animated promotional film for Bryant & May matches.[42][43]
1914[e] Matches: An Appeal a.k.a. Matches Appeal Yes Yes Animated wartime appeal commissioned by Bryant & May.[44][45]



  1. ^ Disputed date listed as 1907 in some sources.[26]
  2. ^ Disputed date listed as c.1905 in some sources.[33]
  3. ^ Disputed date listed as 1899 in some sources.[40]
  4. ^ Disputed date listed as 1899 in some sources.[42]
  5. ^ Disputed date listed as 1899 in some sources.[44]


  1. ^ "Arthur Melbourne-Cooper pioneer film maker". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  2. ^ a b c Crafton, Donald (2009), "Arthur Melbourne-Cooper's Shadow of Doubt", in de Vries, Tjitte; Mul, Ati (eds.), They Thought it Was a Marvel: Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (1874-1961), Pioneer of Puppet Animation, Amsterdam University Press, ISBN 9789085550167
  3. ^ a b c d Gray, Frank (1999). "Smith versus Melbourne-Cooper: History and Counter-History". Film History. 11: 246–261.
  4. ^ Tjitte, de Vries (2000). "Letter to the Editor: The Case for Melbourne-Cooper". Film History. 12: 330–335.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Stephen, Bottomore (2002). "Smith Versus Melbourne-Cooper: An End to the Dispute". Film History. 14: 57–73.
  6. ^ de Vries, Tjitte; Mul, Ati (2009), They Thought it Was a Marvel: Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (1874-1961), Pioneer of Puppet Animation, Amsterdam University Press, ISBN 9789085550167
  7. ^ a b "T M Cooper of St Albans". Genealogy in Hertfordshire. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  8. ^ O'Brien, Harvey (2004), The Real Ireland: The Evolution of Ireland in Documentary Film, Manchester University Press
  9. ^ Rockett, Kevin; Gibbons, Luke & Hill, John (2014), Cinema and Ireland, Routledge
  10. ^ Ludwig, Robyn (2012-10-30). "Arthur Melbourne-Cooper: Matchstick Man of the Early Silent Era". Silent London. Retrieved 2015-07-05.
  11. ^ Robertson, Patrick (1974), Shell Book of Firsts, Michael Joseph
  12. ^ Nicholas, Blatchey. "Arthur Melbourne Cooper, Film Pioneer and Cinema Builder". Herts Memories. Retrieved 2015-07-05.
  13. ^ a b "The Odyssey History". Odyssey Cinema St Albans. Archived from the original on 23 March 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  14. ^ Brooke, Michael. "Grandma's Reading Glass". BFI Screenonline Database. Retrieved 2011-04-24.
  15. ^ Emmett, Neil. "An Animated Dispute: Arthur Melbourne-Cooper and the Birth of Film Animation". Norwich Film Festival. Retrieved 2015-07-05.
  16. ^ "Restored art-deco cinema reopens". BBC News. 13 December 2014. Archived from the original on 23 March 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  17. ^ "Village Church Scene (1902)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  18. ^ "Macnab's Visit to London (1905)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  19. ^ "MacNab's Visit To London 1905". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  20. ^ "Motor Pirates (1906)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  21. ^ "Motor Pirates (1906)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  22. ^ "Motor Pirates 1906". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  23. ^ "Irish Wives and English Husbands (1907)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  24. ^ "London to Killarney (1907)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  25. ^ "Animated Matches (1908)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-05.
  26. ^ a b "A Dream of Toyland 1907". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  27. ^ "Dreams of Toyland (1908)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  28. ^ "Dreams of Toyland (1908)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  29. ^ "Grandpa's Pension Day (1908)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  30. ^ "In the Land of Nod (1908)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  31. ^ "The Tale of the Ark (1909)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  32. ^ "Policeman Beaten c. 1900". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  33. ^ a b "The Empire's Money Maker c.1905". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  34. ^ "The Empire's Money Maker (1910)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  35. ^ "Road Hogs in Toyland (1911)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  36. ^ "Road Hogs in Toyland 1911". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  37. ^ "The Life of a Racing Pigeon 1912". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  38. ^ "The Manufacture of Walking Sticks 1912". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  39. ^ "The Wooden Athletes (1912)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  40. ^ a b "Animated Matches Playing Cricket 1899". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  41. ^ "Animated Matches: Cricket (1914)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  42. ^ a b "Animated Matches Playing Volleyball 1899". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.[permanent dead link]
  43. ^ "Animated Matches: Football (1914)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  44. ^ a b "Matches Appeal 1899". UEA East Anglian Film Archive. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  45. ^ "Matches: An Appeal (1914)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  • The Alpha Trading Co Open New Works At St Albans, The Bioscope, September 18, 1908.
  • How Bioscope Records Are Made, The Herts Advertiser & St Albans Times, March 13, 1909.
  • First Film Cartoon, by E.G. Turner, Evening News, November 17, 1955.
  • Advertising Was in At the Beginning, by W.J. Collins, World's Press News, May 11, 1956.
  • The Observer Film Exhibition. The Animated Cartoon, by Richard Buckle, London, 1956.
  • He Started the Newsreel, by Barnet Saidman, News Chronicle, July 15, 1956.
  • Mr A. Melbourne-Cooper, Pioneer of the Film Industry, by Joe Curtiss, Hertfordshire Countryside, Summer 1960.
  • A Portrait in Celluloid, by John Grisdale, ms. St Albans Museums, 1960.
  • Coton is the Home of One of the Pioneers of Film-making, Cambridge Daily News, August 8, 1961.
  • Mr A. Melbourne-Cooper, A Pioneer in the Cinema, The Times obituary, December 7, 1961.
  • The Unsung Pioneers of the World of Celluloid, by Bill Field, Barnet Press, September 24, 1965.
  • A British Film Pioneer in Ireland, by Anthony Slide, Vision, Winter 1967.
  • The Oldest Purpose-built Cinema, by Audrey Wadowska, Hertfordshire Countryside, July 1970.
  • The Visionary, St Albans Gazette, September 20, 1973.
  • Forgotten Film-maker Ahead of His Time, Herts Advertiser, October 19, 1973.
  • The Forgotten Movie Pioneer, by Ronald Riggs, Herts Advertiser, June 18, 1974.
  • Pioneers of the British Film. The Work of Birt Acres and Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, by Luke Dixon, ms. Eastern Arts Association/St Albans Museums, 1976.
  • Film Pioneer is 'Recognised At Last', by Steve Payne, Herts Advertiser, August 12, 1977.
  • Birth Place of the Movies, by Nicky Whinerah, Post-Echo, August 24, 1977.
  • Arthur Melbourne-Cooper: Motion Picture Pioneer, Film Collecting, Fall 1977.
  • Father Was Rather Flamboyant, Review, September 17, 1981.
  • Chasing Dreams and Shadows, by Ronald Riggs, Herts Advertiser, April 10, 1991.
  • Ludwig Stollwerck - Wie der Film nach Deutschland kam, Martin Loiperdinger, KINtop-1, Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, Frankfurt a/Main, 1992
  • Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, Film Pioneer Wronged by Film History, by Tjitte de Vries, KINtop-4, Frankfurt a/Main, 1994.
  • Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, A Documentation of Sources, by Tjitte de Vries, KINtop-13, Frankfurt a/Main, 2004.

Further reading[edit]

  • Robertson, Patrick; The Shell Book of Firsts, London, 1974.
  • Whitmore, Richard; Of Uncommon Interest, Spurbooks 1975.
  • Gifford, Denis; The British Film Catalogue 1895-1970, Newton Abbott, 1973.
  • Gifford, Denis; The British Film Catalogue 1895-1985, Newton Abbott/London, 1986.
  • Lange-Fuchs, Hauke, Birt Acres. Der Erste Schleswig-Holsteinische Film Pionier, Walter G. Mühlau, Kiel, 1987.
  • Whitmore, Richard; Hertfordshire Headlines, Countryside Books 1987.
  • Gifford, Denis; British Animated Films 1895-1985, Jefferson, N.-Carolina and London, 1987.
  • Lange-Fuchs, Hauke, Der Kaiser, der Kanal und die Kinematographie, Schleswig, 1995.
  • The American Film Institute Catalogue. Film Beginnings 1893-1910, Metuchen NJ and London, 1995.
  • Lopiperdinger, Martin, Film & Schokolade. Stollwercks Geschäfte mit lebende Bilder, Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, Frankfurt a/Main, 1999.
  • Ayles, Alan; Cinemas of Hertfordshire, Hatfield 1985/2002.
  • Christopher Winn, I Never Knew That About England, Ebury Press, 2005.
  • De Vries, Tjitte and Ati Mul, They Thought it was a Marvel - Arthur Melbourne-Cooper: Pioneer of Animation, Filmmuseum Amsterdam, 2007.