Hepworth Cinema Interviews recorded on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register
This evening in Edinburgh, at an awards ceremony organised by the Scottish Council on Archives and hosted by Lloyds Banking Group, the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Committee will announce nine new inscriptions to its UK register of outstanding documentary heritage.
Among the nine will be The Hepworth Cinema Interviews, a silent film from 1916 held at the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.
The Hepworth Cinema Interviews
In 1916 Britain had been at war with Germany for well over a year, and it was in this period that Cecil Hepworth, one of the pioneers of cinematography, re-visited one of his earlier projects, which was the filming of well-known people ‘talking’ to the camera and, in this instance, making personal statements about the war.
He eventually succeeded in filming 36 VIPs on staged sets and, in some cases, in a cabinet room in St James’s, London. They included the then Secretary of War, Lloyd George and Prime Minister, H H Asquith. For many of the subjects, this would have been the only time they would ever appear before the motion picture camera and, even more remarkably, make a lasting personal comment on the progress and potential after-effects of the war.
Each silent scene of the subject addressing the camera is preceded by inter-titles which identify the person and present the statement in the usual manner of silent film. Comprising parts I, II and III, each part contains an average of 12 participants, and each interview runs for approximately ninety seconds.
The Hepworth Cinema Interviews are arguably the fore-runner of today’s media interviews and were unique at the time. Newsreels of the day reported events and activities, often showing politicians making speeches to audiences, but the concept of talking directly to camera was just one of Hepworth’s cinematic innovations.
The original 1916 Kodak nitrate stock prints are in very good condition and display only minor signs of nitrate decomposition and the absence of scratches and marks indicates that they have rarely been projected. They were deposited at NSSAW by Viscount Tenby, grandson of D. Lloyd George, as part of a collection of films which included the 1918 biopic, ‘The Life Story of David Lloyd George’ and various home movies of the Lloyd George family.
Filmed during the First World War, when Lloyd George was Secretary for War and HH Asquith was Prime Minister, the film is a cinematic record of British opinion leaders who supported the war, and is an early example of appearances by politicians on the mass media.
According to John Reed, the Archive's Conservation Officer:
"It is likely that for many of the figures, this is the only time these celebrities appeared in front of the camera, and the film offers insight into their attitudes towards the war and its implications, as it was happening.
For a number of political figures, such as Lloyd George, newsreels from the period have survived of them making speeches in front of an audience, but the idea of having them speak directly to the camera is completely new . "
UNESCO Memory of the World Programme
The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme aims to facilitate preservation of the world's documentary heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage through both an international Register and individual country Registers. This globally-recognised status celebrates some of the UK’s most exceptional archive riches
The awards ceremony
At tonight’s event the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP, will welcome the prestigious MoW awards to Scotland for the first time. Lady Susan Rice, Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group Scotland, will host guests from across the UK. Records of Bank of Scotland from 1695-2001 were added to the register in 2011.
In July 2010, the Peniarth Manuscripts Collection was included on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register. It was the transfer of this collection to Aberystwyth in 1909 that effectively established the National Library of Wales. Among the Welsh treasures in the collection are the Black Book of Carmarthen and the White Book of Rhydderch, but other representative languages include Latin, German, French and Cornish. One of the greatest English treasures in the collection is the earliest extant manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. That text will be read at Edinburgh on Thursday evening, highlighting the Peniarth collection’s status as documentary heritage of local importance which is also of global significance.
Anwen Pari Jones, National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales 01970 632535 or firstname.lastname@example.org