Living London (Charles Urban, UK, 1904), exhibited in Australia in 1906 by the J. & N. Tait company, was a 45-minute-long sensation. Long thought lost, the recent discovery in the Corrick Collection at the National Film & Sound Archive by Professor Ian Christie of a much-shorter edited version, followed by its 2008 restoration and screenings at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone and the London Film Festival, prompts this reassessment of its place and importance to the history of Australian cinema.
A number of histories on early Australian cinema mention a film released by J. & N. Tait, produced by Charles Urban, and titled Living London. But they do so almost peripherally, as something J. & N. Tait screened at the Melbourne Town Hall prior to producing the world’s first feature-length drama, The Story of the Kelly Gang (Australia, 1906).
As the role of this information is intended to provide background to the Kelly gang film – or, to paint a picture of film exhibition in Melbourne – the implication is that J. & N. Tait’s involvement in early Australian film exhibition and distribution was fairly incidental and, to a degree, esoteric in relation to the company’s more dominant role as Australian promoters of internationally renowned concert attractions. None of these sources suggests a greater influential role for Living London other than as a money spinner for the Taits’ production of the Kelly gang film, or, for being on the same bill as Marvellous Melbourne or, in referencing the rivalry between J. & N. Tait and T. J. West as being the deterrent to the Taits’ taking on full-time film exhibition. (1) And, at face value, it certainly seems unlikely that Urban’s film had anything to do with The Story of the Kelly Gang, other than it having been toured around Australia by J. & N. Tait throughout 1906. Nothing could be further from the truth – either for J. & N. Tait or Living London.
Tracing the exhibition history of Living London in Australia and New Zealand, through the examination of entertainment business practices, including the fierce rivalry between competitors and an examination of the entertainment environment within Australia and New Zealand, and through the nation’s own idea of itself as determined by its closeness to, and familiarity with, “civilization”, this essay will clearly demonstrate that Living London is not only an iconic film within the history of Australian film exhibition and distribution but that it directly influenced the development of the world’s first feature-length dramatic film, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906). And that without Living London it is reasonable to claim that we – and the rest of the world – would have had to wait a lot longer for the first feature-length dramatic film to emerge.
Living London – The Film
Charles Urban’s Living London was based on the fortnightly British publication Living London, edited by author and playwright George R. Sims. (2) The content included essays, photographs and illustrations about the many facets of London life, and it proved to be a best seller both in the UK and in Australia. Working by arrangement with Sims, Urban shot a series of 280 actualities between January and May 1904. (These actualities were purportedly shot by three of Urban’s key cameramen, but they remain, as yet, unidentified.) (3)
Living London, released under the Urbanora brand in London in October 1904, at 2500ft (which translated to an on-screen duration of 45 minutes at a projection rate of 16fps) was literally the longest film of its kind at that time. A non-fiction film, with strong, clear and detailed images of the city, Living London had elements of both an actuality and a travelogue, and, while it is always contentious to claim anything as a ‘first’, the difference in length between it and other films could not have gone unnoticed. (4) Urban produced his sequence of London views to be watched continuously, unlike, for example, another of his films, The Russo-Jap War (1904), which, although it had a screening duration of 60 minutes, was actually compiled from 40 separate titles. (That is, 40 separate titles that had been released on separate occasions previous to the compilation.) (5)
During this period, a film could be sold by its length in feet (so many feet = so much money), which meant that a film could be purchased at variant lengths to its original running time. Urban, however, was adamant that no version other than the complete version could be purchased. Moreover, due to his recent action in a copyright dispute with the Warwick Trading Company over the word bioscope (6), he was equally adamant about licensing. The Era, an English trade paper, noted that Urban’s titles would only be sold under an exclusive license limited to a territory. This is confirmed by Urban’s own catalogue, which indicates that Living London had already been licensed to the UK and US prior to its release in Australia. For Urban, there were no exceptions – exclusivity had to be guaranteed for a given territory. (7)
J. & N. Tait
By 1906. John H. Tait, J. Nevin Tait and Frank S. Tait, trading as J. & N. Tait, had well established their company’s national and international reputation in concert enterprises. They were renowned for importing and promoting classical singers and concert musicians. The Taits’ relationship with film had its beginnings in 1897 when John Henry Tait managed the “Christmas Holiday Concerts” at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings, wherein the Edison Cinematograph was featured. (8) By 1903, the Taits were promoting film seasons and, as a result, were instrumental in promoting world cinema to Melbourne audiences. Their film seasons included “The British Biograph” in 1903, “The New Biograph” in 1904, “The New American Biograph” in 1905 and, in late 1905, “Best and Baker’s Great Picture Show”.
In terms of film exhibition, J. & N. Tait’s main competitor in Melbourne was J. C. Williamson, whose foothold equalled theirs. But the Taits also competed with various independent exhibitors, among them Millard Johnson and William Gibson, who were later to become the co-producers of The Story of the Kelly Gang. Unlike J. & N. Tait and J. C. Williamson, independent exhibitors not only provided ongoing film exhibition at various venues around town, they operated as film distributors and made themselves available for hire. While competition between them was vibrant if not fierce, within the Tait’s overall concert interests film was secondary and their film seasons only served to subsidise their main concert business, for which costs and risk were high.
However, in general, the Taits profited quickly and handsomely from their film seasons. By taking on complete companies – that is, those that had their own operators, equipment and films – the Taits usually only paid for publicity and venue hire. The costs were easily recouped through a cut of the ticket sales and their use of low-cost venues, such as the Melbourne Town Hall and the Athenaeum Hall, often guaranteed a substantial profit. The Melbourne Town Hall seated more than 2,000 people and its basic hiring fee was £15 per night, while the Athenaeum could be hired for £5.5s per night and could seat 800 people. (9) In the case of Living London, these were indeed favourable terms given that their tickets were premium priced: Reserved seats – front row and front row balcony at 3s; Main Hall and South Gallery 2s; seats at the back 1s; and children half price.
While it cannot be fully determined when, why or how the Taits realized the impact Living London was to have on a colonial audience, it is known that Nevin Tait, who was already working in London, recommended the film be purchased, as a low-risk venture, and he secured the rights to bring the film to Australia. (10) In fact, Nevin’s role in securing the film formed part of their promotional formula and was often mentioned in the press. With a leading company member based overseas, J. & N. Tait was certainly seen by competitors as a force to be reckoned with.
Living London – The Boom Begins
It is apparent that the Taits regarded Living London as both high-class entertainment and an æsthetically distinctive film, for they drew the public’s attention to it in a fashion comparable to their concerts. Their first advertisement, which took up almost an entire column of the “Amusements” pages of The Age, made a very dramatic splash and played on the public’s patriotic sentiments, and seemed to suggest that to not see the film was somehow a betrayal of one’s heritage:
This Picture has been secured by Mr Nevin Tait, who is now in London at very great expense. The Town Hall has been secured and the picture will appeal to every Londoner, Britisher or foreigner who has ever been in the greatest City in the modern world, as well as being of great educational value to Australians who naturally would like to see the home of their fathers – the pivot from which Pitt, Gladstone, Chamberlain and other great statesmen laid out the map of England’s Empire. (11)
More important, this advertisement marked a breakthrough in cinema in Australia. Prior to the Australian release of Living London, film advertising centred on the projector – the Vitascope, the Cinematographe, the Biograph, the Neo-Biograph, the Life-O-Graph and their proprietors – Edison, Lumière and Warwick amongst them. Of course, each projector was often accompanied with a programme that included a ‘star’ or featured film, but its role was always to showcase a new development in the science and technology of projection. (12) Living London, on the other hand, was presented to the public on the merit of its contents and subject matter with no mention of the apparatus on which it would be projected. The advertisement was further remarkable for the inclusion of a synopsis listing all 280 scenes and, uncommonly, emphasised the film’s educational nature.
This first advertisement laid bare the key components of all subsequent advertising for Living London, but with one surprising exception. Missing was any mention of the film’s length, an element that, as inferred by a review in Punch, was intrinsic to its success: “It is an enormous moving image of tremendous length, being absolutely the longest picture ever taken […]”. (13) At a later stage in the film’s tour of Australia, its length became the subject of a heated public debate.
But throughout the tours, reference to the film goes beyond merely scene descriptions. During the Brisbane season the filmmakers themselves are discussed, further developing the distinctiveness of Living London: “The scenes have been selected by special artists whose intimate knowledge of the subjects allotted to them has enabled the best items to be secured […]” (14)
From opening to closing nights of the first, and short, Melbourne season, the passage of London life engrossed critics and public alike – every session sold out, all reviews of Living London were excellent, commending the steady and clear nature of the images, while the whole show was often highly praised. The following report from The Herald was typical:
The heart of the great metropolis has been photographed, and these photographs have been brought forward in order to demonstrate to Australians who have never visited London the many phases of life to be met with there […] The photographs measuring many thousands of feet, were exhibited before a large and appreciative audience. […] Each film was an entertainment itself, and in watching the wonderfully animated scenes one forgot for a moment that he was not really witnessing the actual scenes. (15)
Always with an eye on gaining the competitive edge, J. & N. Tait would utilize such praise in subsequent advertising. In no uncertain terms, the public would be alerted to the fact that previous sessions were packed, and that patrons were turned away and told to return on another night. Of course, this was really a ploy to maximise ticket sales, for the Taits were essentially telling the public to secure their tickets promptly otherwise they would miss out on seeing:
THE GREATEST MOVING PICTURE EVER TAKEN.
MIGHTY, THROBBING, LIVING LONDON
On Saturday night the Great Hall was packed by a pleased and delighted audience, who appreciated the picture from start to finish, and as the familiar scenes unrolled before them it was easily seen how much they were appreciated and it was evident that most of them knew the scenes, as you could hear such comments as “There it is, that’s St Paul’s”, […] and there is no doubt that it is one of the GREATEST ENTERTAINMENTS ever presented to Englishmen in Australia […]
Those who had tickets and could not gain admittance on Saturday can use them for this evening. (16)
The reviews of Living London continued to be excellent, the passage of London life engrossing the critics and public alike. The Bulletin, alone, deplored its length:
A succession of omnibuses loaded with cockneys soon begins to pall upon the flickered eye, and one narrow, crowded street looks very like another. If Living London were judiciously pruned, the general effect would be stronger. The film wants an editor armed with a pair of scissors. (17)
But there is evidence that the audience welcomed the length. In a letter to New Zealand’s Taranaki Herald, an audience member complained that, after paying his 3 shillings for two hours of London, he only got 15 minutes. The Taits’ reply was that they had altered the programme to suit that night’s audience which they believed would not “relish a full programme of London scenes” (18).
On 6 February, the Melbourne season closed on a high note, again it was reported that hundreds of patrons had been refused admission and that management had already booked a return season. (19) J. & N. Tait had blitzed the public with advance press notices, advertising and reviews, as well as pamphlets, posters and free handouts. (20) In just eleven sessions, this first season established the formula that would ensure the continuing success of Living London wherever it toured.
A prime example of how the J. & N. Tait’s media blitz pumped the public’s excitement is a news item that appeared in Punch on 8 February. It reported that, with such a success on its hands, J. & N. Tait was forced to cable London to send three new prints in order to undertake tours across the rest of Australia – beginning with Bendigo and then onto Adelaide – as well as tours of New Zealand. (21) The report implies that the Taits were caught unawares and didn’t have enough prints to take full advantage of their runaway success.
But on close inspection this claim seems flawed. Given the Taits’ long experience as promoters, it is difficult to believe that they had no tour plans for Living London in place well in advance of the start dates. For one thing, to operate effectively each touring company required several prints. For another, the first tour to Adelaide was to begin immediately after the Melbourne season closed, while the second tour to New Zealand and the third to Sydney were to begin by the end of February. And, for a company that specialized in touring international stars, the Taits must certainly have been aware that shipping between London and Australia took approximately 30 days.
Even booking the Melbourne Town Hall required three months’ notice. Although the Taits treated it as their own personal venue, the Town Hall’s booking policy did not generally allow any booking without specific dates or details of what was intended. Anyone hiring the venue could not chop and change their plans to suit themselves. A similar advance-notice booking system was in place in all town halls and in most other major venues across the country, which would have made it problematic to book a few days in advance. (22) It is unlikely that J. & N. Tait would leave anything to chance, especially if it meant not having sufficient prints to meet their tour requirements. (23)
Living London was to go national, and tour dates were secured for Brisbane, Perth and Hobart from April onwards. As travel was by train or road, as well as by sea, many regional towns as well as suburban venues were included covering at least 50 locations in both Australia and New Zealand. These tours undertaken by J. & N. Tait tell us much about the structure and content of the entertainment as much as they do about the workings of the film industry of the early 20th century.
Wherever Living London screened, the reception was exceptional and the Taits knew how to kick it off. Due to a dull summer for entertainment, Adelaide eagerly awaited the arrival of Living London which would open at the Town Hall on 12 February. As early as 5 February, teasers about the Melbourne season began to appear in The Adelaide Advertiser: “Living London crowded to Doors Saturday Evening. Possibly have fine for overcrowding.” (24) As was the case in Melbourne, Living London enjoyed enormous success in Adelaide.
But what is significant here is the revelation that Johnson & Gibson, rather than being competitors, worked with J. & N. Tait on the film’s Adelaide season. The review of opening night in The Adelaide Advertiser credits the lanternist, who was “Mr W A Gibson (of Johnson & Gibson, Melbourne), and his work was performed smoothly and without a hitch”. (25)
Yet the association between the two companies may have begun earlier than the Adelaide season. On 7 February, the day after Living London closed in Melbourne, the first tour company arrived in Bendigo en route to Adelaide. There, the company opened the film at the Masonic Hall and stayed for three nights. (26) On these same dates in Bendigo, Millard Johnson and William Gibson’s “The Neo Biograph” was presented as part of the Citizens’ Promenade Pops. (27)
That fact suggests a number of possibilities. First, that Johnson & Gibson may have projected Living London in Melbourne and Gibson was hired there to undertake the Adelaide season. Second, that Gibson was simply hired in Bendigo where “The Neo Biograph” just happened to coincide with Living London. Third, that Gibson worked his way to Bendigo from Melbourne, via Ballarat – where “The Neo Biograph” was working prior to its appearance in Bendigo – in a plan to meet up with the Living London company and head off to Adelaide with them. And, fourth, the most likely, that Johnson & Gibson was in partnership with J. & N. Tait for the release of Living London. However it may have happened, what is important here is that the review in The Adelaide Advertiser is the first time a connection between J. & N. Tait and Johnson & Gibson was noted in the press prior to the production of The Story of the Kelly Gang.
By associating with Johnson & Gibson, J. & N. Tait was acknowledging the importance of Living London. Johnson & Gibson was not only considered Australia’s biggest film importer, but by 1906 Johnson & Gibson’s business had developed to a stage where it had up to 25 working machines and operators, and was considered the best exhibitor, certainly in Victoria, and its good reputation crossed the border. (28)
And it was a connection that continued into the New Zealand tour of Living London. On 27 February, Living London opened in Dunedin with George D. Portus as the touring manager. But he was not working alone. Shipping records indicate that J. & N. Tait representative F. S. Stetson (aka Frank Tait) was also in New Zealand along with singer Sydney Monk and, surprisingly, Mr Johnson and Mr Gibson, the latter two being the very same “Johnson & Gibson of Melbourne” (29).
The New Zealand tour also reveals a significant coincidence. On 10 May, Living London returned to Wellington Town Hall with a new series of support pictures. Remarkably, due to open on 11 May at the Wellington Opera House, was a play, The Kelly Gang, presented by James MacMahon. This play toured at the same time as Living London throughout New Zealand to popular acclaim, but this was the first time it coincided with J. & N. Tait’s Living London touring company. (30) Who remained in New Zealand of the company’s original seven people at this time is unconfirmed, but Johnson and Gibson had returned to Sydney by early April and certainly F. S. Stetson (Frank Tait) remained in New Zealand until July 1906, when he returned to Australia after the Andrew Black tour. (31) And, to further confirm the association between J. & N. Tait and Johnson & Gibson, the August 1906 Tasmanian tour sees the Johnson & Gibson representative, A. Grigg, touring Living London in the Zeehan region. (32)
As in Melbourne and Adelaide, the New Zealand tour of Living London was typified by the same advertising régime and, again, garnered a strong presence in the press and equally strong audience numbers. That J. & N. Tait enjoyed colossal success with Living London in Melbourne, Adelaide and New Zealand should not be all too surprising; after all, these were familiar stomping grounds where the Taits had the venues and press tied up to their advantage. Such was their influence that it’s possible they orchestrated the removal of a competitor, Clamor Sudholz, during their Living London season in Perth.
Clamor Sudholz and the World’s Bio-tableau Entertainers
Clamor Sudholz, the Adelaide magazine The Critic noted, was barely out of his teens when he was touring with Living London. (33) Actually 25 years old, Sudholz was born on 3 June 1880 in Gilles Plains, South Australia, the son of graziers George and Bertha Sudholz. Exactly when Clamor started his touring company is as yet undetermined, but certainly he was touring in 1906. A few years later, Sudholz would be the manager of Perth’s King’s Theatre (34) and in the 1920s was living in Sydney working as a film producer. (35)
Following his trail through newspapers, it appears that Sudholz had several touring companies under the name The World’s Bio-Tableau and Entertainers, taking in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. The content of his shows included predominantly moving pictures with two or more live performers.
In his March 1906 Adelaide show, opening almost six weeks after the Taits’ season of Living London, Sudholz’s feature is The Life of Napoleon (Épopée napoléonienne – Napoléon Bonaparte and Épopée napoléonienne – L’Empire, Lucien Nonguet, France 1903). For the Saturday matinee, Living London is announced as the feature. But, as his season continues, it becomes apparent that Sudholz is exhibiting a 30-minute version of five sequences and not the complete version at all. And it is revealed in an April review that the series was called In London To-day (Urban), the reviewer marking the difference between it and Living London. (36)
From Adelaide, Sudholz arrived in Perth for a short season in early April 1906 before going on to the goldfields. Prior to his arrival in Perth, his advertising announced Living London as his star feature. But when Sudholz arrived in Perth, it was during the Taits’ Living London boom and he appears to reassess his position or may have found it reassessed for him.
Sudholz’s plan had been to do a season in Perth’s His Majesty’s Theatre. For some reason as yet unknown, his season there did not go ahead and Sudholz opened for two nights at the Fremantle Town Hall. A reviewer noted that Sudholz was showing London of Today, but he advertised Living London. It is possible that the Perth J. & N. Tait representative, B.A. Leix, orchestrated the move of this smaller competitor from the nearby His Majesty’s Theatre (the Taits were playing at Queen’s Hall), or there was some other cause for this change of venue. (37)
Sudholz played his two nights at Fremantle, then left for the gold fields. In Kalgoorlie, he promoted Living London, but he postponed the opening night and, two days into his Kalgoorlie season, he took possession of his print of the true Living London and proceeded to advertise it similarly to the Taits. (38)
Within their comfort zones, the Taits were able to effectively exclude potential competitors through their continual use of major venues and through their power a major player. But once outside of familiar territory, J. & N. Tait was open to fierce competition and rivalry with those it had excluded. If the Taits thought that Living London had boomed with its Melbourne season, then what followed can be described as a barrage of explosions. While advertising plays an important part in the life of any film, as will be demonstrated, the advertising for Living London became a public battleground between rivals J. & N. Tait and Edwin Geach.
Edwin Geach Presents T. J. West and The Brescians
Edwin Geach was a Sydney-based theatrical entrepreneur whom the Taits had thwarted on several occasions. In 1905, Geach secured the Australian touring rights to “West’s Pictures and The Brescians”, a show featuring T. J. West (who presented the films and the evening’s entertainment) and The Brescians (a group of singers), who were touring New Zealand. This show was extremely popular, becoming a national phenomenon, and toured both islands of New Zealand for almost all of 1905. (39)
In September 1905, Geach attempted to secure his Melbourne venues and dates, to begin on 16 June 1906, at the Melbourne Town Hall, the city’s largest public venue, for “West’s Pictures and The Brescians”. However, he was unable to do so due to the Taits’ having already secured the same dates for a series of concerts, including the international violinist Hugo Heerman, from 17 June, and from 21 June a Grand Complimentary Concert by Signor Alberto Zelman. Geach attempted several times more over a period of months with the same result, at one stage offering a financial incentive to the Town Clerk: “In the matter of deposits you need only mention the amount you would require and it will be forthcoming.” (40)
However, Geach had secured dates at the Palace Theatre in Sydney and “West’s Pictures and The Brescians” opened there on the 17 March. At some stage during the New Zealand tour, T. J. West had returned to Edinburgh to continue his annual programme of screenings at the Queen’s Theatre, while The Brescians had continued touring New Zealand. Arriving in Sydney direct from the UK in March 1906, T. J. West reconnected with The Brescians for their Australian tour. It was noted in New Zealand’s The Otago Witness that West was bringing with him a host of wonderful new films, including Living London. (41) Geach would likely have seized the opportunity to beat the Taits at their own game by pre-empting their Sydney season of Living London.
Simultaneously, on 17 March, J. & N. Tait placed their first advertisement about their forthcoming Sydney season of Living London at the Lyceum Hall Theatre to open on 29 March. The Taits utilized their advertising formula and placed the advertisement with all the 280 scenes listed. Whether deliberately or accidentally, Geach’s and J. & N. Tait’s advertisements appeared side by side in The Sydney Morning Herald. (42) Whether the Taits knew that Living London was to be presented by Geach in Sydney is not known. However, their reaction was immediate, placing a notice in that evening’s edition of The Australian Star:
The Management wish to draw particular attention to the fact that this is the original and only complete Show of Living London ever exhibited in Australia. The Picture is over 4000 feet in length, and is an entertainment lasting over 2 hours. F.S. Stetson, Manager. (43)
This signalled the beginning of an open rivalry between Geach and the Taits played out through their advertising, the intensity of which escalated as the season progressed.
Initially, the argument concerned the educational nature of the film and bickering about who had the film first, but very quickly moved to the length of Living London. For some time, the Taits had included in their press that Living London was 4000ft long, the longest film ever made, stressing it was a complete entertainment lasting more than two hours.
In a direct attack, Geach responded in The Daily Telegraph:
WEST’S LIVING LONDON
“FACTS WORTH NOTICING.”
West shows in 20 minutes what others take nearly 2 HOURS to do. Not elongated and drawn out with padding to the verge of monotony – but quick, sharp, and ALL is there. (44)
This addresses the Taits’ insistence that they have the original full-length show. However, what it also reveals is that West, if we take the claim that he is showing the whole film as true, is not projecting the film at 16 fps. And in a review in The Daily Telegraph and an advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald it is confirmed that Living London is one third of the show occupying the last 20 minutes of the evening. (45) But Geach takes it a step further to secure the dominance of West’s presentation of Living London. In The Sydney Morning Herald of the 22 March, West adds a separate announcement further addressing the Taits’ claims:
MEMO. FOR PRINCIPALS OR PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS MANAGERIAL.
Knowing the very great advance made in the teaching of Geography in Public Schools by means of Lantern Pictures, the Management feel no diffidence in commending Principals of all educational establishments to West’s Pictures “Living London,” “Gorgeous India,” and “Picturesque Venice” all convey an impression that can never be attained by ordinary pictures or descriptive letterpress, and must impress the mind as vividly as an actual visit to the places, which unfortunately is out of the question at the present time.
FIRST GREAT SCHOOL MATINEE, SATURDAY NEXT.
And the following day the claim is made that already 7000 people have been to see the show. (46)
As the opening date of 29 March approached, the Taits began to intensify their presence, continuing to push their show as the first, the original and the complete Living London.
Managerial. – Messrs. J. And N. Tait desire to call special attention to the fact that the COMPLETE REPRESENTATION of LIVING LONDON occupies fully an hour, comprising as it does over 280 DISTINCT VIEWS of the Mighty Metropolis; and moreover state that this is the original and unequalled picture sent from London quite recently by Mr. Nevin Tait. (47)
To increase their legitimacy and authority, the Taits employed the Urbanora brand as a marketing tool, most likely to profit from the recent Urbanora screenings promoted by Harry Rickards in Sydney. (48) Their notice, in reply to West’s reviews that exclaim that the images had no flicker, indicates that Nevin Tait had sourced a new machine in London. (49)
Geach countered by stressing the popularity of his show, “No Free List (Rule strictly enforced)”, and by programming one of the films so popular in Melbourne, Sunny Ceylon. But the Taits persisted and, as their Sydney season drew to a close, their advertisement appeared right at the bottom of Geach’s, which said that Living London would screen for the first time the next day, 29 March.
On that day, when both J. & N. Tait and Geach were presenting Living London in Sydney at the same time, for the first time the ads, side by side, pull out all the stops. In no uncertain terms Geach declared:
“All Living London pictures are produced by the same company. The Charles Urban Trading Co of which Mr T J West is a member – therefore there can be no others.”
The Taits called West a fraud, maintaining their stance that they have the original version and that:
The enormous boom created by this management has produced imitators.
IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FLATTERY.
Imitators sometimes display a want of originality, and our advertisements are even copied. Owing to a printer’s error in our Melbourne advertisements, London Zoo read London’s 300. The latter was recently advertised in the Sydney Papers for exhibition here, but not by us.
THIS IS WORTH NOTING CAREFULLY. WHAT IS “LONDON’S 300?” (50)
West confirmed his claim to be the first with Living London:
These Famous Pictures were taken and produced by the Urban Trading Company, Limited, of which Mr. T. J. WEST is a member, and most of them were exhibited by Mr T. J. West in Edinburgh, Xmas. 1904, and first shown in Australasia by him fully six months before production by any other Pictorial Company.
“IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY.” (51)
West certainly did screen Living London in Edinburgh but not until January 1906, where it appeared among the list of films to be screened but without the status of a featured item. (52) But, as to his claim that he had screened it in Australasia six months prior, it is unlikely (unless he screened it on the ship coming out). What West did screen in New Zealand and in Tasmania was Living London of Today (Urban), produced some time prior to Living London. Living London of Today was not the featured film but, once again, was part of a whole programme. (53)
By moving out of Melbourne and the South-Eastern states, the Taits found themselves under fire almost continually. At the close of his Sydney season, Geach split “West’s Pictures and The Brescians” into two companies, and took one to Brisbane, while the other, with West at the helm, headed to Melbourne. Once again, Geach, West and the Taits were at loggerheads as all tours coincided.
Geach opened on the 29 March at the Brisbane Centennial Hall and the Taits opened straight after on the 6 April at the same venue. The two vied for space on the Evening Observer advertising pages, both with large-format ads, the Taits’ getting ahead of the game by adding:
THE PUBLIC OF BRISBANE ARE WARNED
That This Is
THE ONLY ORIGINAL AND COMPLETE
MOVING PICTURE SHOW OF
LIVING LONDON (54)
With this red flag waved in his face, Geach took the high moral ground and defends the intelligence of his audience, saying he has no need to warn them. Stretching the truth somewhat, Geach implies that he has been touring Living London in New Zealand for almost a year.
Another marketing tool Geach uses is the provision of their electricity-generating plant that makes their show more complete than others. (55) The Taits rightfully claimed that the Living London Boom had been created by their management, and that they had been copied. (56)
And then: quiet. Geach’s season closed and began its tour of Queensland, and the Taits opened at Centennial Hall to another successful season.
While the promotion became quite vindictive in Sydney and Brisbane, at no time did reviewers acknowledge that the same film was running simultaneously or consecutively, or that the rivals were having it out. (57) It may have been that, as one version ran for twenty minutes and the other for 45 minutes, they were seen as different films. It may also have been that film was still perceived as low-class entertainment, despite – or because of – its exceptional popularity, and despite the fact that two of Australia’s top promoters had taken it on and given it a profile not previously given to film.
But if the Taits were heaving a sigh of relief, they were mistaken to believe it was over. T. J. West was on his way to Melbourne.
Marvellous Moving Melbourne
J. & N. Tait re-opened Living London at the Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday 5 May for a third season by request of the Victorian Education Minister, the Hon. Arthur Otto Sachse, who wished school children to have the opportunity to see it. (58) But this third season is not only remarkable for the persistence of the drawing power of Living London, but more importantly for being the driver that brought J. & N. Tait together with Johnson & Gibson into serious film production.
Living London had become an institution in Melbourne – so much so that Table Talk, a magazine which usually only reserved its columns for legitimate theatre, featured it along with T. J. West’s “West’s Pictures and The Brescians”, due to open on 12 May at The Athenaeum. (59) With a week’s grace, the Taits embraced the competition, making good use of the time to re-establish Living London and their marketplace dominance.
But West was not foolish enough to compete with the Taits in their hometown by screening Living London. The fact that the Melbourne audience had been saturated with Living London, although it was still taking record-breaking audience numbers at the Melbourne Town Hall, meant that West needed a different focus and that was The Brescians. These seven singers and instrumentalists had enjoyed enormous success both in New Zealand and in Australia, with the reviews of West’s show often giving over much space and high praise to their talents.
The Taits matched West by introducing The Meister Singers, a new vocal quartet specialising in English, Irish and Scotch ballads. (60) But The Meister Singers were not the jewel in their crown. Knowing that, during his season in Sydney, West had filmed and screened local scenes (61) to great success, and assuming he would do so in Melbourne, the Taits announced they had arranged, presumably with Johnson & Gibson, weather permitting, to take a moving picture of Melbourne on Wednesday 9 May at 1pm. They described the route along which the camera would be trained:
MARVELLOUS MOVING MELBOURNE
[…] punctually at 1 o’clock, the operator will proceed on a motor car from the Stock Exchange, and proceed along Collins-street to Swanston-street, thence to Bourke-street, and finishing opposite the G.P.O. Come and see how it is done, and be in the picture. (62)
The filming was successful and the Taits screened Moving Melbourne the night before West opened at the Athenaeum. The Taits’ desired effect was achieved and confirmed by a reviewer:
This picture, which was reproduced last evening for the first time, proved extremely interesting to the audience, many members of which were evidently intent on picking out themselves in the crowd. (63)
The Taits had been right in their assumption that West would produce a local film. With his arrival imminent, Table Talk mentioned West would be taking a cinematograph film on Saturday morning of “On the Block” in Collins Street “with its moving crowd of beauty and fashion” (64). But the Taits had already taken the wind from his sails and were upping the stakes, emphasising that everyone from Vice-Royalty to City Magnates and Bishop and Curates to Clerks and Workmen were all equally impressed with Living London. They increased their push into film production, announcing more local films to be made, including The Block, from Swanston to Elizabeth Street, on Saturday at midday; then Smith Street, Collingwood, near Foy’s, at 2.30pm and, at around 3pm, in Prahran along Chapel Street between Commercial Road and High Street. (65)
MARVELLOUS MOVING MELBOURNE
The first picture of this series which will be shortly shown in London, was taken yesterday. Many thousands were present to witness the taking of this unique series. The picture will be shown at the Town Hall TO-MORROW EVENING, SATUDAY AFTERNOON and EVENING. Come and see yourself and your city.
THE BLOCK ON SATURDAY
Will be Also Taken. (66)
The Taits anticipated West’s actions perfectly as, on the 12 May, West announced in his opening night programme the screening of new local films taken of the Japanese fleet’s arrival in Melbourne, including The Welcome to Our Gallant Allies The Japanese, as well as The Arrival of Fleet in Hobson’s Bay, “Specially Cinematographed by Mr T. J. West” (67). But while the Taits’ anticipation put them ahead, it must have been disheartening for them to read in the first review of “West’s Pictures and The Brescians” that the show was so well received that the reviewer declared: “It ‘ran’ for two months in Sydney, and there is no reason why it should not do the same in this city.” Which, of course, the show did, Geach having booked the Athenaeum long in advance. West’s Melbourne season closed two months later in early July. (68)
Secured in his position at the Athenaeum, T. J. West appeared to have taken only one other film in Melbourne: a football match played in June. (69) However, the Taits, flush with their success, continued on with production, not only in Melbourne but in Adelaide and Perth.
After their screening of Moving Melbourne at the Victorian State Parliament House, the Taits announced further films to be taken, including At the Treasury. (70) At the same time, they were preparing to take film of Adelaide to accompany their return tour of Living London to open on 19 May at the Adelaide Town Hall. Animated Adelaide was filmed from 1pm on 17 May, taking in King William Street to Rundle Street and North Terrace, then along Rundle Street from the King William Street Corner. (71)
The gossip columns of The Critic commented on the filming of Animated Adelaide, saying it had “certainly animated our city with a vengeance” and “other States will gasp at our overflowing population”. The reason is that, at 1pm precisely, people came from everywhere. Tradesmen’s vehicles with their business emblazoned on the side were sent as advertisements and “every dirty little boy” was there, as well as many others, all to be caught on film. (72)
In late May 1906 in Perth, also on their return visit with Living London, the Taits arranged for an “expert” to take films of Hay Street. After some trouble with film stock and developing, Living Perth was released on 4 June 1906 at Perth’s Queen’s Hall. These films would be followed by Fremantle, “the first cinematograph views of Perth and Fremantle taken during the week”, to be shown at the King’s Theatre in Fremantle from the 7 June. (73) According to newspaper reports, West had secured local scenes of Hay Street to be screened during his season opening on 1 June 1906 at His Majesty’s Theatre, but by the close of this season there was no report of local films having been screened. (74)
By the closing weeks of the Living London boom, the partnership between the Taits and Johnson & Gibson had established them as film producers with a string of local productions. Any doubts they had about the drawing power of local films were quelled through the public’s response. In a letter to The Herald, a patron complains of his disappointment that Moving Melbourne was not on the programme, despite the advertising, and that the audience yelled out for “Living Melbourne”. He wonders why they didn’t remove the foreign comedies instead. (75) The Taits and Johnson & Gibson had direct knowledge that local productions were as much a draw-card as anything from overseas and that they would continue their joint production partnership seemed inevitable.
* * *
On 26 May, J. & N. Tait closed its season of Living London by offering the public pieces of the film as a souvenir of the occasion. Living London wasn’t gone, it was merely resting to make way for the Taits’ series of concerts of Melbourne violinist Alberto Zelman and the tours of French soprano Antonia Dolores. (76) But a month later, the Taits opened a new film season, “Fallen San Francisco”, an evening’s entertainment of an anthology of films about the 1906 earthquake, at Melbourne’s Bijou Theatre. Using their formula for Living London, this season, though very short, was quite successful. Fallen San Francisco provided the Taits with an opportunity to present the public with current affairs of an event that had occurred only a few months ago. That “Fallen San Francisco” also had drawing power would not have been lost its exhibitors. (77)
The tours and the competition engendered by Living London’s promoters/exhibitors had not previously been seen in Australia. For it to continue for eight or more months was extraordinary, at times covering several venues in each state and New Zealand simultaneously. Of course, there had been other key films prior to Living London and, while they were screened throughout Australia, it was by many and various exhibitors around the country. Never before, as has been evidenced here, had a film been systematically released and controlled by a single promoter-exhibitor, J. & N. Tait, maintaining a very tight rein on the tours and on the competition. This may have been due to Urban’s strict licensing requirement that the film wasn’t sold into Australia to just anyone who wanted it. However, it does raise the question in which territories the film was licensed, if indeed it was licensed, by each of the three exhibitors, given that they frequently crossed paths. Each promoter – in this case, Geach and J. & N. Tait – worked within territories, although not exclusively, defined by state borders. The Taits held Victoria and South Australia, and Geach held NSW and Queensland; New Zealand was worked by both promoters. In hindsight, it is possible to suggest, based on where they showed the film, that T. J. West may have purchased for Sydney and Brisbane; Clamor Sudholz for Western Australia; and the Taits for Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. The copyrighting of the film in Victoria by Charles Tait may have been to protect its territory and possibly the reason that West did not screen the film in Melbourne. (78)
In fact, Living London, in today’s terms, may well be considered Australia’s first block buster and box-office record breaker. It was reported that by late July 1906 the Taits had screened Living London to an estimated audience of 500,000 people (79), and, if we consider the first season at the Melbourne Town Hall as a guide, where venue hire was a total of £150.00 for the 9 days and total ticket sales brought in somewhere around £1998.00, then all the seasons together must have bought in excess of £50,000 gross. All things considered, the Taits were profiting handsomely for a surprisingly small outlay. (80) Certainly the revenue raised underwrote the Antonia Dolores tours of 1906 and the Clara Butt tours of 1907, each of which was secured with the promise of a £9,000 fee. (81)
Living London appears to be the first film in Australia taken seriously by a promoter-distributor which, by deliberately aiming at a refined and educated audience, lifted the cinema up from being only popular entertainment. That this act of promotion was successful is demonstrated by the following: the attendance of Vice Regal parties and State Government parties at various times throughout the seasons, and including the screening of the films by J. & N. Tait and Johnson & Gibson at State government functions (82); and the Otago Witness society pages reported on audience members at a presentation of Living London that included Lady and Lieutenant Miller, Dr and Mrs Garland, and Dr and Mrs Whitton, as well as other members of high society. (83)
The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)
But it wasn’t only eager audiences that created the excitement. Rivalry between film exhibitors engendered an advertising war to secure those audiences and, subsequently, this same rivalry wrought fierce competition for local films to be produced, including Marvellous Melbourne, Animated Adelaide and Living Perth. However, Living London, which brought together the partnership between J. & N. Tait and Johnson & Gibson – or, in other words, promotion with production – is perhaps most important for being an influential factor in the production of The Story of the Kelly Gang.
Part of Living London’s success was that it appealed to the public sense of patriotism, especially to a colonial audience, their need to connect or reconnect with the “old country”, sentiments that the Taits exploited in their advertising. In light of this, the decision to produce a film about Ned Kelly, a truly Australian tale of international repute with distribution potential both on a national and international scale (84), is in exactly the same vein: that is, the exploitation of a national sentiment still within living memory. (The fact that the hero, an Irishman and a wanted man, is in direct contrast to the hero of Living London, the heart and soul of the British Empire, the city of London, reflects on the diversity of Australia’s contemporary sense of identity and nationhood.)
In an obituary for Millard Johnson (85), the story of how W. A. Gibson saw a play about the Kelly gang in New Zealand is related as being the genesis of the Kelly gang film. However, as Johnson and Gibson returned to Australia from New Zealand in early April of 1906 (86) without having crossed paths with the MacMahon play (assuming, of course, that both were working with the tour of Living London and not off on holiday), it seems unlikely that Gibson made the connection. It is more likely that Frank Stetson/Tait connected with MacMahon in Wellington, when their shows coincided. Part of this story in the obituary relates that the Kelly gang play emptied the Living London audience, the notoriety of the play’s subject being too much to resist. But it should be noted that this was the second run of Living London in Wellington and many of the inhabitants would have seen the film the first time around. (87)
The timing of this coincidence is put into perspective by three other points. The first was that the play, The Kelly Gang, fell within the period in which Marvellous Melbourne and Animated Adelaide were being made, so topics for films would have been on their minds. It seems likely, then, that the inspiration for a film about Ned Kelly came from the popularity of this play. Of course, this popularity would translate into ticket sales, giving J. & N. Tait and Johnson & Gibson another low-risk film venture.
However, even if the play was the inspiration, it still remains it may not have been the source for the content of the film. The other points are that both Frank Tait/Stetson and Nevin Tait returned to Australia in July, meaning all family members where in Melbourne, when it is believed that the filming of The Story of the Kelly Gang began six months prior to its release in December 1906. (88)
The other question that can be addressed, but not resolved, is the length of The Story of the Kelly Gang. The Taits and J & G certainly knew better than any other film exhibitor in the country that an audience would sit through a single film for 45 minutes. Living London was released by Urban at 2500ft, but when the Taits promoted its length it was always 4,000ft. But what is now suggested by this research is that the entire film component of the nights entertainment added up to 4,000ft – or, at 16fps, 66 minutes and 40 seconds, and that that hour could be comprised of less of Living London and more of the support pictures as documented in The Taranaki Herald, where the Taits adapted the show as they saw fit (an unwitting admission that they were not maintaining their claim of presenting the original version). (89)
How this reflects on the length in feet of The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), something that has been contentious for some time, can only be speculated. The Story of the Kelly Gang was advertised as being the longest film ever produced at a length of 4,000ft. The implication here is that The Story of the Kelly Gang was not the advertised length of 4,000ft but more likely around 2,500ft, or 41 minutes 40 seconds running at 16fps. That still makes it the world’s first long narrative film, but somewhat reduced in length. However, it should not be considered, at this time, that this implication is definitive. (90)
The Story of the Kelly Gang further followed the Living London template in its presentation that is slowly revealed through the reviews and advertisements. The structure of Living London’s evening entertainment, although it occasionally varied, saw a short selection of support films, then a song or two followed by interval. Living London would then take the entire last half of a show that would also include another song or two. (91) We learn that Living London was not at all silent. The Australian Star’s opening night review revealed that not only was there an orchestra, but that mechanical devices were employed both by the orchestra and behind the scenes to produce sound effects, such as a train passing through a tunnel. So realistic were they that the audience applauded. The singer, Mr Kilburn Heron, a tenor, timed his songs to coincide with scenes on the screen, in particular from The Death of Nelson (Braham and Arnold, 1905), just after the monument in Trafalgar Square had been seen. (92) We know from Urban’s catalogue that, in London, Living London was accompanied by a lecture presented by Mr Frank Stevens and, in Australia, T. J. West delivered a commentary, but we have no evidence that the Taits followed suit. (93)
That a similar structure was maintained for The Story of the Kelly Gang can be confirmed from reviews of its release: for example, “effects and dialogue enhance the interest and excitement” and “Sydney Monk, who warbles popular ballads during the comic picture pauses” (94).
The importance of Living London, the film, the tours, the rivalry and for bringing J. & N. Tait together with Johnson & Gibson, for Australian and subsequently world cinema, is in its provision of a template for the Taits, which they successfully applied to their next film show, “Fallen San Francisco”, and so, by the time they came to The Story of the Kelly Gang, they were well practised in film promotion, distribution and exhibition. J. & N. Tait, above all promotion companies, created and experienced an unprecedented cinematic event in Australia. They came to understand that a film with a well-laid publicity and tour plan, and the provision of a superior product would draw, and continue to draw, the paying customer. Film was no longer a second string to their bow.
In the story of Living London in Australia can be found answers to some of the questions surrounding the production of The Story of the Kelly Gang, its promoters and its producers. Living London tells us that The Story of the Kelly Gang was not produced in isolation, or without context. The two films are inextricably bound in terms of the bonding of two businesses, J. & N. Tait and Johnson & Gibson, in the genesis of the Australian film industry and, more broadly, in the advancement of world cinema. All things considered, it is not a surprise that they, the films and the people succeeded. On the contrary, the surprise would have been if they had failed.
- Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First 80 Years (Sydney: Angus & Robertson and Currency Press, 1983), p. 16; Eric Reade, Australian Silent Films: A Pictorial History (Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1970), pp. 26, 28-9; John Baxter, The Australian Cinema (Sydney: Pacific Books), pp. 10-2.
- George R. Sims (Ed.), Living London (London: Cassell and Company, 1901).
- Charles Urban Trading Company Film Catalogue, 5 February 1905, London, pp. 193-5.
- Unfortunately, there appear to be no reviews of Living London from its English season.
- The Era, 8 October 1904, p. 35: full page of film-distributor advertisements.
- “Law Report, Jan. 26.: The Warwick Trading Company v. Urban”, The London Times, 27 January 1904, p. 11. Warwick tried to sue Urban over the use of the word “bioscope”, which both companies used in the name of their projection apparatus, claiming he was trying to pass his machines off as Warwick machines. Warwick claimed it had made up the word and it had no bearing on the function of the apparatus, and insisted that Urban refrain from using the term. However, Justice Joyce determined that the word “bioscope” was indeed a true word in the English language, that both parties were entitled to use it and, as both companies had identified their bioscope as Warwick or Urban respectively, that no passing-off had occurred.
- Charles Urban Trading Company Film Catalogue, 5 February 1905, pp. 193-5; The Era, 8 July 1905, p. 30. The Urbanora advertisement mentions the exclusivity of Urban films.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 24 December 1897, p. 8. This annual Christmas event began on 26 December 1897, running into early 1898, and featured the “Edison Cinematographe”, owned and operated by Alex Gunn, a leading Melbourne lanternist, lantern slide-maker and limelight operator.
- Public Record of Office of Victoria, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181, P0000, Town Clerk Files Series 1, Unit 951, No 3930, Town Clerk Files. On the Application form for use of the Melbourne Town Hall, it lists the fees for various uses and the conditions of use; Public Record of Office of Victoria, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181, P0000, Town Clerk Files Series 1, Unit 951, No 3047A. A plan of the seating layout for the Great Hall of the Melbourne Town Hall; Scale of Charges for Hall and Other Accommodation. Melbourne Athenaeum Annual Report 1906, p. 12.
- Box 1, Folder 1, Business and General Correspondence in MS309 Papers 1908-1966 (manuscript) Tait Family. In a letter dated 14 August 1915, Nevin writes to his brother E. J. Tait. In the letter, Nevin refers to his role in securing Living London and that, without the film, J. & N. Tait could not have paid the fees for Antonia Dolores’ tour in 1906 and Dame Clara Butt’s tour in 1907.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 20 January 1906, p. 16.
- The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (Veriscope 1897) has been suggested to me as an exception. I would not consider this to be the case as the projecting mechanism, the Veriscope, is as much a feature as the film. See Dan Streible, “A History of the Boxing Film, 1894-1915: Social Control and Social Reform in the Progressive Era”, Film History, Vol. 3, No. 3 (1989), pp. 235-7.
- “Plays and Players”, Punch, 25 January 1906, p. 8.
- “Entertainments: Living London”, The Brisbane Courier Mail, 6 April 1906, p. 6.
- “Amusements: Living London”, The Herald (Victoria), 29 January 1906, p. 5
- “Amusements: Living London”, The Age, 29 January 1906, p. 10.
- “Sundry Shows”, The Bulletin, 1 February 1906, p. 9.
- “Living London: To the Editor”, Taranaki Herald (New Zealand), 3 April 1906, p. 2; “Living London: To the Editor”, Taranaki Herald, 4 April 1906, p. 3.
- “Amusements”, The Advertiser (Adelaide), 8 February 1906. p. 2. The information about the Melbourne season is included as the “Latest Wire”.
- While no copies appear to remain, there is evidence in the copyright registers for 1906, held at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra, that the Taits had at least four different leaflets or posters each with a different phrasing. See note 78 for full details.
- “The Playgoer by Peter Quince”, Punch, 8 February 1906, p. 219.
- There is ample evidence that the Taits tried to exploit public venues like the Melbourne Town Hall. The correspondence between J. & N. Tait and the Town Clerk about the first season of Living London booking centres on the Taits’ request for a refund. Their premise is they have made continuous multiple bookings and, according to Town Hall charges and conditions, are entitled to a 10% refund. The Town Clerk refused the refund on the basis that full payment had not been received within three days prior to the opening, as per the conditions and charges. PROV VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181, P0000 Town Clerk Files Series 1, Unit 952, No 961, Letter to Town Clerk from John H. Tait, 5 February 1906; PROV VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181, P0000 Town Clerk Files Series 1, Unit 952, No 609, Letter to Town Clerk from John H. Tait, 12 February 1906. That J. & N. Tait pursued similarly elsewhere is evidenced in its bookings for the 1907 Dame Clara Butt tour and the Marie Hall tour, both to be held in the Sydney Town Hall. It wasn’t unusual for concert promoters to try to book tentative dates, something the Town Halls always refused. In attempting to do just this at the Sydney Town Hall, J. & N. Tait’s argument is that to hire the Melbourne Town Hall for the same period of time only costs £90 but the Sydney Town Hall wants £50 per night “and since we are forced to pay £50 per night we ought to be able to at least, pencil our dates […]”. Not surprisingly, the Town Clerk refused. NSCA CRS 28: TC 1907/0253 Town Clerk’s Correspondence Files [J. & N. Tait – Town Clerk. To rent Town Hall for Madame Clara Butt’s concert, February 1907]; NSCA CRS 28: TC 1907/1164 Town Clerk’s Correspondence Files: [J. & N. Tait to TC. Unsatisfactory nature of Rent of Town Hall, 2 July 1907].
- This claim can be said to be mostly conjectural – the Taits may well indeed have ordered extra prints – yet there is some hard evidence that they were not prone to fly by the seats of their pants. On 24 January 1906, within days of the opening of Living London in Melbourne, John H. Tait sailed to New Zealand, on the ss Moeraki, with a threefold purpose. First, he travelled with Mr A. L. Baird, manager of Princes Court, a Melbourne pleasure resort similar to Luna Park, of which Tait was a director, their intention being to negotiate a contract for the erection of various attractions at Wonderland at the 1906 Christchurch Exhibition. Second, he was to determine a touring schedule for soprano Antonia Dolores, who was to begin her Australian tour later in the year. And, third, he was to see off the New Zealand season of Living London, which began on 27 February in Wellington. “The Stage”, Otago Witness (New Zealand), 7 February 1906, p. 60; “Mimes and Music”, Evening Post (New Zealand), 24 February 1906, p. 13. For more information about Wonderland, see http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Exhibitions/1906/Exhibits/Wonderland/. Tait returned to Melbourne on 25 February 1906 on the ss Moeraki. PROV, VA 669 Public Works Department, VPRS 13439 Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (New Zealand Ports) 1852-1923.
- Overcrowding of theatres and other public venues was a finable offence, the exhibitors having to attend court and pay the fine. While a serious issue, it was often used as an advertising ploy, regardless of the fact being true. That Living London had caused overcrowding at the Melbourne Town Hall is very possible. “At The Play”, The Critic, 7 February 1906, p. 8; The Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 February 1906, p. 2.
- “Amusements: Living London”, The Advertiser (Adelaide), 13 February 1906, p. 7.
- “Amusements”, The Bendigo Advertiser, 6 February 1906, front page.
- “Open-Air Concert”, The Bendigo Advertiser, 9 February 1906, front page, p. 5.
- “Metropole Theatre”, The Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 27 October 1906, back page: review of Johnson & Gibson’s tour of Tasmania.
- 1: Viola Tait, A Family of Brothers (Melbourne: Heinemann, 1971), p. 28. F. S. Stetson is purported to be the pseudonym of Frank S. Tait according to Lady Viola Tait. She reveals that her husband, Frank, was given the nickname by his brother Charles. If Stetson is Tait, then he also travelled under the name F. S. Stetson to New Zealand, at least. 2: Between 1906 and 1907, F. S. Stetson’s name was on every J. & N. Tait advertisement in New Zealand, including for Living London. In the J.C. Williamson collection held at the Victoria’s Performing Arts Museum, a letter from Besses o’ the Barn’s conductor, Alexander Owen, seems to confirm Stetson as Frank Tait’s nickname. The letter addressed to Frank Tait thanks him for his management of the band throughout New Zealand in 1907. PAM, Performing Arts Collection, J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd Collection, JCW333, Memorabilia Tait Brothers, A22.02.07. 3: Passenger list for the Mararoa includes Johnson, Gibson, Stetson and Monks. “Shipping: Arrivals: March 21: ss Mararoa from Lyttleton”, Evening Observer (New Zealand), 21 March 1906, p. 6.
- “Amusements”, Evening Post, 9 May 1906, p. 8: The Kelly Gang is advertised to open. “Personal Matters”, Evening Post, 10 May 1906, p. 4: lists F. Stetson as a guest at the Royal Oak Hotel.
- 1: Andrew Black (1859-1920) was a classical baritone. He toured the world and eventually immigrated to Australia in the early years of the 20th century. 2: Johnson and Gibson left New Zealand in April on the ss Maheno. SRNSW: Shipping Master’s Office; NRS 13278, Inward Passengers no 212. 3: On 7 July 1906, Stetson and Black are listed as Saloon passengers on the ss Warimoo leaving New Zealand and headed for Melbourne in PROV VA 669 Public Health Works, VPRS 13439, Inward Overseas Passage Lists (New Zealand Ports) 1852-1923.
- “Moving Pictures”, The Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 18 August 1906, back page: short review notes Mr A. Grigg as the tour manager. “Metropole Theatre”, The Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 24 October 1906, back page: review discusses the current Johnson & Gibson tour but refers to their tour of Living London in association with J. & N. Tait.
- “At the Play”, The Critic (South Australia), 31 January 1906, p. 13. In this brief snippet, Sudholz is referred to as Mr O. Sudholz.
- Western Australia Post Office Directory, 1910 (Wise), p. 618.
- Alphabetical Listings. Sands Sydney NSW Directory, 1920, p. 1852.
- 1: “Amusements”, The Advertiser (Adelaide), 29 March 1906, pp. 2, 6: the description of the scenes matches those given for Nonguet’s two-part film series made for Pathé Frères, Épopée napoléonienne – Napoléon Bonaparte and Épopée Napoléonienne – L’Empire. 2: “Amusements”, The Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 March 1906, p. 2: this advert is similar to those of the Taits, as it includes a breakdown of the scenes. “The Bio-Tableau Entertainment”, The Advertiser, 31 March 1906, p. 9; “At the Play”, The Critic (South Australia), 4 April 1906, p. 10.
- “Bio-Tableau and Entertainment”, Morning Herald (Western Australia), 9 April 1906, p. 4: short review of Sudholz’s show.
- “Her Majesty’s Theatre: Bio-Tableau and Entertainers”, Kalgoorlie Miner, 18 April 1906, p. 4: review that notes that there will be a change of programme as Living London had just been delivered from R.M.S. India.
- 1: Born in Melbourne, Edwin Geach became a very successful theatrical entrepreneur after starting out as a draper’s assistant in the family business and then a theatre reporter. His first job as an agent and entrepreneur was for Carl Hertz’s 1897 tour of New Zealand and Hobart. “Theatrical and Musical Notes by ‘Pasquin’”, Otago Witness (New Zealand), 28 February 1906, p. 68; The Theatre, 1 October 1911. 2: Under the business name of Modern Marvel Co. Ltd, Scotsman Thomas James West operated as an optical lanternist in Edinburgh from around 1897, or earlier. He expanded into Britain as West’s Pictures, then in 1905 toured for almost a year in New Zealand with “West’s Pictures and The Brescians”. In 1906, West came to Australia and eventually moved his centre of business here, creating Australia’s first cinema chain, West’s Pictures. Thomas James West died in London in 1916.
- PROV, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181 P0000, Town Clerk Files Series I, Unit 95, 1 No 3603, Letter to Town Clerk from Edwin Geach, 25 September 1905; PROV, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181, P0000, Town Clerk Files Series I, Unit 951, No 3788, Letter to Town Clerk from Edwin Geach, 6 October 1905.
- “Theatrical and Musical Notes by ‘Pasquin’”, Otago Witness (New Zealand), 28 March 1906, p. 60: snippet notes that Living London is currently touring New Zealand.
- “Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March 1906, p. 2.
- “Lyceum Hall Theatre: Living London”, The Australian Star, 17 March 1906, p. 7.
- “Amusements”, The Daily Telegraph, 20 March 1906, p. 2.
- “Amusements: West’s Pictures and The Brescians”, The Daily Telegraph, 19 March 1906, p. 7. Also noted is that West narrates the show, although, as The Daily Telegraph puts it, “the explanations of Mr T. J. West were quite superfluous”. “Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 March 1906, p. 2.
- “Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 March 1906, p. 2.
- “Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 March 1906, p. 2.
- 1: “Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March 1906, p. 12. 2: “Stage, Song and Show. World Beyond The Footlights. Living London”, The Australian Star, 19 March 1906, p. 8. It may well be that Rickards’ and the Taits’ use of the brand name to promote their screenings were the first such instances in Australia. Up to this time, promotion of films had, in general, not included recognition of the production or other companies. Usually marketing tools were limited to genre, the apparatus to be used and sometimes the country of origin. The use of brand names as an advertising tool would become more common within a few years.
- “Stage, Song and Show. World Beyond The Footlights. Living London”, The Australian Star, 26 March 1906, p. 2.
- “Amusements”, The Daily Telegraph, 29 March 1906, p. 2.
- “Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March 1906, p. 2: advertisements leading up to this one all contain similar comments.
- “Amusements: Queen’s Hall”, The Scotsman, 20 January 1906, p. 2. West’s “The Modern Marvel Co’s Pictures” was an annual event in Edinburgh. During this season, West also screened The Streets of London.
- “Theatre Royal”, Hobart Mercury, 8 February 1906, p. 5: review of the whole show. Theatre Royal”, Hobart Mercury, 10 February 1906, p. 6: review of the whole show. “Amusements”, Wanganui Herald, 22 August 1905, front page.
- “Amusements”, Evening Observer, Brisbane, 28 March 1906, p. 2.
- 1: “Amusements”, The Brisbane Courier, 29 March 1906, p. 5. In the same column, the Taits’ New Zealand tour of Living London is mentioned with a quote from the Lyttleton Times (New Zealand). 2: Geach was wrong about being the only company to provide its own power plant. The Taits also supplied their own power plant as evidenced on their return tour to Melbourne. In Maitland, the plant broke down and parts had to be sent for from Newcastle. “Living London”, Maitland Daily Mercury, 5 May 1906, front page, p. 4.
- “Amusements”, Brisbane Courier, 31 March 1906, p. 2.
- Not until the first release of The Story of the Kelly Gang was there any reference to the competition: “The Taits […] are now exploiting a new Biograph, which has made its own boom, and is practically secure from competition.” “Sundry Shows”, The Bulletin, 3 January 1907, p. 8.
- “Living London”, The Herald, 4 May 1906, p. 2; “Amusements”, The Age, 5 May 1906, p. 16. The Taits used the Education Minister’s interest in Living London as an advertising tool, also giving instructions to school children on how to obtain their discount tickets; “Amusements”, The Age, 12 May 1906, p. 16. This small ad at the top of the column confirms the Minister for Education’s desire for school children to see the film; “Living London”, Geelong Advertiser, 18 May 1906, p. 4. This advance notice mentions that Melbourne’s third season of Living London is due to the Education Minister’s interest.
- “The Theatres: West’s Pictures and The Brescians”, Table Talk, 10 May 1906, p. 17-8.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 5 May 1906, p. 12.
- “Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March 1906, p. 2. West’s first announcement of a local scene, Australians at a Matinee, appeared at the end of the advertisement for the Victor Daley Benefit matinee announcing he would film the audience as they left the show. This film was followed by Snaps of the York-Street Fire (The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 April 1906, p. 2). It wasn’t until mid April that West announced Living Sydney with thirteen advertised scenes of life in and around Sydney (“Amusements”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 1906, p. 2).
- “Amusements”, The Age, 8 May 1906, p. 12.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 12 May 1906, p. 12.
- “The Theatres”, Table Talk, 10 May 1906, pp. 17-8.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 11 May 1906, p. 10; Amusements. The Age, May 12 1906, p. 16.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 10 May 1906, p. 10.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 12 May 1906, p. 16. In Table Talk, May 10 1906, it is reported that “West is an expert cinematographic photographer, and brings with him a staff of assistants to take and produce pictures of local interest.”
- “Amusements: West’s Pictures and The Brescians”, The Age, 14 May 1906, p. 11. This is a lengthy review of the opening night with an emphasis on The Brescians.
- “The Playgoer”, Punch, 14 June 1906, p. 871. This brief notice refers to the filming of the football game by West. “Amusements”, The Age, 16 June 1906, p. 16. Carlton vs. Fitzroy is included on the programme.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 15 May 1906, p. 10. In the J. & N. Tait advertisement are listed their films: Chapel Street Prahran, The British Sailor and our Japanese Ally Marching through the City Yesterday and The Block. In West’s advertisement are three local films: Japanese war ships arriving at Port Melbourne, Welcome to our Gallant Allies and Pictures of the Crowd; “Amusements”, The Age, 17 May 1906, p. 10. “Amusements”, The Age, 21 May 1906, p. 10, reveals that the screening at State Parliament was on the previous Tuesday, 15 May. In the last few nights of J. & N. Tait’s Living London season, their film At the Treasury was listed.
- “Amusements”, The Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 May 1906, p. 2. In this advance notice, the public are invited to come along and watch the filming.
- “At the Sign of Four O’”, The Critic (South Australia), 23 May 1906, p. 18. A very amusing commentary about the spectacle of the filming.
- “Queen’s Hall”, The West Australian, 31 May 1906, p. 4: notes the Taits’ trouble developing the films and that new stock has been sent for from Melbourne. “Amusements”, The West Australian, 5 June 1906, front page: the J. & N. Tait advert reports that new stock was received yesterday and that new films taken during the afternoon were screened that evening to great success. “Amusements”, The West Australian, 6 June 1906, front page: the films Perth and Fremantle are advertised.
- “Amusements”, The West Australian, 28 May 1906, front page, p. 9: Geach’s advertisement, announces West’s arrival on the ss Oroya and his intention of taking local films, from the corner of Hay and Barrack Streets, which will be screened in London. In the J. & N. Tait advertisement, more local scenes of a Military Church Parade are programmed for that evening and they announce their intention to film St George’s Terrace between the Post office and the Barracks. “Entertainments: West’s Pictures”, The West Australian, 29 May 1906 p. 5: confirms West’s arrival in Perth, along with some assistants and their intention to film the Hay and Barrack Streets intersection. “Amusements”, The West Australian, 14 June 1906, front page: West’s last show was on 14 June 1906 and no mention of any local films having been taken or screened has appeared in any Perth paper. However, it should be noted that, even though West’s arrival is announced, there is no shipping record of him actually arriving in Western Australia in 1906. This may be why no local films are programmed.
- “Living Melbourne: Complaint and Reply”, The Herald, 17 May 1906, p. 4; “Living Melbourne”, The Herald, 21 May 1906, p. 3; “Moving Melbourne”, The Herald, 28 May 1906. This is an example of the relationship the Taits had with the Melbourne Town Hall. The reason Moving Melbourne was removed from the programme was that the Town Hall had to be vacated early that night to allow for the preparations for the Welcome to the Japanese Fleet taking place the next day. In the first instance, the Town Clerk had cancelled without notice two days of the Taits’ booking and they argued with the Town Clerk who reassessed the situation and rescinded the cancellations, but enforced an early closing. The Taits argued again, but were refused any further concession and were not recompensed in terms of rent. PROV, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181/P0000 Town Clerk Files, Series 1, Unit 953, No 1960, 4 May 1906, Letter from John H. Tait to Town Clerk; PROV, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181/P0000 Town Clerk Files, Series 1, Unit 953, No 1330, 30 May 1906, Letter from J. & N. Tait to The Editor, The Herald.
- 1: “Amusements”, The Age, 26 May 1906, p. 2. Alberto Zelman jnr (1874-1927) was a violinist and founded the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The Taits managed many concerts by Zelman. 2: Born Antoinette Gillebert (c1864-), Antonia Dolores was a French soprano and had toured Australia in 1896 as Antoinette Trebelli and, again in 1901, when she sang at the Gala Concert for the Inauguration of the Commonwealth. She toured Australia several times after 1906, the Australian audiences making her welcome each time.
- “Amusements”, The Age, 26 June 1906, p. 10. The season at the Bijou closed in early July. “Amusements”, The Age, 2 July 1906, p. 12.
- It was around month after Living London had opened in Melbourne in January that Charles Tait undertook Copyright applications for each separate phrasing used on advertising leaflets for Living London. In the first application, on 21 February 1906, No 11142, which was for the phrase “Living London”, Tait applied for and received an international copyright. The remaining phrases, applications for which were taken out 6 days late on 27 February were “Moving London”, no. 11145, “Mammoth London”, no 11146 and “Mighty London”, no 11147, were only copyrighted in Victoria. National Archives of Australia: Registrar of Copyrights; A2387, Requests to Register under Copyright Act 1896-1890 Book B (Books of completed Forms requiring entry of proprietorship from 16 February 1871: of Literary Dramatic and Musical Productions). 1870-1910; Box 6, Volume 48, Applications nos. 10701-11469.
- “Living London”, Benalla North Eastern Ensign, 20 July 1906, p. 3. This newspaper report about the opening of Living London and Moving Melbourne in the Shire Hall gives some good detail about the business.
- 1: PROV, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181/P0000 Town Clerk Files, Series 1, Unit 952, No 961, 5 February 1906, p. 2. Shows a breakdown of the rent paid for this first season as part of J. & N. Tait’s request for a refund. 2: PROV, VA 511 Melbourne City, VPRS 3181/P0000 Town Clerk Files, Series 1, Unit 951, No 3047A, 8 August 1905, p. 3. This document includes a blueprint of the layout of seats within the Melbourne Town Hall for maximum seating.
- Box 1, Folder 1, Business and General Correspondence in MS309 Papers 1908-1966 (manuscript) Tait Family. In a letter dated 14 August 1915, Nevin writes to his brother E. J. Tait and discusses the fees for Antonia Dolores and Dame Clara Butt.
- “The Gay Metropolis”, The Critic, 23 May 1906, p. 22. This society column of ‘what’s on’ in Melbourne reports that the Taits had been part of the official government festivities at Parliament House to welcome the Japanese Fleet. As the report says, the Taits had filmed the Japanese arrival and march through Melbourne the previous day.
- “The Ladies Page”, Otago Witness, 14 March 1906, p. 72-3.
- Since the 1880s, the real life exploits of the Kelly Gang had been reported in the British newspapers. In October 1880, a dramatised version of the life of Ned Kelly was performed at London’s Britiannia Theatre and advertised in The Graphic, 30 October 1880. In 1880, James Skipp Borlase authored a 38-part serial, Ned Kelly, The Ironclad Australian Bushranger.
- “Early Days Recalled”, Film Weekly, 31 January 1946. In this obituary, there is more about W. A. Gibson’s career – or, more correctly, what Gibson claimed to have been responsible for – than there is about Johnson’s career.
- Millard Johnson and W. A. Gibson left New Zealand in April on the ss Maheno. SRNSW: Shipping Master’s Office; NRS 13278, Inward Passengers no 212. The Maheno lefts Wellington on 31 March carrying Mr and Mrs Johnson, and Mr and Mrs Gibson.
- The first release of Living London in Wellington was on 21 March 1906. “Amusements”, The Evening Post, 21 March 1906, p. 8.
- “Greenroom Gossip”, Punch, 26 July 1906, p. 144. Nevin Tait is announced as being back in town. He had arrived on the Ventura from San Francisco on 17 July 1906. SRNSW: Shipping Master’s Office; NRS 13278, Inward Passengers no 212. The duration of the production is given as having taken place over a six-month period prior to the film’s release in The Age, 24 December 1906, p. 10, and in The Herald, 24 December, 1906, p. 3.
- “Living London: To the Editor”, Taranaki Herald, 3 April 1906, p. 2; “Living London: To the Editor”, Taranaki Herald, 4 April 1906, p. 3.
- “Sundry Shows”, The Bulletin, 3 January 1907, p. 8. In this review it is noted that The Story of the Kelly Gang ran for 40 minutes.
- “Amusements”, The Argus, 29 January 1906, p. 9.
- “Living London Moving Pictures and Bright Music”, The Australian Star, 30 March 1906, p. 2.
- “Amusements: West’s Pictures and The Brescians”, The Daily Telegraph, 19 March 1906. Also noted is that West narrates the show.
- “The Palace: The Kelly Gang”, The Referee, 20 February 1907, p. 12; “Sundry Shows”, The Bulletin, 24 January 1907, p. 8.