Sunday, 21 December 2014

Britain's first ever sci-fi film 'Message from Mars' restored

Britain's first ever sci-fi film 'Message from Mars' restored

You could be forgiven for thinking I had decamped to Mars myself, such has been the silence emanating from this blog over the past 6 weeks.  Exile to the Red Planet would be no less than I deserve for neglecting this place for so long; once again I find that work (plus the ubiquitous Christmas Cold, which struck last weekend but thankfully had worked its way through me by the Monday) has taken up more of my time than I realised.  Devoting more time to Eclectic Ephemera will definitely be a New Year's resolution, methinks!

Anyway, all these Martian metaphors are the result of this latest vintage news item - the completion of six months' restoration work on an historic British film:  this country's first full-length science fiction adventure!

The turn of the 20th century saw the birth of modern science fiction as we know it today; with the likes of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells leading the way, whose novels and short stories have passed into literary history, taking their place as written masterpieces of the genre still enjoyed and adapted by people today.  Its should be no surprise that, with moving pictures emerging during the same period (a real-life example of science fiction becoming science fact!), these wondrous new stories should be acted out on screen by the pioneering cinematographers - the Lumière Brothers, Georges Méliès and others.

It took until 1913 for Britain to get in on the act with the hour-long feature film A Message from Mars.  Adapted from a 1903 New Zealand stage play, which itself had successful runs in the U.K. and the Antipodes for 30-odd years, it was in fact the second dramatisation - the first was a 20-minute short film made in New Zealand in 1903 (and actually New Zealand's first ever movie - now sadly considered lost).  The British version of ten years later starred the famous actor-manager of the time, Charles Hawtrey (no relation to the later Carry On actor, who was born George Hartree and took the same stage name), and the story is remarkable for two reasons other than its science fiction bent.  It is rather Dickensian in its plot for a start (quite suitable for this festive season, eh?), with a miserly old codger being shown the error of his ways (except with a Martian replacing the Spirits!) and the alien being benign and helpful - a noticeable contrast to the likes of Wells' War of the Worlds or Méliès' Le Voyage dans la Lune

For decades the film languished in the vaults of the British Film Institute, existing in two parts - the latter damaged and incomplete.  This year, however, sterling work was undertaken by the Institute's restoration team to bring A Message From Mars back to its original condition, thanks in part to another print in the archives of the New York Museum of Modern Art.  The process of copying, repairing and retouching has obviously been a painstaking one but the result is magnificent.  You can see for yourselves, in fact, as the BFI - in conjunction with B.B.C. Arts - made the entire film available to watch for free on their respective websites.

Now this important milestone in British and science fiction film history can once again be seen just as it would have appeared on release one hundred and one years ago, ready to be enjoyed by [movie] history buffs and sci-fi fans old and new.  I take my hat off to the BFI for this and all the other hard work they undertake to preserve and restore our nations cinematographic history, as I sit down to watch the fantastic A Message from Mars.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Red Baron's WW1 fighter recreated

Red Baron's WW1 fighter recreated

With the the centenary of the First World War now well underway and the first Remembrance Sunday of the four-year long commemorations today, events and projects marking this momentous milestone and remembering all those involved in the conflict are coming thick and fast.

The subject of this post is one of the smaller projects in the grand scheme of things, but no less important for that - the latest replica of Baron Manfred von Richtohofen's infamous red Fokker Triplane.  I say "latest" as the Fokker Dr.1, to give it its proper designation, is one of the most popular World War One aircraft on the reproduction circuit thanks to its distinctive design and association with the greatest fighter ace of the time.  Indeed in many respects the red triplane has almost become synonymous with the Great War in the air, especially in the United States where many of them reside and where companies exist to manufacture kits.

The Dawn Patrol Rendezvous reenactors' Dr.1 at the National Museum of the U.S
Air Force, Dayton, Ohio, 2009 (source)

This new addition to the ranks resides and was built in Britain, however, by two enthusiasts at the Derby Aero Club.  Unlike some other replicas, which are often ­¾ or 2/3 scale, this one is also full-size and remarkably accurate to the original design - a testament to the owners' knowledge and attention to detail.  Hopefully we will see it at events around the country over the next four years (and beyond) - having experienced first-hand the Great War Display Team any further airworthy replicas are always welcome - perhaps they will all fly together one day!

D-EFTJ, a German replica, 2006

With several high-profile examples of flyable aircraft surviving from the Second World War it is easy to overlook the machines from the earlier conflict - original and airworthy types of which are few and far between.  Thus it falls to these modern replicas, built where possible to the highest detail, to remind us what flying and aerial fighting was like during the First World War and to honour the young men who flew them.  This Derby-built example is a worthy inclusion, and may there be many more!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Just like buses...

...nothing for ages and then a load come along at once - much like this blog lately!

Hopefully no-one's ever waited nearly a month for a 'bus (although the service round my way does its best to make it a possibility) but I'm certainly sorry - again! - that you've had to wait that long between posts.  Egads, I've been well and truly reminded why I didn't blog when I was last in full-time employment - work certainly does take up your time, doesn't it?  But have no fear, I don't intend to let Eclectic Ephemera gather dust and I absolutely promise you that no more than a month will elapse before new content appears.

In related news you may recall my mentioning the new [online] vintage magazine I have been involved with, In Retrospect.  Well despite a little wobble due to a lack of advertisers that splendid periodical is still very much with us - and soon to launch its first physical issue!  Sadly I won't be able to have something done in time for the inaugural edition (due for publication in about a month's time - watch this space for more news) but I have high hopes to make it into the January issue, fingers crossed!

Now, back to buses!  During the last few busy weeks I was able to get along to the local annual transport and classic car rally, held on the 12th October on Canvey Island and which has featured on this blog several times in previous years.  After last year's [literal] washout when floodwater severely curtailed the event, the rally's good weather fortunes had returned and we were treated to a bright - if slightly nippy - day (precipitating a series of winter colds culminating in a throat infection for your author, but it was worth it!).

Without further ado, here come the pictures:

CPU 979G, a 1969 Bristol VR, conveyed me from the local railway station to the showground; one of the many shuttle buses in use throughout the day ferrying people to and from the station, showground and museum - an excellent service.

Some old favourites from previous years were also again in attendance, including this 1941 Morris Z-Type GPO van and 1934 Morris 10/4 Saloon (below).

1950 AEC Regent III RT

This beautiful 1970 AEC Swift "SM1" caught my eye at the far end of the field; I particularly like the instructions on the front and side - today's buses should have the same I say (plus "Have fare ready" for all those bloody people who root around in their pockets/bag/purse for the money/ticket after they've boarded - can you tell I'm back in commuter mode...?)!

1953 Leyland Tiger

The showground is right next to the sea wall, on the other side of which is the Thames Estuary (on the other side of which is Kent), so at lunchtime I grabbed a bacon sarnie and mug of builders tea (complete in The Sun mug, I'm afraid to say) before taking a stroll along the sea wall.  By great good fortune I was lucky enough to see the SS Waverley steaming homeward-bound after one of its regular day trips on the Whitstable-Southend-Tilbury-London route.  The SS Waverley is the last surviving sea-going paddle steamer, built in 1947 to replace her predecessor which was lost at Dunkirk.  She was saved from the scrapheap in 1975 (sold for one whole pound!) and has since become a tourist pleasure ship on routes around the Thames, the Clyde, the Bristol Channel and the South Coast.  She's certainly a wonderful craft and, with next year being the 40th anniversary of her resurrection, I think a little cruise to London might be called for!

After lunch and that most pleasant surprise it was back to the buses:

1965 Leyland Titan

Then it was on the transport museum proper, whereupon arriving I was delighted to be met with the sight of London buses old and new!  I'd not yet seen the New Bus For London (seriously, they need to come up with a better name) up close and I came away most impressed.

Back in May the local bus operator, First Essex, commemorated 100 years of bus travel in Southend by repainting one of its vehicles in the original cream and red livery of Westcliff-on-sea Motor Services, which served the area until the 1960s.  I was pleased to see it at the museum alongside one of its forebears, a 1939 Bristol K.  Much, much better and more dignified than First's current livery of white, pink and purple I think you'll agree.  Perhaps we should start a petition to get them all repainted!

At my old primary school next to the museum the cars were packed in (a full house this year, so I heard) and undoubtedly the star of the the show for me this year was this 1935 MG N-type.  Lovingly restored over 20 years by its owner it was a testament to his enthusiasm, being in absolutely tip-top condition as far as I could see.  Alas in chatting amiably with the old boy it emerged that his son does not share the same level of interest and it was a shame to hear the sadness with which the chap admitted it.  We can only hope when the time comes it transfers to the hands of another collector (I did jocularly express my own interest, although with the more commonplace J-, P- and T-types fetching £30-40,000 and me still without a licence it would be a long time coming!) but honestly, who couldn't fail to be moved by this?


At the other end of the condition scale was this Model A Ford, a newcomer to the show (at least, I hadn't seen it before) which looked almost untouched!

One welcome return this year, though, was this 1930s Riley which had previously appeared as my show star.  Still a joy to behold, in lovely condition complete with period magazines, books and maps on the seats. 


To finish here are some close-up shots of the beautiful 1933 Huppmoblie K-321 Cabriolet Roadster, another show regular, over which I (not surprisingly) lingered for some time - even taking the time to explain to a couple of ladies the concept of a dickey seat and how the roof had to be retracted by turning the little handle behind the front seats.


Well, that's it from me for now, but I hope to be back in the coming weeks hopefully with some more interesting vintage news (it's been a bit quiet on that front lately, as it often seems to get around the end of the year).  Don't forget as well to be on the lookout for In Retrospect - in paper format! - from the beginning of December.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sherlock Holmes silent classic uncovered in Paris vault

Sherlock Holmes silent classic uncovered in Paris vault

A couple of months ago the British Film Institute issued one of its occasional calls for us all to be on the look-out for its top 75 "Most Wanted" lost films - titles from the dawn of moving pictures right up to the 1970s that have seemingly vanished from archives, film libraries and national collections around the world.  In this particular instance it was a request for everyone to turn "Great Detective" and keep their eyes peeled for a copy - or a clue to a copy - of the first ever film adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story.

A Study in Scarlet, the initial Holmes story that introduces us to "the world's only consulting detective" and his trusty friend Dr Watson, was adapted into a film in 1914 by a British concern called the Samuelson Film Manufacturing Company - a name long since forgotten among the many businesses that attempted to get involved in the new and lucrative moving picture business at the turn of the last century.  James Bragington, who worked at Samuelson's (but not actually as an actor!), was chosen for his resemblance to Holmes (as described in the books) and by all accounts made a remarkably good fist of it - aided by some on-the-job training and the slightly florid acting style demanded by silent movies of that era.  Filming took place at locations including Cheddar Gorge.  The director, George Pearson, would go on to make 1923's Love, Life and Laughter, another previously lost film whose rediscovery earlier this year was also featured on this blog.

James Bragington as Sherlock Holmes
Despite positive reviews and showings at picture houses around the country, the first film version of A Study in Scarlet has since slipped into obscurity and been considered lost for decades.  Sadly a separate American production of the same story made and released almost concurrently with the British version, plus Samuelson's own 1916 follow-up The Valley of Fear, are also considered lost.  A fourth 1910s Sherlock Holmes film, simply called Sherlock Holmes, also made in 1916 by the American Essanay Film Manufacturing Company (best known for producing Charlie Chaplin films during 1915) and starring William Gillette - who had become the quintessential stage Holmes following the successful tours of his theatrical amalgamation of various stories and upon which the film was based - similarly was long thought lost by film and Holmes experts.

A Study in Scarlet (1914)

Cinémathèque Française discovers 1916 Sherlock Holmes film

Until now, that is, with the wonderful news of the discovery of a French-subtitled copy of the Gillette film in the archives of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris.  Once more giving hope in the search for the other 75 most wanted lost films, Sherlock Holmes had been mislabelled before it was consigned to Cinémathèque Française's shelves decades ago - a mistake that has only now come to light.  With luck many more previously lost films may be rediscovered in like manner - incorrect labelling and private collections still being the most promising sources.

This find is doubly important not only for adding to and increasing our knowledge of the early years of Sherlock Holmes on film (prior to the great Basil Rathbone) but also because it is the only moving picture William Gillette ever did.  We will now, therefore, be able to see for the first time in one hundred years his performance - widely lauded at the time, even by Conan Doyle himself - as the Great Detective and one generally considered to be generation-defining.  It will be interesting to finally be able to compare him to Rathbone, Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett.

Cinémathèque Française, in collaboration with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, are currently undertaking what sounds like a thorough restoration of the fragile negatives - hopefully in time for a premiere at the former's own film festival in Paris during January 2015.  Then, who knows, perhaps the BFI will get involved and oblige us with a limited release in the UK - perhaps even a DVD.  I'm really hoping we get to see it somehow!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Revived British marque Atalanta reveals new car

Revived British marque Atalanta reveals new car

Well, I feel I should apologise again for letting two weeks go by between posts but I don't want it to become a standard opening so let's just say that a post every fortnight will be the norm on Eclectic Ephemera for the foreseeable future, eh?  But seriously, I really do hope before too much longer to get things settled enough to do one post a week minimum (news permitting!).

For the subject of this latest news to feature on my blog we must go back a couple of years when the story first broke of a new attempt to bring back a long-forgotten British sports car from the 1930s - the Atalanta.


The Atalanta name was first introduced in December of 1936, appearing on a technically-advanced 2-seater called the Sports Tourer and built in a factory in Staines, Middlesex from early in 1937.  Successes in various rallies, hill-climbs and track events around the country - as well as an entry in the 1938 Le Mans 24 Hours - quickly proved the cars' worth and plans were well underway to offer other body styles including saloons and coupés, as well as a Ford-sourced V12 engine to join the 1.5- and 2-litre four cylinder powerplants available at launch.  Alas in September of 1939, with 21 cars built and delivered, the Second World War began and put paid to the idea of any further cars.  Six years later, when the dust had settled, Atalanta had been forgotten.


New Atalanta launched

Until 2012 that is, when - 75 years after the first Atalanta left the factory - British entrepreneur Martyn Corfield announced plans to introduce a 21st century update of the original 1937 Sports Tourer model.  Based on surviving drawings and designs but sympathetically updated with modern technology the new Atalanta is nevertheless so similar to the few remaining 1930s examples that some parts are even interchangeable!  However this 2014 model features a new 2½-litre Ford engine (suitably enough!) with all the usual modern technology, including a 5-speed gearbox and disc brakes.  The construction process also features - in part - up-to-date processes including 3D printing of certain components, yet still allied to the more traditional handmade coachbuilding techniques.  I can certainly see the use of 3D printing (a concept I still struggle to get my head around!) become a common thing in these types of projects and maybe even in other spheres of vintage reproduction/revival - imagine being able to 3D print an historic component or object that previously we might have thought was unable to be reconstructed.

I am naturally thrilled to see this project reach fruition and wish Mr Corfield and the new Atalanta company every success.  They are being rightly sensible in aiming for no more than 20 cars a year in terms of production and even then only after the word has been spread and enough interest garnered.  Should that happen more cars will almost certainly be on the cards, including other designs from Atalanta's original line-up including a drophead coupé.

The Atalanta takes its place alongside a recent flurry of "modern revival" cars - including 6 continuation-run Lightweight E-types and an updated MkII saloon to be built by Jaguar, a new Bristol with 1950s styling and newcomer Evanta Motors' Barchetta - which gives this blogger great hopes of a new golden age of classic British sports cars and the joy of seeing some classic pre- and post-war designs return.

Monday, 8 September 2014

At peace... and quiet

Evenin' all, and apologies for the two weeks of radio silence. I'm well aware I promised a post a week at the least and I must admit I'm beginning to get a bit frustrated that I can't find the time to write something at the weekend.  However I am but one man and there are only so many hours in the day; hopefully things will start to fall into place and a posting pattern will start to work out before too long.  Of course, it helps if I have interesting news of a vintage flavour to blog about...

Speaking of starting work my endeavours in that department continue to go well, much to my delight after so many years of health and employment struggles.  The downside, of course, is that I get to spend less here and on other blogs but this new place has a very generous IT policy so once I've settled right down and got my six months "probation" behind me you might even find the odd post appearing at lunchtime(!).

I had planned to do a post around about my birthday on the 19th August featuring the usual present haul and jollity but sadly this wasn't to be.  Presents (and, indeed, my birthday itself really) became the last thing on my mind because heartbreakingly my grandmother - my last surviving grandparent, an ever-present part of all the family's lives for generations and the last direct link to an era I find so enthralling - passed away peacefully in hospital on the 21st at the age of 87 after gamely fighting for three weeks against pneumonia (not to mention a litany of other ailments built up over the years), as stoically as she had always done against adversity throughout her life.  So you can imagine we as a family were preoccupied with that over anything else.  I hope to do a proper commemorative post about Nan in the near future, since she was a young woman in the 1940s & '50s; there are pictures of her in those times that I had never seen before that I know many of you will appreciate and that I'd like to show you.  Here's a taster (badly copied here I'm afraid, a scan of a scan but it will appear again better later on):

I hope to return to happier things with the publication of the next couple of posts, which should feature certain aspects of belated and potential birthday presents.  Not to mention a celebration of my Nan's [early] life in 1940s London.

Thanks for sticking with me here at Eclectic Ephemera during this transitional period and rest assured, I'm going nowhere and still enjoying reading all your blogs!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Nicholas Parsons starts a one man crusade to bring back the cravat


Nicholas Parsons starts a one man crusade to bring back the cravat

Considered by some (wrong-headed) people as something of a "naff" personality, Nicholas Parsons - best known on these shores for fronting the long-running B.B.C. Radio 4 comedy panel quiz Just A Minute for nearly 50 years since its creation in 1967 and for presenting the British version of the game show Sale Of The Century during the '70s and '80s - initially might not seem the best chap to lead a resurgent charge in cravat-wearing. 

But that would be to underestimate the sublime Mr Parsons who, at a frankly amazing 90 years old, is showing no signs of slowing down and certainly could teach the younger generations a thing or three about dressing well.  His comments at this year's Edinburgh Festival regarding the cravat (or ascot to our North American cousins) versus the open-necked shirt are a masterfully accurate summation of all that is wrong with the modern man's "smart casual" look and how it could easily be rectified by the splendid little length of neckcloth that was all the rage in the 1930s, '40s & '50s and can trace its origins back to 17th century Croatian mercenaries.


Mr Parsons is spot on when he questions the "attractiveness", or lack thereof, of an open shirt with a suit and the fact that a fellow's bulging Adam's apple is not necessarily what one wants to see walking down the road towards them.  He is the very man to start the revival of this noble yet casual form of neckwear and I can assure him that his "one man crusade" has in fact many followers and that, yes, there are chaps out there who definitely share his point of view.  I for one have made no secret of my love of cravats; I certainly don't want to subject the general public to my scrawny neck, nor that same neck to a cold-inducing stiff breeze.  I would not for one moment say that I have a weak throat/chest, but I have certainly found in the past that an open shirt in anything but the hottest weather has invariably led to a cold.  (The latest example being not three weeks ago when starting my new job, which as I mentioned operates a "no tie unless receiving a client" dress code, where I went open-necked for the first 10 days and then promptly caught a snorter of a cold.)  With this new work rule I have found myself turning to my [limited] selection of cravats more and more, with a view to adding some new ones to my wardrobe with some recent birthday money.

Even Superman wears a cravat!
Friend and fellow blogger G.M. Norton recently wrote a review of one of the U.K.'s newest and most talked-about purveyor of cravats, Cravat Club.  I can do no better than point you in the direction of his post (even the Beeb quote him!), having not had any experience of their products yet - something I hope to rectify soon!

Online shops that sell cravats are few and far between in this blogger's experience but other than the aforementioned emporium I can only suggest two or three others.  If you want to go down the traditional route and wear proper vintage cravats then that well-known provider of original men's fashions from the 1920s onwards, Savvy Row, has a jolly decent selection of rayon examples from the '50s and '60s - in a wonderful array of colours and patterns - for very reasonable prices.

1950s/60s Vintage Red/Gold Paisley pattern
rayon cravat, £12 + p&p @ Savvy Row
Modern examples that rival those on offer at the Cravat Club can be found courtesy of Swagger & Swoon - in a bewildering number of styles, some quite psychedelic if that's your bag!

Another online store with a fine selection of cravats is Woods of Shropshire.  Although not quite as wide a range as the others and with more than a couple of wedding-style "scrunchies" in the mix, there's a fair choice of patterns at a more than fair price.

Darcy Clothing, of whom I have had some previous experience albeit not in the neckwear department, also have a small range of cravats - mainly in the ubiquitous polka dot style, although there is nothing wrong with that!  As befitting a company that also supplies costumes to period dramas they also have one or two from the 18th century if channelling the spirit of Beau Brummell is your ultimate aim!

Quest For Fire Yellow Fine Silk cravat,
£34.99 (free delivery) @ Swagger & Swoon
The one company with whose product I have had repeated first-hand experience of - from whom all my cravats have so far come, in fact - is (somewhat misleadingly) Tom Sawyer Waistcoats.  As their name implies they largely provide that other splendid item of gentleman's clothing, the waistcoat (mainly the wedding variety), however they do have a small but excellent cravat department.  One aspect of their cravats that I particularly like is that a number of them are made of 100% cotton.  Now while the cravat is traditionally supposed to be made of silk or similar - and the cooling properties of those fabrics are, as Norton says, one of the major plus points for wearing them in summer - this could easily lead to a ruinous dry cleaning bill.  Unlike other neckties, cravats are of course designed to be worn next to the skin and sadly no amount of silk will prevent a chap from perspiring if the ambient conditions call for it.  With a cotton cravat at least I can pop it in the washing machine after a few wears, safe in the knowledge that after a once-over with the iron it will be as good as new and ready to wear again.  The prices are also much more conducive to more frequent, regular purchases than would be the case with silk ones.  Tom Sawyer's Richmond Check, of which I own an example, has a particular 1930s vibe about it I feel and is excellent quality for cotton.

Richmond Check cotton day cravat, £16.99 (+p&p) @ Tom Sawer Waistcoats

So, provided one knows where to look (something I hope I've helped you with today!), there's really nothing to stop any tie-phobic johnnies wishing to add a bit of colour and panache to their otherwise unattractive shirt and suit joining Nicholas Parsons, G.M. Norton and myself (plus I'm sure many others - make yourselves known gentlemen!).  I've even thought of a great hashtag whatsit to help spread the word - #bringbackcravats.  Come on chaps, you know it makes sense!

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