Belfast – One Million Years BC

Kenneth Branagh’s 2021 film Belfast is not just a film about Branagh’s own complicated relationship with the city of his birth, but also a film which celebrates his love for the stage and screen.

While the film is presented mostly in striking black and white (bar bookends of the modern city, which sit separate to the main narrative), when the young protagonist, Buddy, is at the cinema, or goes to the theatre, the action he watches is played out in glorious colour. That includes a theatre sequence featuring A Christmas Carol, and cinema outings to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and earlier in the film, Hammer’s 1966 picture One Million Years BC.

The film takes place in 1969, some three years after the original release of One Million Years BC. It can be hard for modern audiences to get their heads around a time when films would still be playing out in cinemas for months and even years after their initial release. But it could easily take a mainstream release a year or two to reach the regional cinemas of the UK and Ireland in the 1960s.

Its worth remembering too, that in 1969 there were around 20 cinemas across the greater Belfast area, made up mostly of independently run companies and local chains, plus the bigger ABC. The programmes were hugely varied, cinemas tended to have only one or two screens, and in order to see all the films you wanted, you had to move around. The multiplex experience has given us clone-like offerings, and taken away a great deal of the uniqueness of cinema programming.

As a fellow Belfast boy, albeit one 20 years younger than writer/director Branagh, and one who has long been a writer on film and a fan of Hammer films, the use of a Hammer title in Belfast was bound to prick my attention. And the film historian in me wondered whether it might be possible to anchor the events Branagh seems to be remembering to a real-life timeline and identify both the dates and cinemas attended. After a bit of archival detective work, I believe I’ve narrowed the remembered outing to an exact day in 1969.

The opening moments of Belfast gives an onscreen caption dating the beginning of the story to 15 August 1969, and events unfurl between then and the following Easter. There’s a certain amount of historical truth to the timings of the riots etc. But we’re not concerned with those here. We’re only concerned with the film screenings.

At some point after the break out of trouble in Belfast, Buddy’s father comes come – which he does every other weekend anyway, from his job in England.

Buddy tries to convince his family to see Robin and the 7 Hoods (Belfast. Dir. Kenneth Branagh, 2021)

During one of those return visits young Buddy (Jude Hill) enthusiastically suggests to his father, Pa (played by Jamie Dornan – a man who earned his own Hammer credentials with an appearance in the 2006 MySpace co-production Beyond the Rave) that they could go and see Robin and the 7 Hoods, which is playing in the afternoon in the Capitol. His mum asks him if its about gangsters, and his brother says its a musical.

Buddy, confused, says:
“No it’s not. There’s Little John and swords and everything!”

Evidently Buddy and his family are thinking of two different Robin Hood films.

Pa tells them he’ll pick the film and they’ll go to the big cinema in town. The family, we know, live in the Tiger’s Bay area of North Belfast, and Buddy attends Grove Primary School. (The area is not too far from the Nelson Street birthplace of another veteran Hammer performer – Sam Kydd).

There were cinemas closer to them, but much smaller, and a little less of an event. The closest cinema would probably have been the Grove (known prior to 1965 as the Troxy), although if they ventured further up the Shore Road, they could have gone to the Lido (also owned by Troxy Cinemas Ltd, and in possession of the first cinemascope screen in Belfast).

Robin and the 7 Hoods is a 1964 film starring Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Bing Crosby and Peter Falk, and while based loosely on Robin Hood, is indeed both a gangster film and a musical, including a glorious number ‘Mr. Booze’ which younger readers might be familiar with from a Family Guy homage.

‘Mr. Booze’ in Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)

It had played Belfast in 1964 and 1967, and had indeed played screens in the city in 1969, but from Monday 31 March to Saturday 4 April when it played the Classic at 12.35, 4.30 and 8.25pm daily.

The Classic cinema was a small cinema on College Square East that originally opened in 1910 and was destroyed in a bomb blast in 1971.

College Square East, 1953. On the right of frame is the Mayfair Cinema, later known as the Classic. Photographer: unknown.

If the timing is right, Buddy must be mistaken about which Robin Hood film is playing. More on that shortly.

Instead of the promise of a Rat Pack gangster musical (which I would encourage you all to check out, its rather brilliant), Pa takes the family to see the glories of Raquel Welch and her iconic fur bikini in Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. – “it’s educational” he insists.

Buddy watches Raquel Welch in Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. (Belfast. Dir. Kenneth Branagh, 2021)

At the cinema we watch as Buddy is enraptured by the women on screen, in a vivid moment of over-saturated colour breaking through the black and white world of Belfast.

One Million Years B.C. had its UK cinema premier on 30 December 1966, so is it possible that the film was still screening in the big cinema in Belfast city centre in 1969? Indeed it is…

October 1969

The ABC Majestic Cinema, Lisburn Road, Belfast. Photographer unknown.


Distributors Warner-Pathé re-released the film across the UK and Ireland in 1968.

For the week beginning 13 October 1969, One Million Years B.C. was playing at the ABC Majestic on the Lisburn Road in a double bill with Hammer’s She in a continuous show Monday and Saturday at 2.15pm, and Tuesday to Friday 5.15pm.

It was also playing at the ABC Strand (in East Belfast, still in operation today as the Strand Arts Centre), also in a double bill with She at 7.15pm each evening, with a Saturday matinee at 2pm and a minors’ matinee on the Saturday at 9.30am! Curiously both films at the Strand screening are described as ‘abridged version’ suggesting there was a shorter edit in circulation (something I’ve never come across before now!).

Advert for One Million Years B.C. and She at ABC Strand, Belfast from 13 October 1969. Note the ‘Abridged version’ advert.

Meanwhile The Capitol on the Antrim Road (where Buddy mistakenly says Robin and the 7 Hoods is playing) was screening The Most Dangerous Man in the World and Gendarme of St. Tropez.

The Capitol Cinema, Antrim Road, Belfast. Photographer: Unknown

Incidentally, Hammer fans that week could also have taken themselves to see The Gorgon, which was screening every day at the Rex on the Woodstock Road in East Belfast (at a very precise 8.43pm, with Saturday matinee at 2pm). Or you could have caught *ehem* revival screenings of Kiss of the Vampire and Paranoiac at the Park Cinema on the Oldpark Road on Monday and Tuesday. Glorious!!

July 1969
However, I rather suspect that the actual screening that Buddy (or indeed Kenneth Branagh) was at, was in July 1969 during what is known in these parts as the ‘Twelfth Fortnight’, where many folks take their holidays owing to the proliferation of Orange marches [I’ll spare you the history lesson on these] and shutting down of many businesses for the early part of the month.

Double bill quad for the re-release of Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. and She.

On 12th July itself, a protestant family like Buddy’s looking for entertainment, could either join in and watch the annual Orange Order marches through the city, or plonk themselves in the ABC Cinema where One Million Years B.C. and She were playing (as they had been from Monday 7th through to Saturday 12th) – the Ursula Andress vehicle screening at 12.50, 4.05 and 7.20pm, with Raquel Welch and Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs screening at 2.35, 5.50 and 9.10pm.

The following day, Sunday 13th, and for the next seven days the Classic Cinema (yes it again) was screening Hammer’s A Challenge for Robin Hood as 2.20, 4.45 and 9.05pm (with a family special on Sunday at 7pm).

Advert from Belfast Telegraph, 12 July 1969 showing One Million Years BC showing at Hammer’s ABC Theatre and A Challenge for Robin Hood at Classic, College Square.

With A Challenge For Robin Hood having screened in various Belfast cinemas in 1968 already, it seems that young Buddy is describing the contents of A Challenge For Robin Hood (a fairly traditional telling with “Little John, swords and everything”), which was due to screen at the Classic (and was advertised in the newspapers alongside the listings for One Million Years B.C. – see above), but mixing it up with the title of Robin and the 7 Hoods, which had played at the same cinema a couple of months before, and that the outing must have been to the ABC screening of One Million Years B.C. on 12th July itself.

Theatrical trailer for A Challenge For Robin Hood (1967).

This makes sense as we know Pa is normally only home at weekends. Further, Pa is told by one of the other men that he isn’t a ‘proper’ protestant, which could easily be reflected in the family’s shunning the more traditional seasonal celebrations for the glow of the silver screen.

We can probably rule out the 9.10pm screening as this seems a little late to be going to for the 9 year-old Buddy/Branagh. If I was to take a guess, I’d hazard the 5.50pm screening more likely than the 2.35pm one, as it would allow them to enjoy a leisurely morning/afternoon outdoors, and hopefully avoid any of the traffic complications of the returning Orange Order marches when the screen got out around 7.30pm. This would also have made it quite possibly they saw the 4.05pm screening of She too, although that isn’t mentioned in Belfast.

If there was any doubt about that particular cinema’s status, the ABC originally opened as the Ritz in 1936 and was known as ‘Ireland’s wonder cinema’ with its wurlitzer organ and cafe and seating for over 2200. It was the big cinema in the centre of town. It stood a couple of doors down from the Grand Opera House on Great Victoria Street, later becoming the Cannon cinema, before being demolished in 1994. [My only memory of it is seeing Ghostbusters II here when I was a kid!]. It was also just across the street and up a few doors from the humble Classic.

Relative positions of The Grand Opera House, the Royal Hippodrome (later New Vic), and the Ritz (later ABC Theatre / Cannon Film Centre). Photographer: Unknown.

So there you have it, the memory of a 9 year old Kenneth Branagh, is actually pretty good, and we can allow the slight discrepancy down to dramatic license and the passing of 50 years. One also can’t help but wonder if Branagh is a fellow Hammer fan, with interest not just in One Million Years B.C., but a voiced desire to see A Challenge For Robin Hood. Mr Branagh, if you’re reading… do let us know!


Robert JE Simpson
24 March 2022

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Whatever happened to the PhD?

Its been a long time since I posted anything in this blog, so you can be forgiven for thinking that I had utterly abandoned the Exclusive PhD project. I guess for a while, I did a bit, but I’ve never entirely parted ways with it, and lately I’ve been throwing myself back into the project with renewed interest.

It might help though to update those who were kind enough to support me early on, as much has changed. As I haven’t written on here in a decade, please allow me to try and fill you in on the gaps.

This is a little more personal than my blogs usually are here, but it might be useful to understand the frustrations of academic research. I’ve heard from too many friends who have had to give up on funded PhDs because they picked the wrong topic, or had personal life interfere. Students often don’t talk about it because of a sense of failure, and presumably also because of the money invested in them that isn’t returned.

I had made attempts to secure funding for my PhD without success. So when I started it, I was completely self-funded. I took out a loan to see me through my first year, and worked to pay that off, while I attempted to find an inroad later on – I was advised that sometimes it is easier to secure funding in a second year. It was a huge amount of money for me and wasn’t going to be sustainable for the duration.

Firstly, and probably no surprise, I’m no longer at Trinity College Dublin, and the PhD itself is in essence on hold. On hold, not abandoned.

The situation was complicated. Around the time of the last posts on here, back in 2010. I was going through massive upheavals in my personal life which are a matter of public record if anyone cares to dig around online. I took ill and had to step out for a year from TCD. Then there were some delays getting back in, and some breakdowns in communication between the university administration and me. I took redundancy from my job as a librarian in Belfast at the end of 2011 and planned to put much of my redundancy payment into my fees. But found myself in a position where I had to pay the fees for the year with very little time to find the money and submit a 20k chapter while recovering from a series of breakdowns. I might have been able to do it, just, but to pay for a whole year when for half that time I hadn’t had any access to university resources made it impossible, and seemed unfair. With great regret I had to pull out.

My supervisor, Dr Ruth Barton, was never anything but hugely supportive and encouraging with the research, and I would have loved to stay on. As a result I felt I’d let myself down, her, and the others who had offered their support.

While there was some discussion about transferring the project to another university, the realities of my personal situation at the time meant that wasn’t something I would be able to progress – at that moment. I hoped I might be able to resolve those in time and to pick up the project with a new institution behind me.

It is soul-destroying to have to give up on something you have been working at for a long time owing to circumstances you can’t control. Frustrating to have to set aside a promising research project because you are financially crippled. Not because I wasn’t capable, but because I couldn’t make the logistics work on my own. The reality of trying to work near full-time hours to fund a PhD, which one then hasn’t the time to dedicate to is a drain. I spent thousands of pounds on fees, plus additional research expenses. To walk away from that still stings.

Nonetheless in June 2012 I curated a strand on Hammer at the Fantastic Films Weekend in Bradford’s National Media Museum, which included a strong Exclusive Films angle including a screening of rarely seen thriller The Man In Black and an on-stage interview with Hammer/Exclusive veteran Renee Glynne. Every chance I could get to open up people to the earlier part of Hammer’s history and my own particular interests, I would take.

The following month I took part in the ‘Hammer Has Risen From The Grave’ conference organised by DeMontfort University’s CATH centre. This included a number of on-stage interviews, a screening of the once-thought lost Exclusive/Hammer crime drama River Patrol (sourced from my personal 16mm print) and a talk on the early history of the company.

Mark McKenna summarised my paper for Cine-Excess:

The festival began appropriately at the beginning of Hammer’s long and colourful history, and after an overview of the conference from organiser Professor Steve Chibnall, Robert J.E. Simpson, the official Hammer archivist introduced Exclusive Films, parent company and distribution arm to Hammer, whose relationship continues in Hammer’s current incarnation. The insight into Hammer’s early years was fascinating, documenting the company’s many and varied business ventures from jewellers to hairdressers!

My archival researches had clarified some of the comments half-quoted in articles and documentaries over the years, and I started to flesh out a real picture of the company and their activities.

Starting that August, Hammer themselves launched a dedicated YouTube channel featuring a select number of films available for free via the platform. I was contracted to provide a number of short introductions for the Exclusive titles [these have just been made unavailable as of July 2021, as Hammer no longer seem to be maintaining their social media accounts]. In the end intros were published for River Patrol (the copy of the feature uploaded to YouTube, as at the Leicester conference, came from a scan of my personal 16mm print), Cloudburst, Dick Barton: Special Agent, Stolen Face, The Last Page, The Man In Black, Murder By Proxy, and The Glass Tomb. I had also prepped at least two more before the project was called to an early halt. Produced under very trying circumstances with kit that didn’t quite do what it needed to, I attempted to compensate for the short fallings by making these in a 1.33:1 ratio in black and white, akin to the aesthetic many would have encountered the films in. A decade on, I’d love to revisit them with the skills I’ve learned since, and the benefit of a lot more screen and broadcasting time.

During the first half of 2013 in the midst of corporate restructuring I lost my freelance contract with Hammer themselves, which had been incredibly useful opening up certain archives to me. I had made some interesting findings that required following up, but without official backing, or the support of a university programme, I simply couldn’t afford the expense in time or money.

I had also prior to this been discussing the prospect of publishing the research in book form – and had broached the idea of doing it as an officially licensed text – and had a couple of interested publishers on hand. As my ability to research was curtailed, so too did everything else.

[I keep returning here to the issue of finance, but its an important one. For the fan at home, spending their cash on blu-rays, books and other memorabilia, it can be an expensive prospect. But to produce the material, to trawl archives, find the time to write up, and acquire material, all costs a great deal. When I left TCD, typical fees were in excess of £6,000 per annum, and they’ve grown since. That’s a lot of spare money to find. At a later date I may blog about the costs involved in more detail.]

Between mental health battles, an acrimonious divorce, and unemployment, the PhD quickly crumbled, and my sense of dissatisfaction with myself intensified and academia became sullied.

A few years before an academic I had trusted and previously admired, was overhead boasting to a colleague about how I needed brought down. And the result at the time had been that I lost a lot of faith in my abilities and worth. It had taken some time to rebuild that. My research was about the only thing giving me focus during the personal turmoil of 2012/3, but inevitably one impacted the other. My personal situation meant I wasn’t allowed to focus adequately on my work, and I dare say it suffered. I won’t bore you with that stuff here, as I’ve written about it on other blogs and social media at. However, I would say it seems self-evident that the intensity of research will impact one’s personal life and one’s personal life will impact work. I found myself in a situation were I could do none of the things I wanted, and couldn’t fix any of the problems that had arisen. I lost meaning and value and largely retreated from the public life I had built within the field.

For the May 2014 issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors (#32) I wrote my first proper feature for the long-running Hammer magazine, on ‘The Original/First Hammer House of Theatre’.
Hammer had recently started exploring theatrical productions as a new ‘Hammer House of Horror’ strand, and I saw this as an opportunity to explore my own thesis that Hammer Films was originally about providing another outlet for Will Hammer’s theatrical pursuits. Drawing on my growing personal archive of material surrounding Will Hammer’s theatre projects I provided what I believe is the first article since the 1950s to actually explore this area of the Hammer brand. I was fiercely proud of it, editor Dick Klemensen was very kind about it, but otherwise the response was disappointingly quiet.

As a creative I have always needed feedback in order to do my work. If something is bad, or needs changing I would rather know. I can adapt, modify and hopefully improve. When there is no response it is too easy to loose one’s way. That article had been my last attempt to keep a hand in, packed with original research, and excited no-one. My feeling, after working with the brand for many years, is that the bulk of the fans only care about the horror films. Certainly they’re probably the most accessible. But it is only a fraction of the story.

By 2015 I felt adrift without the resolution of the project, and the dull response to the LSoH article. I had, I have to admit, continued sporadic research and revision of its scope when I could find a little time to think. The LSoH piece had demonstrated the direction the research was now swinging, less about Exclusive as distributor, and more about the wider Hammer brand. In my head new avenues presented themselves and I hoped I might still be able to return to an academic setting and give them some validation.

Then a major international conference in Paris came up, and I put forward a paper on the origins of Hammer, which would incorporate some of the new directions of my research and a better grounding of the Exclusive history.

At this point I was utterly unemployed and had been for some time. I was living on the UK government’s Job Seekers Allowance, which was something along the lines of £70 per week. From that I had to pay my bills and eat. And here was I looking at disappearing to France for the best part of a week. I didn’t know until the last minute if I’d actually be able to make it work. But I did. I would have to sign off for the time I was away (so no income that week), but it was too good an opportunity not to do it. I paid my accommodation and flights off ahead of time, and managed to get enough cash together that I’d be able to get around for a few days on the cheap. When I got pickpocketed on my penultimate day it felt like a real kick in the teeth, but the buzz of being involved got me through.

Laura Mayne, in a review of the conference summed up my paper thus:

Robert Simpson delivered a fascinating insight into Hammer’s early history with ‘261 Goldhawk Road: William Hinds and the Birth of Hammer Films’. Drawing on a wide range of archival research, his focus was on the very early years of the company and the importance of its founder William Hinds (stage name Will Hammer) to its identity, and to the eventual ‘Hammer’ branding.

It was a superb conference to be part of. I delivered my paper just an hour or so after hearing that Sir Christopher Lee had died, and that evening would broadcast from my AirBnB an obituary to BBC Radio Ulster listeners back home. Some of the paper I gave at the conference was a re-tread of material delivered in Leicester, but there were new findings too, and with talk of published conference proceedings to follow it seemed like a good opportunity to share the findings with a wider audience. That publication, incidentally, does not appear to have been advanced.

Perhaps strangest was attending a paper by Steve Chibnall from De Montfort University, and seeing a photo of myself symbolically overseeing the handing over of the Hammer script archive from Hammer to DMU, projected as part of the presentation. I wasn’t expecting that.

Steve Chibnall presents a paper in Paris about the work of the CATH research centre at DMU

I came back revived and reconnected, but still ultimately a bit lost and alone. I no longer had the excuses to publish on the subject on a regular basis. And so far I haven’t. I packed my books and files away. I ignored the films on my shelves. Hammer had become tainted – reminding me only of my personal disappointments and regret.

For the last few years I have been trying to work discreetly on a related project, but failing to see it to completion. In 2019 I made inroads again in my professional life, and the confidence to maybe do something. Then the pandemic hit.

The last year and a half has been a roller coaster for so many of us. Removing so much of our respective normalities, depriving us of friends, family and colleagues. Some of us have lost our livelihoods. Some of us have just about hung on thanks to furlough. Many of us have retreated into our homes and the safety of the television, and beloved programmes from our past.

I found myself essentially out of work, with intermittent furlough support. I then found myself leading a series of writing workshops, and alongside trying to inspire my group to get past their own writers block, I found myself joining in and breaking free of my own. Not something I had expected. The little bit of fiction was enough to allow me to start getting back into non-fiction writing. And so gradually, I started going through my old files, and watching some of the films I’ve had on hold. Perhaps most significantly, I started to go through the collection I inherited from my late friend Robert Lane (more about him in another post). Something clicked, and I’ve managed to make a substantial progress on the book.

Nothing is ever simple though. A couple of very long-term projects have had to be given up. I’ve conceded defeat. I’ve given my apologies to those I was working with, and remain racked with guilt.

They’ve found other people to collaborate with, who I hope will be able to deliver for them as they deserve. I know its for the best. In the process, they’ll get the outcomes they need. And I can reprioritise and manage what I have.

At time of writing, the Exclusive Films book contains over 81,000 words and the main catalogue of titles is complete. I’d hoped to be finished by end of this summer (2021), but critical commentary, revisions, and additional research could mean its the end of the year now. Then there’s the photos to scan and ready. But it is coming. And soon. I’ll be opening a mailing list for it shortly, and pre-orders once the book is near ready.

The frustration now, is that no matter what way the work turns out, there wont be a PhD in it for me. Academia is very particular about what you publish and who you publish with for it to be counted, and this won’t hit those marks. I just hope that some of you are interested in purchasing the work and reading it. I’m confident you’ll learn something from it.

So here we are. A decade later, somewhat beaten, but still progressing. And now this blog can continue what it was meant to do – tell the story of the research and supplement the findings and eventual publication.

Feel free to hit me up with comments and questions. And thanks for your support.

Robert

New year

I\’ve not got time tonight to blog properly, but I\’ll be posting an update before the week is through. By then I\’m hoping to have settled a few promising leads I\’ve had recently. My \’major\’ supporters (ie. those that have donated significant contributions to funding the research) will have received one of the regular updates already. It gives an added layer of insight into the project and a heads up of announcements before they go public. For yes, there will be announcements. I\’m pretty sure of it now. The research has been too good for there not to be.

At any rate, I\’ll be presenting a couple of conference papers between now and April too, two companion pieces which may well make up the bulk of one of my chapters. I\’ll post details later this week.

Till then.

Cash and the new year

End of 2009 is now fast approaching so its worthwhile me updating you all on the cash crisis – which needless to say continues.
I\’ve managed to eventually find one funding application I should be able to apply for, but its a tough competition and I have absolutely no faith that I\’ll secure the finances needed. And if I do, there\’s a good chance that that will cause more problems for me in terms of my other employment. I\’ll cross that bridge *if* I come to it.
As I\’m still juggling finances I\’ve had to cut back on some of the research work I wanted to do. There\’s still a few collections out there and archives I need to raid, which I hope to do between now and September 2010. Then with maybe one or two additions I plan on simply writing and finishing my draft thesis for the 2010/11 academic year. Unless of course I stumble upon a new archive collection or something…
My attempt to raise funds via fundable was a mixed success. I had quite a bit pledged, but as I didn\’t reach the target it was never processed. Although one of my pledgers did very kindly donate via paypal directly  – money which was swiftly used on some vital digging.
If you do feel like donating, there\’s a paypal donate button on this page, and everything is welcome. I\’ll keep to my promise of copies of the thesis for big donors, and regular updates for anyone that gives to the fund.
I\’ve a pile of paperwork culled from my last research jaunt to London to go through over Christmas – some of it very juicy, and fascinating. Fingers crossed I can make sense of the partial records.

New structure… new domains…

First of all, thank you to those who pledged support to the PhD last month. We didn\’t hit targets so I didn\’t collect any money however 😦
Over $300 was pledged, which would certainly help pay for a few research trips to Dublin, or a day or two of work in London! A couple of peeps have donated directly, and you still can – just use the donate button on the blog to the right, or drop me a line by email if you want to send cheque or other method of payment. I\’m still desperately in need of finance to keep going, and juggling cash is getting harder and harder. Why can\’t I find a sponsor?!
On to other things…
I\’ve restructured the PhD project this week, which is helpful. Waiting for feedback from my supervisor, but have bullet pointed the main chronology and the areas I want to look at and topics for discussion (as well as some of my theories). The emphasis is much more on the 1930s and 40s now but should still be taking in material from 1911 through 1966 and a chapter on the present day. Rather than regurgitate old material I\’m trying to incorporate as much of the new material I\’ve found so far as possible. Is certainly a challenge but I\’m fairly hopeful – gives the project more meaning. I\’m just hoping I can find the right linking devices as the piece comes together.
As part of that I\’ve decided to try and write a couple of articles with a view to journal submissions, and then expand them for the thesis. The first is something of a revisionist approach to Hammer history which should challenge a few expectations. The second will be an examination of some of the orphaned films – Exclusive/Hammer films which have been forgotten. I have a list of something like a dozen so far which I\’m 75 – 95% certain are Hammer/Exclusive films, but which have gone unacknowledged for years.
I\’ll let you know how I get on… and with some more detail.
Been spending a fair bit on books lately too – can\’t even indulge in material for pleasure. Nine out of ten purchases are directly linked to the PhD at the moment. Expensive, but is too difficult to get down to Dublin and raid Trinity Library, or I find other material which needs constant use. I\’m writing to people I can find who might be able to shed light on material too – trying to secure data, leads and interviews. Painfully slow process.
As for new domains – well, I\’ve now got several domain names bought for use on the resulting research website(s). You\’ll already know about http://www.exclusivefilms.co.uk (sorry folks, nothing really there yet), but I\’ve picked up a couple of others too rather than let them go to waste. I hope to be able to build a real collaborative information source through the PhD, but you\’ll have to wait a while yet before I can start publishing the content. The problem with these sorts of projects is that things need to be published the right way if you want your work to be counted and accredited. One or two might even hold until the post-doc project. Yup. I already know what that should be, and if feeds straight into this one 🙂
Back to the grindstone. More letters to write, and books to read and articles to prep.

Voices from the past

I\’ve been quiet on here recently, but I can assure you all that I\’ve been kept incredibly busy at the same time. The summer loomed and I took every chance I could to get caught up on some research – fitting it in alongside some other work I was doing. I\’ve been plundering archives across the UK and Ireland, turning over many stones and finding more than I could ever have bargained for…
For the moment I can\’t talk about some of the best finds – I need to gather more material first, and put my thoughts into coherant words – but there are some real coups! Hammer afficianados, and anyone who like me has an appreciation for the Exclusive films will really be excited (I hope!).
When I started the project I was told that there proba
bly wasn\’t much left to find, but over the last year I\’ve found enough material to fuel two PhDs and now the problem is simply to decide which bits to leave out of my current project focus. I
have every intention of using everything in due course, and making it all available to researchers and the general public – there\’s no point in any of it otherwise. The project thesis though is being led in large part by the material I\’ve uncovered, and a slight change of emphasis is on the cards, with the project allowing more of the Hammer history to come through into what was seen as an exclusively Exclusive piece.

[photo, left to right: Renee Glynne with Spartacus, me taking the photo at the Serpentine, Hyde Park, 27 July 2009]

Over the last few months I\’ve started my first hand oral history research, attempting to contact
those still left with us who worked on or knew the people involved in the earliest Hammer/Exclusive Films. I\’ve found this to be enormously helpful and shedding some valuable light on proceedings. During the last month or so I conducted two interviews whilst in London – fitting them in whilst over on research for another project. The worst thing is reaching the end of your paid work for the day and then having to skip tea or rest, and grab a train or taxi to conduct your own research. The agony!
At any rate, I spent a very pleasant evenin
g with Renee Glynne over a delightful supper and a bottle of the old vino collapso talking about Exclusive at her home outside London. Renee worked as the continuity person as far back as Man in Black in 1949, and worked for the company on and off (both as Exclusive and Hammer) until Shatter in 1974. Her recall and experience of working conditions was crucial to get on record and I\’m delighted she consented. Renee has promised a follow up in the near future which I\’m very much looking forward to.

[photo, left to right: Jimmy Sangster and myself at Bray Studios, 4 August 2007]

I also finally interviewed Jimmy Sangster formally. I\’ve known Jimmy slightly for a few years. We were meant to record some commentaries for some of the Exclusive pictures a couple of years back until logistics prevented it, and we both appeared in the same dvd documentary Hammer Horror: A Fan\’s Guide last year, so this was a real pleasure.
Jimmy\’s the first to admit he doesn\’t recall much about Exclusive, but it was again very useful. He also came to Hammer in 1949, as a first assistant director, moving up the ladder to become a very successful writer as well as occasional producer and director. Sixty years later and memories are hazy, but incredibly useful and my thanks to Jimmy too for his time.

I\’ve another return interview to do with another Exclusive contributor, but I\’ll save that name for another post… it was another treat!
If by chance you know someone or indeed were yourselves involved in the making of the early Hammer / Exclusive films (so pre-1962), then please get in touch, as I\’d love to talk with you. I\’m also gathering stills and memorabilia relating to the period, so anything at all that you can share would be very welcome. Similarly anyone with information or memories of either Will Hammer (aka. Will Hinds) and Enrique Carreras… I\’ll be sharing some of my research on them in a future blog.

Help support my PhD…

I\’m just about to start the second year of my PhD at Trinity. I\’ve made good progress during the first year, uncovering some fascinating material (including several \’lost\’ films) and working well towards my goal. I met with my supervisor a couple of weeks ago and there\’s some slight revision of the project to come to manage it within the confines of the PhD, but I\’ve already decided on the post-doc project thanks to the material I\’ve uncovered (there\’s probably enough gathered for two PhDs to be honest).
But, self-funding is a struggle. Its over £3,500 per year in fees, plus my research expenses (travel, and materials -bear in mind I live in Belfast, and the research is mostly in Dublin and London), and then I have to live. Increasingly I\’m having to take on more paid work in order to get by, and that eats into the time I have to reasearch. I\’ve put myself through my BA and my Masters, and the first year of the PhD, but the various loans, and debts I\’ve juggled are getting too much.
If you have any advice on funding sources, or would be willing to help (however small that may be) either through donations or sponsorship then please do. I\’ve set up a fundraising page on the advice of a friend to see if I can raise $1000 or more in the next few weeks – which doesn\’t go near paying for everything, but will help. Especially if I can get more.
For details go to http://tinyurl.com/rjesphd01 (you can also donate directly using the donate button on the right).
Thanks!

Recovering lost films


Just before I started work on this PhD project I was told by several experts in the field that there simply wasn\’t any material left to be uncovered on Exclusive. Hammer researchers (remember of course that Hammer Films is the sister company and the two go hand in hand) felt that the well had been drained dry.

That said, under a year into my research and I\’m delighted to say I\’ve uncovered more than enough material to keep me going for the next 12 months. I\’m having to look really hard, but archives and chance connections have brought all sorts of surprises to the surface, supporting some of my early arguments, and changing the way that Exclusive should be viewed. Am I overselling the project? I don\’t know… but I\’m still on a voyage of discovery, pulling sources together like any good historian would. I hope that my spin will be different and people will want to read it. Certainly I hope that people will learn something from my research – and I\’m constantly indebted to those who paved the way and who have provided the basic groundwork.
Of course, any researcher lives under the pressure of having to be original, and for an historian that can depend on unseen source material. I\’m trying to find material which has been missed, but what if someone else manages to turn up the same material and bring it to publication before my thesis is submitted? My work would then be redundant. And it is always a possibility.
That\’s why the website database isn\’t online yet, I want to complete the first stage of my work before I start posting material there. In fact I\’ll probably just issue teasers for now, with the actual main content going live once I\’ve submitted. That way I can be accurate, thorough, and comprehensive. That\’s also the reason I\’m rather oblique when I post here – this is too much of a work in progress to publish great detail for the moment.
The last week has been perhaps the single most productive and exciting on the project so far (and the last month itself has been enthralling). I stumbled upon a reference which forced me to re-examine some notes I made before the project began, and to revisit an archive. In the process I\’m rethinking my stance on a couple of films – going back to the \’Is this a Hammer Film\’ question I outlined at the conference in Trinity in September.
We\’re reclaiming these orphaned titles, or lost films. Recovering films which have been neglected or forgotten.
Ah… film recovery. I first really got into that idea during the 1990s when I became aware of all the Doctor Who episodes that had gone missing. There\’s a very public hunt for lost episodes, which has turned up one or two prints in the last decade. More overlooked are the sheer number of films – shorts especially – from studios which no longer seem to exist in the archives. Hammer and Exclusive suffered along with everyone else. There are so many of the short films which seem to be missing, but which I\’ve found myself increasingly drawn to. A huge number of the films still exist, although getting access is always tricky. 
Eventually the project will include details of prints which still exist and where they can be found, so that future researchers can take advantage of the knowledge for their own access. I\’m not a believer in hoarding information. 
Take for example the still which accompanies today\’s entry – its a section from Chase Me Charlie, a Charlie Chaplin film which was re-edited and re-released by Exclusive in the late 1940s. Effectively its a \’lost\’ film. Forgotten and neglected by nearly everyone, other than as an entry in a filmography. A curio. 

Publish publish publish

I\’ve heard it said so many times, as I\’m sure any of you working on PhDs or similar first steps to academia, that it becomes something of a mantra and a frightening reminder that you always need to be working with a wider audience in mind.
I\’m about eight months into my formal work on the project now, and gathering together my plans for the summer for research. More archival work beckons, and I\’m sure by the end of it I\’ll regret having ever started. Trying to put everything into some sort of order let alone the criticism needed, takes some work.
For most of us, adapting our work for conference papers, and journal publications is a way of structuring our research and aiding the writing of huge chunks of the thesis – at least I think I\’m right in that. Publications early on and during the thesis work probably do more favours than anything else when it comes to the dreaded job applications. I\’m acutely aware of all of this right now – my girlfriend is in the final stages of her PhD and so the talk of job prospects is a regular topic at home.
So far I\’ve not anything published since the start of the PhD, bar a couple of (largely) unrelated magazine pieces, and one article on Exclusive for the official Hammer site. I\’ve been asked to put in papers to a couple of conferences and trying to come up with a couple of ideas now, which is easier said than done (I don\’t want to shoehorn my project so it fits with the brief of one).
On a possibly slightly more positive note I\’ve been planning a reference book to go alongside the research, which I\’ll pitch once I\’ve a bit more done. Some of you will be aware I\’m also still finishing off my book on Hammer Films which was contracted long before I started my PhD. I\’ve also been approached about editing another book, which if it happens should be quite interesting. I\’ve got the time set aside in my schedule to do it, and am discussing another book with publishers at the moment. Early days and none might happen, but I think its important to think of these things this early on in the project. None are directly related to the Exclusive project, but there is a connection to be found in each.
How does everyone else cope with article submissions etc.? I\’m very cautious about putting my work out there at the moment. I\’ve been burnt before with a publication project, which has kept me away from certain areas in the interim…. 

Marketing materials

Just a quick post – I\’ve been gathering marketing materials as part of the research for the Exclusive Project, some of which you won\’t have seen before. I\’ll be uploading scans and photos of items from my own (modest) collection in the hope that others who have material will also be willing to share. I\’m talking with a number of private collectors at the moment in the hope of sharing images on the eventual database.
As a teaser, I\’ve been cleaning up an image of a quad for Rocketship XM, an American science fiction film produced by Lippert and distributed in the UK by Exclusive. A very stylish and attractive image – and now free of wrinkles and other flaws!
Is there much interest in this line of research? Well, poster collecting can be big business, and film is a visual media, and I believe in looking at the way a film was visually represented in advertising. What damage does it do for original posters to show repros? Nothing – the real value is still in the original items, like having the original Mona Lisa rather than a well produced reproduction.
Anyway, hope you enjoy. A larger version will eventually appear on the main site.