The above ‘Mitchell and Kenyon’ short is a documentation of a country fair in North England, Leeds, shot on a pleasant day in September 1902. Given the fact that most photographs of the era show people standing stiffly and staring sternly at the camera, this goes a tremendously long way to proving that people were normal and could even be happy during the early part of the last century. (Yesterday’s post was also a M&K short).

So who were Sagar Mitchel and James Kenyon? Apparently they were two fellows with a camera who founded their company in 1897 and, under the trade name of Norden, became one of the largest film producers in the United Kingdom in the 1900s, with the slogans of “Local Films For Local People” and “We take them and make them”. The company was a pioneer of early commercial motion pictures based in Lancashire, England, at the start of the 20th century and the discovery in 1994 of a hoard of film negatives led to restoration of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection, the largest surviving collection of early non-fiction films in the world. This collection provides a fresh view of Edwardian-era Britain and is an incredibly important resource for historians, as one might imagine.

The first reported showing of a Mitchell & Kenyon film was a film of Blackburn Market, shown at 40 Northgate, in Blackburn, on 27 November 1897. The company produced films either on their own initiative or as commissioned by local businesses. In April 1899 a travelling showman named George Green commissioned them to film workers leaving factories, to be shown at the Easter fair, thus beginning the showing of their films by a network of showmen.

Mitchell and Kenyon became self-publicizing travelling cinematograph operators. Films taken during the day were shown on the same evening in fairground tents or local meeting halls and music halls with slogans like “see yourselves as others see you”. Dramas took a while to catch on and the non-fiction actuality films were more popular. A typical two-hour programme would show drama, comedy, live actors and then the main attraction, local “topicals”, with a brass band and the showman’s commentary during the silent films, plus occasional sound effects from guns and members of the audience paid to scream and faint to add to the excitement. I’ve only just learned about this fascinating little slice of cinema history so I’ll be journeying along the M&K road for at least several days and hope you’ll indulge me and perhaps even enjoy the journey. There is something mesmerizing about losing yourself in the undramatic, everyday events recorded well over a century ago featuring people we’ll never know the identities of living lives they never imagined would be captured for us to view in a future they could never have imagined.


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