Ian Christie, Visiting Professor of Film History at Gresham College, has won a prestigious US Theatre Library Association award for his book on the founding father of British cinema, Robert Paul.

Ian Christie’s book Robert Paul and the Origins of British Cinema (Chicago University Press) has won the Richard Wall Memorial Award for 2019, to be presented online from the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center on 16 October 2020 10.30pm UK time. You can register to watch here.

Who was Robert Paul?

Regarded by his contemporaries as the father of British film, Robert Paul established one of the world’s first complete film studios in North London in 1898. Two years earlier, he had launched his projector on the same day as the Lumiere Cinématographe was demonstrated in London, and for another two years his Animatograph ran nightly at the Alhambra Music Hall in Leicester Square, competing with the Lumière programme next door at the Empire.

Paul helped George Méliès get started in film (when the Lumières refused), and his innovations included making the first edited narratives – one of which, Scrooge, (1901), is the earliest surviving Dickens adaptation – printed titling on-screen, and many special effects techniques still in use. His studio produced 800 films in all genres up to 1909, when he left film to concentrate on electrical instrument development.

Christie’s book is the result of twenty years research, during which many unknown Paul films have been discovered in archives from New Zealand to Norway, Sweden, Britain and the US Library of Congress. The latest discoveries in the BFI National Archive can be seen here, and other Paul films are viewable on YouTube, taken from the 2007 DVD that Christie curated for the British Film Institute.

150th anniversary of Paul's birth in 2019

2019 marked the 150th anniversary of Paul’s birth in Highbury, London, with exhibitions taking place at Bruce Castle Museum, London Metropolitan Archives, and the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, which holds some of Paul’s historic equipment. This exhibition, The Forgotten Showman, continues at the re-opened museum until March 2021. Christie’s Gresham College lecture, ‘Taking London to the World’ can be watched here.

A graphic novel, Time Traveller: Robert Paul and the Invention of Cinema is online here.

Paul started his career in film by replicating Edison’s Kinetoscopes in 1894, which makes an American publisher and an American book highly appropriate, according to Christie. "The British", he believes, "just don’t take movies seriously. They’re not really interested in Britain’s leading part in the invention of cinema. So getting recognition for one of Britain’s true pioneers in modern media has been an uphill struggle – now recognised in America."

More about Ian Christie

Ian Christie is Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck College, University of London; a Visiting Professor at Gresham College, London; and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is a regular broadcaster and former president of Europa Cinemas. He will be giving a series of lectures at Gresham in 2021 called Exploding the Film Canon.