Following on from my previous blog post about the discovery of the earliest colour moving pictures, I’d like to tell you more stories behind the invention.
One aspect I’ve found most interesting is learning about the people involved. The main character in all this is Edward Raymond Turner.
Edward strikes me as a person who had creativity and technical skill in abundance. In 1898 he was working in a London studio making the earliest commercial examples of colour photographs. It is likely it occurred to him that perhaps he could apply the same technique to the latest invention—moving pictures.
In 1901–02 Edward made a number of test shots, believed to be the earliest example of moving film in colour, which you can see displayed in the museum.
Despite pioneering the first colour moving image, Edward did not reap the rewards of his labours. Sadly he died in March 1903, aged just 29.
Following the old adage that behind every great man is a great woman, Mrs Edith Mary Turner played her part in this story.
After Edward died, Charles Urban, the film entrepreneur who took over financing the project in 1902, contacted an associate—the film pioneer George Albert Smith—to see if he would continue with the experiments. Urban promised Edith that should Edward’s process prove commercially successful, she would receive some return.
Mrs Turner kept in touch with Urban, who wrote to her at the end of 1903 with the assurance that her financial interest was:
more sacred to me than any of my own investment.
Within a year, Smith reported to Urban that he thought Turner’s process unworkable, and that he was pursuing a simpler process that he thought more commercially viable.
In 1907 Mrs Turner saw a newspaper article about Smith’s colour process. She wrote to Urban, who asked his office manager to reply. His letter read:
Regarding your late husband’s colour photographic scheme, this was not brought to a sufficient practical point, and Mr Smith’s idea is somewhat of a different nature.
She did not receive any money as a result of Edward’s experiments. In the meantime, she had returned to teaching piano lessons to feed her family. She never remarried and lived to the age of 95, dying in 1962.
I find Edith and Edward’s story captivating, yet other intriguing people play their part in the story. From the slightly mysterious Frederick Marshall Lee, cricketer and man of means, who first supported Turner and whose name appear on the 1899 patent, to our own heroes: Michael Harvey, Curator of Cinematography, for enthusiasm and research, and Brian Pritchard and David Cleveland for their immense skill and the patience to piece the film back together.
You can find out more about the Lee and Turner colour process in a new display in the Kodak Gallery. See Turner’s original projector and watch the original footage, now restored by the museum.