Movement is life.
Moving pictures will satisfy something deep inside all the people in the world'.
W. Friese-Greene 1889
Born in College Street Bristol on 7th September 1855, William Green was articled as an apprentice to Maurice Guttenberg, a photographer of Queens Road, in 1869. Commercial photography was still in its infancy - in 1851 there were only 50 professional photographers in the whole of the U.K., by 1871 there were nearly 8,000. Young William took to the work like a flash and within six years had set up his own studios in Bath & Bristol, the grandly named 'Photographic Institute'. He married Helena Friese on 24th March 1874 and decided to add her maiden name to his, as he thought plain 'Green' not artistic enough.
It was in Bath that he made the acquaintance of John Arthur Roebuck Rudge, a tall gaunt bearded inventor of magic lanterns. J.A.R. Rudge had devised a latern, the 'Biophantoscope', which could display seven slides in rapid succession, giving the illusion of movement. William found the idea amazing and irrisistible, and started work on his own camera - a camera to record real movement as it occured.
Early one Sunday morning in January 1889, Friese-Greene took his new camera, a box about a foot square with a handle projecting at the side, to Hyde Park. At the west of Apsley Gate, he placed the camera on a tripod and exposed 20 feet of film - his subjects, "leisurely pedestrians, open-topped buses and hansom cabs with trotting horses". Then, he rushed to his studio near Piccadilly and laboured into the small hours developing the celluloid film he himself had also invented. His toil was rewarded, when he became the first man to ever witness moving pictures on a screen.
Patent No. 10,131, for a camera with a single lens to record movement was registered on 10th May 1890, but the making of the camera had bankrupt him. To cover his debts, Friese-Greene sold the rights to his patent for £500 though the first renewal fee was never paid and the patent lapsed in 1894. (the Lumiere brothers patented Le Cinımatographe in March 1895).
Between 1889 and 1921 he took out more than 70 patents for other inventions including:
William Friese-Greene died a pauper in 1921, and on the hour of his funeral, all the cinemas in Britain halted their films and held a two minute silence in belated respect to 'The Father of the Motion Picture'.
Hear the sad tale in Episode II of Series II 'The Flickering Shadows'.
'The Flickering Shadows'.