Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

John Stuart, A forgotten silent star rediscovered

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Jonathan Croall’s latest book  “Forgotten Stars: My Father and the British Silent Film World”  describes the life and silent film career of his father, John Stuart, and his contemporaries.  John Stuart was a hugely popular film actor who played romantic leads opposite all the leading actresses of the day.  He worked with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Maurice Elvey, Anthony Asquith and Victor Saville.  Yet like most other stars of the 1920s he is all but forgotten today.  Drawing on a unique family archive, Jonathan Croall’s book examines the working conditions of the stars, the physical dangers they endured, the pressures they faced from their fans and the press, and the lure of Hollywood.  He also covers the revolution in British Cinema caused by the arrival of sound, and the devastating impact of the ‘talkies’, which affected so many of the stars’ careers, some of them tragically.

On Wednesday, 26th June 2013 at 7.30 p.m., Jonathan’s book “Forgotten Stars” will be launched at a free event at the Cinema Museum in London, when the author will show clips from his father’s silent films, talk about his career and sign copies of the book.  The films will include Her Son (1920), Alfred Hitchcock’s first film The Pleasure Garden (1925), Hindle Wakes (1927) and Kitty (1929), the first British part-talkie.  For more information about this event see the Cinema Museum’s events calendar:

Jonathan Croall is the author of twenty books, including the acclaimed biographies John Gielgud: Matinee Idol to Movie Star and Sybil Thorndike: A Star of Life.

Forgotten Stars: My Father and the British Silent Film World is published in June by Fantom Films.


Written by anneramsden

June 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Aldeburgh Cinema’s Sounds and Silents festival 3-5 May 2013

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The Aldeburgh Cinema in Suffolk is one of the few surviving old cinemas from the 1920s and will be hosting the SOUNDS & SILENTS festival of film and live music on 3-5 May 2013. Most of the silent film programme has a sea-faring theme (bar one …) which tell stories of seamen, boats, lighthouses, and the beauty, pleasures and turbulences of small villages on the coast.

For those of you who missed the British Silent Film Festival in Cambridge last year, there is a chance to catch up with the film versions of W.W.Jacobs coastal stories on Saturday 4th May GOING COASTAL programme of five delightful, witty comedies about “men who go down to the sea in ships of moderate tonnage”. English filmmaker Manning Hayes made the films in the 1920s three of which starred Charles Ashton (Head of the Family, Sam’s Boy and A Will and a Way).  All will be shown with live musical accompaniment provided by Neil Brand and John Sweeney.

Neil Brand has been accompanying silent films for over 17 years, regularly at the NFT on London’s South Bank and throughout the UK and at special events around the world. He is currently working on a BBC 4 TV series on film music to be broadcast in Autumn 2013.  John Sweeney has played for silent films since 1990 at venues including Riverside Studios Cinema, National Film Theatre, Nottingham Broadway and the Barbican Centre.  He has also worked extensively in contemporary dance.

On Sunday 5th May there is a special matinee FOR THOSE IN PERIL ON THE SEA – THE LIFEBOAT MEN ON FILM, complete with the launch of the (real!) lifeboat, organised in partnership with the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Station.

Thomas Dolby’s award-winning THE INVISIBLE LIGHTHOUSE deals with things right around the corner such as the Orford Ness Lighthouse and the Rendlesham UFOs. On the final day, Mark Kermode and The Dodge Brothers will be playing live to William Wellman’s hobo western BEGGARS OF LIFE.

Thomas Dolby
Friday 3 May 2013 at 8.00pm

Saturday 4 May 2013 at 10.30am


Saturday 4 May 2013 at 3.00pm
W W Jacobs Programme 1

Saturday 4 May 2013 at 8.00pm
W W Jacobs Programme 2

Sunday 5 May 2013 from 9.30am

Sunday 5 May 2013 at 3.00pm
W W Jacobs  Programme 3

Sunday 5 May 2013 at 8.00pm
and featuring special guest NEIL BRAND

Written by anneramsden

March 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm

The Monkey’s Paw (1923)

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The Cinema Museum near the Elephant and Castle is hosting the British Silent Film Festival (BSFF) silent film screening event on Saturday 20th April from 10 a.m. till 8 p.m. The highlight for me is the screening of the first film version of The Monkey’s Paw starring Charles Ashton, Moore Marriott, Marie Adult and Johnny Butt. Though the film is incomplete this has to be the first screening in many many years. The plot is based on the horror story written by popular author W.W. Jacobs – see previous post on the author. A magic monkey’s paw gives the holder, Mrs White, three wishes, but the subject of the last wish will always involve death. Other silent films on the BSFF’s programme include  The Yellow Claw (1920), White Cargo (1930), Cocaine (1922) and Hobson’s Choice (1920) plus some rare shorts.

For more information see the Cinema Museum’s Upcoming Events at www.cinema

Tickets for the day are £20 (£18 for concessions) from WeGotTickets or direct from the Cinema Museum.

The Cinema Museum
2 Dugard Way (off Renfrew Road)
London SE11 4TH
Tel.: +44 (0)20 7840 2200

Written by anneramsden

March 31, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Pordenone’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto festival pays tribute to W.W. Jacobs’ films

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The Giornate del Cinema Muto international silent film festival held in Pordenone, northern Italy, is now in its 31st year.  Within its eight day programme there were screenings of well over 300 films , plus there was screen tribute to the Wapping-born ‘storyteller’ William Wymark Jacobs (1863-1943) hence my post.  Between 1922 and 1927 several of W.W. Jacobs’ maritime novels were adapted by director H. Manning Haynes and screenwriter Lydia Hayward into popular comedy films, some of which starred Charles Ashton and were shown at the festival  – The Head of the Family, A Will and A Way (both films were also shown at the 15th British Silent Film Festival, Cambridge), Skipper’s Wooing , The Boatswain’s Mate and Sam’s Boy.   Jacobs most famous short horror story, The Monkey’s Paw, was made into at least ten films over the years including the 1923 version starring Charles Ashton and Marie Ault.  Many of Jacobs’ books are now out of print but they can be found secondhand on Amazon, eBay and through various book dealers.  Fortunately the stories have been preserved online through Project Gutenberg, and some are available on the Kindle.  Thanks to David Robinson for his notes on W.W. Jacobs and the film adaptations in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto’s 2012 programme (available as a pdf).  Jacobs’ biography can also be found on the Online Literature website

Reviews of  the films and events at the Pordenone festival can be found on Silent London blog and News from the BFI.

William Wymark Jacobs (1863-1943)  Source of image:

William Wymark Jacobs (1863-1943) Source of image:

Written by anneramsden

December 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm

The Last Prince of Wales

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In 1922 Charles Ashton appeared in a historical film drama The Last King of Wales , which was about the rise and fall of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, in the thirteenth century.  A copy of this film is held in the National Library of Wales’ National Screen and Sound Archive.  Readers, however, might be interested to know that the BBC’s recent Story of Wales history series featured a programme on Llywelyn, who from 1267 became lord of some three quarters of Wales and had perhaps 200,000 subjects, all this with the assistance of Simon de Montfort, an English Baron who led the Baron’s Revolt in England.    Llywelyn’s downfall came about when he ousted his brothers and angered the new King Edward I because of his intention to marry Eleanor, daughter of Simon de Montfort.  The King believed the Prince was seeking to stir up another Barons’ War in England.  In 1275, the King kidnapped Eleanor and summoned Llywelyn to make homage to him. Llywelyn refused on the grounds that the king was harbouring his enemies and had seized his future wife.  In 1276, Edward declared Llywelyn a rebel.  By 1277 he was forced to submit to the King’s army when the forces reached the heart of Gwynedd.  Under the Treaty of Aberconwy, his authority was confined to the lands west of the River Conwy; much of the land to its east was granted to Dafydd. Llywelyn was not deprived of the title of Prince of Wales, but most of the lesser Welsh rulers were no longer to recognise him as overlord.  For more information on this medieval Welsh prince go to the BBC’s website at

Written by anneramsden

November 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Five things we learned from the British Silent Film Festival

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Pamela Hutchinson, film blogger for Silent London, writes in the Guardian’s Film Blog of the five things she learned while immersed in some of the silent film industry’s gems screened at the British Silent Film Festival in Cambridge in April.

Written by anneramsden

June 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm

British Silent Film Festival’s greatest hits

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It was well worth visiting the Cambridge hosted 15th British Silent Film Festival which offered a great programme of some of the best silent films made, and all screened with live music thanks to  John Sweeney, Gunter Buchwald, Neil Brand, Dodge Brothers, Rob Harbron and Miranda Rutter.  It wasn’t possible to see all 30+ films in this ambitious programme, but I did manage to see nine of the films.  The highlight for me, of course, was the screening of two of H. Manning Haynes 1922 films of W.W. Jacobs’ stories : The Head of the Family and A Will And A Way, both of which starred Charles Ashton and Cynthia Murtagh.  These two films were well attended and appreciated by the audience for their gentle and rustic humour.    Other connections with Charles on the programme were Ellen Terry, Edwardian film actress, who appeared in her last film role in The Bohemian Girl.  She had a small role as Widow Bernick in Rex Wilson’s film, The Pillars of Society (1920) (lost film).  Two of Charles’ old actor friends, Milton Rosmer and Irene Rooke, appeared in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925).  Rooke was Martha Karsten in The Pillars of Society and Rosmer was director for two of Charles’ 1926 films, Cash on Delivery and The Woman Juror (both lost films).

In addition, there were gala screenings of two of the great films of the silent era: The Great White Silence (1924) shot by Herbert Ponting, a cameraman on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in 1910; and the masterpiece of French silent film,Visage D’Enfant (1925) by Jacques Feyder, who later went on to work with Marlene Dietrich and Robert Donat.

More information can be found on the festival website

Written by anneramsden

April 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm

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15th British Silent Film Festival (Cambridge)

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Charles Ashton’s film, A Will and A Way, will be screened with another Manning Haynes film, The Boatswain’s Mate, at the 15th British Silent Film Festival, Cambridge, at the Art Picturehouse on 19th April 17.30-19.00.  More information on all  the silent films to be screened at the Art Picturehouse, Emmanuel College and West Road Concert Hall will be available shortly.  See the Festival website and the Art Picturehouse pdf programme at

Written by anneramsden

March 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Jonathan Croall writes of his silent film star father, John Stuart

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John Stuart, favourite matinee idol of the twenties and star in four of Charles Ashton’s silent films, was the subject of a recent Guardian article by his son and biographer, Jonathan Croall (Guardian (Saturday, 11 February 2012, p. 5).    John Stuart was 43 when Jonathan  was born.  Jonathan recalls him as “a passive presence about the home, very much dominated by my strong-willed mother, his third wife.  He was amiable and kind, inspiring affection, but he was also lazy and weak, and emotionally reserved.”  Stuart’s reserved nature was more than likely due to his experiences at the front line in France during World War I.  He had enlisted at 19 and during the war he lost most of his comrades and then was released with “trench fever”.  He was once thought the equivalent of Ivor Novello in charm and good looks.  Jonathan owns most of the films his father made and is currently writing a book about the screen idols of the 1920s including John Stuart.

Croall, Jonathan (2012). Silenced by the trenches. Guardian, 11 February 2012, p 5. Accessed 20 February 2012.

Also, Libby Purves interviewed Jonathan Croall about his father in the BBC Radio 4’s Midweek programme on 15 February 2012, which is available to listen for a limited period from the BBC website.  Accessed 20 February 2012.

John Stuart’s films with Charles Ashton

Alex St George in Kitty (1929)

Richard Bristol in Smashing Through (1928)

Michael in The Woman Juror (1926)

Michael Rivven in We Women (1925)

Written by anneramsden

February 20, 2012 at 11:01 am

Brand new print of Head of the Family (1922) to be shown at The 15th British Silent Film Festival

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Imagine my surprise to see that the latest news on the programme for The 15th British Silent Film Festival shows one of the film stills from Head of the Family (Manning Haynes, 1922).  On further reading I find that the programme will include two of Charles Ashton’s rarely seen silent films, a brand new print of Head of the Family and A Will and a Way (1922) based on stories by W.W. Jacobs.   This year the Festival will take place at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge from 19th – 22nd April 2012.  More information will be available at the Festival website

Written by anneramsden

January 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm