Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

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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

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

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

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

Reveille film appears on BFI’s 75 most wanted films list

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The hunt is on for Britain’s missing films and Reveille (1924) is one film to appear on the British Film Institute’s most wanted list. The film was directed by George Pearson and starred Betty Balfour and Stewart Rome with Charles Ashton playing a bit part as Sam, a simple soldier.

Most of the following information comes from Kelly Robinson, Filmographic Editor (Festivals and Awards), BFI National Library.  The reason why the BFI is so keen to find this film is that it was an experiment. British cinema of this period is often judged to be staid and unimaginative, an assumption contradicted by the ambition of directors like George Pearson, and Reveille may have marked his creative zenith. It also represented an important period of British history providing a view of London during and after the Great War.

According to the BFI, Reveille is a meditation on the injustices of peacetime and ordinary people’s spirit of survival. Scenes described in great detail in the reviews include a carnivalesque opening, with a circus and fairground replete with a large joy wheel. One of the reviews also mentions puppets, which would also feature in Pearson’s 1926 film The Little People. Pearson’s work was often compared to films from abroad, like France and Sweden – in other words, it was artistic. The film was premiered in front of the Prince of Wales in 1924 and he was heard to declare “What a jolly good film”. During the film showings, musicians were instructed to stop playing to mark the two-minutes silence for the Armistice and the film was played silent.

The Star wrote that: “laughter and tears are the keynotes of the story. London’s hectic days when the war was drawing to a close, the ‘home on leave’ spirit, fragments of France, Armistice Day, the tragedy of a telegram, and finally the long-drawn-out struggle in ‘waiting for things to come right’ are all shown with a realistic fidelity and idealistic aim that will make a deep impression when the film is released to the country.”

Many writers drew attention to the lack of a story, but most found this to be pleasing in its closeness to real life. The Illustrated Sunday Herald even headlined its review ‘The Greatest British Film’, continuing: “I feel sure that hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen, the men who suffered in the war and in the peace, are going to acclaim George Pearson as the man who interpreted their soul.” Balfour and Stewart Rome were singled out for praise, with the Herald noting the latter’s performance was “played with consuming restraint and hidden fire.”

At least some material from Reveille is in the hands of a private collector, sequences from which were shown in a 1969 documentary about George Pearson in the BBC’s Yesterday’s Winess.  A short clip was also featured in the British Cinema episode “Opportunity Lost” from Kevin Brownlow and Dan Carter’s 1995 BBC series “Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood”, a documentary mini-series about the rise and fall of the European silent film industry (1895-1933).

Written by anneramsden

June 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Another survivor

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As recently as 2007, a silent film starring Charles Ashton was found.  The National Library of Wales’ National Screen and Sound Archive was presented with a 16 min 9.5 mm version of the 1922 The Last King of Wales by a private collector.  Clips were shown at the Welsh Classics Film Festival 2007 and it was planned that this film be transferred to another format and officially preserved.

Wales Online article, 17 Oct 2007 about the finding of Last King of Wales

A special presentation of The Last King of Wales took place on the final day of the first Welsh Classics Film Festival on 28th October 2007 at the National Screen and Sound Archive’s public cinema, the Drwm .  Only single frames were shown as it had yet to be transferred to another format and officially preserved.  The film is available for viewing by booking through the National Library of Wales.

Search National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales’ Catalogue for the record of Last King of Wales

The film was also screened the following year, in October 2008, at the Pordenone 2008 silent film festival held near Venice.

Pordenone Silent Film Festival site