Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

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

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

Silent Film camera

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In this film still showing the director, cameraman and actors in The Head of the Family, note the camera on a tripod behind Cynthia Murtagh who is sat in the middle of the group.

STILL 1: Film cast for Head of the Family (1922), Charles Ashton is on the far right

STILL 1: Film cast for Head of the Family (1922), Charles Ashton is on the far right

The curator at the National Media Museum in Bradford, which houses a collection of antique cameras, identified the camera either as an Askania Universal no. 75496 or a Debrie Parvo. The Parvo, developed by a Frenchman in 1908, was very popular in Europe during the silent film era. Directors who particularly liked the camera were Abel Gance, Leni Reifenstahl and Sergei Eisenstein. A picture of a wooden Debrie camera on a tripod is shown below.

De Pavrio camera

Written by anneramsden

March 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm

The Skipper’s Wooing (1922)

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Following last year’s British Silent Film Festival’s successful showing of Sam’s Boy, another Manning Haynes adaptation of a popular story The Skipper’s Wooing by writer W.W. Jacobs will be shown on 9th April 2011 at 13.30 at the Barbican Centre, Cinema 1. This silent film, like Sam’s Boy, is of ‘men who go down to the sea in ships of moderate tonnage,’ and was shot along Britain’s east coast.

UK 1922 Dir. Manning Haynes 70 min.
Cast: Gordon Hopkirk, Cynthia Murtagh, Charles Levy, J.T. Macmillan, Bobby Rudd, Tom Coventry, Johnny Butt, Moore Marriott

For more information or to book tickets go to the Barbican Centre website

The full text of W.W. Jacobs’ story is available online through the Gutenberg project at

The Skipper’s Wooing film synopsis from the British Film Institute Archive

Written by anneramsden

March 26, 2011 at 5:11 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