Educational Cigarettes Teach Film Production

British cigarette cards are colorful, interesting, plentiful, and reasonably priced. How so many of them survived is anybody’s guess, but you’ve got to be glad they did. This set, How Films Are Made, is especially interesting, taking us behind the scenes at Gaumont-British Picture Corporation Ltd.

There’s only so much room on the back of a card 1 and 3/8th inches wide by 2 and 9/16th inches long, so a little additional information about Gaumont-British is in order. The facility illustrated on the cards is the Lime Grove Studio in Shepherd’s Bush (later also known as the Gainsborough Studio), as it appeared in the mid-1930’s. A film mentioned on Card 10, Rome Express (1932), was the first big production shot at Lime Grove and may account for the fact that many of these cards feature railroad scenes.

In the early days of cinema, 1898, to be precise, Leon Gaumont hired two men – the Bromhead brothers – to function as the English distributors for the films Gaumont made in France. The brothers did well with Gaumont’s films, but soon realized that the real money was in production.

So the Bromheads started producing animated cartoons and, in 1910, began the Gaumont Graphic, one of the earliest British newsreels. Thanks to their connections with Gaumont, the brothers were were able to film some of their subjects in sound and/or color (Gaumont’s Chronophone and Chronochrome processes).

Slowly, the brothers’ film distribution office in Shepherd’s Bush added production capabilities, and by 1915, they had built a true studio, named it Lime Grove, and moved into feature film production.

No, they’re not shooting a cowboy movie in England; that’s a tri-corner, not a Stetson.

Between 1915 and 1926, Gaumont-British made some well-received films at the Lime Grove studio: they adapted Gaumont’s wildly successful French Fantomas franchise into a British version.

Can’t resist a slight detour to consider the Fantomas books, which are a precursor to both E.C. Comics and Al-Qaeda. You won’t find anything involving nuns that’s nearly as unusual as the the shoot-out over an empty coffin in Le Cercueil Vide… at least until Peter Cook invented the Order of the Leaping Beryllians, placing nuns on trampolines in the mid-sixties.

According to the Fantomas Lives website, Fantomas is “…the Lord of Terror, the Genius of Evil, the arch-criminal anti-hero of a series of 32 pre-WWI French thrillers written by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain. He carries out the most appalling crimes: substituting sulfuric acid in the perfume dispensers at a Parisian department store, releasing plague-infested rats on an ocean liner, or forcing a victim to witness his own execution by placing him face-up in a guillotine. A rebellious henchman is hung in a huge bell as a human clapper, smashing from side to side and raining blood, sapphires and diamonds onto the street below. Masked bandits brandishing revolvers crash a city bus through the walls of a bank, sending money flying everywhere. Under grey Parisian skies, a horse-drawn cab gallops down the road, a wide-eyed corpse as its coachman. “

Gaumont-British made a four-part serial titled Ultus: The Man From The Dead (1916), which is the only silent British ‘chapter play’ that survives (and it’s not complete). Also filmed were Ultus and the Secret of the Night (1916), Ultus and the Grey Lady (1916) and Ultus and the Three Button Mystery (1917).

Note that the Gaumont-British Continuity Girl seems quite unhappy. This is because she knows what results when she fails to perform her job well: Bad Continuity.

And speaking of continuity, we’ll finish the remaining 15 cards of our Gaumont-British Lime Grove Studio tour – and the rest of the of the G-B story – in our next post.

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