Arthur Melbourne-Cooper & Audrey Wadowska Papers

Arthur Melbourne-Cooper & Audrey Wadowska Papers

1890-2010

These papers contain information related to the early filmmaker and animator, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper. The collection is largely composed of finished documents referring to the disputed authorship of 'Grandma’s Reading Glasses' (c. 1900) and the date of origin for 'Match Appeal' (c. 1899). The collection contains a copy of de Vries and Mul’s book on Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, 'They Thought it was a Marvel' (2009), as well as copies of an unpublished manuscript, 'Portrait in Celluloid' by John Grisdale and thesis by Josephine Coleman on the early cinemas of Hertfordshire. There are also copies of articles written by de Vries and published in Film History and KINtop-3 about the disputed origins of Melbourne-Cooper’s films and the work done by his daughters, Audrey Wadowska and Constance Messenger, to raise their father’s profile. These are bound along with published responses from other film historians such as Frank Gray, John Barnes and Tony Fletcher. In addition the collection also includes a number of self-published documents including issues 1-5 of ‘Alpha Tidings’ – a newsletter dedicated to the life and work of Melbourne-Cooper published between August 1933 and December 1998, and an account of a research holiday taken with Con Messenger. Several DVD compilations of Melbourne-Cooper’s films with 'Matches Appeal' and 'A Dream of Toyland' among them are also included.


Born in St Albans in 1874 Arthur Melbourne-Cooper trained as a photographer before working for Birt Acres, the first man to film and project a 35mm film in England. From 1896 to 1915 Melbourne-Cooper made around 300 films with his own company, Alpha Cinematograph Company. These included early experiments in stop-frame animation including 'Dreams of Toyland' (1908) and a series of films featuring match stick characters, with 'Matches Appeal' arguably being the earliest surviving example of stop-frame animation. Created to promote Bryant and May’s campaign to send matches to soldiers fighting during the Boer War, the short film, lasting under a minute, featured a match stick man writing a plea for guinea contributions on a wall. Trick films were not Melbourne-Cooper’s only forte, he also quickly capitalised on the ability of film to capture topical events. In 1903 Melbourne-Cooper filmed the Grand National, and after developing the film in a special carriage en route to London, exhibited the film within hours of the race.
Overlooked for much of the last century, Melbourne-Cooper’s contributions to British cinema have been reappraised in recent years in light of claims by Tjitte de Vries and Audrey Wadowska that he may have produced the short film 'Grandma’s Reading Glasses' prior to G. A. Smith, and may have pioneered the use of the close-up.