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   Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday 17th February, 2003

FILM MAKING IN HOLMFIRTH

Person using an old camera
DIRECTOR | the Lumiere brothers inspired a generation of directors

It may come as a surprise, but Holmfirth was once England’s answer to Hollywood.

Inside Out looks at how this Yorkshire village has a special place in film-making history.

Only months after the first commercial films were produced by the Lumiere brothers in France, small manufacturers such as Riley Brothers of Bradford were making and selling movie cameras.

This led to film makers setting up all over the country. One of the most successful was James Bamforth of Holmfirth.

James Bamforth

James Bamforth
James Bamforth was one of the earliest successful film makers

Bamforth had already made his name as a manufacturer of magic lantern slides, so it was a natural step for him to progress to moving pictures.

He was a very talented artist and would paint spectacular backcloths, use costumes and props from his magic lantern slides and film in sets of tableaux.

Watch clips from Bamforth's early films:

Actors

There were no professional film actors at the time, so Bamforth relied on local people for his movie casts.

Peter Bullock’s grandfather Fred was a blacksmith. Peter says, "He’d get a call to come and do some filming, and had to down tools in the smithy and go and get dressed up in whatever garb they decided to wear."

Bamforth’s biggest star was Reginald Twisk, who played a Chaplin-like character known as Winky.

Locations

The local amateurs did not have very far to travel as many of Bamforth’s productions were filmed around Holmfirth.

According to Derek Bamforth, grandson of James, the local bank manager would allow his bank to be used for filmed robberies.

Boys playing cricket in a Bamforth film
Boys playing cricket in a James Bamforth film

The local railway companies would also stop the trains to allow Bamforth to film railway scenes.

Maureen Jessop, whose parents acted in the films tells of how daily life came to a standstill when a film was in production.

She says, "When it was washday and they were going to do a scene on the Holmfirth station they all had to go down and leave the washing."

Historical importance

Film historians see Bamforth’s films as the earliest examples of British comic film.

Vanessa Toulmin of Sheffield University thinks Bamforth’s should be remembered as the first to capture on film the music hall tradition of northern slapstick comedy.

End of an era

When war broke out in 1914, movie-making in Holmfirth came to an end. The material used to make film was needed to make explosives.

After the war, they never resumed film production. By then, Hollywood had the movie world in its grip and small British producers would have struggled to compete.

Bamforth’s started to manufacture saucy seaside postcards. Tens of thousands of these were sent home by British and American soldiers fighting in France.

Continuing tradition

Nowadays, Holmfirth is a star of the small screen. For the last 30 years The Last of the Summer Wine has been filmed there.

Famous actors are often spotted in the town, and there’s a whole tourist industry based around the sitcom.

It also means that Bamforth’s comic tradition is carrying on.

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
Holmfirth

On the rest of the web
British Film Institute
Bamforth's
The Magic Lantern Society

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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