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The First Action Movie

4 Extra Debut. Film maker Penny Woolcock explores the lives of Sheffield’s Mottershaw family who, in 1903, made cinema history. From 2014.

The Mottershaws of the Sheffield Photo Co. are not as famous as Hollywood but they made their mark.

Filmmaker Penny Woolcock brings the Mottershaws' most pioneering work back to life - a little-known silent film called Daring Daylight Burglary that they say influenced the classic Great Train Robbery.

Making it, the Mottershaws worked out how to tell fictional stories on location and tell them well: chase sequences, revenge motives, trains leaving stations pursued and just missed or caught as they pull away... these are just some of the thriller tropes we take for granted now: the Mottershaws made them work in 1903.

Two generations of Mottershaw did it, both called Frank, using a camera built by young Arthur. Penny meets the next two generations of Mottershaw, both still in pictures, father and son, both called John.

The Mottershaws' early films sold internationally, but then the States - with its sunshine and crowds and money - took over from European independents like the Sheffield Photo Co. What happened to the filmmakers, after their few years of success and to the Sheffield Photo Co?

With Judith Buchanan, Professor of Film and Literature at the University of York and Audio Descriptions by Radio 3's Louise Fryer.

Producer: Frances Byrnes

A Rockethouse production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in April 2014.

Available now

30 minutes

Last on

Wed 17 Mar 2021 02:30


  • Mon 28 Apr 2014 16:00
  • Thu 2 Oct 2014 11:30
  • Tue 16 Mar 2021 14:30
  • Wed 17 Mar 2021 02:30

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