H.A.V. Bulleid: Cinema historian who specialised in the silent era and studied the work of amateur f
But when I glanced at back numbers, I discovered that I was not. During the
shortages of the Second World War, amateur film-makers were deprived of raw
stock. Since they could no longer make films, they had to settle for
projecting them. Film libraries came into their own, and an ACW writer
called H.A.V. Bulleid started a column entitled ?Famous Library Films?.
He had been making amateur films since he was at Cambridge in the early 1930s
? one was about spies, appropriately enough. He was an assiduous filmgoer
and a connoisseur of home-movie presentations (although once, when he
invited a girl to see a rare film, she replied, ?I?d much rather go to the
Anthony Bulleid was born in 1912, and although well into his 90s when I knew
him, he drove a car to the very end, his memory remained sharp and he could
bring to life forgotten films like The Girl in the Taxi with Carter de
Haven. Bulleid was responsible for donating the sole surviving print of this
1920 comedy to the National Film Archive along with such priceless treasures
as William S. Hart?s Hell?s Hinges, and D.W. Griffith?s True Heart Susie
He was brought up with railways ? his earliest memory was wandering across the
tracks at Doncaster station looking at rolling stock with his father.
In the bitter winter of 1918-19 he was in Ramsgate. His mother caught Spanish
flu and became seriously ill, so Anthony and his sister were sent to a local
convent to be looked after.
?He remembered being cold and frightened,? said his son, David. ?The
experience must have stayed with him. Over 80 years passed before he
returned, yet he had no trouble finding that Ramsgate house.?
At his Catholic public school, Ampleforth, in the 1920s, he was fortunate; the
theatre was equipped with a 35mm projector. It was excellent training, for
he was one of the boys selected to assist the monk who operated the
projector. The shows were the highpoint of the week.
?They were enhanced by the fact that one of the monks had a natural gift for
he recalled. ?I thought he was very, very good. In Don Q, Son of Zorro there?s
a long argument where Douglas Fairbanks is teasing his opponent who doesn?t
know who he is, and this monk did a wonderful, teetering sort of argument.?
Bulleid was instructed not to show one of the reels in Wings ? the scene of
Clara Bow caught half-naked by military police in Buddy Rogers? hotel room.
Bulleid explained that there was perfectly good aeroplane action in that
reel ? was it all right to run that? The monks good-naturedly granted
He began to go to the local cinema twice a week, seeing such classics as
Steamboat Bill Jr, with Keaton, from which he remembered a sequence missing
from modern prints in which Buster and Marion Byron get married on the
river; Laugh Clown Laugh, with Lon Chaney (another film he donated to the
NFA); and The Wedding March, with Erich von Stroheim and Fay Wray. ?A tenor
came on singing during the long love scenes,? recalled Bulleid. ?Quite
The Bulleid class locomotive was designed by his father, O.V.S. Bulleid, and
Anthony was expected to follow him into railway engineering. But he wanted
to go into film-making. ?My father actually went to Elstree Studios and had
a session with the producer Joe Grossman, who said, in effect, that if you
want to join the film industry you?ve got to join as a boot boy. ?Get into a
team and then it?s entirely up to you.? People like Michael Powell did
exactly that. He took better stills than the stills man so everybody sent
for Michael Powell. I haven?t got that personality and would never have
My father said, ?You?ve got to go on with the engineering course, get a good,
pensionable job, then you can do whatever you like as a hobby.? I thought
that was a very good idea.?
After an engineering degree at Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1930, Bulleid
was apprenticed at the Derby Works of the LMS. He was not allowed to join
the LNER as they had a ?no fathers and sons? policy. Anthony was given a
thorough training, spending time in all departments.
?Up until 1920, cabs had no side windows and drivers were able to lean out
with their arms resting on the scrolled edge of the cab,? the railway
historian Tony Sanders said. ?Anthony discovered that after the introduction
of windows, drivers complained that their arms got sore when they had to
lean on the metal channel. Anthony designed a simple yet effective wooden
armrest which could hinge up to cover the channel when the window was open.
He managed to get it accepted as a modification. Up to about 10 years ago, our
trips always included a footplate ride. He was delighted to see his
modification had still been included on the British Rail Class 4 we were
riding on.? His interest in railway engineering continued with his own
live steam model-making and visits to a number of model engineering
?Talking to him about his father?s railway designs, it was apparent that he
was not always in favour of the well known Bulleid trademarks such as
enclosed valve gear and air smoothed casing of the original Bulleid Pacific
designs,? Sanders said.
He wrote a number of railway books, including Bulleid of the Southern, the
biography of his father; Master Builders of Steam, the biography of six
mechanical engineers; and The Aspinall Era. His son David, who also went to
Ampleforth, remembered that he and his schoolfriends saw the window of the
York station bookshop given over to a massed display of Master Builders of
Steam. David felt that his father?s best book was about his work ? Brief
Cases, 12 concise studies about how to run a business.
In 1936, Bulleid became a production assistant at Vickers Armstrong armaments
factory, and although he was busy ? he was also teaching – he had already
begun a column on amateur film-making in Amateur Cine World. When the war
started, and he switched to articles about library films, his column was
primarily devoted to silents. The first reactions were not encouraging; ?I
feel I must draw your attention to a matter which makes me boil,? said a
correspondent from Surrey. ?Why devote so much of your very excellent
magazine to a commentary on a film that is l6 years old and in such detail
that I don?t need to see the film? Having to share ACW with several other
amateur cinematographers, I can assure you that is the feeling in general.?
The editor of ACW, Gordon Malthouse, was not deterred and Bulleid?s pieces
became much admired. Whenever possible, he would write to the director or to
technicians connected with the film to get background details. Some would
decline to answer, saying it was all too long ago, but others supplied
unique and valuable information.
ACW had planned to publish his articles in book form, but in 1947, due to the
severe winter and the financial crisis, they bowed out. This was a pity,
because Bulleid had obtained a preface from the great director, Fritz Lang.
When I asked about that preface he said he still had it, so I was able to add
it to his articles on the films to produce an electronic equivalent of his
book on a website, silentsaregolden.
Bulleid was a modern renaissance man. He had been aware of musical boxes all
his life, his mother having been given one as a wedding present, and he
became fascinated by the makers of these instruments, how they worked and
how they influenced the Victorian world. He joined the Musical Box Society
in 1973 and published Cylinder Box Design and Repair in 1987.
This was followed by Cylinder Musical Box Technology in 1994 and The Tune
Sheets in 1999.
Arthur Cunliffe, President of the Musical Box Society, said: ?Because of the
depth and accuracy of his findings, many believe these books rank above the
works of all others. Those who knew Anthony personally will testify how he
loved to be presented with a challenge. Discussions were always conducted in
a kindly and enthusiastic manner. In the background there would always be
his gentle sense of humour. Even if he disagreed with your views, he
appreciated your efforts and never discouraged them.?
Henry Anthony Vaughan Bulleid, writer, film historian and railway engineer:
born 23 December 1912; married 1942 Ann McCann (died 2007, two daughters,
one son); died Ifold, Sussex 5 May 2009.
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