William Paul was a successful electrical engineer with his
own workshop in Hatton Garden in London when in 1894 he was
approached by two Greek entrepreneurs who wanted him to make
duplicate version’s of Edison’s Kinetoscope they were already
Realising that, a mistake on Edison's part meant
there was no patent held on the Kinetoscope in England, Paul
seized the opportunity and agreed to make several machines
for the Greek gentlemen.
Paul successfully copied the Kinetoscope and
made several machines which, after fulfilling his order with
the Greeks, he sold to other showmen. Unfortuantely, Paul
found his customers unable to show Edison’s films on his machine
as they were not licensed Kinetoscope operates and Edison
only provided films to those with a license.
Needing a camera to produce films for his Kinetoscope
copies, Paul turned to photographer Birt Acres who he had
recently met and in February 1895 Acres had provided Paul
with provisional designs for a moving picture camera. The
following month the partnership of Paul and Acres had produced
a working camera which Acres used to make the first film in
Britain - 'Incident at Clovelly Cottage'.
The camera Paul and Acres produced was based
upon Marey’s Chronophotographe and used 35mm sprocketted film
which worked with the Kinetoscope design. Their camera provided
a basis for a ten year business agreement founded in March
The agreement, sadly, lasted only six weeks
before the two partners fell out. It is widely presumed that
the reason for their break-up was Acres decision to patent
the camera they developed together in his name.
In the years that followed, the feud between
Paul and Acres continued. Robert and Birt each concentrated
on improving upon their designs. Paul began work on improving
the camera and incorporated a Maltese Cross mechanism which
provided the film with an intermittent motion.
He also developed a projector, the Theatrograph,
giving the first public demonstration on 20th February 1896
at Finsbury Technical College.
Paul’s design proved successful and he was soon
hired by enterprising businessmen to hold regular showings
at venues around London - including the Egyptian Hall from
19 March 1896 and the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties in Leicester
Square from the 25th March. Paul’s engagement at the Alhambra
was initally for two weeks but proved so successful that he
remained there for two years.
In June of 1896, Paul attended the Epson Derby
and filmed the finish and the Prince of Wales’ Horse “Persimmon”
winning. He processed the film overnight and screened it to
an enthusiastic Alhambra audience the next day - becoming
one of the first news films.
Sales of Paul’s cameras and projectors soared
and Paul was kept incredibly busy spending evenings travelling
from music hall to music hall rewinding the films during each
So successful was Paul that between March 1886
and March 1897, he managed to make a profit of over £12,000
from an initial investment of just £1000, all his hard work
had finally paid off.
As well as manufacturing cameras and projectors,
Paul also turned his hand to film production; he concentrated
on “Actuality” films, to start with - such as the Derby and
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Procession but quickly branched
out and as early as April 1896 made a short comedy - “The
In 1898 Paul began construction on Britain’s
first film studios in Muswell Hill, North London and during
that summer produced over eighty short dramatic films.
Paul’s production company peaked during 1900
and 1905 but he gradually became disenchanted with the business.
Finally in 1910, he decided that the film business was too
risky and closed his production company down, destroying his
stock of negatives in the process. After turning his back
on the film industry he returned to his previous occupation,
concentrating on electrical engineering.