Talking about Vitaphone

The Cinema Museum in SE London is a wonderful collection of memorabilia, located in the old workhouse where Charlie Chaplin’s mother lived. It’s also a great social gathering location. Screenings and events take place regularly, including a Comedy Weekend coming up in October.

The film ending Saturday’s selection is “A Better ‘Ole” (check out this link for the origin of this phrase: It’s a WWI comedy with British Tommies (soldiers), and I understand was the second film to have sound, after “Don Juan”. Wes Connors says:

The production levels offered by Warner Brothers are quite high; “The Better ‘Ole” was the second film to make use of the studio’s synchronized music and sound effects “Vitaphone” process. Vitaphone synchronized camera

This is a photo of the synchronized camera used for the first Vitaphone productions here being studied by Stanley Watkins, Hartley C Humphrey, “Chuck” R Sawyer and “Archie” C Millard. I’ve given the first names by which I knew these engineers. The documents only ever give their initials. (sorry about the large white spaces – I need help to get my photos in the right place).

Now, I know that my father, Stan Watkins, worked with Sam Warner on that first sound film “Don Juan” and then on “The Jazz Singer” with its accidentally added speech, but I have nothing in his memoirs about”A Better ‘Ole” so when the organizer asked me to introduce the film I regretfully said I could not help.

However, he then asked if I could, perhaps, speak briefly about the Vitaphone system, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m looking out some anecdotes now; people always enjoy them, and these will be from the horse’s mouth, so to speak (no pun intended).

The sun is still shining and my PA comes home tomorrow. Yippee! As Robert Lewis Stevenson said in his “Child’s Garden of Verses” (did you grow up with that too?): The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

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