George William de Bedts

The first person in France to patent and market a combination camera/projector

Nothing is known of the origins or the dates of birth and death of George William de Bedts, who was however one of the most important pioneers of French cinema. His work was almost totally unknown until the recent discovery of some archive material and equipment. Towards 1893, de Bedts opened a shop, the 'Anglo-American Photo-Import Office', at 368 rue Saint-Honoré, Paris, where he had the exclusive French concession for film and photographic equipment manufactured by the European Blair Camera Company (London). From 1895 de Bedts stocked rolls of high speed film in his shop. Late in 1894, he met Georges Demenÿ who asked him to retail the Phonoscope glass disc projector, and Chronophotographe (with beater movement). The two machines were put on sale around November 1894, but without much success. Demenÿ introduced Léon Gaumont to de Bedts' shop, and in September 1895 Gaumont bought from de Bedts unperforated 60 mm celluloid negatives for the Biographe camera that he proposed to market with Demenÿ. De Bedts, in close contact with Demenÿ, Henri Joly, Edison and the Blair Camera Company, quickly realised that the future lay in the projection of films.

In 1895 he developed a camera for perforated 35 mm films which doubled as a projector. This machine, the Chronos (later Kinetograph), alarmed Louis Lumière in November 1895 - he was concerned about a possible rival that would upstage the Cinématographe before its first public show - but it was not in fact marketed until 1896; the first camera/projector sold in France. De Bedts also created, in January 1896, the first French financial company intended to exploit the cinema. He opened a shop at 65 Chancery Lane, London (there was also an agency, the Kinetographe Company, at Herne Hill); built a number of machines and made his first films. In 1897 his catalogue contained 310 short films, including re-makes of Edison and Lumière productions, and original works by de Bedts and his assistant Arthur Roussel. Late in 1896, de Bedts marketed a simplified version of his Kinetograph, intended for amateurs. With the retirement of partner Guillame Sabatier finance became a problem, and the firm went bankrupt in July 1898. The last record of de Bedts is in 1902.

Laurent Mannoni