William Thomas Smedley

British businessman

A chartered accountant from Birmingham, W.T. Smedley became chairman of British Mutoscope and Biograph, the largest film company in England during the Victorian period. Part of an international group and quoted on the London Stock Exchange, British Biograph used a special 68 mm wide-gauge film, and the quality of their presentation was acknowledged by contemporaries to be outstanding. Smedley's association with the company is a reminder of the importance of professional management in the early English film business. Smedley's private interest was the study of Shakespeare, and both he and his daughter were closely associated with the theatrical world of the time. It was no doubt due to this connection that British Biograph became the first film company in the world to produce extracts from a Shakespearean play, Herbert Beerbohm Tree's King John. Four short scenes, featuring the main players, were taken in September 1899, at British Biograph's special revolving film studio in London; and in a co-ordinated international promotion they were shown at theatres throughout Europe on the opening night of the live performance. Lower than expected results from the Mutoscope side of the business, caused severe financial problems for British Biograph from 1900 onwards, and the company's survival was due to Smedley's policy of diversifying away from total reliance on the film business. The profitable parts were later incorporated in the 'Bio-Trust', and Smedley remained as Chairman of this company until it was voluntarily wound up in 1919.

Richard Brown