Claude Hamilton Verity
This post introduces some facts and resources about the life and work of Claude Hamilton Verity, and engineer from Leeds, whose work on synchronous sound in the cinema deserves far greater mention that it gets (in histories of British cinema in particular). Included are some basic facts, some references to where Verity does appear in research on film, patents to Verity’s sound technologies, and some contemporary pieces that refer to Verity’s work.
Claude Hamilton Verity was born at Leeds in May 1880, the youngest child of Edwin and Ann Verity. Edwin Verity was an ironmonger with a workshop at . Edwin was one of the Verity Brothers who had a large premises on The Calls by Leeds Bridge. Edwin later took premises round the corner at 168 & 169 Briggate as a hardware merchant. It was these premises that Claude was later to use as his workshop, and are now Bar Fibre. These premises are also located approximately 200 metres from the building at Leeds Bridge, where Le Prince shot his footage of traffic at the Corner of Briggate, Swinegate, and The Calls.
Claude was brought up in Roundhay in the north of the city – an affluent part of Leeds that was also home to Louis le Prince and the Whitley family in the 1880s. The 1901 census has Verity listed as a student at a College of Agriculture and resident at Downton, Wiltshire. He also seems to crop up in Seacombe, nr. Liverpool, as an engineering draughtsman c.1910, and there is an engineer called Claude Hamilton Verity living in Scarborough in 1912, who is presumbaly the same person. He later moves to Harrogate (where his mother’s family were from), and then Harpenden, Hertfordshire.
Verity held many patents, including improvements to stoves, revolving doors, electric radiators, clouderising coal dust, low-temperature carbonisation, and ‘apparatus for the inhalation of medicated vapours.’ All of this suggests that he was a skilled engineer, who could turn his hand to many different things. There is also a book published in 1928, titled Industrial Prosperity, and authored by a Claude H. Verity, but I have not yet confirmed the identity of the author. It is Verity’s patents in the synchronising of sound and pictures that are of main interest to film scholars, and the following is a chronological list of the relevant patents:
- The synchronisation of machines for recording and reproducing sounds & movements. GB103407, Verity, C. H. May 11, 1916.
- Synchronization of Machines for Recording and Reproducing Sounds and Movements. Claude Hamilton Verity, of Leeds, England. No execution date. Filed May 23, 1917, Serial No. 170,531. Classification 352/23. This is a US patent.
- Synchronisation of machines for recording and reproducing sounds and movements. GB165489, Verity, C. H. Jan. 28, 1920.
- Improvements in or relating to gramophones and like sound reproducing machines. GB207222, Verity, C. H. July 21, 1922
- Synchronisation of machines for recording sounds and movements and for reproducing such sounds and movements by phonograph and kinematograph. GB318847, Verity, C. H. June 5, 1928.
- Apparatus for reproducing synchronously recorded disk records and kinematograph films. GB318688, Verity, C. H. June 19, 1928.
Figure 1 Verity’s registration marks for resynchronising cut sound film (GB318688)
- Means for the synchronisation of broadcast wireless sounds and kinematograph films. GB320881, Verity, C. H. July 23, 1928.
- Improvements relating to the synchronous reproduction of picture films and disk sound records. GB321624, Verity, C. H. Aug. 13, 1928.
- Improvements relating to phonograph disc recording & reproducing machines and means for driving and synchronising same with kinematograph apparatus. GB322561, Verity, C. H. Sept. 24, 1928.
- Improvements relating to electric pick-up supports for gramophones and means for indicating the position of the needle in the record groove and to facilitate synchronous reproduction with picture projection. GB324411, Verity, C. H. Oct. 22, 1928.
Most of these patents relate to sound-on-disk systems, but Verity’s appears to have adopted an approach that is less dependent upon the technology and focuses more on the operator’s problem of keeping sound and image together. It’s a very human approach to a technological problem : for example, the 1920 patent for the Synchronisation of machines for recording and reproducing sounds and movements uses two rows of lamps to indicate when the operator has achieved the union of sound and image by manipulating motors to bring the projector and the sound mechanism together, and which will tell the operator when they start to go out of synch.
Verity’s work attracted international attention: one newspaper report from 1922 talks about a German patent, but I haven’t been able to find this; while Verity was crossing the Atlantic to work with the Vitapgraph Company in New York. Altman (1992) mentions Verity’s arrival in New York and his demonstration of the synchronisation of music and talking pictures
Figure 2 The Ellis Island register shows Verity was met by the vice-president of the Vitagraph Co. as he disembarked from the Aquitania in 1923.
From reports in the local Yorkshire press, Verity’s system worked well and was popular. Verity apparently first demonstrated his talking pictures at the Royal Hall Theatre in Harrogate on 30 April 1921, before moving to London in June/July 1921, and then at the Albert Hall, Leeds in the first weeks of April, 1922.
A contemporary description gives an indication of how image, music, and dialogue were brought together.
Leeds Mercury, 27 June 1921
LEEDS MAN’S SYNCHRONISM INVENTION
The latest development in singing and talking pictures was explained at a demonstration on Saturday at the Philharmoinc Hall, London.
The inventor, Mr. Claude Verity, of Leeds, claimed to be able to synchronise perfectly the spoken word and the lip movements by the players shown on the screen.
By Mr. Verity’s system it is claimed to be possible to synchronise speeches, sounds, music, or anything that is at present being done at any of the London theatres – opera, drama, musical comedy, or revue. The inventor does not do away with the orchestra; his object is to synchronise the spoken word or song, the orchestra accompanying the gramophone while the movements are thrown on the screen.
The two productions shown on Saturday, ‘A Cup of Beef Tea’ and ‘The Playthings of Fate,’ proved that the invention has great possibilities.
The public interest in talking pictures can be gauged from this announcement of Verity’s 1922 shows in Leeds, which gives the size of the audience for the initial Harrogate run.
Yorkshire Evening Post, 3 April 1922
FILM AND GRAMPOHONE
PROGRAMME TO DEMONSTRATE A LEEDS MAN’S INVENTION
Mr. C.H. verity, the inventor of the apparatus which has made the synchronisation of film and gramophone a practical proposition, is the head of a Leeds firm of hardware manufacturers and merchants. He is presenting his talking and singing pictures at the Albert Hall, Leeds, this week. Entertainments will be given each evening, and on three afternoons. The programme consists of the first film productions under the Verity system of synchronisation.
Mr. Verity claims that the cost of these productions will be no greater than that of the majority of silent films, because it is cheaper to help out scenes and actions by words than by the multiplication of dumb show. There are interesting possibilities in the production of talking pictures in these days when the demand is all for novelty and originality in entertainment. Four performances recently given in Harrogate attracted over 5600 people.
As another report indicates, the road to the synchronisation of sound and image was long and expensive, and it is important to remember that Verity was not a research scientist for a large corporation but ran a hardware manufacturers in the centre of Leeds.
Yorkshire Evening News, 1 April 1922
LEEDS MAN’S SYSTEM PATENTED IN GERMANY
Mr. Claude H. Verity, the Leeds inventor, is making a bold bid to enlist the sympathies of the public in his talking and singing pictures. He claims that he has definitely and absolutely solved the problem of the synchronisation of the voice with the picture on the screen.
For over three years he has been perfecting his idea, and so fa it has entailed a cost of £7000, but now to quote his own words: ‘With my system of synchronisation I can guarantee to keep this relation of sound and lip movement under synchronous control to within one-twenty-fourth of a second for any length of time.’
Next week at the Albert Hall, Leeds, the local public will have its first opportunity of judging the merit of the invention.
The solving of the problem of synchronisation was proved and admitted by the critics at Mr. Verity’s first trade show in Harrogate. There was criticism, Mr. Verity says, not in regard to the question of synchronisation, but in regard to the sound productions of the gramophone used.
Mr. Verity has given many trade shows in various parts of the country, and never once has his claim to have solved the synchronisation problem been doubted. The only thing he needs he points out, is what might be termed a super-gramophone, and in this connection it may be stated, Mr. Verity has gone some way to meet this need.
By the means of electric amplification and a new design of gramophone horn, the inventor ensures that the spoken word is clear and easily distinguishable.
Very shortly a company is to be formed, and with the necessary financial backing the invention should not fail to succeed.
Mr. Verity claims that everything in the way of singing or speaking can be synchronised by means of his method. He also wishes to make it clear that he does not intend to work on the lines of a monopoly in regard to his invention.
PATENTED IN GERMANY
Mr. Verity does not suggest that the whole programme in all the countless picture-houses should be entirely devoted to ‘talking pictures;’ he introduces the idea with a view to an enjoyable variation in the programme.
The ‘Yorkshire Evening News’ is able to add that Mr. Verity has now had his ‘talking-picture’ idea patented in Germany. This is itself proof that he has not encroached on any previous idea on this point. The German system of granting patents is different to the British system.
Here a patent is granted after a search through British patents only; in Germany the patents of all nationalities are first scrutinised.
For all this effort, Verity does not get much of a mention in histories of British cinema, but he is mentioned on occasion. As noted above, Altman (1992) mentions Verity’s visit to the US and he features in The New York Times Encyclopedia of Film (1984), which suggests that there are references in the New York press to the demonstrations of the Verity system. There is also a reference to Verity’s trip to New York in Gramophone in October 1926, albeit a reference that is inconclusive (I haven’t found the original report):
The problem of synchronizing films and records has been solved if we are to believe the reports of the demonstration of the Vitaphone in New York. There is an excellent and full account of the problem and of the solution in the Wireless World for September 15th. Three years ago we reported the departure of Mr. Claude Verity, who was experimenting in the subject, for America ; but it is not said whether he is at the bottom of the Vitaphone. It is the Western Electric Co.’s patents which have made the synchronization possible, worked in conjunction with Warner Brothers’ Pictures Inc (22).
Verity is also mention by M. Jackson Wrigley (1922: 115-116), who refers to the ‘invention of a synchronizer by Mr. Claude H. Verity, a Harrogate engineer, enables the operator, by simply sliding a knob, quite independently of observing the screen, to work synchronization to 1-24th of a second.’
Altman, D. (1992) Hollywood East: Louis B. Mayer and the Origins of the Studio System. New York: Carol Publishing Group.
Jackson Wrigley, M. (1922) The Film: Its Use In Popular Education. London: Grafton.
The New York Times Encyclopedia of Film, edited by Gene Brown New York: New York Times Books, 1984
Posted on August 20, 2009, in British Cinema, Claude Hamilton Verity, Film History, Silent cinema and tagged British Cinema, Claude Hamilton Verity, Film History, Film Studies. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.