Claude Hamilton Verity III

I have drawn attention to the Leeds inventor Claude Hamilton Verity and his efforts to develop a sound-on-disc system for the synchronization of image and sound in two earlier posts that can be accessed here and here. This week I bring to your attention some other references to Verity I have come across recently.

First, an article by Frank H. Lovette and Stanley Watkins, titled ‘Twenty Years of “Talking Movies:” an Anniversary’ and published in the 1946 volume of Bell Telephone Magazine, refers to Verity as someone who made a notable contribution to the development of talking pictures alongside such illustrious names as Thomas A. Edison, Pathé Freres, Leon Gaumont, and Orlando E. Kellum. The article can be accessed here.

The authors clearly do not take The Jazz Singer in 1927 to be point at which pictures began to talk, and instead choose as their starting point the demonstration of the Vitaphone system on 6 August, 1926, for the screening of Don Juan, starring John Barrymore. This is unsurprising given that Bell was itself involved in the development of this system, but they do describe this screening somewhat poetically:

Before the applause could die away, the dramatic sequences of Don Juan unfolded against their synchronized musical background. Scientists, public officials, prominent figures from many walks of life sat in amazement until the last crescendo and finale of this scientific marvel. The men who brought it into being by their refinement of existing arts were hailed as having made possible “the greatest invention of the twentieth century.” And Dr. Michael I. Pupin was led to exclaim that “no closer approach to resurrection has ever been made by science.” The pioneers of Western Electric and Bell Telephone Laboratories and their collaborators of Warner Brothers and Vitaphone experienced that night a measure of accomplishment which few men of science ever live to taste or see.

We can forgive the authors a touch of hyperbole when writing about Bell-developed technology in a Bell-funded journal, but this raises an interesting question about when we should date the earliest successful demonstration of synchronized sound in cinema. There were other inventors to successfully demonstrate the synchronization of sound and image prior to 1926, including Kellum’s Photo-kinema system and Verity’s system both of which were demonstrated in 1921. D.W. Griffith used the Photo-kinema system for Dream Street, which premiered on 2 May, 1921, with two sound segments; and we have reports of the demonstration of two original shorts produced by Verity in Harrogate on 30 April, 1921 (see the first link above). We also know that in November 1923, Verity sailed to New York to meet with J. Stuart Blackton of the Vitagraph Film Company and gave an interview to The New York Times regarding the synchronization of sound and image in January 1924 (see the second link above). We do not know what impact Verity’s work in England had – if any – on the development of ‘the greatest invention of the twentieth century.’

The article refers to Verity’s system as Veritiphone, but this term appears only infrequently in other articles.

Second, two articles in the Wellington Evening Post from 1921 and 1923 refer to Verity’s efforts. These articles are available from Papers Past at the National Library of New Zealand, and rather wonderfully, they can be reproduced under a creative commons licence.

The first article was published on 3 June, 1921, and is largely a direct quote from an earlier article published in The Daily Mail. I have not found this earlier article, but given the timing I assume that the demonstration referred to was the one that took place in Harrogate in April 1921.

TALKING FILMS

PERFECT VOICE MOVEMENT CLAIM

Talking kinema films, it is claimed, have definitely advanced a stage as ‘the result of the invention of a synchroniser by Mr. Claude H. Verity, a Harrogate engineer. With this instrument in the projector-box, it is stated, an operator, by simply sliding a knob quite independently of watching the screen, can work synchronisation to 1-24th of a second.

In a Harrogate building where secrecy has been maintained for nearly five years of experimenting, writes a correspondent to the London Daily Mail, who has witnessed a straight drama and cross-talk comedy exhibited in conjunction with a gramophone. “There was no mistaking the accuracy of voice and lip movement. If it should vary a tenth of a second it would be due to the fact that the actors were so much out in repeating for the gramophone recorder what they had done for the screen. These processes are separate and are linked up by an expert stenographer.

“The synchroniser does away with the necessity for stopping the action of a picture to introduce worded explanations; indeed, dialogue becomes a distinct part of the picture.

“For operas with singing and music a child could work it because there is a fixed tempo. Should the film break the speaking can be stopped and taken up again.”

A great advantage of the invention, it is urged, is that with the apparatus in projecting-boxes the synchronised film could be circulated in the ordinary way.

The two films referred to above would be The Playthings of Fate (the drama) and A Cup of Beef Tea (the comedy). I would assume that this is the first time the term ‘cross-talk comedy’ is used in reference to the cinema.

The second article was published on 1 September 1923, and is only a passing reference to Verity as part of a much larger piece.

Synchronization of the film and its musical counterpart seems to be solved by the “Veritphone,” an invention of Claude H. Verity, of Leeds, England. It aims at the alliance of sound and movement by the combination of a double set of “super-gramophones,” and an ingenious indicator, which shows when the film and the sound record are together.

Details of Verity’s patents that give a more detailed explanation of how the system worked can be accessed in my earlier posts.

Third, and slightly confusingly, there is another reference to Verity derived from an article published in The Daily Mail in De Sumatra Post published on 11 November 1922. I have no idea what this says because it is in Dutch. The complete issue of De Sumatra Post can be downloaded as a pdf file here (it’s about 7.1 MB and I think it is from the Dutch equivalent of Papers Past), and the short piece referring to Verity is at the bottom of page 14.

Fourth, a notice in The Electrical Review 90 1922: 416 announces the successful demonstration of Verity system at the Albert Hall in Leeds in 1922 (the date is given as 3 March whereas other articles give the date as 3 April), noting that

By experiment over a considerable time past, Mr. Verity has provided an apparatus which certainly yields co-timing of the lip movements of the persons on the screen with the sounds emitted from the electrically-controlled gramophone, …

By the time of his 1922 demonstrations, Verity had spent at least 5 years and (by his own estimation) some £7000 of his own money developing his synchronisation system.

Finally, and a good deal less wonderful than anything from New Zealand, is a reference to Verity in an article published in Political Science Quarterly in 1948. The full reference is Swensen J 1948 The entrepreneur’s role in introducing the sound motion picture, Political Science Quarterly 63 (3): 404-423. I do not know how this piece refers to Verity – it may be only as a name in a footnote, possibly derived from the Bell Telephone Magazine article referred to above – because the article lies behind a paywall at JSTOR. There is no good reason why an article from 1948 should be behind a paywall in 2011.

 

 

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on March 10, 2011, in British Cinema, Claude Hamilton Verity, Film History, Film Industry, Film Studies, Film Technology, Leeds, Silent cinema and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hello Nick,

    I’ve only just come across your really interesting (and well-researched) posts on Claude Verity. I’d not heard of him until yesterday, when someone whose musician grandfather had worked with Verity asked me if I’d heard of him. The musician was Julian Clifford, and she says he worked with Verity on synchronising orchestral music to film in the late 1910s. Have you come across any references to Clifford in your Verity trawls?

    Luke

    • For some reason Verity has disappeared from the history of British cinema, which is a shame because his story raises some issues about the role of the small entrepreneur in early British cinema.

      I didn’t come across anything about Julian Clifford but from his Wikipedia page I see that he was a musical director in Harrogate and the 1911 census gives an address somewhere between Harrogate and Knaresborough. Verity lived in Spofforth (between Harrogate and Wetherby) in the 1910s/1920s, which is why he premières his sound system at a theatre in Harrogate. They were clearly living close to one another and no doubt socialised together in Harrogate.

      The next time I’m in Harrogate I’ll try to remember to check the local library to see if there’s anything on Clifford that could link to Verity. I’ve checked for Verity in the local history section of Harrogate library but couldn’t find anything, though I didn’t check the local papers due to a lack of time. Everything I’ve found on Verity has come either through Leeds Central Library or the internet.

  2. Thanks Nick. I’m certainly intrigued by him, and it’s great shame his name has fallen out of British film histories (and histories of film sound, for that matter). As noted, I’m in touch with Julian Clifford’s granddaughter (who obviously would like to know if the films survive and just as obviously is going to be disappointed). If you are able to spot anything next time you’re in Harrogate, do let me know, and I’ll pass it on to her.

    Thanks again

    Luke

  1. Pingback: The Veritiphone system « Research into film

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