THE ‘forgotten inventor of British cinema’ is under the spotlight in an exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of technological pioneer Robert Paul, who built the first commercially successful film equipment in Britain in the 1890s. His story has been largely hidden, despite his significant contribution to film and cinema. The exhibition, called The Forgotten Showman, will showcase rare objects including the camera Paul used to film Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

After establishing an instrument-making company in 1891 Paul became interested in picture devices and was commissioned to make replica Kinetoscopes, the first machines to show moving pictures, originally made by Thomas Edison. Inspired by HG Wells’ novel The Time Machine, he explored immersive film experience for audiences, a forerunner to today’s 4D cinema. In 1896 Paul pioneered a new way of projecting moving images, leading to dazzling ‘firsts’ in film-making and cinema-going.

Paul was the first to sell films and projection equipment to the wider market. He launched Britain’s first film studio and produced the country’s largest number of films until the end of the 1890s. He made Britain’s first fiction film, The Soldier’s Courtship (1896) - frames are held in Media Museum collections and a reconstruction will be screened. Paul also created the first two-shot film, in Come Along Do! (1898), and the earliest on-screen titling and intertitles, in Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901). He experimented with new techniques, subjects and formats, including distributing films of foreign locations, hand colouring films and capturing panning shots. He produced more than 800 titles, quitting the business in 1910 and destroying negatives of many of his films - his motive remains a mystery.

The Forgotten Showman also looks at Paul’s contemporaries, such as the Lumière Brothers. Visitors can see original objects showcasing cinema innovations, including Paul’s Theatrograph projector, the 35mm camera he made to film the 1897 Diamond Jubilee Procession, and frames from one of his earliest films, dated 1895.

In this 10th anniversary year of Bradford UNESCO City of Film, the exhibition also pays tribute to Bradford’s film heritage, including the Riley Brothers who established their Magic Lantern business in the city in the 19th century.

Co-curator Professor Ian Christie said: “Paul has been ignored for too long. Given the scale of his innovation and enterprise, it’s time we brought these to wider attention, there’s nowhere better than the National Science and Media Museum, which houses some of Paul’s surviving equipment. It’s important that young people, living through the digital media revolution, can draw inspiration from knowing that Britain led the original film revolution in the mid-1890s.”

Alongside the exhibition, Pictureville will host a Breathless Sensation programme, showcasing spectacular cinema from the past 100 years, including King Kong (1933) and The Matrix (1999).

* Forgotten Showman: How Robert Paul Invented British Cinema opens on Friday, November 22. Visit