First colour moving pictures in Bradford

Analysing the film Photo:

The earliest colour moving pictures ever made have been unveiled in Bradford.

The National Media Museum in the city is displaying the vivid images from its collection for the first time in over a hundred years.

These films were made by photographer and inventor Edward Turner using a process he patented with his financial backer Frederick Lee in 1899. Experts at the Museum have dated the films to 1901/2, making these the earliest examples of colour moving pictures in existence.

Lee and Turner’s invention has always been regarded by film historians as a practical failure but it has now been ‘unlocked’ through digital technology, revealing the images produced by the process for the first time in over a hundred years. It’s also a story of young death and commercial intrigue in the earliest days of the film industry.

On discovering the film, Michael Harvey, Curator of Cinematography at the National Media Museum worked with film archive experts Brian Pritchard and David Cleveland to reconstruct the moving footage in colour following the precise method laid out in Lee and Turner’s 1899 patent. They turned to experts at the BFI National Archive who were able to undertake the delicate work of transforming the film material into digital files, and so the team were able to watch these vivid colour moving pictures for the first time, over one hundred years since they had been made.

We sat in the editing suite entranced as full-colour shots made 110 years ago came to life on the screen. The image of the goldfish was stunning: its colours were so lifelike and subtle. Then there was a macaw with brilliantly coloured plumage, a brief glimpse of soldiers marching and, most interestingly, young children dressed in Edwardian finery. I realised we had a significant find on our hands. We had proved that the Lee and Turner process worked but it remained to identify who those children were and establish as precisely as possible when these first colour images were made.

– Michael Harvey, Curator of Cinematography at the National Media Museum
An image from the film

This wonderful rediscovery highlights the untapped potential of the National Media Museum’s Collection, and the Lee & Turner films can now take their rightful place alongside other unique artefacts and world–firsts which the Museum holds. Moreover, it highlights the Museum’s leading role in validating and challenging received wisdom about the subject matter it represents: film history can now be rewritten as a result of this marvellous find.

– Paul Goodman, Head of Collections at the National Media Museum

The public can see the Lee and Turner footage for the first time in more than one hundred years as part of a free display, at the National Media Museum in Bradford.