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By Royal Command...


Films at Osborne August 1898

In his Autobiography, Alfred West writes of his first Royal Command showing of 'animated photographs' in August 1898 to Queen Victoria at Osborne House in the Isle of Wight. The film had been made whilst Alfred West and his assistant Chief Petty Officer McGregor had been taken for three months as official photographers on a cruise of ' HMS Crescent ' captained by the Duke of York. The cruise lasted from 8th June 1898-26th August 1898. 150 of the photographs taken by CPO McGregor are available to view in the Royal Collection Trust's website of photographs. (search 'Chief Petty Officer' to view the full set)

A second Royal Command was received in 1901. 

West's own account (in his unpublished Autobiography) of the 1898 Osborne House performance is set out below:

"Three months previously whilst at breakfast, I had received a reply-paid telegram which had made me leap to my feet. It had come from Sir Charles Cust, the Commander of the "Crescent", and read :-

"Can you be aboard at 9 o’clock?"

As it was then 8.30 I did not stop to reply, but cycled down to the Dockyard, arriving on board at 8.55 and meeting the Commander on the Quarter Deck.

" I sent you a telegram ", he said. " Yes, Sir Charles, I received it, I replied ".

"But I have not had the reply I paid for."

" I stand in front of you before a reply could have reached you ", I answered.

"Very good", he said, "His Royal Highness wants to see you, he’s at breakfast now, but he’ll be on deck shortly, better stand by."

Soon afterwards the Captain came up on deck and explained to me that he wanted a series of photographs taken during the cruise. I showed him a piece of cinematograph film taken of a torpedo explosion, and explained that it was a new development in photography. The Duke took it into his own hands to examine it more closely, and called out to the Commander.
"Look here, Sir Charles, isn’t this wonderful?"

Turning to me he asked whether I could obtain some films during the cruise. I told him that I would do my best, and he told me to wait till the ship arrived at Portland, because they were all sixes and sevens just then.

This was how the entertainment came to be given, the first of its kind, and little did I dream then what immense developments would follow.

Royal group taken by CPO McGregor on the Quarter deck of H.M.S. "Crescent". Prince Edward wears the ship's cap band. (Shown as a lantern slide to Queen Victoria at Osborne House (see below)

The Royal Command Performance

"Queen Victoria was in residence at Osborne House in the Isle of Wight at the time of the "Crescent’s" return, and hearing of my pictures, she expressed a desire to see them.

A royal command was sent for me to exhibit them before the Royal Family, and all the apparatus was fixed up in the drawing room at Osborne. Over 50 films and lantern slides were shown, and the Duke of York explained each as it was projected on the screen. At the close of the demonstration the Duke told me that the Queen wished him to express the pleasure the pictures had given her.

On the day following, a Southsea concert agent strongly urged me to give a public show of these pictures, saying that he would do the organising and arranging in connection with it. The Portland Hall at Southsea was therefore booked for one night, and was crowded out, numbers being turned away.

The distinguished audience was strongly represented by the Senior Service, and despite the absence of title slides or commentary they all thoroughly enjoyed the programme, which was interspersed with solo vocalists and instrumentalists, and lasted over two hours.

The newspapers made much of it, since these were the first animated pictures seen by the general public, and to add to the interest in the novelty there was the knowledge that they had been shown before the Queen. It was soon realised that such pictures were of more than local importance, and the Secretary of the Navy League invited me to bring them to London, promising me good patronage and support."

In 1901, a similar event took place before King Edward VII and his family at Sandringham

Facsimile report of the Royal Command Performance from a contemporary newspaper on 30 August 1898

From the Court Circular - August 27th 1898 (published in 'THE TIMES' on August 29 1898:

"The Queen and the Royal Family in the evening witnessed an exhibition of lantern slides and animated photographs, taken by Mr. West of Southsea, and Chief Petty Officer McGregor, of the cruise of H.M.S.''Crescent'' while commanded by His Royal Highness the Duke of York"

From the personal diary of the Duke of York (later King George V), 27th August 1898:

"After dinner West showed his animated photographs & McGregor the photos he took on bd. The 'Crescent' on a screen, very well done"
Diary Extract reproduced by the permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.