GEORGE BERTHOLD SAMUELSON



By Christine Diwell



Somebody once told him his initials stood for Get Busy Sam and ever after he took the comment to heart.



Born 1889 Bertie Samuelson entered the film industry aged 21, operating a film renting agency in Southport. Always keen to develop his creative gifts, in 1913 he conceived the idea of producing an epic film about the reign of Queen Victoria whom he much admired. The result was Sixty Years A Queen, which he financed and heIped produce at Ealing Studios.



With this success behind him Samuelson felt the time had come to acquire his own film studios. He heard the house and estate of Worton Hall, Isleworth was for sale and, early in 1914, rented it with an option of buying for the unbelievable sum of £200.



In Patricia Warren's superb Illustrated History of British Film Studios, Worton Hall is described then as being set in nine acres, the house having 40 rooms. Its ground floor was soon turned into offices, property and wardrobe rooms, in addition to a projection theatre and joining rooms, plus a canteen.



The first and top floors contained eleven bedrooms. These were converted into flats to accommodate those needing to stay overnight, while the ballroom and dining room were left intact to be used for filming. Dressing rooms for actresses in the left wing, the right wing being reserve red for actors.



The grounds comprised terraces, lawns, paddocks, vineries with ancient cedar trees and wooded areas giving the appearance in parts of dense forest.



Although the studios opened officially on 1st July 1914, filming of Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet had already commenced the month before. The film, which starred James Bragington, a Samuelson office employee cast simply because he resembled the traditional Holmes look, became a great success in the UK. It was sold to the US for a four figure sum.



When Germany declared war on France in 1914, throwing the whole of Europe into conflict, it is claimed that crowds descended down the Mall shouting that the German navy would be at the bottom of the North Sea within a week. And on hearing this, Samuelson rushed to his Chief Producer, George Pearson, and enthused: "Come on George, we’ll take at room for the night at Frascati's. . ..write a script... The Great World War…and start filming tomorrow�



The following day Samuelson's workers listened with growing excitement to his startling new venture, a fictitious newsreel brought bang up to date with headlines of the daily press. A frantic rush then ensued to engage every out of work actor, hire costumes, buy up old medals, swords, flags and usable bits of stage property from “dummy bodies to lycopodium pots"! Filming duly commenced two later.



The Great European War Day to Day played to record audiences and was followed by Incidents of the Great European War. So successful were they the market soon become flooded with imitations, virtually ending Samuelson's market dominance.



In the following year Samuelson worked tirelessly producing films, often two or three at a time - far easier to do in silent days. These played to packed houses, with the result that Worton Hall had to be enlarged in 1916. From then until 1919 it earned an enviable reputation for producing high quality two reel adaptations of classic books such as Little Women, The Admirable Crichton and Damaged Goods. Samuelson also leased out part of the studios to other companies.



By 1919 Samuelson, having put wartime problems behind him, was being hailed by many as the great hope of British film production. It is therefore somewhat surprising that press reports in November 1920 indicate a "take over" of the studios by General Film Renters. As it was well known that General Film Renters had suffered sizable losses ever since its early days such a transaction seems unlikely.



This doubt is substantiated by the fact that in December 1922 Worton Hall Studios was sold by Samuelson to British Super Films, which had been founded jointly by Samuelson and Sir William Jury. The latter had been knighted in 1918 for providing film entertainment to the war fronts.



The first film under this new guise was Stable Companions starring Clive Brook and Lillian HaIl-Davis.

Hall-Davis, a popular, elegant, blonde, also appeared in Samuelson's subsequent historical drama A Royal Divorce.



By 1925 Samuelson, along with other major studio owners, was fighting for survival. Nonetheless he enterprisingly rnade, at a Berlin studio, a screen version of H Rider Haggard's She, using an international cast. Difficulties with the American star Betty Blythe followed resulting in a law suit. Samuelson's name was cleared but not without him incurring heavy legal expenses. So, despite being depicted as one of our greatest producers, with She as one of his greatest films, Samuelson was forced to sell Worton Hall to British Screen Productions in l928.



He did carry on working in films for several years after this, rnainly as a Director, but seemingly never recovered from the loss of the studios at Isleworth. He died in 1947.



One legacy, in which he would no doubt have taken much pride, was the continued involvement of his family in the film industry. His son, Sydney, was Britain's first Film Commissioner in 1991 and three years' later his grandsons Peter and Marc followed him into feature film production with Tom & Viv.



As for Worton Hall where Samuelson invested so much of his talent and energies, in 1929 the advent of talkies in the UK provided the studios with a new lease of life and filming there continued until 1951.