The first Brighton feature film
Stanley & Livingstone
Source: Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove

The above photographs were recently found in the archives and sent here to see if the film could be identified. They come from the Brighton Herald collection and are dated 23 October 1937. The location is obvious but the date did not match any record of a film around that date. The report in the Herald on that date partly explained but without printing the pictures:

"Dr. Brighton, I Presume"
As Stanley found Livingstone—"Dr. Livingstone, I presume"—so Hollywood has found Brighton. It is putting Brighton on the films. This is the explanation of the engaging scenes in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion on Thursday, when ladies and gentlemen in the costume of the eighteen-seventies paraded the grounds, or rode about in horsed carriages, in Victorian state, the while they were "shot" by hectic camera men.
      The explanation of these scenes was that a Hollywood company was making a film of Livingstone and Stanley, and, finding that Stanley gave one of his famous lectures about Africa in Brighton, decided to film the Dome and Pavilion grounds, with people waiting for Stanley's arrival preparatory to his giving that address. Brighton certainly played up well to the opportunity, for it provided unclouded sunlight of a radiance and clearness that even Hollywood might envy.
      There are only one or two minor snags. The porch of the Dome, at which Stanley is to be filmed dismounting, was not built until thirty years after the lecture. It is also sad to reflect that the lecture was not delivered in the Dome, but in the concert hall in West-street, long since burned to the ground. The verbatim report of the lecture in the Brighton Herald of the time states this clearly, and records that the audience included the Emperor and Empress of the French. Little things like this, however, will not worry Hollywood.

Stanley's lecture was given on Friday 16 August 1872 to the Geographic Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, with Francis Galton FRS in the chair. The London correspondent of the Melbourne Argus said the event was in the concert hall of the Pavilion (ie, The Dome), 'which is capable of holding 2000 people'. However, the Manchester Times concurred with the Brighton Herald that the event took place in 'the Concert Hall, in Middle-street'1. This later became the Grand Picture Palace. The lecture was widely reported at some length in newspapers all over the UK. As some reports concluded: 'An animated discussion followed, in which the correctness of some of Livinstone's views was freely questioned.' The principal charge was that Stanley indulged in sensationalism. It was this aspect of controversy that attracted the film-makers.
      Nonetheless, Stanley was feted in the town. He was a guest the following day at a banquet for the Brighton and Sussex Medico-Chirurgical Society at the Royal Pavilion2. However, his light-hearted tone changed when he heard what he thought was derisive laughter, which 'appeared to annoy Mr Stanley exceedingly'.
      He was photographed sitting on the Downs with his friend J C Parkinson on 17 August3 and was a guest of honour at a dinner given by the Mayor of Brighton at the conclusion of the conference on Wednesday 21 August—and this time the venue was 'in the Pavilion, under the dome'. This might explain the contradiction in the Australian report.

Stanley & Livingstone Source: Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove

What of the film? It reportedly had a huge budget of $2m, was produced by Darryl F Zanuck for Twentieth Century-Fox, directed by Henry King, perhaps best known for Carousel, and starred Spencer Tracy as H M Stanley. The shooting in Brighton would have been undertaken by a second-unit director and crew some time before the main studio production in Hollywood.
      This is not only the earliest known appearance of the Royal Pavilion in a fiction film—the only previous occasions had been in newsreels—it is the earliest feature film to include any scene shot in Brighton. The next occurence was in the opening sequence of Brighton Rock, filmed in 1947, and more substantially in The First Gentleman in 1948. And, importantly, it was intrinsic to the story.
      Of the Brighton footage, there is one shot, which lasts all of four seconds, looking across the lawns to the porte-cochère of the Pavilion.

Stanley and Livingstone

This introduces a 13-minute sequence set in the 'Pavilion' at which Stanley's account of his 'finding' Livingstone is debated. The entire interior sequence was shot in Hollywood. Actually the set designers obviously made a plausible stab at the look of the Pavilion, or more accurately the Dome. We can assume it was photographed for research purposes during the shooting.

Stanley and Livingstone

1The concert hall had (and still has, while it remains) entrances in both West Street and Middle Street.
2Reynolds's Newspaper re-publishing a report from Brighton Daily News, Sunday 25 August 1872: 5e
2A copy is in the collection of the Royal Geographical Society


Page created 28 February 2018