The Lost Films
A Brief History of 20th Century Spatchcock

Throughout the ‘golden age’ of British films, the name D W Blunt was synonymous with home grown cinema.   

A keen actor and dancer, he decided to have a go at making films and began showing his home movies of people going to work and strolling in the park in their Sunday best at The Odeon, Parbold in 1918, founding 20th Century Blunt the following year.

In 1920, he met Alfred Spatchcock on a trolley bus in Manchester.  Spatchcock was a struggling film director working part-time as a conductor to raise cash to fund his films. Blunt was fascinated by Spatchcock and, like so many others, fell under his spell. They remained inseparable for the rest of their lives.

So it was that in 1921 20th Century Blunt merged with The Spatchcock Film Company to become 20th Century Spatchcock. The rest, as a media studies lecturer might say, is film history.   The operation was based in a huge tripe factory  in the Oldham suburb of Hollinwood where incentives had been made available to lure film makers to boost the local economy.

This became known as The Tripe Factory.

At first it was not easy. Filming could only take place at night when the factory workers had gone home.  But with the Spatchcock studio system ensuring a steady flow of talent eager to render unintelligible transatlantic accents into language that was readily accessible to uncompromising northern ears, Blunt and Spatchcock felt sure their policy of remaking classic films for northern audiences was sure to succeed.

But Blunt and Spatchcock couldn’t have been more wrong. Their films proved remarkably unpopular with cinema goers.

One possible reason for their failure could be that audiences were too sophisticated and just weren’t ready for films made with a shaky hand held camera.   Another is that they simply couldn’t afford to pay 2s to go to the pictures when the average weekly wage was 6d.

But probably the most important reason is that the films were truly awful and were,for many years, shown in film schools all over the world as the gold standard for how not to make a film.

Celebrated film critic Norman Barrie called the musical Flat Cap (1938) featuring Fred A Bannister and Ginger Roberts "an abomination" and Lancashire Beauty (1999) "probably the worst film ever made." More than forty of their films are featured in film critic Paulette Kayli’s 101 Worst Films Of All Time.

20th Century Spatchcock were renowned for their prodigious output and the fast turn-around of their films.

Film historians believe they made over 20,000 films, most of which have been destroyed, sometimes by accident but mostly deliberately.

The last few hundred reels were destroyed in a fire in The Tripe Warehouse in 2002 which police believed to be arson committed by film lovers but there were simply too many suspects and no one was ever convicted.

The Tripe Factory ceased trading on 1 January 2000 when Blunt and Spatchcock decided they could no longer continue making films under the outdated name of 20th Century Spatchcock.

True to their tradition, their last film All Quiet On Rebecca Front was a flop.

Curiously, despite their unpopularity their films were a commercial success. This was because their production costs were so low - usually less than £100 - that they always made a profit.

Blunt and Spatchcock retired to the Isle of Man very wealthy men and lived there for the rest of their lives.

The Lost Films cover
The Lost Films of 20th Century Spatchcock is published by TMB Books and tells the story of the Spatchcock studios between 1921 and 2004, with details of dozens of 'lost films' that have been discovered by celebrated local librarian, Dr Derek J Ripley.

Acclaimed broadcaster Andy Kershaw has described Dr Ripley’s work as “the definitive appreciation of Spatchcock!” and advises that “Anyone who has managed to get through
From Here To Maternity or Wendy Does Wigan will want - and need - this book."

Highlights include the first extended essay on the Lancashire Office of Information's public information films, including Always Wear A Hat! and How To Eat Tripe, alongside the first published analysis of Spatchcock's blue movie period in a chapter on The Golden Age of Filth.  Over 200 pages of facts and details about a hitherto forgotten north west film studio.  
The Tripe Factory
Spatchcock and Blunt shooting a film in  The Tripe Factory at Hollinwood

The story of 20th Century Spatchcock was first featured in Forgotten Lancashire and Parts of Cheshire and the Wirral  by Dr Derek Ripley (TMB Books, available from Amazon and all good bookshops and on Kindle).

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