James Topaz Alfred Spatchcock was born in Farnworth near Bolton in
1896, the third of four children of Johannes and Elsie Spatchcock.
Johannes, was a Dutch clog maker who fled to Lancashire
in 1878 to escape persecution when the Nieuwe Holland Partij (the New Holland
Party) was elected on a radical programme of challenging national Dutch
stereotypes. The NHP had banned the
colour orange and the wearing of clogs, smashed dams and closed thousands of
windmills, laying waste to the country’s tulip fields and encouraging instead
the growth of hemp.
Alfred left school at the age of 12 and went into his mother’s tripe dressing business. He would prepare the tripe according to traditional Lancashire conventions by bleaching it and boiling it for hours. He became expert in tripe embroidery at a time when few people had the skill.
But his great love was photography. He had received a camera on his fifth birthday and couldn’t put it down. His father had found it on a tip and it was covered in a sticky resin. Alfred spent several hours in A and E whilst surgeons struggled to remove it.
His first few attempts at photography were not successful. All the pictures he took were dark and he suspected they must be overexposed. It wasn’t until her realized that the lens had a dustcap that he was able to take any decent photos.
Spatchcock’s motto was ‘If it’s stationary, shoot it’. He was not very good at spelling so for a time the only pictures he took were of pencils, rulers and erasers. He spent all his pocket money on film and to earn money he took a part-time job in Max Spiegelman’s photographic studio in Oldham where he picked up the rudiments of taking photos and developing film.
He soon became bored with the stationary image and became fascinated by moving pictures. He would bunk off school and sneak in to any one of the hundreds of cinemas which were springing up all over Lancashire.
He spent hours at one particular local cinema - the Roxy - watching films of people leaving factories and strolling in the park in their Sundy best. These films, by renowned producers Mitchell and Webb, were particularly common and for a while there was hardly a picture house in Lancashire where their films weren’t being shown.
In 1912, Spatchcock bought an old Kojak Little Marvel movie camera from Marcus and Spangles on Wigan market. It was called the Little Marvel because at only 12ft by 10ft it was one of the smallest movie cameras around. He had some difficulty moving it but his mother made him a trolley.
His motto became ‘If it moves, shoot it’. He shot anything that moved,
particularly pigeons and ducks in the park. When he ran out of pellets for his
air rifle, he would film them, too. At
the age of 13 he made his first full-length movie, Mucky Mouse, a film of his mother cleaning out
his pet mouse Maurice’s cage.
© Copyright 2012 LEB Ltd T/A The Lost Films of 20th Century Spatchcock