William Haggar, Fairground Film-Maker

Author's News

Added 04-Dec-2012

Another surviving Haggar film has recently (November 2012) been identified. Named "Chased by Dogs", it was preserved in the archive at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. Marketed by Gaumont in 1904, and lasting one minute, it seems to be a companion piece to "The Bather's Revenge", again featuring Walter Haggar in drag, a river and a large black dog. An elderly couple are walking toward the camera on a path beside the river, "she" struggling on two crutches. They pass a large sign, "Beware of the Dog". We see two dogs pursuing the same course, at speed. The couple then turn and flee, she discarding both crutches and showing a surprising turn of speed, followed by the dogs, until they are out of sight. Back they come again towards the camera, she having grabbed a large stick, and belabouring him with it. He jumps over a fence and runs off past the camera, and she follows on, ungracefully heaving herself over the fence. The audience will have gone away laughing, as William Haggar intended they should with his string of such short comedies.

Added 02-Dec-2012

"William Haggar, fairground film-maker" is now also available for Kindle at Amazon

Added 30-Oct-2011

In July I could be seen on BBC1 Wales in the documentary "Wales and Hollywood", together with clips from Desperate Poaching Affray, and Revenge!. The programme concluded with the hope that current Welsh film-makers would have as much entrpreneurial flair as William Haggar had, all those years ago!

Added 28-May-2011

Recently I had published in Flickers, the Vintage Film Circle magazine, an article entitled "Lost Epic: William Haggar's The Sign of the Cross." This reflected the fact that I had obtained from the Cinematheque Francaise a copy of Gaumont's "Special Supplement" 16-page film sales catalogue produced in December 1904, devoted entirely to this lost film. As a result we now have a full synopsis of this 10-minute fore-runner of Cecil B. De Mille's 1932 epic, and sufficient stills, in addition to the copyright photos referred to below, to be able to picture each of the seven scenes. On the front of the catalogue is my great-aunt Jenny Lindon as the heroine Marcia, in a tableau of the Sign of the Cross which the catalogue describes as "as much a triumph of the photographic Art as it undoubtedly is for the Christian faith of the story".

During a recent visit to Aberdare, I noticed that the museum there had a bookshop and asked if they would sell copies of my book. They agreed so readily that I decided to try to persuade others to do the same - with the result that my book can now be bought in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, and in many other museums and heritage centres across South and West Wales from Newport Museum to Pembroke Castle. Total sales have now reached 800.

The Media have recently shown great interest in William Haggar's story. Last year I was interviewed by BBC Radio Wales, for a programme in their "Past Masters" series, broadcast on 28 February 2010, which told William's story and continued their reminiscences by my Haggar cousins of running the cinema in Pembroke. In October, during my visit to Aberdare, I was interviewed by Trevor Fishlock, and appeared in his programme, "Fishlock's Wales" on ITV Wales on 28 December 2010, about film in Wales from Haggar's to a modern-day travelling cinema.

Not long after that I was contacted for information about the early cinema and the fairground by the makers of Heston BLumenthal's programme about the challenge of serving palatable food in cinemas, broadcast on Channel 4 on 1 March 2011. In the programme itself, my information had hit the cutting room floor: all that was left were some stalls with striped awnings, and a vague reference to the cinema being a fairground! Finally BBC TV Wales spent three hours in my living room recently, interviewing me and filming me watching and commenting on Desperate Poaching Affray and Revenge! for a documentary to be broadcast in July about Wales and Hollywood, arising from the setting of Torchwood in Wales. How much of that afternoon's work will survive into the TV film remains to be seen, but at least those who are selling my book should be able to advertise it "as seen on TV"!

Added 27-Nov-2008

John Lyons of Nerberth, Pembrokeshire, has kindly sent me cuttings from local newspapers, mainly about Will Haggar Junior and his Theatrical company. In 1902, he was presented by Maesteg Football club with a silver-mounted walking stick and a revolver, both suitably engraved. In the same year, he gave a charitable performance of "Ingomar the Barbarian" to raise money for the St Michael's Church building fund (also in Maesteg). Jenny Lindon'a acting the part of Parthenia was particularly praised.

A cutting from the South Wales Evening Post of 2 December 1931 pictures the cast in the "big scene" outside the church in "The Maid of Cefn Ydfa", produced at the Grand Theatre Swansea by "the famous Denville players" who had specially engaged Miss Jennie Haggar and Mr. Wally Thomas (her second husband) to play the parts of Gwyneth (as Jennie had done in William Haggar's film 17 years before) and of Lewis Bach (played in the film by Will Fyffe).

Still on the topic of "The Maid of Cefn Ydfa", Cliff Horton from Wakefield, a member of the Ebley family who were in portable theatres at the same time as the Haggars, has told me that a Playbook containing the script of "The Maid" is in the Ebley Archive at the University of Swansea. Unfortunately it is too fragile to be handled, but perhaps after it has been conserved, we will be able to identify the lines "spoken" by Will and Jenny in the film.

Bryony Dixon of the British Film Institute has sent me thirteen photographs from Haggar films, which were registered for copyright by Gaumont, stating that the author was William Haggar. Gaumont did not give film titles, so detective work was needed. Two photos were from the newly-discovered "Revenge!". Five were from known, but lost films, "The Sign of the Cross" (one picture shows the villainous Tigellinus supervising the torture of the christian Stephen to reveal the whereabouts of the other christians in hiding from Nero's perscecution), "Mirthful Mary in the Dock", "Snowballing" and "A Message from the Sea" (a lost scene of Will Haggar Junior and the boy on the raft). Four can be identified as being from the the hitherto unattributed short comedies "Auntie's Cycling Lesson", "Cook's Lovers", "Jack's Rival" and "Married Bliss". These photos are thus a major addition to what is known about the Haggar films.

Picture: Stephen on the Rack ("The Sign of the Cross")
Stephen on the Rack

I notice that, when the French IMDB is translated into English, not only does Violet Haggar turn Purple, but "The Sign of the Cross" turns into "The Sign of the Cross-roads"!

I was delighted to receive a note from Dr John Barnes, historian of the beginnings of the cinema in England, saying how much he admired my book: it was a great contribution to film history, he wrote, and would long remain the definitive work on the subject. Betty and I had the priviledge of meeting John at his home in St Ives in April 2008, and later I was also welcomed by his brother, William Barnes, at his home in London.

So far the book has sold more than 600 copies, and I have given nine talks about William Haggar to Women's Institutes and other clubs, with the proceeds of about 200 going to the Salisbury-based charity Hope and Homes for children.