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Bee-Mason, J.C. (1874-1957)

Director, Photography

Main image of Bee-Mason, J.C. (1874-1957)

John Charles Mason, filmmaker, explorer and naturalist, was noted for his early films about bee-keeping. Such was his association with apiarism that at some point in his life he changed his surname officially to Bee-Mason. He was born in Maidenhead in 1874 and ultimately moved to Burgess Hill where he lived until his death in 1957. After some early success with his beekeeping films, he appears to have become a war photographer during the 1914-18 conflict, travelling in France, Belgium and Russia. He was part of the team recruited through the Scout movement on Shackleton's final voyage south to the Antarctic on the Quest in 1921/2, which was curtailed by the sudden death of its leader. He seems to have been a volunteer in the Scout movement and filmed a scout camp for Topical Budget issue 634-2 ('Boys Scouts at Chingford') in 1923.

Bee-Mason was a member of several scientific expeditions as a cinematographer including the Oxford University Arctic Expedition in 1924. In 1925/6 he was the official cinematographer on the Algarsson-Worsley British Arctic Expedition and produced the film Under Sail in the Frozen North. In 1927 he joined Bolivian diplomat Mamerto Urriolagoitia and Julian Duguid, author of the expedition book Green Hell, in an expedition across the lowland jungles of Bolivia for which he shot a great deal of footage for a film for commercial release. The film, provisionally titled Through Green Hell: Across Bolivia, was never released, perhaps due to the additional issues surrounding the introduction of sound in 1930. In his book of their travels, Duguid gives an affectionate though sardonic reading of Bee Mason's concern for the success of the film after they have been warned against the folly of setting out into the hostile jungle of Bolivia:

"It is one thing to yield to the lust for adventure, and quite another to hear a tough young man who knows the country rejoice at his absence from the game; so I returned to Bee-Mason and drew the picture with coloured words. He sprang up his face aflame with emotion, and just as I was congratulating myself on having passed the old explorer's guard, he burst into speech. 'If only those Indians would kill you or Urrio,' he cried, 'my film would be worth something.' There are difficulties sometimes in working with a monomaniac."

Bryony Dixon

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bee's Eviction, The (1909)Bee's Eviction, The (1909)

Short film documenting the relocation of two bee colonies on a Sussex farm

Thumbnail image of Life of the Honey Bee, The (1911)Life of the Honey Bee, The (1911)

Revealing insight into the life of a working beehive

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Early Natural History FilmmakingEarly Natural History Filmmaking

Early wildlife filmmaking

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Thumbnail image of Pike, Oliver (1877-1963)Pike, Oliver (1877-1963)

Director, Photographer