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Haldane, Bert (c. 1871-1937)


Main image of Haldane, Bert (c. 1871-1937)

Bert Haldane's career spanned just over ten years and over 170 films, and yet he has been overlooked by film historians, possibly because of a lack of information - partly, perhaps, due to his adoption of a 'stage name'. Born Alfred Simpson and the son of an innkeeper (possibly from Lancashire), he supposedly worked in music hall and with the famed Fred Karno; certainly he married a music hall artiste, Maisie Thornton, who had also changed her name. He seems to have moved to Lambeth in 1901.

He began working for the Hepworth Manufacturing Company in 1910, describing himself as a 'cinematograph production manager' and specialising in social dramas and crime films. He joined Will Barker's company in July 1912, producing more crime films, including The Test (1913) in which a policeman spitefully exposes an ex-convict at his new work place, as well as the more sensational The Lure of London (1914), and The Rogues of London (1915), His social films included As a Man Sows: or, an Angel of the Slums (1914), in which a slum landlord is reformed, as well as films on alcoholism, poverty, unemployment and illegitimacy.

Perhaps his most famous films were two literary adaptations, East Lynne (1913) and Jane Shore (1915). East Lynne, a melodrama based on the sensational novel by Mrs Henry Wood and subsequent repertory potboiler, was Britain's first six-reel film. It was lauded as one of the best British films ever produced and garnered much critical and popular acclaim. Later, film historians were to refer to its polished film techniques. Jane Shore, an historical epic with a huge cast, high production standards and several thousand extras, was even more successful. Variety magazine conceded that, "There is still hope for the English picture producer. He is showing signs of improvement...(an) excellent picture - judged by British standards".

His Mary of Brairwood Dell (1913) had the distinction of being the first film to receive a British Board of Film Censors' certificate; ironically, his later Five Nights (1915) was banned by many local authorities despite BBFC support. The story could be described as a typical Haldane work - romantic melodrama with social edge - and was adapted from a highly successful novel by Victoria Cross. While more conservative than the book, the film's themes included nudity, illegitimacy, miscegenation and promiscuity - the five nights refer to the five lovers of the artist 'hero'.

After 1916, his career seems to have been somewhat erratic, perhaps reflecting the parlous state of the British film industry. He briefly worked for Transatlantic, then became involved with the Birmingham Film Producing Company (Brum), directing a number of comedies and probably the most polemical social drama of the decade, Truth and Justice (1916), which featured six cases of social injustice, including a child jailed for sleeping rough, a wife beater receiving a 20 shilling fine which his poor wife pays, and demands for pensions for wounded soldiers. Haldane subsequently became involved with Famous Pictures, for whom he presented more crime fare in The Grip of Iron (1919) and The Winding Road (1920). His last film, The Woman and Officer 26 (1920), was another crime drama for the Atlantic Film Company, but interestingly set in the United States.

Simon Baker

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