Miles Kington Remembered: When leading men were judged by actions, not words

18 March 1995

Share
Related Topics

When I was a boy of 10 or 11 we had a French teacher called Joe Richardson who used to lure some of us into his study and close the door and draw the curtains and show us silent films.

He had a projector and a membership of some film library which used to send him early silent comedies. Thus was I introduced at an impressionable age to the works of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. He also got films by Laurel and Hardy, and Harry Langdon and Chester Conklin and Wallace Beery and others.

I don't know what the rest of the school thought went on behind those closed doors, but I can reveal now that we were almost certainly engaged in the passionate pursuit of deciding if Harold Lloyd was a better artist than Keaton, and whether Keaton was better than the lot.

Joe Richardson did not only bring us comedies. He also occasionally showed us war movies, full of endlessly trudging soldiers and broken trees in no man's land, from which I can remember that the sight of cannon roaring soundlessly is not as impressive as it later was in the talkies.

He also procured one or two early science fiction films, of which the only one that I can clearly recall is an early version of Conan Doyle's The Lost World. Even then, in those innocent pre-Jurassic Park days, I found the jerky dinosaurs and rubbery pterodactyls less than fearsome, and I am not sure the actors themselves were much more convincing. But the reason I always preferred comedies was that nobody did any talking, or very little; there was just enough dialogue to establish the plot and the rest was talk-free action.

In the serious films there was much more dialogue, meaning many more captions. Every now and then an earnest-looking girl or handsome man would open his mouth and say something crucial, at which point the screen would clear and a caption would pop up saying something like: "Oh, father, I will get you the money somehow!" or "Don't forget to be at the station at dusk."

Most of the dialogue went unrecorded, of course.

Unscripted too, a lot of it. Someone wrote to Playboy magazine years ago to ask if people in love scenes in silent movies actually had scripted dialogue to follow or if they just improvised canoodling, and the next month there was a surprise answer from a deaf person who remembered the old days and said that if you lip-read the dialogue in those scenes, not only was it clearly off the cuff, but pretty close to the knuckle as well.

What I objected to in the captions, though, was the amount of time they stayed on screen. I had enough time to read them two or three times through. Sometimes I tried to force myself to read very slowly. On other occasions I made myself look away for a few seconds before reading them, to avoid the tedium. I couldn't for the life of me see why they kept them up so long. Did people in the 1920s perhaps talk unusually slowly?

No, it was because, as I should have known, some people read at that speed, and therefore the film company felt it had to go at the speed of the slowest reader.

I had forgotten all about this for years and years, until the arrival of things like Ceefax, when I find that the same problem has come back to plague me again. The pages of news on those TV data sources are so painfully slow, one after the other, that whenever I consult an item, I never have the patience to read to the end.

If, as often seems the case, I switch on just in time to catch the third page of a four-page report, I know it will take another minute or two to get back to the start and find out if it is worth reading from the start.

Somewhere, in some small room, there is a viewer with leisurely reading speed for whom Ceefax was designed, and who can only just keep up with this trickle of information, and I wish him luck, but what I would like is the exhilarating feeling of reading at speed, with the wind in my hair, and more spectacular information just round the next corner, instead of this feeling of being perpetually stuck behind a slow lorry in the slow lane of the information highway.

And if someone writes in and points out that all along there's been some gadget you can easily use to accelerate the turnover of pages, I shall search them out and throttle them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Officer (HMP Brixton Mentoring Project)

£24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

DT teachers required for supply roles in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: DT teachers required ...

Secondary supply teachers required in Wisbech

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers ne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fifi Geldof (left) with her sister Pixie at an event in 2013  

Like Fifi Geldof, I know how important it is to speak about depression

Rachael Lloyd
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering