Family’s tribute to pioneer of cinema
Granddaughter tracks down the cast of amateur cameraman’s treasure trove
The family of an amateur film-maker are hunting down unwitting stars from more than 50 years ago.
Harry Birrell not only shot films of Scots at work, rest and play – he turned his home into a cinema to screen them.
Fans went to his family home to watch his footage, including scenes of waterskiing on the icy waters of Loch Earn, crowds at the first Edinburgh festival and officers training in Dunbar during the Second World War.
Now the reels of film that had remained wrapped in amateur film- maker Harry Birrell’s old clothing inside a family shed are being dusted down.
Harry’s granddaughter Carina Birrell and director Matt Pinder are searching for the missing faces in the documentary which will open a window to Scottish life from half a century ago.
A pioneer of colour film, Harry, who was born into money in 1918, lived at Stanely House in Paisley but the arrival of his first camera at 11 changed the way he saw the world.
Actress Carina, 30, known to thousands of Scots as Glasgow Airport’s welcoming Hologram Holly, said: “I was young when he died, so a lot of what I’ve learnt has been through watching his films and this project is about getting to know him.
“He was fascinated with documenting time so that people could look back and see it decades down the line.”
Harry joined the army during the Second World War and was able to capture life in the barracks, officer cadet training in Dunbar along with his experiences of commanding a battalion of Gurkhas in India.
After returning home he began filming the skiing in Scotland and knocked together two rooms in his Georgian home in Giffnock, Glasgow, to create a 25-seater balcony cinema.
With red velvet chairs, the cinema screened more than 400 documentaries including shots of skiers being pulled up the hill by snow trucks and the building of the Forth Road Bridge.
“It was a big social thing. He was constantly doing screenings in the cinema and getting neighbours and friends involved in some way so that they would enjoy coming to watch themselves in the cinema – and he would always serve gin and tonics,” Carina added.
Paying homage to Harry’ s work and love for cinema, Carina and Matt are searching for anyone who may have known the remarkable man.
Carina said: “If we don’t do this now those we are trying to trace and who could be wonderful contributors will be gone.” Matt said :“He wasn’ t making films for any broadcaster, he was just doing it because he loved it and what grabbed me was his unique perspective.
“I got lost in it. Just countless hours of me watching these old films, and hopefully it’s not just me and it gets a lot of interest from different people.
“They won’t know Harry but they will have done similar trips to the ones in his films and everyone has a granddad and likes hearing stories of the olden days.”
Carina and Matt will tour the BBC and Creative Scotland funded film across Scottish cinemas before it arrives on TV.
Harry Birrell as a dashing young officer in the army
Some stills from Harry Birrell’s films include scenes of Britain at work, rest and play