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The success of Hollywood in turn lead in two directions. Firstly, Brownlow and Gill were commissioned to make further documentaries for Thames, the first of which would be Unknown Chaplin (1983). But before that, Thames had agreed to back a live performance of Brownlow’s restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, to be staged as part of the 1980 London Film Festival, and for which Carl Davis would create the score. This was not the first modern-day presentation of a silent film with live orchestra – Beau Geste had been screened with the Hugo Riesenfeld compilation score at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1976 – but this was the event that showed conclusively the power that this combination of film and live music (‘Live Cinema’, as it became known) could have. Jeremy Isaacs, then in the process of creating Channel Four, was so impressed by the experience that he resolved not only to screen Napoleon on the Channel, but also to commission from Thames a further series of features to be produced by Brownlow and Gill. Thus was borne the Thames Silents series, which would become a regular feature, in their ‘live’ form, at the London Film Festival, and in the Channel Four schedules.

Kevin Brownlow and David GIll
The Dominion Theatre, London, 1984

By the end of the 80’s, British television was undergoing major changes. There government was placing considerable emphasis on the creation of an independent sector within production, and the system of awarding franchises to the commercial network broadcasters (of which Thames, with the London weekday franchise, was one of the most important) was being fundamentally revised. To meet the challenges these changes posed, Thames was transferring much of its documentary output to independent companies, and as a result Brownlow and Gill were invited to create their own company, with a number of commissions to help launch it.

Thus was born Photoplay Productions. Next >>