Page 14 - CinemaRecord Edition 3-2003 #41
P. 14

Of Kiwis, Crows And Celluloid Strips:

              South Australia’s Projector Pioneers

                                        Part Two - William Viking Benbow

                                                   by Peter Wolfenden

          Story so far:                                                        for Cinema Machines and everything
          At age 14 W.V. Benbow was working for                                necessary for a Cinema Show. Electric
          the Adelaide electrical firm Unbehaun                                dimmers and curtains (electric or hand
          and Johnston.                                                        operated).
          A year later he began his                                               The address given was Portrush Rd,
          apprenticeship with David Garvie,                                    Knoxville. Here he concentrated on
          Biograph Manufacturer                                                developing projectors capable of
                                                                               reproducing sound films. A massive
            After completing his apprenticeship                                change was starting to take place in
          in 1922, William Benbow, now qualified                               movie houses - the 'full-scale' coming
          as a Practical Engineer turned to                                    of sound; and Bill was in thick of it!
          manufacturing theatre curtains for John                              Working with Lance Jones and Lew
          Martins, a large retailer and wholesaler                             Short he developed a new range of
          in Adelaide. Bill, as he was usually                                 equipment, which was marketed by
          known, also designed and built theatre  W.V. Benbow, the pupil who built on David  Unbehaun and Johnston (U&J) - his old
          dimmers and electric winders from a  Garvie’s projector designs and created a  employer.
          small workshop at his parent’s home.   touring circuit.
                                                                                  Picture-theatre entrepreneur Dan
            At the Milton Hall in Fullarton he                                 Clifford was in the market for sound
          began screening movies in 1924,                                      equipment for his chain of Star
          probably his first stint at exhibition, and                          Theatres. The smart money seemed
          possibly in a partnership. He also                                   convinced that Clifford would install
          worked as projectionist at the Seacliff                              Western Electric sound, (3)  but a
          Theatre where he met his future wife,                                demonstration of U&J projectors at his
          Elsie Deer, an usherette there. Bill and                             Star Norwood in mid-December 1929,
          Elsie married in 1927, and it was                                    convinced him otherwise. The Adelaide
          around this time that David Garvie                                   Advertiser of 28 December explained
          suggested to Bill that he should buy                                 the decision: the apparatus has
          Garvie’s projector manufacturing                                     exceeded the management’s
                 (1, 2)
          business.                                                            expectations. The process at this time
            According to E. A.Travers, a key                                   was sound on synchronised disc.
          Garvie employee, this finally happened                                  Lance Jones was a foremost
          in 1929 ‘by selling to Bill Benbow, a                                experimenter/technician in the early
          box containing about £1000 worth of                                  days of radio in Adelaide. He held
          projector parts for £100’! The date may                              experimental licence XVB in 1911,
          be a couple of years premature, since  The first Benbow projectors were basically  later the amateur licence 5BQ,and was
          Garvie was still advertising in   the Garvie model.                  one of the first Australians to
          Everyones magazine, as late as 1932.                                 experiment with voice transmissions. In
            Bill Benbow’s first projectors were                                1924 he built and operated the original
          substantially the Garvie design. Bill                                5DN Adelaide. Here was a man with
          had only purchased the manufacturing                                 much to offer the developing sound
          rights and some components, not the                                  film industry. In the 1958/59 Film
          workshop at Unley, so he set up a                                    Weekly Directory, he advised that he
          temporary workshop at his father's                                   had been a consultant to theatre circuits
          home. Soon more than 30 men were                                     for 30 years! (4, 5)
          employed in two shifts, until a new                                  Shadowtone Sound-On-Film
          workshop was established at Knoxville
                                                                                  Benbow’s sound-on-film projection
          (now Glenunga), an eastern Adelaide
                                                                               was demonstrated in August 1930. It
                                                                               was called ‘U & J sound equipment’ in
            Sands and McDougal’s South
                                                                               various newspaper reports, but
          Australia Directory for 1930 lists W.V.
                                                                               Shadowtone Sound Systems was the
          Benbow as a Manufacturer of all spares
                                                                               brand printed on Benbow invoices.
          14  2009 CINEMARECORD
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