The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race (lost footage of rowing race; 1895)
Image from Birt Acres' 1897 film Practising for the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race.
The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race is a sports documentary film recorded by Birt Acres and Robert W. Paul. It depicted the final minute of the 1895 Boat Race, which occurred on 30th March. The film has been declared the first-ever British sports documentary, and the first work to be commercially sold outside of London.
Following the introduction of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope in October 1894, Robert W. Paul was assigned by employer Elliott and Son to produce replicas of it. Paul soon learned Edison had not actually patented the invention in England or the rest of Europe, so began pirating it by December that same year. Paul soon met Birt Acres, a photographer at Elliott and Son who had become interested in filmmaking. Together, Paul and Acres established their own 35 mm camera, patented as the Paul-Acres Camera. In early-to-mid-1895, the pair recorded thirteen films, primarily being comedic and actuality productions. Acres in particular valued actuality films, as he felt productions directed towards the photographic, scientific and educational markets was the way forward.
One of the thirteen films documented the 1895 Boat Race, which occurred on 30th March. The 52nd running of the event, it was a side-by-side rowing race pitting the University of Oxford against the University of Cambridge at the Championship Course on the River Thames. Heading into the 1895 edition, Oxford were the defending champions, and also boasted a superior 28-22 record against the Light Blues. Despite Cambridge starting out strongly, the Dark Blues quickly surpassed their rivals as they reached Hammersmith Bridge. Ultimately, Oxford dominated proceedings, eventually securing a three-length lead as the boats reached Barnes Bridge. Thus, they effectively coasted to the line to win by 2 and a quarter lengths, stretching out Oxford's unbeaten record to six. The race itself lasted for 20 minutes and 50 seconds; meanwhile, Acres and Paul placed their camera near the finish line to capture a minute of static shot footage.
The Acres-Paul partnership came to a close on 12th July 1895. Acres had left Elliott and Son in April 1895 to prioritise filmmaking in England and in other European countries, while Paul began boasting that he was the "Sole European Manufacturer" of films. Conflicts between the two men reached a boiling point when Acres patented their camera under his name. This saw them split to form their own filmmaking enterprises, with both attacking each other in the photographic print media. Despite this setback, Acres quickly succeeded in the projection of 35 mm films in the United Kingdom with his Kineoptikon, and so became able to distribute his works. Among these was the 1895 Boat Race, which was titled The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race. Showcased in May 1896, the film was also projected at Cardiff Town Hall, becoming the first production to be commercially sold outside of London.
Additionally, it is also considered the first ever British sports film, Acres and Paul later filming other sporting events like the 1895 Epsom Derby. Further, it is cited as the first recording of a legitimate historical event, enticing viewers on topicality and historical grounds. Meanwhile, the Boat Race has survived into the modern era; the 1927 edition became the first to receive live radio coverage, while 1938 saw the inaugural television broadcast of the event.
The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race's status is unclear. According to Silent Era, the film's survival status was unknown by February 2007, while most other sources discussing the film do not elaborate on whether the work still exists or has become lost media. But considering that surviving films by Acres and Paul are widely available on platforms like YouTube and the British Film Institute Player, it can be safe to assume the production is lost. Some photographs of the 1895 Boat Race have nevertheless been preserved.
Boat Race Media
Birt Acres and Robert W. Paul Films
- A Football Match at Newcastle-on-Tyne (lost footage of football match; 1896)
- Bryant & May Matches (lost "first commercial ever made"; 1896)
- Yarmouth Fishing Boats Leaving Harbour (partially found early British actuality films; 1896-1897)
- Who's Who of Victorian Cinema page on Robert W. Paul. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- Who's Who of Victorian Cinema page on Birt Acres. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- British Film Institute summarising Birt Acres' career, and the split with Paul. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- Cinema History summarising the Paul-Acres partnership, the split, and the film's production and showcase at Cardiff Town Hall. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- Silent Era summarising the film, its unknown survival status, and the short-lived Paul-Acres partnership. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- The Kinetoscope reflecting on the film's historical significance. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- An overview of The Boat Race. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- A list of Boat Race results. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- The University Boat Race: Official Centenary History providing a review of the 1895 Boat Race. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- Science and Media Museum providing a brief summary of the film and declaring it the first British sports production. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- Learn About Move Posters summarising the film's commercial showcase. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- BBC detailing its radio coverage of the 1927 Boat Race, and the 1938 television broadcast. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23
- Robert Paul and the Origins of British Cinema listing the film as lost. Retrieved 22nd Mar '23