Biography of 'BENDON, William John ‘Prince’'

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Film renter

Born: 1859
Died: December 13, 1943, Glasgow

Bendon lived in Devon, England before his family moved to Glasgow in 1871. A gifted ventriloquist, he took to the stage during the 1880s. Using the stage name "Prince Bendon", he toured the concert and music halls often appearing in programmes with some of Scotland’s best known entertainers such as Sir Harry Lauder, W.F. Frame and J.M. Hamilton. Bendon was intrigued by all things mechanical and even made his own ventriloquist dolls which enthralled audiences by winking and smoking cigarettes.

After travelling to London in 1897 to make inquiries about the cinematograph Bendon introduced "Bendon’s Bioscope", a series of half hour animated picture shows into his concert programme. Although known to have made films to incorporate into his act, it was in film renting that Bendon became most influential. At this time exhibitors had to either buy or produce their own films for show. With rising costs due to the increasing length of films, Bendon saw an opening in the market and established the first renting company in Scotland. The Bendon Trading Company advertised itself as "Kinematograph Specialisers, Film Publishers and General Traders."

Both George Green and J.J. Bennell hired from Bendon before setting up their own renting services. Much of Bendon’s business was based around American imported films and he often secured films for screening in Scotland before their London premieres. One such film Tragedy in Toyland led the various English agencies of the four major transatlantic renting companies, Selig, Essannay, Biograph and Lubin to accuse Bendon of duping films. The case against Bendon was ill founded when after a long-winded battle and scientific investigation it was proved that Bendon’s copy of the film had been processed in the same bath as the other American copies. It turned out that Bendon’s suppliers in America often sent film as part payment. Besides renting, Bendon did produce films such as the promotional Peacemaker Whisky and a topical film in 1909 of Wishaw Co-operative Society’s Gala Day.

A year later in 1910, Bendon founded Scotland’s first film studio at Rouken Glen, based in a disused tramway depot. The studio’s first two films were unsuccessful, but in 1911 the three reeler Rob Roy, starring the well known tenor John Clyde was made there. In 1919, a transport workers strike meant that film renters had to make alternative arrangements to get their films to exhibitors across Scotland. As a result of the camaraderie of the various renters and exhibitors during the strike Bendon suggested the establishment of the Glasgow Cinema Club - the first of its kind in Britain. Bendon was elected, as it’s first President in 1919. In 1923 he became the Honorary Life President following the death of J.J. Bennell, the club’s first Honorary President.

Bendon retired in 1937 and his sons Bill and Sam took over the running of the business. The company was bought over by United Artists, Bill junior being installed as manager. Bendon was active in pursuits outside cinema, especially cycling and motor boat racing on Loch Lomond, where he was a member of the Scottish Motor Boat Racing Club and the A.A.A. He was also President of the Royal Clyde Motor Yacht Club and of the Scottish Kinematograph Renters Society. A respected and much hailed contributor to Scottish film exhibition Bendon died at his home in Glasgow, aged 83 on 13 December 1943.

Researcher: Eamonn Butler

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Wishaw Co-operative Society Gala Day including the children's procession to the railway station for their day's outing.

Full length video available