Biography of 'GRAY, Alexander ‘Joe’'

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Booksellers assistant, topical film-maker and projectionist

Born: 1880, Aberdeen
Died: 1967 (?)

Alexander Gray or "Joe" as he was more commonly known was born in 1880 in Cairngall, Longside, near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. At the age of 14, prior to leaving school Gray began to attend evening classes with the local Episcopal Minister, Dean McKay. After a visit to William Walker's bookshop on Bridge Street, Aberdeen to see a magic lantern show Gray began to take an interest in the art and was actively encouraged by McKay. Gray, however, needed little encouragement and was often seen at Walker's shows thereafter.

In April 1895 he became an apprentice bookseller to Walker. It was a job where he could indulge himself in his passion for the magic lantern as Walker owned over 10,000 different slides. As an apprentice Gray often travelled round the Aberdeen area, promoting Walker's business with various lantern shows. His first performance was at Portlethen Kirk, where he over heated the large paraffin burner used to light the lantern, causing smoke to fill the church hall while he had tea with the minister Dr. Grant. It was an experience from which Gray was to learn much.

In the Autumn of 1896 Walker had acquired a Wrench and Sons cinematograph camera. Walker, along with Paul Robello and Gray quickly earned names for themselves, filming local events and showing them at concert nights. Gray continued to work as an assistant to Walker until May 1911 when Walker's business collapsed due to bankruptcy. As a result Gray went to work for J.J. Bennell, who had taken over Walker's lease of Aberdeen's Coliseum. In July 1911 when the Coliseum reopened amongst the topical films shown were "Timmer Market" and the "Broadford Works employees at lunch break", both filmed by Gray. In 1912 Gray again filmed Broadford Works, however, this time it showed the local fire brigade rushing to put out a blaze at the Works. Gray also regularly shot Aberdeen Football Club's games at their Pittodrie ground, where in return for a fee, Bennell had secured the rights to film for his newsreel, "BB Budget of Scottish News."

In September 1913 Gray became the projectionist at James Gillespie's new Lyceum Cinema in John Street. It was a career that would lead Gray to work at various cinemas in Aberdeen, including the city's first purpose built cinema, the "La Scala" which opened on 30 April 1914. Despite becoming a projectionist, Gray continued to make topical films, mostly for the cinema for which he was working at that particular time. For the La Scala, Gray made various topicals dealing with war time events in Aberdeen such as fund raising matinees and troops training at the golf links and Julian the‘Tank Bank' in Scotland. The La Scala in particular gave full publicity in March 1915 to Gray's film of Harry Lauder leading his pipe band in a recruiting parade.

In 1917, Green's Film Service bought the La Scala, and with it Gray's topical production expertise. Gray was to become one of the staff cameraman for the Scottish Moving Picture News, later British Moving Picture News, covering stories in the north east of Scotland. By 1921 Gray was working at the "Casino Cinema" and was associated with the technical side at Bert Gates' "Picture Playhouse" which opened in 14 September 1921.

In 1925 Gray moved to the "Electric Theatre" where he was responsible for producing the topical film about the Royal opening of Aberdeen's Cowdray Hall, War Memorial and Art Gallery on 25 September 1925. With the advent of talking pictures in the late twenties, Gray moved to Fraserburgh where he continued to be involved with cinema, while running a news agency. It was in Fraserburgh that Gray remained through his retirement until his death c.1967.

Researcher: Eamonn Butler

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ABERDEEN 1906 [0042]

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Footage of 27th September 1906 when King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited Aberdeen to open new extension to Marischal College Aberdeen University.

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Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, Aberdeen with shots of a pipe band and a boy's trumpet band.