80% of all the silent films produced in Britain were destroyed, leaving just a tiny handful of films and pieces now in the vaults of the BFI. Matthew Sweet, who wrote ‘Shepperton Babylon’, also made a documentary about these forgotten silents called ‘Silent Britain’, which is a real eye-opener. We’ll probably never get to see ‘The Rat’, ‘The Informer’, ‘The Lodger’ and ‘The Constant Nymph’. The deals Hollywood studios had with theatres wrecked the British film industry as their films were squeezed out from British cinemas.
One of the most fun things you can do in London is visit the BFI Mediatheque on the South Bank and look through the film archives for an hour – you see the most extraordinary footage, but come away with a regret that you may never find it again. A slew of British film books are out – but I hesitate to add to your burdensome reading list, although I should mention the terrific ‘Studies In terror’ by Jonathan Rigby, which explores some little-seen horror films across the years.