F. Percy Smith

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F. Percy Smith
Born 1880
London, England, UK
Died March 24, 1945 (aged 65)
London, England, UK
Occupation naturalist, photographer, film maker

Frank Percy Smith (1880–March 24, 1945) was a British naturalist and early nature documentary pioneer working for Charles Urban, where he pioneered the use of time lapse and micro cinematography.[1][2]


Smith began to photograph the natural world around him while working as a clerk for the British Board of Education, but found his desire to exploit the educational possibilities of film stifled until his close-up photograph of a bluebottle's tongue caught the attention of film producer Charles Urban. Smith subsequently made To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly (1909) and The Acrobatic Fly (1910) before joining the Charles Urban Trading Company full-time. He directed over fifty nature films for the Urban Sciences series, including the pioneering stop-motion film The Birth of a Flower (1910), prior to the outbreak of the First World War.

During the First World War, Smith served as a Naval photographer, shooting aerial views of battlefields for British forces, and made a series of films depicting battles through animated maps, including Fight for the Dardanelles (1915).

After the war he went to work for British Instructional Films on the Secrets of Nature series starting in 1922 and made the comedy film The Bedtime Stories of Archie the Ant (1925). He continued to work for BIF into the 30s on the retitled Secrets of Life series, handing the direction of films including Magic Myxies and The World in a Wine-Glass (1931) over to his colleagues Mary Field and H.R Hewer, while he concentrated on the photography.

He died at his home in Southgate, North London, on 24 March 1945. His death was recorded as suicide by coal gas poisoning and was front page news in British tabloids.

A selection of his films has been made available on DVD by the British Film Institute on the release.[3]

A BBC documentary charting the work of Smith and attempting to recreate his "The Acrobatic Fly" was screened in 2013.[4]



  1. ^ Dixon, Bryony. "Smith, Percy (1880-1945)". BFI Screenonlinee. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  2. ^ "Percy Smith". wildfilmhistory.org. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  3. ^ http://filmstore.bfi.org.uk/acatalog/info_16864.html Secrets of Nature
  4. ^ Presenter: Charlie Hamilton James (2013-03-19). "Edwardian insects on film". 60 minutes in. BBC. BBC Four.  Missing or empty |series= (help)