F. Percy Smith

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F. Percy Smith
F. Percy Smith.jpg
Percy Smith
Born12 January 1880
Died24 March 1945 (aged 65)
Occupationnaturalist, photographer, film maker

Frank Percy Smith (12 January 1880–24 March 1945) was a British naturalist and early nature documentary pioneer working for Charles Urban, where he pioneered the use of time-lapse and microcinematography.[1][2]


Known as Percy Smith, he was the son of Francis David Smith (1854-1918) and Ada (née Blaker - born 1856). In 1907 he married Kate Louise Ustonson (1881-1959).[3] He 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 from 1916 to 1918 Smith served in the Royal Navy 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).[4]

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, London,[5] on 24 March 1945. His death was recorded as suicide by coal gas poisoning and was front page news in British tabloids. In his will he left £3203 2s 6d.[6]

A selection of his films has been made available on DVD and Blu-ray by the British Film Institute.[7]

A BBC documentary charting the work of Smith and attempting to recreate his "The Acrobatic Fly" was screened in 2013.[8]



  1. ^ Dixon, Bryony. "Smith, Percy (1880-1945)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  2. ^ "Percy Smith". wildfilmhistory.org. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  3. ^ Frank Percy Smith (1880-1945) - Ancestry.com (subscription required)
  4. ^ Frank Percy Smith in the UK, Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services, 1853-1928 - Ancestry.com (subscription required)
  5. ^ 2 Kings Villas, Chase Road, now Fairlawn Close
  6. ^ England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 - Frank Percy Smith (1945) - Ancestry.com (subscription required)
  7. ^ Secrets of Nature
  8. ^ Presenter: Charlie Hamilton James (19 March 2013). "Edwardian insects on film". Alien nation season. 60 minutes in. BBC. BBC Four.