Randall Williams - King of Showmen
A Preview

Randall Williams travelled the fairs for years with his ghost show - based on the Pepper's Ghost illusion - before adopting the new medium of moving pictures.

In 1896, he obtained a film projector and converted the old ghost show, advertising his new 'Cinematographe' or 'American Bioscope'. He is now generally accepted as being the first showman to introduce films to the fairground.

Williams' travelling bioscope booth - with ornate, gilded showfront, electric lighting, fairground organ and traction engine - reputedly held up to 1,000 people, and a second show was soon acquired. After he died in 1898, his family continued to travel with the Bioscope shows, incorporating more elaborate and expensive Gavioli organs.

The importance of the fairground bioscope shows to the history of cinema has frequently been underrated by film historians; the full story of Randall Williams is finally being told by Dr Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield.


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