Lydia Hayward—born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Sheffield, England, to a father in the entertainment business—started her career as a stage actress, but in her early forties switched careers to become a leading scriptwriter in the British film industry. Her theatrical career has yet to be researched; however, in 1914, according to the website Theatricalia, she was taking roles at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon (n.p.). By 1920 she had become a sufficiently spirited and dependable character actor to be cast as the convention-challenging Lona Hessel in Rex Wilson’s film adaptation of Ibsen’s Pillars of Society (1920), giving a performance that Kinematograph Weekly found “probably the best all-round piece of work” in a well-regarded film (1920, 82). However, thereafter she deserted both stage and film acting, to go behind the scenes as a scenarist, working in the British film industry between 1920 and 1942, where she achieved frequent recognition in the trade press: on May 12, 1927, The Bioscope declared her “the finest scenario writer we have” (33). Indeed, her aim in joining the cast of Pillars of Society may have been to learn the film business, since in her only known interview—made in Australia on April 12, 1939 with The Sydney Morning Herald—she cites as her inspiration a shilling guide on the art of scenario writing, loaned to her when visiting the office of Frank Benson’s Shakespearean company (6).
Aside from this interview and a couple of brief articles on scenario writing, Hayward has left no account of her story. From official records—birth, marriage and death certificates, census records, and her will—we can piece together a life seemingly as unconventional as Ibsen’s Lona, including a penchant for changing her age according to circumstances. An early marriage in 1900 to Belford Forrest, an aspirant actor but actually the student son of the Dean of Worcester Cathedral—and recorded in the 1901 census as single, living back at home—was followed in 1903 by the birth in the Deanery of their daughter, Helena Travers Forrest. The 1911 census records Lydia living alone in (probably) actors’ lodgings in Hammersmith, London, but includes the existence of two children. Of the second child no more is currently known, but in 1938 Helena was witness to her second marriage to the Australian actor, William Freshman, star of three of Lydia’s later films and twenty-three years her junior, her own age conveniently lowered to forty-seven.
Despite such adventuring, Hayward’s work as scriptwriter sits centrally within the industrial mainstream of British cinema. Moreover, she worked in literary adaptation, for many later critics not a proper cinematic practice. Nevertheless, she carved out a successful career in a largely male dominated film industry and in the process gained considerable respect for her professionalism. We therefore need new terms to understand both life and career—terms not axed on cinematic auteurism or personal exceptionalism, but which, applied to scattered evidence, can be made to reveal something of the horizons of expectation and cultural contexts within which Hayward worked—suggesting the significance of her widely enjoyed films in their own, rather than our, terms. Central to charting her career are, of course, the films she left behind, some of which have survived. But central to understanding the nature and significance of her “invisible” work as scriptwriter are their credits, detailing crew and cast; then trade press sources—reviews, studio news, advertisements—and film press books; and crucially, alongside Lydia’s own two short Bioscope articles and her Australian interview, her one extant film script, preserved under the (male) source novelist’s name.
Challenging for authorial approaches, her film credits highlight a series of shifting partnerships, collaborations, and networks as Lydia moved from studio to studio along with the ups and downs of the British film industry. This calls for a concept of collective creativity, which, expanding the research field to Hayward’s collaborators, enables us to trace the development of her writing as her experience of working with different partners and film genres broadens. At the same time surviving films from the different phases of her career allow cross-comparison with the work of literary authors as well as with the work of successive actors and directors with whom she collaborated.
Pursuing this line of investigation, we can discern several distinct phases in Lydia’s career. The first ran between 1921-1924, when Manning Haynes, stage and film actor, involved her in scripting films for Artistic, a small company set up as the British film industry recovered from World War I. Drawing on their association with a loose network of authors, playwrights, actors, and filmmakers living around London, Haynes and Hayward began learning the business of filmmaking by co-scripting an adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1920). The film was a huge success, partly because of the wonderfully natural acting of Monty, Haynes’ dog. On this basis, they concocted a spin-off, Monty Works the Wires (1921), a courtship comedy and Lydia’s only original scenario, which Haynes co-directed with Challis Sanderson. Following these successes, Haynes proposed to W.W. Jacobs a series of film adaptations of his stories (James 1999, 134), with Lydia and Haynes as respectively scriptwriter and director. Together with cameraman Frank Granger and a stable repertory of actors, the Artistic team went on to produce two series of Jacobs films over the next two years, all popular successes. Lydia’s 1939 interview in The Sydney Morning Herald offers a lively glimpse of the improvisatory conditions of work in which they honed their skills and seemingly had collective fun: “when…a visitor came to see us on the set of ‘The Monkey’s Paw,’ I was fixing the curtains on the window, the director, Manning Haynes, was plastering the walls, and the star, Moore Marriott, was hard at work on the carpenter’s bench” (6).
Collaboration—not only on the set but in Lydia’s work with author and director—was frequently noted by trade commentators as key to their films’ success, while to her Australian interviewer she testifies to her happy relationship with Jacobs: “I have done scenarios for 14 [sic] of W. W. Jacobs’ books, and we sit hand in hand at all the trade screenings of the films” (6). Against notions of authorial ownership, Lydia herself was adamant, writing in her June 1927 Bioscope article, “the completed film is the result of the fusion of many minds…No single person connected with the production can point to any section of the film and say, ‘Alone I did that’” (155). Increasingly, the trade press linked Hayward and Haynes as co-creators, suggesting a working ethos that was not simply a matter of studio harmony but could be felt in the film.
In this collaborative context, while adapting Jacobs’ stories, Hayward cut her scriptwriting teeth. His tales were much loved for their acute, sometimes acerbically witty observations of human foibles, involving marital mishaps and heterosexual misunderstandings among the boating communities of Wapping and the river Medway. However, as works of a raconteur, his stories posed the difficulty of capturing the narrator’s sly verbal irony in a silent medium. From the evidence of the surviving films and fulsome press appreciation, Hayward’s ear for speech and verbal tone enabled her to translate Jacobs’ knowing turns of phrase and comic vernacular character interaction into sharply witty inter-titles. And she learned to skillfully draw out the comic absurdity of the slight situations around which Jacobs spun his tales, providing opportunity for Artistic’s actors to elaborate his characters as natural vectors of the joke. When the final six films were released in 1924, Kinematograph Weekly’s Lionel Collier declared, “Lydia Hayward’s scenarios are brilliant. It is in a great measure due to her work that the Jacobs spirit and humour have been so carefully preserved” (68).
Following the industry’s recession in the mid-1920s, Artistic folded, Haynes struggled to find work, and Hayward entered the next phase of her career, moving to the larger company, Stoll, where, between 1924-1926, she scripted five films for Will Kellino—one of the “Famous Kellinos,” who toured turn-of-the-century music halls with fast and furious acrobatic acts. The most significant change, however, is that all five scripts were adapted from novels written by women, featuring feisty heroines who implicitly counteracted the acerbic humour Jacobs often aimed at his older female characters. How this choice came about is a matter of speculation. However, in the process of adaptation we might find evidence of a tradition of women’s fiction supporting women’s filmmaking and it seems that Lydia found new opportunities by tapping into modern middlebrow women’s stories.
If comedy remained the dominant mode, the resulting films took a more romantic turn while broadening the class base to include upper-class characters as downwardly-mobile romantic leads or cads bent on leading trusting femininity astray, only to be thwarted by honest toilers. Hayward and Kellino seem to have made a good match. His music hall experience registers in strings of comic “gags,” by performers injecting into their byplay the sassiness and direct address of the music hall skit, adding “pace” to Hayward’s scripts, which were sometimes noted for leisureliness; while Lydia’s sharp-eyed wit and skill at episodic structure, honed through the Jacobs’ adaptations, brought to Kellino’s quick-fire gags a verbal skill at caustic repartee, now given greater license within socially pointed narrative juxtapositions. Cross-class romances are mirrored by cross-class assaults, resonating to post-war social changes, and facilitated by expanding forms of popular entertainment including skating rink, nightclub, and cinema as sites of social class intersection.
We Women (1925), adapted from a novel by the colourful, many pseudonymed “Countess Barcynska,” opens in a skating rink, introducing two friends, played by two popular vaudeville artists, Billie and Dollie: Bee in charge of the pay-box and Paulee, playing violin in the band and subject to the suggestive attentions of the owner, Flash Wheeler: “You certainly can tickle the fiddle, girlie, but you’re working too hard. I could make it easy for you.” Paulee’s struggle against his attentions gets her the sack, but Bee, has an answer for any man who tries to get one over on her or tries to exploit her friend: “You can’t sack me, old four wheeler—you don’t travel fast enough. I resigned 30 seconds ago”—uttered while struggling into the tangled arms of her coat. This is the only one of Hayward’s films to have been unequivocally disliked by the trade press. In its March 5, 1925 review, Kinematograph Weekly declared, “We are quite sure that Lydia Hayward is incapable of including in a scenario two-thirds of what is shown. It has evidently been drastically ‘revised’ by others” (65).
After Kellino left for America, and while Haynes was still seeking to set up new film deals, Lydia embarked on a third phase of her career. Between 1926-1929 she became intermittently involved as scenario editor/writer for Britain’s only woman director of the time, Dinah Shurey—both an intriguing and, frustratingly, the least documented of her moves. Possibly Shurey’s wartime experience led her to make what, for the pacifist-oriented 1920s, struck many reviewers as anachronistic military and naval melodramas, often involving rivalry between two brothers or male friends, combining heroics on the field with tragic marital entanglements—subjects somewhat removed from Hayward’s talent for class and heterosexual comedy.
Working with Shurey cannot have served Lydia’s reputation well and it is noticeable that her involvement is discretely ignored in reviews. However, while The Last Post (1929) was denounced by Film Weekly as “clap trap patriotism” (1929, 13), Kinematograph Weekly’s Collier conceded that its “blend of patriotism and sentiment” would be “successful with the masses” (1929, 53). In this respect, Lydia’s experience with Shurey appears to have broadened her range as a scenarist, skilling her in the construction of melodrama and the pathos of the wounded male to whom she returned in many of her later sound films.
Writing for Britannia, however, appears to have been a stopgap, since Hayward alternated work for Shurey in renewed partnership with Haynes and in new collaborations. For Haynes, Lydia scripted his first production for Gaumont, London Love (trade shown in 1926, released in 1927), a crime-laden romance, for which Kinematograph Weekly took Lydia to task on account of its weak and jumpy continuity: “Lydia Hayward has done much better work than this” (1926, 34). Relief, then, was expressed on November 24, 1926 when the Daily Chronicle and Daily Express both reported that Haynes was to set up his own production unit at Pathé, followed the next year by The Bioscope’s headline, “Lydia Hayward Signed Up,” announcing a year’s contract with the company for “the finest scenario writer we have” (1926, n.p.; 1926, n.p.; 1927, 33).
Passion Island (1927) did indeed involve a regrouping at Pathé of colleagues from the former Artistic and current Britannia teams, reuniting Haynes and Hayward, bringing Jack Raymond across from Britannia as Haynes’ assistant while attempting to revive the Jacobs connection with a storyline he reputedly suggested (James 137). Despite a plot summary sounding like a concoction devised over a long dinner, Kinematograph Weekly praised the film for its dramatic story value and continuity “that flows easily” (1927, 27), while The Bioscope congratulated Lydia Hayward for a scenario “of great power…and…atmosphere” (1927, 37).
Lydia’s career now triangulated between Raymond, Shurey, and Haynes. The “exceedingly happy partnership” noted in 1928 by Collier in Kinematograph Weekly (64) between Lydia and Haynes continued in their inventive adaptation of George Pleydell’s West End country-house thriller, The Ware Case (1928)—the last of their collaborations to be greeted with wholehearted enthusiasm. During this period, Hayward was finally persuaded, in 1927 and 1928, to write two articles for The Bioscope on scenario writing. The first and lengthier of these suggests a search for the literary in the visual: “in the first instance, a film should exist on paper…no producer would accept a scenario in which they could not ‘see’ a film” (1927, 155). For Lydia as adaptor, this required a translation of “a quality which is peculiar to [the author] himself [sic]—but without verbal style.” With the W.W. Jacobs adaptations she had a truly quality literary source. But in the only one of her scripts to survive—Those Who Love (1929) adapted from Guy Fletcher’s 1927 novel Mary Was Love—there is revealed a process of visual translation that circumvents the weaknesses of the original, while deploying skills acquired in earlier collaborations with Kellino and Shurey. The novel is a rambling lachrymose tale, centering on the melancholia of its hero, David Mellor, whose courtship of Mary in flashback is broken off by her death, while his promise that he will “love her always,” and Mary’s that “you will find me again” produce her visionary reappearances that block his later attempt to form a relationship.
Hayward’s script straightens the storyline and cuts sub-plots, while avoiding the novel’s inward-turned psychology through an unfolding series of set pieces—pictorial visions, comic vignettes, and melodramatic climaxes. The transitions between sequences are accomplished through Hayward’s deft structuring of character interaction and detailed specification of the visual, compositional, and performative parameters of each scene. The script includes shot scale, angle of view, framing of characters in relation to each other and direction of looks; editing devices such as fades out and in, cuts, mixes and double exposure, and iris shots; camera movements such as trucking and tri-cycling. Such visual scripting derived not only from her work as an actress but, seemingly, from her experience on the studio floor, her Australian interviewer reporting, “Mrs Freshman…in many cases aids with the direction, and is on the floor all the time a picture is under production” (1939, 6).
Hayward’s surviving script turns on a fine balance between the comedy of popular social types—delicately honed in the Jacobs collaborations and more rumbustiously rendered with Kellino—and the lachrymose phantasms of the novel, more characteristic of Shurey’s pathos saturated melodramas. This ability to work the tropes and emotional effects of popular culture into a modern visual medium, along with her grasp of trenchant, vernacular dialogue, enabled Hayward to cross into the sound period. Indeed, the techniques evident in her script for Those Who Love make apparent her hand in rendering the well-loved but mordant and rambling novel Sorrell and Son (1933) into a remarkable film.
However, expectations set by Hollywood, along with changing “modern” social attitudes and rearguard class reaction to cinema as a now dominant mass medium merged in ambiguous responses to Hayward’s 1930s films, which, while often valued for their professional skill and crowd-pleasing mix of humour, pathos, and patriotism, were now felt “old-fashioned.” The works she was skilled in adapting were not modernist texts for minority readers, but populist, middlebrow novels and short stories, cueing into the culture to which they contributed, even as, in adapting them, she drew into cinematic form their slow registration of changing codes of modernity. More crucially, for the history of women’s impact on cinema, her work alerts us to the need not only for an understanding of the horizon of expectation from which films emerge, but for recognition of the processes of co-creation and collaborative filmmaking.
The author wishes to thank Janice Healey for help with birth, death, marriage, and census records.