Primary Sources

The Biscope Adverts

A selection of adverts for Secrets of Nature from the trade periodical The Biscope. Click on the images to view a full PDF image of the adverts. All of these images are from the British Newspaper Archive.


Newspaper listings

These newspaper cuttings from the British Newspaper Archive give us a sense of the different contexts in which the Secrets were exhibited. For instance, we learn that in 1926 The Life of a Plant was shown as part of a variety show at the Chiswick Empire in London, while in 1930, Playtime at the Zoo was part of a ‘supporting programme’ to a film called His First Command, alongside a Disney Silly Symphony.

Surrey Mirror. 17 October 1930.
Coventry Evening Telegraph. 18 August 1926.
Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette. 28 November 1924.
West London Observer. 12 November 1926
Portsmouth Evening News. 29 December 1930.


Mary Field, ‘Secrets, 1919-1940’, Documentary Newsletter (Jan 1941).

Mary Field, ‘Scope and Production of Educational Films’, in J. A. Lauwerys (ed.), The Film in The School (London: Christopers, 1935).

Mary Field, ‘Making Nature Films’, in Sight and Sound, Vol. 1 No. 3 (1932)

Julian Huxley, Review of Secrets of Nature, in Sight and Sound, Vol. 3 No. 11 (1934)

O. Blakeston, ‘Personally about Percy Smith’, Close Up, Vol. 8 No. 2 (1931)

Irene Wilson, ‘His Name Was Smith’, The Cine-Tecnician, no. 54 (1945)


Paul Rotha, Documentary Film (1939)

Audience Reports

F.G. Thomas, The New Learning, a 1932 experiment into rural audience´s reacions to the cinema. The report included an appendix featuring a conversation amongst several individuals following a screening of two Secrets. The full transcript is available here.


Interactive Secrets of Nature map showing a growing number of filming locations (shown in purple) and screenings (shown in green). Click on the individual markers to reveal more information, including archival images, dates and quotes.


British Pathe. Digitised versions of nearly 50 Secrets films, available to view on their site.

The Bioscope. Silent cinema blog by Luke McKernan packed with useful information. The site is no longer active, but remains a treasure trove of information.

Charles Urban. Another excellent website by Luke McKernan, this time about Charles Urban, who produced some of the first popular scientific films in Britain, with the collaboration of F. Percy Smith and F. Martin Duncan.

BFI Screenonline. A comprehensive database of film and TV history. The BFI also produced a DVD featuring several Secrets films, which includes an informative booklet with articles on individual films.

Minute Bodies. Website of the 2016 film directed by Stuart Staples, with soundtrack by Tindersticks accompanying original footage by F. Percy Smith.

Colonial Film Database. Part of an extensive research project into the history of colonial film, includes useful information about Gaumont-British Instructional’s involvement in imperial propaganda.

Selection of films by Jean Painlevé, French scientific cinematographer renowned for his underwater photography active from the 1920s to 1970s. Hosted by

Online Articles

Bryony Dixon, ‘Early Natural History Filmmaking’, BFI Screenonline.

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, ‘The Shy Edwardian Filmmaker Who Showed Nature’s Secrets to the World’, Atlas Obscura, 21 February 2017.

Robert MacFarlane, ‘Secrets of Nature’, The Guardian, 25 September 2010.

‘Unveiling the Secrets of Nature’, The Bioscope, 19 July 2010.

Academic papers

Caroline Hovanec, ‘Another Nature Speaks to the Camera: Natural History and Film Theory’, Modernism/Modernity, 26.2 (2019) <>

Max Long, ‘The ciné-biologists: natural history film and the co-production of knowledge in interwar Britain’, British Journal for the History of Science (2020).

Tim Boon, ‘Formal Conventions in British Science Television, 1955-1965’, Actes d’Història de La Ciència i de La Tècnica, 7.1 (2014), 51–69.

Jennifer Peterson, ‘Glimpses of Animal Life: Nature Films and the Emergence of Classroom Cinema in the 1920s’, in Learning with the Lights Off: A Reader in Educational Film, ed. by Dan Streible, Marsha Orgeron, and Devin Orgeron (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Jesse Olszynko-Gryn and Patrick Ellis, ‘“A Machine for Recreating Life”: An Introduction to Reproduction on Film’, British Journal for the History of Science, 50.3 (2017), 383–409 <>.

Jean-Baptiste Gouyon, ‘Science and Film-Making’, Public Understanding of Science, 25.1 (2016), 17–30 <>.

Hannah Landecker, ‘Microcinematography and the History of Science and Film’, Isis, 97.1 (2006), 121–32 <>.


J. V Durden, Mary Field, and Percy Smith, Cine-Biology (London: Pelican, 1942).

Timothy Boon, Films of Fact: A History of Science in Documentary Films and Television (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2008).

Oliver Gaycken, Devices of Curiosity: Early Cinema and Popular Science (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Jean-Baptiste Gouyon, BBC Wildlife Documentaries in the Age of Attenborough, 1st ed. 2019 edition (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

Rachael Low, The History of the British Film 1929 – 1939: Documentary and Educational Films of the 1930s (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979).

Derek Bousé, Wildlife Films (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).

Greg Mitman, Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).

Jonathan Burt, Animals in Film (Reaktion Books, 2002).

Animal Life and the Moving Image, ed. by Laura McMahon and Michael Lawrence (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

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