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Margaret Hope McGuffie was born in 1874 at Charlton in Lancashire, England. By 1900, the family had moved to Chapel-En-Le Frith in Derbyshire, approximately twenty miles from Manchester. One of her brothers, John, who worked as a games master on the steamship The Argonaut had met the filmmaker Cecil Hepworth on board on his way to Algiers to film a solar eclipse. The two men became friends, and when they returned to Britain, Cecil was invited to meet the McGuffie family, who lived not far away from where Cecil was filming for the showman A.D. Thomas. Cecil was advised to wear evening dress for dinner, which was the practice of the McGuffie family. This may explain why in Rescued by Rover (1905), Cecil is seen wearing top-hat and tails.
Cecil and Margaret were married at Buxton, Derbyshire, on February 11, 1902. Cecil later recalled in his memoirs Came the Dawn: “I had been married about a year and my wife, broken in to film work, played the part of “The White Rabbit” in Alice in Wonderland” (63). He recalled that the film Rescued by Rover (1905) was a family affair. “My wife wrote the story; my baby, eight months old, was the heroine; my Dog, the hero; my wife, the bereaved mother and myself, the harassed father” (67). The film was shot three times, the second and third version approximately five months after the first version. According to May Clark, who worked for Cecil between 1898 and 1908: “For Rescued by Rover Hepworth used up three films. We filmed once. He wore that copy out, so we filmed it again and took two of everything when we were filming it, so that we had two separate copies, and that film built his studios. All his expenses for twelve months were paid out of that film.”
Cecil also recounted that Margaret had a considerable influence on the films he was making (49). This was corroborated by Clark. In the transcript for the 1968 interview she gave to the television program Yesterday’s Witness, she recalled that she often heard Cecil and Margaret arguing in the evenings about what they should film the following day.
Margaret had three children: Elizabeth, known as Barbara, born in December 1904; Blanche Margaret, known as Margaret, born in January 1907; and Thomas Andrew Cradock, born in November 1910. Margaret cast her daughter Barbara as the central character of Rescued by Rover and featured her in an early health education film entitled Baby’s Toilet (1905), in which Margaret demonstrates how to bathe and dress a baby. Barbara is also featured in The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper (1908), in which Margaret again played the mother and their dog Blair, the rescuer, while Cecil played the kidnapper.
It is difficult to quantify what role, if any, Margaret had in the family’s filmmaking business after 1908. In future years, Cecil tried to expand production by employing more outside film producers. Margaret died on October 9, 1917, following a three-month illness from breast cancer.
The story of what some consider Britain’s most important film from the pre-feature period is detailed in a surviving catalogue for Hepworth (1906):
“Rescued By Rover”
In a luxurious house, a little baby [Barbara Hepworth], an only child, is lying peacefully asleep, guarded by a faithful collie dog [Blair], three times her size. The dog appears to be fully sensible to his privilege as guardian of his master’s choicest treasure, and the child seems safe enough in his care. But in the afternoon the baby is taken out by her nurse [May Clark], and that nurse is interested in a young soldier who meets her by accident in the park every afternoon. While the nurse maid is pushing the perambulator along and wondering when Alphonso will appear, a wicked-looking beggar woman asks for alms, but receives only a haughty refusal. A little further on the nursemaid meets Alphonso and turns her back on her sleeping charge while she lights his cigarette. During this absorbing process, the gypsy woman glides up behind, steals the sleeping baby from the perambulator, and makes off as quickly as she can.
In the next scene the mother of the child [Margaret Hepworth] is doing some fancy-work when the remorse-stricken nurse bursts into the room and confesses the loss of the child. Overcome with grief, the poor mother tries to elicit the tragic story from the hysterical girl, and the dog, who is listening intently, licks her face for a moment by way of comforting her, and then starts off with a look of set intention in his faithful eyes. No door is open, so he jumps out of the window, rushing quickly down the street, round several corners, but is baffled for the moment when he comes to a stream, and finds no means of crossing it. Sure he is on the right track, however, he plunges in and swims across, and then makes his way straight to a slum, where there is a row of tiny and forbidding-looking houses. He goes systematically along the row, and tries every door, one after the other, always unerringly following the scent, until he comes to the right one, and pushing the door open, runs straight in.
The scene changes to the interior of a filthy attic. The old woman has just arrived with the child, and she proceeds to divest it of its rich clothing. Then leaving the almost naked baby on a heap of rags, she retires to a corner and gloats greedily over the pretty clothing with which the loving mother had decked her baby but a few hours before. Then the dog breaks into the room and runs fondly to the child whom he caresses in doggy fashion until the old woman, with shouts and drunken curses, chases him from the garret. Out he runs as quickly as he can, out from the dirty slum into the wider streets, back to the river which he quickly swims again, back through the various streets he had before traversed, until he arrives at his master’s house, jumps in at the window and makes his way to the study and runs to his master [Cecil Hepworth], who is trying in vain to think of a way to recover his darling child. The dog jumps up to him, pushes his nose into his hand, and does everything in his power to attract attention. At first the bereaved father pushes him away, but the dog grows so insistent, runs barking to the door and back with such evident meaning that at last the father decides to follow. Then the faithful dog pushes open the door, and starts to lead his master to the gypsy’s garret, constantly looking back to see that he is being followed. He runs along the various streets until he reaches the bank of the river, and plunges in without hesitation. The father, impressed now with the reality of the chase, jumps in a boat and follows. He is led by the faithful dog right through the slum to the very house, and right up into the room where the child lies on a heap of rags. Quickly and fondly the poor father seizes his little daughter, and without stopping to pay much attention to the drunken old woman, who tries to bar his way, he rushes home again and places the baby in its mother’s arms, while the dog, almost dancing for joy, impartially licks the faces of mother and mistress and little playmate.
Clark, May. Interview. “Yesterday’s Witness.” Transcripts. 1968. BFI-SC.
Gifford, Denis. The British Film Catalogue. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.
Hepworth, Cecil. Came the Dawn: Memories of a Film Pioneer. London: Phoenix House Limited, 1951.
Low, Rachael. History of the British Film. Vol. 1: 1896-1906. London: Allen & Unwin, 1949.
------. History of the British Film. Vol. II: 1906-14. London: Allen & Unwin, 1949.
Archival Paper Collections:
Hepworth Catalogue of Films 1906. BFI-SC.Complete Project Bibliographies
A. Archival Filmography: Extant Film Titles:
1. Margaret Hepworth as Screenwriter and Actress
Rescued by Rover. Prod.: Cecil Hepworth, dir.: Lewin Fitzhamon, sc.: Margaret Hepworth (Hepworth Studios UK 1905) cas.: Cecil Hepworth, Margaret Hepworth, May Clark, Barbara Hepworth, Blair, si, b&w, 35mm. Archive: GBB.
2. Margaret Hepworth as Actress
Alice in Wonderland. Prod./sc.: Cecil Hepworth, dir.: Percy Stow (Hepworth Studios UK 1903) cas.: Cecil Hepworth, Margaret Hepworth, May Clark, Bair, si, b&w, 35mm. Archive: GBB.
The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper. Dir./sc.: Cecil Hepworth (Hepworth Studios UK 1908) cas.: Barbara Hepworth, Blair, Margaret Hepworth, Cecil Hepworth, si, b&w, 35mm. Archive: GBB.
B. Filmography: Not Extant Titles:
1. Margaret Hepworth as Actress
Letter Came Too Late, 1903; The Great Servant Question, 1904; The Honeymoon: First, Second, and Third Class, 1904; Baby’s Toilet, 1905.
C. DVD/VHS Sources:
Early Cinema: Primitives and Pioneers. DVD (BFI UK 2005) - contains Rescued by Rover (1905)