The Fugitive Futurist – 1924

I wonder what London will be like in 2108 – 92 years from now?

No doubt somebody – probably a film maker – even as I write these words with my trusty quill, is pondering the future for the residents of London. And, if they stay true to the form of past efforts, the future ain’t gonna be pleasant.

In their fevered imaginations we are destined to be blown to pieces by aliens, frozen to the core by climate change, or, even worse, forced to endure several years of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

But, film makers have always enjoyed showing us a bleak view of the future that awaits us – be honest, who would have gone to see 2012 (the film, not the year) had it just been about us all enjoying the Olympics and everybody enjoying a good old sing-along led by Sir Paul McCartney?

So, if you’re going to make a film about the future, rose tinted is out and despair and angst are in.


The title sequence of the film shows an air shop docked alongside big Ben.

In 1924, Cecil M. Hepworth produced an 11 minute silent movie, entitled The Fugitive Futurist – which was written by and starred Gaston Quiribet as an on the run inventor, who is being “hunted by spies” and who labours under the unlikely sounding sobriquet  of “Q” – I know, I know, it will never catch on as a name for an inventor in a film about spies.


If the above resume has got you eager to dive into the action then you can watch the full 11 minutes on this video, courtesy of the BFI.


Anyway, the gist of the story of this espionage blockbuster is as follows:-

An habitual loser at the race-track is approached by a very agitated man who informs him that he is, in fact, an inventor who has devised a machine that can show the future.

A still from the film shoring the Fugitive Futurist approaching the race goer.
Q Approaches the Down On His Luck Race Goer


He then goes on to demonstrate his machine’s ability by showing the race track loser several familiar London landmarks, such as Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, and Tower Bridge, as they are/were in 1924, and then as they will be in the future.

Films that show us the future often utilise the latest technological advances in movie making to show the transition from present to future, and good old Cecil Hepworth makes full use of the technology available to him at the time by, as far as I can tell, having a production assistant stand in front of the camera with a bucket of soapy water and, when the director shouts “action”, has said assistant chuck the water over the lens of the camera in order to spirit us, mysteriously, into the future sequences.


So what does/did the future have in store for Londoners in 1924?

Well, Trafalgar Square was going to be flooded – see, climate change was an issue even back then.

Amazingly, however, and unless my eyes are deceiving me, the Londoners of the future will have developed the ability to walk on water – so it’s not all bad. In fact, it demonstrates how amazingly adaptable the human race will show itself to be in the face of future adversity!

The Houses of Parliament?  Well, they’re going to become an airship terminal, with Big Ben (I know, I know, it’s the Elizabeth Tower) being used as a docking station for the lumbering great vessels. Well, at least there’s a steady supply of hot air rising from the chamber below to provide ample fuel for the airships – perhaps that’s even the point that Quiribet is trying to make?

Monorials running over and under Tower Bridge.
The Tower Bridge of the Future – At Least From 1924

And, as for Tower Bridge, well it’s destined to have a monorail running over and through it, which would, of course, entail moving the River Thames, which might account for Trafalgar Square being under water. I’m just guessing here.


So, having been shown these visions of things yet to come, what does our down on his luck race goer want to use this miracle machine for? Ending poverty? Eradicating disease? Averting another World war? Preventing Jim Carey from ever making a movie? No such luck. He wants the machine to, yes you’ve guessed it, show him the winner of “tomorrow’s big race.”

Having dangled the future before us – or at least the future had you been reading this in 1924 (then again, perhaps you are and the machine genuinely does work!) – the film presents us with a surprising and slightly slapstick ending. I don’t want to spoil the surprise here so, suffice it to say, it entails two bricks and a lunatic asylum, which, on re-reading, sounds awfully painful.

So, pull up a chair, pop some of that Ye Olde Popcorn in a little box with a door, that might one day be dreamt up by ingenious inventors such as “Q”, and enjoy the future for London as seen from her distant past – well, from 92 years ago.