Ludwig Blattner

Ludwig Blattner (1881 30 October 1935) was a German-born inventor, film producer, director and studio owner in the United Kingdom, and developer of one of the earliest sound recording devices.[1]

Ludwig Blattner
Died30 October 1935
Elstree, United Kingdom
Cause of deathSuicide by hanging
Other namesLouis Blattner
OccupationProducer, Inventor
Years active1912–1934
  • Gerard Blattner
  • Elizabeth Blattner


Ludwig Blattner, also known as Louis Blattner,[2] was a pioneer of early magnetic sound recording, licensing a steel wire-based design from German inventor Dr. Kurt Stille, and enhancing it to use steel tape instead of wire, thereby creating an early form of tape recorder. This device was marketed as the Blattnerphone.[3] Whilst on a promotional tour of his sound recording technology in 1928 he would choose ladies from the audience to dance with to music being played from a Blattnerphone.[4]

Prior to the First World War, Blattner was involved in the entertainment industry in Merseyside: he managed the "La Scala" cinema in Wallasey from 1912 to 1914, conducted the cinema's orchestra, and composed a waltz "The Ladies of Wallasey".[5] In about 1920 he moved to Manchester where he managed a chain of cinemas.[6] There, in 1923 he composed and published a piece of music about the film actress Pola Negri titled Pola Negri Grand Souvenir March.[7] Later in the 1920s he bought the British film rights to Lion Feuchtwanger's novel Jew Süss although the film was not made until 1934 after Blattner sold on the rights[8] to Gaumont British. In early 1928 press reports appeared saying that Blattner was planning a 400-acre "Hollywood, England" complex with a hospital, 150 room hotel, aeroplane club and the largest collection of studios in the world, for which he was planning to spend between 2 million and 5 million pounds.[9] Blattner later formed the Ludwig Blattner Picture Corporation in Borehamwood in the studio complex that is now known as Elstree Studios, buying the Ideal Film Company studio (formerly known as Neptune Studios) in Clarendon Road in 1928, renaming it as Blattner Studios.[10] In 1928 his company produced a series of short films of musical performances such as "Albert Sandler and His Violin [Serenade – Schubert]" and "Teddy Brown and His Xylophone". The best known films produced by his film company were A Knight in London in 1929 and My Lucky Star in 1933, which was co-directed by Blattner. Films produced by other companies at the Blattner Studios included Dorothy Gish and Charles Laughton's first drama talkie Wolves in 1930,[11] the 1934 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Tell-Tale Heart,[12] Rookery Nook (1930) and A Lucky Sweep (1932).[13]

Ludwig Blattner was also involved in an early colour motion picture process: in about 1929 he bought the rights for the use outside the USA of a lenticular colour process called Keller-Dorian cinematography.[14] This process was then known as the Blattner Keller-Dorian process,[15] which lost out to rival colour systems.

Ludwig Blattner originally intended the Blattnerphone to be used as a system of recording and playback for talking pictures,[16] but the BBC saw its potential to record and "timeshift" BBC radio programmes for use with the BBC Empire Service, and rented several Blattnerphones from 1930 onwards, one of which was used to record King George V's speech at the opening of the India Round Table Conference on 12 November 1930.[17] The 1932 BBC Year Book (covering November 1930 to October 1931) said:[18]

In some ways the most important event of the year has been the adoption by the B.B.C. of the Blattnerphone recording apparatus described in the Technical Section. For years the B.B.C 's programme officials have longed for a machine which would be useful on the one hand for recording outside events such as commentaries, speeches, etc., of which normally no record existed, and on the other for rehearsals, and in particular for enabling certain broadcasters to hear themselves as others hear them.

In 1939 the BBC used a Blattnerphone (not the later Marconi-Stille recorder) to record Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's announcement to Britain of the outbreak of World War II.[19]

In 1930 Blattner promoted a version of his Blattnerphone technology as one of the first telephone answering machines,[20] and in 1931 Blatter promoted a version of the Blattnerphone as the Blattner Book Reader, an early Audiobook playback system for the blind.[21][22]

Despite being a "promoter of genius with far-seeing ideas about technical developments in sound and colour" according to Michael Powell,[23] business problems with the studio, due to the advent of rival talking picture systems, led to heavy financial loss, and in 1934 Joe Rock leased Elstree Studios from Ludwig Blattner, and bought it outright in 1936, a year after Blattner's suicide.[24] After going through several more owners, the studio became the BBC Elstree Centre in 1984.

Personal life

Of German origin, Blattner emigrated to Great Britain in 1897 aged 16 with Gustav Mellin, a fellow German emigrant.[25][26] He had two British-born children, Gerry Blattner born in 1913 in Liverpool,[27] and Betty Blattner born in 1914 in Cheshire.[28] They both followed their father into the film business, Gerry as a producer and Betty as a makeup artist.[29] Ludwig Blattner never became a British citizen, and during the First World War he remained in an internment camp, which interrupted his management of the Gaiety cinema in Wallasey.[30] He married Else (also known as Elisabeth), the widow of Edmund Meisel the composer of the score for Battleship Potemkin, some time after Meisel's death in 1930, therefore Else was not the mother of Ludwig's children born in 1913 and 1914.[31] Ludwig hanged himself at the Elstree Country Club in October 1935, when his son was 22 and his daughter was 21. Ludwig and Gerry were honoured by the naming of Blattner Close in Elstree in the mid-1990s.[32][33][34]


  1. The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History, edited by William D. Rubinstein, Michael Jolles, Hilary L. Rubinstein – Google Books Palgrave Macmillan, 15 March 2011, ISBN 9781403939104
  2. "Louis Blattner", BFI, retrieved 8 January 2014
  3. "Blattnerphone",, retrieved 25 December 2013
  4. The History of Magnetic Recording in the United States, 1888–1978 David L. Morton, Jr., PhD thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology, December 1995
  5. History of Wallasey Cinemas Part 2 retrieved 7 July 2016
  6. The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History Palgrave Macmillan, 15 March 2011, ISBN 9781403939104
  7. The Silent Cinema in Song, 1896–1929 An Illustrated History and Catalog of Songs Inspired by the Movies and Stars, with a List of Recordings Ken Wlaschin, pub. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Jefferson, North Carolina, and London, 2009. p.254 ISBN 978-0-7864-3804-4
  8. Jew Suss: His Life and Afterlife in Legend, Literature and Film, – Google Books – by Susan Tegel, Continuum Publishing, London, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4411-6297-7
  9. [£5,000,000 ? British Film Scheme "HOLLYWOOD, ENGLAND ?"] The Sun, Sydney, New South Wales, 01 Jan 1928
  10. British Film Studios: An Illustrated History – Patricia Warren – Google Books pub. Batsford Ltd, 5 September 1995. ISBN 978-0713475593
  11. Wolves (1930) on IMDb
  12. The Tell-Tale Heart (1934) on IMDb
  13. British Films 1927 - 1939 Linda Wood, BFI National Library, London, 1986
  14. "Encyclopedia of Modern Jewish Culture", edited by Glenda Abramson, -Google Books-, pub. Routledge, April 2013, ISBN 9781134428656
  15. "Pathe International Corp. to Handle Color Films", Motion Picture News, Volume 39, Jan–Mar 1929, held at Internet Archive retrieved 27 January 2014
  16. The Blattnerphone: An Early Attempt to Introduce Magnetic Recording into the Film Industry, William Lafferty, Cinema Journal Vol. 22, No. 4 (Summer, 1983), pp. 18–37, pub. University of Texas Press
  17. Video Recording Technology: Its Impact on Media and Home Entertainment, Aaron Foisi Nmungwun – Google Books pub. Routledge, Nov. 2012. ISBN 9781136466045
  18. The BBC Year-Book 1932 p.101, British Broadcasting Corporation, London W.1, retrieved 30 September 2015
  19. "BBC donates historical collection to National Media Museum to mark 90th anniversary", BBC Media Centre, retrieved 5 February 2014
  20. Telephonic Device Records Messages Armour Tech News vol.5 no.10 p.2, 29 April 1930
  21. Ludwig Blattner Film Corp. Archived 23 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine (LAMP), retrieved 23 February 2014
  22. The Museum Of Blindiana Official Opening New Beacon, Vol. XV. No. 175. 15 July 1931, p.162, Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2012 from "American Foundation for the Blind inc." source, retrieved 23 February 2014
  23. Life in the Fast Lane: George King, Jerry Jackson and low-budget production in the 1930s, Robert Murphy, retrieved 28 June 2016
  24. "Heavy financial loss", The Straits Times, Singapore, 9 November 1935, p.9. Retrieved 25 December 2013
  25. "Louis Blattner", British Film Institute Film & TV Database, retrieved 10 February 2014
  26. Kinematograph Year Book 1929, p.268. Retrieved 24 January 2017
  27. "Gerry Blattner", British Film Institute (BFI), retrieved 8 January 2014
  28. "Elizabeth Blattner", BFI, retrieved 8 January 2014
  29. "Betty Blattner", IMDB, retrieved 8 January 2014
  30. History of Wallasey Cinemas Part 1 retrieved 22 October 2014
  31. letter from Jay Leyda, 17 December 1968, University of Minnesota Libraries, Arthur Kleiner Collection, retrieved 16 December 2016
  32. "Dying to be famous", Paul Welsh, Borehamwood and Elstree Times, 6 June 2007, retrieved 8 January 2014
  33. "Nicoll Farm Stables, Allum Lane, Elstree" planning application meeting report, application no. TP/13/0021, Nicoll Farm Stables. Hertsmere Borough Council, 18 April 2013
  34. 51.65122°N 0.28873°W / 51.65122; -0.28873
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