One of the many treasures held on Clevedon Pier is a Mutoscope or what is often called a What the Butler Saw device. Victorian seaside visitors would pop a penny in the slot, turn the wheel and, by bending to look through a viewing device could watch a sort of early motion picture. The effect was created by hundreds of images flickering around the drum of the mutoscope.
The image on the left is the Pier’s mutoscope which is on display in the Discovery Centre in the Tollhouse. On the right is the actual cassette of images originally found in the mutoscope. They are a little bit risqué and so the Pier introduced a rather more neutral little video clip in its mutoscope of the day pier fell down. But you can find out more below…..
A popular Mutoscope theme in the early 1900s was called What the Butler Saw and involved the household’s butler peeping through a bedroom door keyhole whence he saw the lady of the house stepping out of her bloomers. So saucy was this early erotica that all mutoscopes were subsequently nicknamed “What The Butler Saw” devices.
The Clevedon Pier Mutoscope needs much more research but early investigations have taught us that it is most likely of French origin and the photos in the original cassette seem to relate the story – as seen through the keyhole – of a man in his underclothes and a woman in her nighty applying warm wax bandages to the man’s back with the aim of removing the hair from his back. Capturing the images is difficult but the few shared below hopefully give a flavour of what the cassette pictures look like.
It all looks rather painful and at some point the poor chap is left on his own to try and wiggle and squirm to get the wax patch off.
We would love to get all of the images on the mutoscope cassette digitised and reproduced in a sort of ‘flick book’ arrangement so that the What The Butler Saw story can be enjoyed in its entirety. Any offers of help out there? Please get in touch on: