W E Berry - the Bradford-based business that made movie posters for blockbusters like Star Wars

The first film I watched at the cinema (and I doubt I’m alone here) was Star Wars in the late 1970s.

One of the movie posters up for sale. (Credit:  Ewbanks Auctions)
One of the movie posters up for sale. (Credit: Ewbanks Auctions)

I was five years old and I’d be lying if I said I remember much about it. But what I do recall is the now iconic poster featuring Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Darth Vader et al. It’s hard to overstate the impact this film had on cinema history, and the poster perfectly captured the allure of this epic, intergalactic space opera.

What I didn’t know (and I’m not alone there, either) is that it was the work of WE Berry Ltd.

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This Bradford-based firm was one of the leading producers and printers of film posters in the country for more than 75 years, starting in the 1920s.

WE Berry produced posters for many decades. (Credit: Ewbanks Auctions).

Salts Mill - a symbol of industrial heritage that Jonathan Silver transformed into a thriving hub for arts and commerceInitially working with Paramount, the company produced designs for the Ealing Comedies, Rank’s overseas posters, Disney, Columbia Pictures and Universal Studios, as well as for railway companies and Bertram Mills Circus.

It produced posters for numerous memorable films including The Ten Commandments (1923), Oliver Twist (1948), Flash Gordon (1980) and, of course, Star Wars (1977).

The business continued to flourish until financial difficulties led to it closing in 2004. But now, more than a decade later, around 400 of its original artworks, featuring circus and movie posters, are going up for sale later this month.

Among the highlights of the sale are original hand-painted artwork for the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon (estimate £2,000-£4,000), another for the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, starring Alec Guinness, (£1,000-£1,500) and The Titfield Thunderbolt (£800-£1,200).

One of the film posters up for sale. (Credit: Ewbanks Auctions).

Tracy Brabin's 'shouldergate' dress tops £17,000 in eBay charity auctionEwbank’s Auctions specialist Alastair McCrea says it’s not often that so many original posters come up for sale. “This is a particularly interesting collection because it includes hand-painted artwork related to the Bradford firm of WE Berry, one of only three printers in Britain that specialised in printing large posters for cinemas.”

As McCrea points out, these are the finished designs and all one-offs. “It’s one thing getting your hands on the posters, but to be able to offer the original hand-painted artwork is incredibly rare.” Berry’s story is an interesting one. The company was set up by William Berry in on Currer Street, in Bradford, in 1888. His son, William Edward Berry, took over in the early 1900s, and, after a split from his father’s business partner, set up his own business as WE Berry Ltd.

During the 1920s, he was introduced to Fred Martin at Paramount and the pair started a business relationship that cemented WE Berry’s position as one of the leading producers and distributors of film posters.

'It's time to shout' - Why Bradford has high hopes for City of Culture bidMcCrea says the film posters are interesting because they hark back to a time before digital photography and computer graphics took over. “These were designed and hand-painted by talented artists. What’s interesting is the earlier ones tend to have a picture of the star of the movie and the title, but over the years the studios wanted to show more of the movie in the poster. So you might have a scene depicting an explosion in one corner and a car chase in another.”

The finished posters, once approved by the studios, were sent to cinemas around the country and were an important form of advertising.

Interest in the original artwork has grown in recent years and McCrea thinks it’s wrapped up in nostalgia for many film buffs. “Their value has increased significantly in the last 10 years,” he says. “I think a lot of people would rather have a movie poster on their wall than a Victorian watercolour.”

The WE Berry Movie Poster Artwork Collection sale is on February 28. For more information go to www.ewbankauctions.co.uk