This film is part of Free

Pemberton Billing and the 'Vigilantes'

This curious silent film offers a glimpse inside the mind, and the country home, of a notorious politician and inventor

1918 12 mins Silent


Far-right MP Noel Pemberton Billing formed the Vigilantes in 1917, to promote, as this film says, “purity in public life”. This film opens with unedited scenes from a narrative film dramatising his argument. Perhaps these shifty individuals are portraying his main targets, gay men and women or the “agents of the Kaiser” who blackmail them into treason, but the storyline is uncertain. The second half comprises footage of the MP at home, and driving a distinctive aerodynamic car of his own design.

Conservative MP for Hertford from 1918-1921, Pemberton Billing was a champion of aviation, and air raids, but a vocal opponent of the Royal Aircraft Factory. In his own journal, latterly called Vigilante, he outlined homophobic, anti-German and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. One article, “The Cult of the Clitoris”, led to a spectacular libel trial, in which Pemberton Billing defended himself, and won. The popular British feature film High Treason (Maurice Elvey, 1929) was based on his futuristic play, itself prompted by viewing Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). You can see both sound and silent versions of High Treason on the BFI Player.