The life of Charles Chaplin is the world's greatest 'rags to riches' story. From the Victorian workhouse and the south London slums to the heights of Hollywood and movie stardom. It is less well known that Britain's greatest screen star was already a celebrity on this side of the Atlantic before he ever made a film.
But the fact is that Chaplin could have been as big a star as he liked on stage and we would probably know him now as well as, say, Dan Leno or Henry Irving. We would never really have known the degree of his genius if he had not gone into films and they had not survived.
This is why Chaplin continues to be an important figure for us in Britain. It is not only that the films can illuminate our irretrievably lost comic traditions but also that Chaplin's films form an important part of our cultural heritage despite being made in the US. His life and films tell us about the development of film, about world events and they chart our journey to the modern world.