Greene was a superb journalist, a sometime British spy, and a world traveler, often courting danger in various international wars and revolutions and participating in local high and low life in dozens of famous and obscure corners of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Many of his novels are set in locations with which he had personal experience, sites often of topical journalistic interest: The Quiet American (1955) a prescient account of early American involvement in Vietnam; Our Man in Havana (1958), set in Cuba; A Burnt-Out Case (1961), in the Belgian Congo just before its independence; The Comedians (1966), in François Duvalier's Haiti; and The Captain and the Enemy (1980), in Panama. His fine sense of comedy is displayed in the short-story collection May We Borrow Your Husband? (1967) and the novel Travels with My Aunt (1969). Greene also wrote several plays, including The Living Room (1953) and The Potting Shed (1957), both thinly disguised religious dramas, and The Complaisant Lover (1959), a witty and intelligent play about marriage and infidelity. He also is noted for his essays, travel books, film criticism, and film scripts, including the mystery melodrama The Third Man (1950).
See his autobiographies (1971, 1980) and his posthumously published A World of My Own: A Dream Diary (1995); S. Hazzard, Greene on Capri: A Memoir (2000); R. Greene, ed., Graham Greene: A Life in Letters (2008); biographies by M. Shelden (1994) and N. Sherry (3 vol., 1989-2004); studies by H. J. Donaghy (1983), A. A. De Vitis (1986), and J. Meyers, ed. (1990).
See biographies by his grandson, G. W. Greene (3 vol., 1867-71), and T. G. Thayer (1960); W. Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene (1822, repr. 1973).
See his Life and Complete Works (ed. by A. B. Grosart, 15 vol., 1881-86; repr. 1964).
In Bath he came into contact with John Arthur Roebuck Rudge. Rudge was a maker of a number of instruments but had begun to specialise in the creation of magic lanterns. He had recently developed the 'Biophantic Lantern'. The lantern was unique in that could display seven slides in rapid succession, and produce an effective illusion of movement. Friese-Greene was fascinated by the machine and in 1886 he began work with Rudge on enhancing it in order to project photographic plates. They called the device a 'Biophantascope'. Friese-Greene realised that glass plates would never be a practical medium for true moving pictures and in 1885 he began to experiment with oiled paper and by 1887 was experimenting with celluloid as a medium for motion picture cameras.
On 21 June, 1889, Friese-Greene was issued patent no. 10131 for his 'chronophotographic' camera. It was apparently capable of taking up to ten photographs per second using perforated celluloid film. A report on the camera was published in the British Photographic News on 28 February, 1890. On 18 March, Friese-Greene sent a clipping of the story to Thomas Edison, whose laboratory had been developing a motion picture system known as the Kinetoscope. The report was reprinted in Scientific American on 19 April. Friese-Greene gave a public demonstration in 1890 but the low frame rate combined with the device's apparent unreliability failed to make an impression. In the early 1890s he experimented with stereoscopic cameras but met with limited success. Friese-Greene’s experiments in the field of motion pictures were at the expense of his other business interests and in 1891 he was declared bankrupt. To cover his debts he sold the rights to the 'chronophotographic' camera patent for £500. The renewal fee was never paid and the patent eventually lapsed.
Friese-Greene's later exploits were in the field of colour in motion pictures. Working in Brighton, he experimented with a system known as Biocolour. This process produced the illusion of true colour by exposing each alternate frame of ordinary black and white film stock through a two different coloured filters. Each alternate frame of the monochrome print was then stained red or green. Although the projection of Biocolour prints did provide a tolerable illusion of true colour, it suffered from noticeable flickering and red and green fringing when the subject was in rapid motion.
Friese-Greene found it impossible to exhibit Biocolour motion pictures because a rival system -- developed by George Albert Smith and Charles Urban and known as Kinemacolor -- claimed that any colour film was an infringement of their prior patent. With the financial assistance of the renowned British racing driver Selwyn Francis Edge, Friese-Greene attempted to invalidate Urban's patent in court. Friese-Greene claimed that the patent did not contain enough detail to encompass the Biocolour process. The judge ruled in Urban's favour, but an appeal in the House of Lords in 1914 reversed the decision. Friese-Greene's system was still in its infancy and he was unable to exploit this success. His son Claude Friese-Greene continued to develop the system during 1920s. Claude went on to become a successful cinematographer.
In 1921 Friese-Greene was attending a film and cinema industry meeting in London. The meeting had been called to discuss the current poor state of the British film industry. Disturbed by the tone of the proceedings Friese-Greene got to his feet to speak but soon became incoherent. He was assisted in returning to his seat, and shortly afterward slumped forward and died. His grave can be found in London's Highgate Cemetery. A memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens describes him as 'The inventor of Kinematography'.
The actor Richard Greene was his grandson.
Friese-Greene's former home in Brighton's Middle Street, refurbished in 2006 and now the offices to Worth a leading media company, bears a plaque (in a format designed by Eric Gill in 1924) commemorating his achievements. The plaque was unveiled by Michael Redgrave, one of the stars of The Magic Box, in September 1957. A modern office building a few metres away is named Friese-Greene House. Other notices include the 1930s Kings Road, Chelsea, London, Odeon Cinema, with its iconic facade, which carries high upon it a large sculptored head-and-shoulders medalion of "William Friese-Greene" and his year of birth and death. There is a bronze statue of him at Pinewood Studios.
In 2006 the BBC ran a series of programmes called The Lost World of Friese-Greene, presented by Dan Cruickshank about Claude Friese-Greene's road trip from Land's End to John o' Groats, The Open Road, which he filmed from 1924 to 1926 using the Biocolour process. The original print of Claude's film was subjected to computer enhancement by the British Film Institute to remove the flickering problem.