Paul Smith of Paddington Films / City Screen has provided a copy of BTF Recollections No.1. Produced by former BTF Chief Editor John Legard in 1998 and comprising 18 A4 pages (no illustrations), this was intended to be a periodical newsletter for ex-BTF staff & crew and contains some fascinating articles full of anecdotes written by the film unit's former staff members.

The intention was to produce a No.2 in the Summer of 1999 for which John Legard requested contributions. Sadly, no more were produced due to an apparant lack of interest which is a crying shame when you read the articles in the newsletter and see the wealth of knowledge that they contain.

No. 1          1998

The Tenth, 1997, BTF Reunion was a happy occasion, when news and reminiscence was exchanged over many hours. A slightly smaller turn out than before perhaps; this was partly due to last-minute problems for ten of those who had accepted - in fact 41 sat down to lunch. The catering was of a high standard and the staff at the Union Jack Club took a lot of trouble to make us feel well cared for. I wonder how many turned up in 1987 perhaps as many as 75? However it is good to know that all being well there will be further reunions and in 1999 we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the unit. It was good to see the regular attenders again, and some not seen recently: Roy Richardson, Sheila Ritchie, Brenda Rowdon, and John Gaudioz who lives in France and who worked with the unit on the making of Berth 24 in 1950.

25 Savile Row was an excellent Headquarters for BTF for sixteen years until 1966, after which we moved to the late lamented Melbury House (recently demolished and replaced by a vast building occupied by a French Bank). In those West End days it was possible to drive to work and park outside in Savile Row, or at one of the bomb sites which were being used by National Car Parks, for London was still being rebuilt after the Blitz. No parking meters then. Pritchard Wood and Partners Advertising Agency had a canteen down in the basement which we could use. Later, after they had moved out, we arranged to lunch at the canteen in the Ministry of Health just across the road, where the specialité de la maison was grilled herrings! The minister at the time was Enoch Powell. Then for a time we went to the canteen at the Civil Service Commission, at the north end of. the building which houses the Royal Academy. Some of us in the know, and who were keen on Eastern cuisine used to slip down to Jermyn Street at lunchtime, to the Indian High Commission; on the top floor their canteen provided excellent curries for about 5/-.

Those of us in the cutting rooms liked to get out of London for recording sessions. Ken Cameron, Anvil Films, first at Beaconsfield and later at Denham, was responsible for many of our soundtracks. We generally lunched at the White Hart or the Saracen's Head, and then on to the Studio at Beaconsfield where Ken's department was known as Cameron Castle. There was enough room for a decent-size orchestra, say 35 players. On England of Elizabeth, the music session was conducted by John Hollingsworth - Ralph Vaughan Williams the composer, aged 85, sat beside him on the platform, As the music played VW's seat slipped slowly backwards, until suddenly he tipped over the edge) and his feet went up above his head. Fortunately there was a certain Edgar Anstey standing right behind and he literally caught him! Otherwise we might have had a dead composer on our hands. The music session was a success; indeed we ended up with 35 minutes of music for a 30-minute film - which surely must be some sort of record?...

About a week before the last reunion there was on Channel 4 the first screening of our film London's Country (1954). The film is unusual in that it is credited with having two directors. The main shoot was by Harold Lowenstein - aesthete, writer, film maker; later shooting was in the hands of Syd Sharples (who had previously directed West Country Journey) the down-to-earth, warm hearted Lancastrian. It had a rather difficult birth. Lowenstein wanted to treat the subject in symphonic form, which perhaps could have worked with more time and money. So we simplified it to a more conventional structure, hence Sharples being brought in the following year to fill in some gaps - with archery, folk dancing, fairgrounds, horse shows etc. Roger Moore, incidentally, was lined up to be an extra in the lyrical sequence filmed by Lowenstein on the river bank at Runnymede; but I think he may have ended up on the cutting room floor? Commentary was by our resident word spinner Paul Le Saux who gave us some rich - even flamboyant - full prose. When actor Howard Marion Crawford joined us one summer evening at Anvil he relished Le Saux's turn of phrase, especially when the prose turned to poetry. We were fortunate to have Dr Hubert Clifford, then music director at London Films, to compose the score. He cleverly adapted folk song and traditional airs and thus gave the film the necessary lift.

When complete the film was widely shown in the UK, and the COI acquired overseas distribution rights. It was photographed on 16 mm Kodachrome and then enlarged to 35 mm by Technicolor. This was a dodgy process in those days; any minute blemishes on the 16 mm master would show up as black marks and dots. Pictorially the colour was fine. However, with the development of new technology in the transfer of film to videotape, all those blemishes can be removed. So when I saw the film on Channel 4 it looked as thought it could have been shot last week, It was spotless! There is now a case for resuscitating others of the time, such as Heart of England and East Anglian Holiday. But alas Barry Coward is no longer in charge of our archive, for it is he who over the years has been responsible for getting so many of our films onto television. It is notable that the early films have had more of an airing on television than the recent work. One reason is that as the years went by our work became more functional; specialised films for specialised audiences. Edgar Anstey used to say that our earlier activity and purpose was "creating an appetite for travel". But some of the training films are available on video for railway buffs to enjoy and cherish too.

Channel 4 transmitted during Spring 1998; North to Wales, The Heart is Highland, The Coasts of Clyde, An Artist Looks At Churches, London's Country and Lancashire Coast.

David Watkin's autobiography is now available. Entitled "Why Is There Only One Word for Thesaurus" it is a really good read. The early part includes an in depth account of his many years with British Transport Films. It continues with his launching into commercials, then on to features, fame, Hollywood, and indeed a long career in the big time! Published by the Trouser Press, copies can be obtained from Barry Coward at Beulah. Price £30.00 plus P&P £3.00. Sounds a bit pricey but it is a long book with handsome illustrations.


"Introduction", John Legard
Peter Sims
"Nationalisation and British Transport Films 1946-1977", Charles Potter M.B.E.
"Random Thoughts", Edward Scott M.B.E.
Pam Coldicott
Richard Morse - BTF Editor Early 60s
"Out On Production", David Lochner
"Five Happy Years at BTF", Dick Best