In 1949, I was fortunate enough to be a research assistant to Peter Baylis, outstanding editor and producer of compilation films, who was then working for the Pathé Documentary Unit, with Howard Thomas in charge of production. Peter and his brilliant scriptwriter, Jack Howells, realised they were sitting on a gold mine - the combined libraries of Pathé News and Pathé Pictorial - and over several years were responsible for some very entertaining featurettes, like "Scrapbook for 1922", "The Peaceful Years" and "Scrapbook for 1933". In association with Sir Arthur Elton at Film Centre, they began a two-reel series for theatrical release entitled "The Wealth Of The World" - the first of which took a comprehensive look at oil and its repercussions in the modern world. The second, commissioned by Edgar Anstey at BTF and sub-titled Transport, explained the implications of the 1947 Transport Act - which would bring about the integration of railways, road transport and waterways in the UK. Released in 1950, it became BTF's production number 1. Yes, although I did not realise it at the time, I was already in at the start!
If we look at life as a highway, we can detect the occasional 'fork in the road' - an opportunity which suddenly presents itself as a means of 'changing direction'. In my case, one of the most memorable 'forks' came in the Spring of 1952 in the form of a phone call from the late, lamented Ruth Pratt - small in stature, but a tower of strength in her capacity as Production Manager at BTF. Would I be interested, she asked, to work as assistant director on a film that had just started production at Southampton Docks? The director was Jack Holmes; there would be quite a lot of lit interiors and night exteriors with full lighting crew, some sync. sound and a shooting schedule of three to four weeks.
This was an invitation too good to ignore and was to be the start of two and a half hectic years as an A.D. before Edgar plucked up enough courage to entrust me (in 1954) with a film subject to prepare and direct myself - What's In Store?
After the Ocean Terminal shoot in Southampton, I found myself en route to Scotland with John Taylor and that delightful cameraman, Reg Hughes, to complete sequences for The Heart Is Highland. John, with another unit, had shot a number of sequences previously - some with lights for interiors at Glamis Castle, a printing works and the generating room at one of the hydro-electric dams. Now we were there to gather material in the remoter parts of the Highlands - all on 35mm Technicolor monopack, which was subsequently processed in Hollywood to produce the three master negatives necessary for that unique and complicated colour system.
After returning from Scotland, I was sent immediately to the Channel Islands to assist Michael Orrom on a colour film he was directing to encourage tourism, only to find myself - when that was completed - travelling back to Scotland with the same unit for another l6mm Kodachrome production: Scottish Highlands. All this within six months of arriving at Savile Row! In between, there would be odd days spent with the irrepressible John Krish on The Elephant Will Never Forget, with Michael Clarke on the London Transport Cine Gazette series, and with John Taylor again on Journey Into History - this time with a proper Technicolor 3 - strip camera in tow.
The following summer was the arrival at BTF of two freelance directors: Sid Sharples and Harold Lowenstein. In style, they were completely different - as John Legard has commented on in his article elsewhere in this newsletter. With the former, I spent four weeks or so travelling through Devon and Cornwall for West Country Journey and six weeks on and off with both of them on London's Country.
In his comments, John Legard attributes Roger Moore's non-appearance in that film as possibly ending up on the cutting room floor. Alas, it was merely due to unfavourable weather on location that this film was robbed of his early appearance in the medium. Howard Lowenstein had asked me to provide him with an attractive young couple for a punting sequence he wished to film on the Thames near Marlow (or was it Runnymede?), so I phoned Pat Larthe, who ran one of the best model agencies at that time, for suggestions. She came up with Roger's name - who was on her books and much in demand as a photographic model for fashion magazines and clothes catalogues. I had already been introduced to him at a mutual friend's party. "I've got a lovely girl for you," said Pat Larthe. "She has just arrived from Australia. Her name is Diane Cilento. They'll make an ideal couple". It was just our bad luck that the day of filming the sequence began promisingly but - as summer days in this country so often do - it soon deteriorated to a steady downpour of rain. I remember paying both artistes the princely sum of two pounds ten shillings each - with the proviso that they would me called again for a second attempt in a few days' time. However, on the day we re-scheduled the sequence, they were not available and two other models were used instead.
Later, there were to be more 'forks' along the road of my career - one, at the end of 1974 which took me on an eleven-year stint of producing, directing and editing commercials and documentaries all over south-east Asia and the Far East - but I would not have missed the BTF diversion for anything. They were exciting years, made all the more interesting by virtue of the fact that one was rubbing shoulders with such embryo talents as Billy Williams, David Watkin and Bob Paynter.
We are indeed fortunate in having so much of the early work of BTF available on video or thanks to occasional screenings on Channel 4. An era of social history has been preserved for future generations.