Those of you who were with BTF during the 1950's may remember that one of the vehicles used by the Film units was a large Humber Shooting Brake with a wooden back. As an Assistant Director it was my job when working in London to put this Monster to bed in a British Rail Garage near Baker Street Station. It was a long pig of a thing to drive with balloon type Desert Tyres and no powered steering.
We were working on The Long Night Haul which was a film about British Road Services entailing location work all over the Midlands. Jimmy Ritchie was the Director, Ron Bicker the Cameraman assisted by David Watkin with myself as Assistant Director.
One of the first locations, which involved an early start, was at the Docks in Liverpool where BRS lorries would sometimes have to wait up to a week to unload their goods on the quayside for export. I think that the Dockers were having a "go slow" at the time. There were traffic queues everywhere.
On this particular occasion I was driving the Humber along the Old Dock Road on a damp misty morning. As usual there were vehicles nose to tail creeping along. Eventually we ended up stuck behind a parked American Army Lorry. I waited my chance to get by but as I was doing so a bicycle shot by on the nearside, cut in front of me and tried to overtake the lorry which had suddenly decided to move. Being a Left Hand drive vehicle the American had not seen the bicycle or me at all. I was forced to take evasive action as an elderly lorry loaded with Cotton Bales approached. I braked but the Sand Tyres just slid on the "Setts" with which the road was paved.
The long bonnet of the Humber hit the rear bottom corner of the lorry cab which being old and made of wood promptly shattered leaving the driver almost in the open. I was travelling at about ten mph while the other vehicle was doing perhaps twenty mph so our combined impact speed was about thirty. The result was that the Humber's bonnet continued to slide along under the flat bed of the lorry severing some of the ropes securing the six huge cotton bales, two of which bounced off down the road!
As we came to a halt a furious Jimmy leaped out of the car waving a newly purchased pair of Marks and Spencer underpants and made a citizens arrest of the cyclist who was making his getaway. It was later confirmed that it was this man's fault. He claimed he was late for work even though he was a docker going slow.
Before the sound of the crash had faded away we were surrounded by policemen, for we were right outside the police station.
The Cotton Bale lorry driver was charming and gave a wonderfully accurate description of what had happened. The American lorry which had suffered no damage was sent on its way. The Humber and the shattered lorry were taken to the Police Pound and were never seen again. I think that both vehicles were eventually written off.
Fortunately nobody was hurt and we all helped to roll the big bales off the highway.
The Unit then hired a taxi and completed the morning's filming schedule. Later in the afternoon we got a train to Sandbach in Cheshire where we were due to film at the Foden factory on the following morning. Eventually we all collapsed into bed having had a rather exhausting day. It is amazing how much 35mm gear weighs when you do not have a vehicle and have to carry it all!
The Humber was replaced by a Dormobile van, which at the suggestion of Stewart McAllister, had a trap door fitted in the roof. I drove this vehicle on several locations and we all began to wonder how we could make use of this unusual modification. Eventually the day dawned whilst filming at Blackpool for Lancashire Coast / Holiday. John Taylor directed, David Watkin was on his first job as "Director of Photography" with Adrian De Potier assisting and myself as Assistant Director. It was then that we found a use for the TRAP.
John Taylor wanted candid camera shots of people on holiday but in those days as soon as you pointed a movie camera at anyone they immediately put on an act. We needed a mobile hidden camera vantage point.
I went to the Woolworths by Blackpool Tower and got a big cardboard box, we then cut the bottom out and stuck the top down with camera tape. With the TRAP open and our "Hide" securely tied on the roof of the van, David could discreetly stand inside with the lens of the l6mm Bell and Howell 7ODL camera looking through a small hole in the cardboard. The rest of us would sometimes nonchalantly stand outside covering the windows. The successful results can be seen in the film.
We also used the Dormobile when making Journey into Spring. Director Ralph Keene, Paddy Carey Cameraman with Lewis McLeod (RORY) as his Assistant. Again I was Assistant Director. The shots of the house martins over the Selborne Post Office sign were taken via the TRAP.
We had ten transportable hides which originally were shelters for points operators working on London Trams many years before. They were ideal for filming shy creatures as Paddy had to spend many hours waiting for the "Stars" of the film to put in an appearance. Rory and myself always had to walk up with Paddy whenever he went inside the hides so the two of us could walk away after he was in position. Birds apparently can only count to one and would know if only a single person had entered the hide.
We also had a securely tied down hide on the top of a scaffolding tower at Bentley Station for filming the rooks. This entailed a lot more effort getting Paddy and his gear in place each time. It took almost three months to cover the whole nesting period.
On another occasion Ralph wanted a scenic shot of the countryside which was spoilt by a tractor-operated cultivator being in the foreground. After much manual effort we managed to move this bit of heavy agricultural machinery out of the way. It ended up with the hitch against a wall. When the farmer eventually returned he must have wondered how on earth his equipment ended up in such a position!
I believe that Journey into Spring was the first film made by BTF not to have any human beings in it. Perhaps this was why it was so successful?
By the way, the stickleback appearing in the film came from a pond in the garden of a derelict house off the Warwick Road! My wife caught them for us.
EDWARD SCOTT M.B.E.