I have been press-ganged by my good friend John Legard to write about my years with BTF. Actually I am delighted to comply because they were very happy and civilised years (1977-1982). Most feature people who worked with the unit were there in their early years. In my case they were the last years before retirement. An added bonus was that feature production was not in good shape at that time.
Like many events in my career luck played a part in my arrival at BTF. John had phoned ACTT (BECTU) for available editors and my name came up! I had first met John when he was with the Crown Film Unit at Pinewood during World War Two. I was with the Army Film Unit. Breaks during work were often spent discussing the latest films, and finding out who agreed with the film critics of the time.
So I arrived at Melbury House summer 1977 to cut The Enchanted Sail which was directed by Ken Fairbairn. I had no idea what kinds of films were made at BTF. Perhaps technical documentaries about engines, signalling, track laying, workshops? All rather grim! But it was quite a revelation over a short period to discover not only all the wonderful travel films but also the imaginative way in which the purely technical films were treated. The pills were most elegantly and entertainingly sugared! I had to adjust to editing 16mm of course and had visions of torn and scratched film as 16mm does not take so kindly to the moviola as 35mm. However I soon decided to use the PlC-SYNC instead, and stayed with it, proving to be a much better way - and also more restful, with no clatter. During that film I began to discover how BTF worked and also to get to know those who worked there in the various departments and to find out what a friendly and helpful bunch they were - no names - I refer to them all! Having finished the film, I had a call to do a feature at Shepperton and was almost sorry to say yes. As it turned out this was probably the only feature on which I was not happy - but that is another story. Early in 1978 John phoned again, about It Takes All Sorts to be directed by Gerry Bryant. I accepted with alacrity and so began my spell of work which continued until 1982, one year after I started my State Pension. The films I worked on during that period were Five In Millions, A New Age For Railways, Flashing Yellows, Life On The Line, Robbie, Emergency Couplings, Who's In Charge?, Partners In Prosperity, Freightliner and the Maritime Trade, Promises, Promises, Safe On The Line. An amusing story emerges from Emergency Couplings which was made to illustrate how to couple a failed HST to the reserve locomotive. The clarity of the demonstration was such that I believe I, with the help of my assistant, could have carried out the operation to the letter. Later my assistant - Mary Kessel, a lady past retirement age (I'm sure she will not mind my saying:) - was travelling by train to her home in Wales. Seated near to her were two or three railwaymen discussing the very subject of the film, and were not too sure of the facts. Mary overheard their conversation' and as they seemed to come to no firm conclusions she introduced herself and gave them a blow by blow account of the procedure!
It is interesting to note how many BTF films were miniature features (e.g. Robbie with its fearful tale of what happens to a boy who trespasses on the permanent way - told in three versions, diesel, overhead electric, and third rail). They really belied the term "documentary". Apart from the original intention behind each one the whole archive now constitutes a visual social history of the country over a period of 40 years.
My first editing experience was in the Army Film Unit (Desert Victory, Burma Victory etc) and my last was BTF - so Documentary is the frame of my career and what better end could one have. CHEERS to all my BTF friends!!