Aida Young (nee Cohen)

Family name: 
Young (nee Cohen)
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
29 Sep 1995
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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Interview notes


NB: Alan Lawson’s note suggests that ‘unfortunately she doesn’t remember dates, people’s names and often has to search her mind for titles of the films she worked on. These have been filled in in some cases.


Reluctant to give date of birth (probably late 1920s); born in East London, father was a watchmaker and clock repairer; it was a close family with an uncle grocer round the corner. She won a scholarship to the local grammar school, finished up with Higher Schools [certificate], got an entry in Bedford College but didn’t take it up. Joined Unity Theatre, got the bug for acting, but didn’t dare tell the family. Met Bert Pearl at Unity and he suggested she should try to get into the documentary film business – wrote round and eventually joined Data Films (was after the last war [i.e.World War 2]) as an assistant at £7 a week, given a subject to research on cotton mills, for which she wrote the script and then produced.

After three years with Data, she decided to try for features; got a job at Highbury Studios as a runner at £6 a week; when Highbury closed, she started freelancing, then got a job at National Studios as Associate producer on the Charlie Chan series, and then on a series for Douglas Fairbanks jnr. [Douglas Fairbanks Presents] made for ATV [Associated Television].

She then went to work on a ‘dreadful comedy’ at Brighton, and saw the birth of the Goons [possibly Penny Points to Paradise DS]. Then worked as Associate producer on Danger Man, then promoted to producer. Moved to Hammer on What a Crazy World. [Capricorn Productions] She talks about the making of She and One Million Years B.C. and various other Hammer productions.


She says that working at Hammer were very happy years. It was a ‘family’, quality was of prime importance. She then talks about the whole idea of learning the craft and also the difficulty a woman faces in the business and she realises [reveals?]  [Harry?] Saltzman’s  [totally unacceptable DS] comment to her when asked if he would employ a woman “when we start using blacks in our films, we will start using women”.

She then moved on to producing mini-series The Bunker for NBC in Paris. Then when NBC or ABC wanted productions in the UK she worked for them. She talks at some length about the various projects, and progress that has made production easier and cheaper. She also says that it was now easier to work in a studio with sets, rather than going on location and using actual interiors. She talks about working with Otto Heller and Alan Hume.


She talks about the time she was asked to join MGM studios by Matthew Raymond, a man she greatly admired. She became Associate Producer there and was virtually the Producer of Light in the Piazza, directed by Guy Green. She talks about the production. She relates the events that led to the closure of MGM, a studio which she thought to be so well planned and also ran when Matthew Raymond was in charge. She then goes on to talk about Shepperton where she had produced so many productions.



Interview with Aida Young

The copyright of this recording is vested in the BECTU History Project.

Aida Young, film and TV series producer.

Interviewer Teddy Darvas.                      

Recorded on the 29th September 1995.

Side one

TD:  Right Aida, tell us about your family life, where you were born, schooling and how you came into the film industry.

AY:  Well I was born in the East end of London, my father was a watch maker, watch repairer and my mother was a put upon housewife.  Looking back I would say she was a slave.  There were four of us and she really, she helped my father in the business.  He was a Victorian kind of man who ruled the household; we were in fear of him actually. Although I did love him, respected him, he was a very intelligent man and he was a very orthodox Jew.  We had a family a huge family, we were comfortable, we had a reasonable family life, and we never went hungry.  In those days it was easy to go hungry.  My Grandfather had a grocery shop round the corner so we always ate well and we had a very happy, sort of happy, family life. The only thing that happened really was that because my father was a sort of orthodox Jew - in that we weren’t allowed on the Sabbath to do anything - we all cheated, of course, and I used to go and play tennis and my brothers used to… god knows what my brothers used to do.  But you know it taught us to cheat and lie because none of us wanted to be, and to this day, thank goodness the four of us is still alive and to this day none of us are religious at all although one of us lives in Jerusalem but he’s certainly perhaps the least religious of the lot of us!

Anyway to come back I got a scholarship to the grammar school and they let me go, which they might not have done, they might have insisted that I went out to work but they were very good about that.  I think I was the brightest of the four of us but that, of course, depends on circumstance and their ambitions for me were that I would be what they, to quote them, ‘Somebody’s personal private secretary’ or a teacher. I did get an entry into Bedford College to be a teacher, but the idea of being a teacher of even being a secretary filled me with dismay.  I don’t know why but even at that stage the thought of teaching and of doing a nine-to-five job anywhere filled me with horror.  I wanted to be an actress but, of course, being an actress, and I was always being the lead in all the school plays, from primary school to grammar school.  I played Henry VIII.  I was rather plump (laughs) and I was mad to be an actress, but of course in those days, being an actress for a nice Jewish girl from the East End, in those days was tantamount to going on the streets.  It was going on the streets, being an actress; you know you whispered the word like you whispered the word divorce.  I didn’t know what pregnant was until I was well on in my years because I used to think pregnant was a twitch of the face cos nobody ever said the word, they just twitched their faces! And divorce, nobody was divorced, nobody we knew or spoke to was divorced, so nobody. That was the kind of upbringing that I had.  I was mad to be an actress and at that time I’d heard of Unity Theatre and Unity Theatre I joined.  It was very left wing which was another thing I couldn’t say at home.  My father was a liberal but communism or anything that was left wing was an anathema to him. So I went to Unity Theatre without them knowing I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. There I acted with people like Alfie Bass, Bill Owen and all kinds of people whose names I can’t remember.  Ted Willis was writing for us at the time, and all kinds of actors and actresses who later became professional actors and actresses and writers. All as you know the Unity Theatre was a sort of nursery for them and I had the most wonderful time, I’ve still got friends from those days, and it was there that I met a chap called Bert Pearl who was a producer of realist films and when I said to him: “Oh my god, I’ve got to start at Bedford College in a few weeks time and I don’t know what to do,” and he said: “Why don’t you go into films? You can’t be an actress, then go into films.” I looked at him and it seemed to be, why didn’t I think of that, and I said: “How do you get in?”, and he said: “Well I’ll give you a list of the documentary film companies and go round and ask them.”

So being young and energetic and optimistic, I took this list and I walked in, after having been to five or six companies, I walked into the Data Film unit, which was a offshoot of Paul Rotha, it was a co-operative. It was my lucky… the only lucky timing I’ve had in my life, I walked in, somebody had just gone into hospital and they needed somebody. They liked the idea that I was at Unity Theatre ‘cos they were quite left wing themselves and it was a co-operative and they took me on as an assistant director!

TD:  Do you remember which year this was?

AY:  No, I can’t remember years at all.

TD:  30’s or

AY:  Of no! Oh no!  It was after the war.

TD:  It was after the war.

AY:  Yes it was after the war.  I may look as if I was working in the 30’s but I wasn’t.  Anyway, they took me on as an assistant director, I knew nothing I kept phoning Bert, who was round the corner, and saying: “Bert, what should I do with this?” I had to go into the cutting room and do the rushes, and I had never had a piece of film in my hands in my life. Of course I didn’t want them to know that. So I used to phone Bert and say to Bert: “Bert, I’ve got to do the rushes, what shall I do?”, and he would say: “I’ll be over in a minute.” He would come round to the cutting room and he wouldn’t do it but he would show me what to do.

TD:  How much were you paid for that?

AY:  Oh, at that time £7 a week and I thought I was rich, rich, rich! I mean £7 a week… I remember my father saying to me when I was so excited: “Dad £7 a week I mean.”  he looked at me and he said to me: “Even when you are £700 a week, you won’t have enough money.” He was so right, he knew me well, but I was so excited about being there and they were a lovely group of people, Jack Chambers, Donald Alexander, Francis and Mary Gysin, I mean, ??? Shepherd and they were all very, very enthusiastic people and they all knew film, backward, sideways. They knew about Grierson and all the people in films that meant something to them. They sneered at feature films.

Shall I carry on?

TD:  Yes yes.

AY:  OK sorry.  They sneered at feature films the only films that were worth making, as far as they were concerned were documentary films and I have to say that I saw one of the documentary films about 20 years ago that I had made and it was so dreadful.  We made films for, of course, what was then the Ministry of Information and then the Central Office of Information, and like every other documentary film you were contracted to do that, and I remember that, after I had been there for about a month, Jack Chambers… oh, and there was Wolf Suschitzky who was there too.

TD:  The cameraman.

AY:  The cameraman, he was a part of this group and Jack Chambers said to me: “Would you like to go and make a film up.. and make a film about cotton?” I looked at him and said “yes”. I used to say yes to everything! And he said: “Ok next week go up to Oldham, get a script written about the cotton mills.” I didn’t have a clue what to do and I remember thinking how shall I prepare myself and all I could think of was going to Boots and buying some toothpaste to take up with me.

Anyway I went up there and I was quite a talker so I inveigled myself into quite a few cotton mills and I got something written and came back and they seemed to like it and we went up and we made this film and I had to do everything - the rushes - I had… you know, I knew nothing.  I was totally ignorant about the camera, about the sound I just knew nothing but boy did I learn and very quickly.

TD:  Do you remember who was on the unit with you?

AY:  Well Donald Alexander was directing and Su, (Suschitzky) we called him Su in those days was the cameraman and we had a couple of freelances, I suppose, on the running around.  There were only about five of us doing the whole lot, doing the whole thing.  It was only a 20 minute documentary and it was about the cotton mills after the war and how…  I do remember we had to shoot a very bad cotton mill, an old fashioned cotton mill, with all the dust and everything, and a new one. The new one was, I remember now, Lily, called the Lily Mill and it was quite splendid and they used to have dances every Sunday for their employees, and it was magnificent.  It was like a palace.  But I still needed a really nasty cotton mill, and somebody told me that the worst cotton mill was such and such, I can’t remember the name, and I said how do I get in there, and they told me the name of the man who owned it and I went and I said to him:

“Can we shoot in your mill, it’s for the Central Office of Information, and we’re doing a documentary about cotton mills? He said: “Why do you want to shoot my mill?”  I said to him: “Because we need a mill that’s really rotten and nasty to show how much things are changing”, and he said “Yes”. I was amazed and we shot it and it was disgusting, it was really one of those terrible, terrible places where people used to work.  With dust in the air and nobody had any protection and the noise, the machines and filth, the rats everywhere. It was terrible.  He didn’t seem to mind, I think he liked the idea of putting him in the… he was actually on the film too. Anyway I’m sure he’s long dead, ‘cos he was quite an old man then and so I did all that and I learnt quite a lot. Especially, I learnt to work in the cutting room, because we used to do all our own cutting, everything, we were writing, producing, cutting. Everything, we did everything.

TD:  Did you have a cutter on the film or did you..?

AY:  No we... I had to it all yourself.  So I did learn with a lot of help from Bert and a lot of help from Su and Donald, and everybody was wonderful.  There was such a great spirit in that place.  Anyway, after about three years, I decided there has to be life outside documentary film.

TD:  Can you remember any other films that you made there?

AY:  Well nothing that is sort of well known like the Post Office films.  Nothing really splendid like Night Mail [1936] and those wonderful Post Office films and some of those.  They were ordered by the Central Office of Information. Mainly they were about health and work and that kind of thing.  You know there were quite a lot of documentary film units and we were all very lucky to get work.

Anyway, I decided that I would go into features.  I wasn’t a sneerer of features like most of the others were. I thought I’d like to do that so again I just did the round of the studios and I found myself at Highbury Studios and the studio manager whose name I can’t just remember at this moment, thought it was very funny that I should ask.  You have to understand that there were no women, no girls at all in the feature film industry other than secretaries, make up, wardrobe and I wasn’t interested - and hairdressers - I wasn’t interested in doing any of that. I wanted to go onto production, especially after I had been in documentaries for three years. So he took me on as a ‘runner’, and I was quite happy about that and John Croydon was running the studios at the time, Andy [Adrian] Worker, that was the studio manager’s name and so there I was in a real studio, where they make real films.

TD:  How much were they paying you then?

AY:  Oh I think £6 a week then.  But I was over the moon, although all I had to do was make… it was the lowest form of animal life, I mean, as it still is, make a cup of tea here, run off - they had Gestetner machines in those days - you had to run off call sheets on one of those bloody black machines. You know you put black ink all over everything and then rolled it by hand, and you always got covered in black ink, always no matter how careful you were. I always had ink, black ink, over everything.  My face, my hands, my clothes everything, and you were at the beck and call of everybody but it was just what… I was so thrilled as if I was a diva, I was so excited by it all and I remember that I walked onto the stage on the first day…  I mean I wasn’t really allowed on the stage much, I was really a runner running around for everybody but I was determined to go on the stage and to see what was happening and my eyes were like saucers, and they were just about to start running on.  I can’t even remember what film it was. There was terrible comedies made at Highbury Studios - Jimmy Edwards and people like that.  Highbury Studios was supposed to have been the nursery for Rank, that’s right and so they tried everything out there.  They really made some terrible films.

TD:  Can I just ask about the ACTT? Did you become a member?

AY:  Oh yes, of course.

TD:  Did you have any difficulty getting in?

AY:  No, not at all after three years in documentary, and certainly not with Data, which was quite a left wing co-operative?

TD:  So you became a member while you were with Data?

AY: Oh yes, everybody at Data was a member of ACTT, and it was very proper to do so.  And I remember walking on the stage on the first day I was there, and the boys were talking round the camera, and I sidled up to hear what they were saying, and I thought they would be discussing, you know, the philosophy of this film they were making. They were talking about football, the football that had been on the previous Saturday, and I was absolutely astonished and bemused because nobody talked football in documentary films. You talked about film, and that was all you talked about. So here they were standing around the camera talking about football. Anyway I had a wonderful couple of years there, and then, with my usual timing, Highbury closed down.  They didn’t continue and that was my impeccable timing yet again.

Then I was out in the freelance market and I can tell you that a girl on the freelance market in those days in production you might as well have cut your throat because there was no way of getting in anywhere, and finally, I was out of work for six months, and then I would get on a film.  By this time I was an assistant director.  I had tried everything, I had been a third, I had been a second. For a few minutes I had been a first, but the electrician, on the film that I was… I can’t remember what film it was that I went on as a first.  When I said “Quiet please” on the floor all the electricians up on the gantry all mocked me and went “Quiet please, she wants quiet please” [said in a high pitched voice], and I was a joke and I decided that it was something not to fight.  I couldn’t be bothered with that so I left being a first assistant, and I never did it after that.  In fact I think I lasted two days and then resigned, and I went back to being a second and then I became a production manager and then finally an associate producer, and then production assistant, and then a producer.  So I have done it all.

TD:  What were you… what was the first film that you were a production assistant or production manager?

AY:  I think that was at National Studios, and I was working at that time on, I can’t remember which one it was, it was either Charlie Chan or it was the Douglas Fairbanks series and I can’t remember which one it was where I became the production manager for the first time.

TD:  Do you remember roughly the year?

AY:  No I can’t remember years at all.  It’s because I don’t want to, because then you can add up how old I am and I’m not telling you.

TD:  I met you at the Grove Hill.

AY:  Be careful

TD:  When I was a second assistant.

AY:  Yes.

TD:  Either in 1949 or 1953 something like that.

AY:  I honestly don’t know.  I mean, I certainly didn’t come into features until the sixties.  I mean features proper.  Anyway, I then -  so I messed about finding jobs wherever I could - got to National Studios, and Douglas Fairbanks was so charming and very helpful to me.  Course I was a girl and he liked women. And then I went on to do Charlie Chan and other things for ATV at the time, and then I went to work for - I’m not going to tell you his name - somebody asked me would I go to Brighton to make this terrible, terrible comedy, but I was over the moon for being asked.  I think I’d probably been out of work for about six months and I went and it was a terrible comedy, and it had Peter Sellers in it, Spike Milligan. Anyway we stayed in the Salisbury Hotel in Brighton, all of us, and every night after shooting this group used to go down to the bar, where there was a piano and that was the start of the Goons, which of course, I didn’t know.  I didn’t understand and I used to go down and listen to them: Sellers, Spike Milligan.

TD:  Michael.

AY:  Michael Bentine, the fat man, Harry Secombe, they were all there and they all stood around the piano and they all played and sang and talked and this was the start of the Goons.  Of course I didn’t know at the time but I used to love it.  I used to wait for the evenings to go to that pub.  In fact many, many years later, I bumped into Spike Milligan at one of the big studios and I said to him: “Hello, I don’t suppose you remember me?”  And he looked at me and he said: “No I don’t,” and I said to him: “The last time we were together was in Brighton” and as soon as I said that he scuttled away and I thought yes… it sounded a bit ominous you know.  That was a great time, I remember that quite clearly. The film that we were working on was dreadful, it was a B picture comedy and I can’t remember the name of it. [Penny Points to Paradise]

TD:  Can you remember the name of the director by any chance?

AY:  No, I ought to but I can’t.

TD:  Was it Barry Carstairs or somebody like that?

AY:  No it wasn’t he, no I would remember if it was him.  I honestly don’t remember who the director was. [Tony Young] I remember who the producer was because he’s the chap who took me on and he had a brother and the boys, the two brothers [the Dent brothers]did this.  Anyway…

TD:  Can you give his name?  Has he gone?

AY:  No, no.  I also worked for the Black brothers of course for a while.  They were at Walton on Thames.

Another voice:  Tyne &Tees

AY:  No.

Another voice:  Do you mean Edward?

AY:  Yes, I think it was at Walton on Thames. You see my mind’s very foggy.

Another voice:  Oh was it ??????????????

AY:  No, no, making feature films.  Terrible films, but feature films with people like Jimmy Edwards and people like that.

Another voice:  It might have been Edward.

AY:  There were two brothers, and I was at Walton-on-Thames because I worked at Walton-on-Thames as well before that closed down.  Everywhere I went seemed to close down after, when I was there.  Anyway this went on and on and on, and then I made Danger Man, and I was associate producer at first for it, and then I produced with Patrick McGoohan, and this was a great huge success.

TD:  Which studio was that?

AY:  That was at… it started at National and went on the MGM. So it was at MGM studios that I was producing the one hours. You see we started with half hours and then we went on to one hours.  And then life became quite complicated because I was married by them and it became complicated because Mr McGoohan was rather erm… I don’t want to use the word difficult, but he was very, very involved with the show - quite understandably, because it was his show really and he used to telephone me at all hours of the night and mornings and my husband said at one stage that it was either Mr MaGoohan or me. So I left.  I had made a dozen one hours by then so, in a way, it was right that I left. But then I went to work for Hammer.  I did their only musical, I went in to do a musical called Oh What a Crazy World [sic, What a Crazy World, 1963] and it had in it Brown.. what is the singers name? [Joe Brown] it had all the singers of the sixties in it at the… I’m so bad with names, it will come to me in a minute.  Anyway the pop singers, a lot of pop singers were in it and that’s when I first met Michael Carreras He was the producer and I was associate producer, I think, on it at the time - or production assistant at the time, I can’t remember. [Associate producer]  It was wonderful. It was the only musical that I ever worked on and it was very exciting and…

TD:  Can you remember who directed it?

AY:  Erm, it’s terrible, I can’t.  I was so involved with Michael you see I can’t remember who directed it. [Michael Careeras]

Another voice:  Was that made at Bray?

AY:  No, no we made that at MGM.  Yes at MGM. And then having done that, I was then in with Hammer you see.  Michael liked me, we got on very well together, so he invited me back to do a number of films, and I worked there as associate producer on She, A Million Years BC [sic, One Million Years B.C., 1966],and I was still wide-eyed and excited.  I was still excited about film, but I’d learned so much at Hammer, more than I had ever learned since or before.

TD:  You must tell us, at length about One Million Years B.C., because I know that you went to Mount Teide and everything.

AY:  Yes that was Rachel Welch and…

TD:  Because it’s really interesting, where it was shot.

AY:  Yes. We went to Lanzarote where they have this volcano, Mount Teide.

TD: That’s in Tenerife.

AY:  In Tenerife. But we went to Lanzarote; we went to Lanzarote when nobody else was there. And we used… that’s a volcanic island, and we used a lot of that. And then we went to Mount Teide, which is in Tenerife, and we stayed in the Paradore which is the government hotel up there.  We took the whole Paradore over, which was right by the volcano, and we had only been there - it was September, October - we’d only been there for about three days when the most terrible, terrible weather came upon us.  Winds of 100 miles an hour, rain as they had never seen before, they’d never had weather like it and, you know, when you go on location, you always have bad weather. The first time in 100 years, and this was really terrible, and as we were at the top of a mountain, the trees were down all the way down.  Nobody could get up to us, and nobody could get down, we couldn’t film, we were wandering around the hotel.  I was going crazy, the telephone lines were down, and it was absolutely terrible.  It was a nightmare and, as the days went on, about four days after it started, we noticed that some of the people came up to me to complain to me about it, that the staff in the hotel were being very difficult.  We were getting no proper service and they were being very difficult and rather rude to us, and on top of all the tensions of the weather and not shooting this was. The unit were coming and saying: “Look, I asked so-and-so to get me a cup of coffee and I never got it, and this man was so rude to me.”  So I spoke to the manager, and I said to the manager: “Look, what’s going on?”  So the manager said: “Well you know, they are really all peasants hear and they think that you brought the bad weather, and they think it’s an ill omen and they want you to go.” And they come to me and say :“Get them out of here and then we will have better weather.” And, of course, some of them couldn’t get down to their homes and I said to him what he had said, and he said: “I told them not to be so ridiculous, but they are getting very restless and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end.”

So you can imagine how nervous I was.  I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want to upset the unit and get them nervous, so I sort of kept praying everyday that the weather would subside and get better before we were torn limb from limb.  I could see a massacre up there you know.  I mean, I know I’m being dramatic but that was the atmosphere. Up there we were alone in this hotel at the... near a volcano, and this terrible, terrible weather. Anyway eventually the weather subsided and after five days, and things got back to normal but we never forgot it, we never… we got out of there as fast as we could.  We were really, really very upset by it.

TD: Who directed that, can you remember?

AY: Million Years BC was directed by, isn’t it awful I can’t remember.

Voice off:  Was it Milton Subotsky?

AY:  No I can’t remember.  He wasn’t involved with Hammer at all. No, no.

TD:  Milton never directed, never produced.

AY:  Erm, I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed

TD:  It wasn’t Terence Young?

AY:  No it wasn’t Terence Young, no.  I’m really ashamed that I can’t remember the director’s name.  It will come to me. [Don Chaffey] But the thing about Rachel Welch at the time… I had a hard time because, in those days, attractive women like that were not meant to be married, so that everybody would lust after her, right?  But she was married, and she had two kids, and in fact last week I heard on the radio that the daughter is now in films.  She had a little boy and a little girl, and so the husband and the two kids were in one hotel and Rachel was in another, and I had to be sure that nobody knew that they were related.  It was, you know, that was another nerve racking situation.  She was very, very good.  She was very professional, she acted well, and she did as she was told.  She was very, very co-operative. She was a very nice girl actually.  She was very nice.  I know that people like to talk about those people being difficult the more attractive they are.   I did She [1965] for… I was associate producer on She, Ursula Andress for Hammer.  Again she was lovely, she was a lovely woman.  The only thing was that one morning - be careful with this - she didn’t come to make-up and the make-up chap phoned me and said: “Look, we’ve banged on the door, we’ve phoned her number, there is no-one, she should have been in make-up half an hour ago.”

This was about 5 o’clock in the morning. So I got out of bed.  We were in chalets in this hotel. We were in Israel, in Elat,  and we were in chalets.  This was a long time ago before Elat was a holiday resort the way it is now.  There was one hotel, the Queen of Sheba Hotel, where we were staying, and it had little chalets.  She was in the chalet next to me, so I said, “Oh alright”. So I put my dressing gown on and I stumbled out to her chalet. The front door was open, the door was open which surprised me, and I walked in and all these chalets had a sitting room on the ground floor and then you walked up some steps and there was a gallery where the bedroom was and there was a curtain across it.  So I walked up these stairs calling ‘Ursula, Ursula’ and then I moved the curtain a little and looked into this huge double bed and there was Ursula asleep with… I don’t know if I should tell you who it was.  No I won’t, but it was a French actor who found himself acting in north Israel, and discovered that she was down there, and they had a great love affair which went on most of her life. And there he was in bed with her, and they were out to the world and they couldn’t hear anything.  So I would go over to the bed and shake her and she opened her eyes and said: ‘Yes darling’, and I said:

‘You should have been in make-up an hour ago, come on.’ Got her out of bed. He just turned over and that was the last I saw of him.  He flew back to work.  He was working in the north of Israel and she was very funny about that.  She was lovely, she was absolutely divine. She was a lovely girl.

TD:  Tell us really about the unit.  In those days presumable you had to take all the electricians with you?

AY:  On She? As a matter of fact on She… it’s funny that you should say that, because I was a very active member of ACTT. In fact at one stage I was…

TD:  Steward.

AY:  No I was never the steward, but I was the producer/director section.  I was involved very actively with the producer/director’s unit of the ACTT.  I was a very active member of the union.  So what I’m going to tell you… I have to tell you that before what I’m going to tell you.  I went from Pinewood, we went from Pinewood to the Canaries and they insisted that I took 16 electricians.  Now it was customary to take a lot of electricians in those days and the ETU ran Pinewood studios. They ran it.  As much as I could scream and shout, they insisted that I took them with, so I took the whole lot, and when I got there I said, “Look I don’t want you all on the location.  Exteriors, all exteriors, I don’t need you so eight can go with us and eight can stay in the hotel.” And the Queen of Sheba was a five-star luxury hotel, with beautiful swimming pool and everything.  So I left them behind and took eight of them.  Maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe it wasn’t sixteen maybe it was twelve or so.  Certainly a large number, maybe in my head it’s sixteen because it was so many.  Anyway, I left half of them behind and took half of them with me, and the half I took with me had nothing to do except hold reflectors.  Anyway, at the end of the week, and I left them - I did this every day for a week - at the end of the week, the people that were left behind put in the same time sheets as the boys who came out on location with us, where they had done four or five hours overtime.  We’d leave at 9.00, 8.00, 7.00 in the morning and come back 7.00 in the evening, or something like that - when it started to get dusk.  So I said to them:

‘Look, I didn’t want you here in the first place, you’ve been swimming and eating and having a holiday, you are not entitled to put in the overtime.  At least those boys were on the location, they didn’t come back here until…’, and it was very hot it was like I don’t know, it was 110 degrees, it was very hot, dry heat though, and it was like dessert heat:

‘So you were in the swimming pool and we were all sweating on location. You’re not going to get these [over]times, you’re not going to get them.’

So they said that if we don’t get them we’re not going to let our other mates work.  So I said… OK, I thought, I have got to call their bluff now, I phoned Pinewood and told them I was sending half of these men back on a plane today, and you can do what you like.  So, of course, there were ructions, and they said they would call everyone on strike. So I called a union meeting and I said, ‘This is the situation,’ and the entire unit said they weren’t going to strike, we’re going to work.  So I said to the other boys the other electricians:

‘Look, it’s up to you, you can get on the plane and go back and we will work without electricians, which we can do. I’ll show you we can do.  Or you can stay.’ So, of course, the half that I had taken on location with me decided to stay. I agreed to go to arbitration when I got back.  I said:‘That’s where I’ll meet you; we’ll go to arbitration when we get back.’ I sent the other half back to Pinewood by plane. They went, and when we got back we went to arbitration.  I had to pay them all.  I had to pay them all for the entire film for work that they never did.  That’s how it was in those days.  So that was… when you mention the union, that was my, you know… I mean, I was very, very angry.  In fact, that was the start of my disillusion with the union. I left the union a few years after that, when I became a producer.  Then I decided that, because, in any case, the director/producer part of the union was treated like employers, and we were treated very badly by the union.  It was like a fight, you know, it was like us and them and I decided to leave.

TD:  I’m anticipating chronologically that you were involved when we formed the action committee, weren’t you, and when Roy Battersby and everybody took over.

AY:  No, No.

TD:  Were you not?

AY:  No, I wasn’t in the union then.

TD:  Oh right.

AY:  No I wasn’t. No I wasn’t in the union then, at that stage.

TD:  I’m sorry.

AY:  No, it’s alright.  So then I… then Tony…  God I’m so bad with names, he used to produce all the horror films for Hammer.

TD:  Tony Hinds.

AY: No Tony Hinds was old Hammer and he used to do the writing.  Tony, um… Jesus, it will come to me in a minute.  He used to produce all the horror films at Hammer and he was about to produce a Dracula film [Anthony Nelson Keyes].  I think it was called Dracula has Risen from the Grave, and he went to play golf in Spain and I think he broke his leg or his arm or something, and couldn’t get back.  I was there and not working, I mean I wasn’t contracted to Hammer, I was still freelance. So they asked me to do it and, of course, I said yes.  I’d never seen a horror film in my life never been involved in one, so I sat in Wardour Street theatre - Hammer had their own theatre in Wardour Street at the time - and watch about six horror films in a row, staggered out and made Dracula has Risen from the Grave [1968].  Had a ball. I loved every minute of it. It was so funny, and that became a cult film.

TD:  That wasn’t Don Sharpe who directed it was it? [It was Freddie Francis]

AY:  Isn’t it terrible, I can’t remember any of the directors but he did do one of them, that’s how I met Don.  But I did Dracula has Risen from the Grave, Drink the Blood of Dracula [sic, Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1969], he might have done that one [It was Peter Sasdy],and Hands of the Ripper [1971, also Peter Sasdy], those three horror films I made there. And then I didn’t go back to Hammer after that.  My days at Hammer, I have to tell you were incredible.  First of all, we worked like slaves for not much money.  Having worked at Bray… in those days we were at Bray and to get there from London, I drove an old jalopy. I nearly came… nearly finished my life on the bridge at Datchet because I skidded, I had a very old jalopy an Armstrong Siddeley, and the wheel sheered off and it took me over the bridge at Datchet, and I managed to get out of the car before the car toppled into the water. I nearly got killed. That was one morning going to work, and it was very icy.  But we again - like in documentaries they used to use all the same people - we were a family, and we worked so hard, and we worked long hours and we cared so much and we all helped one another and you learned how to make films on a shoestring and…


Side Two

AY: And we learnt how to make films under all  of kinds conditions and everything, everything that we did was on the screen there was no extraneous expenses there were no huge big cars and everybody - Michael Carreras, Tony Hinds, everybody - we all worked together.  There was no them and us and it was just like a family.  I mean it was just terrific and the quality of the films was wonderful.  We used the best designers, the best technicians, it was just wonderful.  I’m… you know if anybody ever sneers at Hammer, and when I think of the rubbish that was made afterwards that was called horror films and science fiction, which Hammer was making 20 years before and better.  If you look at a Hammer film and look at the quality of every one of those films was wonderful.  The thing that, if I can digress, the amazing thing about growing up in the business was that there was no training of any kind whatsoever.  There were no film schools; there were no courses in colleges.  No courses at universities nothing.  How people ever learned the craft.  Now I’m not talking about production because that you learnt through experience, and that you learned by working on it, but how sound people and camera people ever learned their trade is beyond me. How? I mean, they had to learn it working. How they got a job in the first place.  It was who you knew and not what you did and it was really disgraceful because there was no training at all.  None in the studios had any training, you just went in.  And decided you wanted, well somebody’s son, aunt, uncle or nephew or friend of a friend, you know, you went in and you learned on the spot or you didn’t learn on the spot, you know.  Or you were laughing or you were wonderful but no training at all.  It’s incredible when you think today how many schools there are, and how many courses there are.  There was nothing, absolutely nothing, in the film industry.  Nowhere you could learn.  That I find is the most extraordinary thing of all and I don’t think anybody realises that.  There was nowhere you could learn your craft in those days.  You stumbled along from one film to another film and learned as you went.

TD:  This is where the job fit scheme that the ACTT had was so good because it was both a training thing but also everybody was a supernumerary and did every part.

AY:  That’s right but that was much, much, much later?

TD:  Years ago.

AY:  Yes, how editors learned their trade is beyond me.  You had to be a natural didn’t you?  You had to be able to do it.

TD:  When your editor allowed you sometimes.

AY:  When your editor allowed you to touch it.  It’s incredible.  When I think back, you know how you stumbled through.  Of course for me, I have to say, it was much more difficult than for most people because I was a girl doing all what boys’ work, men’s’ work.  I was the only woman runner, third assistant, second assistant, we’ll forget first assistant, production assistant.  I was the only girl at the time doing anything.  This was before television, even after television because in television women began to get jobs, but not in films. Not in films.

TD:  My first film we had a woman production manager that was 1948. Isobel Pargeter but she was very much an exception.

AY:  Oh, totally yes.

TD:  She made documentaries.  Yes Pargy.

AY:  Yes Pargy I knew, well everybody came from documentaries.

TD:  Tolly de Grunwald she worked for. Did marvellously well too.

AY:  Yes.  Yes I remember her but she wasn’t doing it, she had finished when I was a production manager.  I was the only one at the time, in fact, I was the only woman producer apart from Betty Box but of course she was in a different category because she was Sindy's sister and the Boxes were all, you know, a different company.  But I was the only sort of freelance nobody, you know.  As a producer, a woman at the time and I found it very hard to get work and mostly I worked for people I’d worked with before.  They knew I could do the job.

I remember I went to see Saltzburg for a job, I remember going to South Audley Street to see him in Warwick.

TD:  Saltzman.

AY:  [Harry] Saltzman, sorry not Saltsburg, I’m terrible with names. And this was before Bond and he was struggling, and I knew he was going to make a film, and I thought, maybe I could get a job with him and he looked at me and he said to me, ‘Listen when we start using blacks in our films, in our unit then we’ll start using women’.  [pause] And I have never forgotten it, and I’ve never forgotten it, and that’s how women were perceived, you know, you did… you were a secretary.  Even when I was a producer and I was standing on the floor, people used to come up to me,  strangers mainly, and say to me, can you tell me where the producer is, and I used to say ‘I’m the producer’, and they would look at me and think I was joking.  You know they’d think I was the wardrobe mistress or the make-up girl or the production secretary or the continuity girls but you know…

TD:  There were women editors of course.

AY:  There were, but how many? I mean you could count those on one hand. There aren’t many, and the editors were shut away in a room, you know, and so it was very difficult.  Anyway, after Hammer, what happened to me after Hammer?  Well you know I can’t remember.  Well, I went back into doing the odd film, doing the odd film and then erm, went… because of… when the feature film industry became shaky I found myself working on a, erm, mini series called The Bunker [1980] for NBC, and we made that in Paris with Anthony Hopkins playing Hitler, and it was really wonderful.  It’s never been shown here because there was another Bunker being made here which was being shown and there was an Italian Bunker being shown so ours was never shown but we did get an Emmy award and so did Tony Hopkins, and it was really wonderful.

TD:  Did you make it in the studio in Boulogne [?] or...

AY:  No we made it… no SFP was the studio in Paris, and we worked in Bray [?] I think it was called, Bray.  The studio outside Paris, just outside Paris. We were… it was a co-production between NBC and SFP.  And that was what started it, and from then, anytime NBC made a series or ABC or CBS, they knew me in England so they asked me to produce.

TD:  How did you find working in Paris, with the French crew?

AY:  The French were, I mean, they were very good, but very unfriendly.  It didn’t matter to me because I was so busy, and George Schaefer, who was directing, and me used to go and have dinner every evening together because we could talk about the next day’s work. And I had an assistant, a girl, a good looking girl, Tirzah [Lowen], who lives up the road here.  And the actors were all English, except for two or three French actors.  None of the French crew had anything to do with them, and George had an assistant from America [Phone ring]).  None of the French crew (I hope that’s not for me) none of the French crew had anything to do, anything to do with them.  Nobody was invited home, nobody was invited for a drink, nothing.  So I found that quite unfriendly.

TD:  Did you have American cameramen or…

AY:  No, no all Frenchmen.  All French crew, the whole crew was French.  And…

Voice off:  Was it a language barrier?

AY:  No because they all spoke English and some of us, Tirzah spoke fluent French, that’s why I took her.  Oh no, there wasn’t a language barrier, it was just one of those things, you know, it was just a way of life.  I don’t think it would have happened here. I think an English crew might have said to somebody ‘Come and have a drink’, but they didn’t.

TD:  I worked in Paris in the 66 and the French crew they were very friendly.

AY:  Yes, well I suppose it depends on who.  This was a studio crew, they all know one another.  They, you know… well maybe, it seemed, it seemed to me to be a bit unfriendly.  The only person who was very friendly and kept inviting us over to her place was the continuity girl who was Polish and was married to a Frenchman, and in the end I did go and visit her before I left Paris. But the standard of work was extremely high, and the production designer was superb but he spent money like water, but we didn’t care because the deal was that they put all that into the picture.  No matter what it was. And NBC provided the story and the actors and so forth and so forth, the usual co-production deal.  It was very interesting and I enjoyed it very much. It was hard but I enjoyed it. But what was really good for me was that I made a contact in America, you see, and from then on I was recommended for one person, to another person, to another person. So most of the last 15 years I have been working for the Americans. And still, to this day.

TD:  Tell us, after the French, what you did next?

AY:  After The Bunker, I can’t remember chronologically, I made a number of series. I made, I think, a series erm, erm, I think for Edgar Scherick, erm Hitler’s S.S. [TV 1985]. it was a fictional story about two families and two boys in each family.

TD:  That was quite recent; it was about 10 years ago.

AY:  No it was more than that, I’m afraid it was 15 years ago.

TD:  I came in for two weeks               .

AY:  It was about 15 years ago, and how two of the boys became Nazis and two of the boys didn’t and became anti- Nazis, and the rise of the S.S..  It was very interesting, so I did that.  And then, after that, I did a film in Ireland called The Country Girls [1984] for London films.  That was meant to be a feature but it in fact… and it opened the London Film Festival actually but it was a very good.  It was based on a novel by erm, the Irish writer, the lady. God I’m senile!

TD: A rather pretty girl.

AY: Yes a good looking woman.

TD:  O’Brien.

AY:  Yes, Edna O’Brien, her book The County Girls we made that in Ireland. And then I made another, and then I made another thing in Ireland called, erm, about Protestants and Catholics and we got an award for that.  I can’t remember the name of it, George Schaefer directing [Children in the Crossfire, TV 1984].  That’s how I met George and then I did the Barbara Taylor Bradford series, the first one was, not Woman of Substance, I was supposed to produce, but then Diane came and produced it herself. But I did, Voice of the Heart [TV, 1989] and To be the Best [TV, 1992].

TD:  That was much later.

AY:  Yes, that was much later.  I worked on the one that you worked on that we were talking about before.

TD:  Act of Will [TV, 1989]

AY:  Act of Will, but then left, left that. I did the scripts on that then left that, and then the last thing I’ve done…  You know that each one took about a year to make because there were about four hours of each of them. And the last thing I did was thirteen, one hours of, of a series which I thought was absolutely excellent called Covington Cross [TV, 1992], and unfortunately it has not been shown because it was made for Thames and for ABC and Thames lost it’s franchise before it was finished, and they’re sitting somewhere un-shown.  I know, and they are excellent don’t you think so?  You worked on them?

TD:  No.

AY:  I thought they were very good stories, very good production value, excellent actors, very very good indeed.  When they will be shown, God knows. And, oh, then before that I did a film for NBC on the Beetles called John and Yoko [TV, 1985], and it was wonderful and it was so good.  Also never been shown [in the UK] because there was a legal problem with Sony and that’s still going on as far as I know and that was with Mark Megan playing John Lennon and an American Japanese girl playing Yoko and in fact Mark and this Japanese girl had a love affair in the same way as John and Yoko did.  It was quite extraordinary, it was a parallel thing. But it was a marvellous film, it was wonderful with all… we got permission to use all the tracks from Yoko, and I went to tea at Yoko’s place in New York because we shot half of it in New York and half of it here. And that I’m very proud of because it was a really good film.  That was a four hour show which may turn up eventually.  I am sure I have forgotten all kinds of things but, you know, I have been working for a long time.

TD:  The thing… To go back, tell us about the sort of changes, partly on crewing and on techniques and how much easier it has become, cameras…

AY:  Oh Yes.

TD: from the time that you started.

AY:  I have told you a little bit about Pinewood and the electricians and wherever you went, there is no doubt about it, that you had a production meeting before filming, which I used to go to and I used to come away from those production meetings with a stomach ache, because the unions made it so difficult for us to work.  They would make so may demands, and I would find myself fighting them as a producer and getting so angry because, having got a film going, which was hard enough, goodness knows, then to have to fight to get it on the floor.  It was really annoying. And all the way through, you know, there were things like, you couldn’t do an extra hour at the end of a day without warning everybody by 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  I’m having a meeting at 4.00 with the shop stewards.  Well sometimes you know things happened, you know, sometimes the actors forgot their words, something happened and you had to go over.  You were allowed fifteen minutes but no more, and you know it was really terrible.  Sometimes, the set had to come down and you needed another five minutes. Nothing doing, Fifteen minutes, the lights used to go out.  You couldn’t discuss it with anybody, you couldn’t talk to anybody, you couldn’t plead with anybody. The lights would go out and off they would go. I mean it was disgraceful, and I was, I was an active union person in those days and I left the union. It was disgraceful, and not only that, if you wanted to work on a Saturday or Sunday… now, OK, I can understand people have families and they want to know what they are going to do but sometimes things happened. You could never work on a Saturday or a Sunday it you haven’t said before you started shooting that you were going to work on that Saturday or Sunday. You couldn’t do it.  And there were all these restrictions about working, it never stopped. Day in and day out, the producer had meetings and complaints and meetings and complaints, and then gradually things got easier because there was so much unemployment that, in the end, you could more or less do pretty well what you liked. And I don’t think - I may be wrong, I certainly didn’t, and the people who I know didn’t -  I don’t think producers took advantage of it.  I don’t think so. You would have to ask people on a unit if they did, but certainly on my crews I never did.  It was so much easier at the end of the day.  You needed an hour you would say to everybody on the floor: ‘Look is it OK we want to go on an hour?’, and generally speaking everybody would say ‘OK’, but if somebody would say: ‘look I’ve got to get home because   ra ra ra’, OK go, and then, if we needed to replace him, we would replace him, and if we didn’t we’d go without him, and it was a quid pro quo situation. The atmosphere became so much better on the floor because everybody was friendlier, and it got much much easier on overtime, it got much easier on all kinds of activities and you… [Buzz in room] and you felt that everybody was participating in your film.

TD:  Can we stop? (Voice off - no no someone) Can you also talk about it as an improvement in equipment - like you don’t need the big boom, and cameras and lighter…         .

AY:  Yes sure with lights.

TD:  With cameras and lighter weight cameras.

AY:  Yes, yes

TD:  And girls can now be clapper girls.

AT:  Sure, sure.

TD: Also, from when you started, the development.

AY:  Yes, yes.

TD:  From documentaries and how heavy the cameras…

AY:  Yes and the lights were so heavy, and the arcs needed two electricians.

TD: And the sound.

AY: And the sound.  Yes except that hasn’t changed too much.

TD:  Well the sound…  well the sound track, as opposed to the sound.

AY:  There’s not a lot of room.  (Laughs)

TD:  No no, but you have four… but you have four… but you have to have four people, a camera operator, and all those…

AY: Yes, yes

TD:  Have gone.

AY:  Well no, you still need… you still have three. Maintenance… if you want maintenance on a camera.  Hasn’t changed and awful lot.  It changed a bit but the sound people… of course there’s not so many people on sound but, you know, you’ve still got this man with a boom, I mean, in this day and age it’s ridiculous.  They do have radio mikes but they don’t use them because there’re not good enough.

TD:  Whenever we’ve had radio mikes - sounds awful.

AY:  I know.  You can hear the heart pita-pattering, I mean, in this day and age a man on the moon and there’s this man extending a boom. All seems to me to be so ridiculous, and er we’re not…

TD: We’re not learning at the moment. We’re not recording.

Voice in room: We are recording at the moment, yes.

AY:  Oh you are.

TD:  Sorry. I thought…

AY:  Oh that’s all right. Erm, yes, of course, the lights especially.  That was the big thing, when the lights became much smaller with the same degree of light, but much smaller to handle. Remember an arc was such a big heavy job, and it needed two or three sparks just to put it up and…

TD:  The brutes.

AY:  The brute, yes. It was a brute too.  But of course, as the lamps got smaller and smaller and easier you needed fewer electricians, and I’m sure today there aren’t many feature films - I’m not talking about the blockbuster, I’m talking about the ordinary feature films - that use more than four electricians and a gaffer today, and that’s perfectly adequate. And sound crews as well, as you say, they now work on a small Nagra, or whatever it is, as opposed to this huge soundtrack that they used to use.  As I was just saying, you’ve still got the man with the boom, which has never ceased to amuse my.  Every time I walk onto the floor and see this man with the boom, I think, my God, nothing’s changed.  And of course, the camera is much lighter, but you still have to use three crew, the cameraman, the operator, the clapper. If you want maintenance, you use a fourth man. But then, usually you don’t because the camera doesn’t need the maintenance that the old big ones used to need.

TD:  The stock, there's not been a great improvement on.

AY:  Yes, the stock is faster, I mean, that would make an improvement with lights rather more than anything else.  Yes everything has got much faster and better and lighter, and you don’t need as many people, although I mean you count the number of people on a unit on a feature today, there’s a lot different to the numbers that it used to be. Still between 70 and 100 people and that is how much… how it used to be. So really and truly you can’t get away, I mean it’s it’s, erm, a work-intensive industry.  Isn’t it, I mean you’ve still got to have a wardrobe person and wardrobe help?  Make-up can only be done by a person, by two or three people.  Hair, you know you can’t do that by a computer or by a machine. So really quite a lot of it is still, erm, is still as it used to be.  I mean the materials are better, but the people you still need them, the people to do it.

TD:  Of course, the facility about shooting on location as opposed to having to build sets.

AY:  Oh yes, well that became…  Well it’s sort of gone full circle now.  It became quite adventurous to go out on location and do stuff on location until suddenly somebody realised that it became more expensive to shoot on location because you needed all the transport and all the catering and the time it took for people to get to the location and back home again, which was overtime and all the rest of it.  Gradually and gradually and gradually people began to veer more towards shooting in the studio, and now I think people build sets in the studio rather than shooting on location ‘cos it’s cheaper, and it is cheaper, no doubt about it.  So it’s gone full circle now, and the thing is, you film on location when you can’t… I mean, if you need a stately home, you can’t build that in a studio because it would be too expensive, so you weigh one thing against the other.  If you are going to shoot a council house on the whole, unless you’re doing a documentary and you’re using a tiny camera, or something, you build those sets in the studio because it’s worth it.  It’s cheaper, but it is true that going on location, because of the equipment and the sound in the past, stock. It’s easier to do today than it used to be but I think people are getting… are going more towards using studios these days, for cost anyway.  There’s no doubt about it, it’s cheaper to shoot in the studio.

TD:  Who, whom did you consider you’re favourite cameramen?  For example, I mean, for speed of work and…

AY:  Well I’m crazy about Alan Hume, I think Alan is absolutely on of the… not only one of the nicest men I know, he’s, erm, he’s wonderful for the unit because he is pleasant and he is always, erm, helpful to everybody.  He’s marvellous for a director because he’s always helpful and, erm, optimistic about things; he never says no, he always does what he can.  He’s fast, there’s no she-she about it.  He’s extremely fast and his stuff is wonderful.  I mean, he did the early Bonds and they were wonderful, and he’s just a marvellous person, and he is wonderful to have on a unit.  He’s an asset, a total asset, and I am crazy about Alan, and would use Alan for ever except, of course, there will come a moment when Alan will want to retire, and I hope it will be at the same time as I will retire - if I ever do.

TD:  Still have his son though.

AY:  Oh yes, I know his sons and his sons are wonderful.  They are as nice as he is, and as good as he is.  They’re terrific. And I like using them, I’m happy to use then, not because they are his sons, but because, on their own, they are very good technicians.

TD:  Also we haven’t talked very much about directors because, for a producer, it must be pretty difficult when the director literally hasn’t done his homework.

AY:  Oh and, of course, I’ve been involved with directors like that.

TD:  Generally                 .

AY:  Generally speaking, well now I’m in a rather good position where 50% of the time I can choose the director but 50% of the time I have a director thrust upon me.  Now, the American directors are wonderful, they do their homework. I never have a problem with an American director.  I know very well that he will do his day’s work.  I don’t have to worry about it, which is just wonderful. You can’t image what it’s like.  There are some English directors who do their job and do their work and they come prepared, but there are some that don’t, and those that don’t are a pain in the neck, a pain in the arse.  I have worked with such people and I get very angry because, I mean, who the hell they think they are? Everybody else has to prepare, they should prepare too.  I mean, they are no less important than the camera man or the editor or, you know, everybody makes a film, not just the director. And I get very very cross about that, but I have been very lucky, except for one director who I would never, ever work with again and haven’t done.  He was stupid. If he had behaved himself, he would have been on a lot of pictures, but he made my life a misery because he was just absolutely... and he was a very good director, but he was impossible to work with.  Except for him, I have been very, very lucky, but I have worked mainly of late - in the last 20 years - with American directors, and I found them so professional.  They wouldn’t dream of coming on the floor not having done their homework.  Wouldn’t dream of it.  Wouldn’t consider it even.

TB:  So we cut.  Can you just tell us about the very good directors that have worked for you?

AY:  Well George Schaefer is one, Dan Petrie is another erm, erm, Tony (here I go – I can’t remember his surname) [probably Tony Wharmby].  But there were a lot of Americans, all well known in America, and well known in the world, who would turn up and it wouldn’t matter is it was a one-hour television show or a five-hour movie, they would still work in the same way, and do their homework before they arrived on the floor in the morning.

TB:  Are there any British directors who...?

AY:  Erm, erm, British directors’ erm, well only of late.  But the Hammer, the Hammer, Terry Fisher for instance from the old Hammer days, they used to turn up.  Well they knew that they had to get through on schedule.  There was no question that anything you didn’t do was cut, so there was no question, you had to be on schedule at Hammer, and people like Terry Fisher were always on Schedule. Erm, Silvio [Joe?] Napolitano was a very good director and always on schedule. Harvey [Philip?] Leacock, those people they were always good directors and on schedule.

TD: Don Sharp?

AY:  Don Sharp, of course, always on schedule, always and erm, erm, somebody recently I thought was absolutely marvellous, he’s also a producer and a director and erm, I can’t remember, I’m sorry I’m terrible on names always have been, always, it’s been a terrible thing with me and names, all my life. So it’s not just because I’m senile now, it’s one of those things.  Ian Toynton marvellous, Ian Toynton, marvellous director, producer and director.  He was one of the best we had on Covington Cross - the best.

TD:  Really.

AY:  Always, always knows what he is going to do, Never ever...  I mean people like Peter Sasdy never over schedule never, ever ever. I mean, you know, I haven’t worked with David Lean and I haven’t worked with that kind of director, so I don’t know what their work is like.

TD:  They don’t keep their schedule.

AY:  I don’t think so.

Voice in room:  They don’t have a schedule.

AY:  They don’t have a schedule, and I’ve never worked with them, so I can’t discuss that, you know.  Or John Boorman, or any of those people.  I mean, I don’t know what their... but I think that doesn’t preclude you being, being on schedule, doesn’t preclude you from being a good director. You know.  That’s the thing.  I remember Otto Heller, Do you remember Otto Heller?

TD: The cameraman.

AY: Well, Otto was a great friend of mine, a great, great friend of mine.  I always told that he used to work on his accent, never to use it. He used to think it was great.  One day I said to Otto - I was making some series, something at MGM and it was, it was a small film, or a series, I can’t remember what it was for, but it wasn’t his usual big film - and I said: ‘Otto, you wouldn’t like to do that for me, would you?’; and he said: ‘Sure’, he wasn’t working. So I said to him: ‘But Otto, you can’t take two hours over a shot, you know,’ and he said: ‘How long you want me to take over a shot?’ and I said ‘About half an hour, twenty minutes - depends on the shot’, and he said: ‘OK’ [in a foreign accent] and he said to me: ‘You want me to take 20  minutes, I’ll do 20 minutes. If you want me to take two hours, I’ll do two hours’.  And that was true he made that film superbly. He was as fast as anybody I know.  The quality was out of this world. It was as if he’d taken two hours over the shot, so all I’m saying is that you don’t have to take a long time over doing something. You know, I mean, Otto would take two hours over a shot cos he knew it was expected of him on a big film.

TD:  (Laughs)

AY:  What a wonderful man he was, what great cameraman.

TD:  I loved him.

AY: He was wonderful. You have no idea how wonderful he was.

TD:  Max Green, Max Green, did you ever work with Max Green?

AY:  No, No.  Just Otto was a personal friend of mine, and he was such a wonderful cameraman, and he was so without any she-she.  You know he was down to earth, he used to laugh about it, you knew.  It was like keeping his accent going, you know that it was good for him.  He kept it going. (Laughs)

TD:  He used to phone the second assistant when he came into the cutting room in the mornings and say:’ Everything good yar!’ [Said with a foreign accent]. Then he’d look in the bottom of the bin to see what...

AY:  To see how much film there was there, yes. Oh there were some marvellous characters in the film industry.  Wonderful characters, but Otto was my, my really dearly beloved. I just adored him, really adored him.

Voice in the room:  If you started again, if you wanted to change horses.

AY:  I’m not sure that I would come into the film industry at all.

Voice in the room:  Really?

AY:  No I’m serious I think that if I started... I discouraged both of my daughters from coming into the film industry.  Discouraged them.  And I thought that if they really wanted to, they would have done, but neither of them did.  And, because it’s no easier now then it was then to get work, it’s soul destroying sometimes, When things are lovely and good, they are wonderful, but when they are bad they are awful.  It’s sole destroying.  You know, people talk about being out of work and feeling rejected which is true but who in the film industry doesn’t go through that all the time? And to be rejected in your life for a lot of the time is terrible, and I would... I don’t think I would go back into it if I had my time over again. I would take up some professional career where I know that on my own, doctor, bar, lawyer, where I know that, if I do my work, I’m going to work, if I do my work properly.  I mean it’s got nothing to do with whether you are good, bad or indifferent, whether you are working or not, it’s still who you know in the freelance business. It’s still who you know and that is terrible really, so when you say would I, I mean no, but I think that if I was starting and I wanted to go into the industry, I would go into television.  I would get trained by a television company - BBC or you know - and then try to be creative, direct if I could or produce, you know, because if you are with a company then you know you are going to work.  Well the BBC as it used to be, of course, you do quality stuff, erm.  It’s hard to find a television company today that does quality stuff anymore, but I think, in those days, that would be the thing to do but I’ve had a good... I mean I’ve had fun, as I say, when things have gone well there’s nothing like it.  I’ve travelled the world, which I could never have done otherwise.  Erm I’ve met some nice people, although not many.  I have to say that is true, I’m afraid. I’ve got a handful of friends in the film industry, that’s all, a handful of good friends.  Erm, and erm, I think the best and the worst comes out of people in the industry because you are working so close together under such stress and strain that it brings the best and the worst out in people, and there’s always a tension, always a tension in making a film, and it’s a pity because that means that the enjoyment is lessened, and really one should now, now that I’m a veteran  and I choose what I do I only do things that I know I’m going to enjoy and I go into a film now meaning to enjoy it.  I surround myself with my friends, and know that the people that I work with feel the same way as me and err, at the end of it, I want to know that I have enjoyed that six months.  It’s a big time out of your life you know.

TD:  Shooting and post production you haven’t got the time to.. when you say quality.  That is what is suffering because of the completion           .

AY:  I don’t agree with you Teddy, I think that, you... a lot of time was wasted when you had 20 weeks to finish something off it didn’t need that.

TD: No it didn’t.

AY: You can do the same kind of work in ten weeks.  In fact, sometimes I find that when you are stressed for time, that it’s a strain but you get quality at the end of it.  You get as much quality at the end of it as you do, you know, under pressure sometimes you get better stuff than you do, you know, if you’ve got loads of time.  No I don’t agree.  I think, of course, there’s a limit, you know you can’t say you’ve got to finish it in four weeks, then of course you’re asking for problems, but I think... I mean we started to cut down from 20 to 10, from 10 weeks to 8 weeks, I don’t think that has made stuff any worse, Teddy.

TD:  No I think that is true, but sometimes now it goes to the other extreme.

AY:  Oh I agree. When it’s an extreme, then I agree with you. Then it’s a pity, because obviously something goes by the wayside, and many times its quality.  No that is true, extremes on both sides, on both sides.  There was too much time, and now there can be too little time, that’s true.  I mean, its horses for courses. Sometimes you just don’t have the money and you have to do it, and it’s a case of either you work or you don’t work.  Either you make the film or you don’t make the film.

TD:  The equipment has... the improvement in the equipment has shortened the shooting time. I mean, in the cutting room, equipment is that much more...

AY:  How do you feel about digital editing which, of course, takes down the time do end?

TB:  I’m ambivalent about it.. from the point of view I could learn it, I think I don’t know if there is that much saving of time or money.

AY:  No, not money, but time.  At the moment, not money - it’s quite expensive - but time.

TB:  Yes, but it... I don’t know whether you gain that much.

AY:  Well I can tell you you do because when I... because on Covington Cross, because it was for television, I decided to go digitally at the very end, the dubbing and everything else.  It was a doddle, quick but very expensive, very expensive but quick.

Side Three

AY:  Hmm,  I  don’t know why, but I’ve  forgotten quite a big  important part of my working life, which was when I joined MGM, and it was, it must have been either after or just before Danger Man. Anyway, there was a lovely man, Studio Manager whose name was Mathew Raymond, who was there at the time, and he invited me to come and be the Associate Producer for MGM, and I was over the moon. You can imagine this beautiful, beautiful studio and with its wonderful background and history and I, and I had an office there. And then I was an Associate Producer on a film called Light in the Piazza [1962], which had the great Arthur Freed as Producer and, at the time, I’m ashamed to say, I had no idea who Arthur Freed was and erm, we got on terribly well, but he was an orchid lover, and all he wanted to do was go to Europe and look for orchids; which he did. So, in the end Guy Green and I made the film. Guy Green directed it and I was more or less producing it, but it was a wonderful experience for me because we filmed in Florence and in Rome and we had a galaxy of stars; Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi, Yvette Mimieux. All kinds of stars, everybody was in it; and we had the most incredible time. It was just wonderful, I learned a lot again, I always learned on every film I was on, but I learned a lot again on that film because I got involved in sort of sexual politics on that film. I can’t go into that more, but it opened my eyes, it opened my simplistic eyes to a lot of things that I hadn’t realised before. Anyway, the film was finally made.  I stayed at MGM for another year, then, as is usual, the studio closed down. There was an American there and I think I’ve said before in the film industry you meet the worst of people and the best of people, well most of the people I met at MGM were the worst of people and there was an American who was determined to oust Mathew Raymond, and did! And Mathew Raymond who had like 18 months to go before he was pensioned off, got fired after 20 years by telegram, erm and died, we all think of a broken heart. He died 18 months later and was the nicest man, but wouldn’t play the game, if you know what I mean? And soon after that there was a huge meeting over at ABPC, err, with all the MGM people and ABPC people, where the Americans said ‘MGM will never close, never!’ and 6 months later it closed. So, err, that was my experience at MGM. And...

TD: It must have been about 1973?

AY: Well, I can’t remember the year, but you; it’s quite easy to know what the year is that it closed down. [1970]

TD: It was when Bryan Forbes was running EMI and...

AY: That’s right, yes; Bryan Forbes was at EMI...

TD: I was at that meeting and Bryan announced that that they were amalgamating.

AY: Well, we had a huge meeting, err the unions called the  meeting because it was, there were so many people at MGM and they thought they might close and when Mathew Raymond left, they did put an American in for a short while, but then they closed the studio down. So, every studio I went into seemed to close (laughs) and I think I might have been a jinx – but I don’t think so. Anyway, it was a marvellous time in my life, because I really met some extraordinary people, like Arthur Freed, erm, and Olivia de Havilland, who became a great friend of mine and Rossano Brazzi who was very amusing and Yvette Mimieux, who was going to be a great star but never did; Guy Green who was a lovely director; and all kinds of people like that. There are some other actors, good actors whose names I can’t remember, because that’s how I am, but wonderful locations and a marvellous film to work on. And I don’t know why I’ve forgotten it, there’s something Freudian about that, I wonder why I forgot to mention that?

TD: (Laughs)

AY: So, I’m pleased to put that on the record.

TD: But, erm, do you know what the old MGM studios are now?

AY: well they became a factory, I know.

TD: Right, now, erm, you know it’s, it’s an industrial estate.

AY: That’s right, that’s right, it became a factory soon afterwards and it was sold to... as an industrial estate, I know. It was such a beautiful, beautiful, erm, studio, it was everything everybody thinks about as a film studio. Wonderful stages; beautiful lot with marvellous things built on the lot, towns and streets and just wonderful, just wonderful. The only problem with MGM was, err that after Mathew, who was the most divine man, errm the people who ran it didn’t care about production and were more worried about having milk bottles lying around than helping producers making films; and was more worried about the daffodils and the sheep grazing on the lot than having anything built on the lot and it was the beginning of the end. And I think that everybody knew that this was just an interim time; that MGM intended closing it down. And it was very sad.

TD: Errm, the MGM was brought by Alexander Korda, when he amalgamated London Films with MGM, towards the end of the war. It was the one thing he always regretted...

AY: That’s right...

TD: He brought Shepperton instead; and MGM was always the studio and an art director called Joseph Bato...

AY: Yes.

TD: ...when they were building it, when Korda was there, he had an absolutely revolutionary idea about the cutting rooms; he actually went and asked editors what a cutting room should be like...

AY: Good God!

TD: It had never been done before (laughs)

AY: How terrible! Yes. (Laughs), I know MGM, everything about MGM was exactly what you would expect studios to be; the restaurant, the canteen, everything, the offices, the stages. And they were always pristine and clean, so that when I went to Shepperton to work after that, I felt that I was in a market because it was so untidy and so rough and ready and so... I have to say I adored Shepperton, it was my home, I’ve worked there for the last seven years and I hope to work there for the next, until I die. And it’s wonderful, because although it, MGM was much more beautiful and...

TD: It’s much more professional really.

AY: Oh, Shepperton is BUSY! I mean it is like a market!

TD: Shepperton had used to be, Shepperton had used to be beautiful with the tree and the lovely..

AY: Yes, but they sold half of their lot off, of course.

TD: Yes. Exactly!

AY: Yes, which is a great shame. Okay?

TD: Yes, thanks.

AY: Yes, I just wanted that to go on, because my MGM days were quite important to me, you know? There I was again, the only women doing that at MGM of all places.



date of birth probably late 1920s; born in East London, father was a watchmaker and clock repairer; it was a close family with an uncle grocer round the corner. She won a scholarship to the local grammar school, finished up with Higher Schools [certificate], got an entry in Bedford College but didn’t take it up. Joined Unity Theatre, got the bug for acting, but didn’t dare tell the family. Met Bert Pearl at Unity and he suggested she should try to get into the documentary film business – wrote round and eventually joined Data Films (was after the last war [i.e.World War 2]) as an assistant at £7 a week, given a subject to research on cotton mills, for which she wrote the script and then produced.After three years with Data, she decided to try for features; got a job at Highbury Studios as a runner at £6 a week; when Highbury closed, she started freelancing, then got a job at National Studios as Associate producer on the Charlie Chan series, and then on a series for Douglas Fairbanks jnr. [Douglas Fairbanks Presents] made for ATV [Associated Television].

She then went to work on a ‘dreadful comedy’ at Brighton, and saw the birth of the Goons [possibly Penny Points to Paradise DS]. Then worked as Associate producer on Danger Man, then promoted to producer. Moved to Hammer on What a Crazy World. [Capricorn Productions] She talks about the making of She and One Million Years B.C. and various other Hammer productions.

She then moved on to producing mini-series The Bunker for NBC in Paris. Then when NBC or ABC wanted productions in the UK she worked for them. She talks about working with Otto Heller and Alan Hume.She talks about the time she was asked to join MGM studios by Matthew Raymond, She became Associate Producer there and was virtually the Producer of Light in the Piazza, directed by Guy Green.  Shepperton where she had produced so many productions.