Joan Baddeley

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Interview Date(s): 
29 Nov 1994
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Interview notes

BEHP 0339 S Joan Baddeley synopsis.

[The interview itself follows this synopsis, below]


Born in 1932, King’s Cross London. The early part of this interview is an excellent slice of social history dealing with the period in which she grew up through the (just) pre-war years an the war years up to age 16 when she left to go to work just prior to taking “Matric” [Matriculation – school examinations] then talking about her first job the accounts department of Legal & General Insurance. Her early life is covered on this and SIDE 2, leading up to her meeting Hugh Baddeley, whom she married and she talks about their “honeymoon”, a working period when Hugh was making a film for Babcocks about the Aswan Dam, and an educational film about the Suez Canal.


She talks about the films Hugh, her husband, made for The Leprosy Mission and The Salvation Army, then she talks about going into educational film strips. She then talks about their moving to Moffats (their house, in which this interview was recorded, which dates to c 1675). She goes on to talk about the death of her husband, whom she describes as a “workaholic”, and then she reflects on her life with Hugh.



behp0339-joan-baddeley-hugh baddely-cv

Joan Baddely.

Married to Hugh Baddeley (Director, Writer (non-fic), 21 Jan 1912-11 Nov 1992). Lived in Dagenham and moved to Wood Green. Left school 1948. Worked for Legal & General in various depts. Price Waterhouse in 1954. Provincial Newspapers, also 1954. In AMDRAM [Amateur Dramatics] Wood Green. Trent Players joined by Hugh Baddeley in 1961.April 1962 married Hugh Baddeley. Joined Hugh Baddeley her husband on location trips for his documentaries. Worked alongside her husband on projects . Extra recording is Hugh Baddeley talking to his mother. She was involved in making lantern slides.

[There follows the tribute to Hugh delivered at his funeral; and then a letter from Joan to Bryan Langley regarding Hugh’s career and awards, in the context of a possible publication. DS]

Hugh Baddeley.


Hugh Baddeley died on November 12th aged 80. He leaves a wife Joan and two daughters, Philipa and Antonia.

In the intense mid-day heat of equatorial Africa the drone of a light aircraft engine above the incessant chirping of the cicadas heralded the arrival of the little five seater Missionary Aviation Fellowship plane. The pilot banked steeply as he lost height for his final approach and then skilfully brought it down on to the crude airstrip hacked out of the jungle. That was in October 1983 and it brought Hugh Baddeley - and me as his sound recordist - to the interior of Zaire. Our job in the following nine weeks was to make a series of films for just two of the many charities for whom he worked over a long and successful career - The Leprosy Mission and the Baptist Missionary Society.

For Hugh this was a return trip to Zaire. It came thirty-four years after his first visit in 1949, when it was still the Belgian Congo and he'd just taken the momentous step of throwing up his bank job and turning professional. That initial trip to the mosquito-infested Congo Basin was to make a film for the Salvation Army. But even then he was no raw beginner having won his spurs - a Ten Best Oscar - in 1938 with a l6mm black and white production for the Planet Film Society. That film, carrying his credits for script, direction, and editing, and called Refuge had received considerable critical acclaim.

This present assignment in Zaire took us to the North East Corner of that country for the leprosy film and then to isolated Baptist mission stations on or near the banks of the Congo (Zaire) river and finally back to the capital Kinshasa in the west, travelling mostly by these light aircraft, over limitless miles of tropical rain forest. “We haven't lost a missionary for seven years” they assured us, and I'm not altogether certain that put us at ease, nor, I’m sorry to say, did the pilot's prayer for a safe journey before each take-off. When flying was out of the question transport was by hard-sprung Land Rover over rough jungle tracks or squeezed into narrow pirogues (hollowed out tree-trunk canoes) down or across the wide Zaire river. All our equipment - three cameras, film stock, recording gear, tripod, lighting and personal baggage travelled the same way. That we lost nothing on that trip still amazes me.

Operating in these remote places was the norm for Hugh Baddeley Productions, the company he ran from his home in South Hertfordshire. The comparatively low-budget - but none the less professional - films he made were a Godsend to his charity clients who probably couldn't afford any kind of film were it not for Hugh and a few producers like him. In addition Hugh made educational and industrial documentaries as well as slide-tape and film-strip productions but there is no doubt, as you discovered when you talked to him, that these 'appeal’ films gave him the greatest satisfaction. And it all started because he was a successful amateur.

Hugh was a founder member of the Planet Film Society in North London back in 1933. The original club was formed by a group of friends who had all left school together and who were interested in amateur dramatics. They acquired an old Pathé 9.5mm hand-turned camera and tried filming some of the sketches they'd written for themselves. "The results were quite disastrous", Hugh admitted to me. But the enthusiasm was such that the group persevered and later rented an attic over a Wood Green factory turning it into a passable studio where several ambitious productions were made. Later they moved to a room over a Palmers Green shop where their noisy and eccentric activities would no longer disturb the neighbours or strain the electricity mains when they switched on their studio lights. It was there that they recruited a variety of talents including a Set Designer and a Special Effects expert. And it was in and from this studio that the l6mm neg/pos Refuge was made.

In his article in last April's [1992] AF&VM [Amateur Film & Video monthly],Hugh describes the shooting of part of that film and how, after the war, he was introduced to a local history teacher who wanted a series of films for the classroom. Out of that small beginning Gateway Films was formed as a l6mm production company with Hugh as managing director, and was very soon thriving making educational, industrial and charity films. I first met Hugh when I joined Planet in about 1948. He was chairman at that time and Planet was a leading club both in London and the whole country winning many IAC and Ten Best awards. I sat in on the recording of the music for their l6mm optical sound film Hour of Darkness - the first such amateur production. Doing nothing by halves they commissioned an original score played by a local amateur orchestra and recorded it on disc (no tape recorders in those days) in a church hall. Soon after that I left to start my own club but kept in touch and watched Hugh's career and the fortunes of Gateway flourish. Hugh was a frequent and very popular visitor to our club showing his latest productions and relating his adventures in far off places. And I never missed Gateway's annual public show organised as a promotional exercise.

Gateway's staff and output grew steadily until Hugh found himself administering a complex organisation that sent crews all over the country and the world making every kind of documentary film. Educational, industrial, sales, instructional and charity appeal productions rolled off the assembly lines in Palmers Green. I nearly called them 'Non-Theatrical' films but Hugh often managed to bring real drama into unpromising subjects - such was his gift.

The Gateway premises and staff expanded to include a small studio, dubbing and presentation theatres and well-equipped cutting rooms. In the end Hugh realised that he was directing less and less and managing more and more. So when Gateway were taken over by a large visual aids group, who installed their own manager - with whom Hugh didn't always see eye to eye - he decided to leave Gateway and start again with a small unit that would enable him to get back to the thing he loved most - making films.

I can't put an accurate date on the formation of Hugh Baddeley Productions - probably around 1978. Anyway, about ten years later when I had retired from managing the film and video facilities at the Central Office of Information, he asked me if I would join him as sound recordist on future productions. He didn't have to ask twice. After one film in this country we made two in the USA, four in Zaire, one in Hong Kong, one in Australia and three more back home plus several slide-tape productions before he began to slow down on approaching his 8Oth birthday earlier  this year.  My job was recording sound and looking after the lighting (Redheads and Blonds) and all the electrics involved, transporting a lot of the gear, and doing a proportion of the driving. I would then help him with editing, track laying and dubbing. On our journeys he would discuss scripts with me as I drove or in airport lounges or over meals and all the time tell stories of his adventures across the world and of the people he had met. He was a wonderful raconteur and mimic and a master of several accents and I now know that I should have recorded some of those stories. I was never less than fascinated and tried for a long time to persuade him to put them down in book form which he eventually did, but up to his death hadn't found a publisher. I hope someday Joan will have more success.

Hugh was a remarkable all-rounder. A shrewd business man where his early bank training came in useful; an efficient producer who knew the industry intimately and helped to shape the 16mm section of it; an experienced script writer (I once saw him write a documentary script in two hours flat), with hundreds of films to his credit. He could assume the role of producer, director, cameraman, sound recordist, editor, and projectionist as and when required. And of course, he was an author. He began by writing a number of books for amateurs on subjects like holiday filming and editing as well as regular articles in Amateur Cine World. But he is best known world-wide for his comprehensive manual 'The Technique of Documentary Film Production' (Focal Press) that has been a source of information on every aspect of the craft for countless professional as well as amateur film makers. It was in the publisher's lists for decades and went into several revisions and reprints .

But Hugh never lost touch with the world of amateur movies from which he came. He was chairman of the IAC George Sewell Trust for many years and gave talks to amateur groups and judged film competitions when his incredibly busy schedule allowed. He was no stranger to competition awards himself as the shelf outside his penthouse movie theatre testifies. It is laden with trophies won at film festivals down the years.

I found him a staunch and generous friend and owe him debts that could never be repaid. With his death the world of documentary as well as the amateur world has lost a pioneer and champion the like of which we may never see again. His deerstalker and bow tie were familiar sights in Brookmans Park as he walked his dogs every morning when at home, his piano and organ playing, his work in Rotary and the BPS, his enthusiasm for history and politics and his dynamic energy left one breathless.

When we were in Hong Kong, making probably his thirtieth film for the Salvation Army, he was interviewed by the feature writer of the prestigious South China Morning Post. The subsequent article that appeared in a Sunday edition reviewed many facets of his remarkable career and concentrated on films he had made of suffering humanity in the world's trouble spots. Of his award winning technique the article said 'He seemed to have found the knack of getting the right angle on distress, of focusing closely on disaster, of bringing home to the well to do of the world the plight of those less comfortable, of making the dying moments of a starving child a soul-wrenching, gut-tearing experience with a visual impact that forced those in lucky countries to open their wallets as well as their hearts.'

Hugh would say he was not just interested in the human drama found in a refugee camp or an African feeding programme, a leprosy treatment clinic or drug abuse centre; he was genuinely moved by it. He had tremendous admiration for the dedicated people who gave their lives to this work even though he didn't always subscribe to their religious motivations and tried, to the best of his ability, to record their achievements faithfully on film.

Ron Prime. M.B.K S. November 1992


[Joan Baddeley’s letter]

28th July 1994

Dear Bryan,

My apologies for taking so long to reply regarding Hugh's manuscript and I am indeed interested in your proposition. In actual fact, I have never read the "book" (which I have just done) as I felt that I ought to know what we are talking about. The reason that I was never shown it was the fact that I offered what I thought were helpful suggestions in the early days. This was taken as arrant criticism - the one thing that Hugh couldn't take! Even viewing rough-cuts of his films one was supposed to say "Super, marvellous" and never "don’t you think if". So, in the last few years, my opinion was never sought!

Having read the book, it confirms my view that Hugh was a marvellous raconteur but the anecdotes do not transfer into a cohesive book.                                      Having said this, I would not throw it away, but I would be delighted if someone was interested enough to put it into archives.

Surprisingly, there is very little about early techniques and problems which would interest film students. There is a section which he didn't put in this book about the real beginnings and Planet Film Society. As far as I know, the only left from those days is Len Andrews who got him the Murex job.

The first office-cum-Girl Friday of the Gateway days is Maureen Martin (Bysouth) who lives somewhere near Coventry.  I did meet her 4 or 5 years ago and I am sure that she can be traced.   Many of the old Gateway staff are still around and I expect that they can be contacted. David Garner who used to work on the Armand Denis films is living in Glasgow although suffering badly with arthritis.


To answer your paragraph 7, I will make   brief summary:

1) Born 21.1.1912, died 12.11.1992

2) Educated Enfield Grammar School

3) Joined Barclays Bank Ltd approx 1928/29

4) Became F.R.P.S 13th June 1955; Became a member in 1951

5) Chaired panel awarding RPS of Cinegroup M.B.K.S - One of the original members, before they were given Membership Nos. About 1979/80 he was given No.74? F.A.C.I 10th August 1986

6) Joined Rotary of Southgate 1952 President 1979/80; Paul Harris Fellow May 1991- Rotary Ideas Bank.   

Certificate of Appreciation for THIS FRAGILE EARTH with Marie Stopes.1991.

RPS Awards:

Hood Medal - Bridge of Return for Leprosy Mission 1968

George Sewell Trophy - Medieval Society 1973

George Sewell Second Award which I should have to research further.

BISFA Awards:


1975 Gold Award for THEY CAN BE HELPED (National Children's Home)

1975 Silver Award - THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION (Educational HB Prods)

1977 Silver Award - FACES OF BANGLADESH (Salvation Army)

1981 Slide/Strip -MOUNTAIN BOY (Leprosy Mission)

Published Books:

How to Edit, Focal Press First Edition 1951; Reprints 1954,1956,1958, 1960,(Translated into German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish & Italian) 1968,1973

How to Make Holiday Films, Focal Press, 1952-1957

The Technique of Documentary Film Production First Edition 1963-1975

In the loft is a copy of the "Daffodils" film (mentioned in the book). Pre-Blue Peter Children's TV which must have historic interest.

If you would like to start the ball rolling, I will give any help that I can. Now I remember, there was a man from Hull University called James Carter who wrote a paper on the early educational film makers. He came to visit Hugh in 1992 to get his facts straight.   I have a copy of this work.

I hope that all this gives you a basis to work from. There may be even more treasures in the loft that I haven't found yet.

Next week 30th July to 6th August, I shall be away with Tonia and the children in Devon.  So please feel free to go ahead as you think fit.


My regards to Phyllis

Yours sincerely