John Cotter

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Interview Date(s): 
5 Jul 2007
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Interviewed by Rodney Giesler in Chard on 5.7.97 File No: 411

Born Blackheath on 22.9.1918. Father Jack Cotter, a cameraman with Topical Budget, early newsreel company, then with Pathé Gazette and Fox Movietone News. Died in 1959. John followed him into the business. Trained at Kodak for a year, then taken on as assistant by Jimmy Hodgson with The March of Time. Volunteered for Army on outbreak of war. Evacuated from Dunkirk. Commissioned into the Army Film Unit. Sent to Malta covering the siege. Then followed the army through Sicily and Italy, ending the war in Vienna. Joined Universal News as cameraman in 1946 working with Stan Crockett, sound recordist. Moved to Gaumont British. Thence to BBC Television News at Lime Grove. Then Alexandra Palace. Filming football matches off the telecine. Cranking the camera motor to avoid the hum bars. Then became news organiser, controlling movement of camera crews. Approached by Philip Dorté to join newly-formed ITN in July 1955 as news organiser. Five sound camera crews and three silent. A good nucleus of experienced people. Switched from 35mm to 16mm Auricon sound on film cameras and achieved greater mobility. Bolder style of working. Top reporters at the time. How the job was done before satellites. Lab in the news building. Everything had to be transported by hand. A hairy business. Electronic cameras slow to come in because of Union restrictions. Dispensation agreed. Technique revolutionised news handling. Film was still used by stringers in remote areas. Satellites totally changed life style of cameraman. Local crews increasingly used. Retired in 1982. Staggered at changes since then. Goes back to describe how the job was done prewar. 35mm sound on film Wall camera. Huge amount of gear. Rostrum on roof, 6 kw of lighting, two cameras and sound equipment and cable. Blew fuses all over the country. Did everything yourself. March of Time prestigious. Americans hard task masters. Covering stories in Nazi Germany. Coal shortage in 1947. Recollec0ons of Army Film Unit. Working with commando units. With the infantry. Had six units of sergeant cameramen. Moved from action to action. Carried 35mm De Vry cameras. 100 ft. mags. Worst cameras made. Eyemos great improvement. Processed at Denham. (45’24")

End of Side 1.

 Followed the Commando Brigade up the Adriatic Coast. Battle of Lake Comacchio. Rescuing civilians. Memories of France in 1940. Taking a bath in Richard Dimbleby’s bathroom. Kept meeting his father in war areas. Rackets worked. "The battling rabbi". Excitement and freedom of filming the war. Life of idleness in Austria. Importance of matching personalities of camera crews. Time as Royal Rota cameraman. Filming the christening of Prince Charles. Waylaying the royal car at Duxford. Filming Prince Philip on the polo field. The best and the worst politicians. Conference drinks parties. Got on well with Tito. Filmed the partisans in Yugoslavia. The release of the Chetniks. Filmed the forced repatriation of the White Russians back to Russia at Villach. Film impounded. Author who interviewed him about this incident found dead shortly afterwards. Memories of Dunkirk. Advising South African government on their television service. First meeting with Geoffrey Cox in a dug out in Italy. (42’48")

End of Side 2.

Filming the terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics. Setting up a live broadcast of the Moscow May Day Parade. Delight at the first satellite pictures. Live broadcast of Francis Chichester at sea. Planning coverage for Royal tours. Coverage facilities superb in the U.S. The Eurovision News Exchange. The ease of working with satellites. Problems of sending news back from the Falklands war. Crews stopped from covering South Georgia. References to uncle Terry Cotter. Stresses on family life caused by the job. Memories of Castleton Knight, Leslie Murray, Ronnie Noble, Sidney Bonnet, Ken Gordon, Paul Wyand. Summary of the evolution of news gathering technology. Bureaucratic problems encountered whilst travelling the World. Memories of reporters. (37’27")

End of Side 3.














Transcription PDF: 

7 hours 45 minutes

John Cotter

This is an interview with John Cotter recorded by Rodney Giesler on 5 July 1997 in Charge

Somerset. Copyright in this recording is vested in the Becta World History Project.

C) John can you tell me a bit about when you were born and about your family background?

A Yes, certainly, I was born in Blackheath near London on 22 September 1918 and my

father was - he had retired from the RAF in 1924, which was quite early - and he joined

Cookwit(?) Budget as a camera man which was one of the original, very original, cinema

newsreels. Topical budget. I mean it was one of the first ones. He then transferred, to my

knowledge, in about 1927-28 to Pathé and was a camera man for Pathé Gazette and then, when

sound started, he joined Fox Movie Tele-news. Now, or then, British Movietone is. He went to

the States to learn the technique of sound coverage and came back, continued to be their Chief

Camera man until about 1936-37. He then became their Production Manager and he was sort of

virtually running the operational side of Movietone until the War. He was a first class aerial

photographer, having been in the RAF as a Pilot. He specialised in film work from the air and he

assigned himself to the flying jobs.

Q Can you tell me his name?

A Jack. When the war came he became a correspondent - war correspondent - and he

was in with the BEF in France and he came out just after Dunkirk - I think he came out from

Callais and then he continued to be a war correspondent throughout the war. And after the war

he retired from - he was getting on a bit then - and retired down into ?? and he then contracted a

tummy illness and died unfortunately - in about 1959. But he was very well known in the

profession and, you know, he was one of the top camera men in the old cinema newsreel days.

This, I suppose, is really how I became interested in it and when I left school, I was seventeen

and a half, and I did a year as a trainee at the Kodak Institution in Wiltstone near Harrow and

learned the basics of photography. And then I was taken on as assistant camera man by a temp

called James Hodgson - Jimmy Hodgson - who was, again, an ex news camera man for “The

March of Time". And I worked as an assistant camera man for “The March of Time" right up until

the war we made things inside nazi Germany and we went into Holland and we did “The

Persecution of the Jews" and I stayed with “The March of Time" until the war broke out and then

volunteered for the Army. I left “The March of Time" and volunteered for the Army, in fact, I think

I was the first person in the Time Life Organization ever to join the Army. And I went overseas,

Went with the infantry to Dunkirk and I came back out of Dunkirk and I was commissioned and,

having got my commission, I was then posted to Gibraltar. At that time my father said 'you should

try and get into the Army film unit'. So I had no real interest in going into the Army film unit, I must

admit, but I received a signal one day that I had to go to Algiers and then Malta and I had been

transferred from my unit to the AFPU, this was all done by a chap called Putnam who is David

Putnam's father who was a well known Fleet Street photographer in those days and became a

Major. He was based in the War Office. So I went to Malta not knowing very much about what

Was doing, and they promoted me, they gave me a 7 and then I stayed in Malta doing sort of run

of the mill stuff. They sent me an Eyemo(?) camera and I had a Maltese sergeant working with

me and a driver and one used to pick one's own stories, one did what one liked, and I knew Lord

Gaunt(?) who was the Governor of the island in those days because he actually was a friend of

my father. My father knew him quite well when he was with the BEF. And he sent me a few

stories, you know, I didn't do too badly and then, of course, came Sicily and Italy and I went to

Sicily and Italy in charge of No. 2 platoon IAFP working mainly with the Commando Brigade No. 9

Commando and that continued right up through Italy, right the way through to Vienna at the end

of the war when I came home and was demobbed, I think, in January 47, as a major. And

came out of the army then and went back - I was offered a job by a chap called Leslie Murray at

Universal News. He was the boss of Universal News under a man called Clifford Jeakes who

owned it. I went there as a camera man, I learned sound to operate the sound cameras which

had never done before. With the amount of time we had obviously we had sound but I was only

the assistant then. And then I became sort of fully fledged sound camera man working with a

chap who I worked with for many years - Stan Crockett - who was my Recording Engineer. But

with Universal doing the normal run of low stories and everything as they came up and one day !

was called in to Clifford Jeakes' office and told not to come back on Monday morning but to go

across Wardour Street to Gaumont British News and I, Crockett, my camera and our car were

suddenly employed by Gaumont British and Universal folded. Everybody got the sack with the

exception of Ronnie Noble who was gunner man, myself and Crockett. We started up at

Gaumont British News and I stayed at Gaumont British News doing, again, run of the mill news

stories all over the place in England, Scotland and everywhere. And then a job came up with the

BBC, I saw it advertised in the Times, so I thought I would have a go at that. So I got it. I got this

job with Camera and BBC Television News based at Limegrove. I was there for about a year and

after that I went to - we were transferred to Alexandra Palace, in the very early days of television

when things were very basic, we were working on film teles, cine with film on it. If you did it for

Gaumont you just stuck a normal ordinary camera up in front of the monitor and filmed off the

monitor and it was all very hit and miss and the thing I remember most about doing this is as one

job that we all loathed to do because of the difference in the phases of electricity, you found that

you were getting hung bars through your picture and if you were looking through your camera

which had twin lenses you would see these hung bars come through. The only way you could

obliterate them was to unscrew the camera motor, hold it in your hand, and turn it, revolve it

slowly on its own axis and then you could direct the hung bars up or down until you got them out

of the picture.

Q You were effectively changing the speed?

A You were changing the speed actually and, of course, an hour and a half of doing that,

dear me........ full time job doing that....

Q You had to get up from time to time to change the mag though didn't you?

A Oh 1,000 foot mags yes. And then I saw another job advertised at the BBC as ?

Organiser - it was off the camera being the boss. So I applied for that and, much to my

amazement, got that. Then I became in charge of the camera men, controlled the movements of

the camera men and recording engineers - not the reporters. And assigned the camera men to

their stories ........ dead expensive, looked after their well being and virtually was their mother hen.

That went on for quite a time and then I was approached by a man called Philip Doughty. And

Philip Doughty, who was my boss at the BBC, told me that ITN were being formed and would

care to join Independent Television News. And I thought a lot about this and I talked to my wife

and know security of the BBC and you had to rate the DG General's wife to get far

in the BBC in those days. And so I decided to go. So I gave the BBC my notice and, by this time,

ITN were bionic, there was Philip Doughty there and Aiden Crawley and a telephonist and that

was all. And then I was going down in the lift from the top of the tower at Alexandra Palace for

the morning news meeting when I was confronted by an enormous New Zealander who was the

editor of News called Taho Hole. He was a big man and he was a nice man actually. He said

'you are out John?' and I said ‘what do you mean out?'. He said 'out, you've got to go' and I said

‘go where?' and he said 'I don't care where the dam you go, you just go'. I had a flight into fancy

with my expenses which I knew would never be queried having been told to go and got into my

old Jaguar and drove along. And the general consensus of the daily news meeting that was

going on was that somebody has pinched John's car because you could hear that noise

anywhere. Somebody said 'no it's John, he's on his way, he's gone'.

Q Did you get .......... o

A Yes. Joining ITN and they said it was incompatible and wrong that I should work for the

BBC intervening their secrets and knowing their future planning, that I was going to a rival


Q You had actually joined them at the time?

A Well, no I was going to join them but I wasn't going to join them until, I think it was, July

55. But they kicked me out so I went and saw Aidan Crawley and said 'look, I'm free if you want

me to work for you' and he said 'great, come in' and I was the third member on the staff. And

just got into my car and I drove all the way around Europe, hiring - I knew a lot of them because

of my contacts with the BBC, taking on stringers, reporters, camera men, sound men. I did the

same around England and then I went off to Africa and did the same in Africa. And so assembled

a nucleus of camera crew around the world that started us off really. We started ITN, then

recruited the camera crews. We had five sound crews and three silent men as we called them in

those days - just eight. I recruited them. Some came from the BBC, some came from the

original Newsreel that were gradually being run down - names like Ronnie Noble - he joined with

me, Stan Crockett - he came across, he was my sound man and he came over as a camera

man, Dennis Talack, Johnny Corbett came from Pathé News. And we got a very good nucleus of

middle aged camera men, camera men who were in their sort of middle/late thirties, that sort of

age, but had had quite a lot of experience on the road. They were good camera men. Cyril Page

was one of them, who you have no doubt heard of. Cyril became Chief Camera Man and I was,

what they call, News Organiser and Head of Film. We ran on and on and on and we did very

well. We started to improve and get better. Technical quality was as good as the BBC and then

we suddenly switched from 35 mm to 16 and we bought four or five Orakon(?) cameras from the

States and with the extra mobility that these cameras gave we had got to this procedure of the

snap interview 2 the voice box and we became much more daring - we would go up to a

politician on the steps of Downing Street and said “Hoi, what's going on?" Really, we evolved a

new system. And, of course, the extra mobility of the 16 mm camera - its lightness - even then

that was large for a 16 mm camera. It was probably a foot square.

A Oh yes, and you had your sound man and he was attached to you by a piece of wire or a

cable and he sort of trundled around after you. But at least his amplifier was round his neck and

hanging on him and not sitting in the back of a truck with 300 feet of cable between you. We had

the mobility and we evolved this new technique which the BBC were very, very quick to follow.

They then switched from 35 to 16 and they tried to match us and in many ways they did and other

ways they didn't. I mean, you can't say that one was better than the other really, it would depend

entirely on the story. I think we in ITN were a bit bolder, I think we were a bit more tabloid, shall

we say, but just as responsible ie with people like Robin Day, Alistair Burnett, Reggie Bosanquet,

Chris Chataway, Hugh Thomas, Andrew Gardiner and people like that as newscasters. We had

the edge on them in that way because, I mean, our newscasters were, in effect, writing their own

stuff. Whereas with the BBC they read, the newscasters, people like Ken Campbell(?) were ex

actors. We had journalists as newscasters who actually wrote their own stuff. It was submitted to

the Chief of Sound and the Programme Producer before they went on air and cuts were made if

necessary depending on the time allowed and the content. But the content was rarely interfered

with because these chaps knew their stuff. And they read their own stuff and by so doing

rendered it more efficiently than somebody who is reading something absolutely straight from a


Q When they do their piece to camera, that's really.......... do most of them remember their


A Yes. They remember them.

Q You don't have tele-prompts?

A No, we didn't have tele-prompts. Tele-prompts didn't come in until quite late and it was

always slung below the lens of the camera and ours was the most corny, it used to catch fire and

the thing would go up in flames when you were in the middle of a programme. And it was hand

operated and if we were under-running, all the girl did, she had cans(?) on, she would turn the

handle quicker so that the script moved through the screen quicker and you would have to read

quicker. Or if you were over-running, she would slow it down and it was as corny as that. It really

was. You didn't run at a constant speed, she was just told what to do.

Q ...... done today reporters that you see every day on the news - they are doing it from

memory, they are not being prompted at all?

A They have got tele-prompters, oh yes, all the time, yes. And also they have the script on

the table with them. Should the tele-prompt go down they mechanically they have the scripts

there with them as well so that they can revert to it should they want to. But, you see, I have been

away from it a long time now. I have been away from it since 1983 and techniques involved

evolve so quickly now and change so much that I wouldn't know how to do my job now if I went

back there. I would be lost, completely and utterly lost.

Q What we are interested in now, certainly for the purposes of this talk, is how you did it in

those days.

A Well, everything was by hand. I mean, the satellites weren't thought of. Everything had

to be rushed back because it had to be processed. We had a processing plant in our building,

our own processing plant. We started off by using Kays Laboratory but after a while we formed

our own laboratory and when we moved into Television House in Wirrall Street, in about 1960,

our own lab was in the basement and we processed our own film and consequently had control of

it. Before, when it was at Kays, we had a series of despatch riders running backwards and

forwards between Kays and our building, and the film editors were then cutting it. It was a hairy

business. I mean, everything had to be transported by hand. I mean, every camera man, when

he shot a story, you take say a test match at Nottingham, the sound recordists who were pretty

thin on the ground in terms of personnel would have to get in the car and dash back to

Nottingham Station and give the film to the guard, and the guard then carried it to the entrance to

the station (the platform) where it would be picked up by another despatch rider and 'gifts by God’

you know. I mean it is the same with the airlines. We got dispensation from the airlines to be

able to carry all the film in what we call a red bag and this red bag was given to the pilot and the

pilot would walk off the aircraft with it and it would be collected. We had dispensation with the

Customs whereby they would let it through as bona fide news film but they had the right to

impound any of it at any time, just to check that we weren't cheating or that it wasn't full of

diamonds or something. And so everything was done at the top possible speed to get that film

from the source of the story back to the laboratories in our own building. Now, of course, it is

totally different with the advent of the satellite, the advent of the electronic cameras. Electronic

cameras were frowned upon at the first. I mean, we had a hell of a job, we had the cameras but

we weren't allowed to use them because of Union implications - they just did not want us to train.

They were protecting the film camera men and the film crews - protecting their jobs. In the end

they had to see reason because everybody else was doing it. I mean, the tape was coming in to

the company from CBS, NBC and from the foreign film organisations and television organisations

and they had to, in the end, recognise the fact that film was gradually being replaced by live or

recorded images on tape. It took a long time but eventually we did get dispensation from the

unions and they played ball and our own film camera men then trained to be with live cameras. I

mean, the technique - it's only just a different technique - the principle of getting the story was

exactly the same but the method of transmission and the mechanical aptitude of the camera man

had to be changed to suit the live television camera as opposed to the film camera and film

gradually dropped out. Film was used for quite a long time. Film was used right the way up

about - they were still using film from odd places and odd countries in Africa where the stringer

only had a film camera. I mean, here in Chard, for instance, we have a stringer in Chard who

employed in 1955. He is still here. He is still stringing. He still lives in Chard. He still supplies

video but again, because of union restriction, he is only allowed to supply it to HTV who then in

turn supply it to us. He is not allowed to send film direct to us or video straight to the......


A ITN. Yes. And, you know, this is the way we went on. Towards the end, of course, the

satellite started to come in and, of course, that made a tremendous amount of difference to the

life style of the camera man who was really, because of his union agreements, on a really good

thing. I mean, the camera man was earning twice as much as I was, for instance, and I was their

boss. Because of the expenses. They caught a bit of a cold and I think a lot of it was due to their

own lack of foresight that they could see this coming in and they knew that we could get pictures

back from Kenya as quick, or sooner, than it would take them to get to the airport. On a long

running story obviously one sent them abroad - they went - like Mao Mao was a continuing story.

I went to Kenya myself and organized with the Kenyan Broadcasting Company - Kenya Television

- to accommodate a camera crew on a more or less permanent basis working with us. But in the

end they were withdrawn and local camera men were doing it for us. They were just sending us

all their stuff because it was so easy to do, especially when the satellite arrived. And this took

place all over the world. Consequently the camera man's job became much more restricted to

the domestic scene - England - Great Britain - and he no longer flew around the world at the drop

of a hat because, as I say, local television had grown so much that it wasn't necessary to send

our own people. We would send a reporter on a big story to work with the local television crew

and this we did a lot. So a reporter was still travelling but the camera crew were local people.

Except on a big running story, I mean, where you had perhaps Cyprus We had crews based in

Cyprus. We had crews based, certainly in Northern Ireland all the time. I mean, we always had a

crew in Northern Ireland. We would rotate the crews in Northern Ireland. It was cheaper to bring

them back and send another crew out than pay them overtime in Ireland and so consequently we

had cars with camera equipment and we just rotated the staff rather than the equipment and the

camera men and camera equipment. This was the way we worked. When I left, satellites were

coming into their own and, as I say, I went back to - I went round Channel 4 with Peter Sissons

and my mind boggled - I had been away about a year and a half - and I just didn't know where

was. I mean, the news room looked like the Stock Exchange. They changed so much from the

old days of film which were, not leisurely, but certainly more leisurely than the cut and thrust of

news today. We only had two competitors in the first days of television and that was the BBC and

you competed against yourself as well. But now you are competing against Sky, you are

competing against 7 and the who are very good and, you know, it is not easy.

Ο Can I take you back now to before the war when you were an assistant with “March of

Times"? Can you give me an idea - having moved into the sort of electronic satellite age - go

back to the sort of stone age? You operated a 35 mm sound camera.

A Yes, it was a 35 mm sound and film Wall camera and this weighed about 3 tons and it

was my job to carry it and the bloody thing fell off the tripod once as it wasn't screwed on to the

tripod and it crashed on to the floor in a cloister in Oxford. I shall never forget that. I thought |

was out of a job but Jimmy......take me really. But in those days, I mean, it was hard work. We

travelled around. My first days at Gaumont British, we travelled around just the two of us -

Crockett my sound engineer and myself. The camera weighed something 2 cwt, the camera, the

camera batteries, the sound equipment, the cables, the lights, the rostrum you carried on the top

- you carried everything, you carried a four foot rostrum on the roof, you carried about six kw of

lighting, you carried your camera, a silent camera, a sound camera, your sound equipment and

God knows how many yards of cable and you were literally a one man band.

You had your own genny as well?


A No we never had a generator. We used to blow people's fuses all over the country.....



No. We would go off the mains, they were all mains lighting. But we would go to a place

and just sort of plug in and hope to hell the fuses held and if they didn't you blacked out many

places. And it was all very.... but you did all this yourself. You were an electrician, you were a

rostrum erector, you were a driver, you did everything yourself and then you had the responsibility

of getting that film back as quickly as yourself.......... you never came back, you always rang and

said 'now look what do I do now?' and they said 'oh where are you - oh you are in Southampton -

your are on the south coast -there is a job in Falmouth'. And this actually happened to me.

Dennis Compton got married many years ago - the cricketer - and we filmed his bride going off to

South Africa. I phoned the office afterwards and they said there's a ship called ‘The Flying

Enterprise' in trouble, would you go to Falmouth?" Four weeks later I got homel I ended up by

doing shooting for the Gaumont organization - a documentary called ‘The Carlson's Story'. This

was the story of ‘The Flying Enterprise', the ship - you are probably too young to remember it.

Q Oh I remember it.

A Do you remember ‘The Flying Enterprise?"

Q 1950.

A And we were there doing this and you never quite knew where you were in cinema

newsreel, you always kept a bag packed in your locker in the office and you just went at the drop

of a hat and no excuses, the unions didn't protect you, you worked all the hours God gave and

you just worked for a salary and that was all there was to it. When we started at ITN, of course,

things changed, the unions got hold of that and we got to a state in 1960 where we had a strike

and it went on for three weeks and Sir Jeffrey Cox was writing the scripts and I was manning four

cameras in the studio and we were all standing in the middle with north, south, east and west

pointing cameras. Bill Hodgson - Jimmy Hodgson's son, who was our General Manager at ITN,

and we were all doing the job because they were on strike. And the struck because they weren't

getting what they thought they should get in the way of remuneration for working long hours. In

the end it paid the management to put them on shift and we put them on shift and we came to an

arrangement whereby we owned them. The whole time they were on shift they belonged to us,

we owned them and they did what we told them. Hours didn't come into it. But once they were

off shift we didn't touch them. And they worked virtually a week on and a week off, not exactly to

a pattern like that but it was the equivalent for every day on you had a day off and this worked and

it worked quite well, because by then we had fifteen camera men and there was no problem. But

going back to before the war, “Brighter Time", it was getting a bit of a reputation, it was quite well

known and we were always very, very welcome, we got all the facilities we needed, they were

very, very good to us and, again, this was hard work because there was just Jimmy Hodgson who

was the camera man and director, myself operating the camera and the sound man, you may or

may not have heard of him, called Pat Fox or Dennis Scanlon was there. Dennis Scanlon came

from Feature Studio. And we worked pretty hard, we were kept hard at it, the Americans were

hard task masters and Walter Graybner was the boss in England and he kept us really at it and

the chap called Anstey - Philip Anstey, he was one of the programme directors and he came out

on various stories as a director. After the war I left them and went, as I say, to Universal News

and then Gaumont British and eventually BBC, ITN.

Q Can I pick you up on some stories, now? You mentioned early on on your “March of

Time" thing that you did a feature on Nazi Germany. What are your memories of Nazi Germany

when you went there - did you actually meet Hitler or anything like that?

A Good Lord, no. No, no, no. We went on to the border and we were trying to portray the

story of the bestiality of the Germans towards the Jews and we were popping backwards and

forwards over the German/Dutch frontier from...

Q When?

A This was 38. Yes it was about a year before the war. And in the end we got caught and

we had to leave our car in Germany and I can remember always flying back to Croydon

Aerodrome with the equipment because the Germans got on to us, they knew what we were

doing, and we were chucked out. And we left our car in Holland and came home. But we were

filming in the hospitals in Rotterdam and Ventlo. I remember Ventlo very distinctly, although it

was a hell of a long time ago. You know, it was...

Q But when were you actually filming in Germany? Were you interviewing Jewish people?

A We were interviewing Jewish people and trying to interview German officials. But, I

mean, they clammed up and obviously knew that something was going to happen. They knew

the war was imminent and we weren't terribly welcome and there was a bit of an uphill fight. So really, the facilities we got in Germany amounted to absolutely nothing. But in Holland, of course,

they were only too pleased to see us and they co-operated one hundred percent. Yes, it was....

C) Did you actually get the film of Nazi war machine where.....

Α No, no. You film the German soldiers in the street in the uniforms and the Ugon(?)

parades - but it was a long time ago, I mean, I am going back sixty years, it's a heck of a long

time ago and you can only remember various incidents. I mean, I can remember the first story

we did after the war which was a terribly cold winter. And we did a shortage of coal story, you

know, “Winter Grips Great Britain". That's the last story I did for them. Oh we did one in Oxford

University showing the Americans what Oxford University was like. And then I left and went into

the news business.

Q The time in the army - you were with the army film unit in Malta - was that at the time of

the siege?

A Just at the siege, yes, end of the siege.

Q What are your memories of that?

Α Bloody uncomfortable! I came in at the end of it and didn't see a lot of it to be absolutely

honest but I was mostly employed - we had a thing called the JIC, a sort of Joint Intelligence

Centre with a sort of mini commando unit - and we used to go off to these islands, like

Lampadusa(?), Antwarear(?), the Contenna Islands and we used to go up to Sicily and

photograph beaches and film what went on there and we were going off to the air fields on

Pampuria with this mixed up commando unit...

Q That was before the Germans left?

A This was before the Germans left. Yes - which was quite exciting.

Q Was this during filming for intelligence purposes?

A No. For anyone. I mean, once I submitted the film I don't know where it went. It is

probably in the archives in the Imperial War Museum now, or somewhere like that. But I did not

See a foot of what I had shot. The only thing I can remember seeing was Churchill visiting Malta

and Churchill visited Malta at the end of the siege. But that is the only thing tangible that I have

actually seen of my own films, nothing more than that.

Q What about the bombing and so on?

A | came in on the tail end of that, I arrived at the tail end of that. Yes.

Q Did you film the arrival of The Ohio?

A Yes. The tanker, yes, coming in 7????? cheering and...... It was a funny period - Malta.

| mean, it was a very cushy place to be stationed really. But it was much harder when we got into

Italy and one was really, you know, you were with the infantry all the time. We had platoons.

think I had six pairs of sergeants. We were in units of a jeep, a trailer, two sergeant

photographers - one still, one cine - and a driver. And then we used to allocate them to wherever

things were happening. In other words, if an infantry battalion was going in to action on a certain

front we would assign two sergeants, or two teams to it and then bring them back and then assign

again. So really the sergeants in the army film units saw far more war than the average soldier

did because he was always where the action was. He was moved from action to action and they

were jolly good too, these people. They were great.

But you didn't actually have a camera yourself at that time?

Not when I was in Italy, no.


No, I didn't have one, no. I was the CO of the unit.

So you weren't really in the front line with the sergeants or anything?

Oh yes, we were right up with them, oh yes. Full battalion obligated quarters.

They operated more as director camera men?

7?????? They just filmed what they saw. They had no directions, no instructions, they

just went with the ? or the CO of the platoon or company they were going with and you left them

to it. You never saw their film. You had no reports on their film. It was all very haphazard and

very hit and miss.

Q What cameras were they carrying?

Α They had Eyemos, the little Eyemo camera, the cine camera. No 35 mm, 100 foot

loading, a camera about the size of a shoe box and they looked like a shoe box. They were very

awkward little cameras. They had fixed focus lenses, just two lenses - a two inch and a four inch.

They were probably about the worst camera that was every made. Eventually they started giving

them Eyemos which was a much more....

Q What was the previous one you were talking about?

A Oh dear. The shoe box ones were the - it will come back in a moment. I said it once. I

mentioned it once. And then we got the Eyemo camera which was a much more handy camera.

This, again, was 100 foot loading, 35 mm camera. Of course, the trouble was 100 foot of film

doesn't last very long and when you are in action to have to stop and reload is a damn nuisance.

And, of course, again, the flexibility - at least the Eyemo had a turret, whereas the - it was like a

Debrie - it wasn't a Debrie - I remember the Debrie I remember the Newman Sinclair which we

used to have on the newsreel in the cinema, the silent camera was Newman Sinclair - good

camera actually, very good camera.

How much stock did the camera man carry? I mean, how many 100 foot rolls?

They would probably have 2,000 feet of film in the jeep with them, around 2,000 feet.

So that's about 20 minutes?

Yes, screen time. It was a little bit more actually.

And they passed it back presumably when they had a moment?

They would hand it back to their CO or somebody and the despatch rider and it would be

transferred back to Brigade Headquarters, back down to the - and I am talking about Italy now -

and that would go back down to Rome to the Public Relation place in Rome where people like

Alan Whicker would handle it.

Q Was it processed in Rome?

A No, processed in England. At Denholm. I mean, it being military stuff there was no

censorship on it at all because it was military material shot under military.........

Q ...returning them in Pathe?

А .......... Working as War correspondents, all their material was censored, definitely. Just as

we were in the Falklands with ITN. Every foot of it was censored and we were in Suez, the same,

every foot had to go through the military sensor. It's hard to remember everything you did

because you did so much. As a newsreel camera man you were everywhere. I was known as bit

of a Jack of all Trades, you specialised in really nothing, you were expected to do a fashion show

and a football the next or a riot or a political interview. And I can remember doing, in the first days

, we conducted our own interviews, if we interviewed a politician, I would fire the questions at the

politician from behind the camera because I would say to the politician before I started “I am going

to give you some questions and these are the questions I am going to ask you. When you see

this on the screen it won't be my voice you will hear, you will hear another voice asking these

questions. So what I want you to do is, when I have asked you the question I want you to give me

four seconds, count a slow four before you retire. That will enable me to get my voice off the

track and the commentator's voice dubbed on.' And this we did regularly. And I would have to

just ask the question and ..... know what to do.

Tape Turned Over

Q Just going back on the Italian campaign, I mean, presumably you were involved in all the

major things like Solerno, Antio and Monte Casino were you?

A No. 1 was in none of those. Oddly enough I was in none of those. We started when the

armies had just got north of Rome and my vivid memories are of going up the Adriatic side with

mainly the commando brigade who were being used, in those days, as infantry and ending up -

one of the last battles of the war was on the Battle of Lake Kamakio in the north of Italy just

before the approaches to Venice, between Trieste and Venice. And they were very, very vivid

memories for me and there were some pretty exciting moments.

Q Do you remember in detail any of them?

A Yes | can remember going in the fantails - the fantail was a sort of amphibious vehicle

which we had - an American amphibious vehicle which the Americans had - which was like a sort

of an enormous shoe box with tracks like a tank that went right round it and the actual tracks

propelled the vehicle through the water, because they were cupped at the bottom. And you got in

these things and you could see the sky but that was about all. They were about as high as this

room - 8-9 feet high - you got into them at the back, you crouched or sat in them, and they were

going in the Water and they would sink and sink and sink until there was about a foot of freeboard.

So really they were almost invisible once they were in the water, they were so low down. But

when they climbed out of the water they loomed large and became enormous and the troops ran

out of the back and either side and did what they had to do. But I can remember we were told on

some islands that off Lake Kamakio there was a German garrison, you know sugar beet factory

and we went in these fantails and we got there and were met by dozens of screaming kids and

Women who were terrified because the Germans were shooting back at us. And we rescued

these women, we took all the women and kids back in the fantails with us and we were very

highly commended for that operation - saving the lives of these kids and the women. I suppose

you could remember a lot about the war but it is pretty nasty in many places and I suppose really,

you know...

Q ....... that never ended up on the screen?

A This is again... as I told you, there is so much I shot that I have never seen any of it.

Except for the incident with Churchill. That's the only piece of footage I have ever seen that I shot

myself. And I saw that in a programme on television of Churchill during the war and I think “I did

that!'. But that's about the only thing that I have ever seen, never seen anything else.

Q Extraordinary

A Yes, isn't it. I mean, the hundreds and hundreds of feet that was submitted to the....

Q I wonder how much of it was dropped(?) (junked?)

A Oh I would say ninety-five percent, because the camera men, although some of them

had never seen a camera before in their lives, others were established camera men. But the

established camera men usually worked as war correspondents, like my father and Martin Gray

and people like that - they all worked as war correspondents and were consequently living as

officers in the mess. I can remember in France I was a Corporal, despatch rider, the Border

Regiment and I went to Arras, I went through Arras, and I knew my father was stationed in the

Hotel Strasbourg there. So I went to see my father and they wouldn't let me in because I was a

Corporal and I was covered in mud. But Richard Dimbleby, luckily, walked through the foyer and

said 'hello, hello, what do you want young man?' I said “I am Jack Cotter's son'. 'Oh', he said

‘Jack Carter, I don't know where he is, I don't know if he is out. Would you like a bath?' I said

'Oh not half!'. I hadn't seen a bathroom for over three weeks. So I went and had a bath which

was very good of him.

Q Was this 1940 was it?

A That was 1940. And then my father came back and I filmed my father and Martin Gray

who was one of my camera men at ITN was his sound man in those days. And he is still alive,

he's still around, Martin. He is 84 now. I saw my father again in Malta. He came in on HMS

Malaya and he came and he stayed in the mess room for a time. I saw him quite a few times

during the war, he was working away as a war correspondent, mainly with the Navy. But they

lived a reasonable life of luxury compared to the ASPU personnel who just lived as soldiers.

They foraged where the went, they got their own billets, they were very, very much a sort of

nomadic tribe, the camera men at ASPU. You sent them out and you never really knew when

you were going to see them again and it depended on their honesty really. I went into one place

One day, I just happened to catch out of the corner of my eye the back end of a jeep and trailer in

a farm. This was in Italy. And I went into this farm and went upstairs and lying on this bloody

great double bed with knobs on and brass knobs, were my two brilliant sergeants. On a table in

the bedroom was a pile of money, a mile high, Italian lira. So I woke them “Hoi, what's all this

money'. 'Flogging horses'. They had been selling horses. They were so full of shrapnel these

horses you could have pulled them along with a magnet! What a racket! And this was a

Sergeant Levi, he was known as the battling rabbi. He got no men.(?) He was a very brave man.

He was a number two commando, joined us from number two commando. And his partner was a

man called Frost - Sergeant Frost who was a Bradford ladies hairdresser. He had come from the

power regiment. A pretty tough couple. They were working their own little rackets. And at the

end of the war when I was coming back on what they called Leake(?) from Vilak in Austria

Sergeant Levi came into see me to wish me goodbye and god speed and he went, taking my

officer's great coat with him. So he got the last laugh. But it's an amazing thing. On the whole it

was very enjoyable, it was very frightening some moments, but on the whole you had complete

freedom, you had no boss, you had no CO chasing you as you did when you were in a regiment

or nobody worrying you. You worked, you were very, very much on your own and even at the end

of the War when we were stationed in a place called Mariavert(?) on the Vertisae in southern

Austria, Corinthia, a beautiful place, we had our own hotel which we took over and we lived as a

small unit, we did no work because there nothing to do, there was absolutely nothing to

photograph, nothing to do and we just sort of virtually had about a four month holiday. We just

laid in the Sun and had a boat on the lake and, of course, then it was disbanded and we

W€ľE. . . . . . . parent regiments - I was hired as a garrison sports officer in Vienna which was a very

pleasant number to have. And eventually came out of the army then went almost straight into


Q Now when you came out, and you went back to civilian reporting, presumably I mean, you

were still ‘nomadic' is the prescription of your job then, I mean, you don't have to forage or

anything like that.

A Oh no,

Q But you live off the ground to a certain extent don't you, you have to show a bit initiative.

A Oh yes, you are very much on your own. I mean, you don't go out with a damn great

camera crew of nine or ten people and a director and somebody else paying your bills for you, or

somebody hoarding the money. Oh no, you are completely and utterly on your own all the time,

mean, you and your sound men you are like two brothers or brother and sister. You share the

same room in many cases because you have to if you go a remote place to film, you don't get the

sort of accommodation you would like, you sleep in anything - boarding houses, luxury hotels,

anything - and become very, very close to your sound man. He becomes your great mate and it

is absolutely essential that when I started at ITN l had to equate the personalities of the camera

men and the sound men and pair them up so that they wouldn't get on. I mean you had situations

whereby you have a camera man and a sound man refusing to go out with a certain reporter.

Really, you hadn't got enough reporters to enough camera men or sound men to be able to juggle

so that they always avoided each other. You had to say 'I'm sorry, mate, but you have just got to

get on with it, you have got to get on whether you like it or not and if it starts to show on the

screen one of you is out. It was as simple as that. We cannot afford to jeopardise a product

because of a clash of personalities between a reporter, a camera man and a recordist. You have

go to get on, that's all there is to it'. And his editor would tell the reporter exactly the same that

one had to virtually had to juggle your crews to fit the situation.

Q At this time, though, after the war, I mean, you were on sound still or you were a camera

man by then?

A Well, I was camera man, a sound camera man yes.

Q But sound.

A Oh yes, a sound camera man with Universal and then with Gaumont British and then with

the BBC and then....

Q But when you say 'sound camera man' you operated the pictures of the camera and the

sound combined?

Α Oh no, no. You were operating the sound camera. A sound camera man had a recordist

but he was called a sound camera man as opposed to a silent man. The silent man also had a

lower rate of pay than a sound camera man in those days.

Q But an Orikan(?) camera, for instance, was operated by a sound camera man?

A Yes.

Q You would actually look through the eye piece?

A Yes, oh yes, yes.

Q I just wanted to clarify that because the sound camera man, certainly in the old feature

days, when they were using sound on the film, he sat with the sound camera in the box.

A Oh no. The sound camera man had the physical camera. He carried it, he put it on the

tripod, he operated it. It was his choice of shot, lens, frame-up, everything. He was a sort of

camera man/director. But, the fact that he operated a sound camera was why they called him a

sound camera man but the sound man was a separate entity who operated the amplifier. And he

worked absolutely with the camera man. I mean, as I say, you are like brothers and you work

together. But the sound camera man was, if you put it in terms of rank, a sound camera man

was the top rank. Then, of course, on the newsreels in those days one had no directors. You

even asked your own questions. But they were framed by the news editor. The questions were

given to you. You used not to have to.....he left those to yourself to do. I am just trying to think

now what I can tell you that would interest you. It's difficult to come suddenly out with...

Q Can you tell me about some of the big stories you were on after the war? I mean, did you

cover the Berlin airlift, for instance.

Α Yes, indeed, I covered the Berlin airlift. I did the weddings..... In fact, when I was at

Gaumont British, I was the royal rota camera man doing all the royal coverage and I did the

Christening of Prince Charles, for instance. And I can tell you an amusing incident about that.

We did the - Crockett again was my sound engineer - and we were doing it on rota, what they

called royal rota. Have you heard of royal rota? Well, royal rota was something set up between

the newsreel companies and the BBC whereby when the Queen or the royal family did anything

they were not interfered with by a host of camera men, so one company would cover for

everybody. The film would be made available for everybody and the companies took it in turn to

do the royal rota. And when BBC - I went to BBC television - they had a newsreel royal rota

comprising of all the five newsreel companies - Paramount, Gaumont, Universal, Pathé - four -

and BBC and ITN had a rota, they had their own rota, because we were dealing in 60mm and

they were dealing in 35 mm. The cinema newsreels were still dealing in 35. When Prince

Charles was christened I had the job of doing the filming. It was quite a responsibility doing this

for everybody because if you made a cock-up of it nobody sees anything. So it is reasonably

nerve racking to be standing in the White Room at the Palace where all these kings and queens

come in and princes and god knows what, and you are standing there on a four foot rostrum and

this damn great sound camera - it was a Mitchell camera in those days which was a much better,

it was probably one of the best ever, the American Mitchell camera - and to have the Queen

Mother come up and say 'can I have a look through that thing?' and you have to drop the battery

box on to the floor, which I had to do, and give her a yank with two hands and she arrived on the

rostrum alongside me. And then I swung the lenses so that she could see the 7 focal length for

lenses, swung each lens in turn, there were four on the turret, so that she could see the close-ups

from the wide angled stuff. And then the hurly burly of getting the royal family from all the

different countries in Europe and all over the world all together and in the end the old king going

and saying 'right, let's get this organized - Queens in the front, Kings in the back'. That's what he

said. We have got that on film actually. And then, of course, they all sat round with this baby and

We got the pictures and they were all right. There was no problem. Everybody was very pleased

with them. And then again, when they first moved Prince Charles out of the palace and took him

to Sandringham, he was only about four ....... he was quite young - it was before the christening,

and We bribed, we knew that they were going to drive along Six Mile Bottom near Ducksford, and

we bribed the level crossing keeper to shut the gates when the royal car was seen going through

think it was Newmarket. Somebody phoned us and told us he was on his way and we had the

gate closed and I had the camera car, which was a Humber Pullman, and the back flap of the

boot laid down and we had a camera position mounted on the back flap so that I could sit on the

boot with my bottom and look through the camera filming backwards. And we came down out of

the station approach and got to within about five feet of the royal car which was stuck by the level

crossing gates and we zoomed in and the Queen lifted up the Prince, held him to the window like

this, for a close-up, and just held it as long as we wanted. Then when we gave the signal to the

chap he opened the gate. And they went away. For that I think I got a bonus of I think it was

£5.00 for doing that. But you know, Prince Philip was driving, ‘you bastards' he was saying, he

was shaking his fist at us, he knew we had set him up. It was quite amusing to do that. But royal

rota, when I became sort of a boss I used to be on the committee of the royal rota and we used to

meet with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and decide which stories would be rotarised and

which would not. In the end, we had a little bit of bother because, when we went to colour we had

the problem of processing. Processing in colour obviously took longer and what we did was, we

organized it so that we would do - we - and I am talking about ITN now - we at ITN would do three

months, we would supply the technicians and the BBC could use their reporters with our

technicians and our own reporters. And then conversely when the BBC's turn was to do three

months we would send our reporter to work for the BBC camera crew. And this worked. It

worked well. Until, of course, colour came up and then it was a bit of a fight who should process

it and who should get in first, because our transmission times were different and consequently we

had to sort things out that way. In the end we went to a meeting with the Queen and she agreed

that we should be given facilities to represent ourselves. So as far as television was concerned

royal rota no longer existed. But it still existed in the cinema newsreel because there were four at

the time. But that was an interesting time working with the royal rota because you had

tremendous contact with the royal family and you got to know - I mean - in the end you got to be

allowed to wander around the palace because they got to know you. And to get to the Press

Office from the side entrance of the palace means walking quite a long way through the palace to

the Press Room and where you saw people like Commander Colville who was always a stickler

for discipline and protocol but he was followed by Ronald Alice who was an ex BBC reporter.

mean, he was just the opposite. I mean, he was so free and easy that he would have given you

the palace! But that was an interesting time - working with the royal family.

Q Which members did you find it easiest to work with?

Α | found that Princess Anne was pretty good, I liked her. Margaret was a bitch, she was

always game at playing. Philip - he wasn't bad. I can remember an incident when we were doing

the Olympic Games, we were in Jamaica - Kingston. And I took a combined team out of

newsreel people - Visnews - do you remember? Well, I took Visnews camera men and ITN

camera men with me to cover, on a rota basis, the Commonwealth Games. And I can remember

we heard that Philip was coming out and that he was going to play polo one evening. So I sent a

camera crew down from the stadium down to the polo pitch and I went down there. And Jeff

White of the Sketch, who was a very famous Fleet Street photographer, he was there. And Philip

walked up to him and said 'look Jeff, you can get me playing polo any Sunday afternoon you like

at Smith's Lawn. Why did you have to come here and photograph me playing polo here?' And

Jeff said in case you break you fing neck!' And, of course, that went down and Philip liked that.

He thought that was great fun. The relationships between most of the television companies and

the Queen were very good and when I got my gong the Queen said to me 'How's Mr Nicholas?" |

said 'he's fine thank you ma’am’, ‘Give my regards to him please'. She remembered the editor's

name - David Nicholas - at ITN, and she asked me how he was. Amazing isn't it? The number of

people she meets!

Q What about politicians?

A Oh. I can remember way back many, many, many years ago when Clem Atley was

Prime Minister. I can remember him coming up, they had a conference, an annual conference at

Eastbourne, and I can remember him coming up these steps up on to the road and I don't know

whether you remember but his wife always drove him. His wife was his chaffeuse and he fought

his way up these steps against many people going down and he put his hat on and it fell right

down over here. It was the wrong one, he had picked up the wrong one. He had picked up one a

few sizes too large and it fell down over his eyes and ears and he saw me and he was a very

erasable old bugger and he said 'young man, get my hat' So he gave me this other one and

thought 'oh dear' so I staggered down the stairs, back into the hall, I eventually found what I

thought was his, I staggered back and gave it to him and it was his. So he was happy. Oh we

had politicians. We used to give them a party every year at the party conferences. We would

take a suite and usually it was in the hotel, the Imperial in Blackpool. We would take the

Wallbrick Suite and it was my job to organise this and we had them all there. We had George

Brown drunk, you got to know them pretty well. We really were on christian name terms with

them. Ted Heath I knew him very, very well indeed. I think I quite liked Ted Heath, I thought he

was a nice man. Gaitskill was very, very nice. Wilson I got on quite well with.

Q What were they like to interview?

A Oh easy, most of them were very easy. A lot of them insisted that you gave them your

list of questions beforehand, I mean, a man like Huster would, Robin Day wouldn't and they

boxed pretty clever with people like that because they knew Robin was a bit clever but Alistair

was a diplomat and he would get the answers he wanted. You know, by sheer cleverness and by

pandering to them slightly. But no, most of them were very good because, you see, they were

experiencing a new thing when ITN came out because we used to doorstep them and they used

to never know (a) when we were going to do it and (b) what we were going to ask them. And

Consequently they were very, very - they became used to being doorstepped and they were on

their guard immediately for the quick one or the sly one. They go to know you and you got to be

quite friendly with them in the end. I never had any real - the only one I had trouble with was

Jeremy Thorpe. I must admit I found him slightly serbic, I think would be the word. He was a bit

of a dilettante, he did his own things, and the night the Common Market was announced - after

the referendum - we had a portakabin set up on the grass opposite the entrance to the Commons

- that piece of grass just on the other side of the road. And we were interviewing politicians as

they were coming out and going in and, you know, like a sausage machine, they were coming in

and We were doing and out they would go. Jeremy Thorpe turned up. 'I want to go in now'.

said 'You can't go in there because there is somebody else in there in front of you’. ‘I'm next,

should go in now'. I said 'I'm sorry but so and so is waiting, if you had come at the time you said

you were coming we could have done you as and when then but I'm sorry, no'. And I had one

hell of a row and I said ‘well, as far as I am concerned, you can bugger off, leave, I don't think we

are going too short if you are not in it'. And after that he calmed down a bit and he got in the

queue and waited. But no, he was a difficult man. I think he was really the only difficult politician

have ever - yes we came into contact with a lot of them - especially at party conferences,

especially when you see them on a social plane too, drink with them in the bar at the hotel at


Q What about international politicians?

A Well, the only one I knew....

Q Summit meetings?

Α Well, not really, no, not a lot. That Tito, I got on well with Tito because he had learned

that I had been in Yugoslavia during the war and it was the partisans and he was very, very,

attentive when he knew that I had been one of the people that had actually got into Yugoslavia.

Q Filming at that time were you?

A Yes. We were filming the partisans, working with you know, not the, of course we did

the...that was an interesting story about the way they surrendered at the Chetnecks(?) when they

all came in and - bearded men and wild men with German stick grenades sticking out of every

available hole, you know, and they were throwing their arms in crying and weeping. This is a

piece of film that should have been seen, many, many, many times over but I have never seen it.

They were throwing these long rifles on these ? usually with a bullet in the breach and with the

safety catch off so somebody was going to get hurt and so on. That was a very interesting

experience seeing the surrender of the Chetnecks(?).

Ο Weren't they executed in the end?

A Yes, they were, and, of course, we had another terrible incident which, I was timed on,

and for which I was actually interviewed about here and even when I lived down here. A number

of white Russians were captured and they were put into a camp by the British and held and then

with MacMillan, who was Prime Minister then, repatriated to Russia where they knew they were

going to get the chop. They were in these camps at Neerack(?) and Feldham(?) in Southern

Austria and the London/Irish were the regiment and they had to get these people and put them in

trucks to send them up to the Russian zone. The Russian zone in Austria in those days was a

place called Newtonburg on the way to Vienna and from ? to Vienna, Newtonburg was about half

way to the Russian zone. And these people were taken off the trucks and went away, of course,

to their inevitable death and they were hanging themselves on the barbed wire to avoid being put

in the truck, they were just lying in the road and my chaps were filming this. Alan Wilson was the

camera man - Sergeant Wilson - and Freuden Currie was a still photographer, And they were

filming these Irish people coming in and the brigadier arrived and he said 'who is in charge of

these cameras?' I said 'I am'. I was a Captain. And he said 'come here, you will take them to

Northern Ireland to film.' I had to, I was in the army. So I had to withdraw them and then he said

to me would l meet him in the evening at his residence, which was on the edge of the lake, and

he took me out in a boat, he rowed it himself - the brigadier, me and the boat. He said this is a

very, very tricky situation and we don't want this publicised and your film will be impounded, will

not go back'. I said 'You are the brigadier and I am a captain, there's nothing much to say about

that!". That was an interesting situation. There were these people being dragged against their

will and, of course, you have got to be knowing that I had been there when it happened and I had

a fellow came down here. He was writing a book on this, on this particular thing, called “Murderer

MacMillan" and he came and interviewed me and he said 'well you will be hearing from me' and I

heard that he had been found dead about four days later. Very odd circumstances. So you can

put your own interpretation on that. I don't know. I have thought about it. That was an odd

strange time where we were involved with Yugoslavs and the Chetnecks and the white Russians.

But certainly to the best of my knowledge none of that film has ever been seen. ..... because

British Soldiers, they were......they wanted to insensibility and chuck them in the back of three

tonners. Alan Wilson, the camera man, he was interviewed about it. You get these sort of odd

things that happen and they suddenly come back to you and one thing reminds you of another. It

was an awful long time ago. I am 78 now. It's a long time ago.

Q Were you close up to the action in that sense in any other incidents during the war?

A I was on the beach Dunkirk for four days as a soldier not as an infantryman. I was very,

Very young.

Q What are your memories of that now, did you think you were going to get off?

A Well, yes, I believe - I always thought I would get away yes. We walked the last 35 miles

to Dunkirk because our officers told us to abandon - I was in the Brendan(?) carrier platoon - to

abandon our vehicles so we pushed them into ditches and smashed the distributors with our rifle

butts and then walked 35 miles. Why we didn't abandon them a bit further up the road! And the

officer sailed past in their staff cars and left us. I was on the beach for about three and a half

days and in the water for about four hours. We were eventually picked up and came back. No,

oddly enough, I think I was too young and stupid to be frightened and I don't think you really get

frightened under those circumstances. You get frightened when you get a bit more sense and

you think a little more. But I certainly got frightened a few times in Italy because they were flying

about and you never knew quite where they were coming from. No, I came through without a

scratch and then smashed my legs playing rugby.

Q And when did that happen?

A Oh not long after the war. I was Captain of the BBC rugby team.

Ο But that lack of mobility didn't have any effect on your job did it as a camera man?

A Well, no l wasn't a camera man - I was the boss. But what it did do, when I went - it

didn't really have any effect on me until about 1980 when I was starting to get very slow in my

movements and my legs were very painful, very bad. I mean, this is why I left ITN. I left ITN

because I, as Sir David Nicholas said, I could have stayed on there until I was 90, just sitting

there doing nothing, enjoying the salary but that wasn't me, I didn't want to do that. I wanted to be

active, I wanted to do my 27 in the wood ...on the European Committee, I was doing a lot of

travelling, going places. In fact, one of the things that might interest you is I went to South Africa

to give advice on how to start up a television news service. I had all the equipment but politically

they weren't ready to go ahead with it but I went out as a guest of the South African Government -

Dr Kruger was the British Ambassador in this country and he asked me if I played golf. And I

went and played golf in Wentworth and he asked me if I would go to South Africa and advise

them on equipment and virtually tell him how we set up ITN. And Sir Jeffrey Cox, who was the

editor of ITN in those days agreed and I went to South Africa for four weeks as a guest of the

South African Government, travelling all around.

Q Was he at the centre of the Kruger?

A I don't know. I honestly don't know. It is a very common name, it is like Smith. They

looked after me very, very, well and you could see that they were politically very, very frightened -

I mean, getting involved in world television because so much of it was racial, so many black

people appeared on television doing good jobs, doing responsible jobs and they weren't by any

means going to allow the black South African to see those.

A This is it, you see. They had the equipment, I mean, we recommended that they buy

Arryslex cameras and American cameras which they did and they were stored. Where could they

go, they couldn't use them. They didn't use them because the Government would not let them

start and, in fact, they had the radio links, they used to show they, drive from Johannesburg to

Capetown Peter Marisberg(??) you would see a radio link mast and they just would not allow

them to start and it was a good year after I came back that they actually started. I mean, I

thought it was imminent but in point of fact it wasn't. They took a long time to get it going.

Q What other incidents - you covered Suez presumably didn't you?

A No, I didn't go to Suez. We covered Suez - I didn't. No Cyril Page went.

Q Were you in Korea?

Α No. Once I became boss my travelling was curtailed quite a lot, once I ceased to be a

camera man, I was deskbound mainly.

Q Can you remember any other sort of war time incidents? Do you remember getting into

Germany - your memories of entering Germany.

A Well, now, we didn't you see. We came in from the other end - we were in Austria. We

came up through Italy.

Q You didn't go any further than that?

A No. We got right up to the Russian at Newtonburg, as I told you, where they took the

white Russians and there we were stopped because there was this ban. But then I got into

Vienna and I was in Vienna -? Hotel - which is the headquarters hotel in Vienna, but doing a

Completely different job of ? sports officer and then I came back and was demobbed and then

went straight to “March of Time" for about three weeks and then Universal News. Then became


A Way back, during the war in Italy on the banks of the River Senier(?) when there was a

stalemate between the German and the British armies because we ? 2 2 learned, I was

stationed - we were billeted in a farm house on the Senier riverbank and I learned, from my CO,

that a certain part of his 2 division were going to make an initial attack in order to break the

stalemate and I wanted to assign some sergeant and camera men and photographers with this

particular attack in order to maximise the effects, give the camera men experience of war and

battle and also to illustrate the fact that the stalemate had taken place. So I proceeded to go

down to the New Zealand headquarters situated in Marlot Grove some twenty miles back from

where we were and I went into the intelligence truck to meet their Intelligence Officer who was a

young - well not young - but reasonably young, chunky kiwi who immediately the I tent when I told

him my mission and I found out that I was being surrounded by military police personnel in order

to stop my escape from the truck presumably until he checked my bona fides. He came back

and everything went well, he agreed to my request. The camera men were duly assigned, the

pictures were duly taken, the attack took place and the next time I saw this particular Major was

as my boss at ITN - Sir Jeffrey Cox. He left the army and he was 7 CO but it was a coincidence.

I mean. And he wrote a book, a very good book called “The Road to Trieste" and on the fly leaf

of a copy he gave me he wrote “with best wishes from the Senier and Kingsway ITN first



Son of Jack Cotter, newsreel cameraman