Maurice Carter

Forename/s: 
Maurice
Family name: 
Carter
Work area/craft/role: 
Company: 
Industry: 
Interview Number: 
174
Interview Date(s): 
19 Dec 1990
10 Jan 1991
Interviewer/s: 
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 
540
Access restrictions: 

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Transcript

Copyright is vested in the BECTU History Project
19th December 1990, Maurice Carter, art director, interviewed by Roy Fowler
SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE
Roy Fowler: When and where were you born
Maurice Carter: I was born in the London, in 1913, and I had the normal sort of
schooling, Gladstone, and I eventually went to an art school when I was 15.
Roy Fowler: That was always part of
Maurice Carter: I suppose I always had, my father was in charge of work on for instance
the Titanic, interior work, and my brother was an architect, and my other brother was in
publicity, in artwork in publicity. So there was a sort of basic interest there.
Roy Fowler: Was your father's work entirely on ships
Maurice Carter: Yes, entirely on ships. He was really connected with Harlan and Wolfe,
that is the connection with the Titanic. I still have pieces of the carving, which is an
interesting story. He was working on the Titanic, they were racing against time. They
were out on the trials and they were still fitting bits of this giant staircase, which he had
drawn and built, the main staircase going through five or six decks. They hadn't finished
by the time even when it was going to sail. So the theory was that at night time, they fitted
the final bits at night, kept out of the way of the passengers. But the chairman of the
White Star, on the eve of sailing, said oh we can't have this. If it gets publicity that the
boats not finished before it sales, it's a disaster. So my father was put ashore and took
these bits of carving, I still have two of the pieces and came ashore. So that is the reason
how I came to be born.
Roy Fowler: That was all hand-carved
Maurice Carter: Yes, it was actually from a smoking room which wasn't quite finished,
minor pieces, anyway he was put ashore and his life was saved, presumably.
And then I went to art school and eventually I spend a year in art school. And then I went
to Harrods in their Interior Design department, they used to run a department, which was
basically there for restoring old houses and putting them back, and decoration of any sort,
as a draughtsman.
Then I went into furniture, into furniture designing for a bit more experience
Roy Fowler: At the store
Maurice Carter: No. In Curtain Road, a dreadful place at that time and age, and full of
carthorses, it was that period
And Roy Fow ler: You were in your late teens
Maurice Carter: I suppose I was 17 or 18. Then for a year or more I went into illustrating
catalogues, at that time, it was the period of the Great Depression of course. After a year
of the Labour Exchange I decided I'd better do some thing else and I got a job illustrating
catalogues, next door to the Palladium.
Then my brother, the architect, was working with Alfred Junge at Shepherd's Bush and
the connection between that and Islington was that they were both Gainsborough Studios
at that time, with the Ostrers, Isidore running Shepherd's Bush and Maurice Ostrer
running Lime Grove. And Vetchinsky, the art director, at Lime Grove, needed, this was
the year of 1934, needed a draughtsman. So through my brother I went and got the job
Roy Fowler: How did your brother connect with Alfred Junge
Maurice Carter: He was assistant to Alfred Junge on films like xxx
Roy Fowler: Although trained as an architect he was in the film industry
Maurice Carter: He was a draughtsman, and the need was for / draftsmen
Roy Fowler: Did you later have any connection with Junge
Up Maurice Carter: Yes I did but considerably later. Anyway I went to Islington, got the
job, Vetch took me on. The very first film I worked on, they were actually into the film,
making the film, was Nine Days A Queen and of course it was in the very early days of
sound. There was a sound booth on castors, there was a camera booth with glass windows
so everything had to., there were no tracking shots or panning shots of course. The
panning shots were within the limits of the window of the booth
Roy Fowler: That late, I thought they were onto blimps by that time
Maurice Carter: Very quickly after that I suppose but at that time everybody was in the
booth
Roy Fowler: Was that the Nova Pilbeam film
Maurice Carter: It was the original 9 Days a Queen, I forget what it was called when it
was issued.
Roy Fowler: I thought it came a little later in terms development of technique but you
were there
Maurice Carter: Because we, there was no trade union at that time except for the
electricians. So everybody was called when there was a changeover, you had to rush
down and help shift all the booths around, apart from shifting the set around, you had to
move the booths around
Roy Fowler: No demarcation at all.
Maurice Carter: No, nothing if props needed shifting I rushed down and pushed them
around together with the prop boys.
Roy Fowler: Can I ask your entry into the film industry, would you say that was usually
the way people usually came in, through contacts, knowing somebody.
Maurice Carter: Very much so. There was a good deal of the old
Roy Fowler: And no formal training. It was always learning on the job.
Maurice Carter: The only formal training for the art department was experience. But the
advantage of that time was that youngsters used to start much, much younger, come in as
perhaps a teaboy into the art department at 14 and learn from that.
Roy Fowler: Did they demonstrate any prowess
Maurice Carter: They wanted to see drawings. When I got the job I went to see Vetch, I
took a whole load of my drawings.
Roy Fowler: Tell me about Islington.
Maurice Carter: It was a weird place, because you know it was an ex power station. I
don't know if you've ever seen it, it has an enormous chimney, the inside was an
extraordinary place because the ceilings in the corridors, the corridors 8 ft wide with 25 ft
high ceilings and you went in the front door, where there was a very smart sergeant and a
button boy, looking like a rather smart hotel, and inside immediately were great flanks of
the clocks, because we all had to clock in with cards every morning, punch a card
morning and night. Once inside, the art department was balanced on stilts above the green
room immediately outside the doors of number one stage.
We were talking about sound, the problems of sound at that time were extraordinary
because the microphone seemed to be incredibly sensitive. And there was Leslie Wilde
sitting in his little booth and the director would have what he have what he considered a
perfect take and then the door of the booth would bounce open, and Les bounce out with
his spectacles gleaming saying cut it, cut it. And it was some sparrow twittering up the
road. Quite extraordinary, all the arcs had to be shut down, because the whistling are, it
went on for ages, even we were made to cut the holes in the flaps of the set and put gauze
over them to reduce the resonance. But now days that is all very extraordinary. But
filming was much much harder in those days because the limit of the day was limitless.
Roy Fowler: What time did you have to clock in
Maurice Carter: 7.30. But Marcel Varnel, that was the art department, I think we were
half an hour earlier than the unit and the unit came on at 8. But of course there was no
limit at night, it was only when Marcel Varnel would say that's it. Directors was total and
of course there was no overtime paid, you were paid a salary and the salary was the job.
But the quality was that it was rather like a repertory theatre, everybody just mucked in
when there was a change over and everyone was interested in getting the film finished.
But the budgets for those early films, we went onto the Will Hay, the famous Will Hay
pictures we made there, we made so many of them and the budgets for those were
£75,000.
Roy Fowler: That is what we would call above and below the line
Maurice Carter: Yes.Maurice Ostrer was producing, Ted Black was producing and
Maurice Ostrer was head man of the studio. And Marcel Varnel was our normal director
there. Once, I think we made after 9 Days a Queen, the next one was Good Morning
Boys, as far as I can remember. It is very difficult to remember the sequence of pictures
there.
Roy Carter: Do you remember how much they paid you when you started.
Maurice Carter: I don't remember exactly on my entry, but later on when I became chief
draughtsman I was paid £8/10. That was after a year, two years
Roy Carter: Can you guess what they might have paid you.
Maurice Carter: I think £5/10.
Roy Fowler: Not bad.
And Maurice Carter: No, as you know in that day £8.10 shillings was quite a big wage
And Roy Fowler: Was it that a jump from what you had been making before
Maurice Carter: No, it was about the same
Roy Fowler: And you were what age
Maurice Carter and: I was about 18
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Roy Fowler: I would have thought that was a very healthy starting wage
Maurice Carter: I think I must have been older, I think I must have been virtually 20
Roy Fowler: Did you have the feeling that this was it, sudden revelation
And Maurice Carter: I absolutely loved it. The only trouble was the enormous travelling, I
was living in Hounslow and travelling to to Islington, so it was travelling on the
Underground and then a tram up the New North Road.
And Roy Fowler: How long did that take you on each morning
Maurice Carter: About an hour and a half to two hours
Roy Fowler: So you were up at the crack of dawn
: Maurice Carter: The worst was nights of course because when these extended days of
working until about 10 o'clock, I don't remember going much beyond 10 o'clock, but to
finish at 10 o'clock and then have a 2 112 journey home
Roy Fowler: A very short turnaround
Maurice Carter: Yes, and back again it
Roy Fowler and: You'd joined as a junior draughtsman, but you seem to have been on the
floor almost immediate
Maurice Carter: No, only on changeovers that I really went down. Just on changeovers.
And generally to get the set built, , because we had the big number one stage, and upstairs
the second stage, there were only two stages
Roy Fowler: Was everything built on the stages
Maurice Carter: No, it was built as far as possible in the shop
Roy Fowler: There was a shop there
Maurice Carter: Quite a big shop, it had a big workshop, the Carpenter's shop and the
pieces had to be moved out up in the lift up to the number it to stage
Roy Fowler: Everything was very solidly constructed in those days
Myers Carter: I think it was pretty much the same, I can't remember any very many big
constructional differences at all
Rough Fowler: How about plaster work
Maurice Carter: We had a good plaster department and there was a yard at the back of the
studio which contained the wood store and the plasterers department and publicity
department was on stalks over the top of the timber store, and Les Fruin and Mae Murray
were the main publicists of the time, she was a close friend of Maurice Ostrer
Roy Fowler: Is that in quote friends
Maurice Carter: Slightly, I think it's likely
Roy Fowler: Do you have any idea how many people worked at Islington, Because it
seems to be very much a family, was it a happy family
Maurice Carter: Very. Albert Whitlock was then, a great technician in America, he used
to mix the paint for the painters and do any sign writing, he was there officially as a sign
writer
: Roy Fowler: Was he doing mattes then
Maurice Carter: He wasn't doing mattes then, well mattes we never did, we had a process
called the Schufftan process, it was a 45 degree mirror, you partly scraped away a mirror
Roy Fowler: Was Schuff tan at Islington
Maurice Carter: He used to come in and supervise when we needed a Schufftan shot, they
were a separate company, which we employed to come in and do the special-effects.
There was a little German chap he used pattern employ, I've forgotten his name now, but
he supervised the work on the mirror. For instance that was used on the Crazy Gang
picture about the battleship, what was that called, Alf's Button Afloat. There is a rather
marvellous shot in it, I've seen it since, it's the shot down the length of the deck of the
battleship and by the Schufftan process we just built the gun turret and the guns and the
deck. And the whole of the superstructure was put on, plus smoke, with the Schufftan
process, very, very good shot for that period
Roy Fowler: The other famous one usually pointed to is one of the Hitchcocks, the British
Museum sequence in not Sabotage, I think it was Sabotage
Maurice Carter: Sabotage was made at the Bush, of course. Vetch and I worked on The
39 Steps of course. There was a great problem because what they call the big studio was
120 ft by 56 ft, and we had to put into that the railway station, and the train coming in,
you can imagine, and that was the first time 1'd used perspective building, we built the
fore part of the train full-size and then diminished it in perspective and semi-painted
mountains and built mountains, it's a very interesting shot. Now you'd shrieked at it. It
would be unacceptable.
Roy Fowler: One side line about Schufftan, I once worked with a Hungarian cameraman
in the States called Zolly Vidor and Schufftan to him was god, I don't know why but he
always referred to him as the great man
Maurice Carter: He was a great technician
Roy Fowler: Going back to your start what exactly were your duties
Maurice Carter: Purely drafting set, Vetch never made a sketch that I can remember, but
his favourite thing was to tear a page out of English Homes and give you a rough plan of
how he saw the sets. And he was very ingenious, Vetch. His great quality was that he
built his sets very loosely. He had very much the idea of regression of faces with an open
set, very good for camera and very good for a director to move around freely. That was
his great advantage and of course he was very keen on watching the money. For instance
the chippies were only employed on a day to day basis, so Vetch used to say don't forget
Percy, give them their notice at midnight, otherwise we will have to pay them another
day.
Roy Fowler: What did the Department comprise and how did it operate, he was the head
of the art department
Maurice Carter: Vetch was the art director. There was a guy called because Gus Kochs
who was his assistant who had come from the same direction as I had in decoration, I
think he came from Hamptons. Then there was John Howell, I think he was set decorator
at that time as far as I can remember. He worked both ways, he was partly a draftsmen
and partly set decorator, and myself, plus the buyer of course. So that was the whole
complement of the art department
Roy found: And you were permanently employed
Maurice Carter: We were all permanently employed because we used to race from one to
another, from one 7 week schedule to the next. We had the next picture in preparation art
department wise and the only pause was clearing the studio, building the sets and
restarting the new picture. We got through and enormous number of pictures a year
Roy Fowler: It's surprising how efficient the system was
Maurice Carter: Very, very and of course we had guys like Val Guest and the others
staying up there writing scripts all the time
Roy Fowler: What sort of area did you work in
Maurice Carter: This one room, it was I suppose 20 ft long by 8ft to 10 feet deep and that
was built, as I said on stilts over the top of the Green Room and that was in this big space
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out side number-one stage, where the big doors were and they had a little wicket door in
them, and so we could watch the red-light or the green light go on, we could dash down
went the cut came and get on with changing the set around
Roy Fowler: What did you have to clamber up
Maurice Carter: A wooden staircase beside the Green Room. And the stairs opposite led
up to somewhere I never saw, which was the place of the gods, that was Maurice Ostrer
and Ted Black's area and Mae Murray, actually the stairs were carpeted which announced
the importance and everybody was forbidden to climb that side. That was the only place
that had windows, there were no other windows in the studio, except in the offices.
And Roy Fowler: Well it was a very hierarchical world
And Maurice Carter: Sure was
Roy Fowler: The way pictures went through, the process, there is the writing section, how
early was the liaison between what they were working on and the production department
and the art and department. How long the lead time
Maurice Carter: It couldn't be very much. I don't think we had a script much more than
four weeks before we were into production with the next picture, as far as I can
remember, but it is difficult at this time to remember exactly the spacing
Roy Fowler: And it was nearly always a seven week picture schedule
Maurice Carter: Yes, generally, the variations were pictures like Dr Syn when Arliss
came over from America, and was considered a great star, that was allowed a longer
schedule, I think we went 12 weeks on that as far as I remember, that was including the
locations. I mean it was very unusual to do location, nothing was done on the location if it
could possibly be avoided, if we could possibly build it in the studio that was it
Roy Fowler: The equipment and was so cumbersome and recording
Maurice Carter: Recording was the great problem
Roy Fowler: Robert Stephenson did Nine Days A Queen, any memories of him
Maurice Carter: He was a very nice fellow and one could recognise he was a good
director and had great potential
Roy Fowler: Was that his first film
Maurice Carter: Could be, he had been at Shepherd's Bush of course, and there was a
general transmission of people between Shepherd's Bush and Lime Grove under the
Gainsborough banner
Roy Fowler: Was Poole St regarded as less important in terms of the pictures that it took
Maurice Carter: I think so, I think in general at that the Bush at that time was trying to
break into the American market. They did a film called The Tunnel for instance, and
Richard Dix was imported and various other pictures, they imported American stars for.
But Arliss was the only American star that I can remember coming, which just gives you
an idea of the hierarchy of the studios. We were mostly concerned with comedy
Roy Fowler: Had Ted Black arrived yet
Maurice Carter: Ted Black was there from the day I went there in 34
Roy Fowler: My memory of Nine Days A Queen is of very substantial sets. Did it you
work on a the design or was it shooting when the you arrived
Maurice Carter: It was shooting, fully shooting, I mean the picture was virtually on its
finishing stages when I got there, so I suppose it was in its last three weeks of shooting.
And then as I say we were into Good Morning Boys with Hay and
Roy Fowler: Was that his first Gainsborough comedy.
Marice Carter: I think it must have been very near his first
Roy Fowler: It had a lot of his music hall stuff. First time you put pen to paper, any idea
what it was.
Maurice Fowler: I think it was the classroom in Good Morning Boys. We didn't know at
that time that several of his boys in his class room were to become quite famous people in
the business.
Roy Fowler: Well legend certainly has it that Graham Moffatt was the button boy, as you
called it.
Maurice Fowler: He was the button boy, it's quite true, he was the button boy at Lime
Grove and Ted Black obviously saw some talent in him. But who actually conceived the
general grouping of the Will Hay, the boy, the old man, Moore Marriott and Hay, I don't
know. I presume it came out of the script writing.
Roy Fowler: That would have been Val Guest and Jock Orton.
Maurice Carter: That's right. Launder, I don't think was there yet.
Roy Fowler: I don't think they worked on the Will Hay pictures.
Maurice Carter: I don't think so.
Roy Fowler: Sidney around this time was at Islington, maybe a little later
Maurice Carter: I think he was there, I think it was mainly he and Val who were up there.
They were stowed right up underneath the chimney in a little office way up, remote from
everybody else, with a girl secretary and there were lots of giggles and jokes going on,
always a very happy section.
Roy Fowler: Marriott Edgar was the other writer
Maurice Carter: Marriott Edgar, you're quite right it was Edgar and Val who wrote the
Will Hay things.
Roy Fowler: Did you become mates with them at all.
Maurice Carter: We didn't, we were separated in that funny building, we were widely
separated. The only communal place was the restaurant.
Roy Fowler: There was a restaurant
Maurice Carter: There was a restaurant and that again was through an underground
passage where the cables used to run from the power station to a separate block and that
again showed the hierarchy. All the bosses used to sit at a cross table at the top of the
room, and the others were distributed on smaller tables around the room according to
their station and you got nearer the door and there were the lower classes sitting, which
included myself.
Roy Fowler: Could anyone go in, cast, extras
Maurice Carter: Everybody did, I don't know about extras. I think extras were excluded, it
was only crew and staff, they had to go over to the pub on the opposite side of the road.
Roy Fowler: What did they serve you.
Maurice Carter: Bangers and mash and rally pollies. Pretty basic stuff
Roy Fowler: Any bar
Maurice Carter: No, drink was strictly excluded. And for that reason the chief electrician,
Stan, he had a secret way to get out of the studio, because otherwise to pass through the
front door, you had to clock out and clock in again, black mark. So Stan who badly
needed a drink at midday, there was a secret tunnel he had where the cables actually ran
down to supply the underground railway, with it's power which was the purpose of the
power station and he used to go down this tunnel and arrive on the platform of the local
station, go up the stairs to the pub and have a happy lunch and come back. Absolutely
true, he used to dive down there.
Roy Fowler: Was that route known
Maurice Carter, Nobody except Stan, it was only leaked much later on, in strict
confidence.
Roy Fowler: That would have driven Ostrer mad.
Maurice Carter: He was very anti alcohol. In fact the head, when the Crazy Gang were
there, they sat lined up with Ted on the top table and you can imagine it became absolute
chaos, because they had a great gag, Ted Black set the example by drinking milk, so they
all had pint bottles of milk on the table. So the Crazy Gang got hold of these bottles
before, they were painted white inside and they put a huge ball bearing in it, so they were
all pre-opened ready for Ted to pour his glass, they were waiting for Ted to hold up his
glass and he poured it and of course the ball bearing fell right through the bottom of the
glass, took the bottom out. They were constantly playing gags like that.
On another occasion, working with them was a young Scottish lad and he was an absolute
little devil and he responded to the Crazy Gang in good measure. So they got hold of him
and took him into the make up room and right in the middle of the film, and he had this
long bushy fair hair, they put a pair of hair clippers right across him, straight path and
fixed him for the film, he had to have a little hair piece made.
Roy Fowler: Certainly one of the key figures at Islington was your boss Vetchinsky. Tell
us about him.
Maurice Carter: Well Vetch was a wonderful guy really. I think he used to spend as little
time in the studio as he possibly could. He liked to go out with the buyer and see what he
could pick up.
Roy Fowler: For the film
Maurice Carter: For himself and the film.
Roy Fowler: He did deals
Maurice Carter: He did dealing.
Roy Fowler He was from the East End of London
Maurice Carter: Yes, I think originally his father was a cantor and Vetch is reputed to
have been the purist speaker of the Jeweish language, he was a great exponant of it, a
great reputation apparently. I presume he was taught by his father. And he was such a
character, he used to always carry his ham sandwich in a bag in his pocket so he could
pull out this and have bite now and again
Roy Fowler: What was the ham sandwich, was it some kind of protest
Maurice Carter: I don't think so, I don't know it was ham, it was reputed to be ham, he
always had a greasy bag in his pocket which used to come through the outside of his
jacket. He wasn't a great dresser by any means.
Roy Fowler: Give us a thumb nail sketch of him. He never lost his East End origins.
Maurice Carter: No, he always used to speak like this, come here Carter, want to show
you what we're going to do.
Roy Fowler: Was it that kind of Fagin accent.
Maurice Carter: It was more or less as I'm doing it, no it wasn't a Cockney accent, it was
very Jewish accent. I think he did so much speaking in Yiddish it had transferred itself to
his accent.
Roy Fowler: Was much of the industry Jewish then.
Maurice Carter: No, I don't think so, not amongst the technicians certainly.
Roy Fowler: Was there any awareness of people being a Jew or being a gentile.
Maurice Carter: I don't think so other than Vetch was considered to be a brilliant,
amusing character, as you can imagine but great affection for him. Everybody was very
fond of Vetch.
Roy Fowler: Do you know how he had come into the business.
Maurice Carter: Yes, he trained as an architect and then came in very much as myself as
an assistant in Shepherd's Bush of course and then was transferred as art director to
Islington.
Roy Fowler: When you said earlier he hated to make sketches, was he lazy in that way, or
was it just his way of working.
Maurice Carter: I just don't think he was very competent at drawing but also combined
with a certain laziness. But there was not the time or the need then.
Roy Fowler: So really you worked almost entirely from references
Maurice Carter: Absolutely and we added our bit to it
Roy Fowler: And made it practical
Maurice Carter: It all sort of worked out in a funny way, we knew what he wanted and of
course while it was building you could always alter it about a bit.
Roy Fowler: So in what was the usual view of an art director, he didn't really operate that
way, he was far more practical.
Maurice Carter: I think that's true. He was an extremely practical man.
Roy Fowler: Did he ever sit down with a sketch pad and design sets.
Maurice Carter: Yes in the sense that it was never more than the back of an envelope, it
might be the back of a page of a script but never to do a prepared sketch to take to the
director, he just used words, between he and the director
Roy Fowler: It must have been a very great training for you to take these vague
references.
Maurice Carter: I think that's what advanced us very quickly all the chaps that worked
with him because they were given so much scope really, between having a very loose
sketch and plan. But all the thoughts of the practical side, the detail, the minutiae of the
set, you had to think about, the size of the door, the number of panels, that sort of
minutiae,
Roy Fowler: And fitting them into these rather strange shaped sound studios
Maurice Carter: It wasn't a particuarly strange shape, it was their restriction in size and
you can imagine with only two stages operating what a problem it was, it was only by
having, we had night gangs of course, the carpenters worked all night, the construction
people, they had two gangs, they worked all night, they worked right through, so a gang
came on at half past seven until the morning, and then the night gang went off and came
on again at I think at 8 in the evening and worked through the night.
Roy Fowler: Where was the shop
Maurice Carter: It was quite close to the front door oddly enough
Roy Fowler: And was the first stage on the ground level
Maurice Carter: The general plan was the entrance door, and a very thin corridor, off to
the right was the accountant's office and that corridor led to the open space where the
green room was built with the art department over the top and doors to number one stage.
And the stairs up to Ted Black and in the space behind that, in the square behind that, was
the carpenter's shop, with the machinery, fairly well away from the stage because of the
sound problem.
Roy Fowler: And the smaller stage was upstairs, was that a practical stage
Maurice Carter: It was quite a practical stage
Roy Fowler: But not as big as the main stage
Maurice Carter: No, it had a lift going up to it with gates about 10 ft wide and
Roy Fowler: Was it a bugger getting things from the shops onto the stages
Maurice Carter: Yes, because from the carpenter's shop to the lift was a passage no more
than 8 ft wide. And unlimited height, so it was easy to carry flats through, but otherwise
you had to think of the set in terms of the component parts, but it didn't seem to worry too
much.
Roy Fowler: And it was all manual labour.
Maurice Carter: And the paint shop was down, where Albert Whitlock used to live, was
down underneath the ground in the cellar, he used to pop up, we used to shout out from
the art department, Albert, and Albert used to pop up the stairs, what do you want.
Roy Fowler: Was he a great scenic artist.
Maurice Carter: Yes, brilliant, but it is extraordinary because he developed the scenic
artist part from his sign writing, originally he was a sign writer, but he didn't do any
scenic work at Shepherd's Bush, he was purely a signwriter there. So all those talents
developed later when he went to the Bush.
Roy Fowler: It's interesting because I always find sign writing in pictures at that time not
very good, it never seemed to me to follow from the situation, it was always sign writing
rather than in character.
Maurice Carter: He didn't do the actual titles on the picture,
Roy Fowler: I didn't mean that.
Maurice Carter: You mean sign writing on the set, I think you're probably right.
14
Roy Fowler: Anything else that occurs to you.
Maurice Carter: I think the interest was when Hitchcock came and we were doing The
Lady Vanishes
Roy Fowler: That's a wee bit later
Maurice Carter: It is in the middle period as far as I was there, because my period at
Islington stretches from 1934 to 1939 and after 1939 I was moved to Shepherd's Bush
Roy Fowler: Poole St closed
Maurice Carter: Poole St temporarily closed. It opened later after I left it
Foy Fowler: Before the war or during the war
Maurice Carter: During the war. But there was great panic at the outbreak of war, the
whole of London was to be bombed, but that was the reason for the eventual move.
Roy Fowler: Your work in the department, Vetch has given you these very rough ideas to
work on, what kind of working day did you have, you said earlier, not just when you had
to stay for emergencies, a standard working day was from 7/30 in the morning
Maurice Carter: A normal day would be 7.30 to 6.
Roy Fowler: How often would you have to stay late into the night
Maurice Carter: Pretty often, I should say 50% of the time, 60% you would be late. Of
course we had to come in on Saturday, remember it was a full six day week, a full 6 day
week originally, and then at some period, I think it was at Islington, it became the half day
Saturday, I think it was but I can't remember. But basically it was 6, and then often for us
it was 7 because construction was almost 7 days a week.
Roy Fowler: Did that all get a bit much
Maurice Carter: You took it as a matter of necessity.
Roy Fowler: You were working for the company store
Maurice Carter: That is almost exactly what it was.
Roy Fowler: And almost no private life at all
Maurice Carter: No, and although we came in Saturday, Sunday, there was no extra pay
for it.
Roy Fowler: Never any overtime whatsoever.
Maurice Carter: No, I think we used to get a travel allowance for coming in on Sunday.
Roy Fowler: Did they ever lay on cabs if you were late at night.
Maurice Carter No,
Roy Fowler: Meal allowances
Maurice Cruter: No
Roy Fowler: Fish and chip would they brjng in
Maurice Carter: No you went to the pub opposite, you would go over there and get it.
Roy Fowler: We're returning to tho e day now.
Maurice Carter: Yes except you get paid now jf you do a 12 hour day, we didn't,
Roy Fowler: When did you begin to get down on tbe floor, and tart building your ets.
16
SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE
Maurice Carter: That was if you drew the set up, then you were responsible for it and it
was up to you to see to the building.
Roy Fowler: That seems to me really quite extraordinary that at your young age you
would have that kind of responsibility, was that typical in the business generally, was it a
young man's business to that extent
Maurice Carter: I think so
Roy Fowler: So one would find 20 year old people supervising crews.
Maurice Carter: I think very much, even today, or even my latter days in the studios that
was still the basic thing, if the chap had drawn it, he went through with the contruction of
it. You see there was no construction manager in those days so you were your own
construction manager, I mean there was the chief of construction as such in the
carpenter's shop but apart from that you had to unify the plasterer's shop for instance and
take full sized details if necessary down to the plasterer's and say this is this and then if
there was a necessary liaison between the carpenters they just went between each other
and did it themselves
Roy Fowler: A minimum of paper work.
Maurice Carter: There was no construction manager as such to unify the whole paintwork
and you just went and they went to the painters and said right the sets ready, you can get
on and paint it and so forth.
Roy Fowler: What was the relationship between the art department people and the
construction crews, were the crews deferential in that kind of old fashioned.
Maurice Carter: I think that's true, to a degree, it varied from character to character.
Roy Fowler: So the fact that you were 20 and the carpenter, chippy may have been 50.
Maurice Carter: No, you had to tell him what it was about.
Roy Fowler: And there was no resentment on his part
Maurice Carter: No, he wanted the drawing interpreted and you interpreted it for him.
You were the man that had drawn it and so you ought to know, it was accepted.
Roy Fowler: When did you begin to have your own ideas about designing sets.
Maurice Carter: I think almost from the beginning. Once one had drawn up sets, virtually
from the scribble on the back of an envelope to getting a set actually built, naturally you
had your own ideas.
Roy Fowler: So in effect you are more than a draughts man at this stage, you're actually
designing the set.
Maurice Carter: To a degree, except the overall design was definitely Vetch's and the
ultimate management of the set was Vetch's. He knew where the camera was to move to
and where the master shot was. In those days always there was a great thing about the
master shot on the set, where it was conceived to be drawn as the master shot, so you
really built the set to that basically.
Roy Fowler: How were the sets finally arrived at, who had input into it, your drawings
went to Vetch.
Maurice Carter: Yes, Vetch said that's ok, he gave me the ok finally. I would get the
prints out, 1'd distribute the prints to each department that needed them, the carpenters,
plasterers, painters, drapes
Roy Fowler: Was Bob Stevenson, or Marcel Vamel involved at this stage or did they
shoot what they were given.
Maurice Carter: Yes, they used to come up to the art department and discuss it. They
often came up and looked at the drawings on the board.
Roy Fowler: Were they allowed input
Maurice Carter: Oh yes, Stevenson was the boss of course.
Roy Fowler: There were production meetings at which the set
Maurice Carter: We never had production meetings like later, in later years when
everybody from every department there was there to discuss the whole thing. That never
happened, it was broken down through, Vetch would chase upstairs to see Ted Black and
presumably they would have a meeting upstairs, director, writers, and he would come
back and give the message to us.
Roy Fowler: How did the set as built relate to the budget
Maurice Carter: Absolutely accurately
Roy Fowler: How did you arrive at a set based on a budgetary figure you'd been given.
Maurice Carter: That was Vetch's responsibility.
18
Roy Fowler: That was implicit in the scribble that he'd give you.
Maurice Carter: And he would watch it on the floor, for instance he would say to the
plasterers don't stop anything over 12 ft, you'll never see it, that sort of instruction on the
economy basis.
Roy Fowler: That was to some extent flying by the seat of his pants.
Maurice Carter: It always is, it's never been any different, there is no great genius who
can say the set is going to cost this much, but Vetch would cut something out if he found,
he had his budget returns, his cost returns and if he knew that he was sailing, like all of us
we cut something out, something went.
Roy Fowler: Would they ever trim a complete set or was it
Maurice Carter: No, you couldn't
Roy Fowler: They didn't rewrite
Maurice Carter: No, that would be ultimate disgrace to knock out a set. It was to aim, I
think in those days it was fairly forgiveable for a few pounds, if you were a couple of
hundred pounds over budget for the entire set cost, but more than that you'd be deep in
trouble.
Roy Fowler: You say the average budget was £75,000. That wasn't a bad budget for the
30s. Did you find it not generous
Maurice Carter: It was tight, it was very tight. Because everything had to come out of
that, the artists, the script, everything
Roy Fowler:And overheads, did they charge a studio overhead.
Maurice Carter: I don't know exactly how that was worked. Vetch may have known, but I
never did because he was responsible for the budget, that was his main responsibility.
Roy Fowler: I was thinking in relationship with Hollywood, given the dollar 4 to the
pound in those days, that would be $300,000 dollars which was quite an adequate average
for a programme picture.
Maurice Carter: But for a whole picture it was tightish, because they weren't quota
quickies by any means. For instance a quota quickie would never allow Les Wilde to pop
out and say I heard a sparrow squeaking. It took sometimes, he would take four or five
takes of it, just on extraneous sounds.
Roy Fowler: Sound men have always been like that.
Maurice Carter: Marcel Vamel used to get desperate, he used to tear his hair out literally.
He was a very apoleptic little man.
Roy Fowler: Any more to say about Vetch, you respected him obviously and liked him.
Maurice Carter: I think every body did, I haven't met anybody who didn't like Vetch,
who disliked him, but he was a bit of a rascal between ourselves
Roy Fowler: He had a bit of a fiddle.
Maurice Carter: Yes,
Roy Fowler: Was that typical, was there that kind of morality
Maurice Carter: I don't think so, I think nobody had time much for it
Roy Fowler: Or opportunity. It wasn't unknown. I remember once staying at Ed Willis'
farm, who for years had been a senior member of the MGM art department and half of the
Good Earth was there, the bridges, the dragons. We're going to talk about people. Mr
Ostrer,
Maurice Carter: He was just like a god himself, the only time I saw him was in the
cafeteria, or restaurant, or whatever it was called.
Roy Fowler: You had no direct dealings
Maurice Carter: Not at all
Roy Fowler: What was his reputation, was he just one of the brothers or was he respected
as a talent in his own right.
Maurice Carter: No, just as a brother, he was a ghostly figure, the awful boss who might
decide to sack us all.
Roy Fowler: Isidore was the brains.
Maurice Carter: He was indeed.
Roy Fowler: How about Bertie, was he there at that stage
Maurice Carter: No, he was at Lime Grove.
Roy Fowler: So really it was Ted Black running the place.
to
Maurice Carter: Ted was the absolute, the archetypal producer, budget wise and
everything, artists, casting.
Roy Fowler: One of the best ever in England but now sadly not as well remembered as he
should be
Maurice Carter: Sure, again I had very little contact with him, he was this towering figure
who would come down and say why is the set not ready and what are we hanging about
for and what is the hold up.
Roy Fowler: You didn't have much time to get to know
Maurice Carter: Exactly, it was draughting. Chasing around the shops to see
Roy Fowler: The writers
Maurice Carter: Again they were tucked away, they were a little colony on their own, they
would only commute not with us, they would commute between Ted Black and most of
the time they spent with their girl secretary up there having the giggles.
At that stage they were just strange figures who wrote the script, appeared in the
restaurant at the top table and that was it.
Roy Fowler: How about the technicians
Maurice Carter: Most important was Jack Cox, the cameraman, he was the only man who
could defy Varnel about time. And when, in fact everybody looked to Jack, when he said
to the camera assistant, focus puller, go and fetch my hat and coat, we knew that was the
end of the day, and Jack was a tough old character.
Roy Fowler:Was he a likable person
Maurice Carter: Yes very. In his tough way.
Roy Fowler: Who was on his crew, was there the one steady camera crew there
Maurice Carter: Yes,
Roy Fowler: There was never a matter of two pictures in production simultaneously, it
was always just the one
Maurice Carter: Only one, with two stages, you could only do one.
Roy Fowler:So really there wasn't that much turnover in personel.
21
Maurice Carter: No, pretty much the same personel, the only person who would change
was the director and the artists.
Roy Fowler: :If people got fired what kind of cause would it be for.
Maurice Carter: Never knew of anybody being fired, only dishonesty would be the only
possible reason, or misbehaviour of some sort.
Roy Fowler: I know Roy Baker was there
Maurice Carter: He was there a little later.
Roy Fowler: Marcel Varnel
Maurice Carter: Very excitable, but obviously a very competent director.
Roy Fowler: Maurice Elvey
Maurice Carter: He was before my time. He was Vetch's terror, Vetch was terrified of
Maurice Elvey. There is a wonderful story about Vetch and Maurice Elvey. Apparently he
came down on the set and found the door opened the wrong way, instead of opening into
the set it opened out ofthe set. So he called Vetch on the stage, this great fierce man, look
at this Vetchinsky, which way is this door supposed to open. Vetch said into the set of
course, well try it, so Vetch goes up. Well what the hell is the explanation. So Vetch says
there were two strange men in here last night. Roars of laughter from the unit of course.
So always when any thing went wrong with Vetch, everybody said, well it was two
strange men, never Vetch's responsibility.
Roy Fowler: One of the problems of looking at the historical aspects, really it was just
work and one picture followed another and they don't really stand out one from another.
I should ask you about Will Hay
Maurice Carter: We saw a lot of Will, and all the tricks that were played on Will, he was
such a miserable old bugger.
Roy Fowler: He was rather taciturn.
Maurice Carter: He was always a bit of a pain in the arse to be quite honest, he never
raised a smile in his life
Maurice Carter: Was he devoid of humour
Maurice Carter: Totally. I never can honestly say, and I saw quite a lot of him, I never
saw him raise even the ghost of a smile.
Roy Fowler: Did people used to play jokes on him.
Maurice Carter: For instance, in the Oh Mr Porter, he was supposed to go down, the idea
was going down into a cave going down to the water, and the idea was that all three went
down together and poor old Harbottle went down and only his little bowler hat was there
floating on the water so the way it was fixed to do this was to build separate ramps for
each of them and Will's was to keep him reasonably above the water, head above the
water, but Harbottle was due to disappear over a drop. So the water was very cold and
Bill had made a terrible fuss all about this and he had delayed shooting a whole half day
and they put the heaters in and there was so much steam coming up you couldn't shoot it,
so eventually they faked, they had the button boy putting a thermometer in and rushing up
to his room with it. So they got the thermometer and stacked it up with hot hands in front
of the radiator until it got up to an extraorindary temperature, and the buttons ran up to
him, and it looked alright, it registered about 80. So Will condescended to come down
and start the shot. But of course what we'd done was put him on the wrong ramp, so it
was Will who went under water. We lost a whole day's shooting and there was a terrible
row about that because he packed up and went home,. That was it.
Roy Fowler: How did he take all these
Maurice Carter: Badly, you mustn't joke with him.
Roy Fowler: Oh Mr Porter was 37
Maurice Carter: Yes, late 37. The whole series of Will Hay pictures went on almost one
after another because they were so profitable, the whole profits of the two studios were
turned around on Will Hay. We made one, he was a sea thing, Old Bill
Roy Fowler: Old Bones of the River
Maurice Carter: Old Bones of the River was later. That was a late one because we went
over to Shepperton to make part of that, the river part. Then inbetween was another
Stevenson film which was a very good one, Owd Bob, Will Fyffe, and we made a Harry
Lauder film sliced in-between the Will Hay pictures
Roy Fowler: These are two legendary names from music hall, what do you remember
about them
Maurice Carter: Will Fyffe was a very nice guy, I think he was a considerable actor, but
Lauder was a pain in the arse. By that time his Victorian comedy was a bit outre.
Roy Fowler: Presumably there was an audience for it.
Maurice Carter: I think it was more nostalgia than anything.
Roy Fowler: Wasn't he notoriously mean.
Maurice Carter: I think so, I didn't have a lot of contact, just saw him as an artist who was
working there.
Then we made Doctor Syn,
Roy Fowler: Vetch worked with you on that, what were the references.
Maurice Carter: Again, English Homes was invaluable
Roy Fowler: What did he do, tear pages out of library
Maurice Carter: You know the story which has gone round the world I think with Vetch
and myself, Vetch had very bad flu and was in bed and I went to his home and his wife
wouldn't have him in her bedroom, and he had to sleep separately in his little study. So I
went there with the drawings of the set, and he said look here Carter, it's not right, get the
English Homes out from there, and he had copies, I don't know if you've seen it, it was a
magnificent book, full of photographs of every period property classified into volumes
with illustrations, I mean a book worth even in those days £20 or £30 a volume. He said
look go and fetch volume 2 English Homes, so I brought this book out and he laid it on
his bed, and I opened up the pages and he had marked it with the back of a piece of
bacon, a rasher of bacon. That story has gone round the world. It is absolutely true. Then
he was jabbing the drawing and poked his finger through my drawing which had taken
about a week to draw, so it couldn't be printed so I had to redraw it.
Roy Fowler: Mr Arliss was brought over at some considerable expense.
Maurice Carter: He was the great, the studio was repainted because he was coming, you
could tell how highly respected he was, what a great man. But again I think he was a bit
of a pain in the arse to everybody.
Roy Fowler: Doctor Syn was quite a big picture for the studio.
Maurice Carter: Yes, I mean importing an artist from the States was always considered to
be a big deal.
Roy Fowler: Was that Ted Black.
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: So it was his idea to develop that property.
Maurice Carter: I think it was, again it was with an eye to the American market which
they were very keen on trying to enter.
Roy Fowler: Michael Balcon was certainly pursuing that policy at Shepherd's Bush, did
he have any authority over Ted Black at all.
Maurice Carter: No, entirely separate, it was very much a little island on its own,
Islington.
Roy Fowler: Doctor Syn was quite unual in that it had quite a lot of location work, did
you go down with the unit.
Maurice Carter: No, I was trying to get the sets built in the studio, Vetch went down with
it but I was studio only.
Roy Fowler: Arliss, he was a very distant man
Maurice Carter: He had a great reputation at that time from his work in the States, and as
I said the whole studio had to be painted and polished before he came, the floor was
polished, it was that sort of recognition of his significance in the studio
Roy Fowler: Was he a pro.
Maurice Carter: Very much so.
Roy Fowler: No great temperament but rather stand-offish. He was old, and in effect he
dated back to Victorian actorish times when they were rather grand.
What do you remember about The Lady Vanishes
Maurice Carter: The Lady Vanishes would be interesting. I started to tell you about the
compression of the set and the first use of perspective. Another interesting side light on
this is the working on back projection at that time, because you remember the train
sequence in The Lady Vanishes, and back projection became very important. The
projectionist there was Alf Davis; and I think we did more work between he and I to
progress back projection in that period. We built this interesting thing of building a
perspective section of the carriage and melting it into the continuation of the train on the
plate.
Roy Fowler: Let me ask you, how did you achieve that, was it your original idea to do it
that way
Maurice Carter: Yes, it had probably been done elsewhere
25:
Roy Fowler: But you arrived at it independently.
Maurice Carter: I arrived at it quite independently
Roy Fowler: Did you get there finally by trial and error or was it all done on the drawing
board.
Maurice Carter: It was very painful I can tell you, the painful part was obtaining the plates
accurately shot so that you could make a join. And you had to dictate to the cameraman
who was going to shoot the plates exactly the position his camera had to be in. For
instance let's talk about the train, he had to have, for instance, a flat carriage between the
locomotive before him and a flat bed, truck, to be on and the camera had to be rigged so
many feet from the end of the actual train, the carriages, and to one side, the exact
position had to be calculated. So you had to give the cameraman those directions before
he went. Now cameramen were very individual characters in those days and never
believed he could be dictated to like that, so he always came back with film which I
couldn't make the join to, so we had a great number of battles over that. Until eventually
the cameraman having seen it done, the miracle of this train apparently continuing with
the carriage with the man climbing out, for instance you remember in 39 Steps he
climbed out of the carriage and climbed along the train, in fact we did it that way, joining
the train to a back projection plate
Roy Fowler: The other train approaching
Maurice Carter: You couldn't do it for reality, the bloke would have been killed.
Roy Fowler: Jack Cox was the cameraman
Maurice Carter: But he didn't shoot the plates, he didn't shoot location, I can't remember
the name of the cameraman but he was a very good cameraman who used to go out and
shoot the plates, but he was basically a location cameraman.
Roy Fowler: But he couldn't understand
Maurice Carter: There was mathematical precision about it, but they gradually became
convinced but very often we would have to send them out to reshoot, which caused a
great furore, they shot those plates in France, I think. And arranging the French railways
for this flat bed truck and all the other paraphenalia was quite a deal, an expensive deal in
those days. But Alf Davis was a very fine projectionist and had great knowledge of lens,
projection lens. We had great trouble at that time with projection because there was
always a hot spot because of the nature of the lens, the imperfection of the lens on the
projector, the arc centre, there was always a hot spot and we struggled to get rid of this,
we used, eventually we found the only cure was a very thin wire with a halfpenny
soldered to the end which was held in front of the projector to break up the hot spot. It's
unbelievable but it worked. And all those scenes with the train were shot in that way.
. ,
; .~
Roy Fowler: That would take some positioning presumably
Maurice Carter: You just set up the screen, doodle about with projector until you got it
dead centre, but it was out of focus you see, and so it just blotted out the hot spot.
Roy Fowler: How much had back projection been used at Poole St
Maurice Carter: Not very much, in fact it was almost new and we just got the projectors
then.
Roy Fowler: So it was the rig for the studio, you didn't bring it in specifically for the
picture.
Maurice Carter: No, but we gradually built up and got bigger screens, what we needed
was bigger screens, the problem always was we needed a bigger screen, and better screen.
Roy Fowler: It's very effective on that film
Maurice Carter: But we worked on it for years
Roy Fowler: Roy Baker said Hitch was marvellous about working on a train, he always
got the sense of movement and the correct sense of movement, there was never any
confusion in his mind about direction of travel.
Maurice Carter: You know he used to illustrate his script. That was such an advantage to
us because he would already have made a little drawing beside each picture, all we simply
had to do was take his drawing and translate it into the setting for him.
Roy Fowler: He came in through the art department originally
Maurice Carter: Sketch artist.
Roy Fowler: What are your memories of Hitchcock
Maurice Carter: He was very quiet and as you know he never went to see his rushes, he
knew what he'd got, that was rather extraordinary because we always sat in the theatre,
we all went to see rushes and Hitchcock didn't bother to be there. He knew what he'd got
and that was it.
Roy Fowler: Was he always right
Maurice Carter: It is quite an extraordinary thing, but he relied on his cameraman, relied
on his eye, his eye was the camera and he knew what he'd got and where it tied up and
how he cut
Roy Fowler: He and Cox had worked together quite a lot by that time
Maurice Carter: They knew each other well. They were a good partnership.
Roy Fowler: The original script was written for the American director Roy Neill
something, I think he was scheduled to direct it and for some reason Hitchcock took it
over and consequently didn't have as much input, it is said, as he normally would in a
script. I wonder if you could vouch for that, when you first saw the script
Maurice Carter: No,
Roy Fowler: It was always a Hitchcock film as far as you knew
Maurice Carter: Yes,
Roy Fowler: Did it come in suddenly in your recollection
Maurice Carter: Yes it did. It just sort of popped up.
Roy Fowler: How about Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, were they in evidence in the
picture.
Maurice Carter: I think yes, they used to talk to Hitchcock, and I think if he wanted a
change of dialogue he called them down. But of course little Maggie Lockwood, I don't
know whether, was her second picture, she was a very naIve little girl
Roy Fowler: Not a very good actress
Maurice Carter: She always used to sit at my table in the cafe because she was terrified to
be with the assistant director because he used to tell her filthy stories and make her blush.
Quite sweet. Later on Maggie became a pretty tough buddy.
Roy Fowler: Apparently the first sequence in that film was cut, do you remember what
that was
Maurice Carter: No
Roy Fowler: There was a scene that was on the front of that inn sequence, the sequence in
the foreign inn.
Maurice Carter: I don't remember.
Roy Fowler: There were location shots, other than the plates
'28
Maurice Carter: Yes, the location was at Basingstoke
Roy Fowler: The shootout
Maurice Carter: Yes, exactly, that was done on I think a military railway in the
Basingstoke area as far as I can remember. Borden.
Roy Fowler: Anything you particularly remember about the film
Maurice Carter: It was just compressing the thing into the studio, the building the big
station and that sort of thing in a tiny studio and getting the continuity to shoot along the
train was the biggest problem
Roy Fowler: It was a bigger budget than usual
Maurice Carter: Yes it was, I didn't know what the budget was but I should think it was
considerably above the £75,000 level.
Roy Fowler: A relatively painless picture in your memory.
Maurice Carter: Very much so, Hitch knew exactly what he wanted and once you have a
director that knows exactly where he is going to put the camera, shot by shot, you've got
an enormous advantage in set design. Usually it's us trying to get a compromise with the
director where we're going to be shooting.
Roy Fowler: He was a masterful technician
Maurice Carter: Yes,
Roy Fowler: Was there any sign of his infamous pranks
Maurice Carter: I don't' think so, not that I can remember. Did he appear in it. I think he
did appear in one shot.
Roy Fowler: Roy Baker told me he humiliated Linden Travers in one scene, because she
had morning and the afternoon she had switched positions in a shot, a better side or
whatever it was and he was merciless with her which he could be, could he not.
Maurice Carter: Yes, he had a pretty sharp tongue, but he and Vetch got on very well.
Roy Fowler: Oh Mr Porter
Maurice Carter: As I told you the main incident was the joke with Will Hay
'I
Roy Fowler: That was a very clever picture the way it's played, a very quiet little
masterpiece.
Maurice Carter: We shot on a windmill in Norfolk for the windmill sequence. And that
was a sequence on which a stuntman was killed. He was attached, when old Marriott was
supposed to be whirled round on the sales, the first attempt at that, apparently his safety
belt broke and he was whirled off the sales. It wasn't a very happy location. Generally it
was quite a fun film to make.
Roy Fowler: The station was where
Maurice Carter: That I think was the railway at Borden
Roy Fowler: The same one
Maurice Carter: I think it was a section of track which was available at that time. We
actually built the station. It was more or less my set, that was, because Vetch had just said
draw up a station which was my instruction, so it was left to me to do it.
Roy Fowler: What did you have to begin with, a platform of any kind
Maurice Carter: Yes, a platform, there was an off loading platform there I presume for
army purposes and we just built the building onto that and we built a little road coming
up to it and the crossing gates and the signal box. That was all built
Roy Fowler: What did you do to the engine
Maurice Carter: I don't think we did anything, I think it was in its natural state, a lovely
period engine. And the carriages were all there.
Roy Fowler: Did you destroy it in the film, or was it a model
Maurice Carter: It was a model shot. I can't think of that German who used to do the
model work for us. But it may have been Guido Baldi at the Bush, we didn't do model
work actually in Islington. If anything specialised like that it went to Lime Grove
Roy Fowler: But you would design it presumably
Maurice Carter: Sure
Roy Fowler: Were you there for the shoot or would you tum it over to whatever it was.
Maurice Carter: No turned it over, but Vetch was there.
Roy Fowler: There was a department specifically for shooting miniatures, at the Bush
Maurice Carter: Yes, there was a model department with Guido Baldi in charge
Roy Fowler: We're approaching the end of the 30s, what else sticks out in your mind
Maurice Carter: We're into the Crazy Gang period, the Crazy Gang series came and they
were a pretty interesting crowd to have around the studio naturally. In between we did
funny pictures like Hey Hey USA and things like that which I can hardly remember who
the cast was, comedy. There was a whole series of Crazy Gang films, the one we've
talked about, about the battleship, OK For Sound, which was the first one as far as I
remember because I went to the Palladium to look at the stuff at the Palladium they had
and I can't remember why exactly but that was the thing.
Roy Fowler: Will Hay was extremely profitable, the Crazy Gang too
Maurice Carter: Obviously, very popular films.
Roy Fowler: Actually it must have been quite a money spinning studio
Maurice Carter: With low overheads it must have been, I'm sure it kept Lime Grove
going.
Roy Fowler: Lime Grove was certainly loosing money because Baleon trying to break
into
Maurice Carter: Sure the American market was the great thing, very expensive and never
really worked.
Roy Fowler: What was the attitude at Shepherd's Bush towards Islington
Maurice Carter: It was recognised as a rather superior branch of the business without
doubt
Roy Fowler: You didn't feel inferior, that you were beavering away making profitable
pictures and Mickey Baleon was just making some quite expensive duds.
Maurice Carter: I think we all recognised we had to try and break into the American
market if we could, because the British market was so comparatively narrow, and so
limiting to the budgets
Roy Fowler: You've been there for several years at Islington, did you ever get itchy feet at
Islington after a number of years
Maurice Carter: No, I was very happy there.
Roy Fowler: You didn't think all thi going on at Denham or Pinewood
Maurice Carter: No
Roy Fowler: What wa the image of those bigger, perhap more glamorou tudio.
Maurice Carter: WeJl I uppose one thought it would be nice to get onto bit picture like
that, I suppo e 0, but I don't remember thinking particularly I mu t get out into the other
world. But towards, around 1939, for instance I was sent over to Lime Grove to work
with Alfred Junge on Climbing High becau e he wa hort of an assistant, so I went over
there for that, the Jessie Matthew picture
Copyright is vested in the BECTU History Project
MAURICE CARTER
TAPE TWO, SIDE THREE
Maurice Carter: Junge was one of the greats. As you know he came from Germany. He
had worked in UF A Studios and was the most experienced art director working in
England at that time, without dub, he was a great artist, now he produced the most
wonderful sketches to work from, so it was the very clear
Roy Fowler: A proper production designer.
Maurice Carter: And in his contract he had that the director had to shoot the long shot that
he set, whether they used it in the film or not, he insisted that the establishing shot was
his and because it had to be to his sketch, with the lighting. He was a great guy for
painting in lighting on his sets. For instance if he wanted a shaft of light he would paint
his set so the shaft of light was there so the lighting cameraman had no choice but to light
it as he wanted it. He was a very strong character
Roy Fowler: Likeable man, very Teutonic
Maurice Carter: Very Teutonic but admirable man. Everybody admired him because, his
assistant was Scotty who is a art director and now, I think he's just died in, poor Scotty,
excellent art director, but what we admired very much was his competency to sketch, to
have in his mind a sketch and illustrate the thing before he actually did it
And Roy Fowler: And he was a very practical man
For Maurice Carter: Very
Roy Fowler: Again like your perspective work he was marvellous at that sort of thing.
Tell as about your experience on that picture with him
Maurice Carter: That is jumping out a bit and from the end of Islington, I think it would
be a good idea to talk to the end of Islington
Roy Fowler: I thought that was an interim thing
Maurice Carter: It was in the latter period. Before that I was working on all the Crazy
Gang films and Stinker Murdoch Pictures, comedies came the in. They were a pick up
from the radio series .. I am trying to think of the last of the will Hay pictures we did there,
Roy Fowler: Old Bones
Maurice Carter: Old Bones that was much later, that was the one I was telling you, we
had to go to Shepperton. We went to Shepperton for two films of will Hay, one was Old
Bones Of The River, and the other one was he was playing the part of a fireman, Where's
That Fire
Roy Fowler: That was when Twentieth-Century Fox was distributing the Islington
product
Maurice Carter: And we went to Shepperton for that, it was a petrol station to catch up
on fire. The idea was instead of delivering water, they would deliver petrol through their
homes, they connected up to the petrol pump and flames came out of it. Will was very
chary about that, you can imagine
Roy Fowler: I don't blame him, were you wary of special-effects
Maurice Carter: Yes, very much, but to hose with a 7 ft flame coming out of it, I guess he
had reason. And after the incident of the ducking he was doubly suspicious of all the art
department and special effects, very much so, quite rightly
Roy Fowler: What was the contrast between Islington and Shepperton. Shepperton was
not that good a studio
Maurice Carter: We never worked inside the studio, we only used their lot because there
was no lot at either Lime Grove, the lot which we used mutually was the lot out at
Northolt. But I don't remember any film from Islington actually directly using that. But it
was available.
Anyway finally in Lime Grove the two films I made were with Val Guest. Val Guest
became a director then and gave me my first job as art director which was on Miss
London Ltd which was a musical of sorts. And then we did Bees In Paradise, an
unremembered, and unlamented musical again. Both those we made towards the latter
part of 1939.
I was again called over to Lime Grove because they were making Man In Grey and Wally
Mutton was the art director on Man In Grey and he had got himself into terrible
difficulties with the budget. Also more importantly with the schedule of building the sets.
It looked as though they would have to stop shooting while they built these enormously
elaborate sets. So he came down one day and there they said When's the set going to be
ready and look it has to be ready by Tuesday. Wally said to them, look you can stick this
film up your arse, I'm off. And he put his hat and coat on and walked out of the studio.
And that is when Maurice Ostrer called me over to Shepherd's Bush and said look you've
got to pick up this picture and put it right, in the middle. A lot of the sets were drawn, so I
had to go through and see what we could possibly do. It was the old thing of cutting, a
horrible thing to do to some body else's set. But anyway I did it and got through the
picture fairly successfully and that is how The Man in Grey was finished. I never got a
title on it because it was Wally's picture and I said I didn't want a title.
Many found: Haven't we jumped a couple of years. The Man in Grey was 42. 43.
We haven't had the outbreak of war yet. You were going to say about Alfred Junge with
Jessie Matthews, because that was a pre-war. The Man In Grey was definitely wartime
because the exterior were shot down in my part of the country East Sussex, Woodhurst
anyway
Maurice Carter: Maybe it was sandwiched between the musicals I was doing but I didn't
think it was that late, my mind is very confused as to the sequence of events
Roy Fowler: I'm not the strongest person for chronology, because suddenly everything
seemed to be happening
Maurice Carter: Everything was happening, then there was this closing down of the
studio on the outbreak of war, everybody was sent off just like that.
Roy Fowler: I'm a bit confused as to where you were based, did you go to the Bush for
just the one picture with Junge
Maurice Carter: Just the one picture and then I came back to do the musicals and with Val
Guest, as art director
Roy Fowler: Is any think to be said if about Lime Grove at that period .. Who will was
directing. Sonny Hale has gone by this time has he not.
Maurice Carter: I think Sonny was directing as far as I remember, I'm pretty sure he was.
Roy Fowler: Rather sad, because he was a bit of a disaster as a director wasn't he, as a
performer.
Maurice Carter: Going back again to Islington we did Shipyard Sally with Gracie Fields
which was an interesting interlude. That must have been very much on the eve of the
outbreak of war because her little Italian husband then was being questioned, I find it very
difficult to place the time of things
Roy Fowler: I know that was 20th Century Fox which indicates its rather late, about 1939
Maurice Carter I know it was very soon a question of her husband being interned and she
leaving for the States, it can't have been too long after that that she left England.
Roy Fowler Scarpered. Was there even then ill feeling, so many took off, If you
remember they used to say was gone with the wind up
Maurice Carter: Yes, there was great resentment and that she had gone, that she had taken
her Italian, obviously she was very wise because for instance Guido Baldi, the special
effects man at Lime Grove, he was obviously Italian and he was put on that ship which
was sunk, it was sunk by a submarine
Roy Fowler: Did he survive
Maurice Carter: He survived and they brought him back if to England and. He was
interned for it bit and then he was released to come to Lime Grove
Roy Fowler: Del Giudice was also interned.
How about the Germans
Maurice Carter: They seemed to get some, because they disappeared. We always used to
wonder and because been coming it up and took to the outbreak of war either they took
their own idea there was going to be a war and just disappeared
Roy Fowler: Junge was very prominent here during the war
Maurice Carter Junge was, because he was naturalised of course so there was no problem
with Junge,
Roy Fowler: There were so many one wonders, did they go to the States so many of the
cameramen, too
Maurice Carter: Most of them seemed to take the hint and go. The Italians had been here
so long they thought they were uninvolved but they didn't become interned until Italy
entered the war it self
Roy Fowler: And they weren't inside for so long
Maurice Carter: No, well, I think they were for a fair time, they were sent to the Isle of
Man, for a fair amount of time
Roy Fowler: Have we fully covered the Jessie Matthews film, or is there not much to be
said about it
Maurice Carter: Not much, because the picture was already under way when I went to
help out, it was purely a helping out
Roy Fowler: What did you learn from Junge
Maurice Carter: I think the thing I learned is that it is necessary to do a good sketch if you
want your draftsmen to understand what is in your mind; and the more you can
disseminate what you have in your mind to your underlings the better. And he could,
Alfred, he could do that
Roy Fowler: So it became your practise as an art director to do fairly finished drawings
Maurice Carter: Yes, I'm afraid they became to finish in the end, became over finished
Roy Fowler: I always remember someone saying to me at the time Caesar and Cleopatra
which is a little later some body saying that Messel who had the production designer
credit on it only send in a few very miasmic oils, tiny little oils, I was going to ask you
about that
Maurice Carter: That's right. It's rather the same thing as Vetch, then it was up to the
drafts man and the assistant art director to translate
Roy Fowler: It's a hell of a long way
Maurice Carter: A long way. Well, it's a long way from the sketch on the back an
envelope with Vetch to the finished set I can tell you, it's a pretty long journey
Roy Fowler: Was Vetch then a bad or good influence, the fact that you had to do so much
yourself
Maurice Carter: It was marvellous. I would never have become an art director without
working with Vetch, because I would never had sufficient confidence to know that it was
my set in fact
Roy Fowler: And was part that being so young and as one does when one is young think I
can to anything
Much Carter: I think so
Roy Fowler: That worked out very well
Maurice Carter: I think I got through my early pictures pretty comfortably. I understood
how to keep to a budget, those sort of things I'd learnt the hard way, from Vetch
Roy Fowler: Well no nonsense presumably, if you didn't stay within budget
Maurice Carter: You didn't last long, you couldn't last long
Roy Fowler: Again it seems to come down to such a large extent to Ted Black, his
proficiency in employing people who knew they were doing
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: We are now at the point where you are making that transition from chief
craftsmen to art director, you say it came out the blue. This was Val's first film as
director. Had you known him much before
Maurice Carter: No, only in the studio, only from meeting up occasionally on the set and
his knowing I was doing a good deal of work on the actual design of the sets as well as
drafting
Roy Fowler: What was his reputation as a writer was he seen to be a bit bumptious and a
opportunist
Maurice Carter: Yes I think he was, the idea that he'd worked in the States as a gag writer
was considered to be, maybe he had, maybe he hadn't. And he adopted this half
American accent, so he was thought be a bit, but on the other hand he had written all the
gags for the Hay pictures. He was a good gagster and he used to play out all the gags with
Ted Black in his office. Ted would go through all the actions to explain what the gag was
about, bend down and peer through the key hole and all this sort of thing
Roy Fowler: There again there aren't many producers who would that to make sure it
worked
Maurice Carter: He was very involved and of course he had great experience of theatre,
as he you know, from his association with his brother, his whole family was theatre. No,
he a good producer
Roy Fowler: What did that do to your life when you became a art director, you obviously
know trepidation about taking it on
Maurice Carter: No, the greatest change was I'd bought myself Austin Seven. I think I
was promoted to £12 / 50, £12/30 first of all, and eventually to £15
Roy Fowler: It was a lot of loot. Are you living independently now, or are you still at
home.
Maurice Carter: I was married, I had got married was living in Hounslow
Roy: Did you buy a house or rent a house
Maurice Carter: I bought a house, I was buying a little house. And I used to drive my little
Austin Seven via Highgate to get to Islington, quite a journey
Roy Fowler: What made you choose Hounslow
Maurice Carter: Because my wife's father and mother lived there, that was the reason I
think
Roy Fowler: Those first two pictures with Val, anything to say about them. You say they
were musicals, were they both Arthur Askey
Maurice Carter: No, it was mainly Jean Kent. She was the chief artist in that. I remember
I didn't have much faith in them I must say
Roy Fowler: What happened to them, did they disappear without trace
Norwich Carter No, they did the circuits but I don't think they did much business
Roy Fowler: Is Rank a presence yet or is it still the Ostrers
Myers Carter: It was still the Ostrers very much, Rank was not until quite well into the
war
Roy Fowler: Will you take us through what happened later
Maurice Carter: What I can't remember was exactly which films I was making at
Islington. I must have gone there after the closure. Whether they were for the Val Guest
films or not but I can remember coming home, by that time the air raids had started
Roy Fowler: That would bring us to what 1940
Maurice Carter Sure. But I did another film at Lime Grove which was with Tony Asquith
which was Cottage To Let, a nice little film made at Lime Grove
Roy Fowler: You're the art director on it
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: From here on you art director everything you work on
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: Was it that Gainsborough or Gaumont British
Maurice Carter: Gainsborough. The titles were pretty interchangeable then I think, it may
well have been Gaumont, it may have been a Gaumont picture
Roy Fowler: It was always my favourite main title, the Gainsborough Lady
Maurice Carter. Yes, it was a great title. And we revised it several times, and updated it
Roy Fowler: Did you ever shooting it yourself design the frame
Maurice Carter: Yes, I had to re draw the frame. Jean Kent and Maggie Lockwood both
played the Gainsborough Lady, if you look at the back titles you will see that it was both
of them
Roy Fowler: Before they became very famous
Maurice Carter: No afterwards. The original Gainsborough lady I can't remember who
that was that the later one was certainly Maggie Lockwood and Jean Kent and at the time
of the musical films
Roy Fowler: So they would reshoot to it just so they got one of their prominent
Maurice Carter: Yes, one of their up and coming Artists in the picture. But I'm very
confused about what the hell I was doing at Lime Grove after the air raids started
Roy Fowler: Well you mentioned Cottage To Let which was a very successful play at the
beginning of the war, and with Puffin. Tell us about Puffin
Maurice Carter: I know what's escaped me was talking about the picture Dear Octopus
because it was the beginning of a long association between myself and John Bryan. This
is while I was still an assistant. John Bryan was brought over to make Dear Octopus at
Islington, he came from Shepperton, he had been with the Kordas. And I think he had
also been at Lime Grove, I think, he had done a picture at Lime Grove. And then was
brought in to do this, for them, important picture. It had rather a big cast. And he
introduced me, that was my first introduction to Ferdy BalIan. I don't know if you've
heard of him, the greatest artist in the whole business. He was a sketch artist to Vincent
Korda.
And we had a very drunken Irishmen who was doing the scenic painting at that time and
he was so drunk and he couldn't get to work. So we in a panic Ferdie was sent for. I
always remember the set, it was this lovely house, this Georgian house in the picture and
it had wide windows and looked out over the countryside. And Ferdie had to paint this. I
think he had to paint a huge background in 24 hours, and he worked continuously for 24
hours on this. And I'll always remember I was absolutely amazed and, he painted a yew
hedge and it was a great black lump. And I thought what the hell is this. And he came
along with a brush of green, just flicked it, on top, and then another lighter at brush over
that and it became the marvellous picture of a back lit yew hedge. And beyond it with a
long stick with a little bit of charcoal on, he drew in the golf course in the distance, and
just touched bits, quite marvellous
Roy Fowler: Where had he learnt his craft,
Maurice Carter: In Germany he came from U FA again. Korda brought him over to
Shepperton from UF A when he moved to Shepperton
Roy Fowler: Do you mean Shepperton or Denham
Maurice Carter: Shepperton, well to Denham primarily. Unless one looks up these
references are very difficult to remember after 40 years also
Roy Fowler: I'm curious about Puffin Asquith
Maurice Carter: A marvellous character Puffin, everybody absolutely loved Puffin, and he
always worked in a pair of denim overalls, never anything else. And he used to take all
the sparks and everybody over to the pub on Friday evenings, the Prince of Wales, on the
corner, and buy them all drinks. Delightful man, marvellous to work with, because he
knew exactly what he wanted. He was as good as Hitchcock virtually without being able
to do his little drawings to tell you what his set up sets were. It was a very easy, the
easiest picture I've ever done I think. Super bloke, absolutely super.
I then progressed, I can't remember what I was doing in actual war time at Islington but it
was a very tough period for me because I had to travel home through all the bombing. I
had to get home some how, the trams had stopped running to Islington because it was a
favourite bombing site. So I had to walk the two and-a-half the miles down to Old Street
station with the bombs falling all around. And then when I got to the underground station,
it was all of bodies laying on the platform, sheltering, then travel right back to Hounslow.
I hadn't got a car because as you petrol, couldn't get petrol for love or money, so it was a
pretty tough period for me during that time
But the raids must have continue because I can remember a raid at Lime Grove, it was a
daylight rate and they dropped a bomb in fact on Shepherd's Bush market on that
occasion
Roy Fowler: This was quite early in the war
Maurice Carter: It was after the phoney war
Roy Fowler: The bombing started in the summer of 1940, didn't it
Maurice Carter: That's right. I remember being there and seeing
Roy Fowler: There was the Battle of Britain and then the night raids
f.
Maurice Carter: And the Italian bombers came over so low we could actually see the
markings and know they were Italian. They came sweeping over the studio. It was the
only raid the Italians took part in
Roy Fowler: Very sensible of them
Maurice Carter: I think the whole lot were shot down before they got back, they thought
they were bombing Abyssinia
Roy Fowler: I suppose one should ask what the immediate results of the war were on the
film business
Maurice Carter: The thing was all of us were worried about where we were going to be
called up, of course it. That was always in your mind. Then they said we could get delay
in our call up because the studio was working on war work at the same time with making
films. They gave me a special task, the studio actually was making the parts for the
trainers the xxx trainer. I did a lot of were with George Hill, I don't know if you
remember George Hill, he was in the camera department at Lime Grove. Wonderful man,
who was highly experienced with the high-speed camera and I was doing a lot of work
with him on the trainer, on the night trainer.
They had the problem with the night trainer, you know it was the little thing where the
guy got into a simulated cock pit and it rolled about and you could see what he was doing.
But they wanted to demonstrate what course he was flying to a whole class of students as
well as the one under test. And so we had to invent a system, and I drew it for George
exactly how all the mechanical parts were, a little pen moved over a map of country,
showing exactly how this chap was going, guiding, flying blind.
My big task was to do a trainer, a flare dropping trainer for the Navy to demonstrate to the
class how to drop flares to illuminate the fleet so they could be bombed in a bombing
raid. A very elaborate thing of working out the mechanics and mathematics, for me the
mathematics were terrifying, how the wind direction in one direction, and the speed of the
drop of the flares in the other. Anyway it was a considerable problem to be involved in
while I was trying to make films, art direct films
Roy Fowler: This was all based at the studio and in between features
Maurice Car: And I had lost virtually all the staff there, I was left with one little girl to
draw the sets and myself, so had to do drafting, art direct and run a project for the Navy
at the same time. That was pretty stressful
Roy Fowler: Did materials become very scarce
Maurice Carter: Yes, the timber, one had to avoid timber as far as possible on the set
Roy Fowler: What would you substitute
Maurice Carter: Plaster, used as much plaster up as possible, with the minimum of frame
work. But those were late into, I think we were into those with The Man In Grey probably
Roy Fowler: The Man In Grey was at Lime Grove,
Man's Carter: Lime Grove, Yes at Lime Grove
Roy Fowler: They're noticeably grand sets aren't they, big sets
Maurice Carter: Yes, very big, I that is how Wally got into so much trouble as I told you
Roy Fowler: In a sense it's almost the beginning, I wouldn't absolutely swear to this, but
certainly British films ceased to be tiny and certainly began to assume a scale
Maurice Carter: Yes,
Roy Fowler: It really began with that cycle of pictures at the Bush
Maurice Carter: This was the first toehold into the American market we ever had. The
Man In Grey was actually shown in the States, as were several of the pictures of that
period
Roy Fowler: There was the problem with the cleavage
Maurice Carter: By that time there was John Bryan, Andy Mazzei, and myself as art
directors, so there were at least three art directors working at Lime Grove
Roy Fowler: Now John Bryan is one of the great's, what do you remember about him
Maurice Carter: John Bryan is the greatest the greatest, there is no question about that,
really great art director. He could sketch, I can show you a sketch of his and you'll see the
power, and very interesting man, John. Very complex but wonderfully knowledgeable
Roy Fowler: How complex
Maurice Carter: He was a very nervous man, very determined to have his own way, again
he was like Alfred, he insisted on his establishing shot, the camera point being his. He
would fight with the director like a terror to get this shot and the lighting, and he would
fight the director for his lighting and mood
Roy Fowler: Was there a tradition of that concept, of having a master shot that absolutely
reproduced the art directors vision
Maurice Carter: Very much so, that originated and U FA it came through Alfred. And
Vincent, Korda, was exactly the same
Roy Fowler: And John Bryan had worked with Junge or had he
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: When did that die out, because it doesn't apply now
Maurice Carter: No. It died out in I should say certainly just after the war
Roy Fowler: Did you ever make that kind of stipulation
Man's Carter: Never got the chance to, I would have loved to but you had to be, I was
probably not tough enough
Roy Fowler: What else about Bryan You said he was complex
Maurice Carter: Well, very difficult to explain but as I say he lived at great tension and
wanted perfection, he was an enormous striver after perfection
Roy Fowler: Was it also an effortless talent that he had. Did the ideas and the visions just
come flowing out
Maurice Carter: Yes, absolutely flowed. He had a huge sketch pad on which he would use
charcoal and drank coffee continually all day which killed him eventually, drinking strong
coffee, it killed his liver, but he used to sketch these sketches and screw them up one after
another, but he sketched with enormous speed. He never spent more than, an hour would
seem extreme to him, beautiful impressive sketches, marvellous sketches, as I said I'll
show you up one and you'll see the power of them
Roy Fowler: So really they required very little interpretation
Maurice Carter: Practically none and he was very keen and he had to fight for this to build
in perspective, and he believed the camera should be kept very low to give the power of
perspective to the sets. And that's why the pictures he did like Oliver Twist and all those
other pictures were so impressive simply because he insisted and this power of the visual.
But a great thing to hold out against directors and camera men and everybody to get that
on the screen. But he built up this nervous power to do it
Roy Fowler: I suppose one could make up the case there is a kind of enormous German
Expressionists influence on both of those
Maurice Carter: The whole of our art department is founded, until recently, on that
experience, the U FA experience
,..
Roy Fowler: Translated here by Junge
Maurice Carter: Translated by Junge and Vincent and picked up by John Bryan
particularly
Roy Fowler: I'm not sure that's been said before, an interesting thought
Ms Carter: That's a fact, and our special effects of course very much affected by the
experience of these art directors
Roy Fowler: Well the German films of the Twenties were quite marvellous
Maurice Carter: Dr Mabuse, if you think of a film like that, wonderful marvellous film
Roy Fowler: And the Murnau's films, Nosferatu, The Last Laugh. Is it now a matter of
remembering what films you worked on
Maurice Carter: It's really trying to remember exactly what I worked on at Lime Grove.
Eventually, all this time, 1938 nobody was doing anything about up war, all of us could
see it coming and probably foolishly Ijoined the National Fire Service, so two evenings a
week I had to become fireman, pretend to be a fireman. So as soon as war was announced
I was actually put on full time with the fire service. But then as the phoney war
progressed they lost interest in that and I went back, but I was still a fireman by night,
every night I used to go down at 8 o'clock down to the fire station and come home at 12
Roy Fowler: This was where you lived.
Maurice Carter: And we had one or two farily violent fires too to go to, not by bombing,
civil fires. This was prior to bombing. When the bombing started, it was extraordinary. I
was out three-quarters of the night and staggered into the studio in the morning with this
load as I told you, the war work and the film together
Roy Fowler: We did say the bombings affected the way films were made, partly because
materials was in a scarce supply, people had presumably been drafted, called into the
service
Maurice Carter: That was a creeping paralysis really, in fact from The Man in Grey I was
working with an Austrian refugee Billy Kellner who came over, Korda had brought him
over, as a refugee, and he was working as my draughtsman, assistant plus Iris Wills, a
girl. who was sort of acting as a set dresser and draughtsman. So we were right down to
the absolute basics of people to draw work.
Roy Fowler: Was there a noticeably a change do you think in the films that were being
made, suddenly a change in outlook. The films yes, because suddenly they became
propaganda to a very large extent; but was there immediately the beginning of optimism.
Because in the Thirties, maybe not at Gainsborough, but generally in the British film
industry it was up and down, feast or famine
Maurice Carter: We made, for instance not necessarily all the films of that period had
war connotations. For instance we made Snowbound with David Macdonald directing, he
was killed, during the war, but I'm pretty sure that was made during that period. The other
one was Night Train To Munich was a build. We had a very amusing thing on that. They
decided to keep the pace up, on construction, they would have a night art director in, we
had a night crew anyway building but they decided to have a night art director, so they
called in Peter Proud.
And Peter unfortunately had a little indiscretion in taking all the boys out, we had a big
perspective set of the station, Munich station and Peter decided to take all the boys, all the
chippies, out for a drink at 12 o'clock. Went they came back they decided Vetch's design
of the set wasn't all that Peter thought it ought to be and he brilliantly altered all the
pieces of the set and, into different progressions. Of course on a prospective set, you can't
alter one single thing without it being apparent. So when Vetch came in in the morning he
was horrified to discover this set, absolutely all the pieces rejuggled. So everybody had to
set to put the whole set back together again
Roy Fowler: How active when you on Night Train
Maurice Carter: I was assistant on that. I can't quite understand during this period, where I
seem to be to juggling from assistant and to art director. I don't seem quite to remember
the sequence of the pictures
Roy Fowler: It was a time of confusion was it not.. That was directed by Carol Reed.
what do you remember of Carol Reed
Maurice Carter: Carol was a bit of a cross patch at times. I remember him calling me a
onto the set went Vetch was missing and giving me a right dressing down in front of 300
extras about where a door handle had been removed and replaced on a door with marks
on the door, nothing to do with me but I got an the blame. He was all right. Carol was
quite a nice man, very nice man really, sweet man in his best moments
Roy Fowler: That seems to go against so much that is said about him, that he was very
quiet, manipulative yes but very quiet and gentlemanly.
Maurice Carter: I think in general that's true. But he had a big tracking shot to do, he was
probably behind time and like every director once he begins to fall behind time, they it all
becomes very ferocious. It's his neck on the line
Roy Fowler: Painless film from your recollection
Maurice Carter: Yes, apart from that little incjdent I think it was pretty painless. But it
was during the time when thing were pretty ferociou for me with my night watch
Roy Fowler: That must have been a great burden. Kipps wa. mentioned. And again quite
the stylish fi lm. That wa again with Vetch.
Maurice Carter: Lovely, we had a very interesting thing. It wa more or Ie my design
we had to bui ld the Crystal Palace in perspective, for the cene set at the Cry taJ Palace,
very intere ting exercj e
SIDE FOUR, TAPE TWO
Roy Fowler: Another Carol Reed film around that time was Disraeli, with Gielgud, you
were on that
Maurice Carter: No, I was on another picture Carol did at that time, The Young Mr Pit.
That was a very interesting picture to do, period picture, and I must say I've always
enjoyed period pictures.
Roy Fowler: Were you art director on that or was that Vetch
Maurice Carter: I think it was Vetch, it must have been
And Roy Fowler: I was going to ask you if it was your picture, what your sources were
Maurice Carter: The interesting thing was that Vetch and I went to 10 Downing Street to
take exact details of the committee room, Cabinet Room. And also the office which has
remained exactly the same architecturally inside. We were shown up, the great thing of
getting into number 10 in wartime with passes and all this sort of thing. And we were
taken into this room and it had a very big roll-top desk in one corner and we were going
all round the room measuring it and I had the pad and Vetch had the rule and he said 9 ft
6, I said what Vetch, 9 ft 6 he said, no, don't take that down, 111 just measure the fireplace
now, it's about four foot two and a half to the shelf - so a voice came from behind this
desk, can't you go about your work a little more quietly and Churchill had been sitting all
through this and sweet man, all he said was can't you go about your work a little more
quietly. Very nice incident in the middle of the war with the great war leader.
Roy Fowler: Everything was reproduced exactly
Maurice Carter: Yes, the interior of number 10, because it had changed so little, at that
time from Pitt's time
Roy Fowler: Were you getting into generous budgets. Was there more money
Maurice Carter: Yes, I don't think I ever knew the exact budget, being assistant art
director one didn't come up against the budget so much, but I imagine it was considerably
more. It would be close £750,000. Very big increases by this time actually.
Roy Fowler: That would be what, because it was Twentieth Century Fox
Maurice Carter: Yes, and was thought to be an international picture. At that time we had
been all through the quota quickie period and it was considered to be an international
picture rather than a purely national picture.
Roy Fowler: I suppose too people were going more to the cinema, so much more was
denied them
Maurice Carter: The attendances were very good.
Roy Fowler: During the war attendances were way way up. Was that Ted Black
producing
Maurice Carter, Almost sure it was.
Roy Fowler: He didn't live much longer
Maurice Carter: No he didn't. I think he died towards the last years of the war as far as I
can remember.
Roy Fowler: I'm sure you went from film to film.
Maurice Carter: There were other pictures going on, like Millions Like Us and various
others.
Roy Fowler: That wasn't you
Maurice Carter: No
Roy Fowler: Was Rank part of the picture yet, he was beginning to be I think.
Maurice Carter: He wasn't visible as far as I remember until after the war. I don't think so.
I'm pretty sure not because when Rank took over, he may have taken over at that time but
it was after the war that he became visibly, all Rank pictures became Rank at Shepherds
Bush
Roy Fowler: Maybe at this time he was acquiring cinemas as much as anything.
Maurice Carter: I think he wasn't so much into production by then
Roy Fowler: At some stage he got Denham, we won't go into that.
Maurice Carter: He may have been working at Denham while the Ostrers continued at
Shepherd's Bush. And Twentieth Century Fox came along and there were co pictures with
Twentieth Century.
Roy Fowler: I think it was 20th Century Fox's way of satisfying the quota, distributor's
quota.
What is the next point in your mind.
4:1
Maurice Carter: It was being involved in the war and spending, I think I spent two and a
half years in the fire service as a regular, full time
Roy Fowler: So no pictures at all.
Maurice Carter: But I had been up to the dock fires in the evening in the early part of the
Blitz, but by that time it had calmed off so when I went in the fire service it was virtually
peace time fire service. And it didn't occur again until the second Blitz, if you remember
was almost prior to theta landings, the invasions
Roy Fowler: the VIs and the V2s.
Maurice Carter: And we had a fair amount of excitement in that period.
Roy Fowler: Were you totally divorced from film work during this time.
Maurice Carter: No, in the day time I worked with Vetch who was working at
Hammersmith Studios. And we made a lovely little picture there, a comedy, Don't Take it
to Heart, Jeffrey Dell's picture, the lovely Jeffrey Dell, Jeffrey Dell was a gorgeous man.
Roy Fowler: Your memories of Jeffrey Dell
Maurice Carter: He was a sweet man, he was such a good director, artist, magnificent
man. And I think he wrote the script for the picture, a very amusing little picture, it just
crept away in wartime of course. That is Hammersmith, Riverside, and everything was
devastated outside, ruins all around it and the bombs all missed the studio. I think that
was the last film I had contact with actually during the war and it was only after, I
managed to get a release, early release from the fire service to go back into the film
industry, the film industry applied for me to go back as art director at Shepherd's Bush
Roy Fowler: During the flying bomb period
Maurice Carter: No, the war was actually over, or was a few days from being over
certainly and I went back to Shepherd's Bush.
Roy Fowler: As a contract staff art director
Maurice Carter: Staff art director because before that I'd always had contract as art
director and I picked up my contract with the studio
Roy Fowler: Who is running the studio. Sydney
50
Maurice Carter: Not yet, because we made Jassy, and certainly Sydney wasn't concerned
with the making of Jassy. I think I went back to that, it was the first film I made when I
went back.
Roy Fowler: Jassy was Bernard Knowles
Maurice Carter: It may have been Aubrey Baring producing, I have a slight feeling it was
Aubrey Baring. It was a lovely film to do. The extraordinary thing is and I would have to
check the facts on this, I think it was the first time that any British film had been
nominated for an award by the Academy, and I got the award for art direction that year. I
didn't get the actual Oscar, I got the nomination, not the award. I think it was the very first
nomination from this country, I may be under an illusion there, but of course it was very
early anyway in any of the Oscar nomination periods, because it was immediately after
the war. It was interesting from that point of view, it's a very pretty picture. A very
attractive picture
Roy Fowler: How does it begin to shape up.
Maurice Carter: After the end of that the Box era arose, Rank brought Sydney Box from
Hammersmith Studios into the studio and there was a general shake up everywhere. He
brought with him George Provis who was an art director, his art director, and he
obviously didn't want to lose him, and he was put in as supervising art director over
myself and Andy Mazzei who was still art directing there. And I think it was round about
almost then that we started to make Christopher Columbus, one of the big bombs of the
picture world
Roy Fowler: I think it is worth recording in as much detail as you can remember.
Maurice Carter: My first memories of Christopher Columbus was of being called up to
Sydney Box's house, a big house in Mill Hill and they were writing the script. They had
destroyed, I was working to the original script, the designs, and they called me up a
Sunday to tell me that it was going to be a different script entirely.
Roy Fowler: A historian or school teacher had written the original script which was quite
accurate
Maurice Carter: A very nice accurate script, exactly. And I went up to the house and
Sydney was in one room, it was a lovely summer's day with the French window's open,
and Muriel was in another room, and they'd torn the script into halves and were rewriting
it half each on either side and shouting their instructions where they'd got to between each
other between the rooms. That is my very first memory of it. So I had a fair amount of
revision to do having worked on the original script, I had to then go at full speed to revise
from the new script which came out which I must say was pretty patchy as you can
imagine being written in that way over a weekend because we had the deadline, we had to
have the script on Monday
SI
Roy Fowler: Was the first script, the original script, any good.
Maurice Carter: Yes a nice script, I thought that was a pretty competent script.
Roy Fowler: Do you think it was a fool hardy project to embark on at the Bush
Maurice Carter: Absolutely crazy, absolutely crazy.
Roy Fowler: Do you know whose idea it was or why.
Maurice Carter: I think it was the attraction of the American market, and whether Sydney
was given the project over his dead body I don't know. But it was obviously well financed
and I was allowed to build the most elaborate sets I've probably ever built in my life. The
great problem came from the building of the ships. Sydney had a ships architect friend
and he was sent out to the West Indies to build the ships in Barbados, presumably because
they had to sale in the better weather of that weather, anyway they needed island sites, so
the three boats were built. The trouble was that the Pinta, one of the boats was just in the
near state of completion and it was left out of anchorage with a native watchman on
board, and he decided to build a bonfire on the deck and the whole thing caught fire and
sunk. So we were left with only two ships before the film had even been shot on.
So from then on they had to shoot with two ships and at the end of the picture it was
supposed we could superimpose the third ship on the scenes shot but of course what they
had forgotten was that they were shooting from a ship, another boat, and it was rising and
falling so the images were never steady enough to add anything on by process, not at that
period. Nowadays it would be very simple to electronically add a ship on it, but there
weren't the means in those days and by the time the film came back the money had run
out and Sydney said we couldn't do anything, we would have to do it ourselves in the
studio, between ourselves. So the only thing we could do was get Alf Davis to project the
two boats on the screen and have a little cardboard boat, lit with a single spot and bob it
about in the appropriate position. Unbelievable but that is now it was done.
Roy Fowler: Is that in the final picture
Maurice Carter: It's in the film. There is no way you could not show three boats. And then
we had another major tragedy. George Provis, we were going to build the deck of the
Santa Maria and I'd said let's do it as we normally do boat things by moving the camera
slowly up and down. They said no, that wasn't good enough. George said he wanted
things rolling about the deck and all this sort of thing. And all the great detail, the sales
sagging as the ship went. So we built the whole of the deck of Santa Maria on stage one
at Shepherd's Bush and George had another firm, theatre firm of his, to build the rocking
mechanism. Well the theatre firm may have done the turntable at the Palladium but they
had never encountered anything like the weight of this enormous ship built on a rocker.
So nothing to do with me boys, I'm walking away from it. So George had to watch the
first tum over, the first test, and they turned on the power and it started to rock and
everything started to break lose, all the bearings tore apart, what they had used was
ordinary cast iron block bearings to the floor of the studio, and with the weight, these tons
of weight of the ship came on it, the whole thing fell over in the studio with the mast
against the wall. So it was jacked up, got in position and done my way with the camera on
a float. But it was a picture of absolute disaster at every inch of the way.
Roy Fowler: What had gone wrong, because during the war by and large we were making
very good, very successful pictures, efficiently, well made as pictures, all of a sudden,
post war, and again maybe it was the rush for the American market
Maurice Carter: That is what it was. Exactly. To be as spectacular as the Americans.
Roy Fowler: You said George Provis wanted that done in that way, was he not enough of
an experienced professional that he couldn't discern the problems he was getting into
Maurice Carter: He should have been because he was himself, basically he started life as
a chippy in the studio, so he should have had a very, very good idea of the constructional
strengths, that sort of thing, absolutely astonishing.
Roy Fowler: This in a certain sense is a turning point, a watershed for the British film
industry because all the disasters of that time led to the advent of John Davis and the
accountants coming in, the shutting down of studios, if only pictures had been made
efficiently and sensibly then it would have been a lot better.
Maurice Carter: They were venturing into areas where they had no experience.
Roy Fowler: But during the war very large scale pictures had been made
Maurice Carter: ill Which We Serve, but they had been done with respect to traditions
and manners which we had long known. A simple illustration is if you want to rock a
whole ship, whereas you can raise the camera and lower the camera slightly, providing
the horizon moves on the backing, you have no problem. It only means a draw backing to
get the horizon to rise in sympathy with the camera movement and you have the whole
motion of the ship without doing that sort of thing. But they did of course, they went
strongly on ill Which We Serve, at Denham, they did have a sinking ship in the tank, it
could be done, it was just simply that the wrong people undertook the job. But that wasn't
it, the whole film must have been very badly budgeted, to run out of money, it was mainly
over the building of the ships in Barbados and the sailing of them, the cost of these ships
became fabulous, it was never calculated, it was calculated by inexperienced picture
people, people who had only done minor pictures before that.
Roy Fowler: Is the problem somehow with Sydney.
Maurice Carter: It had to be with him, because it was his accounting and his budgeting
department and his crew.
Roy Fowler: David Macdonald seems a somewhat enigmatic character who directed that
film , what do you have to say about him.
Maurice Carter: He is a nice man David but I don't think he was a strong man although he
had done all this wonderful filming in the desert and that, I don't think he was a toughie
and I think his ill health and other aspects, he wasn't in his best state at the time. Of
course Sydney Box was a very strong dominant man, and he had Peter Rogers as his
assistant at that time and Betty was there, concerned at that time with accounts.
Roy Fowler: They weren't experienced filmmakers were they. Peter Rogers had been
what a teacher, and writer.
Maurice Carter: Sydney had been a writer mainly.
Roy Fowler: And had been involved in commercials.
Maurice Carter: Yes the scale they had been doing at Hammersmith that was right up
their street, they managed very well.
Roy Fowler: Sydney and Muriel Box are two interesting characters to try and suss out.
What were your dealings with them.
Maurice Carter: I had a good deal of dealings, particularly with Betty, but that was later at
Pinewood. Sydney was a tough character,
Roy Fowler: A bit crooked
Maurice Carter: I wouldn't say that. I've no real evidence he was. The only sort of instance
I can give you he was talking to the production manager on the picture and the production
manager was bitterly complaining about his income tax, I don't suppose he was earning
more than £25 quid a week at that time, and Sydney told him, he always used to have a
meeting on every Friday evening, production, all of us were in there, and this is where
this complaint took place, and it is why I overheard it. And he said I got this bloody bill
for my income tax. So Sydney said well what are they asking you for. He said £220. He
said you must be crazy. You know what my tax was last year, he said 25 quid. You want
to push it around boy, he said push it around. The chap said well I've only got my little
salary to push around. He said well I've got a cleaning shop, I've got a underwear shop,
I've got, and he went through all this, so I don't know, what you say may be slightly true.
But that was just a conversation I heard. But they were very interesting meetings. Peter
Rogers had to serve the drinks to us all and I don't think Peter has ever forgotten that I
was sitting there and Peter had to pour drinks for me while we , so I think that's why I
didn't ever get a job on Carry Ons.
Roy Fowler: What about Muriel.
Maurice Carter: Muriel had great ambitions to become the producer director. And that
was the way she was driving. I never did a picture with her, she was quite a nice person
really, quite sweet.
Roy Fowler: There were some very good people at Shepherd's Bush in those days,
Maurice Carter: Technicians. They had some good technicians.
Roy Fowler: What about that kind of inner court of the Box's. There was what, Anthony
Damborough and Vivien Cox
Maurice Carter: Tony Darnborough is the best producer I've ever worked with, ever,
without doubt. I think
Roy Fowler: He liked a drink or two or three
Maurice Carter: Not much, no. He liked to drink as much as you or I would like a drink,
certainly no more than me, I had a very close acquaintance because I did all that series of
Maugham pictures for him.
Roy Fowler: What was his strengths as a producer
Maurice Carter: He was terrific on casting and he had a lovely way, he could persuade
artists to do something for him at a price they wouldn't think of doing for anybody else.
That was one of his big contributions. But he also left people alone to get on with their
jobs. And if they made a mistake and it was an honest good mistake he would never go
into fits and blow tempers, he would simply say that's not the way to do it. You've got to
look after this, take it easy.
Roy Fowler: Sydney and Muriel considered themselves expert on scripts did they not.
Maurice Carter: It was their origins, they had been writers all their life of one sort or
another
Roy Fowler: They had been writers, writing all those one act plays, was that something
you would go along with.
Maurice Carter: I never saw it.
Roy Fowler: How did you judge his scripts, or did you only pay attention to the visual
aspects.
Maurice Carter: No, no. obviously one read the dialogue, you thought this was ridiculous
dialogue or you thought that is pretty good dialogue.
Roy Fowler: Where did their stuff fit in.
Maurice Carter: I thought it was absurd, personally, but then who was I to judge, mouldy
little art director. But I thought it was pretty crazy, it was a crazy set up altogether.
Roy Fowler: The more one thinks about it the more disastrous Sydney Box is in
retrospect.
Maurice Carter: And we had to move out of Shepherd's Bush at that time, it was sold to
the BBC, three quarters the way through Columbus, so the whole shooting match had to
be transferred to Pinewood. Of course that was received with absolute joy by people who
were already at Pinewood. They hated our guts, because they had been nicely ensconced
there, all the standard of productions had their little corners, cubby holes and there were
these awful people from Shepherd's Bush coming in.
Roy Fowler: What were you perceived to be, you people from Shepherd's Bush
Maurice Carter: Rough necks.
Roy Fowler: Is there more to be said about the last days of the Bush or the Boxes. I
always wanted to do a retrospective evening at BAFT A called the Boxes at the Bush.
Maurice Carter: I think Muriel was doing Two Boys and a Bike or something, something
interesting like that.
Roy Fowler: How about Vivien Cox
Maurice Carter: Vivien was busy because he came in with the whole of the Box group,
what exactly he was doing I don't know
Roy Fowler: I don't know what he did precisely.
Maurice Carter: I think he was a sort of assistant director, contact man.
Roy Fowler: It is probably what it was, I remember crossing on the Queen Elizabeth with
Sydney around that time, 1951, and made a date for lunch at Les XXX and instead of
Sydney it was Vivien Cox who turned up, which is my first meeting with him. It was a
good lunch
Maurice Carter: I'm sure it was, all the Box lunches were pretty good.
Roy Fowler: So lock stock and barrel, everyone trooped over to Pinewood and you were
regarded as the country cousins.
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: What were the factions there, there was the Earl St John bunch and
Independent Producers, were they still operating because they were on the way out
Maurice Carter: Yes, they became xxx with Rank Studios, and from then on it was Rank
pictures
Roy Fowler: And Sydney didn't last very long at Pinewood
Maurice Carter: I imagine he last two three years, but diminishing. But then I began
working with Tony Darnborough on the Somerset Maugham series - at Pinewood - and I
think we started with Trio and then went on to Quartet. But the interest in those was that
we had to visit with Maugham in his villa, Cap Ferrat. And it was very interesting
because we always filmed Maugham for the last of, the introduction to the picture, always
Maugham was saying my dear friends this shall be the last time I shall be talking to you.
And the very interesting thing was that we were having supper with him one night, and
there were about 8 of us around the table in the famous room, with the great big eagle
over the fire place and Maugham was chatting along and he had this incredible man
servant, a Spanish guy who used to wear these soft shoes, and suddenly in the middle of
the meal Maugham fell into his plate, and we though this is it. We've actually seen the
end but it wasn't so, his man servant came around, took a bottle of pills out of his pocket
and popped two in the old man's mouth and got some water, and in about two or three
minutes more Maugham was sitting up now where was I, and we stayed on with the
conversation.
Roy Fowler: So he wasn't gaga at that stage
Maurice Carter: No, by no means.
Roy Fowler: He became so later, he was on the monkey glands, he was having the
treatment. Did you stay in the Villa Moresque
Maurice Carter: We didn't stay. We used to come every day. We used to stop in Nice and
drive out every day.
Roy Fowler: Did Maugham write his own material
Maurice Carter: Yes, he wrote his own material.
Roy Fowler: How long were you down there to shoot such a thing. Did you take all the
gear down, it must have been quite an expensive proposition
Maurice Carter: Nearly always there were locations down there, one at least of the stories
had a French location, so it was quite easy to take the crew down to do just that, it was
only a day's work these little introductory things. In fact one of them we remade again
back at Pinewood
Roy Fowler: With him
Maurice Carter: Yes, we built a little study for him.
Roy Fowler: Was he easy to work with.
Maurice Carter: Very easy. I mean he was very nice to us, absolutely sweet.
Roy Fowler: What about the menage, who would have been his boyfriend then,
Maurice Carter: Alan Searle. Yes, Alan was there, he used to sit out with us on the terrace
and Maugham had these two little poodle dogs and they used to jump from about 5 ft
away into his arms and he and Alan Searle used to pick off the ticks on the dogs, as we
had our evening aperitifs, very nice, the Villa Moresque.
Roy Fowler: They were very successful pictures.
Maurice Carter: Yes they were, and great fun to do in sections, each story had a
completely different setting, like The Verger, and Three Fat Women of Antibes, The Kite.
Roy Fowler: I suppose material such as that now we find on television which is I guess
why it isn't made on film any more.
Maurice Carter: I suppose so.
Roy Fowler: It was all very literate and middle class.
Maurice Carter: Absolutely, but it was a very pleasant time to live and work in the south
of France. The only trouble was that we were only allowed £10 a day for living and
everything, exchange control.
Roy Fowler: Even on the production, could you not live on the production
Maurice Carter: That was also under exchange control, so it was very strict.
Roy Fowler: It is difficult to think that people couldn't somehow circumvent that, the
studio couldn't get around it.
Maurice Carter: They couldn't, that's for sure. We did find ways round it because we
couldn't have a drink or anything on that, nothing. So we did find ways round it which
became very amusing. Tony had to, he could only get it by driving to Paris so he couldn't
be away from the production so it virtually had to be a night hawl travel, or Sunday and
get back on the Monday, to raise the ante in Paris. But the marvellous thing was that also,
for instance the barman, the English had a great reputation down there, their reputation
was marvellous, our word is our bond, and Tony went into the barman at the hotel down
there on, the Negresco, he went into the Negresco bar and of course Tony knew
everybody in the South of France and he said can you let us have £700, and the barman
said yes, sure. And had no receipt for it or anything, just £700 straight over. Quite
marvellous the trust, Tony said I'll better write out something for you, he said no, you're
English, happy days.
Roy Fowler: It wouldn't happen now.
Maurice Carter: Within months of that another film unit went down there and couldn't
pay any of its bills. That destroyed it forever.
Roy Fowler: You say you have great respect for Tony Darnborough, anything more to be
said about that, I don't know what happened to him
Maurice Carter: He sent me a Christmas card, he's fine.
Roy Fowler: Tell us about the politics of Pinewood at this stage, because they must have
been quite fraught, the Rank Organisation going bust and all these internecine battles
Maurice Carter: Yes, it went on for quite a few years, it didn't happen just like that. It
went on for quite a few years as you know and the other companies were still operating
there as independents. But the Rank programme was going forth with Sydney and Betty
Box, Betty Box by then, soon after we'd finished with the Maugham things, I was art
director with them on the Doctor series. We started the Doctor series and we went on
with a number of those, and they were slightly interlarded with the Maugham series.
Roy Fowler: Were you aware of it at the time, the fractional nature.
Maurice Carter: Very much so.
Roy Fowler: Was it spoken about or was it one of those deathly hushful things.
Maurice Carter: I think it was pretty much a hush but it was there. There was Earl St John
and his cronies naturally, and there was Sydney and his cronies and I don't think anybody
meshed too well together, everybody had ambitions
Roy Fowler: Where did it manifest itself, in the restaurant or bar or in terms of vying for
properties
Maurice Carter: I think more, as far as I'm concerned, the clash of requirements for
competing for the labour with the set construction. There was a good deal of competition
for the labour.
Roy Fowler: Where was the money dished out, on South St
Maurice Carter: No, in Pinewood
Roy Fowler: I don't mean physically, but productions chosen, the go aheads given.
Maurice Carter: Yes in South St.
Roy Fowler: How prominent was John Davies becoming
Maurice Carter: Just growing into the scene. He was a sort of name we'd heard of, yes he
was South St., he hadn't moved into Pinewood at all, or seen at Pinewood but he was a
name in South St that occurred when you talked about budgets.
Roy Fowler; An ogre, dragon
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler How about Uncle Arthur.
Maurice Carter: And of course they had a very big budgeting, or very quickly built up a
very big budgeting department under Frank Godwin, our mutual friend. And very soon
we were getting daily budget returns, and that sort of thing, it was very much refined.
Roy Fowler: Was it an efficient studio, there was a lot of bureaucracy there
Maurice Carter: No, it became so bureaucratic that it defeated itself in the end. That was
the ultimate disaster was exactly, the office staff increased and the working staff
decreased in proportion. I mean they had huge studio managers and studio managers
assistant, and assistant to the studio manager and the accounts department had something
like 32 people in it, there were machines rolling out these daily budgets and so forth, it
had a general atmosphere of a nice young bureaucracy coming, which gradually
developed and virtually destroyed it in the end.
Roy Fow ler: Were they making good pictures
Maurice Carter: Yes, most of those series were pretty good. The Doctor series were
highly successful, the Maugham series was highly successful, there was a lot of success in
that first flush of it, but it gradually died away into, Muriel's pictures were absolute
disasters.
Roy Fowler: Muriel as director
Maurice Carter: Yes, director producer and became more and more debased.
And then Aubrey Baring came in, I'm trying to think what pictures he made, he was a
very good producer. The producers that then c!UDe in were Aubrey Baring and my
erstwhile next door neighbour Paul Soskin and we were making these rather fiddly
pictures of Paul Soskins about the little funny man who falls all over the place, the
Norman Wisdom series. I imagine they made money,
Roy Fowler: Paul Soskin had had greater pretentions earlier than that, it is rather sad that
he would end up on a Norman Wisdom film.
Copyright is vested in the BECTU History Project
MAURICE CARTER
SIDE 5, TAPE 3
Roy Fowler: Paul Soskin is a name from that time. He had been a fairly active producer
in the late 30s and he had made one or two nice little middle class films like Quiet
Wedding
Maurice Carter: After he had sold, Amalgamated as you know was taken over by the,
which was Paul Soskin's studio, Ministry of Supply
Roy Fowler: It never opened as a studio
Maurice Carter: It was a tragedy because they went in there with sledgehammers into the
power house and smashed out all the dynamos, it seems totally unnecessary
Roy Fowler: Why did they do that
Maurice Carter: They wanted the space they said, I mean terrible idea but it was all fully
equipped as you know and had lights, lamps and everything there. But it was all bundled
out of the studio and left as empty storehouses.
Roy Fowler: Who financed the original construction, do you know
Maurice Carter: It was American finance, the object was it was for American companies
to make films in England, it was always the object of the studios, a very fine studio. But
the interesting thing was that my brother was one of the architects for the design of the
studio because he had had experience in Shepherds Bush in films before and he was
asked about the proportions of the studio and he wanted to have the height and breadth he
knew a camera could take in, a maximum long shot in the stage. That is the dimensions a
stage should be, thatthe end wall should fill the frame of a camera at maximum distance
and consequently and the roof mustn't come into the frame. But the final architects on the
building, my brother was there simply as an adviser, his advice was ignored and they
built the roofs far too low. Later on when it was adopted by MOM, you probably know
they had to raise the walls another 10 or 15 ft but it was completely unnecessary. My
brother had had experience in camera angles, and a simple thing if you know anything
about sets is that you put a camera angle down and you know what height you require
and what width require, minimum
Roy Fowler: Did you have a protractor that gave you
Maurice Carter: We had camera angles, I can show you some of them, they were made in
celluloid and each separate lens, and you could simply lay those on your plans and work
out exactly what was taken in by the camera, both in height and width.
Roy Fowler: So these other architects
Maurice Carter: They were architects who had no understanding of that and couldn't see
the need why a studio had to be 60 ft high when it only need be 40 ft.
Roy Fowler: The mind boggles. But that was basically one of the better layouts, it was a
very efficient layout in terms of the relationship
Maurice Carter: Well my brother was adviser on that side but in particulars they wouldn't
take notice. It's like advisers everywhere, when the advise is as they need it or like it,
then it is accepted, when it's not, if it interferes with the cost or the structure of the
building they had in mind, then it is rejected.
Roy Fowler: Did you ever work at Denham, because that was a very inefficient studio in
terms of layout
Maurice Carter: Yes, terrible. I did one picture over there during the war which was
Beneath Us the Waves. It was a submarine picture, about a submarine, Roy Baker
directing. That was the only picture I only made
Roy Fowler: With people having to bicycle down the corridor. But that was done by an
American expert.
Maurice Carter: And the shops miles away from construction site, terrible place.
Roy Fowler: What happened to your brother, did he stay in the business
Maurice Carter: No, he started a business which he thought was a good thing, people
wanted to build their homes and this was after the war of course, and he started a
magazine which he gave all the elevations and plans of houses you could build yourself.
And he did the wrong thing, he put his name on it, and the British Institute of Architects
had him up before them and disbarred him for advertising. So he moved to Canada on the
Lake Eyrie scheme, the settlements, so he never returned to England.
Roy Fowler: Back to Paul Soskin, what else do you have to say about Paul, because he
does seem to be a rather lost or disregarded figure now. He was a competent producer
Maurice Carter: Very competent producer.
Roy Fowler: And it was he who brought you to this part
Maurice Carter: Yes, I must say it was, he had the house next door, which had been
xXX's house, it was owned by Jubert, the airforce man, Coastal Command. And he had
this part added on for his Waf driver during the war. He was married and living with a
Swiss fellow, the Swiss fellow was the guy who was the timer on the Cresta run and so
they lived partly here and partly in Switzerland. But Paul bought the house next door and
he wanted to buy that land but he didn't want all of it himself, he didn't want to have to
look after it, on the other side of the river, so he said would you like to buy it, because 1'd
talked to him about building a house myself. So I went in with him and bought it, bought
half the land.
Roy Fowler: So you came here during the 50s when you were at Pinewood.
Maurice Carter: Yes, 34 years ago.
Roy Fowler: How long a drive is it to the studio
Maurice Carter: From here, not very bad, 17 miles, very easy, country roads so it is very
easy.
Roy Fowler: What happened to Paul Soskin eventually, he just tailed off
Maurice Carter: His wife left him and went to live with an Egyptian scent manufacturer,
his daughter is married to a great society character. He just went broke, he went virtually
bankrupt and lost everything. I don't know if you know his origins how he became to be
virtually a multimillionaire when he built Amalgamated. Of course his losses over
Amalgamated were enormous in spite of him being teamed up with Prudential for the
building
Roy Fowler: It was the Pru again
Maurice Carter: It was the Pru who were with him but he caught a very bad cold, he had a
very large share in the project and caught a very bad cold, but he still had a few millions
left. But he was an inveterate gambler in share dealing and eventually got caught, badly
caught, but his father's fortune was established with an interesting thing, he and another
guy cornered the pepper market, I don't know if you will remember back that far, but that
is how they did it, they cornered the whole of the world's pepper between themselves and
then held it to ransom and made an enormous fortune each. And that is how the Soskin
fortune but was lost in films mainly, gambling.
Roy Fowler: He is dead now, did he die in poverty or poor
Maurice Carter: Yes, had to live in the basement of his own house in Eaton Square and
let it to people to live in
Roy Fowler: At least he had it at some stage
Maurice Carter: And he knew how to live it, he had had a beautiful house in Kent,
marvellous Tudor house in Kent. And gradually came down and down.
Roy Fowler: Is that an aspect of the business that you've enjoyed, the living high,
because certainly producers did it, the Rank Organisation executives did that
Maurice Carter: Yes, they sure did. No, I'm afraid we lived on the breadline mostly. Not
really on the breadline, I mean I've always had a very good salary from the business,
when I was art director after the war I was earning £70 a week which was considered to
be pretty high pay. And very soon it was into the £90 a week. And so I wasn't living
exactly like a pauper by any means.
Roy Fowler: Where do we find ourselves now in terms of productions.
Maurice Carter: Well we're into the
Roy Fowler: The Doctor films, is there much to be said about them, we could talk about
the young Dirk Bogarde, they couldn't have presented any problems to you really
Maurice Carter: Not really,
Roy Fowler: Was there any professional challenge for you in any
Maurice Carter: Well every film is a constant challenge, however apparently easy it was.
Every film you've got, the main one is that the money is limited, if money is unlimited
anything is possible. With money limited you have problems, and to forecast what you're
going to spend when it's not even in the director's mind what he wants, is only on the
page of the script, you have to translate the idea on a page of script into a solid set, that is
difficult.
Roy Fowler: How did you make that equation, instinctively between
Maurice Carter: Yes, it came by shear experience of comparing one set which you knew
you'd built, knowing the rises in the salaries of the construction people, and the cost of
materials rising. There was a constant rise, ever since I've started in the business, so you
add on year by year 5%, 10%,20%. These charges, you knew what the salary rises were,
the great guessing game was to know how the work would progress, and how much
overtime would be demanded by the construction people, how much over time they
would make for themselves, that was a guessing game. Well we're into the strike period
then, you never knew when you were going to have a strike and so all these things you
made a slight allowance for but you obviously couldn't deal with every circumstance and
you were caught out.
Roy Fowler: Two topics open themselves up, one is the strikes and the other was, did
these bureaucratic layers at Pinewood make it an expensive studio to work in.
Maurice Carter: No, I don't think it was particularly expensive
Roy Fowler: It always had that reputation
Maurice Carter: I know it did. I don't think, I can't see why it was, not in my experience,
it was no more expensive than the other studio providing you cut your cloth to suit.
Roy Fowler: The feeling I think was that there was no flexibility on the part of the studio
management that you had to like it or lump it and you had to take everything.
Maurice Carter: I think there was very much a producers point of view, especially
independent producers coming in to an established situation, it may have been true, I'm
not sure. But I wouldn't have thought it was so, the pictures I did, I was working between
Pinewood and Shepperton, and alternating pictures between the two so I had a pretty
good idea of the balance and I must say Shepperton was basically, but simply because it
didn't provide the great scope of services that Pinewood, it didn't have cars standing by
for you to be able to pick a car to drive anywhere, you had lesser services so naturally it
was more economical.
Roy Fowler: But if you weren't using or didn't want those services
Maurice Carter: If you didn't want them, then it became pricey
Roy Fowler: We're still in the 50s, and you say this is the time of the strikes
Maurice Carter: Yes 50s drifting into the 60s.
Roy Fowler: Tell us about that, what kind of problems called the strikes, demarcation
disputes
Maurice Carter: Going back a little bit to Shepherd's Bush, in the last period of
Shepherd's Bush was when the union ACT became active, Les Wilde was working hard
for the ACT. And gradually, also we thought we might ought to have some overtime
with these extended evenings, they were getting more and more popular drifting in,
especially on location, going onto 12 o'clock at night, and this sort of thing. Everybody
thought well we ought to have a little bit of cash for this and maybe a supper allowance
would be a good idea too. So the union was picked up there, and of course, naturally once
you get union affairs involved in a studio, you have problems. It was easy, we had been
working before at Islington, but now you had everybody in the union, before it was only
the sparks who could call a strike. Now anybody could call a strike virtually,
Roy Fowler: Les was shop steward was he
Maurice Carter: Yes.
Roy Fowler: Were there a lot of disputes at the Bush in the 40s
Maurice Carter: It came in a narrow sort of period, yes, little petty
Roy Fowler: What were they about
Maurice Carter: Oh anything from get the supper allowance increased to having an early
morning call that they disagreed with
Roy Fowler: So it was more that than demarcation would you say
Maurice Carter: No, demarcation occurred occasionally, but it was more small, trying to
advance the money
Roy Fowler: Would you say they were minor disputes over the agreement or was it trying
to get a new agreement
Maurice Carter: Well one period they wanted a new agreement but I don't think that was
the main thing, most of them, I don't know what everybody else thinks but to my mind,
anyway it was getting bad enough that I decided to get fairly involved in union affairs
myself to try and check this thing, particularly in the art department, of ridiculous little
problems occurring. So I had to get involved and had to go to London once a week for
the meetings. It became up to twice a week, I was having to drive into London for one
meeting or another
Roy Fowler: For your section
Maurice Carter: For our section
Roy Fowler: When had you joined
Maurice Carter: I had joined immediately after the war, my number is 3,334
Roy Fowler: Had you joined willingly
Maurice Carter: Yes, there was no means of coercion, because it was an open market
Roy Fowler: But it became a closed shop not long after
Maurice Carter: It became rapidly a closed shop.
Roy Fowler: So when you say you tried to sort these things out, who would you sort them
out with, George Elvin
Maurice Carter: No, with the whole committee of the art department, we had a committee
meeting once a week and somebody would get up and say we've got a complaint about
this and we've got the shop stewards interested, if they don't' come round next week
we're going to give them a belt
Roy Fowler: What was your feeling that there was a kind of blackmail process
Maurice Carter: Yes, quite frankly yes
Roy Fowler: Was it politically motivated, or was it purely industrially based, was it more
money better conditions, or was there an actually a political
Maurice Carter: That's a difficult question to answer, I'm not sure is the real answer, I
think a mixture of probably both. To be honest a mixture of both.
Roy Fowler: It seems to me with all respect to Taffy in our presence the sound people,
you said Les Wildes was the shop steward there, the sound people notoriously seemed to
have had a chip for this kind of thing and they saw affronts where there weren't
necessarily any
Maurice Carter: I don't know why it occurred, why it was so strong in the sound
department
Roy Fowler: Either they had more time on their hands than everyone else, I don't know,
or maybe coming later to the filmmaking process they felt somewhat alienated from it. I
don't know I've often thought about this, without an answer
Maurice Carter: They were such a bloody pest in the beginning, when sound came in, as
I've related to you, making us cut holes in our set, and then when we all wanted to get
home at night, he would say no, no, no, something, birds chirping or there is an arc going.
Roy Fowler: It wasn't only in this country, in the USA it was exactly the same thing, they
all came in from outside and I think tried to make their place in it; but it is strange that in
this country they became such union activists, they weren't necessarily political activists,
but you come up against this all the time
Maurice Carter: I think it was probably just that Les was very
Roy Fowler: Bloody minded
Maurice Carter: I wouldn't say bloody minded, strongly politically minded
Roy Fowler: A lot of them were bloody minded
Maurice Carter: That is what my opinion was, which is why I went in to try and sort it
out. But I had it from two sides of course, I had it in my construction workers, so I had all
that, I had the plasterers, I had carpenters, and so I was getting shot up really.
Roy Fowler: Looking at that 3 fold union activity, the electricians always somewhat
tough minded in terms of their interest as they saw it, and the NATKE people were they
Maurice Carter: Yes, at one period they got, this period, everybody
Roy Fowler: Was this post war discontent do you think
Maurice Carter: Yes, well we had a socialist government, the socialist principles were
operating and everybody thought they ought to take advantage of them
Roy Fowler: Were they being exploited do you think
Maurice Carter: Studio management was very willing to, I think the studio management
would have a pinch at any time, but I think it was very much a double sided proposition. I
think the management were much less aggressive on their side than the union I must tell
you, I was virtually a neutral in a way, but that was my opinion
Roy Fowler: I think there was and still is bloody mindedness on both sides. One side
always seems to have the advantage over the other so that then creates ill feeling that
continues sadly. The whip hand now is with producers, few that they may be.
Maurice Carter: One feels sorry for them, it is such a struggle
Roy Fowler: Not currently, because they can write any deal they want to but there will be
a reaction against that presumably
Maurice Carter: But I've seen many of these trying to set up pictures, been with people
trying to set up pictures, in latter years I was with Johnny Dark, and trying to set up the
Edgar Rice Burroughs pictures, I saw it really from root and branch, from the very
beginning trying to get the money and when you've been in that situation, well you have
haven't you
Roy Fowler: Yes, it's very dispiriting and it's like spatial chess, keeping it all together
Maurice Carter: And all you want to do was to turn a bloody good picture and make a
good deal and you get a little bit of the chicken broth back.
Roy Fowler: By and large this is usually an end question, what would you say about our
union, would you say it's been a good thing, a bad thing or a mixture
Maurice Carter: From strictly my point of view, it has done nothing but hold me back in
money wise. I could have got bigger salary for most of the time without the union
Roy Fowler: Even when you were under contract to studios
,r.>' '
Maurice Carter: Yes, because they always quoted to us the minimum salary, look we can
get art directors for £16 a week. That is the minimum rate, I'm just quoting, or £50 a
week, we can get an art director for 50 quid a week, why do you think you're worth £180
a week. I mean it is your union saying the proper pay for an art director is £50 a week, so
in that respect I was always fighting to get a bigger salary naturally.
Roy Fowler: But there is a wild disparity, I have to ask Taffy this because I'm inactive,
but there is great disparity now between the book rate and the going rate
Taffy Haines: Yes, the only people who recognise the book rate are the people who are
self employed
Roy Fowler: Do you think nowadays people are held back by what agreements survive,
because there aint many, not that are enforceable anyway.
Taffy Haines: I don't think but again you see we've been cut down, cut down all the time.
Every picture you go to is less, you have got to take less and less and less. Until at least
we have the union minimum to fall back on, in other words, it is the agreement but if
nobody recognises the agreement we haven't got that to fall back on
Roy Fowler: This is the problem
Maurice Carter: But I always was told look that is what your ACT people reckon you
should be getting, I said it's not what we should be getting, it's the minimum you guys
can possibly pay me. Well, look, if that is the minimum what do you expect as a
maximum then. That was the dialogue given to me.
Taffy Haines: But there has been a bone of contention all the time, the differential in rates
between the going rate and the book rate. We always said the book rate should be a lot
greater than what it is.
Roy Fowler: Were you considered an employee ofthe Rank organisation or on contract
Maurice Carter: I was on contract to large extent and then suddenly all went wrong and I
was knocked off and my contract, I had been there 24 years with contracts and suddenly
they said we're not renewing your contract baby any more, not renewing anybody's
contract. You're on your own, so that was a bit of a shock you know.
Roy Fowler: Does that mean that you were eligible for Rank Organisation benefits
Maurice Carter: No,
Roy Fowler: You got no pension
Maurice Carter: No, for instance I was in the scheme they had called Top Hat which you
paid say £10, £20 of your salary into this top hat fund. And that was excused tax. It
-7( \ .f
developed into a pension at 65. So when I left the studio I didn't know what the hell I
could do, I was then having something like £20 a week extracted and I said Ijust can't go
on, I'm sorry, can I draw out my money and pay the tax on it. They said you haven't read
the small print churn have you, if you withdraw your money falls into the fund, you don't
get anything. It's in the small print on the back of your book. I said that is not bloody
likely, whatever the small print says you can't just take our money like that. So
eventually, alright, it took a lot of argy bargy and a lot of tears, they said alright we'll
turn it into a pension when you're 65, what you've got in. It turns out very amusingly, it
has now risen to £27 a month, it started off at £21 a month when I was 65.
Roy Fowler: And you'd paid in for
Maurice Carter: I'd paid in £1,850. Not much, but if I could have spent it on a bit of
furniture at that time it would be worth ten times as much now. But I still get the pension,
an absolutely joke
Roy Fowler: I was curious how they treated one, you obviously had a rolling contract,
you were never not paid by them and yet you weren't really an employee. It's a pity in a
way.
We were still in the 50s. The whole ethos and activity of the Rank Organisation is
interesting, how fondly or otherwise do you look back on your days there at Pinewood.
Maurice Carter: Very much so.
Roy Fowler: Productive
Maurice Carter: I thought so. I went into a series of pictures that had some very
interrupting implications, with Betty doing the ignorant fart as the unit used to call it
which was The Wind Cannot Read which was in India which was very interesting. And I
did earlier that that, earlier on, soon after the finish of the war with George Brown, I did a
couple of pictures in Germany in Berlin and the whole city was still a ruin, very
interesting, there was no wall been built
Roy Fowler: Which pictures were they
Maurice Carter: I did the Quiller Memorandum much later which I did go to Berlin again,
my third time in Berlin.
Roy Fowler: Were they major pictures
Maurice Carter: Major pictures, one with Dirk Anyway we were shooting in Berlin, it
was very interesting shooting at that time, because no Berlin Wall, it was dangerous to
cross over to the East sector, we used to go at nights but jolly dangerous. Incredible city.
71
Then later I went on the Quiller Memorandum, which everybody thought was going to
be, ridiculous to start off thinking the picture is going to be an award picture, they had
this convinced, I used to laugh to myself, these guys talking of course it's going to get the
award, crazy
Roy Fowler: That followed on, that was Len Deighton
I'll go through the list and see if there is anything you want to add to those we've talked
about so far.
9 Days a Queen I think we've covered. Sing as We Go we didn't mention, I thought that
was Ealing
Maurice Carter: I don't remember doing it
Roy Fowler: Then Boys Will Be Boys was the 1 st Will Hay film. Doctor Syn was 35.
Where there's a Will, that was Will Hay
Then Winbad the Sailor, and then Good Morning Boys.
The Crazy Gang come in in 37 with Okay for Sound.
Said O'Reilly to McNab in 37,
Maurice Carter: That was the Will Fiffe with an American artist
Roy Fowler: Oh Mr Porter and The Lady Vanishes back to back. Convict 99. Alf's
Button Afloat.
Bank Holiday, we haven't mentioned before, with Carol Reed
Maurice Carter: That was Carol's first picture on his own, wasn't it.
Roy Fowler: I think Midshipman Easy was his first one.
Acacia Avenue which I remember seeing as quite a young film buff, and it impressed the
hell out of me. Bank Holiday is largely about whether Maggie Lockwood would lose
her virginity or not. And who cares. But Carol Reed was a very accomplished director
very early on
Maurice Carter: And of course there is good characterization with Kathleen Harrison,
those sorts of characters, very popular picture. I think it did and very well and
The Roy Fowler: Any particular memories
Maurice Carter: It is memorable only for my personal disaster. I had to calculate the
amount of sand to cover number one stage, Carol wanted a good covering of sand in
which he could bury dad and build a sand castle, not just an inch covering of sand on the
floor. So I tried to calculate the amount of sand for the whole stage, but in the course of
my calculations I must have added a naught and when the lorries began arriving, tipping
the sand ready to go into the studio, in the little side street at Islington which is only 25 ft
wide, quickly the sand was mounting up to the windows of the houses opposite, the first
floor windows. And so in a great panic we had to get the police to stop the lorries coming
and phone the labour exchange for all the available labour to come and shovel sand into
the studio in wheelbarrows. So it was a bit of a disaster in general but Carol had his sand
Roy Fowler: He didn't hold it against you
Maurice Carter: He didn't know
Roy Fowler: What did it do to the budget.
Maurice Carter I think they had to come and fetch the sand away again, it was only
loaned, the sand as it were
Roy Fowler: The thing that surprises me is that on a picture of that scale the budget could
afford that kind of set requisite, that amount of sand to be delivered
Maurice Carter: In those days sand was cheap and labour was cheap, so it wasn't a major
item by any means
Roy Fowler: Whereas today trucking all that in would be a major problem
Maurice Carter: Would be quite a problem
Roy Fowler: Old Bones,that was the one you shot at Shepperton. Ask A Policeman
another Will Hays, he was very busy, Climbing High that was the Jessie Matthews film
do you have anything to say about Jessie Matthews
Maurice Carter: She was not getting past it but passed her peak as a star
Maurice Carter: Yes one of the little interesting things on it was that there a young
graduate who came in to be in the film industry on the camera side and he was a very
attentive fellow and he always sat himself, nobody quite knew quite who he was, who
this strange fellow was there, and he always sat himself on the front of the dolly to be
absolutely close and see what the camera was seeing. And Jessie was doing one of her
dances, and she danced through the whole routine, she finished up bending into the
camera, a close-up of her. Unfortunately her bra didn't have an the necessary suspension
strength, as the camera came into close up and both her boussies fell out. And this young
man's face was almost pressed in close up on these boussies. So then being xxx whose
this bloke who's sitting down here, and a great inquiry went on. It didn't faze him too
much because he became head of the Technicolor at later, Frank, who was head of
Technicolor processing
And what I didn't mention to you that I think is quite important is our entry into
Technicolor with Jassy, the first Technicolor film
The Roy Fowler: Shell we just run down the list and till we get to Jassy. Bandwagon
1939 which is probably then the transition into wartime. Frozen Limits is a Crazy Gang
film, Charlie's Big-hearted Aunt which was Arthur Askey, Gas Bags, Night Train, The
Ghost Train, Cottage To Let, Kipps, Backroom Boy, The Young Mr Pitt, Dear Octopus
that was produced by Paul Soskin
Maurice Carter: Yes that was my first contact with Paul Soskin, John Bryan and Ferdy
Ballan in one film
Roy Fowler: Important relationships
Maurice Carter: Very important relationships to later films
Roy Fowler: I remember the film at the time, one can't help not know the play which was
archetypal West end three-act comedy drama, Dodi Smith and the film was precisely that
too. The only thing I would say about that film is how middle-class everything was, the
accents, the outlook, the assumption was that Kathleen Harrison was in everyone's
kitchen and Felix Aymler would come in as the vicar
Maurice Carter: Yes, all the convention that were in that
Roy Fowler: It was a very restricted, limited viewpoint on British life, I suppose it began
to change with an Millions Like Us
Maurice Carter: It was obviously affected by the war Beware Of Pity that was Maurice
Elvey, the return of the Maurice Elvey much to Vetch's consternation
Roy Fowler: Was Vetch art director on that and you assisting
Roy Fowler: Do remember it, it was an expensive but rather disappointing film, a very
subtle story
Maurice Carter: Far too subtle
Roy Fowler: Miss London Ltd
Maurice Carter: That was Val Guest musical with Jean Kent.
Roy Fowler: We Dive at Dawn which was Puffin
·7 /J Co ~ ,
For Maurice Carter: We Dive At Dawn we made partly at Denham
Roy Fowler: Did you have to construct a submarine interior for that
The Maurice Carter: We built a submarine which had to be on a tilt so it was built on a
massive beam, so it could tilt, that was absolutely essential because everybody had to
stagger down
And Roy Fowler: Where did you get an all the detail from for such a set
Maurice Carter: We got photographs from the Navy, they gave us photographs which
were censored slightly for certain instruments but pretty much up to date of that period
The Roy Fowler: But it was all mock-up
Maurice Carter: Yes all mock-up. The instruments were real of course, we got the vital
instruments because they had to work, seen to work, so the gauges and that, we did that
by putting air pressure tanks
Roy Fowler was there a lot of tank work, they had a very good tank at Denham didn't
they
Maurice Carter: Yes they had a very good tank
For Roy Fowler: Was that the first time you'd been deeply involved in a tank. You had
done a previous submarine film
Maurice Carter: No, that was the only one
SIDE SIX, TAPE THREE
Roy Fowler: We're into 1943 now and I suppose the studios themselves are fairly used to
this kind of simulation and special effects
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: Was it an interesting film from your point of view
Maurice Carter: It was interesting, interesting, these sorts of films from a technical point
of view, understanding of technical things, of having to learn and get to work on them
Roy Fowler: In terms of verisimilitude it was exact
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: We then corne to The Man In Grey which you took over. And then two
more Val Guest films Bees In Paradise and Give us The Moon .. Then after war service
your 38th credit is Holiday Camp which was Box at Shepherd's Bush. That is almost the
archetypal Box film
Maurice Carter: Very much Bank Holiday, very much a recreation of Bank Holiday
Roy Fowler: The Boxes were very big on this kind of omnibus film, which today would
be a television soap opera
Maurice Carter: Yes they were the forerunners of soap
Roy Fowler: I do remember Peter Hammond was in that who has become a television
director who can't resist shooting through and up and around everything, the weirdest
angles that get in the way of the story. I'm very fond of Inspector Morse and he does
Inspector Morse, and I notice those he does you can't really tell what's going on
And then Jassy which as you say marks the advent of Technicolor at Shepherd's Bush.
Maurice Carter: That was a shock to the whole industry, the invention of colour. Because
it affected everything. It affected the lights, sound, set, constriction, everything
RoyFowler: Denham had been doing colour since 1935
Maurice Carter: Yes, they had some experience in it but of course we had Natalie Kalmus
and Joan Bridges who were the technical advisers over here. And the thing about
Technicolor is, I think it's much improved since that time because at that time there was a
variation, in the thing. For instance if you wanted to present a bishop's, with the gorgeous
purple of a bishop's robe you had to de- accent the blue and accent the red in it, so it
became a reddish purple, it always tended to go back to the blue. And the same for
instance if you wanted to show an orange, it was no good presenting an actual coloured
orange, you had to spray it, paint it into a yellowish green to be produced as an orange
Roy Fowler: So this is what Mrs Kalmus would do
Maurice Carter: Theoretically that is what they were chatting to us. I must say they told
us primarily a lot of things, a lot of the information, a lot of misinformation. But we
managed to get through in the end
Roy Fowler: In turns of the set you could cope with that fairly easily with mixing paints,
but how about wardrobe, how would wardrobe cope with that. Would they dye
Maurice Carter: If they would dye, they had to dye, or find the material
Roy Fowler: Which was the preferred route
Maurice Carter Buy, , because you didn't always know exactly what the fibre was and the
change in fibre from nylon, say to wool was vast, in the colour retention in the process
Roy Fowler: Did it you have to do extensive tests
Maurice Carter: Yes, every costume had to be tested first. You could never be quite sure,
you hadn't got some sort of weave into it, a mixture of weaves that would change the
colour for the camera. But what we were trying to do all the time, the Americans had
been using the process and we were horrified by the rawness of the colour, so we
struggled right through J assy to suppress, to use greys, brown greys in the paintwork to
suppress colour and get it down. But you always had to be terribly aware of this accent
ting of the blue of the process at that time, it showed up. So that was the watch word,
mainly on blue
Roy Fowler: That was the main way of controlling colour was it in terms of art direction
rather than colour processing
Maurice Carter: There was no way through colour process, once the three strip was made
that was printed off as it came, there was no way of suppressing that, or very little I
imagine from what happened
Roy Fowler: The British studios became very expert, remarkable in coping with three
strip process
Maurice Carter: They did indeed, of course, but what they couldn't change was one on
the same strip, changing one colour against another one, they could only change through
the whole range, you could just ask for a print, a warmer print or a colder print and that
was about the whole they could give you
'-r7
Roy Fowler: In terms of production what other problems did it cause other than having to
be very careful of colour values, did it you find you could cheat less on construction.
Because you can get away with a certain amount in black and white
Maurice Carter: That's right. No you had to be pretty careful with your construction,
much more careful than we had been previously
Roy Fowler: So all these things are adding to the cost of the picture, it not just the process
Maurice Carter: Yes, very much so
Roy Fowler: Was Jassy an interesting picture from your point of view.
Maurice Carter: Yes, it was a period picture
Roy Fowler: It was a rotten script
Maurice Carter: It was on the level of Wicked Lady and all the rest, that series of pictures
it was no higher, no lower I guess
Roy Fowler: I think it was getting a bit boring by that time
Maurice Carter: Yes, I think people had rather had the period picture
Roy Fowler: Following that you had the notorious Christopher Columbus, it says here
Lime Grove, Bermuda, did you have a trip to Bermuda
Maurice Carter: No I didn't it was purely the location crew shooting the boats
Roy Fowler: You seem to have lost out on the trips. Then follows an even more infamous
film, The Bad Lord Byron which is one of the great jokes of all times
Maurice Carter: That was extraordinary wasn't it, dear old Dennis Price, he got thrown
into the canal to douse his spirits a little, he was so much after the boys we decided he
needed a little cooling off
Roy Fowler: In Venice, chasing the gondoliers
Roy Fowler: Yes, up the little boys on the X square, it became a little worrying. So he
came to the hotel one night and we were all in the bar getting rather high so he was taken
out on the little balcony outside the bar and pitched into the canal, but a lovely man, he
came back striding up the steps and through the front door all dripping wet and said
where's my drink
Roy Fowler: He could have got a very nasty bug out of that
Maurice Carter: Well it was cleaner in those days you know
Roy Carter: It was still an open sewer I think. Poor old the Katie Hepburn never
recovered from her ducking, she got some affection in the eye and has had it ever since
I didn't realise he was that indiscreet
Maurice Carter: Only that time, it was the only time I saw that
Roy Fowler: Then more Val Guest, Penny Princess, it says in Spain, did you make the
entire picture in Spain
Maurice Carter: Yes, in Barcelona and in the Barcelona Studios
Roy Fowler: He had met his wife by this time
Maurice Carter: Yes she was in that film and we had a rather interesting thing there,
because you know it was the Franco time, immediately after the revolution, or soon after,
within years of the revolution and there were bandits still about. And one night the whole
unit was sitting in this little hotel way up in the mountains and we heard bangs out side.
Presently the owner rushed in and said late down, lay down. There was a battle going on
out side between the Guardia of Seville and the bandits. I never knew the result. They
were driven off eventually after about half an hour. It didn't affect the unit very much.
They very soon got back, just out the way of the windows
Roy Fowler: Mr Drake's Duck in 1948. Snowbound. Good-time Girl. That was the slice
of life, was it not. Then we come to The Astonished Heart. I can't remember who
directed that but I'm sure it wasn't the master.
Maurice Carter: Peter something.
Roy Fowler: I saw that fairly recently, very much of its time is all one can say
Maurice Carter: But the master felt he wasn't being done justice to, he was looking
particularly like an old mandarin during in those days
Roy Fowler: He did, didn't he
Maurice Carter: And I think it destroyed the picture because it was ridiculous, he took
over the whole thing
Roy Fowler: I'm quite right in telling you that they fired Michael Redgrave off it. They
started with Michael Redgrave. It was a story that Sydney Box told me in some depth.
And it was very funny but 40 years later it's difficult to remember it all. But the major
point of the story was telling Michael Redgrave who essentially, Noel looked at the
/' , , I
rushes and he had casting approval and he saw what they had shot for a week or so and
said Sidney you know very well this will not do, there is only one person who can play
this, it is 1. But his terms were then absolutely frightful and they had to go to Arthur Rank
to get permission to pay him. He wanted an extraordinary amount of money to do it
which presumably was the ploy. So it was all finally agreed that he would take over but
in the meantime there are still shooting with Redgrave and came the day when they had
to tell him. And they invited him for a meeting at someone's flat. The bell rang. Sydney
Box and Noel Coward inside, and the bell rang and its Michael Redgrave wearing dark
glasses and Noel says Michael what is the matter. And Redgrave said it's nothing it's just
a sty. And Coward according to the story took the glasses off and said let me look and
put them in his pocket and wouldn't give them back. And later he said to Sydney Box, he
said I wasn't about to let him play that scene in dark glasses
I was talking about this once to Roy Baker and there was something he desperately
wanted to make. And it had for the time what was considered bad language and I think it
was probably in all truth very innocent but he wasn't allowed to do it because of that socalled
bad language, it was a best-selling novel I've forgotten what it was but certainly by
modem standards
Maurice Carter: You have to remember that the censors had at that time was pretty heavy.
You can imagine the thing with poor Maggie with just seeing actual cleavage was too
much for them, they had to have a Rose stuck in. It had to be re-Shot with a rose stuck in
her bosom
Roy Fowler: That's very true up until the Fifties there was that dead hand of censorship
both here and in the States
Maurice Carter: Everybody was terrified. I remember
Roy Fowler: In the States it was mainly sex, because they required reshoots on Wicked
Lady because of cleavage which had been accepted by the BBFC here. Here they had
these peculiar things about class didn't they and any kind of political thing. But
nevertheless I still say there was a virility to American pictures which by and large was
lacking here
Maurice Carter: There is a natural for a virility in Americans anyway, it is they
characteristic as we all well know. The British, let's face it, are a pretty cold fish
Roy Fowler: Not always in the Sixties for example it changed here briefly, for a decade
or so. I'm not making any large sized case out of this because I think it's very
complicated, and not easy to understand but I do think particularly around this time in the
50s
Maurice Carter: It was pretty tight I agree
Roy Fowler: Almost constipated feeling about British films, particularly The Astonished
Heart always strikes me as the epitomy
Maurice Carter: Being Coward, it must be it
Roy Fowler: Noel Coward when it were an was absolutely marvelous it seems to me
Maurice Carter: Cavalcade and that sort thing
Roy Fowler: Cavalcade or Blythe Spirit or The Three Peppers for example, some great
stuff in it. I loved This Happy Breed I think it's a marvellous picture, but it's a load of old
nonsense but he gets away with it
Maurice Carter: He was an amusing character. He was very adept at sitting at the piano to
amuse the electricians on the set and singing the whole of the real Eskimo Nell, which is
quite something
Roy Fowler: Still talking about The Astonished Heart, what are your memories of Noel
Coward
Maurice Carter: He was quite amusing, he used to sit tight the piano and amuse the
electricians singing songs during the camera set-ups. But I got attacked. I made the
typical film technicians mistake of letting my set dresser, it wasn't myself, it was my set
dresser, in a flower arrangement include a peacocks feather there. All hell was let loose,
the whole set had to be abandoned until the feather was officially taken out side and burnt
Roy Fowler: Is there some kind of superstition attached to that
Maurice Carter: Yes a great superstition, never have a peacock's feather on, it is the same
sort of thing as the whistling, you mustn't whistle
Roy Fowler: And the Scottish play. I've never heard of the peacock's feather before
Maurice Carter: Oh disaster
Roy Fowler: So the master got carried away did he. Was he very grand or was he very
approachable
Maurice Carter: He varied terrifically from hobnobbing with the electricians and singing
bawdy songs around the piano to being extremely lofty and the master. And if anybody
failed to called him the master he was extremely upset, yes he was pretty pompous come
to think of it
Roy Fowler: And he was still very young, he was then just 48, 49 younger than we are
now. Anyway it must have been quite interesting to have worked with him
8l
Maurice Carter: Yes, but of course I had Gladys Calthrop to his designer to deal with
you see and she had to approve my designs, the set dressings, and it was Gladys who first
noticed the feather, the fatal feather
Roy Fowler: And told him
Maurice Carter yes, and of course from then on I was damned
Roy Fowler: Was she part of the kind of sycophantic entourage
Maurice Carter: Very much so
Roy Fowler: Did she have any talent
Maurice Carter: Oh yes,
If Fowler: Because she worked only because of him
Maurice Carter: No doubt about it, Gladys with knowledge of the stage, no knowledge of
films, when push came to shove she couldn't art director because she hadn't got a ticket
but she laid no heavy hand on me at all, it was just saying, suggesting things, very light
handed, very nice
Roy Fowler: But he did have his band of courtiers didn't he, not just dear Graham, but
there was Joyce Carey always turned up
Maurice Carter: Well Graham was the great sucker up
Roy Fowler: The maitress en titre. Well he was patient and got it all
Followed by White Corridors
Maurice Carter: White Corridors was very interesting, Pat Jackson directing, it was
immediately after he'd made The Gun, an extraordinary successful money-making picture
that was, it was Pennington Richards was the lighting cameraman. It was the first film I'd
ever had in which we got together and wrote the script between us, we sat on the curb
together with the writer and Pennington Richards, myself and Pat Jackson, we used to sit
in a shelter outside in the Chelsea pub on the curb and get the scripts together ourselves
and say what it was like. And they could tell me XX X but could we built a lift , a
practical lift, and I would say yes, we can build it, why not. Let's have one of those open
grill lifts - so you can shoot through, and that sort of discussion would go on. The whole
film was made in that way exactly, and Pat would say well get the lighting in the corridor
like this, and like that, what we could do to make the ward interesting is so and so and so
and so. One of the most interesting films in my life to make.
Roy Fowler: Studio bound
Maurice Carter: Yes the only exterior was shooting the exterior of the hospital was
shooting on Ealing Library
Roy Fowler: Pat Jackson who never really achieved his promise
Maurice Carter: No, he made The Gun and Western Approaches which earned him his
distinction
Roy Fowler: We were talking earlier about people who had written their life's stories and
hadn't found a publisher, he is yet another. White Corridor was followed by Trio which
we've talking about and then Encore which we didn't mention but essentially is the same
tradition
Maurice Carter: Essentially the same format, shooting, partly in the south of France and
partly in
Roy Fowler: And then comes the Berlin picture whose title you couldn't remember and
that is Desperate Moments. And then Quartet and I Believe In You and you'd moved to
Ealing for this
Maurice Carter Yes I did
Roy Fowler: As a freelance
Maurice Carter: Yes, Michael Relph and Basil Dearden directing. and the distinction of
the picture is Joan Collins, I think it was her second picture and she had just married
Maxwell Reed and was terrified of him. Also he wasmistreating her sexually and at the
same time everybody had this sexual thing about her. Michael Relph was absolutely mad
to get that this girl. In fact he batted down her dressing room to get in, it was real rough
stuff
Roy Fowler. At Ealing Studio of all places
Maurice Carter: At Ealing Studios of all places, with Michael Baleon around. And she
used to come and sit at my table and say can I sit at your table, otherwise he'll come and
sit with me and I can't stand it at lunchtime, I'll be sick
Roy Fowler: She was having a rough time of it
Maurice Carter: She was terrified. It went on and on
Roy Fowler: That must have affected her performance
Maurice Carter: It didn't help. But she did pretty well I think
C' '2
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Roy Fowler: I'm afraid actresses and indeed actors sometimes do hit the rough of it
Maurice Carter: I'm afraid it was me, I was responsible for getting her cast in the part. I
was in Pinewood and she was with Reed, Maxwell Reed, in the restaurant and I thought
gosh that's a super looking girl. They were trying to cast a girl for the part so I saw Basil
in the bar and said I've just seen a super looking girl, have you thought about her for the
part she might be something, he said where is she. I said she is up there on the top table,
that is how she got cast the part. That really got her on the way, the first really minor
major picture she ever did
Fowler: Maxwell Reed is a forgotten name, was he a shit
Maurice Carter: Yes, utter, he used to give her the golden xxx treatment, absolutely
disgusting, but has you know she divorced him very quickly, wisely
Roy Fowler: Strange title for the film wasn't it I believe in you. A Day to Remember
maybe makes more sense, that says France
Maurice Carter: Yes that was Betty Box's picture in France and it was largely shot first
of all on the cross-Channel steamer, The story is an outing of darts club to Boulogne and
it was shot mainly on the boat and then in Boulogne itself
Roy Fowler: All location, are they getting more venturesome now, getting out of the
studio
Maurice Carter: Yes it was one of the first pictures almost entirely on, I think it was
entirely on location, almost entirely any way. I think there is a little cafe scene back in
England, not much more
Roy Fowler: How about recording sound, did they record direct sound to use
Maurice Carter: Yes, they were getting braver the sound boys by that time
Taffy Haines Levers Rich, portable.
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: Pinewood behind everyone else, very slow into magnetic
Taffy Hanes: Yes, very slow, it was Levers Rich for ages when the Nagra was just
coming in.
Roy Fowler: Was the Levers Rich sprocketed tape
Taffy Hanes: Quarter inch tape and it was two big boxes run from a 12 volt battery
because I remember CC Stevens going out to do a Basil Dearden picture, with a Nagra
for a back up and using the Levers Rich. They'd in have any trust in thne agra, a lot of
sound people didn't have trust in using them
Roy Fowler: Because they were so small
Taffy Haines: Because they were so small
Maurice Carter: And foreign
Roy Fowler: The Seekers, you went to New Zealand on that
Maurice Carter: Yes. That was George Brown. And a girl called Lea Rxxx was the star.
We got on very well Frank Green was the production manger. And he and I went out to
do a reccie there. George Brown had been out there, as the producer and had flown
around New Zealand in an aircraft, because it was very heavy rains, most of the places
was flooded so he had, wisely I suppose, taken up an aircraft to look at many of the sites
and there was one important beach he wanted to use, it was located for us on the map, so
we had a map with a star on it.
Frank and I got there, we were there over Christmas and on Christmas Day we went
looking for this, all the Maoris were cooking their little meals in pebbled trenches and
when we got there we found this beach was below a very steep valley, declivity and was
entirely filled with Thorn bush and after nearly tearing our clothes off we gave up the
whole project and came back and got our Maori friends with machetes to come with us
and cut a track through.
And we cut a track right down, just enough for us to get to down to this, over this almost
precipice cliff. When we got to the beach there was a wonderful xxx tree all in flower, a
great blaze of red, and a little white tent underneath and there was a little man sitting
inside. He was a hermit. And he was terribly upset when we appeared on this beach.
Because he didn't come overland to reach it. He used to swim across a minor a, climb
over some rocks, swim the other side and reach it and was entirely cut off from the world.
He only when in once a week to XXX to get some stores. So we had to tell the poor
fellow that we going to cut a road. So we sent a wire to George. Beach completely
approachable, T tree Forest between us and it . The reply telegram was, obtain Boy
Scouts immediately. So we got hold of a bulldozer and cut a road down to it. Desecration
really. We had to grade this road all the way down, it must have been half a mile long, a
mile long probably and cut it right down so we could get all the unit down.
Roy Fowler: Probably a tourist trap now
Maurice Carter: The interesting thing about the story was that the little hermit in the tent,
they gave him a job in the canteen, of course we had to bring all the services down to
this beach, and gave him a job in the canteen. And he finished up at the end of the picture
we went to his wedding with one of the girls who was serving in the canteen, he was a
happily married man, no more hermit. The film studio fixed that
Roy Fowler: There couldn't have been many films shot in New Zealand around that time
Maurice Carter: There was a little native industry but it was down, right down south, in
the Wellington Studios. We were making mainly round about this area, the Maori area of
X X X and, naturally because it was a story about an the Maoris and the first settlers.
I had to double for Jack Hawkins. They wanted to see him with the legendary Maori girl,
which was a boy dressed up and, because this site they wanted us to get to was again
down through a great valley, with a stream running at the bottom the other side. So they
dressed me in the Jack's clothes, gave me gave me his long barreled gun. And the Maori
boy was dressed up in the girl's feathered skirt, reed skirt, etc. And we set off to get the
shot. The camera crew was set on this side waiting for us, they thought it was just a
warp down and up again. Well it was about half and a half but it was again the through all
this Thorn bush and when we got to the bottom the Maori boy had taken the rifle from me
because I was stumbling along, my clothes were practically in tatters by this time, the
stockings I had on were just an shreds of wool trailing behind and me and he dropped the
rifle in the stream. So he had to dive in for that. By the time we got to the position that we
were needed on, the unit had moved off and left us. They didn't need the shot any more.
Roy Fowler: Was it a successful film, I've never seen that I'm sure
Maurice Carter: Average for that period and
Roy Fowler To Paris With Love
Maurice Carter: That was a nice, pretty picture. That was with Robert Hamer. And I had
to be his keeper on that and we got him to the set on time. It was produced by Tony
Darnborough. Of course Bobby was always on the drink but pretty picture
Roy Fowler and: Did it affect his work, he drank during the picture
Maurice Carter: He drank from breakfast-time onwards. He always had a large gin in his
bath, of course the problem was trying to keep him off with all the cafes around and drink
available, so I had to go and sit and with him and watch him and keep him, you couldn't
say don't have a drink Bobby, all you could do was sit with him and try and talk to him
and distract him and amuse him and get him back and to the set when I got a little signal.
But eventually he got terribly drunk and Tony saved him. He got so drunk one day, he
kept on drinking these drinks and glasses were left as you know in France in front of you
and he always eventually passed out solid, so he fell forward and poor Darnborough had
to take an all the broken glass on his arm
;.
Roy Fowler: Tragedy because he had an enormous talent
Maurice Carter: Wonderful, he was a wonderful talented man, lovely man too, gorgeous
man in his sober moments
Roy Fowler: And I suppose alcohol was the great menace then, I suppose I nowadays it
would be drugs and but then it was alcohol and there were quite a few who were
alcoholics
Maurice Carter: I think alcoholism has always been overt, not like drugs so covert which
we've all experienced with producers and directors since, and performers
Roy Fowler: It is very sad to hear all that about Hamer
Maurice Carter: Odile Versois was the girl in a the picture, pretty little girl
Roy Fowler: 1954, Above Us The Waves
Maurice Carter: That was my second submarine picture
Roy Fowler: A Woman For Joe
Maurice Carter: That was a disaster, I cannot remember now who produced it but we had
a French cameraman on it and it was the story of a fat woman and a circus midget, a
rather frightening horrible story of the romance between this midget and this fat woman.
I had to build a circus tent and this particular cameraman wanted to light it from out side,
to get the glow of out side light, the sort of the diminished light of an interior, diffused
light of a circus tent. So I had to build it all of gauze, to get him the strength of light to
photograph inside. Very very difficult because gauze doesn't behave like canvas and we
had terrible troubles starching the gauze to get the crispness to form the shape of a tent
properly. Very difficult to things, highly technical and very difficult things to build tents
Roy Fowler: He was ahead of his time because nowadays it's like every shot you see,
shooting against the light from out side. All For Mary
Maurice Carter: All For Mary was by Wendy Toye, very simple, sweet story, we shot it
in Switzerland. It had all the problems of snow. Every shot you do you have to move
again because you can see the traces of the last shot in the snow. So if you wanted virgin
snow, some body approaching there was no rehearsal or else you had to move on. It was
the time the guys were climbing the Iger. We were living in the hotel at the foot of the
Iger mountain and we used to operate and from there. And Paul Soskin, Paul who was
producing used to sit on the terrace with his drink and his family and watch us through
his binoculars. And he would send messages up via the ski-lift saying what are you doing
now, I've seen you sitting down for 10 minutes. When do we get the next shot. Chasing
us up constantly
Roy Fowler: These were all freelance pictures, independent productions, you touched on
that but didn't go into it in detail, you said quite suddenly they wouldn't renew
Maurice Carter: I think they were still through, making some Rank pictures through
Roy Fowler: So this was Rank finance,
And Maurice Carter: I think it was Rank finance, supervised by Earl St John from
Pinewood but otherwise it was a semi independent production
Roy Carter: Has that moment arrived yet when they said that's it, we're not renewing
your contract
Maurice Carter: Yes, I think so
Roy Fowler: When was that
Maurice Carter: I think it was shortly, it was after the Doctor pictures, the last Doctor
picture, it must have been later, I must have been still on contract then
Roy Fowler: We've got then Doctor at Large, what would have been the last Doctor
picture
Maurice Carter Doctor In The House, or it may have been Doctor In Love, yes Doctor in
Love
Roy Fowler: That was 1960 and that was when they more or less closed down
production.
Maurice Carter: I think so, we'll come to that in sequence.
Roy Fowler: The next film is The Spanish Gardener
Copyright is vested on the BECTU History Project
10 January 1991
Maurice Carter
SIDE 7, TAPE 4
Roy Fowler: The Spanish Gardner, your recollections of this
Maurice Carter: The Spanish Gardner, I went back to working with John Bryan. John
Bryan was the designer, and myself as art director and it was obviously located in Spain
with the sets built at Pinewood. We shot it on an estate of a millionaire just north of
Barcelona, very interesting house and John designed the set really almost exactly as the
house, as the interior of the house was. And we had one or two struggles with it because
we had to build an old mill on a river, and of course as usual with film crews that
particular part of the season turned out to be the wettest Spain had ever heard of, and we
were trying to build this mill and the only way we could get the materials to the site was
by mule. But we had marvellous Spanish technicians. I think as everybody knows the
plasterers and people in Spain are absolutely above reproach. In spite of all these
difficulties they built this wonderful mill and dressed it
Roy Fowler: Where they motion picture craftsmen or did you have to train them
Maurice Carter: No, they were from the Madrid Studios
Roy Fowler: So even in those days they had that kind of expertise
Maurice Carter: Yes, very much so.
Roy Fowler: Actually he this is the time of Bronson and co
Maurice Carter: That's right and. There were a lot of films being made in Spain at that
time.
Roy Fowler: Very big budget pictures
Maurice Carter: Yes, much bigger than ours
Roy Fowler: 55 Days and Fall of the Roman Empire. It might be interesting to ask you
here, given two people of considerable talent, because you've paid great compliment to
John Bryan and also yourself, how did the art director relate to the production designer,
was that ever a complication in terms of talents and personalities
Maurice Carter: Yes, it shouldn't have been a great, really what happened was this
inversion, re selection of titles by the art department. It occurred when the Guild of Film
Art Directors, and John Bryan and many others thought that there should be a division
between design and actual construction, the art director was responsible for construction.
And that was really the separation in fact, the designer did exactly just that, the design of
the set. And the art director put it to be an accomplished fact. It was really the relationship
that had been before between the art director and the assistant art director. There was no
change really. I think it started in the States this idea. And then John Bryan and several of
the others who were leading in the Guild of Film Art Directors established it as practice
Roy Fowler: It started in the States of course because each major studio had its
departmental head, such as Cedric Gibbons, that didn't really apply here did it
Maurice Carter: Not really, no, because they did rarely more than one picture at once as
you know, several pictures. No, it was applying that title to a different circumstance in
fact. But it worked pretty well, but as I say really it should have still remained as art
director, it was purely a new complication in order to be able to get the assistant the
money that formerly the art director had got. And the designer was then able to stand
above him with more money. I think little more than that.
And Roy Fowler: Was that inhibiting for you as a fully fledged production designer to use
that phrase, to have to follow someone else's
Maurice Carter: Not with John because I had so much regard for him and his design, I
think everybody did, everybody knew that he was probably the best designer in England
at that time, without doubt. So it worked pretty well
Roy Fowler: As a side question to all that, did you ever encounter charlatans, designers
who had the gift of the gab but not much else
Maurice Carter: Not until later, I think it became much abused later on, that relationship,
much abused
Roy Fowler: But Bryan as an example would have some input and authority. And he
wouldn't just give you a few off the cuff sketches and say get on with it. He really was
supervising
Maurice Carter: Yes, he would go, he wouldn't go much further than the sketch, he
would consider that an instruction, beyond that apart from checking on textures and that
sort of thing, he came obviously and looked at the built set and if he saw something that
displeased him in the building he would want a change, but in general he chose his
partners because, I knew him so well by then that I could interpret exactly what he
wanted, especially as far as texture and colour
Roy Fowler: Would he be working on several pictures
Maurice Carter: No purely one picture
Roy Fowler: I'm trying to find out how present or how remote he was to the actual shoot
And Maurice Carter: He was very close, he would be with the director considerably. I
think also adding to the directors ideas on set ups
Roy Fowler: And he was on location in terms of dressing the set
And Maurice Carter: Yes, and of course he would control costume. That was another
factor that came into it, the designer then had say so on costume as part of his design and
also largely on, also reckoned they should be certainly at least in charge of master shots
on the production, master set-ups
Roy Fowler: Anything particular about that film, problems that needed to be solved
Maurice Carter: We had no great problems, as I say the greatest problem was weather and
rather mucking up the gentleman's garden which we were using
Roy Fowler: I imagine you restored it even better
Maurice Carter: Yes, for instance the sound van tried to drive down one of the garden
paths past which was built up with stone walling and the whole thing collapsed, it was
that kind minor tragedy
Roy Fowler: It's always the sound people
Maurice Carter: I wouldn't say that, sometimes, usually it's the spark's for my money, they
used to drive their lorries across the lawn
Roy Fowler: Was the director Philip Leacock
Maurice Carter: Yes, just before he went to Spain, sorry to the States, he defected but he
was a very fine director, very sensitive man, lovely man
Roy Fowler: Curious story as I remember, almost border line in terms of sexuality
Maurice Carter: Yes it was
Roy Fowler: I think there was a kind of naivety then or maybe it was something to do
with Dirk Bogarde's personality, but I remember Roy Baker talking about a film he made
which he swears was a love story between the bandit and the priest, I've forgotten title of
it, but I think there must have been kind of innocence
Maurice Carter: Well Dirk holds that kind of atmosphere around him
Roy Fowler: But a curious choice of subjects for the Rank Organisation in both instances
it seems to me
Maurice Carter: Very strange, but then the Rank Organisation was a very strange set-up
anyway, exactly who chose subjects and how they came about was almost unknown to
me. They had a huge library of subjects of course and I think the general thing was that
the director and producer went into the library and selected subjects, already bought
subjects.
Roy Fowler: And then up they had to get board approval
Maurice Carter Yes, I imagine some body went into this and said we must use Dirk, going
to be Dirk picture, go and choose subject, and some body thought this is very applicable
to Dirk's character, I imagine how it was chosen, don~ know, but I imagine that's how it
was chosen., Phil would certainly be very sensitive to Dirk
Roy Fowler: And a child performer too
Maurice Carter: You know he had made number of pictures with children before
Roy Fowler: It sounds a happy picture
Maurice Carter: Yes, very apart from the weather and we're always trying to struggle with
that
Roy Fowler: Then we're back to do Doctor At Large. Was it that your first Doctor film
Maurice Carter: No, the last one actually, I'd done two or three, but Doctor At Large
certainly wasn't the first. I think it was mostly shot around, as close to the studio as
possible. Of course we used the hospital again that we had used on every other set for the
hospital base
Roy Fowler: What did they do in the cases like that, where elements of the set preserved
or did you just work from the same designs.
Maurice Carter: No, in general there were completely new settings anyway, new
construction, the script itself dealt with more or less domestic situations as opposed to
before being mainly in the hospital, this was only as an introduction in the hospital and
the rest of the film took place in sets which we built in the studio, almost entirely a studio
picture as far as I remember
Roy Fowler: In your experience has it been much of a practice in this country to have
standing sets either on the stages or certainly on the back lot, some have stayed for a
while haven't they
Maurice Carter: No, very seldom up, only on the back lot, as far as up studio sets, never
never left standing as in the States because here space was at a premium, and if there was
going to be any repetition of the set it was simply struck and put in the stock bay.
Pinewood had an excellent stock bay, there is no doubt about that, an enormous stock of
pieces and it made the building of sets very economical
Roy Fowler: Was that an aspect of your design, work that you would deliberately seek to
use stock items or design items that could become stock items
Maurice Carter: We never considered whether they would become, because stock was
really in a way written off once a picture was finished, it was no attribute to the picture, it
only became the property of the studio and any reward coming from having any stock
pieces certainly didn't accrue to the production itself. One had to look in the bay before
you designed a set really to see what stock was there, particularly when it you were
budgeting, it was a good idea to have a good search around and formulate your ideas
around the stock which was available
Roy Fowler: So you might find a staircase for example or door opening
Maurice Carter: So you would budget your set with that at the back of your mind, that you
could probably use it
Roy Fowler: While we're talking about these general items what was your favourite set
that absolutely broke your heart to see torn down
Maurice Carter: I think probably the Canterbury Cathedral in Becket which was a pretty
interesting set
Roy Fowler: Large was your last Doctor film
Maurice Carter: Certainly it was the last one I did. There may have been one up after
myself because we sort of did alternate Doctor pictures.
Roy Fowler: Have we talked about Betty Box
Maurice Carter: I don't think we'd did talk about her much but I regard her as a very
excellent producer. She is always a very good tempered producer and very knowledgeable
in casting artists, the fact that she found Bardot virtually, gives you a good idea of her
insight into picking out likely artists. Of course, she was basically an accountant
originally with her brother's set up, so had a very great touch with finance also. So I think
she was an excellent producer, and very calm as I say, and allowed people to get on with
their jobs, no she was an excellent producer
Roy Fowler: Along with her husband Peter Rodgers, did they work as a team or were they
entirely separate
Maurice Carter: Entirely separate. I mean her close partner was Ralph Thomas, I mean
they were very close
Roy Fowler: What is to be said about Betty Box and Ralph Thomas, I don't want to put
words into your mouth but they were a very efficient, commercial, efficient, taut little
team
Maurice Carter: I think that exactly describes them, certainly commercial. I think they
also had good artistic intentions
Roy Fowler: But they're very much bread and butter pictures, it was still the age of bread
and butter pictures
Maurice Carter: Of course
Roy Fowler: Anything to add about Betty Box and Ralph Thomas
Maurice Carter: As you know from the list I did quite a number of pictures with them, I
suppose as many pictures as I did with any producer, so we were quite a good team I
think
Roy Fowler: Congenial working partners
Maurice Carter: Very
Roy Fowler: Well that's more than half the game.
Maurice Carter: Very, they trusted me and it was fine, didn't interfere unduly
Roy Fowler: Tight budget spend
Maurice Carter: Very tight of course, but not extremely tight, many other producers at
that period were working on equally tight budgets. But of course our biggest problem was
the Rank set-up which round about this time, I believe I'm speaking in time, but they were
Rank productions and they were building up this enormous staff of accountants and
overseers and we were infested with the these daily meetings which detracted very much
from the picture and gave us the feeling we were working for a government department
rather than making a film
'j '1. ('+
Roy Fowler: And it's all part of the overheads too
Maurice Carter: Exactly, it was all added on to the film
Roy Fowler: Pinewood had really in those days the reputation for being a very expensive
studio to work in
Maurice Carter: Only because of this enormous, daily budget returns, daily returns to
South Street, enormous background staff in the office block, I mean there were 34 in the
accounts department alone which was a considerable staff if there was only one picture to
bear, usually there was at least one other picture which made it easier, but if one picture
was there then it was bearing all that costs, especially if it was an independent producer,
as later on it was independent producers, not Rank themselves bearing it
Roy Fowler: Do you know what the mark up was for overheads
Maurice Carter: No, no I don't
Roy Fowler: Could we talk actual figures for a film like Doctor at Large in the middle
Fifties
Maurice Carter: Overall budget, I wouldn't know. Set budgets were going at about, I
suppose something like £35,000, in that area
Roy Fowler: Was that based on estimating the script or was that a budget figure that had
to be adhered to
Maurice Carter: How it was done once Rank Productions took it over, they had a little
accountant who was declared to be the specialist in sets budgets and how he formulated
his budget was to look at our all our past costs for sets, he would search a set of a similar
size in an earlier and picture and say that cost £7800, so this one I'll add a bit on for the
extra cost of labour and that is how he arrived at it. He had no idea what I was going to
design for the set
Roy Fowler: It's nice to know it was scientifically based
Maurice Carter: How he could hope to know what I was going to do with the design, or
what the director was going to say to me, the question of floaters and his request for
action and props, I don't know
Roy Fowler: So once he'd plucked his figure out of history were you stuck with it
Maurice Carter: I was stuck with it, I could argue before he finally formulated the budget
but I had little hope of actually shifting the position seriously
Roy Fowler: Compared to other studios how did they work
Maurice Carter If you worked on an independent production, the budget for the sets it
would come from me, arguing it out with the producer, I mean if he says this is
ridiculous, you're nowhere near the budget with sets like that. Every production had a
formulated idea what sets should cost for it, rather based similar to the Pinewood idea,
that a similar production had cost X, Y plus. But that had more sense because at least it
came from me and I had some idea of what I was going to design for the picture and some
idea of what the real cost was. But how it worked being at Rank anyway, the only way
you could salve the situation was to cheat by urging him to put more on one set and then
knowing you could save on other sets and finally you could get the all important set up to
the standard that the picture required, it was quite absurd
Roy Fowler: Did anyone else use that, say MGM or ABPC
And Maurice Carter: I don't think so but I didn't have any direct experience
Roy Fowler: We come now to Campbell's Kingdom in 1957
Maurice Carter: Again, a Betty Box picture, shot mainly in the Italy at Cortina xxx. It was
standing in for Canada of course. The whole setting of the picture was in Canada and
concerned the construction of a huge dam and the Cortina site became apt because Betty
had been out and made a reccie and found a huge dam some 50 miles, 40 miles from
Cortina and we needed snow scenes and lake scenes and a big river scene, and so the
combined situation was obviously very suitable to simulate Canada.
I had an enormous problem there because I set up the picture in England, the sets. Then I
had to go off on my own to Cortina to build a ridiculous thing which was demanded by
the book, it was a vernicular which carried a lorry, you can imagine the construction
required to carry a lorry. It was a comparatively short stretch obviously but it still had to
be built, constructed. And the only construction materials we had of course was trees and
timber, obviously at that time it couldn't be built with metal. So I went out there and of
course the time I went out there was mid winter with heavy snow and they were due to
follow out in the spring. And I was nearly frozen to death out there building this blasted
thing. I had local labour, not film labour, it had to be local people building the thing. They
had no knowledge of vernicular building, and also they were cheating like mad. I would
say I will be out at such and such a spot at 10 o'clock, will you bring all the work people
out there. I would simply sit in the snow and nobody would turn up and I would be 15,20
miles away from Cortina. So it was a very, very hard picture for me. And eventually, the
great joke was that when the unit turned up, it was no joke actually, but of course the
snows had all disappeared by the time they all came in the lovely spring sunshine. So I
had then the problem of having built in the snow a whole Western town, a kind of
Canadian village, I had to bring the snow down in lorries from 1000, to 2000 ft up and
dump it and try and make it looked like the slush and muck on the rooves of the set which
constantly, of course every day the sun was so warm it melted all the time
Roy Fowler: Was it unseasonable weather or just bad scheduling
Maurice Carter: Bad scheduling of course. They didn't want to be stuck in the heavy
snow, very difficult to operate so I think they tried to have their cake and eat it
And Roy Fowler: That sounds a higher budget than usual for a Betty Box picture
And Maurice Carter: Yes, fractionally higher
Roy Fowler: Only fractionally
Maurice Carter: Yes, because there were less sets in the studio, the rest of it, the bulk of,
it became in fact a location picture. That was why I was able to leave the picture in
London with the sets already built and move to Canada, and move to Cortina to build
Canada
Roy Fowler: This is a very much the time of exteriors on location and the interior sets in
the studio
Maurice Carter: Yes, I think so. Well at that time it was extremely difficult to shoot with
the gear we had, to shoot interiors of course. The lamps and the advanced gear wasn't
there, which is so easy today. I suppose it was a reasonably successful picture
Roy Fowler: Violent Playground in 1957
Maurice Carter: That was with Michael Ralph and Basil Dearden and set in Liverpool
obviously from the title and that was shot mainly on location and in Liverpool
Roy Fowler: Including the interiors you mean
Maurice Carter: No, we built some interiors, there was a school room in it which we built,
back in London
Roy Fowler: Had you worked with them before
Maurice Carter: Yes, yes I had worked on a picture called I Believe In You at Ealing with
Joan Collins, and we talked about it. I found it a very dull film
Roy Fowler: Penny Princess, was that Val Guest
Maurice Carter: Yes, Val Guest and Yolande Donlan taking the lead and shot mainly in
Spain, mainly a place about 60 miles outside Barcelona, up in the mountains and I think
I've said somewhere else we were in the midst of the Franco revolt, the partisans were
attacking, Franco was already in power of course and the partisans were attacking
Franco's guarda. And we were up in this mountain hotel one night, and we were all sitting
in the restaurant of this hotel, and suddenly there were bangs, outside shots, and they
rushed in and said take cover, the guarda are fighting the partisans. We obviously took
care to sit behind the walls and not in front of the windows and just continued with our
little old banquet
Roy Fowler: The guarda of Seville were some rather hairy customers weren't they
Maurice Carter: Yes they were. It was quite a ridiculous sort of story about villagers
fighting by throwing cheeses at each other, those round gouda cheeses, I mean absolutely
fantastic story, it was quite pleasant, it had some rather good music by Val
Roy Fowler: We've talked about Val as a writer, have we talked about him as a director
Maurice Carter: No, he was the very efficient director, there is no question about that - it
was purely, he never seemed to choose really good subject matter but he was a very
talented man. He wrote the music for Penny Princess which was a musical and it was
extremely good and it became quite popular, recordings of it. So he was a man of no
mean talent, writer, director, musician
Roy Fowler: What did he do best do you think
And Maurice Carter: I think he was better as a writer overall
Roy Fowler: As a gag man
Maurice Carter: Yes, that is what he had been trained for.
Roy Fowler: Followed by Square Peg
Maurice Carter: Yes, that was a Paul Soskin production. Who is the little man who
always falls about, a Norman Wisdom picture, the usual comedy
Roy Fowler: It is rather sad to think of Paul Soskin making Norman Wisdom pictures
Maurice Carter: That is what he mainly did while he was at Pinewood
And Roy Fowler: Earlier he had pretensions
Maurice Carter: That is what he mainly did while he was at Pinewood. I made quite a
number with him, as we mentioned earlier, All For Mary and the Norman Wisdom
comedies. He was very amusing, Paul because he used to act out in front of me as he saw
the scene and with his mid European accent it was very funny to see him playing the part
Wisdom would play, I thought much funnier than Wisdom actually
Roy Fowler: Did he direct
Maurice Carter: No, just produce. He used to sit at a distance with a telescope, was his
favourite thing, to keep a close eye on us
Roy Fowler: The Wind Cannot Read took you to India by the look of it
Maurice Carter: Again a Betty Box's picture. Set in India, and the story is basically the
love affair of a young army lieutenant with the young Japanese girl in India during
wartime. I think we built some rather nice sets for that, it was a very interesting
production. We were in India which is marvellous in itself, a marvellous place to shoot,
had the usual marvellous adventures there.
We built a little Japanese camp and we had to put a night watchman there to look after it
and in the morning they came to see how he was getting on and the poor chap had had the
fright of his life, had left because two tigers had been cloying their way into his little
Bxxx hut. I must say when I was there I saw a black leopard which was quite a
extraordinary, a huge beast, it was set in a sort of little quarry with these huge trees
growing out of it, well a big quarry. And I saw this leopard coming along on the top so it
was obviously a pretty hairy place to be at night. I wouldn't care to stop there in a little
tent
Roy Fowler: Was there a lot of construction on the film
Maurice Carter: Yes, we built all the studios sets back at Pinewood
Roy Fowler: I was wondering about shooting on location in India
Maurice Carter: No, India we built an army camp out on the desert and the unit in their
usual nice callous way took me out in the car, I was putting up tents and dressing this
thing out in desert and they dropped me there at 8 a clock in the morning and said look
we have to take the car back but we'll pick you up at lunch time. And I thought ah ha.
And wasn't careful enough, being out in the desert, one needed water. There was no water
at all. They of course didn't come back at lunch, they didn't come back till late evening.
By mid afternoon of course I was absolutely dry as a bone and eventually I made the
foreman understand I was passing out with thirst and he got a little chap and there was a
village right on the horizon, right away, just a few signs of palm trees, and he got a little
fellow to go and get me some water from this village. And this little chap, I saw him
running into infinity and then come running back half an hour later holding a little brass
bowl. And of course I was so eager to get at this water that like a fool I let my lips touch
the edge of the bowl, so this poor little man, I'm sure he had to go through all this hell of
having the bowl reclensed
Roy Fowler: Because infidel
Maurice Carter: Because an infidel had drunk from it. But it was a very nice picture to do,
very interesting. I enjoyed it
Roy Fowler: Working in India, we all know there is an enormous Indian film industry, did
you have any contact with that
Maurice Carter: Yes, I had a couple of assistants, art directors, drawn from the studio,
they came up from Bombay and several carpenters and technicians came up too. And we
had an Indian production manager
Roy Fowler: Did they impress you with their capabilities
Maurice Carter: Yes, I thought they were very competent. The trouble was of course the
usual thing in India, the awful cheating. For instance, we had been buying paint and I
thought these bills are very stiff. So I said where do you get this paint from. And
eventually I found out detective work that it came from the Shining Hour Paint Store. So I
thought I'll go and see what this is all about. So I went down there and I said to them
these prices are ridiculous, to the Indian in charge of the store. He said don't blame me, I
have to put on another hundred percent for your people
Roy Fowler: What's called improving the shining hour
Maurice Carter: So I got a bit tough on prices. I had a lot of trouble too, we had to build a
street and at the end of it was a Muslim temple. And we found such a place just close to
Delhi. And I had to find a place to build it any carpenter's tent and all the rest of it. I
found a field nearby with a stone wall around it and that and we got in touch with the
Muslim priest and all the people there. And we rented this field at a very high rate but we
didn't grumble about that, having got it so near to the site we were working on. And
eventually as we were finished work there, the police came to the hotel and I and the
Indian production manager were charged with desecrating a Muslim burial place. They
were claiming 24 rupees and we were on charge, I was officially not allowed to leave
India. As I had to go back to the studio, they were depending on me getting the sets ready
in the studio at Pinewood, I had to be smuggled out of India
Roy Fowler: How did they do that
Maurice Carter: They just didn't inform any body and I crept away and away we went
Roy Fowler: Was it a justified claim or was it just the police way of sharing the wealth.
Maurice Carter: No, it was the Muslims, it was the usual thing in India, it was the
bakchis, good bribe, I think that is how it was fixed in the end
Roy Fowler: How about the materials, not just being charged exhorbitant prices, did they
disappear all the time
Maurice Carter: No there was not a lot of stealing, as far as I ever saw, it's just that timber
is very hard to come by in India and it's the worst sort of timber you could possibly find
Taffy Haines: Talking about that, I remember a buyer, just before the war I knew a buyer
and he did a location picture going to Egypt, and the whole unit went on a boat. How did
you boys travel around in the 50s. Aeroplane, prop aeroplane, there weren't any jets
Maurice Carter: Prop aeroplanes of course
Taffy Haines: How long did it take you to go to India
Maurice Carter: I think it only took one day to the best of my memory or did we have a
break in Rome
Taffy Haines: A very long day
Roy Fowler: I think longer than a day Maurice in all probability. We're in 1958, jets were
just about to arrive, planes were doing about 500 mph an hour
Maurice Carter: Probably a whole day and half or something like that, so you arrived in
Baghdad about midnight and took off at 4 in the morning
Roy Fowler: The flight crews would change and they would refuel and new food
Maurice Carter: But of course that was a minimum, flying earlier when I went to
Australia, New Zealand, that was five days nearly, four and-a-half days, continuous flying
Roy Fowler: And previously before the advent of general air travel had you had to go on
any distant location by boat
Maurice Carter: No, it was always aeroplane
Roy Fowler: Because there was a Gainsborough film of the Thirties when they all went
off to Egypt, The Camels Are Corning
Maurice Carter: Very unusual for Gainsborough
Roy Fowler: Absolutely yes there is a photograph I've seen of them all boarding the train
at I suppose Waterloo to take them to their ship. As an experience India, working in India
was to your liking, it is an extraordinary country
Maurice Carter: It's not the best place in the world as far as your comfort is concerned but
it is so interesting
/01
Roy Fowler: Well drinking that water was a bit of a risk anyway
Maurice Carter: Yes, and of course mosquitoes, in xxx it's pretty plaguey with
mosquitoes
Roy Fowler: We can now go to the first remake of The 39 Steps
Maurice Carter: That was again Betty Box and Ralph Thomas
Roy Fowler: Do you have any idea whose idea it was to tackle what is possibly a brave,
possibly a foolhardy project
Maurice Carter: I don't, no idea how they came up with that subject but interesting to do.
Because what had happened technically in-between my days at Gainsborough and being
at Pinewood was that back projection was advancing, I'd always been very interested as
I've said before being back projection. And by now the one good thing about Rank was
that they had put their money into building a triple headed projector, you remember
Charlie Staffle
Roy Fowler: Pinewood was technically very advanced
Maurice Carter: It was indeed and Charlie Staffle were largely responsible for developing
it and the train sequences in the remake of The 39 were so much easier than the first
because we had the wide screen and could be more ambitious, as I explained before been
connecting up perspective sections of train to plate. For instance the transfer from one
carriage to another that goes in The 39 Steps was made much easier
Roy Fowler: So think triple headed BP System, how did that work
TAPE 4, SIDE 8
Roy Fowler: The triple head back projection process, three contiguous films going
through three synchronised projectors
Maurice Carter: Yes, that's it
Roy Fowler: So it's almost like Cinerama in effect, you would have three adjacent
pictures on the process screen
Maurice Carter: Yes, that's right. All the projectors impinged, obviously had to impinge
exactly as a matching overlay, they all carried the same image and overlaid each other,
and of course Charlie was very wise in choosing the lazy eight gate on the picture which
was the wide film, Panavision. It was called Vista Vision, and choosing the Vista Vision
added considerable complications of course because you had to make sure that the plates
were originally shot and with a Vista Vision camera, a rather large camera for use on
location and most of the plates obviously were location plates and it avoided the problem
of judder in the gate. The lazy eight system meant that you had the punch holes securely
held in the gate and the wide film of course gave you a better emulsion definition. And
so it was altogether a superior to the original single projector and normal 35 millimetre
film strip before.
Roy Fowler: To get it absolutely clear in my mind, there were three separate strips of film
And Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: It wasn't shot on one Vista Vision Camera, it was shot on three
Maurice Carter: No, it was shot on one, only one, three prints were made and fed into
each of the projectors and they, the prints, Charlie used to it just the colour by having one
print might be slightly warm, another might be slightly cold, so the image on the screen
eventually had a correct colour balance. So you were able in fact to control the colour to
match to the studio shooting, you could balance beautifully.
Roy Fowler: The purpose of this was what, to give one width or illumination
Maurice Carter: No, purely the power of illumination, so something like the maximum of
a 14 ft screen we could suddenly get a 28 ft picture. And he had also discovered how to
deal with hot spots on the screen which I mentioned earlier, had always been one of our
worst problems, he now had 2 screens, the back, laminated, which diffused the hot spot
but still gave a clear image on the screen.
Roy Fowler: And so the system was largely to obviate the slowness of the colour stock
presumably.
Maurice Carter: How do you mean
Roy Fowler: Colours stock was still comparatively slow at this point
Maurice Carter: Oh yes indeed
Roy Fowler: So it was to get a good image
Maurice Carter: Exactly, to give a sharp and clear image
Roy Fowler: Had he started to work with front projection yet
Maurice Carter: No he hadn't, he was just fiddling with it at this time, I think. We were all
just then just about talking about front projection and the idea was more or less, he was
beginning to build, and experiment with camera mountings and mirrors and screen
material. But I think 3Ms right from the start were building the screen material, it was in
use already and that is where the basic idea came from, in night signs, in street signs. It
was used, overlaid with the printing with a weatherproof surface and used on road signs,
that is where it came from
Roy Fowler: And so someone quite early on got the idea
Maurice Carter: Yes. I don't know whether it was Charles or whether it was in the States,
I wouldn't like to say who was first and. I think Charles was credited with it with his
award
Roy Fowler: I think he got a special Oscar
Maurice Carter: He got an Oscar for the development of it and I think he must have been
the first to fiddle with it
Roy Fowler: And yet if anyone was a responsible for bringing it to prominence, I guess it
was Kubrick in 200 1
Maurice Carter: Yes, I think it was
Roy Fowler: Especially the early sequence with the apes.
On 39 Steps there are these technical process obviously helping you a great deal.
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: Did they hinder as well
Maurice Carter: No, I don't think so but it wasn't used to an enormous degree. The
picture didn't call for it. I mean we shot on the Forth Bridge, a very interesting experience,
going up on the Forth Bridge, I went right up on the top, it was very interesting indeed.
But that is one of the benefits of being an art director, that you do go to so many unusual
places, especially on reccies. Much more than the crew. Usually on reccies there's more
time, for instance we had to climb up to top of the bridge to have a look if there was a
good angle for the trains, shoot the trains
Roy Fowler: What are your memories of the Hitchcock original, was it a point of
reference. Did you set out to emulate it.
Maurice Carter: No not at all, it was thought of entirely as a fresh picture. Of course in the
back of everybody's minds one had the scenes, the race across the moors and that sort of
thing, so you had this slightly lurking in your mind. But I don't think it was considered,
any effort made to making it to respond to a similarity
Roy Fowler: I don't think I've seen this version, I've seen the next one on television
Maurice Carter: Which was better really
Roy Fowler: I was going say the original Hitchcock is really idiosyncratic. For instance
all that business of Mr Memory was a Hitchcock invention, I don't know who wrote the
script, Charles Bennett perhaps
Maurice Carter: I think that was all originally in the book, as far as I remember, I did read
the book at one time.
Roy Fowler: Maybe I'm mistaken saying that
Maurice Carter: I maybe mistaken in saying that but I think it's in the original book.
Roy Fowler: Largely studio-based
Maurice Carter: I would say it was preponderantly - a location picture. I think the house,
that was built, the theatre was built, or was it, no it wasn't. The theatre was again location,
we used a theatre in Watford, but otherwise I would say it was an equally balanced
picture between studio and location
Roy Fowler: Are you enjoying location despite the problems involved
Maurice Carter: Only at times I'm afraid, location in general is very much a pain in the
arse apart from the enjoyable interludes.
Roy Fowler: Which were really tourism rather than film-making I suppose
/00:;
Maurice Carter: Yes. Of course the general thing with art department is that they probably
had to spend a something like a month often before the unit turned up in a place. So you
had got pretty used to the place if you were doing a big build, you knew all the local
people and local populace and you were pretty bored with it by the time the unit turned
up.
Roy Fowler: To what extent did one rely on one's construction manager to solve all those
problems
Maurice Carter: In a big way. I've always regarded the construction manager, I must say
as an art director, as his most important link to the construction and vital, vital. And also
a good construction manager could protect you in your costs, that was the important
thing. I had Vic Simpson largely for a long time, who was excellent at, he kept the books
for the set and got the daily returns, the costs of the set and kept them, we knew, he'd say
we're up creeping over here, what can we do and we could either cut something out, cut
down the labour or take steps to try and keep ourselves in bound. So he is a vital piece of
the mechanism of building sets.
Roy Fowler: As a general rule what about the production office, did they help or hinder
Maurice Carter: No, they had their own problems, and where up the production office and
I had to work very closely was in working out the schedule, so that I had the time to build
the set and strike it or reconstruct it when necessary within the scheduled time of the unit
working there, then we had a crisis if they either came off too soon, then we had big
problems
Roy Fowler: That's a very involved equation the lengths of time it takes to build up a set
of course, it has to do with scale, it has to do with budget, how would you tackle it. Was it
more experience than anything else.
Maurice Carter: That is largely the co-operation between the construction manager and
the art director, once he had the drawings he became a vital cog in estimating the amount
of time the set was going to take. The earlier estimates we had, before the construction
manager really had all the details of the sets I had designed, before he had the drawings,
then it became a system of guesswork, and experience in assessing exactly how long you
would take to build a set. But of course you had the facility especially, that was another
good thing about working in a studio with a set up like that at Pinewood, that you could
either flood the set with workers or you could reduce it. And if you had three pictures
operating then you could adjust your balance between the three productions, take labour
off one and storm it. And then in return if the other protection was in trouble, you could
allow your workforce to move over to the other production. In other words there was a
fluidity which you cannot have when you have a single production working. Then you're
stuck with the amount of labour you have, whatever you do, and it becomes much, much
more difficult
Roy Fowler: On pictures of the scale we are talking about, in this era at Pinewood, what
would one take, two stages,
Maurice Carter: About three was the usual, between two and three, seldom more on this
sort of picture. Later pictures which will talk about like The Battle of Britain, that's
entirely different
Roy Fowler: They take over the entire lot presumably
Maurice Carter: Virtually
Roy Fowler: So it's very much an industry in effect isn't it, a factory I suppose is a better
word
Maurice Carter: Yes, and of course because one of the items in the budget was the rental
of the stages which was put down into your budget, it could be that you would be told that
where we've got to get these figures down, to squeeze the set some how into one stage,
not spread them over into two as it should have been. In other words you often had to
condense your set to do that
Roy Fowler: Upstairs And Downstairs followed which was not a forerunner of the
television series
Maurice Carter: No, no, it is quite a different story actually, I think Wendy Toye
directing, Betty Box again producing
Roy Fowler: So really you're almost full-time at this period with Betty Box, but you're
not under contract
Ms Carter: Yes, up to this time, I don't think our break had actually come with Rank, I
can't remember exactly when it broke. And it may have been that I was working from
picture to picture because I did that subsequently
Roy Fow ler: Well, the following one is a Doctor picture
Maurice Carter: I think I must have been still under contract there, it wouldn't have been
so continuous.
Roy Fowler: Wendy Toye was somewhat unusual in being one of the very few women in
a position of authority
Maurice Carter: Quite honestly she is up for the only competent woman director I have
ever met
Roy Fowler: That is out of who else
Maurice Carter: Not many, Muriel. I have to search, to think.
Roy Fowler: Because there just weren't that many, were there
Maurice Carter: No, but Wendy had had so much experience, stage experience, generally
had experience that she was she was far superior to anybody else
Roy Fowler: So she was good with actors as they say but also technically she was capable
Maurice Carter: Technically quite good but depended enormously on her cameraman of
course.
Roy Fowler: How would she relate to you, carte blanche more or less
Maurice Carter: More or less, almost totally
Roy Fowler: Doctor In Love
Maurice Carter: Another sequel following the standard pattern
Roy Fowler: Frightened City
Maurice Carter: One of the very first films with Sean Connery, I think it was his first
film, Paul Soskin producing for Rank. It was the story of ruffians in London
Roy Fowler: What was the boy Connery like
Maurice Carter: Very good, of course we didn't, he was just another actor, one didn't take
particular notice of him but that was before the first Bond
Roy Fowler: Who was the director
Maurice Carter: I honestly can't remember
Roy Fowler: It was followed by No Love For Johnny
Maurice Carter: That was a very nice picture, successful picture, I find it very difficult to
remember who directs. I remember it was a new director to Pinewood, I know that. But it
was a picture about, the story of an MP having an affair And we had to build the House of
Commons for that, which was largely drawn from the stock bay, they did keep most of
the House of Commons set, but I did go to, it was very interesting go to Parliament and
photograph the interior. Because the Parliament has changed since the original set which
was from pre-war.
Roy Fowler: Well it was destroyed during the war, the chamber.
Maurice Carter: Destroyed and rebuilt, but many things remain, the Speaker's Chair and
so forth and soon were all there. But we just had to build the chamber and it's quite a
complicated set with all those step ups and seats, and one has to be so technically correct.
Roy Fowler: Granada I think currently has a more or less exact replica which they seem to
keep standing.
Maurice Carter: I think it's probably taken out of, I think that was bought from the stock
bay at Pinewood
Roy Fowler: You think it was bought from Pinewood, because eventually it was all sold.
When they went four-walled. I mean stock sets like the criminal courts, the central
criminal courts, the Old Bailey has always been a stock set
Roy Fowler: That keeps cropping up doesn't it in television. So possibly your original set
for No Love for Johnny is indeed
Maurice Carter: A reconstituted version of what was in the stock bay
Roy Fowler: Anything about the film, Peter Finch
Maurice Carter: I think that was the first film I'd ever made where Finchie was in, but he
is such a good actor, a marvellous guy. And he is a great close friend of my construction
manager, Vic Simpson. They were playboys
Roy Fowler: He was a hellraiser then
Maurice Carter: A marvellous man.
Roy Fowler: In the Dog House, 1961
Maurice Carter: Another Paul Soskin comedy, the most fatuous comedy I've ever worked
on, I think it was a ridiculous thing about looking after a dog's home. I can hardly
remember exactly what it was about but that is the general theme, pretty pathetic
Roy Fowler: Would it have been considered a first feature, or were they still releasing
double bills in those days.
Maurice Carter: It was made as a first feature without doubt, and possibly shown as a first
feature. But it was sort of playful little thing, I don't think anybody had great aspirations
for it.
Roy Fowler: Again, it isn't one I've heard of, it doesn't even seem to turn up on television
yet.
Maurice Carter: But a lot of these films of this period were introducing artists who later
became very well known.
Roy Fowler: A Pair of Briefs, 1972.
Maurice Carter: A Betty Box picture. Yes, the story of law courts and a woman barrister,
I've got an idea Glenys Johns was in it, I may be wrong. Ralph Thomas directing. This is
where we had to reproduce the central criminal court which is one of the most
complicated sets, not because of anything very visual in it because each step is a
multiplicity of rostrums, levels, very complicated and they have to be right.
Roy Fowler: I've never been in the original, I've seen the set many times in various
pictures.
Maurice Carter: We went to the Royal Courts and photographed it again to make sure
because things change from time to time, I think we built the corridor on the outside
which is a sort of marble palace corridor where all the witnesses wait.
Roy Fowler: Interesting to speculate how that Number One court came into being, it's
partly theatre isn't it.
Maurice Carter: One of the interesting things, we were going in to shoot that film, we
were shooting location obviously on exteriors and on the notice board in the hall we read
Geoff, the cameraman, Unsworth, his divorce was corning up in the law courts at the
same time.
Roy Fowler: The next one sounds interesting, Lancelot and Guinevere
Maurice Carter: This was extraordinary, this was a film we shot in Yugoslavia, not one of
my favourite experiences I'm afraid. We had to build this huge castle on top of a
mountain and I'm struggling to remember the producer, director, star. But we went out
there with this, to find this place and of course he and I went out in absolute midwinter
and we, it was just at the time in, that they were in discussion, Yugoslavia was in great
discussion with Russia over their separating from the block and we were taken out by car,
we were also tied up with the studios in Belgrade and we were taken out by one of the
production managers and the whole team of people, a couple of cars out to, the nearest we
could get by road to the site they proposed for us.
And the director and I then had to walk something like 8 miles to this site, with a local
guide. So we started out from the cars, the cars couldn't get any further because they were
blocked by snow, and the road was blocked, and so we started out through this snow and
tramped up to this place and we got to this place eventually after a very hard, you can
imagine 8 miles through snow, it's nobody's idea over a mountain pass road, and we reach
this place. And there was absolutely nothing there, except that we could just look at the
site, we couldn't reach it because the snow was too deep, we would have been up to our
chest in snow. And the only place that was there was, in summer it was a holiday camp
for Yugoslavians, and people went out into the country and enjoyed themselves. And it
was just this hotel which was virtually closed down, with just a keeper there and we were
just about dead with cold from the snow, but this chap, the keeper was a very nice fellow
and gave us hot xxx, which cheered us up enormously. And then we had to, obviously it
was starting to get to dusk and we had to start this 8 mile walk back. So the guide, we got
out and the wind by this time had risen to gale force and we got up onto this height and
the wind was blowing and the pine trees were having the tops blown off and we were
staggering against this and holding each other up and the poor chap who was guiding us
said he couldn't go any further and he would have to go back to the hotel and he couldn't
make it the rest of the distance.
So he left us to go our own way, and we fought on and eventually got back before
everybody had gone, it was pitch black at night and at last we saw about quarter of mile
ahead of us a little spot of red light. And we thought oh god perhaps there is somebody
still there, we went across and bally up to our waist in snow and climbed up the other side
and got to one dear bloke, all the rest had gone off home, but our dear driver had stayed
there, in absolute faith that we would return eventually. And but for him I'm sure we
would have died, by that time, we were absolutely exhausted, we were falling into the
snow.
That little adventure was with Cornel Wilde
Roy Fowler: It would be interesting to have your memories of Cornel Wilde
Maurice Carter: Well, he was as you know, he had an interesting history, having been a
fencing master and being in Hollywood purely as a stuntman and progressing to director,
actor-director, and he was a very good director there is not question about that, whether
his choice of subject with Lancelot and Guinevere was the best I doubt. But Jeanie
Wallace, his wife, was playing Guinevere and poor old Jeanie was a bit of a dipsomaniac
and so Cornel had a problem.
I found that the Belgrade studios were pretty awful. At that time it was a pretty primitive
studio anyway. The big stage had purely an earth floor for instance and of course it was a
small studio and we were trying to build things which were really beyond their scope
there, so it was quite difficult.
Roy Fowler: Did the studios have any kind of history or were they part of this era when
you could get the Yugoslav army for 9d as I remember
Maurice Carter: Yes pretty much so,
i. ' I,
Roy Fowler: Unlike East Germany or Czechoslovakia or Hungary where there were
established studios.
Maurice Carter: It had been established a fairly long time the studio itself, but of course
conditions as they had been from the war and under the communist regime, for instance
the shops were completely empty, all you would see in a shop window were two pots and
pans and nothing else. It was very much as I imagine Moscow has been for so long. And
the economy was really virtually bankrupt and they were so anxious to acquire dollars
through film production that they would do anything. And it was a participation picture,
as many of them were that went from the West to shoot in Yugoslavia, in which they had
half rights to distribution in the Eastern block
Roy Fowler: And you got a lot of below the line stuff in return
Maurice Carter: Everything, extras, everything was below the line in fact.
Roy Fowler: You obviously didn't have the same respect for the local
technician and crafts people as you did say in Spain
Maurice Carter: No, no.
Roy Fowler: Was that a kind of attitude, local attitude or was it the
training.
Maurice Carter: It was also, I think probably in the Serbian character, very
tricky, same old thing I've mentioned before like in Italy, like one could
never rely on something happening, you had a promise you would have
people up there grading the road to get to a place. You would sit there
and nobody would turn up. You would then get on the phone somehow
in the nearest village and you would phone back and they would say
they were on the way, they would be there in ten minutes. Then you
waited another 8 hours and they still hadn't turned up. It was this thing
that we almost wouldn't understand in England which is complete lack of
response, lack of care.
Roy Fowler: One is that the film industry has easy pickings and attracts
rapscallions
Maurice Carter: I don't think so, I think it was the effect of course of the
communist regime, it is one of the effects of the communist regime, their
job was assured, they had no fight to keep the job at all
I I .-, r L,
Roy Fowler: And obviously they were intent on making as much as they
could out of it because their living standards were so poor, that is equally
true in Italy for example at this time.
Maurice Carter: But a great problem in Yugoslavia at that time was that
everything was run by the studio committee. The script had to be
submitted and approved by them. All my drawings for the sets they were
going to build had to be submitted and the committee consisted of one
person from every department including the gardeners so many of them
had absolutely no touch with filming at all
Roy Fowler: That is very interesting, what then was the result of that. Do
you mean they would actually start to form a critique
Maurice Carter: Oh yes, very much so, the gardener was particularly
strong, he had never seen a film, almost, a proper film being made
Roy Fowler: What was his input
Maurice Carter: Well he would say I don't think this is right. And I don't like
what is mentioned in the script, I should have thought she should have
said so and so. They went through every word. Then they took my
drawings and they estimated the costs of the set from those drawings and
they all had to be converted, we normally worked in half inch scale, they
insisted that everything had to be converted to quarter inch scale. It was
quite a problem to work with this. The gardener would say, or the
boilerman would say I think this set is costing too much and you better cut
it out, we can't afford this sort of thing. Which is a bit difficult.
Roy Fowler: Presumably that was because that they were in effect coproducers
and the co-production function was embodied
Maurice Carter: Every man is equal and had equal input and equal say
Roy Fowler: It happened at least once in England, this is purely a side light,
we researched Our Film which was made at denham in 1941 by the Works
Committee and the interesting thing is that it was dominated by Bert
Bachelor who was a ETU and a member of the communist party, but there
was a committee which fulfilled exactly that same function and they
were commissioning or requesting because it was all for love, requesting
scripts from Emeric Pressburger or such and saying no, and almost a similar
experience in microcosm
So all in all other than rather hairy with the distant castle nevertheless it
wasn't a happy experience in other ways
Maurice Carter: It wasn't really, it was continuing arguing that went on in
the studio, continual
Roy Fowler: What about the language
Maurice Carter: The language of course was a problem, and the
interpreters of course were dominated by the committee and often
wouldn't interpret directly what somebody, if I wanted a direct answer
the interpreter would interpret an answer that would please me, for
instance if I asked for who was going to be out on a site on Wednesday
and would they be bringing the snow down or something with them, she
would say, although this guy said well it's a great problem I don't think
that is going to work, he is asking too much anyway, she would say well
certainly the snow plough will be there alright, I'm sure it will be alright. So I
never, they were mostly girl interpreters but always one eye, weary eye
was kept on the boss man to see that she was interpreting it
Roy Fowler: Two questions, why would they do that, was it national pride
or was it because she wanted to please you what was the motivation
Maurice Carter: It was national pride basically, and to keep us happy in
spite of their short comings
Roy Fowler: The second question, is the boss man as you called him, was
he overtly the boss, was he designated the boss, or was he a rather
anonymous figure who just happened
Maurice Carter: No, he was designated the boss, he was head of
construction where I was concerned. And when I requested these things,
in stead of saying no I'm sorry we can't do that we would like to but we
just can't do it, they would make these vainglorious promises of things
they couldn't fulfil which left me on the short end because I went back
and said to the unit, yes it's ok, everything is laid on for Tuesday. Whereas
nothing in fact was laid on for Tuesday and the unit would arrive and
there would be nothing there.
Roy Fowler: This is not of course particularly Serbian, because it is certainly
Latin, and I think it's Asian too.
Maurice Carter: Yes, I think the Serbs have a large Asian, I think the whole
of Yugoslavia was one time Muslim, I think they have a large measure of
',;,"';
I. ~~
this wanting to please but not having to be totally honest about what
they're saying to you
Roy Fowler: The face has a lot to do with it
Maurice Carter: An enormous amount.
Roy Fowler: You were back again not long afterwards for yet another one.
But there was another feature inbetween, Two Left Feet, do you
remember that
Maurice Carter: I can hardly remember what it was about.
Roy Fowler: You're back in your beloved Yugoslavia then for the next one,
Genghis Khan.
Maurice Carter: That was an experience in itself
Roy Fowler: Was that my mentor, Yul Brynner
Maurice Carter: Yul was in it, yes. And produced by Irving Allen who is
something on his own as you probably know
Roy Fowler: I've had no dealings with him, only by repute
Maurice Carter: Quite a character. He at the time was living in Berlin, no
Paris, and he had a stable of girlfriends there and the only connection we
had with him really was when he hired a plane and brought his girls to
Yugoslavia for a visit. So it was, we saw very little of him and when we saw
him it was pretty stormy. And of course it was a huge picture to mount,
enormous picture, we built the biggest set ever built in Europe for it, the
city of Peking. It was very interesting because in the script, it was an
American director, I can't remember his name, an obscure director
/1':;
MAURICE CARTER
SIDE 9, TAPE 5
Maurice Carter: We were building, the interesting thing in the script it described the shot,
or shots, very accurately, the arrival of Genghis Khan in Peking, and script said that he
came through the great gate of Peking; and amongst cheering masses of people he
progressed right through the city up to the great hall. And to me that read that there was a
vista of Peking, an enormous tracking shot following his arrival. Anyway, so I designed
the set and they were pretty appalled by it, the Yugoslavs, but by this time they'd got
themselves better organised than before, on the last film, and the construction staff had
increased enormously.
And so we began to build this huge set which how I managed it was to incorporate the
studio buildings as the great hall, overcovering them with camouflage, the buildings of
Peking. And we had to build the great gate out, which extended out on the lot so it was
about between quarter and a half a mile from one end of the set to the other, which was
pretty extensive set. And there were great big pagodas, 70, 80 ft high built and I said to
them now you must be very careful doing the roofs because if it rains we must have solid,
and ready; and they should be wonderful green glazed tiles as they are in Peking. So they
understood this all perfectly.
Meanwhile the consternation from the producer was that we should build the interiors in
Berlin because it was a co production financed partly from Germany and partly in
Yugoslavia, which was a pretty interesting set up, West German but using Berlin because
at that time there was an advantage in using Berlin, a) they had good studios there which
were unoccupied and b) there was a financial help on materials, all materials were duty
free there. And consequently it was almost a free city as far as costs were concerned. So I
had the problem of then commuting between Belgrade and Berlin which wasn't the most
direct thing to do, you had to fly to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to Berlin. But anyway I
had to leave the set just to go and see how things were and I, when I left they said you
can't take any money out of Yugoslavia because of currency restrictions, but I tell you
what when you arrive in Berlin you find this man Swan and he will give you all the
money you want, he is the distributor, Rank's distributors. Rank was one of the
distributors, anyway a potential distributor of the picture.
But when I arrived, I flew to Berlin without any money in my pocket except about £20 or
£30, I had still had left in English coinage. So I arrived in Berlin at dusk with absolutely
no money and I phoned this number to contact this man and the voice on the other end
said we don't know anything about you, I'm sorry, and also Mr Swan has gone to Paris
anyway so I'm afraid you're on your own. So there I was in the middle of Berlin airport,
had no idea how to get back, I only had a single one way ticket. So I thought, I don't
know what to do, so I decided, I got a taxi and went to the Hilton, booked into the Hilton
although I knew I couldn't pay for a room for more than a single night there and I thought
the only contact I've possibly got is the studios.
So in the morning I got a taxi to the studios which was about the limit of my resources by
then and asked to see the studio manager. And by absolute sheer luck he was the most
marvellous man, he knew nothing of the arrangements at all that had been made to use
the studio, but he advanced me £100 in marks. And I explained about the studio and the
arrangement ostensibly somewhere, that we should be coming there, and could I look at
the studio and I gave him the drawings so when he really found out if there was any truth
in what I was saying we could start work. Anyway with the £1 00 I was able to pay my
hotel bill and get back to Belgrade. I thought what a marvellous act of faith from this
man. It turned out it was all true, the arrangement was then made that we could go into
the Berlin studios.
Anyway I came back and there had been a huge storm and half the set had been blown
down, this huge set. And instead of painting the roofs with real solid oil paint which they
didn't tell me they hadn't got, they painted it with water paint and all everywhere had
snow white roofs. So they told me, yes they'd painted it with water paint but they had put
some protective material on it and they thought it would be alright. They put some
varnish on, and they thought it would be alright. Anyway, we got over all those problems
and rebuilt it.
Roy Fowler: The picture is in production at this time, is it.
Maurice Carter: Yes, it was shooting, they were shooting further out on location, I mean
you can tell the scope of the production, we had, the communist bosses had told every
farmer for miles and miles around to arrive at the site of the battle field and bring with
them their horses and be prepared to stop a week and they were to take part in the charge,
for the battles, it was on the side of a long slope down into a valley where the opposing
side were huddled. And the idea was to shoot this enormously long line of horse
stretching probably a mile and half to two miles long, of horse, all ready accoutered with
their lances, and ready to charge.
Roy Fowler: That is surely the way to make motion pictures
Maurice Carter: They all got 10 shillings for their journey, bringing their horses and they
all came and camped out, they brought a farm cart loaded with the hay for the horses and
so forth and two horses tied up behind and trekked in from miles and miles around on the
orders of the communist boss. There was no arguing, they either came or they were in
trouble. A great way to collect a crowd.
Roy Fowler: I suppose there is no way to cost a set like that is there, the set you were
talking about
Maurice Carter: They did, they arrived at a cost, I had to make all the quarter scale
drawings for them
Roy Fowler: So it wasn't just Mickey Mouse money, they somehow translated it into
whatever it was, dinas
,. . , .
Maurice Carter: Yes dinas, that was charged to the production, it was their part of the
overall production and presumably affected the slicing up of the finances.
Roy Fowler: Was there corruption endemic at the studios
Maurice Carter: Not, particularly, just laxity and false promises
Roy Fowler: Irving Allen was just an entrepreneur in this respect, he wasn't the actual
line producer
Maurice Carter: Yes, eventually he, I had a disagreement with him, he wanted something
I thought was absolutely wrong for the film, he wanted me to put a set up in such a way
that I couldn't believe the director could possibly shoot the scene. And the director
refused although he recognised that I was trying to work on his behalf, wouldn't support
me and so I'm afraid Ijust left and got an airplane and came home. But it was virtually
the last thing in the picture, it didn't have much effect on it
Roy Fowler: Out of curiosity why would Allen want to do that, because it would be so
impractical
Maurice Carter: He was being dominant and obstinate, and really having a weak director
was the thing, I thought the whole thing would severely damage the picture and it did.
Roy Fowler: What are your memories of Yul on that film
Maurice Carter: He was a cheerful old chap, knocking off all the whores in Belgrade,
very fond of whores. He liked the dirty trade, scurrilous, I'll probably be sued for it
Roy Fowler: He's dead and I don't think Rocky has any illusions about his father.
Yul as you know was a rather forceful dominant personality, did he take over direction
vicariously
Maurice Carter: No, not at all,
Roy Fowler: He didn't take kindly to fools or weak people, he was probably just there
for the money
Maurice Carter: I think so.
Roy Fowler: Does that conclude your experiences of Yugoslavia
Maurice Carter: Yes, I swore I would never go back to Yugoslavia again, that is the only
conclusion to that one.
Roy Fowler: A Stitch in Time
Maurice Carter: Another Norman Wisdom, with Paul Soskin again.
Roy Fowler: Is there anything to be said about Norman Wisdom
Maurice Carter: No, just a popular figure at the time, a cheerful chap no problems with
him at all. I think the most inspired set in that was part of a French chateau that we built,
we built it in the studio on the lot, yes in the studio actually
Roy Fowler: You're still based at Pinewood
Maurice Carter: Yes
Roy Fowler: Beauty Jungle
Maurice Carter: Yes, that's Val Guest. And was shot mainly Weston Super Mare and in
Cannes, between the two places. The story is obvious from the title, a beauty contest in
which the finalist eventually goes to Cannes and has a romantic affair and so forth. But
Val on his usual form was pretty good doing his stuff
Roy Fowler: It sounds another world but it is almost 30 years ago.
Guns of Batasi
Maurice Carter: Guns of Batasi was a very nice picture with Dicky Attenborough, not
directing but acting as, it was the story about a remote British station in Africa,
somewhere in Africa and it was being besieged. And Dicky Attenborough acted the part
of the sergeant major and he was quite marvelous in his preparation for this, his devotion
was quite extraordinary. He noticed that the sergeant major's boots were always turned
up at the toes because they were always doing these very smart roundabout turns, and he
used to go up on the concrete platform of the lot and he would drink, he drank port and
glasses of port in the morning to get his voice into the right sergeant major timbre and he
used to go out and to get his boots right - he'd polish them up with dubbing and then
went out and did about turns and about turns and about turns shouting all the time
commands to get his voice and boots and accoutrements into the right sort of pattern.
Absolute marvelous devotion to duty and I think it was a marvelous performance that he
gave.
It was totally centred in this sort of mess building of the camp, the whole siege took
place in which they were confined to this place, and George Brown was the producer,
what we needed was a fairly large stage because you had to see, have a big cyclorama
round it and see outside into the distance. But unfortunately George couldn't afford the
big stage at Pinewood so I had to have the small stage so the backing was almost
touching the front doors but it was still a lovely effect of distances, all relied on the
backing. Minor things you know which is great heartache to an art director who could
lIJ,;~~
I !
have done so much more with it but it was very interesting, very lovely picture, but
totally shot on the lot. We built up glass and hatchements and sights on the lot and it was
very complementary, one of the critics thought, he couldn't understand which part of
Africa we'd shot it in so we must have become pretty authentic.
Roy Fowler: It this the first time you'd worked with Dicky
Maurice Carter: I think so, he may have worked in small parts earlier, probably did.
Roy Fowler: Was there any indication then that he was going to become one of the xx of
the British film industry, or indeed of the British cultural establishment
Maurice Carter: Not really, I mean except by that time his standing as an actor was pretty
stunning, pretty high.
Roy Fowler: It is interesting how he worked on the character because that does indicate
attention not just to detail but true professionalism
Maurice Carter: And he kept it up right through the day until he relaxed in the evening
and that was it. But it is a marvelous performance, if you ever get the chance to see it on
television, do have a look at it
Roy Fowler: I know it turns up from time to time
Maurice Carter: Very fine picture, very small budget.
Roy Fowler: George Brown was a very active producer at that time, wasn't he.
Maurice Carter: He was indeed, as I've mentioned already, I've done several pictures
with him, most of those in Berlin, and so I was pretty used to George's workings and we
got on pretty well together, a very good practical producer
Roy Fowler: Was he financed by the Rank Organisation
Maurice Carter: Yes, I think they were released in association with Rank if not totally
Rank pictures.
Roy Fowler: Next follows a very big film Becket, Oscar winning picture.
Maurice Carter: We got a lot of nominations but not many awards I don't think. Burton
got an award but it was John Bryan, we got together again on the same sort of art
director/designer relationship. And it was very interesting with John on that picture, he
was intent on getting, we obviously had a lot of castles, interiors of castles and buildings
of the period, and he got me to scrub it, the plaster, we had a special plaster made up
mainly of sand and xx and part plaster, in which we could scrub it with wire brushes to
get the actual quality of stone. It is a great thing to get stone, very, very difficult on a set
to get real stone quality which you can go right into close up and look like stone
Roy Fowler: It's a dead giveaway always because you can see the mortar line added on
Maurice Carter: It mustn't be painted with any solid paint, it is absolutely fatal to paint it
with sold paint, you must put some very thin dxx paints on to give the quality of the
stonework and the same with the ageing, it has to be done absolutely meticulously and
John was the greatest man ever on finishes on sets
Roy Fowler: Where did he learn that kind of practical knowledge.
Maurice Carter: From the Korda set up
Roy Fowler: Pre war at Denham, these were master craftsmen originally from where,
British
Maurice Carter: Obviously Vincent himself, he got a lot of knowledge, Vincent was the
art director and John the assistant. Vincent had that knowledge because he had been at
UFA with the rest of the great technicians.
Roy Fowler: So a direct line to UFA in the 20s
Maurice Carter: Yes, it continued for so long in art direction between the British film
industry and those old associations.
Roy Fowler: So it wasn't just Junge
Maurice Carter: No, it wasn't just Junge, it was all of them, Ferdie Ballan, all those
people who came, they all contributed towards this quality.
Roy Fowler: One wonders in turn where they had learned it, a theatrical
Maurice Carter: I don't know, I doubt if it was theatrical, I think it was just German
thoroughness,
Roy Fowler: That insistence on getting it right
Maurice Carter: I think so, I think that is just what it was.
Roy Fowler: Certainly those German films, the expressionist film of the 20s are
astonishing
Roy Fowler: Did you know Vincent or any of the Kordas
Maurice Carter: No' I never worked with any of them
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Roy Fowler: This of course is Hal Wallis, you got involved in the picture because of John
Bryan
Maurice Carter: Yes,
Roy Fowler: What about Wallis
Maurice Carter: Probably one of the toughest producers ever to have lived, very
interesting, but of course John dealt with him, but John again, we had the same old rows.
John had built an enormous Spanish town, great high walls, 50 ft high, great towers
coming out and Hal had been back to the States and missing for some time and he walked
up to the lot on this set with all his henchmen, he had a very wicked little henchman
called Dick McWirter who was his undercover man
Roy Fowler: Hatchet man
Maurice Carter: Hatchet man is the term I was looking for, and so Dick had been saying
the set was far too big to John and John said that is what my sketch shows and it will look
magnificent. This great causeway going up where all the people are supposed to come out
of this town, and it was only for a single shot, I must admit it was a bit ambitious, but
John Bryan's attitude was sod it, the best is always good enough for me, how it should
look is how it should look, and it is their job to worry about the finances
Roy Fowler: This is post the event anyway, the set is up
Maurice Carter: Yes, so anyway, back came our friend from the States, Hal with all his
entourage behind him, they walked up towards this set and when he saw was great
scaffolding and little men working up, little dots up there, 60 ft, 70 ft above the roadway.
And he said alright John stop it all, get them off,
So John said he doesn't want the set, looking very white and very taut, and he said I want
it finished, get everybody off. So I was walking up with them and Hal turned on his heels
to John, strolled off back to the studio to the Shepperton offices. And John Bryan came
up to me and I said what will we do about that, it's terrible. He said just go back there and
tell them to get on with the job, he said. And the set was built and finished and shot on
just as John wanted it. A great strong personality John Bryan. Actually by that time he
was already becoming a very sick man, so it was a magnificent show of guts with him
Roy Fowler: Was it his swan song
Maurice Carter: Yes, he died within a year of it
Roy Fowler: Of cancer
Maurice Carter: I think of liver, he had the same trouble when he was on Lawrence of
Arabia and he had had to come off that and that is how John Box took up from him and
how John Box established himself as an art director. But eventually it killed John. But I
think he caused it himself, what he used to do was to continually drink, he had a pot
beside him and brewed coffee all day long, strong black coffee, and I think that must
have killed him in the end.
Roy Fowler: Anything more to be said about Wallis, how would you rate him as a
producer, as a creative producer
Maurice Carter: I think he must have had a lot of jolly good people around him because
he was always restrictive, enormously tried to restrict, to keep costs down, struggling,
anything to keep the costs down. I'll tell you later about the subsequent picture we did.
But John was marvelous at dealing with him, really tough, but it was a very beautiful
picture and we had to build the interior of the cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral and we had
to do a lot of research because try and get it, although you know Canterbury Cathedral of
course was burned down of Becket's time and there is only the remains actually of the
original cathedral there so it had to be a good deal of imaginations. We couldn't discover
an actual print or any depiction of it as it actually was, but we knew the fact there was a
huge altar screen, incredible altar screen across there, so that we had to design for
ourselves, John gave me a sort of vague general sketch of the whole thing. It was a very
big set built in H stage at Shepperton which was completely filled wall to wall
Roy Fowler: The silent stage
Maurice Carter: Yes, it was full height of the stage, and then we matted, we built a, not a
matte, a hanging model to top it up, very interesting, a thing I have seen so seldom in
English films, is the hanging model. But the complication in that hanging model was that
all the little columns, fine columns coming down from the roof had to match up with the
little columns we had built on the studio floor, very, very difficult because on the model
they have to be chewed off just with a razor blade to get them to actually line with the
model, you have seen a hanging model set up
Roy Fowler: So it gave you just the one vantage point
Maurice Carter: We did a marvelous shot with shooting down from the doors, we did it
on a nodle head to preserve the accuracy of the match up, and the king came in at the
doors and we panned up slowly, panned round, he came into the cathedral and then
joined in the total hanging model on the set, brilliant shot actually, brilliantly conceived
shot.
Roy Fowler: Worked out mathematically
Maurice Carter: Absolutely mathematically. We did it all on the drawing board,
absolutely on the drawing board and they would set up the camera on the thing and got
the perfect finish to the matte, so we back panned actually to get the start position, so it
was accurate all the way.
Roy Fowler: Was this Charles Jarrott
Maurice Carter: Yes, Charlie Jarrott, and he was of course a comparatively new director,
so he made a good thing of it. I think he was much supported by John Bryan, much
supported because he was raw, very raw on big camera set ups, so he depended on John
enormously for that.
Roy Fowler: I imagine Wallis bought the best in terms of technicians anyway.
Maurice Carter: Yes, the best he could find,
Roy Fowler: What about the two famous piss artists on the picture, Burton and O'Toole
Maurice Carter: You know, the total difference between the character of the two men, I
think, I'll tell you a little story which will illuminate the character difference. We had the
big throne room and Becket and he were having a meeting and Peter O'Toole was cast as
the king and they were both inbetween shots having a fag, having a draw on a fag. So the
director said let's get shooting, take one. So Peter O'Toole threw his cigarette down on
the lovely painted floor, and Burton took his and handed it to the prop boy, have a drag
on this baby until I finish the shot. And the other prop man had to scrabble and pick up
O'Toole's which was burning a hole in the floor, right in shot. Just to illustrate. And
Burton I always found was such a nice man, really nice chap, kind. And Lizzie Burton
used to come and sit on the set all the time to watch him, they were very good together,
except that they had such terrible rows occasionally, but they were really a great pair
there is no doubt about that.
Roy Fowler: Did they row on the set
Maurice Carter: Never on the set, never ever. The routine was that they were up in their
dressing room which was next door to the art department actually, which is how I know
this little scene. And in the morning they had a crate of lager delivered and they would
both set about the lager and then at lunch time they got into, just before lunch time they
had scotch, hard stuff, and then they all went off with O'Toole and the rest of them, they
went down to the Shepherd's Bush Shepperton Green, to the King's Head, and there they
really got stuck into it, so by the time the afternoon came it was rather a hope and a
prayer that everybody would be working again.
Roy Fowler: Did O'Toole drink with them or did he drink separately
Maurice Carter: I think he drank with them. But I know the Burtons had a little clique
down there, at the pub, a special room in the pub and they had their lunch there
Roy Fowler: This was the apogee of their fame wasn't it and their authority. They had
courtiers, not employees I suppose
Maurice Carter: But I found both of them, both Elizabeth and he, very nice people
indeed, whereas I can't honestly say that I was mad about O'Toole, he was careless and
arrogant.
Roy Fowler: You got nominated
Maurice Carter: We all got nominated for it.
Roy Fowler: I haven't asked you this before, how many nominations have you had
Maurice Carter: Only two, three really, because I had, I told you earlier I had Jassy,
which at that time the Oscar was hardly recognised in England and then I had this one
and the next Hal Wallis picture, on both of those I had nominations.
Roy Fowler: Was Shepperton a useful studio to work in those days, it was kind of second
best
Maurice Carter: Yes, it didn't have the stock bay, very little in the way, virtually no
stock, everything came from scratch, and of course it didn't have the size of workshops
or anything of Pinewood
Roy Fowler: What about the personnel
Maurice Carter: Very good plaster shop. And very good personnel, excellent.
Roy Fowler: You enjoyed working there
Maurice Carter: Yes, it was not as comfortable as Pinewood; there was not the backup.
Roy Fowler: It must also have been an old shoe since you'd made so many pictures there
Maurice Carter: Exactly, and I knew everybody
Roy Fowler: It was followed by The Fighting Prince of Donegal
Maurice Carter: Yes, that was a Disney film. I went over to Burbank for discussions and
Roy Fowler: This is 65, so Walt is still alive
Maurice Carter: Yes, I met Walt. Very interesting working there, everybody had to keep
their doors open, Walt wouldn't allow anybody to sit in their office and he used to walk
along the corridor and keep a quick check on you, that you were at it.
Roy Fowler: He fully subscribed to the work ethic
Maurice Carter: He really did. He was a very nice man though, and his brother was very
nice, both good people, but they really expected to have their money's worth in the work
area. So we prepared it there and then we brought all the preparation back to Pinewood
and made it there
Roy Fowler: Going to Burbank, what differences if any did you find in working practices,
presumably you're using their draftsmen.
Maurice Carter: Yes, I had their sketch artists, it was mainly a sketch artist and myself
working there, I didn't build anything there
Roy Fowler: But did you do finished drawings there or was that all done back there
Maurice Carter: No, we did the finished ones back here, it was purely sketch artist and
myself together with the director, Michael O'Herlihy. He made Hawaii 5-0, he made
almost all those series, he was mainly a television director but he had a great reputation
for crossing the Atlantic single handed in sailing boats.
There is a very amusing story of him, he normally did the crossing single handed and he
had this reputation, I think he had done it twice or three times, twice before, so he
decided on the trip back to the States on one of his sailings he would take a companion
for the first time, after some persuasion. And the companion persuading him, but he gave
in and took this guy. And the bloke decided to fish on the way across and unfortunately
he skagged his arm with a hook, buried the hook in his arm and although they cut it out
and bound it up, after about a week he found he had a great swelling under his arm and
eventually he died. So Herlihy, this is a story, Irishman of course, he said that he got very
worried that when he, he'd made a lot of entries, they were quarreling like mad all the
time and by the time he got to the other side they would probably arrest him for
murdering this bloke. He would be on suspicion of murder. So he decided the only way to
do it was to get the axe out and chop the arm off the bloke and they had being a boozy
company, a tub of rum aboard, so he put the arm in the barrel of rum, sealed it up and
tossed the body overboard. When he got to the other side he told his story until he
brought the evidence, he gave them the arm
Roy Fowler: How much of this was indeed Hibernian romance
Maurice Carter: I wouldn't know. It's certainly true that he is a great sailor.
Roy Fowler: What was the primary purpose of going out to Burbank to do this, was it to
satisfy Disney himself
Maurice Carter: Yes, he wanted to see the shot by shot progression of the picture
Roy Fowler: Which is probably again from his animation background
If..). ''t-- ,
Maurice Carter: Exactly, everything had to be sketched and I had to provide the set
backgrounds for the sketch artist. I had to sketch all my set ups before I returned.
Roy Fowler: That is very much an American practice, had you much encountered it here
Maurice Carter: Not before that much, no, I think it was the first picture I'd really had a
sketch artist of my own
Roy Fowler: It wasn't common practice was it
Maurice Carter: Later on, from then on it became more so
Roy Fowler: The American influence I suspect. I would think made on location
Maurice Carter: Yes there was, we looked vainly for castles in Ireland, we shot some of
the location bits in Ireland, not very much, it was really the story of the Red Hand of
Donegal.
Roy Fowler: Were they good budgets
Maurice Carter: They were very stable budgets, carefully made, carefully scheduled like
everything that Disney touched, done with great preparation, great care.
Roy Fowler: I've always had a feeling that was part of the success of the operation, they
were so careful
Maurice Carter: And Michael and I got on very well so it was a very easy picture
Roy Fowler: Was he Irish or Irish American
Maurice Carter: Irish American., his brother was an actor,
Roy Fowler: Followed by another Wallis picture, Anne of the Thousand Days
Maurice Carter: By then John had died of course and so I took over his mantle as
production designer
Roy Fowler: Did you then have an art director yourself
Maurice Carter: Yes, I had the art director Lionel Couch, who had been my assistant on
many pictures
Roy Fowler: Did you find it difficult as production designer not to get meticulously
involved on the art direct level, being such an experienced art director, having such a
close touch with the physical production
Maurice Carter: No, because normally, for instance on Becket John and I did almost
alternate ketches for things
Roy Fowler: So it wa a collaboration
Maurice Carter: It was much more a collaboration than really the designer art director
relation hip on that picture:
Roy Fowler: So there i no barrier really for the production designer it really can be a
hands on experience.
Maurice Carter: Abso.lutely, and on that one he was dOing much more the art directing
job in the ense be was studying the quality of the tonework and talking to the plasterer '
and that sort of thjng on the actual finish of ets which normally would be tile art
director' job in a art director/designer relationship. So it was very do e, it wa , John did
nearly all of the big sketches, the big set.
SIDE 10, TAPE 5
Roy Fowler: Are we still on Anne of 1000 Days.
Maurice Carter: No, I think the only interesting thing on that was that John Bryan by this
time was taking absolutely no notice of Natalie Kalmus and Joan Bridges for their colour
control, sorry on Becket. And although they had credit on each of those pictures, we
knew as much ourselves, or more, than they did about colour, as far as sets were
concerned.
Roy Fowler: The days of 3-strip are long over, 12 years or so, so even if the film was
going into Technicolor for processing
Maurice Carter: I think the deal was on with Technicolor" I think you will find if you
look at the credits for those pictures you will still see Joan Bridges name and Natalie
Roy Fowler: And Mrs Kalmus was still there
Maurice Carter: Mrs Kalmus was still there at that time or had only recently gone back to
the states, certainly Joan Bridges name was on there
Taffy Haines: Was that the time they used to shoot on Eastmancolor stock and print by
Technicolor, make 3 separation negs, to make the release prints
Roy Fowler: Yes, they made imibition prints
That is an interesting side line, I thought she had long since lost her power, but you were
saying you paid no attention
Maurice Carter: No, I think the costume used to talk to them, controls there but I don't
think anywhere else
Roy Fowler: For the designer to have that area removed from himis almost ridiculous, no
matter what the purposes may have been in the early days.
Maurice Carter: Very worrying, to have to argue about colour and have debates about
how you are going to paint something.
Roy Fowler: Did you do 3 strip movies
Maurice Carter: I don't remember, it made no difference to us really, virtually no
difference. Because our whole effort all the time was to suppress colour, just hold it back.
Roy Fowler: It was the British school of colour wasn't it
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Maurice Carter: Yes, and generally we kept the aberrations of Technicolor under control,
but it had become inbred by then to subject colour.
On Anne I was without John, which meant that I had to deal with Hal which was a bit
tougher
Roy Fowler: Direct dealings with him were
Maurice Carter: I found him fairly heavy going at times. One of the main problems I had
with Halon that picture was it was Tudor period and normally in Tudor period there are
quite low ceilings; and otherwise there was elaborate ceilings with xxx an~ plasterwork
and to get the quality of the picture we needed obviously we had to have ceilings on the
sets. Now Hal worked on so many pictures in the States and his principle was no ceilings
whatever. And of course we were getting out of the era in which you could get away with
that any longer. And so I had to have these terrible fights with him about ceilings, his
order was absolutely no ceilings, it holds up shooting, slows down lighting, creates
problems for everybody, no ceilings
Roy Fowler: He wouldn't even want the suggestion of a ceiling or add it with a model or
a matte.
Maurice Carter: We couldn't because few of the shots were long shots anyway
Roy Fowler: You mean it was just absolutely no ceiling
Maurice Carter: It was a room, it was arbitrary which I found so silly. Anyway I put the
ceilings on the sets, but I made them very carefully so we had sections we could lift off
immediately, and he came in - in fact, we used to shoot with the ceilings on and lift them
up when they came in. Ridiculous procedure really but as you can see on the finished
film there are good deal areas of ceilings. But that was just the only real contest with him,
otherwise we got along fairly well,
Roy Fow ler: You make him sound as if his soul interest was in the budget
Maurice Carter: Yes, his soul interest, obvious interest was in the budget and speed of
shooting, but I guess it must have been otherwise, or otherwise he wouldn't have chosen
such subjects. He took a great interest in the sketches of the sets when I showed them to
him and talked them over
Roy Fowler: Other than ceilings would he make sensible suggestions or
Maurice Carter: The ceiling wall was just his one blind spot. It had been established on
all his pictures in the States there were no ceilings and this is what he was going to have
when he came to England.
Roy Fowler: I suppose it was the kind of thing they learned in a big studio operation,
... \
Maurice Carter: Of course, and he had done so many of these fast comedies as you know,
and it would have been sensible on a fast comedy not to bother about ceilings of course.
Roy Fowler: When he was at Warners they did a great many costume pictures, period
pictures
Maurice Carter: They must have faced up to the same restrictions.
Roy Fowler: I think it is something you notice in those Errol Flynn movies and Bette
Davies as Queen Elizabeth movies that there are no ceilings
Maurice Carter: Yes, it just goes straight up. When you used to think that John Bryan
used to set up his shots with special low angled cameras and force the perspective of the
set to get, actually built perspective to get the quality of the force of the camera shot, it is
so interesting that suddenly to be faced with a man who couldn't care less about that.
Roy Fowler: And yet at Warners they had Anton Grot who was a superb art director and
Wallace at Paramount, a different kind of art department at Paramount but never the less,
a very talented one.
Maurice Carter: Maybe he was a very tough art director and was able. I mean I've got
away with a good deal, if you look at the picture as it is issued, there is a good deal of
ceiling to be seen I assure you
Roy Fowler: The point I wanted to make was that picture making in Hollywood was an
industrial process. And Hal Wallis is the factory manager, a very good one. That is why I
was curious about his creative input, but presumably that came ahead of time with the
script and casting.
Maurice Carter: I didn't get much back up from the director on that score I must say,
although I did from the cameraman.
Roy Fowler: Of the two which is your preference, Becket or Anne
Maurice Carter: I think the quality in the end, Becket must have it, a better chance, a
better script and overall better actors. I mean we had this little Canadian girl who was
playing Anne, Bujold, who wasn't a greatly experienced actress, and we had a director
who again was doing his first picture virtually, first major picture.
The only great pleasure was getting a nomination and we had a super, it sounds as if I'm
talking about everything except the quality of the picture and the sets, but we had a
marvelous finish picture. Old Hal did us well on that, we had it in Whitehall, the great
room in Whitehall, where King Charles stepped out for his execution
Roy Fowler: The banqueting hall
Maurice Carter: And he laid on the Grenadier guards to play and march in formation up
and down that huge hall. ,I tell you the sound effect was something, so emotional, quite
marvelous.
Roy Fowler: Followed by Kaleidoscope. I suppose we should reflect that these were the
years of Hollywood England when for a variety of reasons, the rate of exchange, the
black list, the tax breaks that Americans got, the Eady levy, there was a vast amount of
American production
Maurice Carter: It was mainly a combination, the Eady fund made an enormous
contribution to getting films in this country and I cannot understand how that can
possibly have been canceled when it was bringing in millions of dollars to this country
and for the poultry amount of money the Eady money was, it attracted every American
producer no doubt, it was mentioned to me very often, I was told frankly the Eady money
had made a difference between coming here and making it in the States, how anybody
could have canceled that, when you think of the millions of dollars it brought into this
country, quite extraordinary.
Roy Fowler: Wilson seems to have been the only prime minister who's had the least
interest in films
Maurice Carter: Quite extraordinary, anyway we'll talk about it.
Roy Fowler: Kaleidoscope,
Maurice Carter: Was of course with Warren Beatty, directed by Stanley Donen. It was
interesting because it evolved around a plot to commit a robbery, by robbing the casino
Roy Fowler: I saw it at the time and it was very much a designer's picture, wasn't it
Maurice Carter: Yes it was, I was given pretty free scope on it too. So it is quite
interesting all the little details of how to fake the cards and this sort of thing.
Roy Fowler: Wasn't it also in terms of visual concept very much part of all that swinging
London thing
Maurice Carter: Yes it was, very much so, very much a sixties picture in everything,
costume and everything
Roy Fowler: What were your references there, were you conscious of the changes that
were going on in England, because it was a decade of extraordinary
Maurice Carter: I think you just took it in your stride that sort of atmosphere, I think it
was very easy to
I .;,' ~".:.
Roy Fowler: The Beatles and Camaby St and all that,
Maurice Carter: And then it was Monte Carlo and the Italian casino.
Roy Fowler: Am I right in thinking it was very much art modeme, the picture
Maurice Carter: It was to a large degree, it was in the nature of the script that one
designed to that idiom. It was fun, quite good fun.
Roy Fowler: And a lot of trompe oeuiI
Maurice Carter: That's right. I think I picked it up from the script as much as anything, a
very good, concise little script. And then we had to work on all the trickery of the faking
burglary, how to get the guy into the place and the robbery. Donen was very nice, he was
quiet, and Warren was very nice, I think he was busy with the London ladies very much,
Roy Fowler: It was relatively young in his career
Maurice Carter: Yes, he had a reputation, but he hadn't made Bonnie and Clyde.
Roy Fowler: And Stanley Donen
Maurice Carter: Very quiet, knew what he wanted
Roy Fowler: It's sad they all went back
Maurice Carter: It is, it was a marvelous exchange at that time between the studios
Roy Fowler: I used to often stroll over to the softball game in the park on Sundays. The
Quiller Memorandum followed
Maurice Carter: I can't remember either the director, producer or cameraman. It was so
interesting, they all started off convinced that it was going to be an Oscar picture, it was
started and made in that way, that this was the Oscar, I thought I think you're over
ambitious babies. But they were determined to make it as an artistic picture as they
possibly could and it was shot largely, almost entirely in Berlin. The story was the
resurgent Nazis, and so we shot on the actual sites, and we shot in the old Japanese
Embassy bombed, in Berlin, in the Tiergarten. And of course by that time I knew Berlin
pretty well, it was my fourth picture in Berlin so I pretty well knew the place so it was
pretty easy for me. And very nice sets to build
Roy Fowler: How much was built
Maurice Carter: Nearly all the interiors I would say, except just a piece of the interior of
the Japanese embassy and I copied the rest of the rooms in the Japanese Embassy for the
other interiors, because they were in this wonderful state of desolation or abandonment
(
I
Roy Fowler: These are studios, you're working in the West of Berlin
Maurice Carter: I think we were working through UFA this time, the other studios we
were using
Roy Fowler: There were studios at Tempelhof
Maurice Carter: That was UF A
Roy Fowler: No, UFA was at Neu Babelsberg, it was called DEFA on the East German
Maurice Carter: It was just on the East West border, UFA, as I knew it, because they
could see all their lamps, the Russians had put them on railway tracks ready to take them
back to Russia, they had never been taken back and they were lying in great piles, all
rusty. I remember because UFA had a nice little Biergarten, restaurant out in the back lot
and you could see over the top of the fence, about 150 yards away, all their lamps piled, a
tragic sight
Roy Fowler: But in the other section
Maurice Carter: In the East, over the border, the border ran exactly on the back of the
studio, but the studios I used for Ghengis Khan were away over to the West of Berlin.
They were well away from the border. Big studios, as big as any at Pinewood virtually.
UFA was quite small little stages. I built the inside of the Palace at Peking in them so
they were very big studios
Roy Fowler: It's interesting, the Harry Palmer film, it was a sleeper, nobody expected
anything of it but it turned out really stylish, Funeral in Berlin. I remember seeing
Quiller and being disappointed,
Maurice Carter: That's right, it didn't quite go did it. I think if there wasn't this
contention that it was already an Oscar winner, everybody might have paid more
attention to the quality of the story and action.
Roy Fowler: If they hadn't taken themselves so seriously. Challenge for Robin Hood
Maurice Carter: I can hardly remember what it was all about, as you can imagine it was
some sort of quickie or other.
Roy Fowler: Then we get another very large scale picture, The Battle of Britain.
Maurice Carter: That was the biggest picture I suppose I ever did. But that was an
enormous project because, the history was that it was started by Tony Masters, and I
think he rather wished he hadn't started it, I think he got a bit frightened by the whole
project and anyway he decided that he was going to back out. Because at that point there
was some hiatus in the financing and I think Tony took the opportunity to disappear from
it. So I was taken on to take over. Tony had done about 6 months work on it, or more, and
I was left with the remaining 6 months to get it into action. And it was such an enormous
project.
I went over with them, we were making the French, and using for the French and German
airfields, they were using Toblada airfield in Spain, near Valencia. And so we decided to
go on a reccie and have a look at it, the director, Hamilton, myself. Anyway we were all
in this car travelling out of Valencia to go to Toblada and they had just bought all these
ME109 aeroplanes and they were being flown by young pilots, Spanish pilots. And as we
came along this long road approaching the airport, about a mile and a half away,
suddenly there was a bang and a great column of smoke went up. It was one of the young
pilots had gone in, he had been corning in to land and his plane ditched. And they think it
was something to do with the oiling up of the engine or something. Anyway that was the
casualty which terrified everybody, from then on everybody was terrified how many
people were going to be killed on this picture.
But the set up at Toblada was amazing because we went in and all these Roll Royce
engines were piled up at the Spanish airforce had bought great piles of them in the
original packing cases. And there were the bombers, we had about 16 bombers lined up
altogether and eventually I think we had 26, I think it was, ME109s
Roy Fow ler: Were these part of the Spanish airforce
Maurice Carter: Yes, the bombers were still in, part of the Spanish airforce, Heike Ills.
And the ME 109s were being sold, they were getting rid of them. Our big problem was of
course was that the last type of ME 109 in the war but they were equipped with Rolls
Royce engines and that gave us a problem because the ME109 was supposed to fire a
cannon through the shaft of the engine, which fired out of the voss of the propeller. Of
course you can't do that through the middle of a Rolls Royce engine, it is quite different.
So we had to make a device up for the voss of the propeller, with the apparent aperture of
the cannon and all the mechanics of firing within the voss, which was a little bit difficult,
but anyway that was special effects problem, not mine.
And the whole thing was so complex to deal with that I had to travel, we were building
the radar station at Dover, the original for the bombing which we built to I think it was
about fifth or quarter scale, all the great radar towers. And we had radio controlled JU8s
to come into bomb, and then we built up also the radar huts there and we had a JU88 full
size mock up built which was held on wires to cover in the radar hut and crash on the
radar hut and explode. And it was a continual thing of working out effects of course.
And then in the studio, there was enormous research to be done for all the control centres,
especially the one at the central fighter command, control room, because we had to be
exactly detailed, exactly as it was, by that time we were making the film they had been
dismantled. As they were almost stripped down, but I went up to Uxbridge and had a look
at it and up to the other place where fighter command headquarters was and we found all
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sorts of people whom we could talk to and find out how it was, on this particular day and
date, how the planning table, how the aircraft were, who was there, who was up in the
gallery watching. It was the day of the Eagle day which was the day that Churchill visited
and sat up in the gallery. And of course we had to build an enormous number of
Hurricanes in the studio, we had to find a way we could quickly manufacture those. But
the thing was that we had to build them virtually as the original bodies were because on
the scene of the French airfield burning, when an aircraft burns, it reveals the structure so
we had to build them with the actual real structure visibly.
And how we used the other Spitfires, xxx we had Spitfires on the airfield. We put, to turn
the propeller we put motor mower engines in each one to give the pretake off spin of the
propeller and then they were towed on thin wires for the take off and they had to crash in
the bomb craters and blow up, all these sort of things. But the whole time we had this
worry of being exact and finding references for it.
Roy Fowler: Because so many people were watching
Maurice Carter: So many people were still alive who would know exactly, who lived on
that day, would know it. And of course, we had most of the fighter pilots there as
technical advisers, so it was purely a great big technical exercise. But it drove me mad the
driving from each airport. We were shooting in Dover, in east of London, and Biggin Hill
and I was driving on one day, driving between all when we were building things,
construction. I was doing some enormous mileage, I used to get back here at midnight
absolutely worn out. And we had great problems
Roy Fowler: But they were in a sense expected problems. Were there unexpected
disasters, any more fatalities
Maurice Carter: No we didn't, we had one very narrow escape in the double sequence of
the Spit, they took up the stills man to get pUblicity photographs and that belly, had to
belly land. But they got away with it, they got away with everything, absolutely
marvelous.
Roy Fowler: The camera crews,
Taffy Haines: John Aldrxxx was on it and his son, Nick
Maurice Carter: That's was flying. Skeets was the main photographer, and early on in the
picture we found this American plane which we had to fit up with a great plastic nose
thing. And I got built into it an arm so we could drop the camera down below the aircraft
and see below the aircraft clear because the dome, you could only photograph obviously
within the narrow confines of the width of the dome, the optical dome. But I thought that
if we had this camera, remote control camera, we could also shoot sideways and probably
get two shots at the same time. But it was never used, the boys didn't like the idea, hated
the idea of a remote camera, they never used it, but it was built in. It was a most
adventurous film technically you've ever heard of.
At the same time of course I had Bert Davy as my assistant, marvelous boy, absolutely
marvelous bloke and he was dealing with the front projection because in the studio we
were building a complete Heikel that was on a prod xxx, and we could hold the thing up
and manoeuvre it in front of the BP screen. So we had the enormous problem of the first
time of building a front projection screen was built that side, it was 140 ft long and 24 ft
high. And of course nobody had put paper on such a size before so we had to design a
machine to go along and take the paper off its roll and paste it and strip it off. It worked
pretty well actual1y, because you can't handle it, you can't touch it you know, once you
touch the 3ms paper it is finished,
We had a roller that evenly compressed it and took it off. Meanwhile Bert Davy was
building two front projection projectors, front projection machines that could be wheeled
out very easily, we had to build two in case we had errors with one, so there were all sorts
of projects going on like this, enormously ambitious projects, and looking after all these
things, and looking at them was driving me absolutely potty as you can imagine.
Roy Fowler: It sounds open ended.
Maurice Carter: It was, it had to be, nobody, it was open ended absolutely. But marvelous
adventure, technicians.
Roy Fowler: Was it worth it, suffering through all that
Maurice Carter: I think so. We allieamed so much.
Roy Fowler: What about the producers, Benjamin Fisz wasn't it
Maurice Carter: He was a pain in the arse, absolute pain in the arse, and a non
contributor. I must tell you, the only thing he was good at was entertaining the foreign
pilots, like who was the big German, Gallan, Gallan and his chums, and poor old one
legged Bader. Bader was very interesting, I had another shop up in the studio, up about
the 4th floor I think it was, up a flight of very steep stone steps, and they all said they
wanted to go and see it because I had up there, they were building these models, aerial
controlled models, radio controlled models, and I said did he really want to go up, and he
said, yes, let's go. So the whole crowd of them, these pilots and German pilots and every
body and I was leading the way up there and old Bader was coming along and I looked
back and saw he was sweating like mad. So I sort of paused on the landing after the
second floor and he saw us pause, and the other chaps started pausing and looking back
and he said go on you bastards, don't look back at me. He was full of guts, marvelous
man, absolutely marvelous man.
But this radio model exploit was a terrible thing because Benny Fisz, it had already been
started, the idea had been started before I really got hold of it and when I realised that
they originally just had some blokes messing, radio control experts messing around at
home making planes. I said this is no good, we have got to have not four old guys
knocking out planes, four planes, because the idea was of course making hit head on and
they explode in mid air, blowing up and everything. Eventually I called these boys in and
got them to mass produce them more or less at that stage. Later on we just had them cast
in plastic, soft plastic. And we could produce dozens, very short life, but this time they
were making them as fast as they could with help
Roy Fowler: Was that reasonably innovational work
Maurice Carter: Well nobody that I knew had used radio controlled planes for film work
before,
Roy Fowler: What size were they
Maurice Carter: They were, these were about, I suppose they were 12 ft wing span,
something like 8-12 ft.
Roy Fowler: And quite practical
Maurice Carter: Oh yes. They contained radio controls, wings and tails, and little engines
in them. And they had to be, the problem was, they had to be loaded with explosives on
the ground, well the trouble was that as soon as they were loaded, they were a very, very
dangerous thing, because if a stray radio signal came in, as one did one day, when one of
the special effects boy was xxx xxx, they blew up themselves, gave a signal to the radio.
And these boys got so to love the planes they made but they were going out with an
assistant director and they were shooting themselves what they liked and they were
getting absolutely nowhere, because they were all trying to save their own aircraft and get
the other guy, they were all dodging each other or not getting too close to the camera or
ground, they were all preserving these bloody aircraft.
So I went up, we got them on the airfield just above Henley, and Benny Fisz said look
I'm going to finish with all this. I said well just give me one chance to go out with them
and see if I can get something. He said OK, you better get it quick. Anyway for the first
time we got them actually blowing up within camera, and we had them actually with the
camera right on them. And then we had one which blew up all around us, right into the
camera. I saw the engine fly past the cameraman's ear, just about that much, the whole
engine, they were quite dangerous things, then one chased me up the runway, hit me up
the backside and the back of the legs with the point of the propeller, which didn't do me
any good. But anyway we did get quite a lot of material.
And then we had another system of model aircraft, these were really biggies, these were
the bombers, and models of Heikel 111, and they were something like 22 ft across the
wing span, 18 - 22 ft across the wing span and they were designed to be held under a
helicopter. The guy with the radio control in the helicopter, they were loaded with
explosives and then, this was done mainly down on the beaches, and crashing into sea
and crashing on the beaches. If you ever look at the film you will see they're rather good
shots. I don't think anybody has ever detected they're not the real thing, but they were
quite big things and so they had a quick release, and the propellers were left just to turn
with the wind as they came down which seemed to work very well and they glided after
that. And then the guy was able to direct them down for their crashes into the sea or go in
the beach and then we fired off the charge at the appropriate moment, very elaborate
procedure as you can imagine. Not a cheap operation by any means.
Roy Fowler: Do you have an idea what the picture finally cost
Maurice Carter: I don't think compared with modern, I don't really
Roy Fowler: The problem as I remember was the script
Maurice Carter: Yes, the script was disconnected. You see I said to them originally, you
know the huge problems with this is going to be, the need is to follow one aircraft, one
pilot, one aircraft, and to follow it through a battle, and I said how do we do that. The
only way to do it is to eithre to make numbers or some visual mark on it that you can
follow it but nobody was very interested. And I had such terrible trouble with numbering
aircraft because we were doubling aircraft and using them at various phases. And each
one had to be correctly numbered, there was always some guy who had fought in that
particular battle who knew it was 20602785, it was generally a pain in the arse picture.
Roy Fowler: It is typical of all those pictures that sadly they don't seem finally to work,
but so much effort and money goes into them. A lot of it is not appreciated ..
Maurice Carter: Enormous effort into that picture, enormous effort, especially the special
effects boys
Roy Fowler: You say you were on it for 6 months
Maurice Carter: I had 6 months preparation and then I think we shot it, quite short
shooting schedule, something like 18 weeks, something very short
Roy Fowler: Just the one unit
Maurice Carter: No, 3 units plus a flying unit and a model unit
Roy Fowler: It sounds an interesting experience
Maurice Carter: It's an experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss I say looking back on
it but at the time I must say I felt so stretched, I had never been so stretched in my life.
Roy Fowler: It is quite a jump from that in terms of time and subject too, that is 68 and
your next work came in 1970, so that is what has been occupying you
I'm trying to think of the airfield near, which is now the museum, Duxford. What was
quite interesting, blowing up the hangar there. We, they bought for £5000 one of the
..
standing hangars there and the idea was that with the aircraft coming and the bombs
dropping closer and closer and closer and eventually one goes into the hangar and inside
was a Spitfire which used to be on skids, blown out through the doors as the bomb hit, on
fire. And of course it was the masonry on the building, enormous, the stone piers were 4
ft square. Enormously strong building, so it was all drilled with hydraulic drills and these
great charges, and eventually had tons of explosive in it.
So the shot started and they all started coming over and the bombs were set up to drop, he
started the bombs out about half a mile away, we could see them coming and firing, he
was firing, pressing the buttons and firing and firing. The cameras were turning and
everybody was running, panic, came to the hangar blowing up, it didn't work, everything
else had blown up. So it was back to the drawing board. Charlie. But he was a marvelous
special effects man, he had doubled up everything, he knew this could happen, he had
doubled up everything. I mean his manual was this size covered with buttons for all the
various explosions. So they got this time and everybody was slightly dubious and they
were looking over the top of the trenches, will it go up this time. But this time it went up
with a real bang. And then of course we were bitterly chastised later on, years later,
because they said you were the bastards that blew up the hangar that we could have had
for the museum, the museum would have had so much space
Roy Fowler: So the air ministry, the Treasury got £5000 and it would cost them probably
2 million to rebuild it.