Michael Colomb

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Interview Date(s): 
12 Jun 1995
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Interview notes


NOTE: This interview is rather technical as Colomb is a technician who has always been involved with the technical side of sound recording. However, the interview is full of anecdotes which are well worth following through.


Born 1928 in the same house as now; local school, then UCS Hampstead. During the war got to know Gordon McCallum who later was able to introduce him to Denham Studios where he got a job as an assistant in the sound department. He talks about those days and then his move to the BBC Television Film Department. He then got involved in the design and manufacture of a lightweight blimp but to do so had to leave the BBC.


Talks about Independent Frame and the making of Sound Effects. He talks about his travels when working with Dick Cawston on a programme on Global Television. He talks about equipment maintenance whilst on location. He goes on to talk about various sound systems used by the BBC, and about the fibre glass blimp he and his ex-BBC colleague Neville Bruce [designed?]. They were working from Radlett in a farm building. He also worked outside as a sound recordist with their new blimp, working with Denis Mitchell.  He has an interesting tale to tell when his new company, Better Sound, took over part of the bonded film store in Endell Street.


Talking about taking over the lease of Endell Street and later buying the freehold. He then goes on to talk about the changing role the company played due to the fast changes of practices in the industry. He talks about the difficulty of set-up training programmes faced by small companies. The firm changed over to provision of hardware, and not without providing crewing and equipment hire [?] He talks about the use of radio mics.


This side deals mainly with recollections.




Alan Lawson  0:05  
The copyright of this recording is vested in the BECTU history project. Michael Colomb, BBC TV sound engineer, dubbing mixer and director of better sound of Endell Street interview. Alan Lawson, recorded on the 12th of June 1995. side one you know, first and foremost, when Where were you born?

Michael Colomb  0:40  
This very address, actually, I mean, but number 17 we're actually on the other half of the house which are number 18 book. So I've never, never moved. yes and yes. When was that? 1928 1998

Alan Lawson  0:59  
on schooling,

Michael Colomb  1:01  
the local Hampstead Garden Suburb, what Charles Charles way Yeah. And later to UCS, Junior School and on to the senior school,

Alan Lawson  1:13  
and what was your what we were to do there?

Michael Colomb  1:17  

to do I was always interested in sound and I used to holler down the Hoover tubes from room to room. And really, the whole thing clinched itself a mutual friend, David McCallum and he used to live in the homes with a brother who was a film editor, Douglas I've only didn't meet him very much. But he was the senior fire guard. Yes. And we live next door to the deputy Fire Guard who so we saw a lot of him and I became a messenger in a tin hat on a bike supposed to be called out or called out on emergencies but usually they let me sleep through it. And on the very I went up knocked on all the doors all the studios I went up to see is it D C Sewell head of sound. The time they were producing the wicked Lady 1946. Mason & Grainger  to Ealing. I didn't even get an interview at Ealing. The various documentary outfits, which was smaller and I was told, you know, this is the place to get into a small setup that I think we call the film centre with Egan street  And everybody was telling me to go to these small little establishment because you'll learn so much and they were saying well of course they can't they haven't got the establishment to do it and you want to try a larger place and so in the end it was almost in desperation and I think that I told a sorry  Gordon McCallum the story and he said Oh, you must come up and see I went up and saw Cyril  Crowhurst and I they were at that time doing a Matter of lLife and Death or American version of a Stairway to Heaven. And they are I saw virtually the last day of Gordon on as a boom operator he was moving in as a as an assistant dubbing mixer to Desmond Joo. And if you ever saw I mean you would take him to be a military man but if you knew him of course nothing could be further from the truth but he was so organised  I can remember this day him standing upright with his gauntlet gloves, you know, because he'd always dive in and he wouldn't have I think on that a picture that picture there was two assistant boom operators. And if the boom moved, went there, he knew exactly was no messing around. And of course he  was highly respected and lighting cameraman always lit for the boom in those days because

Alan Lawson  4:19  
if you had to.

Michael Colomb  4:22  
And that indeed was he disappeared from that and I actually in the end got a job and I was very fortunate I became an assistant boom operator and I went on to that very production. So Denham at Denham  and followed up all the post synchronisation, the effects and then we were roaring  around Denham  launching motorbikes out the backs of lorries to do get the crash effects where Roger Livesey  actually buys it in the foot while he is killed in the end or dies as a result of the accident.

Alan Lawson  4:59  
Can you remember what they paid you.

Michael Colomb  5:01  
Ah, well, that is indelible. It was two pounds 50 and I used to go up. I think via  Finchley road change. I tried various routes via  Neasden and changing at Wembley and going up to Uxbridge and on the bus. And the amazing thing was that I can't remember the fares, but there was always some change on your own, but I was living at home. So I had the support of the family. But I do remember one occasion when a 10 pound note, I dropped on the platform, and I think it was fairly valuable because I really chased almost chased it onto the tracks. So two pounds 50 must have be worth something. Yes, yes. To two pounds to 10 shillings, and from from there. And then I went through, I only stayed there about eight, eight months and then went in forces. In 46, I came back and visited and of course, there were the hand that was it. And there's other productions were on there. And finally came back but I went to became a loader. But standing in for all sorts of people. So I got to work on loads of different productions. We were on Divided was going on Trotty True Treasure Island, Byron haskin, with the very well remembered the introduction of the Mole  Richardson crane, which proceeded to in the hands of the novice crew to tear the set down. Taking big chunks out of the set. And always remember the the Americans the difference between the Americans and the British directors, British directors will never give up. They will always envisage the shot and shoot it as they envisage it. The Americans soon say agh  that this isn't gonna work. We're cut it out  we won't have a complete track all the way through. Ah that can't be 

Alan Lawson  7:18  
you will you will. You come back and you are in as a loder now I see  and carry on from there. And what? How long did you stay down at Denham

Michael Colomb  7:34  
After the  49 50 I'm not too sure. But I was working on Morning Departure. Or as it's known Operation Disaster in the States. Roy Baker was director. And we, for change did quite a bit of location work off the bill. And it was really a very interesting because we were in and out of submarines. Can you imagine those old film channels, massive great q channels going in and out but treated like torpedoes. And we didn't know actually whether we were going to have any oil left in them by the time we played them 

And they didn't.

And the story is there because we did a lot we used a class though the actual submarine that was used in the picture was Tiptoe t class. But for sound effects. We had an A class alongside the quay  and we at that time had the sound in gear in the truck and put in all our massive great six way cables. And the unfortunate thing these sprung loaded hatches the gun  hatch was coming down and nipping the cables. So we got hold of a seaman of the deck party and he clipped them all back. And it was terrible night. Everybody got soaked and they ended up by a good quantity of rum sort of injected to keep us going. But one thing that had happened was that and it was found the next day when they went out for diving exercises that the captain did a crash dive and went to was the conning tower and he had pulled tried to pull the conning tower, lid flap or lid down and of course it was clipped up. He wasa Lieutenant commander which is unusual for a captain and he he wasn't very pleased about that.

The So I'm trying to think of all the chronologically because it's very I had forces in between


stage one was a music stage and they did the the music for Caesar and Cleopatra. George Bernard Shaw came down. And the director, David Gabby Pascal  at that time was everybody realise the sort of mounting bills, including, I think just the cars alone reach 20 or 30,000 pounds, which in those days was quite a proportion of a budget and in the matter of Life and Death actually came in under budget, and that was 350,000 pounds, which Michasel Powell  One of the few, the last ones, I think, that he produced, which was definitely under budget, and then notoriously every film from then on, it seemed to go over Yeah, but certainly Ceasar and Cleopatra led the way. And he will, he would come in the morning, and he would get so myopic with a particular thing, or changing a colour on the set. Because it didn't look right. And cameraman was explaining  that we won't even get in that's right on the edge doesn't matter, but it will be changed because he, he was that sort of person, and you go in to carry a message into the dubbing theatre, and he'd engage you in conversation, and nothing to do with what he was doing. And everybody was impatiently waiting. dubbing mixer was drumming onthe desk and it all hold him because he's just focuses his attention to the person that he's talking to. And while the meters  running and it's a great shame really, because in a way that they contributed a lot to the British film industry, but they started to nail the nails into the coffin as well at the same time, and there was just nobody to to contain these people that stood up except a  cow, which I think bit him once by back so it's very sad because Morning Departure, I did see virtually the end of Denham . There were some reshoots that they had to go out and do. And I, I would have dearly love to do it, but in fact,Cyril Crowhurst who is a very fatherly head of sound had already arranged for me to go into a job that ABPC so  I just walked off one job into another and somebody who you might not know of that it actually took over for me he was an assistant maintenance no longer I'm afraid with this Derek Swinerton the Swinertons  were in Oakwood road. I will not so many doors, I would think from Roger Swinerton who was a librarian  And he we found ourselves travelling up the North Circuar road  onto Acton and in an old Austin seven, which was out in the road and it never fired  on more than three cylinders until we got to Perivale was it perivale gyratory system, then we roar off and of course we share the petrol on that made it a little better getting in to work

but but how do you get to ABPC

that that Edgeware and bus  I saw that and I sometimes people that I work with that sometimes got a lift back into Barnet and came down that was a bit long winded but the tube bus across, can't even remember the number. But I'm sure that transport must have been a little more reliable because traffic less congested and you had a good idea what time you were going to turn up in the morning. But yeah, I had to be down at the bus stop for the very latest 10 past seven. Yeah, I couldn't get to Denham  and well, I remember the bus dropped out it became a bit serious. Because they were like we did work long hours in those days. Yes. Certainly on Treasure Island used to work. Trotty True we used to work alternate Saturdays and Sundays by mutual agreement which worked quite well because I think nowadays Of all hours virtually or worked weekends and everything, but it did take a bit of the pressure off at least you got the one day whether it was a Saturday or a Sunday. And, and the for the scheduling of the pictures it. They knew where they were the famous calling of the quarter I seen Oh, yes. And the amount of film wasted because I think the ruling was you had to be on the first take. Which was a great shame just to fulfil the conditions that one had to waste film. Oh Kays must  have loved it. And how long were you at a BBC that about for four years now? He joined the BBC in 1954. And we did. Yes.

Alan Lawson  15:53  
What did you finish up at a ABPC  where you Well, no,

Michael Colomb  15:57  
no, I hadn't no i there I joined the music scoring theatre. We even had a visit by the Queen Mother there and Princess Margaret which was quite a highlight. And the Hitchcock was finishing off film when we got there Stage Fright. And so though I didn't see any actual shooting, he was very dominant as you know in the cutting rooms. And he used to take over a stage and do his posting never came near the posting side theatre at all. He'd have his moviola, in a bare  stage with a few sound gobos. And the editor will come in with loops and they play the loop. clatter clatter clatter with a sound and then the artist or child that they seem to find it fairly easy because there were very short bits of dialogue. And it worked very successfully. And in fact a lot of the dialogue sounded for exterior you know in the corner of studio sounded a lot better than some of the post sunc theatres have worked. It certainly didn't have a lot of the hollow sound is terrible. Listening back on tracks. listening to what purports to be exterior sound, you know, onboard, hitting back off the panoramic. Yeah.

Alan Lawson  17:37  
So you finished you finished up at ABPC, working  in 54

Michael Colomb  17:42  
in 54. And I had an amazing situation because I applied for I was offered a job as assistant dubbing mixer at Lady Ewell's British National. And the same time I'd applied for as assistant recorders job with a BBC. And the two things happen together. And it really was a crossroads because the British National came up said look, we want you to take the job. And I hadn't as yet heard back from the BBC. And unbeknown to me my brother, who was in sound radio, had been since the war was from 1938. It was he had applied for the job. And of course on the notice board was just assistant sound recorders singular. And so and he had heard that he got the job. So I thought well, you know niggling feeling I just must know that I haven't got the job, and then I'll be satisfied  Because I earlier tried to get into the BBC. But of course they were taking everybody coming back from the forces, bit like the film industry, you know, the John Mitchell's all coming back from there. Anyway, the I've took the liberty of phoning the staff, establishment people, I think the Langham and I told them my name. And all I could hear was laughing at the end of the phone and I didn't get a direct answer at all. And I had apparently got the job. There had been three positions and Bob Saunders must know he got one of them. JOHN got one and I got the third. So that that was the start of it all  which

was a very great experience but at the same time I found it very difficult to come to terms with the standards that the BBC were operating I, I've come from a regime and people like Tony Lumpkin, who would make you balance compressors twice a day, and they had to be within half a dB. And if it wasn't, and you didn't do it, your face didn't fit. I mean, everybody knows a compressor can go out sort of, after you've done it an hour or two, he can go out, but the point was that you knew at a particular time, it was okay. And you should have the evidence. And people at ABC have virtually been fired on the spot for being found not to be doing the tracks or not doing properly or pretending that they're doing. And the BBC would do cross mods, when there was time. And we used to, in the dubbing theatre, at ABPC, we put them on the end of every roll, while they went to the labs, and the BBC, you know, it was sort of very much an afterthought. You know, you say, Well, what about the cross mods  Oh, that's good idea. We did one last month.

Alan Lawson  21:17  
Can you remember what you started on?

Michael Colomb  21:20  
I started it. It was the first production it was down in AP. War in the Air? Oh, yes, it was the major I mean, other bits and pieces. Because we extensively down there for for news, which was going through all sorts of phrase at one time, we had hardly aanything  to do with the news because you couldn't use a rifle shot or anything that wasn't actually genuine, of course, that kyboshed  the whole lot because everything was on disk. That was who I was, it didn't matter too much about the politics. But War in the Air in the air was different in a way that the same restrictions weren't there, and dear old Dick Cawston who used to do the children's newsreel  that we did from mostly that I remember because I moved to Lime Grove. And later did loads of productions  with Dick Cawston  around the world. Again, very interesting, because they virtually in house projects, television around the world and how it was treated from South America, Poland, Russia, everywhere, imaginable. And it's a wonderful insight into the way that all those people did things. And I must say that some of them who hadn't got the technical expertise, but were methodical, amazingly enough, got by with fairly successfully flying engine engineers in every six months to put the major things right. It's we Away  from it All. Chris Chataway. I'm trying to think of the trailer of Stuart. Good. No, no, no, no. One of the Austrian who was to remember the Dimbleby is did the Steven. Steven Hess dear old Steven Hess? And he was one of these scriptwriter Wasn't he on the way and then he went on his own productions, that he conceived all his productions before he went, and so he was being a great reader wanted to illustrate everything that he put in his script. And of course, we were sometimes a few years too late. I think some something's blown up just recently that a unit has had to come back from abroad. Similar thing I thought that had all been varied with the past because things are much more immediate, you know, how things are happening abroad, before books or sometimes a decade in the past, and we had one particular situation where he left his script line behind in two English spinster ladies who ran an English school with over 50% Chinese This was in Singapore, and Malaysians, and he wanted to show how they taught seventy 70 years back about Queen good Queen Bess to all All these Chinese people, you know, because it wasn't quite really meant nothing to them. And we did recordings of the lessons as they were. And the script didn't actually spell it out that the script was showing how out of context. English history was in that time. And in fact, they stopped two or three years ago to teach it. So, one of the ladies was connected to the DG  and was on the phone and poor old Steven, I think had a broadside, which I don't think he's ever had before or after. Did you go on location ? Then? Did you go on location with these things? Oh, yes, yes, yes. Yes. Yeah.

Alan Lawson  25:49  
We camera were you  taking

Michael Colomb  25:53  
the it was the 16 mil Arriflex. Yes, camera, less of chaff cutter than the 35. And the RA three two  one and perfectone system we for was there was a Nagra but  un fortunately, P and Id attempted to convert it from Neo pilots, which I think Kudelski took great exception to and I think he almost said he wasn't gonna provide any more. Because I had that equipment prior to going on major production around the world with Dick Cawston  And came into quite a political battle for the powers that be who wanted to make it to the Leevers Rich system and not the Near?  pilot. And Near  pilot had not been operating in the BBC hitherto  we had in sports, which was the great user of 16 mil we had Mihacl? system, which just recorded longitudinally along the track in the centre and didn't give absolute rejection. So you've got an interaction between the audio tracks, and the sync or control track. And if a diesel lorry went by would sort of give you an extra sync But I mean, for sport and things. It didn't matter too much. But when we use this equipment, which we did on the Chris Chataway, where we were visiting universities in the Far East, to see what the youth out there, what they, their prospects were what they wanted to do. Mostly they seem to be want to be doctors and civil servants. That it It worked we sound recordists were well known for taking they're in the middle of an I think they thought we were mad in all these countries because I'd appear with my duffle coat, which was really only there to drape around the camera to the annoyance of the cameraman I think was Peter Hamilton in this case to try and reduce the noise from the camera and when of course that pointed up the need for a lightweight camera because the only camera blimp was the only one available was the cast blimps lined with lead that Arriflex did which were really for studio I mean, they would have put freighttage  abroad up double in terms of a sound camera, the weights. And this is where I started to call out what there was a cooperation between research department and the BBC at Ealing. To produce a light weight blimp. They produce the blimp, but to the annoyance of cameraman they had to every time they wanted to alter a stop or zoom lens they virtually had to go through the blimping to do it. So it's all right once on a fixed lens or that was fine or a fixed shot. But pulling focus on anything and they made a very good, quiet blimp. But the research department will completely sign it when the cameraman said what he wanted to change the stop from outside the camera. He wanted to zoom. And so they decided that they would go no longer down the road. Because research department were getting frustrated and certainly the film department under the film technical manager was getting frustrated and they dropped the whole thing which of course, that the easy way to go really typical, perhaps have a lot of areas of the BBC, you know, doesn't work leave it alone. So we, in my spare time with Neville, Drew's who was also a member research department wasn't working on that project he was doing working with loudspeakers. We knocked up various odd blimps, we we try one for team, I'm just trying to think Jack from the old tonight programmes, Jack Gold. And a very red tongued person but anyway that they wanted two. One for 35 because at that time Tonight was working

 from Alan Blowerey?, at the New Barnet studios, I believe  and the equipment that we use was very diverse, lots of different makes, and, all had its idiosyncrasies. And I remember well, with Alan Blave? his Wall camera being stuck in the middle of a final of a bowls championship at Eastbourne  and the camera locked solid, the sprocket just wouldn't move. And I've got hold, I phined back  to base. And I couldn't believe that we've been given a camera like this, and I haven't got |Blow's? number. I got the film technical manager. And it was their Bernard Fitz?s. And he says, so  he said, Can you get hold of a hammer and I this is unbeliev. I was told to smartly strike the sprocket on the side with a hammer. And he says I think after you've done that all will be well so virtually that so this happened before and they were still hiring the gear. And lo and behold, I whacked  this thing to everybody's horror that staying around is the sort of last thing to enter my head. And the thing freed up and we finish the story. But that is something which of course sound recordists  always get lumbered with abroad if anything goes wrong with any bit of a camera, you start to learn what a Arriflex is all about. Have it in bits and back in your bedroom.

Alan Lawson  32:32  
The tackle on the on the Wall that was Leevers Rich.

Michael Colomb  32:37  
You can always tell the people have been using that because they usually have a very sore bump on the knee were they playing the tuning fork. And I seem to remember a lot of times because of the interrupters making breaks rather like

Hulk car.

They used to produce a whole lot of hash and in under certain conditions where you've got booms over you and you found that the there was a lot of interference onto the soundtrack. So you're always used to have a good earthing spike and bucket of water or something to make sure that everything was well and truly Earthed fortunately I wasn't too long with the Leevers Rich but it was always in the back of your mind that you could Did you have a problem on the on the combine the chemical x with the magnetic with the 16? Yes. It was one of these things that it beats as it sweeps as it cleans. And in fact, you couldn't find a cameraman in Ealing that would want to once I remember 16 mil going through it and it was on one of these Face to Face type of John Freeman everyone read it people like Augustus John but fortunately not with a Cammy flex and an Arriflex because if you put 16 mill on Academy flex because it had 35 lenses and contrasted that with an Arriflex 16 mill you would have thought it was shot on a different location on a different day with different lighting and everything. It was the difference was phenomenal. It's I've seen better eight mil but so it never I've only on that one occasion do I ever remember 16 mil going through the Camiflex but you know more about that because generally that was that was a PMI  baby it wasn't yes indeed We use that on the Chris Chataway series Away From it All where they took people publicans from East End  pubs to their perfect settings in the country. And we, I remember, we had to load in the Thames Estuary and went on part of it was on a the last of the old seagoing sailing vessels. Are those lovely barges? Yeah, it was a particular Captain Bob Roberts, who really was one of those the old captains who didn't take kindly to film people at all. And the cameraman that fairly well known Hungarian, it was never Oh, Charles Lagus  no Charles Jaeger All right wave and Charles Jaeger?. Yes. And we was having wonderful he take hampers and wine and everything wherever he went. And we were busy again, tacking up the starting to tack on the Thames Estuary. And we were sitting on this wonderful bar with all the sails started to go from side to side. And you've never seen people get up so fast and all your life and the captain delighted and everything that was agony to us. And this double camera, unfortunately, we got out somewhere off Southend  Pier And the I noticed that the record it that it started to do silly things recording and that touch the record head and found that I burned myself on the record hit that I mean, unbelievable. And I took it down below, because it was to blowy on the deck  top, there was no light except through a porthole  which swung backwards and forwards as the boat moved. And horrors I found a burnt out coil various odd  things. And it transpires that the 24 volts going up the from the battery was in a multiplug, which also took from the record amp the output of the bias to the record head and a washer had fallen  because of loading it is pushing a little washer, which had been left around in the inner linings had fallen  between the 24 volts and the head circuit. So 24 volts of massive, great battery

taking the whole of the head circuit out this molten in parts. And he went Tony Tribe P and ID you know that and again, it's typical a P and ID who gets something from a manufacturer, and they take it apart and put it together and don't quite put all the bits back when I since met with aP and ID bloke and he told me that there was an edict, at some point on that this sort of thing wasn't immediately just because something was new. That wasn't the reason to take it apart and have a look at it. And they weren't about it. Because it costs the BBC in effect, a fantastic amount of money, just people because they're technicians, engineers, they want to know how this was done just to satisfy their curiosity, and a project which of course is wonderful, probably the next weekend entirely at risk. But I didn't know until In fact, this last year that an edict was issued that thou shalt not take gear apart without a very good reason. Not just because you want to see inside was that Leslie Whelan? Leslie, Whelan, no, well, I know, the person that we had to put it right was Tony Try? He was quite high up on projects. But I don't know the person who had had it apart prior to that. But typically, workshops would maintain equipments  check it all over and you'll be going on a trip around the world. And it will be checked like that. you know  and they'd never think to do this. upside down. No, no, but I mean, this is the most common thing in the book, but never ever did they seem to think about that. If you were standing over them you said do you think you'd better check this in a different plane you know is not going to always operate flat on a bench and then add more and more things were being used in unusual locations.


then we've got to cost. Chris Chataway at that time was four years Postmaster General and became a director of whatever brewery. He was still running then. And he used to. We all travelled in W. W. bus, microbus. And he'd always be asked to be dropped off for measured mile before the hotel is, most one once by the time we got the gear and put the batteries on charge, he was already there down in the restaurant till on his first course never seem to be able to beat him, despite the fact he'd had a shower.

So it's a vastly different area of improvising, which of course, one was never required to do in the film industry. I mean, when I say improvising with I'm just thinking back that they used to, to try and cut down in the industry, they used to employ moonlighting BBC personnel to do sound effects and there was terrible rivalry in that direction. And where they brought in all their set of bits of coconuts and set equipments, we'd be improvising like mad is really an illustration of the film industry who did things with camera tracks and all set equipment. That was one area where we used to improvise a lot to get certain sound effects. And the BBC Well, perhaps we had more time in that respect. The BBC had to get something instant, within half a day I'm done. And I think the powers that be were trying to cut down on the sessions because you know, we take days for the track layers sort of getting together affects some things even go on location for effects...................................................................

Alan Lawson  0:20  
Saying that you went on vacation to do effects producing them in the studios?

Michael Colomb  0:30  
Well, that the, this is where there was obviously. Now going back to the Rank days where, you know independent frame was thought about and they brought in even ABPC, I remember the BBC effects people being brought in things like the Master of Ballantrae because they were trying to the BBC blokes, presumably were saying they could produce effects for production inside a day and certainly in the film industry. We didn't, but of course, what you can get away with for radio? And then there is a slight difference in I mean, I think we

Alan Lawson  1:17  
we were talking about independent frame, did you ever work on any of those

Michael Colomb  1:22  
when I worked on? Well, it Flood Tide was on night locations on the lot at Denham.

which I think was last independent frame, certainly at Denham  I don't think there was anything after anything. I'm trying to think the Blondie girl who now is in a situation comedy. She's one of these people who's age very well was in it, but it was really a B movie, I think possibly to that this whole thing was sold for. to contrast it against, you know, Great Expectation, all these features is a bit unkind because I think that the Boys in Brown and Flood Tide, they didn't pretend to be more than a B movie and

Alan Lawson  2:26  
making the movies

Michael Colomb  2:27  
true, I don't know, quota was a quota in those days that they had to worry about. So they had had to find ways of, because this is a problem. And one saw it  I was, we ended up on the Dick Cawston epic in Hollywood. And we were really flabbergasted in the way that they did things, you know, you the sort of average age of technicians was very high, and but you see a complicated mirror scene being lit up. And of course, the gaffer knows the cameraman I mean, you've seen this in the British Jack Cardiff working with his gaffer and pre lighting sets, and he really only have to tinker with the set except for just worry about the artists in the foreground. And in America, though, it really the speed with which they did things, you know that you had your lightweight equipment, and you found it almost an effort to keep up with the way they went, you know, they used to just link all their lights together and turn it off one location and be off, and you'd be sitting under your sun umbrella. still taking everything apart. It's unbelievable. And everybody knew what the next setup was and very. But one had a feeling that nothing was new to the camera. And every setup was like another set up and and I suppose in a way that if you study a lot of American westerns and things that it is fairly stereotyped, you know, this, every now and again, you get Shane or something which is different, but the rest is very, very similar.

Alan Lawson  4:25  
trifocals all marked out. That way, what was the programme you were making then?

Michael Colomb  4:35  
No, this was part of this very extensive. Television round the world programme. I don't know what the actual title was, when it went out. We also did 24 hours in the life of the BBC. And then this came out of that. They said, what a good idea, you know, worked so very well. looking just at the BBC. Let's look at all the other setups and And it was just amazing to see how the others work. I mean, a lot of the things you might say about the BBC, but when you contrast it with the way that other people work, amazingly enough, I mean, that they get a lot of freshness  into their programmes and the way that they look at it. But technically, you get to a situation in Africa, where you're listening to the sound, and in the hotel, and then you take the opportunity to go into the studio, and they've sort of not had anybody that they just put the boom in the corner of the studio not moved it. And it's been nearer a plenum, and recordings, annoying  noise. And the only one thing we say about it that is fit the sound is perspective, you know, but it's you. And I don't building regs the way that they sling scenery around in South America, you're walking along the corridor, and somebody pulls your arms a hole in the ceiling, and they're pushing and throwing flats through it , you just got to know you could come into real trouble. The people will apologise for faults on equipment, on monitors and things Oh  we're just getting that put right but getting it put right usually as a process of months rough then the BBC they'll switch it off and get an engineer and there  means they live with it for a considerable time. It in in Russia, which we visited, it was in the time of Gagarin and the Russians have done something which nobody else had done by focusing resources in a particular direction. the studio's had the odd Mole, Richardson and booms in them, but all the strings had gone they would just lay into one side and they were using their own home grown articles you know that they hadn't restring them I dearly loved to have helped them out,  if we've had some time but you couldn't think how these people that highly intelligent but of course, they didn't have the resources, I mean, the steel wire or the nylon cord, or the right variety  to get the problem of getting it there to restring a boom. And they probably find their own issue variety, which was one sort  and of course it stretch and it wouldn't work and it just jam the whole thing up but they had the absolute copies of EMI right down to the shades of the eau de neal  the green on the recorders. And you look at it and you think oh, yeah, EMI? Oh, no, no, not EMI, let's show you the plate and copies and not not obviously, as good. And I mean, they they have one somewhere which is being pulled apart. And the same at that time they got I believe somewhere in Leningrad, they got an Ampex machine, and they were trying to copy it, to copy it. But undoubtedly, if they had a little bit of the resources of the Space Programme, they would have moved much further on that route themselves. Because there were obviously a lot of very intelligent people. Mainly, I mean, you realise that there. First of all, they knew English, which you needed for technical magazines. And amazingly, they knew really what was going on in the world you couldn't believe that you're going to Russia with a cold war on and there was a lot of people there that knew exactly what was going on.

But politically they they wouldn't be where they were if they'd it's amazing change. So then I always thought about going back after after the change is oh as well. I used to one time we were covering a Youth Forum and having the night before gone to the International Hotel for a meal and every time members  with their badges for the youth form, walked in the waiters used to go to their table and leave us and we've been there so that we were hungry having. And so we got up as one man from our table, and virtually stormed out of the restaurant to find our way was barred. And they didn't like this reaction to because people aren't like that or weren't like that. And I think they've changed a bit now. And they sat us down, and we were then served. The next day, when we got to the Youth Forum and saw the day Listen, we're filming bits and pieces, we had our inter tourist guide. And we hadn't gotten the time to have proper lunch. So I went off to buy chocolate. And with the money that I had changed, which didn't actually represent them, much chocolate, and I complained about this in front of the, our guide, a mentor, and she really gave me a dressing down and told me you know, you know the wages that you pay the Nigerians and that all this is only because cheap labour. And this at the other and I felt as small as that. And she eventually fed it up because we left when we left on the couch, she unpacked a little bit, she gave me a little package and presented me with a Chinese doll to make up for all this. I think maybe she thought she went over the top or somebody told her that incredible changes. In Poland, of course, they were very much with it more with it than the Russians. But mainly they could say more what they thought they certainly had budgets available, and you saw a load of Marconi and British equipment. Obviously, the Foreign Office had something to do with it. And the though still there was a commissar here, who was wonderful, wonderful woman. I mean, she was probably like a Maggie Thatcher, but working. And she could well, I can't speak I don't know how good Maggie Thatcher  was at all, but she could organise anything, you know, she could cut through. I mean, you always think that the regime is the red tape. But once you get somebody in that position, it's only when you're on the lower ends  with the officials that they make life difficult, but you get to the right person, that everything is possible suddenly, and even to the extent of getting on the phone and preparing saying  the Russians could be had no letters back to sort of say that they'd authorise us to film in Russia, and she was on the phone and you could tell by the tone, she was tearing people apart in Moscow, you know, for not having answered their mail and and we got to a point, the camera assistant had  got very tired and he got back to the hotel and we found that a taxi had run off with a changing bag. And she went on state radio interrupted a music  programme to to read the description because we didn't have the taxi that took the foreign film in it. And this poor taxi driver, who was the other side of Warsaw, made his way back and he was he was a wreck poor fella. It was absolutely because people in the street  had been stopping him, you know, not policemen. But members of the public have been stopping him and he was complete not a bag of nerves all the people that have been trying just for the few magazines losing a changing bag in a taxi in London. And he got it back and the rushes were safe, they got them away.

Oh God, he mean the rushes were in the night when I think he had a few empty cans and some things he taken. But it's no good having the magazines which he was supposed to load for the next day. So you know he was at a point where you had to make a dark room or something and whatever it is, it was a risk. And after all, it was the end of the day and here we are very tired. Add on those sorts of things because you do tend to, to work at it you know, they you look forward to a half day or something and a half day only ever happens if somebody has made an error on the flight details or forgotten about the time zone differences which sometimes happen maybe

talking about maintenance on location where on Steven Hearse  production in a show with Chris chataway we This was with the Myhac?which was the small Myhac , which often went out on football matches was a wind up machine with a double spring drum rather like like the old gramophone and the bigger one was just a little better in the spring department but it when we got it to India, it just was too much for it  there were the dust and dirt he got into it and it produced a very wowie recording. And so we had to go over to this very small miniature machine that fortunately was dead reliable. Doing this in and I took the whole thing I spent the half day that I would have had off and Steven Hearse went out this was in we had come from India and we were in Singapore they were went out water  surfing and I was stuck in the hotel and I took this thing apart and I put it all together no difference. And you can imagine you know when often you are successful in certain maintenance but I hadn't got I couldn't wash the bearings out entirely. But the interesting thing I got back and Lime Grove took the thing out oh we'll soon  have this fixed. And they spent half a day on it straight forward  that put it all together. still just as bad. It was the dust and dirt of India that in fact it was only on the second cleaning which proper cleaning because I can only had limited materials that they actually got the machine going again. So I feel such a fool you know you've spent a half a day and get nowhere but the whole resources the BBC spent half a day with it. It was a German Well, when I say German, it could be Austrian . There was Clang film, Siemens and my hack that was triumvirate  for it they work together and whether it was Austria and I'm not sure but it was central. It was mostly German Klang did the 35 transfer gear and the Myhac? the tape recorder and I think the  transfer gear itself was Siemens

Alan Lawson  18:27  
strong the idea to go back to talk with Wally Yeah,

Michael Colomb  18:33  
I once in the rare occasions I used to go out for Sportsview this miniature thing that the trouble was it was very exposed and you get out to a camera position Fulham  or somewhere and you're usually high above the crowd in a box and the wind blowing on a tape machine is can these there's no cover really like nowadays. I can remember getting my mic, which I haven't didn't do I got my tie in the mechanism went through it fortunately, it was didn't make any difference because it wasn't the most of the stuff never saw the light of day. rather a  alarming. A memory not to get your tie in the mechanism and B remembering to wind the machine because it had that annoying thing if you weren't too careful. of D winding itself. I don't know if you've ever tried on gramaphone  or had a faulty one that went just about getting the last bit and the ratchet doesn't hold and the whole thing

swings back and hits your knuckles. It would do that once or twice amazing. No no, I can't remember the name but I don't think Emerson? would struggle The whole of sport was it sports view sports night

was based on it. And then of course, the RE 321, which was the EMI made in conjunction with P and ID. I think a lot of input went on into it, though they suffered a lot from their design or their input stages. Oh, they were used for sound radio, of course, close mic techniques. And if you haven't got a mixer or something to pump the level up, they were not adequate for mic on frame, you know, you had to there was a problem there as a recorder itself, you couldn't just plug a mic into it and do a decent recording. You were fighting noise levels all the way. But the Perfectone  wasn't not bad. Considering and I just tried to think that the Nagra  I don't, because I left. The real Nagra era didn't start until after I'd left the BBC, which of course came about because we had at that time produced outside of the BBC. The perfect location blimp or perfect for use on location, not 100%, perfect blimp for studio and they wanted it and so this idea of being pensioned off in the BBC, instead of being pensioned off in the BBC, my colleague Neville Trees and myself, we were using our pension money to float a company and got into a cost plus situation with a subsidiary of Permutit, the water company people who were about the only people other than car people who did anything in fibreglass. And they had some expertise in producing asymmetrical housings which, of course, in the major industry, it isn't I mean, upon it is not, the shrinkage is so much and that directly, you start making asymmetrical shapes, you get a irregular shrinkage when you cure the fibreglass. And so we had, there were a lot of problems. And we were fairly desperate because money was running out. And we spoke to the foreman one day, and he indicated that they hadn't worked for over three weeks on the project, and yet, we were giving them cheques every month, topped up with additional hours. And so, fortunately, we did the right thing, we went through the parent company Chiswick . And got an audience with the chief, the managing director, who was the chief chemist Oscar Newty?? who was on the board of precision reinforced mouldings at Radlett. And he convened a meeting right away and rapped the managing director of on the knuckles. And we had exclusive labour working on the project, or otherwise, is just lucky that you've got somebody from the old school because if the managing director of the subsidiary they had been similar to the managing director of Permutit  we wouldn't have got anywhere at all, I'm sure. But he, he had values and he felt that we have been let down that it's terrible nowadays, you know, that this was to him, it was clear cut, this has got to be rect we were told immediately, you know, nowadays, they say, Well, you know, we're looking to it, and we'll let you know. I mean, immediately we've got a response from him. He said, This is not right. And this is terrible. It shouldn't be happening in our organisation. And so going straight to the top, in this particular case was the correct thing to do.

Alan Lawson  24:30  
But you still deal with the Beeb No, no, no,

Michael Colomb  24:32  
we've left you left yes we had left. And we had we had orders because I mean, you know the BBC either want nothing or they want 50 and you can't you can't do that on in the garage or anything it had to be as enough work. This is fitting the beginning. Better Sound. This is the beginning of Better Sound. Yes, we'd only done we used to call ourselves Druce Col?called drus &  column?. And we used to do amateur theatricals and Judo players and things like this in the suburb and but nothing substantial. But really, it's it's not business acumen at all. It's been a very much a engineer technician led sort of enterprise and it's, it's hands on. Yeah. It is, I think it's very hard to say but I think that in the certain in this if, if ever you could  turn the clock back and try that enterprise all over again, that we would not have survived in the climate today. I mean, the decisions you have to make at speed nowadays to whether you're going to do something or not do your thing you can't your overheads mount up before you know where you are. And you can't just always do what you like to do. You know, being from the BBC, you know, people have ways they like to do things not so much now they're being told the way they do it. And my son has now joined the business Incidentally, I've been this my day off but I've already been working I had to go out and drop a van off to get a security alarm system fixed properly, which is under warranty at the top of Oxford St so it's a good thing we made it

had you moved into Endell street yet.

We moved. We were no operating we we were operating from a relation. I've never greeted from Radlett  on a farm in a turkey house. And that has drawbacks. It's there's lots of cheap electricity but it's of very dubious because of what the voltage is at any one time they are tacked onto the end farm equipment. So they're milking or something the volts go down. And I can always remember I used we were at that time, we had a transfer suite in operating which we hadn't really got anywhere to put and I used to come back with rushes and it used to be transferred overnight. And in the day, I would if I wasn't working on documentaries. I would sort out we had one employee sought out his little pay slip and go down and I remember one day walking this 60 foot turkey house with benches on the far end. And for some extraordinary reason I walked right down the centre which I can't have done before. And I don't know if you know it's a principle of the gangplank you know if you I hit the oscillation of the floor by walking down the centre and at the speed that I did and all these fine components that were being wired everything that was on the benches for by the time I got the other end was dispersed across the floor. So I spent the rest of the day knocking wedges under things in the middle of the turkeys down below in the turkey house because to stabilise

Alan Lawson  28:37  
so you also working outside as well as recording 

Michael Colomb  28:40  
Yes. We did. The first which I think I don't know the first and last I think Dennis Mitchell did more we Carl Foreman's film. We we went to Italy. It and we with the blimp equipment. Yeah, he was very interested because it gave all sorts of opportunities to get sound quickly onto locations out again. So as it was new, I was going out with it. And was it to Open City no trying to think they were based on Shepperton the company but Dennis Mitchell worked from his home in Hampstead. But later, of course, a lot of the blimps were  dropped in favour of the Eclair camera. This is one thing we've done, we've never sort of stayed in one particular camp. We took on an  Eclair is it in any new equipment we tended to try and get hold of? Because we were making ancillary equipment on the Arriflex didn't stop gor the  blimp we made motor control systems crystal controller, which funnily enough people like Arriflex is the last thing but it's not the last thing that people wanted. So with crystomatics  crystal locks, which is a simplified form of crystal Matic is, which was brought out on the top of these very sophisticated radio link systems with that you could ident remotely but basically this simpler effective equipment was always the one that made the money and if you made things too sophisticated you  frightened people off but not just frightened people off but we had the problem with the original, very original one which was again, I haven't got it in for P and I D but I mean, this is sort of thing that happened. They extracted all the lights, fogging lights, yes, start Mark lights for a Bell and Croyden surgical lamp very miniaturised. But of course, it was for working inside people in the operating theatres, and its thermal characteristic was totally wrong, you know. So when all the editors got them back, some cameras had got replacement lights, not from Arriflex. And some had got the BBC replacement from stores. So the actual length of the fogging, because of the decay time thermal delay was totally different than that and the editors just couldn't cope, you know, this camera has to have a pull the track up so much for this camera so much for that camera. So really, and how on earth they nobody had  they must have replaced these, it just shows you that the facility up to that time was not being used in clappers mostly were being used and end clappers  used. But people were reluctant because if people had tempted to use the new technology that add effects are provided. Or maybe they blew the lights and then they got out of favour I don't know. But it ruined the whole of this multi camera technique with the Crystal Matic so it became a millstone. And it wasn't until the crystal lock was just as simple as simple system came out that it became at all viable.

Alan Lawson  32:53  
Well, I think that wasn't one of the problems actually with P & I D. I mean, they really were boffins, but they'd never never never actually had to do it. That it really

Michael Colomb  33:04  
true. But I mean, to be fair, in a lot of trades, I mean, you mentioned architects and people. You know, there's architects and architects and a lot of them who are very good, but they're sort of bound sort of 10 years using all techniques they won't think of using today's techniques. But it's again, it's hands on really is hands on. Yeah. But, you know, trying to put in new installations with plastic pipes, you know, you not only have to work against architects, you have to work against plumbers and everybody to its side, everybody says, Oh, well, let's use the old tested and try. But that's no way to step forward into the future. You can't, you've got to break a few eggs and try a few new things out. And bit by bit production were dictating to the engineering departments that they wanted to get certain effects. And I think the engineers were so used to dictating what they did, thou shalt use or not use. And then suddenly Of course, it got beyond their control on production was paramount and they had their way I never quite worked out. There's been a fantastic amount of equipment bought on production money and not where it all went or how is it all accounted for. I don't kmow 

Alan Lawson  34:42  
is there's always some money at the end of the could we use it before it gets taken. back 

Michael Colomb  34:50  
But I just don't know because I mean, that is happening today. I know that production effects If there's no mic or something available for him in even in the old days, I mean, Rudolf Cartier  used to come along and take all the resources of film department and some Junior director sort of was in the queue and he got nothing.

Alan Lawson  35:23  
Coming back to now you're up at  Radlett. When did you move to Endell Street

Michael Colomb  35:29  
that very shortly was the winter of 62 63. And come the spring we I think it was we bought apart lease on what was the bonded film store building in Endell Street. Where at that time you any foreign film coming into the country was automatically bonded, and there was no way which you could view that film. Unless you booked the theatre. And it must have been 60  63 that suddenly the law changed that you could put down a bond or get somebody to take the film where you liked. It was quite an industry then because I think that in its heyday, they used to have three full time, customs officials all in their braid. Booking people in and out, making the staff leave the building in the lunch hours, padlocked all the manhole covers, and it was quite a security operation. And all these old indian films reel after reel of them that weren't required, but I'm sure nowadays would be very, very different market in this country used to just lie in the vaults and the people that sent them would either pay the vault  fees or want to pay for the return journey back to India. So the customs used to dissect the film on end on the top of the tree trunk in the basement. at a very early hour in the morning in a rather like summary execution with a massive great  cleaver into segments unusable. The cleavers still exists so this day, you've got it locked away in the basement. I mean, why on earth you need is such a cleaver? I don't know. giant size  I don't think they even had them in Smithfield like that. Anyway, the there were certain sorts by ingenious people, and some of them could documentary film makers who hadn't got any money at all. And one fella was caught with a single frame, printer under his coat. He'd gone in and sorted out this film and was gaily , printing it frame by frame. That's the one that our customers knew about that. So I don't it was great shame because that, you know that that was a nice little Empire there and a very strange thing. And it sort of illustrates the continuity of things that everybody knew that something was going on and on in somewhat its present form. In the BBC, I mean, it was all expansion and getting bigger wasn't and nobody saw anything going in reverse. And I remember the projectionist there, I'm sure that he felt that he had a job for life. It was rather sad. And we thought in all sorts of ways how we could employ him. But he, his life was truly in projection. You know, his Simplex projectors, which I think one of them ended up in the Roundhouse whether it still is there. I don't know what happened. But he used to go around photographing old cinemas and his what happened to his archives as presume he joined some organisation that it was almost he was a sad individual and he just felt that the cinema was slowly disappear. And this was just the worst thing because he trying to keep some of these old cinemas going  putting time in and have you ever been to the Muswell Hill Yeah, yes. I've got a book, I'm trying to find that book on maintenance of Simplex projectors go find it. I think that it might complement something that somebody has got. Anyway.

Alan Lawson  40:13  
So if you've got that part, lease on Endell Street what did you know? Yeah. Well, we

Michael Colomb  40:22  

expanded, of course, some we got parts of the lease on the other on the first floor of the building. And I think, the fourth floor, which went into manufacturing, and the was terrific pressures while we were there, from the Covent  garden planning team, who were knocking on the door every five minutes wanting to take the building over. And in fact, the area was destined for, believe it or not, for underpass, you know, that. I don't realise that Covent Garden, but for the sake of the oil crisis, and government lack of money would have become a concrete jungle. It was absolutely terrifying. And we went to loads of  meetings. And it was so secretive, you know, the people who lived in pleasant little merchant houses, merchants houses, were trying to find out what was going up on the other side of the street, you know, if indeed they were going to still be there. And they were purposely sitting on all the information, you know, the fact that it was going to be a 10 storey something or other going up. And in fact, a lot of the people on the planning machine team couldn't go along with it. They resigned, they couldn't go along with the con. And then we got a Lady Dartmouth who came. And the whole thing I mean, to this day, I don't know, because things changed overnight with the oil crisis. And money just wasn't there. But whether it was lack of money talking. But suddenly, all these buildings that have been there for hundreds of years, were all listed. And every 10th bill was up which of course the sank that scuppered the developers and and we stayed, and we had particular licence for that had been signed for us to alter parts of the basement. And in those days, everything was very secret. If you never knew who owned the freehold and the we shared the premises with the Royal window cleaner Metropolitan Window Cleaning, who was Mrs. Lovett, who are one of these rare occasions where the Royal arms they were transferred to her when her husband died, and she continued the business and she was very good, very organised lady who used to was an American who was over here during  the war, doing ambulance service of all things............................................

Alan Lawson  0:02  
Side three.

Michael Colomb  0:05  
And she had a very powerful solicitor with a horn, who had got her out in overnight, literally from what was the Royal mews in the site of the old Trafalgar Square post office and installed her in this building, and they were looking for somebody originally for us to share. And they certainly were very close about who owned the property. And we'd never found out amongst the Sunday Sundays, and I found a name on this licence for the changes that we did to the basement of an address in Ealing. And I phoned  and it happened to be the daughter of somebody who was in a trust that owned the building, who had witnessed a signature and the whole thing fell into place. And it turns out, they were getting a pittance for it in terms of the rent because all all the overheads of the solicitors writing estate agent in between. We're taking it all out and so they're only too glad to sell the building. So we had an option on the freehold and we bought the lease and then we saved up to buy the freehold. And then we could see ourselves clear to expanding, though of course, in the end the amount of room was on multfloor  building is very inefficient. It's like some BBC premises like the search department at Nightingale Square  I think it was a Monastery  or something was where everybody tends to be in separate bits. It doesn't a production line has to be and they in the end went to a penthouse floor in Dalston for manufacturing and we ran the basement ground and first floors. So we are currently looking for a more suitable premises very un-English  certain connections with the past, which are hard to get over, but I mean, obviously you've got to find different premises but it actually is a rare building and that it was made for film in London, but for storing of nitrate film and peps made??

Alan Lawson  2:34  
you got a dubbing theatre then

Michael Colomb  2:38  
there was a transfer  suite, which was Derek  Taylor before he retired was running and that bit by bit a lot of people were doing their own mixes?

Alan Lawson  2:56  
But that was drying up.

Michael Colomb  2:58  
I mean they were cheaper in the old days it was very cheap the expensive equipment to transfer but I mean that my bit equipments were available, which made it possible to for record is really to do his own game, which I did a lot of I think it was sent our old Hayden's used to

Magna sync and various other

and the actual hours of work very unsociable, really to get stuff in late at night and then work late through the night and deliver them to the viewing theatre  in the morning. It was a lot of labs were doing it  Kays West End a great deal of competition No, no, no, no, no, no, no, the only people that daft enough to put a dubbing Theatre in that sort of building. I'm trying to think in King Street. We use them that was it theatre


Ho  in King Street, I think other than in Wardour  streets Pathe and there's people there and you used to, they have no lift. I remember that well. That, you know, to instal and bid parking and everything, people are so used to going out to the perimeter somewhere London for music recording or for dubbing the centre of town I think

it's not quite the place.

I mean, we were used to equipment as well, because we needed to buy the Arriflex protective blimp  we were, it was a natural partnership. We had the the camera as we had to make them money so that we were very much client lead  The service was really tailored for the client. I mean, I can't say that we were imitating Sammmys  or Samuelson's have done very well though I never quite clearly understood quite how the Samuelson's Empire sort of split up on these sort of backed Cineeurope. But because I did a lot, then a cause of loss, the Panet?, which I suppose had a great effect upon them. And people were I don't know who's who got it. In the end, it was the Lees, the Lee brothers, and I don't know quite what's happened there.

Alan Lawson  6:21  
I think, I think well, they lost it. Anyway, the Lees lost it.

Michael Colomb  6:25  
So where does one go to that question or

Alan Lawson  6:28  
maybe Sheperton?

Michael Colomb  6:31  
There is  resurgence there? Definitely. And BBC has been putting various projects, independent productions under the cover of the BBC, they'll be going to places like that.

Alan Lawson  6:47  
Sir, you've got the new hired out the Arri with with its blimp and your your recorders, your recorder where the recordist with  the recordist. Yeah.

Michael Colomb  7:05  
But the very game we're in, in the end,


market really was taken over by individual freelancers owning their own equipment, and getting a call and on their way. That was a very great strain. I mean, one was living on the premises, just trying to liaise everything, you know. And it wasn't the day of the mobile phone. And, you know, you were sitting there and somebody hadn't contact you and to and you tried to get information to them, you know, no answering machines. Well, if they were they were very few and far between, and trying to get the location time and everything to somebody who who were booked. And maybe they weren't even on something which you knew anything about. You just had booked them and they said yes, they were gonna do but they were always the certain sharp practice where you found that somebody was mysteriously ill and got on location going abroad for a week or something. And they take that and it got very, very hairy. And I remember one we would we did a lot of foot we're filming with the Who group and the it was New Year's Eve in the days of the old Rediffusion. Ready, steady go was it and I had to go and find a test to Stamp Chrisd Stamps  brother, Tim stamp and Kit Lambert, the orchestra leader, some managed the Who group. They had, I think track records as well on the side. And I couldn't get hold of any of them. They haven't got hold of me. And we had a whole film unit due to go down I think somewhere near the Paris cinema somewhere starting out, I think it's supposed to be there. And I didn't know whether it was confirmed or what everybody is ringing and so what should we do? So I went round there and there were the Who group chasing round the corridors of Rediffusion chasing their managers around the corridors, you know, completely lost all control and the managers but you know, it's all a game. And I just followed on, you know, talking to the manager and while all this big chasing was going on, and then I heard we were found we actually once went right through the sett and  out again.

And that's the last Extraordinary and when you wonder if you were going to get paid. And for that thing, you know, and they're all very, very fine  but reasonable people, you know, and you sort of, they say, oh, come and see me in my flat. And I can remember to this day going up to Kensington where Chris Lambert was, and he knocked on the door. And then finally the huddle figure came. And he'd be in a dressing gown . And in both the pockets of the dressing was stuffed money that I've been to a gig or something, and there was literally money falling all over the place. And he said, I'll have a cup of coffee, I need one, and then he peel off the notes. And that's the way the crews got paid

Alan Lawson  10:52  
Very useful way of doing it.

Michael Colomb  10:54  
And nowadays, you don't see that sort of thing. I mean, that we had in Neil's Neil Street, The Beatles fan club, and we went filming in there, and you go inside the room, and then you're walking on about  nine inches of envelopes, all of them with postal orders money. And from over a week or two weeks, they hadn't even got a chance to open them up to put the money into an account. People just lived  you know, just didn't know how they're gonna get through the next day.

Alan Lawson  11:36  
So if you knew, almost by now given up, probably quit my job together.

Michael Colomb  11:42  
Producing No, there was always the the strong manufacturing side, we then split the comp, the comp, there were sort of tensions within the company because of manufacturing and getting things right. And the split went further than just the operational side. And the manufacturing side, it was virtually a split split that you'll find in any firm, like, even Kudelski? where his sales is export manager is sort of saying, you know, are we gonna have anything in the next six months for me to sell? So everybody wanted to get it right. And this so in the end, it was decided that each manufacturing, we should do their base  and the operational side do theirs and we use to do productions for party politicals. BBC, ITV, yes, you know, on absolutely fixed rates, which didn't cover, you know, a lot of chances for assistant cameraman to do camera work. And there's quite a few of them. Mike Davis, came up he when he joined us, he was just a lighting technician. And he learned all about cameras and I see his credits going up for and there was a Hungarian


a load of people that have turned up and done some really good work late, I have to research this.


came over when the Hungarian Revolution had a he had a certain background, I think with stills. But a lot of people did progress through though, fairly annoying. I mean, we've had people who've done very well for themselves, even on the camera maintenance side . And then when we were doing camera maintenance, Tom Fulwell who was a BBC technician, came as a contracted technician, Chris Cineservices?, and we supplied him with an assistant for training, who was schooled in Arriflex and everything and he made all his own specialist tools with a firm, and he went on a holiday to New Zealand and in the end, he came back and he said, oh, I've got a job. And we lost him . And of course as a small company, this is a terrible effect because you can't, as much as you'd like to do training of people, when they take all the expertise and move on to somewhere else, especially larger outfits. It is a great concern. And it is very difficult for a small firm to put in to position training programmes for people, you know, because you've got to be out there working and earning the money. We're an example of somebody who had been trained so thoroughly he could hold down a technician his job, I showed the quality of the training that a lot of people now find it very, very hard to impart. See what they have learned to others, because they haven't always learnt it the correct way. It's very sad. But slowly, bit by bit, the crewing dropped down, you had administrative people looking over I mean, we had one great embarrassment on sort of things like hotel bills, that in the old days, I don't know if you remember that the they used to put the receipt and stick it on the bill. And we found under the receipt a quantity of champagne had been added to the bill which we were calmly passing on to be paid and I have no idea I mean, all it needed was somebody in administration A A film's or somebody to look at that. And it got very, very difficult to know where to and to try and look at each and every job to see whether things were correct and to be put your own personal mark on it became increasingly difficult. And we had the as I said earlier, the Eclair camera. We worked on a quite a series for Granada. This camera was coming in on weekends to for maintenance. And it was something like a 12 weeks on the Canal system episode series based on that British canals. And we were measuring the wear practising because unlike the Germans hadn't yet entered in that side of the market, silent cameras. In fact, Dr. Richter knew nothing about the development of the BL camera which we knew was coming through the grapevine when we were bashing out limits because we knew we had a limited market. And that was only done because of dedication of technicians secretly working overtime in the factory and in Munich. Because the they had the Arri M they had and these technicians to see that future being jeopardised by the Eclair camera, but the original players were wonderfully quiet, but the expense of wear  we put you know, after 20,000 30,000 feet going through the camera was alarming. And we we wondered how we were going to continue the series because it was a hand inside cabins you couldn't have anything an Arri with it even a lightweight blimp getting inside and tracking.

And so it was a constant worry all the time. Of course, then area then a Eclair  chose different metals and harden up everything made slightly noisier camera. Yeah, exactly. And in the end, of course, the SR came out, but we didn't The only purchase i think is a total of three SR's I mean, when you look at competitors, you know, they were sort of up into the 20s, I think the people like Samuelson  and with each investment into new equipment, it was a greater investment for a lesser return and


seemed that we were self financing wanted to get into the hands of the banks. Something had to give. So then we went into just the hardware manufacturing in the end. And a lot of the people that we used to employ used to come hire what they needed. You know, the bits and pieces are into even down to interconnecting leads, which they haven't got all they left on location. So we had a very good relationship with a lot of people that have passed through our doors. And, of course, they knew the equipment that we had and better the people that you know, a lot of these people this increasingly, the lack of professionals in the field, you can have a one day hire and absolutely right. You can't get it. And then of course, you have the argument, you know,


was the fact that we checked it off. Well, why were there all the three boxes? Why weren't they packed there all the wrong things when it's been switched into different boxes. So if you'd looked at everything, you certainly would have seen what went in what box and they hadn't, they just crammed everything into the nearest box, because don't bothered to look at it. And sometimes, because they put something in the wrong box and then lean on the lid, they actually do the damage inside the box. Now,

it's certainly a great change. And I don't think anybody could foretell what was going on. There's one very amusing time that we were working for ex panorama, people who were working for central office, and who think, almost think they own you you see  sort of political, they do everything on a shoestring or everybody does for political filming. And we, we picked up the first, which I suppose was very nice to have that the very first time the Communist Party had their party were allowed to have their party political, and we were chosen to do it. And we The next day, we were working for the Conservatives . And I was I passed to the Secretary at  work, the number where I could be contacted, which was communist headquarters, you know opposite Moss Bros and I was in there. And I received a call from Jeremy UmurrayBrown.? And for some reason, you know, what he I mean, he is, is a bit of an act, you know, your talk and not always know what it is that sort of, but there must have answered the phone and the call was passed to me, but it didn't mean a row beans to him, you didn't. And he was sort of laying on what they're going to do for filming the next day  where he wanted the crew  I thought they might have a heart attack, but I told him, I never, he doesn't know to this day. But this is part of being a technician you can  work, you know, from work for anybody and nothing should tie you into anything, you're just doing our job and the best job that you possibly can do thing and indeed that but the it opened up a lot of problems that one was at filming in Downing Street and everything with cameras following ministers around in cars. And which, of course, the formal sort of Chamberlain sort of at the airport interview was the only thing that had been done up to them. And one did  get a bit tied up with people in their schedules and always remember one we were doing a shot outside of Ford's plant up north, on a ridge , where to get the background of the factory, he had the wind was so high that he he was lit on how to lead into the wind

up next

ticular thing he was leaning on the wind length that people go to get the right shot, you know that he had certain he certainly asked a lot of the right questions he was overtaken by events, but he did his brief was to look into the film industry at one time. And I will say that he actually made use of his time out filming and talking to people on the ground. And in a with a politician that that is amazing. You know, he started with the building blocks of trying to find out what everybody did and what everybody thought and which I thought was quite great. Not, you don't see this often with people.


we went into the Cabinet Room where we wasn't truly at the Cabinet Room he was in the Cabinet Room was being renovated at the time, Mr. Alec Hume, and I had to set up with a mic. And immediately behind the table, the chair that had been selected was a clock with a pendulum on it. Now a, this was going to be edited, you know, and doing wild tracks who've been very annoying. And he, unlike other politicians, you could be doing all sorts of things. And they're completely so taken up in what they're doing that they don't even notice. And he said, and the cameraman had to move the clock and the clock probably wouldn't have been there, for goodness knows how many years in in the Admiralty, and didn't want to move the clock really. And while this little argument is going on between me and the cameraman, Hume sort of said, Look, they are save that and he went and spent three chairs down and sat down. But he had to move over to

the problem, the crew couldn't solve amongstb themseleves was solved by the politician absolutely unheard of in

a poror fellow he was, I think he's too honest, for his own good, and he was literally stabbed in the back. And Tubby Englander, who you must know, was also a cameraman who was very dedicated to what he did. And every now and again, you would come in conflict with a cameraman who felt that sound was having an unfair crack of the whip. And we were in, in southern England on the Away from it All series. And there was a wood mill with a massive great . And I thought, well, you know, either we're going to have this through a terrible noise going through everything we did. And there's always a danger that the whole thing gets switched off at some point and then you got in a mess, you've then got to have a guide track of it to lay across all the other parts where it isn't. So I negotiated  for them to turn it off. There's one thing called the flywheel effect took about five minutes to turn off and run down. And Tubby Englander absolutely resented this, I've got somewhere with

that, I

am not allowed to wait five minutes for the sun  to come out why you're allowed five minutes.

So xxxxxx was a closed.down

Poor old Tubby  I did meet up with him later that he, he found it very tough being in the BBC at a later time, because he, he did he retired, and he and he came out and did a few odd jobs, but he couldn't get on with the likes of Esther Rantzen  and then people.

Alan Lawson  28:37  
Just, he'd been a law unto himself. He had

Michael Colomb  28:41  
Yes, maybe there was a bit. I mean, no, but I mean, a little bit of arrogance and things, you know, one sees it in the outside industry. And people know where they're going, and this is what they want. But I suppose more than anything is that television does teach you to compromise it does, and which is unheard of, in the outside industry. And

Alan Lawson  29:09  
it I mean, I think Unfortunately, there's been too much compromise, certainly on sound. I think the, the, the quality of the sound as

Michael Colomb  29:28  
well. Steven has always we, we had a one of these bit of antagonistic  relationships and you know, he said if if we were shooting across a rail, road track and express came along and he said, he says, I know you've just say cut wouldn't you 



said, He didn't compromise and I think that he recognised it and other people because I mean this business of wanting the script to be translated literally. And they'd have you looking for wooden beggar boys with wooden bowls in Hong Kong and there wouldn't be any wooden bowls and well, you spend a whole day and we had that famous trip, which, after Grace Windham, Goldie lost her husband that Leslie Maher decided that he was head of talks and decided that Grace should go out on a trip around the Mediterranean on a GM cruise with Sir  Mortimer Wheeler and, of course, that started a few things that a that suddenly they wanted extra cabin space and everything. And I felt that you know that the cameraman and recordists  and everybody should be where we were together and everything and it was all being messed around. And I dug my is probably the one of the first time that I dug my heels in other than equipments of not having the right equipment to do the job. Because she was coming and stay then there was Steven Hearst was finding it very difficult, because Grace is not one to stand by. And she wants to inject all  her particular things. And she had this wonderful idea that because in those days, we took assistant recordist , that the sound was going to be done by the assistant recordists. And I was to go around recording sound effects of frogs in ditches and all this sort of thing during the day, just to keep her away from the filming . And of course, I slowly dawned, I mean, it was a bit of a con on me  as well, because I actually got hold of locals and they said, What do you won't find, you know, the ditches are too dried up at this point, they won't be bullfrogs, or any sort of frog . All right, I said, we had a wonderful touring time away from the film unit, so that Steven could, that is trying to make it feel very important what we were doing. And I was recording all sorts of tracks, which I thought will never be used.

And we she used to when we sat at the table at night, and enjoy the Greek food onboard ship, which did engage in sort of all sorts of things about the BBC. And, and she always likes her reactions or anything or saves a lot of people and technicians tend to be very careful on the line a pursue with people like that. And, but I couldn't let her say things without sort of set. If I felt that I didn't quite agree. Of course, she doesn't mind it too much. I want the matter. People in the army, you know, you can speak up if you're fairly certain of your subject matter by

the rest of the crew, hacking my shins under the table I could hardly  walk out.

We'll be here for an hour.

Absolutely. But it's but at least everything I've never known anything be dropped. And of course, in the old days in the film industry, you could get together with your bag packed and the Prudential or whoever it was and finalise the budget. And you never went through a lot of on off things. And one was never conscious of this. And the BBC probably went on somewhere but it wasn't within your shop. Certainly not on this production, especially as Grace came along with it. They obviously had extra budget for her.

Alan Lawson  34:17  
Oh, yes. Yes.

Michael Colomb  34:19  
So there's the Corinth canal and everything was, and Sir Mortimer Wheeler  he old as  he was sort of joining in carting camera gear where he could help and things. And now you've got a young producer who won't even notice that anybody's reminders heavy equipment. You only had to take the old Dupple?  camera up to a fourth or fifth floor in and out three or four locations at the end of the day. You would To say hurrah , there's a lift.

Alan Lawson  35:07  
Now looking back, Mike, do you see an enormous number of changes? Since you first started in the business? How many of those to the, to the good of the business to the detriment

Michael Colomb  35:25  
is, it's very hard, I have to say that. It's a pity really, that there wasn't more Heart to Heart talks between the Union and the filmmakers, to the it's been a swing of the pendulum and you've seen it go for certain subjects. It's gone too far. There's horses for courses. And I mean, we've seen it because, you know, whereas you might be doing a documentary, say, on Hampstead Heath, and you're having to move your equipment out of one area into another, that when you're down to sort of a cameraman, and a sound recordist , the  less you can carry anything. And there was a great period where you couldn't carry everything, that equipment just disappeared, I put it down and then went back to get it and fantastic  losses. And just from the point of view of of minders for equipment, to make sure that it's treated properly. And you see so much of it now that there's people helping production people who, you know that the technician won't put the gear away before he can turn around and put it away properly, has been lots of people helping and put it all in the wrong boxes. Even gets shipped back to the wrong hiring outfit, even though there's a lot of stuff that goes or even say a TC where they are striking things now that sound organisers say, Well, you know, we're doing keeping our budgets down, we've got the actual spike, etc, etc, etc, etc. Radio mics. Yeah, but the they'll pull down the aerials. They'll get in a derigging crew, which are not probably a private company. And they'll pull Kurt's cables and the areials are sort of tear loose, and the ends and plugs will come off. And any sound supervisor would tear their hair  if they knew but then they're not, you know, they finished the production. You don't do any derig  Your people don't do it. It's not under your command  and it's completely different contract. And then they say at half  it's done in half the time. It's done in half the time because everybody takes cuts and corners. And though he maybe I don't know what rates, what they pay, and what is half the time and so, but it's very niggling to find that perfectly good gear goes out and it's been mutilated. When it comes back in. They're still probably soaked up in probably they're saving. So

Alan Lawson  38:17  
you're talking about the you know, these radio mics now. Is that is that is that been a good thing?

Michael Colomb  38:26  
perspective wise and everything. One had this with the birth of I don't remember the Geophysical Year with Duke of Edinburgh. I think that was the first time the BBC use so called Lavalier neck mics   it was an RCA mic. And we used to use it in conjunction with space microphones, because it sounded so dead. And the fact you were in a class, or a classroom or partial, you could get situations where the voice just sounded the old parsons  and the same wherever you were. So one fed in a bit from a space mic. And likewise, with radio mics, I mean, the anti's  perspective devices. But they get over a host of problems with lighting for cameraman, camera booms, etc. and production, say, you know, we're not prepared to take the time lightning round theVins. So

in a way,

there is a certain sort of production. You see them, these New York police cop films that I mean just wouldn't be made except for radio mics and one has to realise that but it is the easy option to a lot of people now,

Alan Lawson  40:05  
but is there much difference in quantity do you know 

Michael Colomb  40:12  
But to give you an example, if it gets over the fact that you can put some a mic on to somebody gets over the problems of acoustics, I mean, Take, for instance, shooting in a coach, where you've got padded seats and everything and you try and use a cardioid microphone, dynamic cardioid, the actual loading of the small cubic capacity of the coach has an effect on the microphone. And you have to equalise, and this is where the lot of the work of a recordist, was in producing an even quality of voice across the whole of a sequence. And this is why you had mixers knobs on it. And great extent now that having radio mics, there's nothing much one does with it. And a lot of the time it's done in the dubbing theatre. I don't I haven't been responsible for quality on productions. But I think that in a way, it has been a retrograde step. But again, it's it's a cost saving, exercise and makes possible things which were not before I mean, I can remember sitting through loads of film for guide track which was obliterated, made in the conventional way from Captain Hornblower or big action pictures where they've got and they deviate from the dialogue, the poor continuity girl because there's been rewrites on scripts and you get the thing back and you can't work out what on earth the dialogue was supposed to have been. Whereas if they've been sitting radio mics on them, regardless of the quality and the extraneous noise, you at least have got something there and stop............................................................

Alan Lawson  0:25  
Michael Colomb side 4 .

Michael Colomb  0:31  
I mean, it's certainly been very good for us because we broke into the theatre side of things with audio, micron radio mic, but more almost exclusively that it that is not now exclusive some sennheisers and moved in Sony not to the same extent. And there's always been this pull if if a show comes from Broadway where they used to certain mics that they want to carry over with them. But the there's only literally three professional radio mics it is the Micron with the Sennheiser and Audio Limited who over the years have kept a good standard of quality on their radio mic. We want I once had a phone call from Audio Limited. they're chaps they, we we had persevere with them on a new handheld and made, we had to send them all back and get them altered because there was something wrong with a preamp that we've been pushing this around or the north of England. And they said, Ah, we know exactly where your mics have been hired He said, we've had over 60 orders for handheld mics, you're doing very well. This is the light that we're an arm of micron. And so we always hire, we have Audio Limited mics, we have Microns majority because they literally home grown and we have Sennheiser but you know, you can't close your eyes. And nowadays, if you are deaf, to what a producer or filmmaker wants you only push a certain make to him, the so much free you just find that you won't be asked. There have been other little EDC mics that you because the look of the thing they want a gold mic for certain show. HME's  from the States, which of course, don't have the technical backup. And once the if the agent is not very good, you can get yourself into real trouble especially if you've established a particular shape of mic Americans tend to go in for large chunky ones. And it gets a bit embarrassing because you've if you've gone through a series, so many parts of a series and suddenly everything's broken for the last and that there aren't any in the country working you can be a mess. Radio mics tend to be many more are used that are made in this country fortunately. And his groups come in and for one night stands and use mics with sometimes have a because of the frequencies they use, they just bring in illegal frequencies and nothing much happens to them because they've gone by either in the next day or so. So legislation as much as is not very effective. There's a lot of red tape. And we've had certain errors in maintenance of equipment on PMR you know, the mobile phone equipment which is caused legitimate legitimate uses of certain frequencies to be off frequency. And they will interfere with in BBC Programmes you know there's with the government cutting down to get any reaction from the old even in times the old post office all the detail is sometimes very difficult. And where it will end I don't know. In the old days, I think that the Ministry of Defence held on  to a lot of frequencies which Hopefully they're surrendering bit by bit with satellite transmissions, and it probably is releasing more terrestrial frequencies. But the I've known of certainly raids in by by the Americans on Broadway, their communications agency where they've closed down Broadway shows because they've been on illegal frequencies.

But for a very long time, the West End was operating on frequencies which they were not entitled to have. I mean, there are a lot of shows in town that only operated because they were using the frequency blanketed by the old 405 transmissions on the East Coast because it didn't affect London. And any of those frequencies that were used, didn't interfere with anything, there was nothing in the area. And the theatre people tended not to have a low profile and equipment they own. And then of course, when they started to regulate, they virtually thought they were going to sell all these frequencies to PMR use and make a lot of money. And then, of course, it was a big rearguard action for the theatre world. And film, people that they'd only seen the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the numbers of radio mics, actually, that we use and where they were being used. It was phenomenal. It opened up an entirely new I remember, doing a this is your life, pick up shot in Victoria Station. And I had to go hat in hand as we used to those days in the BBC and borrow the old BBC what they call the flask there's a battery, let's say it's like a brand new flask and a battery pack the same size that the person had to wear. Fortunately, trousers were baggyer in those days is a bit more room to hide in it. But getting this on, the presenter, who's going to meet the victim  was a job and a half and setting it all up into my horror, because there was no time for rehearsal. The victorious it was on such a frequency that every single little spark and everything's coming through cloud loud and clear. So they had to be ditched, that shows how long the way that they've come along now that you can work with impunity in sort of situations like that. So we ended up with a traditional long mic cable all the way up the platform with all the production people standing on it, because totally illegal to have it there were people tripping off trains. But when I think back to some of the tonight jobs where we had, again, courtesy of P and ID, we had a loads of grey cable without any graphite, and if you know the grey cable usually doesn't always indicate that there's no graphite in them. So that the the dragging the grey cable with the screen of the cable across Earth used to cause a lot of sparkle on the track. And so we were in quite problems on big tracks and I'd love to look back on a lot of these old things you'll see Alan Whicker  sort of the further he goes along the track, you know, the more cable that he's dragging, you'd always try and loop it back again. But in a lot of cases they end up by having to pull with the help of production people hundreds of metres of cabling. So in that sense that that they don't have to worry though, a lot of mics recently have ended up that the victim or whoever's been wearing them as sort of ended up still wearing them in Paris, you know, takes a bit of time to get your gear back. In the old days, you'd get somebody like  Heath walking off a platform and forgetting is on the end but at least you've got a wire and tag on soon realises he can't leave  and the numbers of presenters that have lost their radio mics with a quick trip to the toilet. believe they normally are right offs. thta and  salt water. We do. It's very hard. to train people because if, if you get hit by salt water you're missing if your at sea you're surrounded, but probably you can get some cleaning tap water we tell them to pull everything apart immediately and sort of dump it in a bucket rather than let

the salt because of the salt just is etching into the printed circuits from the word go or distil water purify water from McKenna's. But so many people just put it all together, put it in the case and send it back to us. And of course, it's ruined by the time it's no way of survival. Of all the you know, all the various jobs you've done, which ones Give me the most enjoyment.


we're building up one's own business, but I really have to harp back to these full scale full blown documentaries where the BBC was in the habit of producing and I don't know if there's any such animal now, though one worked on drama, it tend to be just an adjunct to studio but you did get insert. JOhn Elliott used to do dramatised documentaries taking open subject of opencast mining and stories, all interwoven. And you at the end of the day, you had made a there's an entity, a film that onion, Johnny  which won the Venice award, you know, that reminded me the other day and all this trouble in Bradford, a lot of it was shot there. It I think there's nothing so satisfying is getting a result, and not so much the war but just the fact that you there is a film from start to finish, which you've had a great control over the sound and so much more nowadays, that people I think in their lives are finding they have less control as much as they'd like to have more control. But the if you try and tie things up to the nth degree, you use a lot of energy, and not always show a lot for you. If you feel you've got to keep the pressure on to get a certain standard or result. Before there were people in the BBC who recognised that somebody was striving for a better quality. And by the same token now, although there are certain people who were there who thought ah  well, this fellow's being finicky, you know, this is striking the balance between being finicky, and trying to deliver a consistent quality. And that's something that was personally you path you had to pursue to make sure that that standard you carried around in your head, and they got very difficult at times in

Alan Lawson  13:13  
talking about quality. Do you think the quality is still as good generally speaking, and television? Well,

Michael Colomb  13:27  
having said that, there are certain times where you can see and you can be forgiving because of the circumstances. And after all, if you're a freelance and you've got to do something you are there for the day or the two days. And I can see that you wouldn't possibly make the same stand as a staff person. It is much more difficult if before you did have your head of department behind you, there's somebody you could get on your side. But I think it's very difficult. The one virtue is that before the equipment that you had, was used properly capable of good quality in the right circumstances, but in certain circumstances, if you allowed yourself to get into them, it was terrible. And fortunately, a lot of these like cardioid, dynamic cardioid mics which weren't straight line, they were pushed out of the way and we got straight line condenser mics which are not as susceptible to a bad acoustic situation with radio mics so that the actual need to stand up for quality has been obviated to a certain degree with The more applicable equipment, but when you think of when I went into the BBC, we had Gb Kaylee recorders, we had Westrex, we had RCA, there was a mismatch of things. And if you looked at them, you squeaked them. It's amazing what certain people did to get a consistent thing. And if you hadn't got your Bob Allen's and certain people around, who carry round, not prepared to go beyond a certain point, they might have been a totally different story. But we, there was the senior sound recordist , I think. When I went there, and Trump |Eyes?, he wasn't particularly strong, but he, he liked to let sleeping dogs lie. I think that perhaps, if you did go out on a limb and sort of sell your I don't know whether he would have his battery. But fortunately, there was people like Dick Cawston  who had a great appreciation of how things were put together. And then he came from children's. The Well, I remember him, first of all, I mean, he did other things. But what I was doing in the dubbing theatre was things like children's newsreel, but he always try to make it better. And he and he was given budgets. I mean, likewise, on the drama side, Rudy was given better budgets than others, you know, that people give their right arm for some of the budgets. And not only the better budget, but demanded better, better equipments and got it. Well, then really, we just wouldn't take note on that. Yeah, yeah. Which makes it all the more remarkable for a lot of Monitor directors up and coming, what they managed to do with what equipment that they had was all strength to their arm. And I think that I've gone to Glyndebourne  and I've used my, I've had to supplement my mics with 10 pound restlay?, sort of adapted with cotton wool taken out and things like that, you know, but at the end of the day, you've a ribbon mic is, is onerous, really because I mean, it's very susceptible to vibration, but in the right context, you, you can use that particular mic in that situation and, and do better. And when you look at the mics that we had, and the pressures we were under, I remember taking a day off and persuading the technical manager, that I was very unhappy with all the sgmc cardioid mics and had fortunately a day where I could get hold of them and put them against each other vast difference in frequency response. Everybody takes that same mic, and that's 1046 or whatever it is, and that

you don't expect it to be so vastly different. And people have been equalising mics which never needed to be equalised no cutting base because the top was missing in a sort of trying to resurrect the mic in a totally the wrong way. And I mean short of being in situations like I was in in children's programme once at Lime Grove where the Robin Nash who rode higher  from the ranks as a competent director, but he we were doing a scene part of a power  station with these moving massive great moving iron metres with needles and things and this was all supposed to blow up. And it would have been arranged that on a  command, the one the actors had hit the deck to they sort of detonate and they were putting smoke cartridges in and they were using an outside effects firm not  BBC special effects. And he said well look, give give this one a little bit more. And they put an explosive charge in and I had somebody up on a boom. And I was by the side of the boom the actors hit deck on they're command, but we got nowhere to go you know, we weren't as near and the centre of this moving iron metre  blew literally between the boom man's legs and embedded itself in the studio wall now that's the only time with these I got those mics sent back as immediately sent back addressed Yes, because there's one over the explosion and one 

but it was very very much covered up Robin Nash in others in other regimes would have not been seen because he he was actually responsible because he pushed the special effects based on the hazards of minor things where lighting vehicles start to go into gravel pits and things like that then I was remember doing one on the circus and we were at the resting place for a circus somewhere in Surrey  and we nearly lost a generator. They always blamed it on me because I wanted extra cabling put on for the generators and make it quieter. And the extra length they put it on to move the generator way they ended up by nearly disappearing down the water filled  gravel pit. Looking back, and you know, you had disappointments? Again?

No, I

I think this is a question of train yourself into it. I mean, I can always remember when I in the in the very first year that I joined. JOHN Michell hieutenant  commander technical. And we were in the submarine, it was a very awkward situation, you were down in the engine rooms, and you're getting oil on yourself and everything. And he took me to one side  so I can't understand it, you know, and I was fixing mics and all possible places and and it absolutely never occurred. You know that if there's a job to be done, and we want a mic in a certain place, and the fact that you you, you get a bit of oil.


he says to somebody say what are you going to get up to next, or mind you  nearly not the trim off a submarine by being semi responsible for clipping, a conning  tower, door back  hatch. But I think that if you do that you find you're doing all sorts of things. And perhaps there's more things to be thinking about then. I mean, I've been in situations where I've gone on to all sorts of devices and a fairground, which I wouldn't pay money to go on because I wouldn't want to do it. But you find yourself doing it. And all you're thinking about is that technical result that you're going to get and the fear of doing it absolutely disappears. You know, I found that the camera in my hand like would go anyway.

And who were the two directors that were two of them working Morris somebody and that they had a special Yes. they they they had the they were to documentary people they worked on alternative productions. Anyway, I got pushed off on to an Outward Bound course for borstal  boys run as an experiment for the home office. And if Oh, no, yeah, I know Coiln Morris  is not the one on radio

now. No, no, I

know Colin Morris  we did all sorts of try connor  who was the director of the Colin  Morris. Did film time a lot for that husband and wife team. Oh, yes. Chris Dahl  You said there was another fellow big, big fellow. Alan Sleek?. And we did a Colin  Morris documentary on a crashed aircraft. The aircraft and this was Christ near Christ Church. And we had full control of the thing. We were doing all sorts of things. We had a RCA mic pole, which was twice the length, it should have been to get a mic, you know, way over on


spigots, you know, because we have bigger sound trees, then we could do all sorts of things. And we're actually burying mics in the sort of turf. Everywhere was mics and a person like Alan \Sleeth?. I mean, I don't think that he was very much liked, but all these people are appreciative of that little extra effort, you know, obviously, things were risk with. Fire Brigade is not supposed to hit marks and things and hopefully the mics were going to be near, but with flame and special effects and everything. And then there was not for me , you know, subsets are right to a guide track, and we'll dub it  all over. And there was no substitute for that you knew that what you've got present was what was going into the picture. And, indeed, it was very rewarding when you got a whole sequence with very, very realistic sound on it. I mean, this was before the days of gun mikes. In those days, I mean, there was very little dubbing down wasn't there was only done for the newsreel. Indeed, yeah, there's and also, after a trip, if you could spend time with soundtracks, I mean, there are a lot of times when an editor would come up and say, if only we'd had a guide track for this, say to him  to look at the sound, they're all there. So in another time, you will, sort of which is the way it should work, you go in to the dubbing suite, and you actually lift all the stuff and say, Look, this is it. And it doesn't end up on the cutting room floor just enrolled, which they literally isn't I don't have time to get to that, but I think those days, I mean, I've spoken to people who are still in the field, and that I think that there were certain areas in which that one noticed that things were I mean, the era of the reporter. Yeah. Alan Whicker  with people coming in. That that was the turning point, you know, us. Looking back, if you could start again, would you change or change tracks? No, I I sometimes wonder if I got onto the BBC in the first place, whether or not I think that coming from I mean, that's the reason. Part of the reason I got the job with the BBC that I'd had experience outside in a lot of grades. And they were looking for experience that there it was sometimes very tough to actually make use of one's experience in the in the right way. That the outside there isn't the pressure to actually make sure the thing is done, right, because you're surrounded by people who expect you to do it properly. So it was a good grounding, but in a way, somewhat limited. I mean, we are any documentary, I think there was a documentary made. When I was at Elstree called the Elstree story, you know, the snippets of the old thats as near as you've gotten to a documentary and they resurrected certain musicals. But you there was Red Law . Yes. JOHN Cox, all these Alan and Pete Watley, all these people carrying around standards and and stood for something. l&l. Pardon, Alan, Alan, were you thinking of No, no. He was where Alan Alan? that. I met him in northeast actually he was in the RAF  Film Unit and he was doing camera and No no no no. Oh no, I don't know that. Well, there are a lot Stan Lambourne 

Les Wiles. His father Sid he worked on second unit on Treasure Island Eric Canelle?

think for old Eric

who got killed on coming to work one day on a motorbike but they were all C C  Stevens. Yes Cecil Mason Cecil Thornton  who worked on Blackmail the picture with the first though that there were musicals and playbacks that is the first one that was made by Hitchcock, starting with a sequence of sound effects with tales, Gate of Laurie  coming down and then gradually going in into dialogue.


something which has been lost as the great practical jokes that there was always time, however hard, you're working, they're always practical jokes, and they poor ol Cecil  Thornton was that they he took a call in the staff room Monday at ABPC And it purported to be from the manager of the cinema, which is gone now . So he used to be opposite the studios, they say that they were running, Blackmail and it would he be available to say a few words and this and the whole and he came in, he got a suit and everything and the whole thing was a come on  It was completely fictitious. is really a bit. He took it all right, the gentleman that he was

Satch Fisher is another one dear old Satch Who's that? Yes. Yes. Yes. I worked on a film with Satch Did you? Yes. Did he tell you the story of his how he was almost thrown over the battlements or the top of a tower of his school and the revolution? And I seem quite outsider here. He and he was on the Baltic convoys and yes oh, he was quite a tearaway, but I mean, he he escaped by dressing up as a


And he was  a lot of blame. The people will be paying cards and he would he'd splic eplayed?  know, rice and I think he'd come through so much you know with his life. Yeah, but he treated like every day just an extra bonus. He couldn't care less about anything. And maybe it wasn't like that when you knew

Alan Lawson  33:05  
took life very seriously 

I saw some very frivolous cars going on was his Gordon  was his camera. sound recordist Satch  was the recordist. So when this was before the war on murder mystery  in 30 days was on the boom, because it was this VIP or no. Denham 

Michael Colomb  33:29  
So you


you will never round Denham or  Pinewood only on that once I say

because I

because they were all around for the big fire. VIP, the agenda was pretty catastrophic. That I mean, big figures, you I mean, the Hitchcock's


the Orson Welles, you know, coming down there is um, but you'll never see those sorts of scenes again, that that Wilcox was sort of in the middle of producing the thing, and we'd all be wanting to shoot and there'll be a right royal battle going on between Orson Welles or not, he wasn't necessarily picking that battle, but he didn't help the Chief ETU  electrician objecting to him buying 10 pounds worth a steak to feed his hounds on in the dressing rooms.

And it

whenever this particular person was there, and he was there, they used to sort of be this argument. I never really knew whether it was an enjoyment to both of them.

But you know, saying that I have to feed my family

each week. blowing it in one meal for your dog and he would put up a counter arguments and people this is on the set of the day that I remember that most of all was when Orson Welles was in a punt Mischief in the Glen some picture which I don't think, sorted much they put Orson  in it and I think to help lift it, and he was then a laird of all people, and he was sitting in this boat in a wicker chair, blocked up. And of course, what he did was to shift to make him self more comfortable. He lifted the cane chair off the blocks and one leg pierced the bottom of the boat  which proceeded to sink in the studio tank. And that man did nothing to save himself. The water just came up. right up to the time it enveloped him. He was laughing his head off. He couldn't stop laughing. And the prop man just had to think that he just couldn't stop. And I told you the one the the incident when I was in the posting colonisation and music scoring at ABC, where we were trying to get Errol Finn back  on an early morning flight because he would then have to have another contract before he went back to do his post sync  And he had Dambusters was on and George Black  given him some contact explosives, which he put in Huntley, and Palmers biscuit tin in cotton wool. And he came through the door. He had his script through the double lock, sound locked doors. And as he pushed on the second door, the script tilted and out into the foyer, I slipped off the script was this tin 

made his own almighty

explosion. And this was past midnight, and he, the whole foyer was absolutely acrid with smoke. And I dived to open the main vestibule door was to get some air through to just get the smoke out. And all that Flynn could do. He was crunched up with his knees touching his chin, against the toilet door.

Laughing his head off

he couldn't do any anxious. Laughing is perishing head off , had he done nothing to kick  the thing away or

this man of action, you know. Just let it all happen. You know, is there it was just as though it was a film. Yeah. And there's nothing to do with it.

Extaordinary He said I was only going to take that on the aircraft with me. Well, he finished Well, I got Alan, I don't. It's a lot of bits and pieces and

Alan Lawson  38:21  
interesting stuff.

Jolly  good right.................................................



Born 1928 in the same house as now; local school, then UCS Hampstead. During the war got to know Gordon McCallum who later was able to introduce him to Denham Studios where he got a job as an assistant in the sound department.  move to the BBC Television Film Department. He then got involved in the design and manufacture of a lightweight blimp but to do so had to leave the BBC.

his travels when working with Dick Cawston on a programme on Global Television. He talks about equipment maintenance whilst on location, sound systems used by the BBC, and about the fibre glass blimp he and his ex-BBC colleague Neville Bruce [designed?]. They were working from Radlett in a farm building. He also worked outside as a sound recordist with their new blimp, working with Denis Mitchell.  He has an interesting tale to tell when his new company, . He then goes on to talk about the changing role the company played due to the fast changes of practices in the industry. He talks about the difficulty of set-up training programmes faced by small companies. The firm changed over to provision of hardware, and not without providing crewing and equipment hire [?] He talks about the use of radio mics.