Peter Graham Scott

Peter Graham
Family name: 
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Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
23 Jul 2004
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The copyright of this interview lies with the \british Entertainment History Project

Peter Scott – My name is Peter Graham Scott. I was born in 1923, er…October the 27th. In East Sheen, which is near Putney, and near Richmond. My mother and father were living – they’d just got married; well they’d been married for about five years. And er, it was just after the first World War, where my father had just lost a leg with the Canadian army. He’d actually emigrated to Canada, and before that, he’d been in the South African War as a 17-year old trooper. Erm…he er, made light of his injury, which was er, really, very difficult for him because he only had one leg, so he couldn’t dance or swim, or anything like that, but anyway. They seemed very happy together, but there wasn’t a great deal of money. Then my mother got (1926) er…her father died in South Africa, and left a piano importing business, which was very lucrative and er, so suddenly we moved to a much larger house. My brother and I stayed at the same school, which was the Isleworth County School for boys, but it was much nearer now. And er, we erm…had a reasonable life. And my mother of course had been a frustrated actress; frustrated by her grandmother, who had thought that to become an actress was a short way to prostitution. And then..she was a real Victorian grandmother!

And er,.. so she suddenly thought all her frustrated ambitions could suddenly be realised with this younger son, who was always doing poetry things and getting little prizes, and things. So she sort-of said to me, “Right, I am sending you to Italia Conti’s stage school on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings, so that you were able to learn to speak properly, and be er, you will learn the plays of Shakespeare, and you will learn something about the theatre, which of course I did. Erm..and my co- er…pupils were Lesley Phillips, Richard Todd, and George Coal, who of all made names for themselves as actors. I wasn’t so sure about acting, but I liked the theatre, and I liked the idea of doing plays. And er…but I hadn’t realised what I really wanted to do. I appeared in Richard III, with Emily Williams, which was directed by Tyrone Guthrie, who I think is one of the great directors of British theatre. He was tall and very beaky nose, and he er…used to rise up in the stalls and suddenly there’d be this giant telling me (in a very quiet way) what to do. And he made fairly so-so actors really act properly.

And of course, the good actors like Edwin Williams and Alex Clunes and those sort-of people really loved the whole idea because he was a director’s actor, and actor’s director. So, erm, ah…then I did ah….in the open-air theatre I did er…The Winter’s Tale and played Vermillious, and actually got a notice for that in the news chronicle. And er…but I still didn’t really like the idea of acting. Then I went to Shepherd’s Bush, and was interviewed by a fat man who said “he’ll do!”. And er, I said “what am I supposed to do?” and he said er. “you’re a page boy in a hotel.” So, I went down to the new Pinewood Studios which had just been opened…this is in 1938 I think it was. I must have been about 15 or 14. And er…was dressed up in a page boy’s uniform. My hair was flattened with grease, and er…er… they said “well, for the moment, Mr Hitchcock won’t want you until er…erm…later, so you can come on the set and watch. And they did this enormous tracking shot with a crane, which starts on a group of dancers, goes through the dancers, and slowly ends up, all in one shot, in one lens, goes slowly up to the eye of the drummer who’s tapping away, and it suddenly starts to go ‘wink’. And because he is seen coming through the door, the man who is suspected of murdering the girl, and er…but he knows that he did it. And he sees that if the man in the doorway sees him, he will identify him, and so he makes a run for it. Anyway, that was the shot.

This was amazing – it was being done on a huge crane, which slowly and surely went through the dancers, who parted to let them through, and right into this shot of the eye. I dunno how, or what lens they could have possibly had to do it, but the poor old focus puller was having to keep the…the…shot in focus in focus, all the way, right up to the eye. And I suddenly thought, “gosh, this man (who is behind all this) this fat man, erm, he must have a great time.” And I thought “that’s what I want to do, yes! Director!”. So I decided I wanted to become a director. Well then of course I told my mother, and she said “well well, in that case you can give up Italia Conti, you can go back to school and learn”, which I did. But I did get the odd parts in films, and it happened that when the film started, I was in 16, or shortly after then..and er…I was allowed to leave school, because I got all of the er, exams I needed, actually to go to university. But, there was no question of going to university because very shortly, there were fallout people of 18 for the army. So I thought well, ‘it’s a sort-of gap of nearly two years, I can do what I want to do’. But anyway, I was cast by Roy Balting in Pastor Hall, to be a rather cheeky German schoolboy, who comes in, ‘Hier Ritter.. (indistinct). And er..(laughing) It’s just in the film! With er, Roy Balting.

Interviewer – At Denham?

Peter – No, at Highbury. Highbury was a sort-of converted church hall, and they – the Baltings were desperate to save money. They had no money on Paster Hall. They were shooting it partly in Highbury, on this set, and partly on this exterior set they had built at Twickenham studios, in the big stage there. But they were only having that for a week, and it had to be revamped also as another set. Erm..anyway, I did my part, and I got to know the (indistinct) director. I said ‘well, what do you want to be in the end?’ he said “director” and I said ‘oh, so do I!’. he said, “well, become a third assistant director.” So I said ‘well, how do I do that?’ and he said “well, give me your phone number, and I’ll let you know.” So I thought, ‘yes, haha’. So I gave him the phone number, two weeks later the phone rang, and (indistinct) and he said “this is Allen Ginsbourg”. I said ‘who?’ and he said “the third (indistinct) you were working with on Pastor Hall”. I said ‘oh yes’. He said “there’s a job as a third assistant which I don’t want to do at Twickenham Studios” (on a film called ‘Room for Two’, with er…Maurice Elvey directing, erm. (Pause) Sorry about that, erm. I went along and saw them, and they thought I was ‘clean’, and er (laughing) respectful, and er…so I got the job as third assistant on ‘Room for Two’, which starred Vic Oliver, who was a music-hall comedian, and Francis Day, who was a cabaret lady really. It wasn’t much of a film, but it was based on a play, like a lot of films were in those days. And Maurice Elvey and I got along very well, because I used to bring his coffee accurately and on time, and I’d call the actors and all that. And er, I was literally a call-boy. So he said “well, I’m going to do a film called ‘Under Your Hat”. This is in 1940 by the way. And er, “would you like to do that?”. And I said ‘oh yes! Please!’.

So I got the job on ‘Under Your Hat’. On ‘Room for Two’, there was a very good continuity girl called Kay Mander, who later became a great director, a great director of documentaries. Erm..and she was erm, she said to me, “are you in the union?” and I said ‘union?’ and she said “yes.. the ACT. It’s the association of cinematograph technicians, and I said ‘no’. She said ‘well, you can join them”. I said ‘how much does it cost?’ and she said “well, I’m afraid it’s 1 and 6 a week”. So I said ‘oh’, and I decided to join. So at 16, in the early days of 1940 with the war, it was still the phony war going on. I joined the ACT, and I’ve been in it ever since, now it’s become BECTU. So, I went onto..

Interviewer – ‘Under Your Hat’ – was that an Ivory as well?

Peter – Yes, no…‘Under Your Hat’ was, sorry, ‘Room for Two’ was at Twickenham. ‘Under Your Hat’ was made at Walton Hall, which was even better for me, because Walton Hall was Isleworth, and I could cycle there; cycle back home for lunch, eat a hurried lunch in half an hour, and be back on the set by two o’clock. Erm..and we were making this er…musical comedy which was based on a play, with very old, but very experienced actors – Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge, who were at the time very popular, and they did radio, and they did mainly theatre. And erm, the whole thing was just a photographed stage, er, musical really. And above us, the Battle of Britain was actually happening. So, we were making this silly, unsubstantial thing about nothing very much, except it was supposed to be about spies in France just before the war. But it was really a jokey script. And er, above us – real history was being made, with these fighter pilots who were defending Britain, and in fact succeeded in beating the Luftwaffe back, and er, they in fact won the Battle of Britain. Right, so after that, I heard, actually through ACTT, or ACT as it was more, that erm..they wanted a third assistant for three weeks, while the erm, real third assistant had his appendix out or something. So I went along to Denham, and they said “what have you done?” I said ‘well, I’ve just done two films as a third assistant’. So they said, “well, alright, you’re in”. And I then worked with, and had the privilege of working with three really great talents, er – not Gabriel Pascal, who was there theoretically as the director, but David Lean (who was the technical director), Ronnie Neame (who was the official cameraman, but he was very much involved with the shots with David, and of course they worked together like a piece of beautiful clockwork), and Charles Friend, (who also became a director) who was the editor! And I got to know all these people. But particularly, David Lean. Oh, and I also knew Deborah Kerr, got to know Deborah Kerr, who was 16 years of age, playing a small part in it. And of course, Dame Wendy Hiller, who later appeared for me in ‘The Curse of King Tutankhamen’s Tomb’ in the 70s.

Interviewer – What was the film?

Peter – The film was George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Major Barbara’ about a Salvation Army girl, who er, is determined to force her will upon the Salvation Army. And that of course was played by Wendy Hiller as a young girl. And Deborah was just playing a little part in it. But she was sweet and lovely, and we used to er…(laughing) she had a way of saying “Peter!!” from one end of the set to another! For some reason.

Interviewer – Was that a long shoot?

Peter – No, it was three weeks, because I was there for three weeks to cover for the guy with the appendix out. So then, I went back to Walton Hall for a three week picture which is quite completely unknown called ‘Spellbound’ with Derek Farr and Mural Pavlow, (who later got married). Erm, but that was just a cheap thing, directed by somebody called John Harlow. Er, we (laughs) we said ‘Harlow by name, Harlow by nature!’. He was a nothing; a production manager – they just got him in quickly. And then, erm…I heard again that there was a film called ‘Kipps’ being made at Shepherd’s Bush, and er, they wanted a third. I went along and saw them, got the job. So I then had the privilege of working with Carol Reed, who again I think, is one of the great film directors. But this was an insubstantial HG Wells story about a shop assistant who is suddenly left a lot of money, and er, is suddenly able to marry the girl of his choice instead of the rich woman who was after him.

Interviewer – Phyllis Calvert?

Peter – Yes, she was the young girl of his choice, and er… Diana Wynyard was the er, rich woman, and of course Monica Redgrave was the lead. Now here, again, history was being made. London was being bombed all the time we were making this, insubstantial Edwardian piece, and er, I used to travel by trolleybus from Isleworth to Shepherd’s Bush, at 5.30 in the morning, after the rain had finished, and would get there in time for 6.30, a 6.30 start, it was a 7 o’clock start. And we shot til 4 o’clock, and the unit were allowed to go home to get their families down to the shelters. And as I travelled on this trolleybus every morning, I would see another church or another block of houses that had been bombed, and that there was rubble and there were the fire engines and everything. And we were making ridiculous Edwardian film! But you see, they were right, and I was wrong to be contemptuous about it, because both ‘Under Your Hat’ and ‘Kipps’ made a lot of money because they were light-hearted entertainment. So anyway, the government was then making five minute films about the war, which were shown by law in all cinemas in Britain. And these five-minute films, some of them good, some of them very good, and (Nasqueth – indistinct) directed one or two I think of them, and people like that, and everyone gave their talents. Um, and er, I thought about it, and I thought, ‘wait a minute! What do I know – nothing!’ but I listened to the radio and I heard a bomber pilot talking about what it was like to be a bomber pilot, and I thought ‘ah – yes, I’ll write a five-minute script about bombers over Berlin’ and then there was another one about a pilot who’d come down in the sea, and er – it was called…but the pilot was saved. And I wrote a five-minute script of that, and sent them proudly off to the Minister of Information at the University of London. Um…(laughs) I was then (after some weeks) er,….I was approached by somebody who said “I’m John Betjeman” and I said ‘oh yes?’ I’ve never heard of John Betjeman the poet. And he said “I’m in the Ministry of Information at the moment, I want to see you”. So I said ‘oh yes’. Anyway, I made an appointment, I went to see him. He expects to see a sort-of middle-aged writer, and he got this (by then) 17-year old schoolboy. And er (laughing) he said….oh, ex-schoolboy. And he said “you wrote these?” and I said yes, (well, I’d really based them on some of the things I’d heard on the radio). “So as a matter of fact, we are making a film about a pilot being saved out of the Channel, (but anyway) and er, the other one we don’t think that – we think that’ll be a much bigger production”, which of course it was in the end.

So…he said “what do you want to do? I said ‘well, I want to become a director’. He said “the only way to become a director is to go into the cutting room”. How this poet should know that, I don’t know, but he did. He phoned up Basil Wright, who was a leading documentary maker, and Basil phoned up the head of Strand Films, who said “come along and see me”. I must have a drink..

Interviewer – Where were they based?

Peter – The Strand were based at Merton Park, and erm…so I became an assistant film-editor to a man called Michael Gordon, who was really…I mean…he’s one of these people that er, have given you so much, and there was no…because he was very off-hand. But he was…oh, you had better put that together. Y’know, but the chance was wonderful, to try to edit a sequence. And he showed me a lot of things about editing I didn’t know. And er…so by the time I’d been there for two years, and again, I was travelling by bus, (and the bombs were going off) to Merton Park from Isleworth. It was actually three buses. He then said “oh, we’ve got this thing coming up, can you edit it?” and I said ‘oh, yes’, and I edited a film. Then a director, actually, a cameraman-turned-director called Desmond Dickenson got a film to make about the history of cable and wireless, who were then the great providers of transatlantic telephone lines and so-on. They had got some film of how they laid the cable over the Atlantic. But er, they really wanted to have a sort-of posh erm, sort-of film that really sold them to er, commercial interests. So erm, Desmond said “will you come and be my assistant?”, and I said ‘yes’. So I was his assistant director on that – we shot in cable/wireless, and all over the place, in various offices and people talking about what they did with cable and wireless, and what they had done with cable and wireless, etc etc. And erm, I then went back to Strand Films, but by then, they’d got two other editors. So there was really no job for me as an editor, so I thought ‘well, wait a minute, I’ve got to find something.’ And I…a man called Alexander Shaw then joined the company as a producer. And Alex Shaw said “well, there’s this thing about seeds, do you want to do that?” and I said ‘ oh yes! (Laughing) do you want anything directed?’ he said “alright, well you direct it – you’ve got to write it as well, and you’ve got to edit it, because we’ve got no money – there’s £600 and that’s it. And you’ll have a cameraman the same age as you – John Bowman Johnson, who is an assistant but he’s going to be the cameraman, and you’ll have a Newman-Sinclair camera, (which is the old wind-up camera). And so, I went with (first of all on my own) round all the Essex farmers, finding out how they did grow and nurture vegetable seeds, and wrote a script, and er…sent it to the Ministry of Agriculture. They came in with a lot of expert advice (of course). We somehow got a script, and John and I (Bowman Johnson) in my old Morris-Eight. By then, I’d graduated to buying a pre-war Morris-Eight, and we went all around Essex, shooting various people. Talking about, erm, the way they made seeds and so-on. The trouble was; we had no form of recording them, so we just had to show them doing it, and then later, record their voices saying (attempts regional accent) “well, then I put the seeds into the ground”. Whatever.

So erm…and then I finally – because I’d been, er – doing something for the government, I’d actually been deferred for six months for joining the army, which is very interesting. For timing. And I didn’t have to join the army until 19….42, December, and by then I was 18. I think I was….no, I was just 19, that’s right, when I joined the army in December 1942. And erm, I did er, six weeks training at Warley, which was hell, erm…y’know, (indistinct) ‘you got a bristle showing on your face…go back and shave boy’ and all that sort-of thing, dreadful sergeants. But it sort-of enured you to the way you were going to be treated. But luckily, I was then…then I went to the erm, to Scotland, to Lochmaben , actually to quite near where my old family come from, I mean, the Scotts and the Grahams originally were the finest cattle-rustlers in the 16th Century. But they were rivals, and then the only way they could stop their rivals were inter-marrying their (indistinct) that’s a long story. Erm, anyway, the Lochmaben, which is quite near Lockerbie where they had that awful airline disaster. Erm…and we used to go across the Loch in freezing weather; this was about January and February of 194…….3. And erm….this was all happening, and the war…

Interviewer – (indistinct) to the, to the….war-time documentaries from there? I mean, you volunteered for…said you were a film director?

Peter – Yes, no – I, I just had to put down ‘film director’ because I directed the film about (indistinct). No I didn’t….I didn’t get into documentaries yet. I was then picked as a potential officer, and er…I suppose I spoke (laughing) better.  There were many Geordies actually, lovely Geordies, all in this and that, (attempts Geordie accent) and er…what?! And er, it was erm….it was very interesting to train with those sorts of characters, because they were all very tough, and they didn’t care what they did if they got their boots wet, or if they got wet boots all day. But as I was (indistinct) ‘oh dear! My boots are wet!’ Erm, and anyway, I was picked as a potential officer and er…went to a board in Edinburgh, and got on the board, and went to Wrotham in Kent to be a…trained as an officer in the Royal Artillery. And, to cut a long story short, I met the best friend (one of the best friends I ever had) which was Peter Chudley, who was just a great friend, and of course, it so happened the (indistinct) group was Royston Morley, who had been one of the very rare television producers before the war. And he’d stayed out of the war until right now, as I had, and now he was being trained as a potential officer. And he was about 32 I suppose at that time. And er, we of course talked, and I talked about film, and he talked about television. And I said ‘oh it’s a lot of fun (indistinct) this little black and white box, and it’s all black and white’. And he said “ah, but mark my words, (and this was incredible) there will be a time where everybody has one in their house”. And I said ‘no!’ he said “there will be! It’s coming!” And not only one in every house, one in every room of course! And a recording system, and a DVD, and everything else they have now. But we didn’t know about that. Anyway, so we used to argue about the visual arts and so on, and er…I  then…we were all trained at Catterick for 23 weeks, and that was hard. Then there was battle-school, that was rough, that was a bad later experience. And er…then we were sent to various places. I was sent to the Berkshire (uminury – indistinct) which was the 145, er….(long pause) one of the 145th, erm…..the Berkshire uminary was the erm, er…the one 145 Artillery Unit. That’s right, the regiment. The 145th Artillery Regiment. But it was always known as the ‘Berks Yo’.

And er…the trouble was, if you had been educated at Eton, and all the Captains and Majors had, you were ‘in’. And if you weren’t, you were (what was called) a ‘Wog’, a ‘War-Office-Gentleman’. So (laughing) it would be WOG-Scott, and you’d…and really truly, you know, “WOG-Scott, you’re on again tonight, oh dear!” And er… they weren’t very friendly at all. It really was snobbism gone barmy. But er…you know, ‘one’ survived, and er, I was sent then to a battle-school just before D-Day. And I was er, carrying the ‘brenyarn’ at the end of the day, and I was really truly knackered, and I’d fallen well behind the rest of the platoon. The platoons were made up of captains, sergeant Majors, all sorts of things. No rank, you just were plugged in and made into platoons. And I was crossing this river, or struggling, across this river (laughing) and suddenly the whole thing blew up in front of me, and I was actually blown up and thrown a few yards. I broke my collarbone, ribs, things like that. I started to have the most awful headaches, so when I was patched up, I really couldn’t go back to the Artillery, and they put me into the…they made me Category ‘C’ medically, and er…they sent me to Woolidge to wait and see what could be done. Woolidge was full of people who’d got piles and…god knows what, but they’d all had something wrong with them and they’d been category ‘C’. And er.. I thought ‘I’m never going to escape from here’ because I’m still having these headaches. But anyway, I managed to get a lot of books about film from the local library, then I read all (Pydothrain – indistinct) and Eisenstein and all these people. And er…so I went erm…then, no, I then, saw a small note from the war office, quite by accident, which said that ‘any officer of Category C, who can go back to…anything to do with the war, erm that will help the war effort, they would be released’. So I went to see Basil Wright, who I was still in touch with, and he said “well, they’re starting to think of the colonial film unit”. Now this was about…D-Day had already happened, and I suppose it was about July or August 1944. And er, so erm…I went and saw them, and the man said “have you edited a film?” I said, “I have – I’ve edited several documentaries, and of course I directed one, that I’d edited and written. So they said “oh, that’s great, come and be an editor!”. And I said ‘well, what is it?” and he said “a newsreel for the colonies, but we’re having to tart it up a bit, because some of the stuff we’re getting from the second front isn’t all that wonderful, and we’ve got to get shots of guys with rifles going round corners, and then firing and you know, looking very brave, that we can cut into this, because this is for all the colonies (y’know) the Kenya, Nigeria, as they were, South Africa and all these people, who aren’t quite sure whether they’re in the war or not”. And er… so I thought, ‘oh well, I can do that’ and that’s exactly what I did.

So from that time, which would be about October ’44 to the end of the war May ’45 I  was in that, but then of course, the unit was disbanded, and I went to work for a company called ‘Green Park’, where again, (by accident) I met a director called Ken Annakin, and Ken and I got on, and we formed a thing called ‘The Kingston Films Society’, but that’s all the book.

Interviewer – Yes, well in fact, where was Green Park?

Peter – Green Park was Merton Park. Yes, it was the same as the Strand, and in fact…what had happened to Strand – it had been taken over by British National, and moved to British National a few years in Elstree, and er…so we were literally in the same cutting rooms and everything, it was…

Interviewer – Can you tell us a little bit about Merton Park as a place?

Peter – ..Park as a place?! (both laughing). Yes! I will, have a drink in a minute (drinks). Merton Park as a place… it was an old bus garage originally, and it had pillars. So whenever any designer had to design a set, it was I that had to design it with a pillar in the middle, or to somehow get a corner that er…jutted out and became…er, hid the pillar. But anyway, apart from that it wasn’t  er..properly soundproofed or anything like that,…

Interviewer – stage was it?

Peter – Yes, one stage. They then built another stage actually, which wasn’t bad actually, and I shot on that much later…erm, but on a terrible film! (laughing) And er.. anyway.. I enjoyed Green Park very much, and I enjoyed working with Ken Annakin, who still remains a friend, and he must be now, ah…..over 90. So there you are. Or certainly he’s 89 or 90. But we did, we got on well, and I met his family, or the family he then had. Er, he then married again, and they adopted a girl, but the girl he had from the first family actually died of er..

Interviewer –  Jane.

Peter – leukaemia or something. Erm…but erm, so we got along well, and then er…I got in touch again with Roy Balting, and I got in touch with Anthony Havelock-Allan, and surprisingly, they both saw me. And I said ‘well, I’m editing all these documentaries, but I really want to edit a feature film. And Roy said “well, we’ll let you know.” And Anthony Havelock-Allan said “well, I haven’t anything for you at the moment but I’ll let you know. So believe it or not, they both let me know. Erm..when, er…well first of all I went to erm…which way round was it? No, I went to, straight…. I didn’t go straight to…to edit for the Boltings. I first of all…Ken was offered a thing called ‘Sudan Dispute’, which was about the Sudan, curiously enough. And er…the Sudan at that time was a condominium of Egyptian and British governments, and er, the British sort-of took the lead, and so all the district commissioners were British, and all the assistant district commissioners were Egyptians. And erm…they said er…so I went and saw them because Ken didn’t want to do it, and they said “but you’re very young!” and I said ‘well, er I know, but I’ve had a lot of experience’ and er…they said “well, what do you know about the Sudan?” and I said ‘I don’t know anything, but I will read it up, and I will learn’. They said “it’s a bit too much of a risk” so I left them, and then I thought ‘ no! I can do this film! I will do this film!’ so I went to the library and er…found out about the Sudan, which is a huge country as you probably know, bigger than France, bigger than France and Germany together, its enormous, and it’s just mainly desert, but there’s a sort-of jungle in the South,  and then there’s Darfur, where they’ve had all these terrible massacres recently.

Er…we went there, but the people who were there when we went to that part of the world were mainly people who went around practically naked, the girls had bare breasts and everything; which we filmed of course, and they didn’t allow us to use in the film! And er..this was a very interesting time, because I had as my…technically he was my go-fer (but he was really my assistant) called, a man called ‘The Honourable Peter Rodd’, who was managed to then (but estranged from) Nancy Mitford, and er…he went to er, (indistinct) all the good schools and everything, but he was a…funny man. He looked like a shabby old – he had a terrible old Panama hat with a hole in it. And I said “well, why don’t you have a new hat?” and he said “no, I’ll mend the hole” so he sewed up the hole in the hat, and (laughs) and I remember we met someone in a pub or a bar once, and er…the guy said (attempts accent) “aren’t you a peanut planter?” because they were doing a peanut scheme in Kenya at the time, and he said “no, I’m The Honourable Peter Rodd!” and er..anyway. Peter Rodd knew everybody. He knew the governor general of course, so we er…

Interviewer – Diplomatic generally.

Peter – Yes, generally, yes because of his father…his brother was er…some diplomat and er…he was just the bad sheep of the family unfortunately. He never did any serious work, and Nancy Mitford was…kept terribly short of money as you probably know, until she wrote ‘Pursuit of Love’. And then she suddenly got money. And then, er, Peter by then, estranged from her, used to have to have hand-outs of money from her. Alas he died in Malta, penniless, and it’s ah……it’s a sad story, cos he was a likeable fellow, but there was something wrong (trails). Anyway, he got onto the governor, and the governor says “right, yes – well it’s got to be made well. So I’ll lend you my train”. And we were lent his actual…two carriages; one of which had a cook and a restaurant, and the other one was er…this is for Ted Moore, who later photographed some Bond films, but er, was the cameraman, and Ian Grant who was the…later became an ITN cameraman. He was the assistant and prod, and me, and that was it – that was the unit. And we had a Newman Sinclair camera, again – the same old wind-up Newman Sinclair clockwork camera, which was a pity, because those sound effects were incredible. We managed to get hold of a sort-of gramophone recorder, which we did make some sound of when they were doing their lovely tribal dances; particularly, the Nubas, who were these people who in those days…the women had bare breasts and they danced, and it was all tremendous stuff. Unfortunately, most of that stuff couldn’t be used because it was ‘shocking’. It wasn’t actually, it was very beautiful, but there you are. It was unsuitable for cinema audiences. And er…we went down to Juba, which was as hot as hell; I mean as soon as you opened the aircraft door, it sort-of hit you like opening the oven, and er….which was right down in the desert in the jungle. And er, we went to Port-Sudan, and all sorts of places, Attborough, where in those days, they had great big railway sheds where they actually made railway engines, I don’t know what’s happened to it now because everything has fallen into disuses, you know. I don’t even think the railway is running now.

We went all over everywhere, we even went into Abyssinia, we went into Somalia, on camels; a great experience! Not like riding a camel in the London Zoo I can assure you! (both laughing). So erm…that was a great experience, and when I came back, I had already been in touch with the Boltings and Boltings said; “ will you edit Brighton Rock?” and I said ‘well, you know I haven’t edited a feature before?’ (which was a Graham Greene book, Brighton Rock to star Richard Attenborough).

Interviewer – Wellin?

Peter – No, yes, it was Wellin, that’s right. An old tobacco factory. So I seem to be in old factories for most of my career really! (laughing) and this stage. That was a great experience, because John Bolting was actually directing, he normally produced; they were twin brothers. And er…Roy was producing, and of course Roy is probably one of the world’s greatest editors, so Roy used to see things that I’d put together, and say – “yes, well let’s put it all back to rushes, and we’ll start again”. And he was right – I mean, y’know…there was no question that he was right. I had put it together as John had asked me and he’d asked me to do a ‘close up on that line’.  But Roy found all sorts of reactions from the other characters when he was a five-hander, and he’d pick up a bit from ‘Dallow’ (who was played by er…oh I can’t remember his name, but he was a very good sort-of gangster actor).

Interviewer – Not Benny William Hartnell?

Peter – Benny William Hartnell! That’s right, yes William Hartnell as he then was. Yes, he was in it, and of course, Harcourt Williams was in it. I’d been in a play when I was a little boy with Harcourt Williams called (‘The Seal of thy house’ – really indistinct) and I had to be a schoolboy who saw an angel pushing this architect played by Harcourt Williams about the rebuilding of Canterbury Cathedral in the 12th Century – “oh look! There’s an angel, a terrible angel! A drawn sword in his hands!” (laughing) that’s what I had to say, but in Dorothy (Elsa’s – indistinct) play. And er…I used to scream this out every night. And er…that was in 1937. So I knew Harcourt, and he er…he sort-of knew me really, er – but he didn’t say “how nice to see you” or anything like that. But he was (by then) practically ga-ga, I mean he was over 70.

Interviewer – Did you erm..did you go onto the set – did you watch the shoot, or did you?..

Peter – Oh yes…I watched all the shoot. I was amazed, I mean, because the editing didn’t take long at all really, even in those days when you had to (as you know) had to mark it, and then cut the film across the next frame, then your assistant would then join it up together. And you remember that John (laughing) and that’s how it was, and then of course, they now have things that you just mark and edit, and the machine does it for you, and if you don’t like it, you mark it, and that does it for you, and so on. It’s so wonderful now, but I mean, then – you literally had to commit yourself, so when of course Roy Balting decided he would re-cut my first efforts, we had to put it back, and put a black frame in between where we’d taken one frame out, by cutting it. Anyway, it was a marvellous experience, and I’d never laid tracks for that sort-of film before. You didn’t have dubbing editors in those days. You just did it all yourself, and you laid the music yourself. And er, then we got to the dubbing theatre, and er…Harold King (we dubbed it at National Studios in Elstree) and er..Harold King said er..”oh Christ, who laid this music?” and I said ‘I did’ and he said “well, it’s a bit of a mess isn’t it really? Why?! Do it again”. It was a learning curve, a terrific learning curve, but of course now, that film is a classic. It was shown the other day at the NFT, it was shown twice; it was shown at Richard Attenborough’s festival, and also the Bolting festival. So they..I’ve seen it now twice again; In fact, I’ve seen it three times, because I was also asked to introduce it when it was shown up at Oxford. It was a sort-of classic and er..

Interviewer –  It was on television very recently…

Peter – It has too, because you see, erm…it was ground-breaking, and I think..Dickie has done some wonderful performances since, and of course, he has turned out to be an outstanding director of human, really true human stories, like er…the one about the South African er…hero Bilko and all those things. And, but he er..extraordinary because I couldn’t understand how he did it. You would see him in the morning, and he’d say “hello Scottie! How you doing?” and I’d say ‘fine thankyou’. Five minutes later, he’d be this psychopathic murderer, little-boy murderer, and he’d change completely. This was not Richard Attenborough; it couldn’t possibly be Richard Attenborough, and yet…

Interviewer –  He’d played it on the stage had he?

Peter – He’d played it on stage, yes he had. He’d done it for..(stinking – indistinct) yes, that was the point. But John was a very good director because he drew out the other characters, Hermoine Baddley was tending to be over the top, but in the end, she turned out quite strong and very good I thought. Yes – they were all excellent I thought. It was a real learning curve.

Then Ken Annakin wanted me…oh, then I did a thing called ‘The Perfect Woman’, which was rubbish.

Interviewer –  Back at Denham?

Peter – Yes, it was back at Denham, that’s right. And then I did er..which I wouldn’t..I mean the director was a cameraman, an ex-cameraman. He didn’t direct the actors at all. He used to sit about laughing and joking all the time with the actors, and I thought, “why aren’t you actually finding a performance?” you know. And he didn’t take a close-up of Pat Rock when she was supposed to be the dummy, for any of the situations where she was supposed to be the dummy, and her eyes were going like that all the time, and er…so I had to invent them literally. I got one close up, and I managed to print it; something like 20 times, and I used it, and duped it 20 times, so that I’d always have a shot that would go in…it was Nigel Patrick and er..Stanley Holloway that were the two chumps who were having this mechanical woman. Anyway, that’s the end of that (laughing). Then Ken Annakin said he was going to direct a film called ‘Landfall’ at the (indistinct British), which was a nice studio – it had been rebuilt after the War, was quite different from Wellin, where they did Brighton Rock. And that was just a straightforward piece about an RAF man who accidentally bombs a submarine which he thinks is a U-Boat, and it’s a British submarine. And Nigel Shute wrote the original book…and it was alright, it was an ok film. I met Michael Dennison there, which later of course, I directed in television. And then, er…I went er…suddenly I got a call from Anthon Havelock Allen, who’d become an independent producer, and he wanted someone to go to Italy to work on a thing called ‘The Shadow of the Eagle’ with Richard Greene, and Valentina Cortese, and some very good actors. Would I come to Italy? Would I? I was just engaged at the time to Mimi, and er…we talked it over. I met Mimi at ‘Associated British’; she was in the art department there, she was an assistant in the art department, she’d been an art student. Well, we got engaged and er…I then went to…first of all Rome and Venice for the shooting.

Interviewer – That was a very odd film, in some way wasn’t it…wasn’t somebody fired or..or…can’t remember. Was it done in two languages or…?

Peter – It was done in two languages, yes. Valentina Cortese did hers in two languages, Richard Greene was just dubbed. And er…I think Walter Miller could speak Italian or something, and he insisted on doing his own, but I’m sure they dubbed him in the end. Yes, it was a co-production with er…the Italians. And then I also…then we got married, Mimi and I, and then, er, were offered the next film that Tony did in er, Rome, and…in Assisi actually, which was called ‘The Small Miracle’ originally, it was a Paul Gallico story, and er…so then er….erm…it was er…it was shot in Assisi. Mimi came up there, and lived with me in Rome. We were then married, and er…we used to go round Rome on a Vespa motorbicycle with her on the back. And we went to all the… we went through three guidebooks on the Sundays. We were working Saturdays, but on the Sundays, we went through three guidebooks to see art galleries and churches and places of interest in Rome. And then later in Assisi, which is a lovely town. But it was very cold, it was below freezing  quite a lot of the time. So…erm…then….er… we got back, and we bought a house in Radley, and er..we lived there…we started to live there and er….what happened next…er…. Oh yes, then I wanted to direct so, Dennis Vance, who’d been in ‘the Shadow of the Eagle’  - he had written a terrible script for somebody called Donald Peers, but originally he’d written a very interesting script about black people in Cable Street in the East End of London. And er…we went to British Lion, and s…in those days, you could go and see the head of British Lion for instance and er…and he said “oh yes…it might be quite interesting, but can you have a singer in it?” I said ‘well, not really, not unless it’s a street singer I suppose’. I dunno. And he said “no, this wouldn’t work”. It’s got to be Donald Peers, and then Donald Peers was someone who was very fashionable variety star. And er…we went and saw Donald Peers and he said, no he said (attempts Welsh accent) “I’d like to do a story about er..coming out from Wales, because I came out from Wales when I was a boy. And I wanted to sing, and I want to do that story if you can”. So anyway we said ‘but you’re middle-aged, you can’t be a boy anymore’. So we did a thing about an unsuccessful teacher who wanted to be a songwriter and suddenly one of his songs is a hit. And that means he leaves the woman and the shop that he really loves and she’s got a son, and she’s been married, and er…but he can never make up his mind to ask her to marry him and he goes to London, and gets me some of the rich young woman, and then he realises that he loves the woman in the shop…

Interviewer – Where did you shoot that?

Peter – Merton Park, no less! And then we found all the problems at Merton Park; they hadn’t then built the er…built the er…next stage, which they were about to think about building, erm…my last adventure at Merton Park was in fact in the New Stage. Which was again, not properly soundproofed, so every time an aircraft went over, which was very frequently, about every four minutes, you had to stop shooting. Anyway…

Interviewer – I’ve got a note here about panic at Madame Tussauds?

Peter – Panic at Madame Tussauds! Of course, yes I did that after ‘The Perfect Woman’ and before the Italian films I think. Yes it was, yes. Or was it after those?

Interviewer – But it was somewhere there, that was your first as a director?

Peter – First as a director, yes. That was simply a….a guy called Roger Proudfoot, Proudlock, had got a mission from Madame Tussauds to shoot between six and ten every evening for (I think) two or three weeks. And he’d got this thing about er…he’d written this script about a erm…a crook who tries to hide a necklace on a statue, and of course a statue is one of the ones they take away for destruction or something. And er…they through away the jewellery or whatever. And er…it was really his hunt through trying to pretend…at night…trying to…and every time someone came, the night had to be another statue. Silly film really, but it was good experience, and..all shot in Madame Tussauds yes. But we did have shows, and that was done in somebody’s flat y’know, it was real cheapo. But it was good experience I think, at least I was handling actors, because the actors I had were not good actors, they were just practically crowd artists y’know, who didn’t respond to direction at all, and didn’t – you know, it was useless talking about motivation or anything like that, but even to say that “oh can’t you speak a bit more loudly? Or a bit more aggressively” or something. And they practically have to go to a dictionary and look up ‘aggressive”, I mean, it really was not the best way. But anyway, a little actor called Harry Locke, who’d been in Shakespeare, he was playing the lead as the daft sort-of old night watchman who goes round and nearly sees our crook every time you know, and doesn’t quite, and then sees a bit of movement and goes back and touches the face, and that sort-of thing. Making fun of waxworks. Anyway, that was made in two or three weeks. At that level, you know, shooting from six til ten and a man called Reg Edds who was the manager of Madame Tussauds, who used to come and literally do this at half past nine, literally doing this, and counting the minutes, and as the minutes came up to ten o’clock, “Out!”. Because he didn’t want to work overtime. And erm..that was the first one I did, then the second one was this Donald Peers thing. So..

Interviewer – I’ve got something called ‘Escape Route’, I don’t know where that fits in…

Peter – That also, now hang on – that was still before..after…that’s right. After I had done er…the Donald Peers film, erm…I was asked by a very nice producer, and again I can’t remember his name…Ronald Kinnock, that’s right, who erm…he had a problem. They had asked a man called Seymour Friedman, who was the son of Harold Freedman, who was the head of Columbia Pictures. Um…the only way they could get a deal with Columbia for distribution, and I then get George Raft to play the lead. He was an over-the-hill gangster man. But he’d been in some good films, he’d been in the..tossing a coin in some film, which was his sort-of trademark. And er…he er…the only way they could get the deal was by having the son of Seymour Friedman, who was an extremely nice man, to direct it. But when they went to the Ministry of Labour, for some reason they said “no, there are too many of these American directors, and this man has never directed before, so we can’t have him.” So er…they wanted Seymour, so the only way they could have him, was to have me as a co-director. So I thought, ‘well…I’m bound to learn something, and it’s better than sitting in here in Radgate waiting for another editing job. So, I said “fine! Let’s have it”. Seymour Friedman was a delightful man. He died recently unfortunately. But he comes later into the story. And er…he er said, “well, I want you to direct bits of this, I don’t like car chases, I don’t like shooting in London” he said “you can do all the car chases as a scene on the banks of the Thames”, or in fact, in the wash of the Thames where the tide’s gone out, and there’s a scene of someone walking along looking for something. And er…”there are various bits that you can shoot, and I will also (just as a gesture) I will let you actually direct one scene in the film”. And he stuck to all that, and he did let me shoot. So I did have a second unit, I was used to having second units. I like second units, because they’re small. You don’t have big deals about lunches and so on, because there were two on camera; two on sound, (it used to be) and you, and an assistant, and that was it, that was the second unit. So I shot all of them, and I shot the car chases; I did the guy walking the….er washing along the Thames, and er…and I was allowed to shoot my one scene with er…Sally Grey and George Raft. So….

Interviewer – Tell us a bit about Walton-On-Thames…

Peter – Walton-On-Thames… was an old shed again, I think…I dunno if it had been an old aircraft factory or something, but er…it certainly wasn’t built as a studio, but it had been put together as a studio by Archie Nettlefold, who had made a lot of money in the theatre apparently. And er..

Interviewer – One stage? Two stage?

Peter – I think there were two stages, yes. That’s right, there was a big stage which was literally, a shed with a corrugated iron roof, and er…then a small stage where we did quite a lot of it..erm, I mean later, Joe Losey shot a thing calle ‘The Sleeping Tiger’, er, in that studio, well I know Joe Losey, I met Joe Losey, and he actually asked me to edit it and I didn’t like the script; I thought the script was horrible. It was all about….Dirk Bogarde was a man who really was a murderer, so no, it was ghastly! So, erm…it was not a comfortable studio. I had been at Denham, I had been at Pinewood, and er…they were….although I hadn’t actually directed at Pinewood. I’d only been in the Hitchcock film at Pinewood before the War. So…but I’d seen them, and they were quite different; they were soundproofed and they had everything; good restaurants and everything like that. So…. I think, Nettlefold, there was a sort-of a restaurant, but we used to go out to the pub most of the time for lunch, because it was just…better. Erm…and er…so that was my first experience of really….erm, directing a proper film, and it did get shown quite a lot on in London – it went on the circuits, and er…you know, there was my name as co-director, with Seymour. And Seymour shook my hand, and said “goodbye, I hope we meet again”. I said ‘so do I’. Then my next job was er…well then…

Interviewer – Television is creeping up…

Peter – …we met Royston Morley at the Bolton theatre by accident one Saturday night, and he said….I said ‘what are you doing?’ and he said “well, I was having lovely time writing and directing my own plays, and directing other things. And suddenly they had made me head of training. I wanted to be head of drama, but they made Michael Banney head of drama” (who was also a very good director. But not a good head of drama I’m afraid) and er…he er..

Interviewer – Where was this?

Peter – This was at the BBC at Lyme Grove, which is where they were, at er… Shepherd’s Bush.  They hadn’t built the television studios at White City yet, so they were doing all their plays in er…the stages used by Gilmore British; where the scenery had to come up in a lift, and be trapped out, into the various stages, I think there was a ‘D’, and ‘E’ and an ‘H’ I think it was..

Interviewer – On the first floor?

Peter – ‘H’ was on the first floor. D and E were on the top, the fourth, that’s right. And the scenery had to go up in lifts, but anyway, that was always managed, and they managed to do it somehow, they had people working nights. But anyway, the thing was – we were going to be trained at erm…at er…Marylebone, but we would do our first erm…productions at er…erm Alexander Palace. Which was my first encounter with Alexander Palace. And I wanted to do an adaptation of WW Jacobs erm…oh, something. The Monkey’s Paw. And er…Royston said, he said ‘no, I’d like to see’…

(tape cuts off)


Peter Graham Scott 

Peter was an film producer, film director and screenwriter. One of the producers and directors who shaped British television drama in its formative years, He was a key figure in television drama in the seventies and eighties and was responsible for top rating series including The Avengers, Mogul, The Troubleshooters, and, most successfully, The Onedin Line, which ran for 9 years. He was much admired by fellow directors as well as actors and was renowned for his film editing skills, which he had honed in the forties while working for J Arthur Rank on films such as Brighton Rock.