Robert (Bob) Dunbar

Robert (Bob)
Family name: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
19 Jan 1989
15 Apr 1997
Production Media: 

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Interview notes

[There is some repetition in these notes,as content of the two interviews overlapped. DS]







Interviewed  by Roy Fowler


Born in 1914 in Gravesend. First cinema experience at the Ionic, Golders Green taken by Alice the maid. Father a journalist, working on Kine Weekly. Later chief editorial director Odhams Press. Childhood memories of Harry Lauder. Sent to Bryanston school. Studied Elizabethan drama, and stage managed school plays. Spent 3 weeks at Oxford. Crazy about films and left. Through father’s connections got a job as unpaid apprentice at UFA Studios in Berlin in 1932. Worked with the English unit under John Haygate producing English versions of studio output. Remembers "Ich bin die Kaiserin" with Lilian Harvey. Also worked with Conrad Veidt and Charles Boyer. Contrasting ways of working between British and German technicians. The two queens: Ernest Thesiger and Maurice Evans. Berlin life prior to Hitler. Thrown out with all foreigners and Jews when Hitler arrived. Studio owned by junker families.

End of Side 1.


Memories of Eric Pommer. Pierre Brasseur’s sexual appetite. Returned to UK and joins Michael Balcon’s apprenticeship scheme. Third assistant director at Islington Studios (a former power station). Rough neighbourhood. Children’s protection rackets. Often worked till midnight. Victor Savile, Ted Black, Albert de Courvil. Films directed by Jack Hulbert. Savile’s nastiness. Other personalities at Islington: Tim Whelan, Bernard Knowles, Lionel Baines, Arthur Crabtree. Czech camera blimped with eiderdowns. Charlie Wheeler early union activities. Alfred Junge, the supremo. The Polish Corridor Mutzi Greenbaum. Conrad Veidt and Jew Suss. Jack Cutts. Teddy Baird.


End of Side 2.


More on Islington. Move to Lime Grove. Berthold Viertal and Hitchcock. Moves to Worton Hall and worked for Korda for more money. Harold Boxall, Ostrer Brothers, Balcon, Phil Samuel. Project for "Cyrano de Bergerac" with Charles Laughton.


End of Side 3.


The different atmosphere at Worton Hall. Teddy Baird and the location managers. City Square at Denham. Working on Things to Come with W.C. Menzies. Korda’s cigars. "Denham Fisheries". Walks with H.G. Wells to keep him off the set. Memories of Ralph Richardson, Edward Chapman and Raymond Massey. The special effects. Working with Rene Clair on The Ghost Goes West. Lee Garmes; the cameraman who couldn’t direct. Georges Perinal. Memories of Denham Studios. Sir David Cunningham. The long concrete corridor. Flaherty and Man of Aran. Marks from the Pru who pressured staff to take out insurance. Made redundant and joined New World Productions (Fox), also at Denham. Production manager on Wings of the morning first Technicolor production in the UK. Tyrone Power, Annabelle, "Count" MacCormack. Olivier’s advice. Technicolor standards. Dr. Kalmus. All rushes to Hollywood. Hand testing common. Tippling gin with Queenie Thompson (Merle Oberon). Korda getting short of money. Alfie Drayton and Bunny Hare. Out of work in 1938. Gardening. Munich. Departure to Mexico.

End of Side 4.














Brother’s suicide. Avoiding communism. Low political level in studios. Union activities. Tom Lyndon-Haynes. Thought union too right wing. Pay good at Denham. To Mexico via Madeira, Barbados, St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, and Mobile Alabama. Mexico. The propaganda racket. Marries. Joins British Information Service. Mexico pro German. Turning out the lights in California. Return to Europe by clipper: Baltimore to Shannon in eleven hours. Turned down PR job for Normandy Invasion. Goes to Moscow instead. Herbert Marshall in charge of distributing Soviet Films in UK. Works at Moscow Embassy. Films officer Roger Burford. Edits "British Ally". Russian thirst for news.  Lady Hamilton and Let George do It very popular. Brits féted in Moscow on VE Day but relations soon soured. Friendship with Eisenstein. Common Mexican friends. Stalin his producer. Stalin identified himself with Ivan the Terrible. Eisenstein too famous internationally to be purged. His ideas for Tamerlaine.


End of Side 5.


Difficulty meeting film people in Russia. Studio visit. met Edward Tisse, Donskoi, Pudovkin. Offered to assemble "Que Viva Mexico". The defection of the new editor Archie Johnson. Peter Smollett his boss. Returns to UK April 1947. Rejoins Korda. Made Producer’s Assistant on The Third Man. Lyndon-Haynes, Hugh Perceval, Guy Hamilton. Fetching Orson Welles from Italy. Memories of Vienna. Crew’s reaction to Viennese food. Eat at sergeants’ mess. Black market eggs. Rowdy behaviour in Tunbridge Wells. Script not highly rated. Carol Reed a good actor’s director. Taming Orson Welles. Baroque props to foreground Vienna shots. How Reed tamed Welles. Austrian cast suspected Nazis. Getting them into UK for studio sequences at Shepperton.

End of Side 6.


Attitudes to Nazis in the 1940’s. Reed let his Austrian cast speak German. More on the Austrian cast at Shepperton. Dennis Coop on second unit. Ossie Hafenrichter never went to Vienna. Reed captivated by Anton Karas. Brompton Cemetery doubling for Vienna. Sewer scenes. Casting crowd artists. Memories of Shepperton. Memories of Vincent and Alex Korda. Baroness Budberg (Gorki’s and H.G. Wells’ mistress). Zoltan Korda. The staircase. Eased off The Third Man. Goes to work again for the Foreign Office. Hated it. Becomes Herbert Wilcox’s general manager. Recce for Odette with Jerard Tickell.


End of Side 7.


More on Odette recce. Expensive French hotels. Odette Churchill. Herbert Wilcox kept Anna Neagle in cotton wool. Her memory of people. Bailed Herbert out by going on stage. Eric Goodhead his agent. Handling the press. Into the Blue a disaster. Leaves Wilcox. Joins Fox and works on The Black Rose in Morocco. Hank Hathaway a tyrant. Jack Cardiff, Paul Beeson. The unit brothel. Reunited with Orson Welles. Financed his own film off Fox’s budget. 20000 feet of missing stock. An appropriate present for Hathaway. Mad Jack Churchill. A dangerous arrow.


End of Side 8.














More on The Black Rose. Union activity. Warwick Castle. Averting a strike. Writer Bud Lightman. The distraction of Linda Christian. More on the awful Hathaway. Ringing up the Governor to stop flying. Selling knackered camels to a gullible producer. Moves to Group Three under John Grierson. Attempts to reorganise the industry. Southall Studios completed twelve features in one year. Reflections on Grierson. Balcon’s inability to straddle two jobs. Ambivalent AF Distributors. John Eldridge suffers from TB. The Brave Don’t Cry. Personalities at Group Three: John Guillermin, Phil Leacock, Don Sharp, Isobel Pargiter. Grierson’s abilities. Goes down with TB. Working with him at the Brompton Hospital and at his cottage in Wiltshire. John Baxter joins. The move to Beaconsfield Studios. The films made and not made there. Project "Mick Mack" handed by Baxter to Wolf Rilla. Moves to Jimmy Carreras.


End of Side 9.


Works on TV programmes with the Lyons Family. Bebe Daniels very professional. Val Guest directing. Film The Lyons Abroad very profitable. Union concessions. Agent Dina Lom. Many jobs from father’s tip-offs. Pubs as labour exchanges. The American black list. Writer Donald Ogden Stewart. Theocratic problems of communism and socialism. Hammer Films. Jimmy Carreras (the Colonel): "If I can see it and hear it, I can sell it". Life with the Lyons at Southall. ACT Films at Bray. Memories of Lloyd Bridges and his two sons. Finlay Currie and his snuff box. Five per cent of profits came from the Lyons. Company kept three sets of books. The technicians at Bray. Terry Fisher. Michael Carreras. Involvement with ACT Films. Set up to give technicians work. Financed on distribution guarantees.

A lost opportunity. Interference from British Lion.


End of Side 10.


More on ACT Films. Ralph Bond a placeman, part of the Union hierarchy. Dunbar rejected as director. Maurice Elvey takes over. The archetypal hack. Second feature often put with a bad main feature. Pathetic promotion budgets. Bookers on the take. John Terry’s friendship with George Elvin. The Man Upstairs the most successful. Alan Falconer’s complaint on script changes. Richard Attenborough took the part for his agent’s commission. A nice man. Memories of the Boulting twins. Unpleasant sides. A film for Jack Parsons. Worked with Terry Bishop. Writer Freddy Shaunessy. Don Chaffee and Disney. Meets Gilmore Roberts who ran a film school. Lectured there. Became the London School of Film Technique in Brixton. Sells house and takes over as chairman when Roberts leaves. The move to Charlotte Street. Evening courses. Mike Leigh a student. Orton’s lover. The move to Covent Garden. Grants became available. Had 250 students. Move to make it the National Film School. Blocked by George Elvin since "Ltd" went against his socialist convictions. Doctrinaire attitude to film school. Hoped to model it on Polish lines. Teach everything to all students: don’t divide them into grades.

End of Side 11.














U.S. intake drops, and the banks foreclose. Sells house to fulfill guarantee. Back to gardening. Few film schools existed. Thorold Dickinson’s belief in film making to understand films. Ratted on by Keith Lucas at the RCA. Jennie Lee’s monuments. Gets a job at Rediffusion Television. Prestige documentaries to fulfill the franchise. First programme on the Royal Family. Musician’s Union restrictions. Then programmes on the City and the Navy. The English Sunday. Brownrigg’s obstructions. Working with Movietone crews: Paul Wyand and Reg Sutton. Ray Dicks head of film department. Eased out as documentaries cease. Caryl Doncaster arrives. Works on This Week. Then for Children’s Film Foundation with Frank Wells. Works on sponsored documentaries. Film of "Damnation of Faust". More memories of Islington Studios. Union AGMs. The Left’s manipulation of the agenda. The Communist influence. Rivalry with Equity in seeking residuals. Union personalities.


End of Side J2.


The rise of the Trotskyite faction, and its defeat. Personalities on the Union staff. A property opportunity forgone.


End of Side 13.




Bob Dunbar (Editor of "British Ally", Moscow 1944-47)

Interviewed by Rodnev Giesler in London on 15 4 97


Born Gravesend 1914. Father a journalist at Odhams Press. Became unpaid assistant at UFA Studios in Berlin, helping to make English versions of films. Personalities remembered. Thrown out by Hitler in 1933. Worked as assistant director at Islington Studios and Shepherds Bush. Moved to London Films at Worton Hall on four times the salary. Memories of Charles Laughton on Cyrano de Bergerac which was never made. At end of 1938 went on extended holiday to the West Indies and Mexico. Met Tatiana in Mexico and married. On outbreak of war got job with Inter Allied Information Services there. Moved to Moscow in 1944. Travelled there via Cairo, Tehran and Stalingrad. Joined Moscow Embassy as press attache to edit "British Ally" a weekly which presented news from Britain to Russians. Circulation of 50,000. Great demand. Interesting readers’ reactions. Everyday life in wartime Moscow. Metropol Hotel. Unpopular with the ambassador: Archie Clark-Carr (Lord Inverchapel). Moved to a dacha in the country. Commuted by train. Wife ran a small school. Back into Moscow flat after VE Day. Ran a Press Club. Press reading service. Spies were inept. Everyone watched. Difficult to make friends. Great cultural life. Met writers, directors, musicians. Knew Eisenstein well. Stalin’s interference on Ivan the Terrible. Also friendly with Prokoviev. Memories of Pudovkin. Anti-Semitism returns. Life under surveillance, and counter measures.


End of Side 1**.


Daily Worker journalist very informative. Visit to Leningrad. A novel form of room service. Relationship changes. Paper closed. Took wife and family home to England. Found his replacement, Archie Johnson, who subsequently defected. The "Russian Wives" episode. Hewlett Johnson’s visit. Wrote Bernard Montgomery’s speech. Euphoria of VE Day in Moscow and how it was betrayed. Racketeering of the NKVD. Returned home in 1947. Work difficult to find. Korda gave him a job. Working on The Third Man in postwar Vienna. Drinking with Orson Welles. Trevor Howard causes an "international incident." Re- recruited by Foreign Office. Resigned after a week and went to work for Herbert Wilcox. Freelanced. ACT Films.

End of Side 2**.





                             ** although these sides were labelled 1 and 2, they comprise the later sections of the recordings as uploaded, as                             they were recorded later on. DS


































Robert ('Bob') Dunbar (1914-2000), film director, producer, teacher and critic, was a pioneer of the field of film studies in Britain but also worked extensively in the industry in numerous capacities. He was apprenticed at Gaumont-British. He was sent to work for producer Erich Pommer at Germany's UFA Studios where he carried out publicity work and became a voice coach.  Bob returned to England when Hitler came to power in 1933. He worked first at Gainsborough studios as an assistant director, then as a production manager at Alexander Korda's London Films, where he assisted Alfred Hitchcock and René Clair; he also worked closely on William Cameron Menzies' film of H.G. Wells' Things to Come (1936).

In 1939 he went to Mexico. During World War Two he joined the Ministry for Information and from late 1944 he served four years as cultural attaché in Moscow.

In 1953 he became a producer with Group III, a government-sponsored organisation aimed at nurturing new talent. After a brief period working on comedies at Hammer Films, he produced one of his most successful films The Man Upstairs (1958) starring Richard Attenborough. However, production of British films was becoming increasingly difficult, and he set about teaching at a small art school in South London, which he bought and transformed into the London School of Film Technique. Early students of the LSFT included Mike Leigh, Iain Sinclair and Bill Douglas. In 1974 the School went into liquidation, but it survives today as the London International Film School.

Bob attended the initial meeting of the ACTT History Project, and subsequently attended meetings on an irregular basis, as well as conducting a number of interviews.

He also chaired the Journal Committee of the film technicians' union ACTT, of which he was made an honorary member.


David Sharp 2018.

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