Ronald Spencer

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Interview Date(s): 
29 Jul 1991
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Born 1924, Billericay, Essex. Went from Rustington prep school to public school in Sussex. Commissioned into the Army straight from school (Royal Fusiliers, later Durham Light Infantry). A devoted film-goer at that time, and memorised the dialogue. Parents happy for him to follow his elder brother (Norman) into the film industry. Worked at Gainsborough Studios for a month on ‘Leave in advance of Python’ (army code. A scheme whereby leave and repatriation dates were determined by your ‘Python’ number) as a draughtsman for David Rawnsley (Art Director) and with Peter Proud [BEHP Interview No 27] on The Rake’s Progress. Worked as a clapper-boy, focus-puller, runner. Early in career worked on Independent-Frame process films at Pinewood; current films were Warning to Wantons; Stop Press Girl; Flood Tide; Poet’s Pub. Earned about £2 10/- [£2.50] a week, the ‘going rate’. Started on 6, then 5 ½, then 5-day weeks and much earlier in the day than the 8 to 8.30am start for shooting. Became Assistant Director then moved on to First Assistant with Jack Clayton, David Lean, Edward Dmytryk, Raoul Walsh, Carol Reed. Moved forward into Second Unit work on The Admirable Crichton (in Bermuda for 14 weeks at £25 a week) and with Harold Boxall at British Lion.

Parallel to this [he] started to write screen plays and additional dialogue.

Ronnie considers major differences between present and earlier filming lie (obviously) in improved equipment, but feels the old techniques and disciplines, though cumbersome produced swifter results and kept to budget/schedule better. As Assistant Director he used to try to persuade everyone to stage and watch a rehearsal, to anticipate action and doubts – as ‘model’ directors recommend.

He worked at most studios at some time: Riverside, Denham, Pinewood and Shepperton in the main – under contract to British Lion and sometimes at Elstree (sections of film and recording). Comments that Shepperton, in the 1950s was producing more American films than Hollywood. (e.g. Carl Foreman with The Guns of Navarone and The Victor).

Ronnie started a lot of work for The Childrens Film Foundation – some seven or eight feature films. He has written a couple and directed and produced films for the Foundation too. Also worked on many documentaries and commercials at Lion Pacesetter - Shepperton, set up by John and Roy Boulting and Sidney Gilliat – helping at that time to bring work into the studios. Made several films recently for The Royal Household – for archives and some for public consumption: also videos for Prince Charles after his arm injury. Many films earlier, overseas: Uganda, Tunisia, Russia, Lebanon: a recently a seven-day trip around the world with a video team for an international bank commercial.

Comments on early equipment and 3-strip Technicolor cameras, Blimps etc also frame pictures/projection tunnels.

Had no ‘in-house’ training – learned ‘on the job’, no evening classes.

Remembers Mutzi Green, lighting cameraman, with affection, and David Lean with admiration. Edward Dmytryk probably the director who made the strongest impression and Raoul Walsh as the best acting Director.

R thinks that in spite of technological advances, stories are not noticeably better – still the main factor for success.

He’s been a ‘spear-carrier’ for the ACT/ACTT throughout the years, but has never doubted its validity and usefulness. Doesn’t remember who recruited him – and has not recruited others himself.

Can’t name a film which gave him most satisfaction and if starting again would just like to gain more all-round experience in more departments.

Now runs/is Pacesetter Films with Adele, his wife. [Interview No 211].



212 Ronald Spencer.

Littleton Park Film Productions had been set up in 1961 by British Lion to produce television commercials and sponsored films for any and every market. Managing Director, Ronald Spencer's fellow Board members included Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, Roy and John Boulting. Spencer had started in the film industry as a draughtsman in the art department, transferred to the camera department, then to the production department working as assistant director on all four Independent Frame  films at Pinewood in 1949, 'Warning to Wantons' (Donald B. Wilson), 'Poets Pub' (Frederick Wilson), 'Stop Press Girl' (Michael Barry), and 'Floodtide', (Frederick Wilson).

As assistant director, he worked with many leading international directors, including Raoul Walsh, Edward Dmytryk, Carol Reed, Jack Clayton and David Lean. His advertising agency experience included two years as a producer/director with the London Press Exchange.

In 1969, Littleton Park Films became Lion Pacesetter Productions with the same Board. In 1973 after the purchase of Shepperton Studios in 1972 by Barclay Securities, Ronald and Adele Spencer bought Lion Pacesetter Productions and renamed the company Pacesetter Productions under a new Chairman, Lord Brabourne.

While based at Shepperton, Spencer had forged an important production link with the Children's Film Foundation (incorporated 18th July, 1951 and, from 9th September, 1982, known as the Children's Film and Television Foundation. Shepperton productions for the Foundation include 'The Young Detectives' (1964, Gilbert Gunn), 'Project Z' (1968) and  'The Copter Kids' (1975), both directed by Spencer.

Married to Adele Spencer.  MD of Pacesetter Prods Interview No 211.