The copyright of this interview lies with the British Entertainment History Project
Interviewer Sidney Cole
Additional questions by Roy Fowler
Interviewee Una Bart
Date 19 June 1991
SC: Una when and where were you born?
UB: I was born in Brixton in the Brixton Road, 82 years ago, last May, of professional people, my parents.
SC: Yes I understand you were connected with entertainment business from your earliest, literally from your earliest years, weren’t you?
UB: Well I was really, I was born into it actually, and I’m the daughter of the man on the flying trapeze. My father started life as a, well he didn’t start life but he was born in a very poor part of Manchester, I think it’s called Hulme, whether it’s poor now I don’t know, but it was then of poor parents and his only main entertainment was to go to the boys club, Hulme boy’s club because it was free. There he learnt to become very good at gymnastics and it appears, I don’t know, from what I was told by my father; a circus performer, I suppose he was on the lookout for youngsters, saw him and was taken with his ability and signed him up to go the circus. And he was only 15 then, just left school, no I think, I heard that’s right, I’ve got a paper at home where he got permission to leave school at 14 to join this circus, because he was under age but this paper. I’ve forgotten what it is now but I could show it to you, they gave him special permission to leave school to join this circus.
SC: It might have been even earlier, might have been an even earlier age.
UB: No I don’t think so he was about 2 weeks off being the age he could leave school, maybe he’s 13 then, I have got the certificate.
SC: And he became, he was signed up as an acrobat was he?
UB: He was taken into the circus and was trained to be a flying trapeze artist, and at 15 he fell from, he missed a catch and fell into the ring and was carried out unconscious and had to go up and do it again, no bones broken, nothing wrong, so up he had to go and do it again.
SC: Where was that, do you know?
UB: No I don’t know, but I have got somewhere in the archives posters and that.
SC: What name did he work under?
UB: He was Henry Tinkler, he went with a man called Ferro I think it was, Ferro’s gymnasts and then there was Tinkler’s gymnasts when he had his own.
SC: When did he have his own?
UB: I think when he was in his 20s he teamed up with a partner and created his own gymnastic act and with this partner, Joe, they called themselves Mason and Bart. He didn’t think Tinkler was a very good name for gymnasts and a stage name so he called himself Mason but I think he joined the masons and he didn’t stay with them very long because they didn’t appeal to him , so he left the masons, you don’t ever leave masonics so I believe, but he did, he just discontinued.
SC: Once you’ve joined the secret cabal…
UB: Well I gave his regalia to Jim Stockwell to return to them, but I suppose I should have kept it, but you don’t think about these things do you, any way he took the name of Mason and they were thinking of a nice name to couple it with and he was passing Bart’s Hospital and he thought Mason and Bart that goes off well, so that became Mason and Bart.
SC: and that’s how you got your name
UB: That was the start, and then later when he met and married mother. Mother had Howell and me, and that was all the family they wanted she got so bored with sitting around, or just staying at home, she wanted to travel. She’d been herself a performer, she’d been a trick cyclist first, then a singer with a girl partner which is when she met Dad, they were on the bill for two weeks running at different places during that two weeks. Dad, who had lost his first wife two years ago, then courted Mother and won her and they became engaged, but any way when she married and had us she wanted to get back into the business. She was born into it, she loved it and wanted to get back, so we stayed at home with Grandma, and apart from which they wanted us to have an education, so we stayed at home with Grandma
SC: Where was that?
UB: That was in Brixton, and actually I was born in 97 Brixton Road in a Victorian terrace, but it’s now a conservation area, I say that was because I was born there.
SC: When you mentioned Hal just now, your brother, of course that was Howell Mason who was the general manager at Ealing Studios.
UB: Yes that’s right, well when he and I went into our professional careers he took Hal Mason, Tinkler’s not a good name for a professional entertainer or business, so he took Dads name, Howell Mason, and I took Mother’s name and became Una Bart, and on one film, Champagne Charlie, the two names came together again.
SC: Of course that’s leaping quite a way ahead because before then you had a lot of your own experiences in the circus, could you tell us about those.
UB: Well Grandmas family, she had 10 children, 6 of who lived to adulthood and went into show business, my Aunt who is 92, still alive, in a home, she was a trick cyclist with the Dalton Shaws, who were a trick cycling troop. But she’d already been with a very well established troop called the Provenees, and she travelled all round the world with them, and she got, and I think it was in Australia, they were holed up because of the war and couldn’t get home, so she had to stay there.
SC: The First War
UB: Yes the First War, and when she came back, she left the Provenees and joined the Dalton Shaws who were an Australian troupe, very well know. I have a picture of them at home; do you want to know any more of these things?
SC: I want to get as soon as possible to your own involvement Una, when did you start in the circus?
UB: Right, I see, well then I came along and in due course. I didn’t care a great deal for the variety or circus life, I was dazzled by the concert world, I was taken at an early age to hear Mark Hemberg and from then on there was nothing but the concert world for me, but I didn’t have the stamina or the stickability to become a concert pianist.
SC: Did you have piano lessons?
UB: Yes I had piano lessons I couldn’t have them until about the age of 10 I think I started. Because I was poorly because of my accident, I had this accident in America.
SC: Tell us about that
UB: Well Mother and Dad were working in America and Mum was pregnant with Hal and I was 18 months old, full of life and over active, what these days they call hyperactive. When Mother went into labour the people who were on the bill where we were staying they said we’ll look after Una, and I was playing around with a tricycle or something and I fell off it. I suppose I was doing allyups and what not, and I fell very badly. I injured my spine which turned to tubercular and put me into a spinal box for 3 years.
SC: 3 years, gosh
UB: I was 10 before I was able to walk properly, go to school properly and all that so I understand, all a long time ago, but I do remember wanting to play the piano. We had an old piano down in the basement which was in an old house, and I remember watching them, trying to see them down in the basement. I recovered from that, and at the age of 10 I was getting on very nicely, and I wanted to play the piano, and Mum would find me playing on the sheet in my sleep. I so wanted to learn, so she put me under a teacher who was a very bad one, they didn’t know in those days, they had no idea of who was good and who was bad, and he used to do their band parts he was a trained musician but he wasn’t a very good teacher. He had no real interest in teaching because he used to have his tea while I was there, I remember it so well, he used to have bread and marmalade every time while I was having my lesson.
From on then I used to practice what I wanted to do, not what I should have done. Consequently I developed into not a very good pianist with a very bad technique, but able to do what we call ‘flannel’ in the business, if you want to hear a tune when you were at Ealing and I hadn’t seen it before I would take it along to stage 1 where the white piano was, hastily pick out the main points and make it sound reasonably like it should, and then when I came along to play it to you, you would be able to say whether you liked the tune or not. I developed that ability, and also to read reasonably quickly at sight. I could make a good go at it but I was never a recording pianist; only once was I given the chance to record and that was when they wanted something played badly, and wrong, we were doing it in the main theatre. I’m digressing again.
SC: Well you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself Una, if we could return a moment to 10 years onward, you were having lessons, not very good lessons, but taught you enough; when did you start doing anything professionally connected with music?
UB: Well that’s when we moved up to London to the pub, the Ealing Park Tavern, where there was a big lounge and we used to engage professional musicians , and I used to have a whale of a time enjoying myself until Father said “ look here it time you started doing something”.
SC: Would your Father have retired from entertainment by then?
UB: Yes he retired when he was about 45, you can’t keep on forever as a gymnast, not doing the stuff he was doing, it was very dangerous.
SC: You said about coming up to London, where had you’d been?
UB: We were in Ramsgate then, because when professionals retire they must keep with the public, they can’t retire into private life; they must be where the action is. So this lovely little hotel in Ramsgate was up for lease, he became the tenant there, so we went into the hotel business, which was very nice because I had a theatre and 3 or 4 cinemas there which also did acts, pictures and variety, and of course Mum and Dad knew all the acts they used to come and stay at our hotel, it was absolutely hilarious.
SC: Did any very famous people stay?
UB: Oh Harry Tate, Bransby Williams, Eddie Gray, he used to stand outside in the summer. He’d put a paper down outside the main entrance and stand there touting for trade, if he thought it was a bit quiet. He used to say “Harry we haven’t got many customers in here, we’ll get a few”, and used to go and do a bit of patter to get people in.
SC: People would recognise him I suppose
UB: Of course they did, yes everyone know Eddie Gray.
SC: So what were you doing at that time, how old were you?
UB: I was still at school, I was at school until I was 16, and we went there when I was 14. Then at 16 I had to go to night school and I didn’t seem to be making too much progress with my music, not to do it professionally, so Father made me train as a hotelier. So I had to start in the kitchens with the cook, washing up and all that, as a kitchen maid, and learning a bit of cooking, and then worked right up through bedrooms, through everything reception, until I was old enough to go in the bar at 18 and then I had to learn that. So in the end I could have run a small hotel.
SC: But that isn’t what you wanted to do anyway.
UB: I didn’t want to do it, no.
SC: So when did you resume your music lessons?
UB: Well, I was having music lessons all the time, all through, I still have them, the odd one, I’ve got one tomorrow.
SC: So what was your ambition the in terms of music?
UB: I didn’t seem to have any ambition, all I wanted to do was live and get on with it, and enjoy life, stop and stare. I’d had the first 8 years of my life, that weren’t worth having, actually, weren’t worth living, but I still had this intense zest for life that I’d had up to 18 months, hyper active being able to walk and talk at 11 months I must have been a horror.
SC: But you had better teachers by now at Ramsgate did you?
UB: I had quite good teachers, but the damage had been done. It’s very difficult if you have about 5 or 6 years with a bad teacher, you get bad habits, you get a poor technique and I don’t think you ever really get out of it. Although I am now, I’m getting on nicely now, this last teacher knows just what I need, and she’s doing it, and it’s coming nice now.
SC: So you went from Ramsgate and came up to Ealing?
UB: Yes Dad could see that we were just going to get by from year to year, it was lovely in the summer, but we worked out that, that just got us through the Winter, but we did get an education and of course Hal was able to go to Roger Manwoods at Sandwich was a lovely school, Dad wanted to send me to France to finish off, but I wouldn’t go.
SC: Why was that?
UB: I didn’t want to, I was having too good a time, I was enjoying life I was getting about racing around got loads of friends. I’d got this terrific appetite for life, and I didn’t want to be tied down to anything, I developed a butterfly mind, as you can tell now, I flit from thought to thought, and I was really enjoying life, lapping it up. Then we went up to London to the Ealing Park Tavern.
CS: What year was that, can you remember?
UB: Yes, 1933, 1924 we went to Ramsgate, 9 years there and then 1933 we came to Ealing.
CS: You were still as it were in the hotel trade yourself.
UB: Yes, I was, I had to run the pub after my Mother died, do her part of it. I had control of all the staff and everything, although the staff do play you up when they think they can, but I’ve run ahead again.
CS: No, that’s alright, and Hal came up too?
UB: Oh Hal was already up, he came up and found a job, I think he was in the film business by then.
CS: Didn’t he start doing some stunts.
UB: He was a stunt man yes, that’s right he was Captain Summer’s stunt team; he was a member of that. I didn’t seem to see a lot of Hal after that, he got on with his life and I got with mine, until I went to the studio, then I didn’t see very much of him because he wouldn’t allow me to.
CS: So how did you get connected professionally with music and then the Ealing Studios?
UB: When I started as I say then we took this very large pub with this enormous lounge and music licence, and they had a violinist one of the old fashioned type in the lounge when we went, and we kept those on for a couple of weeks, and then we got some really good musicians, a trio I think it was to start with, piano, violin and cello, and they used to play cafe music. I’m talking about 1933, didn’t have discos and all that, although we did kick each other to death with the Charleston. Dad got fed up with me enjoying myself with customers and said it was about time I launched out, do something with yourself. So I then had to gradually play and take over the piano until I could take over all together, I used to do a couple of numbers of each night, gradually get in , of course I hadn’t played with people before.
CS: What kind of music were you playing?
UB: Cafe music, selections, and we used to finish up with a sing song with the old musical hall songs, and that happened until I got quite proficient on the piano and he said isn’t about time you did some singing, and he had me trained in elocution and singing by a very eminent Professor Evitts, Edgar T Evitts, who was very very well know, he used to teach the Dons and clergy men at Oxford to speak without getting clergyman’s throat.
CS: Where did you go for those lessons?
UB: Ealing, next to the Avenue, I got him through Hal, Hal had him first, I’m not sure why Hal had him.
CS: I suppose he wanted to get better parts than from being only a stuntman I suppose.
UB: Yes it might have been that.
CS: Anyhow, you went
UB: Yes I went and he changed my voice, I used to sing very low, bluesy numbers. I liked singing those, and I used to sing things like “Hang on the Bell” Do you remember that? “Hang on the bell Nelly, Hang on the bell, Your poor Father’s locked in a cold prison cell, you swing to the left, you swing to the right, remember the curfew must never ring tonight”. That sort of thing. So when I went there he said you can stop singing those or you don’t come to me, and also St Louis blues things like that, and he started to train me, he found out that I could sing E flat above top C, I had a freak voice a bit like Cleo Lane, not in her class, but it was freakish that I could go down to a G below middle C and I could above E flat above the top C.
CS: That’s tremendous range
UB: Yes I could sing both parts of ‘Come unto him’. I could sing the contralto part and then go straight into the soprano part.
CS: So after that you were able to sing that sort of song
UB: Well I did, if you remember, last week I sang ‘Over the Wings of a Dove’, in Hue and Cry
CS: Now that’s going ahead a bit, how did you get from having lessons which made you realise you had that tremendous range, and presumably you were still playing the piano and singing in the pub at Ealing, so how did you get from there into films?
UB: Well the war came along and I joined ENSA, as a pianist, I did one week.
CS: Straight from working in your father’s pub?
UB: Yes, my violinist was a member of ENSA, Ken, he was called up, and unless they went into the Army they went into ENSA.
CS: What year would that be?
UB: About 1942 I suppose, 42, 43, somewhere about there,
CS: And what happened when you went into ENSA?
UB: Well I did one week at Oxford, Albert that was his name, phoned me up one time, he said we’re in an awful state. I went and did an audition, do you remember Jimmy Walker? I did an audition at Drury Lane for get into ENSA, why I went into ENSA I remember now, I had my calling up papers.
CS: And you would be what then?
UB: For the Army, ATS, and my Father was horrified knowing me he knew I’d volunteer for overseas. So anyway, the doctor said I would never pass, I wasn’t strong enough, so that was that, but I said I’m going to do something, I’ll try and get into ENSA, so I did. I did an audition, Jimmy walker was there, at Drury Lane, I’ve never been so frightened in my life, I’d been singing to people sitting as near as you are, with never a worry, didn’t worry me at all, but going with this terrific stage, terrified the living day lights out of me, but I didn’t pass with my singing but I passed as a pianist, and I got my ticket for that, my green card.
CS: so on that test you were just all by yourself on that vast stage at Drury Lane, and where the people listening, where were they, down in the stalls?
UB: They were down in the stalls, I couldn’t see them, I sang I carried on but I knew I was singing so badly.
CS: Because you were frightened.
UB: I was terrified I couldn’t see then audience. I was used to seeing everyone around me, and singing right to them, but it was empty, had it been full it night have different, or not quite so large. I did an audition for Carole Livis, ‘Discoveries’, passed that all right, the kids were hanging around the stage looking at me, that didn’t trouble me at all, they were near and I did my audition for that and sailed through, I could have gone with Carole Levis, I did it for Cyril Livis and he said I’d like you to go and see my brother Carole I’m sure he’ll be pleased to have you, I said to Mother I’m not going all that hanging around the stage all the time, and after the life I’m used to. I was having a whale of a time in London.
CS: Coming back to Drury Lane; they took you on at ENSA as a pianist.
UB: Yes I got my green card, I played for them I only got half way through and they said yes.
CS: So what did you do in ENSA?
UB: One time Albert phoned me up in the morning and said can you deputise at Oxford? Our pianist has had an heart attack, and we cannot find a replacement, So I said to Mum, I’ll have to go, he’s taught such a lot about playing with an orchestra, so he said you’ll have to meet me there, there’s no time for rehearsal when we get there, it will right bang on, right away, no time to rehearse at all, so I’ll have to take you through it on the train tonight. Well that was a real tata, he said meet us at Paddington, I said I’ll never find you, he said no you won’t I’ll come and pick you up, so he came and picked me up, and we eventually got to Paddington, we slung a few things in and the dress for the show, he knew where to go, he was with this unit and we found them.
CS: What sort of unit was it? The audience.
UB: There were gun sights and factories, anywhere were they needed some entertainment, I didn’t actually do a gun sight, the week were at Oxford we were doing all the munitions factories, a sort of ‘Workers Playtime’ while they were having their lunch we performed, gave a show.
CS: So that was your first introduction to ENSA, actually playing.
UB: My only one actually, I never did another one
CS: Why was that?
UB: The opportunity didn’t come up, the pianist got better so I had to do only one week for him.
CS: But you didn’t do any more work for ENSA?
UB: No, after that, that was my war contribution. I still got the card, I would have done but I was never ..
CS: So you went back then to playing at the pub?
UB: Yes went back to running my own band, entertainments, because we used to have other singers and comedians patter acts, we had a silver prize band once in the garden.
CS: You probably didin’t realise it at the time I suppose, and by going into ENSA, you were beginning to be in a sort of distant contact with Ealing Studios, because ENSA was being run by Basil Dean who also ran the studios, which hadn’t long been opened.
UB: No but I went in Michael Morgan’s time, Basil Dean wasn’t there when I joined it.
CS: So how did you then get into contact with Ealing Studios?
UB: When I came back from Oxford, my Mum said Hals been on, if you would like, you can do an audition for Ealing Studios. Well I’d been passing this place and thinking I wish I could work there because Hal did, I’d love to work in there it must be great, so I said yes I’d go, so I went in fear and trembling, and went to the music department and Jimmy Crawford was there writing music, when I went in
CS: He was an assistant to Ernest Irving,
UB: Yes there was just the two of them. He very kindly gave me the music that’d got to play. It was for Diana Morgan, I don’t know who wrote the music but Diana Morgan wrote the lyrics, and he said this is what he’ll want you to play, Ernest Irving, when he comes down, there’s no knowing when he’ll come down. Jimmy said have a look at it, so I was able to have a look at what I’d got to play, and then Ernest Irving came down he heard me, and asked what experience I’d had, I said well I’ve been playing with a trio and five piece, and the entertainment at home, and he said what’s your ambition, I said I’d like to organise more, he said it sounded like I wanted his job. I got the job, it was for ‘Fiddler’s three' he said he’d like me to come from ten till two every day, six days a week, for the run of the picture, that was in about ’43.
CS: That was Tommy Trinder?
UB: Yes that’s right, yes. Tommy Trinder I got on very well with him, very nice man, got on very well with him.
CS: So what did you do when you came in from 10-2?
UB: Well this was it, I got bored stiff actually, for a start, I had to just wait until somebody wanted to hear the tunes, nothing else, I used sit and go to sleep in the chair, just wait to be called to play something. In the end I started Major Pearcy, do you remember him? Six feet seven, he came to do some copying, they had some copying they needed doing, I was sitting there and he said: ‘don’t you think it would be a good idea if. Do you want to stay on this job? “I said yes I would like to, so he said.” Well why don’t you polish up on your harmony you may be able to so some copying, because he said it doesn’t look good for you just sitting around, so I thought I might as well, and I was bored anyway, so I brought my harmony books and I started to study harmony whilst I was waiting to be called, and Irving came down one day and he was very pleased to see me doing that. One day they wanted someone to take a score over to town and they hadn’t got anybody and Jimmy had to go home early and they had nobody to send, so I offered to go, I’ll go if you want. So Irving said well it’s not your job your engaged to play, but I said I don’t mind if you don’t, so they were very glad to have me and I was very glad to get out and do something, and that was the start of me doing different things until I became general factotum, as I sad earlier and piano playing gofer.
CS: Tell me about Ernest Irving who was the Musical Director there who you worked with for how many years?
UB: I worked a long time, I worked up until he died, and Doc took over. I liked Ernest very much, I could have murdered him at times, but I got on very well with him, he and I had some chemistry, that enabled us to work together, because when I had to leave to nurse my Mother he told me I was irreplaceable, because he has three in a week, to replace me, and My friend Kitty and she could do a little bit of typing, she lasted three days. The people in the studio used to say “How you can work up in the flat with that man, we don’t know?” but I didn’t find it difficult.
CS: Was it because you spoke your mind? Ernest liked people who stood up to him.
UB: Oh yes he did, I would never argue with him in public when I got him on my own I used to tell him don’t talk to me like that again. He was a very erudite man, he was a very sick man, but he had a great fighting spirit, when I went he had to spend an awful lot of time in bed, because the Doctor had given him 6 months to live unless he did. Well he lived 12 years with a little help from the music department, we used to run after him and coddle him, but he was a fighter, that’s what I liked about him, and I learnt a lot, he was very well read, very scholarly, the first thing I had to do was to help him with his crossword that he had to finish, that was the first job in the morning, after putting on his horses.
CS: A lot of his crossword solving was done over the phone with Walter Mead, who was in the scripting department.
UB: Yes that’s right; Walter Mead was also a very erudite man.
CS: But they were both sort of Edwardian gents.
UB: Yes that’s right there was another one, Walter Thompson, he was a very old organist, see it’s a long way back and I didn’t keep many records of things, unfortunately, never thought I’d need them. He was an organist that Irving knew very well, used to come and play when we needed one, but he did, and he was on very good terms with his Doctor, Fleetwood Walker, used to talk a lot to him too.
CS: He liked to have a drink occasionally, Ernest
UB: Oh Yes, he drank very sparingly
CS: Yes, I’m trying to remember what he drank, I think it was whisky, but he would make large scotch last the evening, but tell me, you were e there a long time, can you remember in any order the films you worked on with Ernest Irving.
UB: Well I worked all them that he worked on, from 43 until he packed up, I worked on all of the films, in the music department.
CS: Can you remember any of the composers that Ernest engaged
UB: Yes Vaughan Williams of course, John Dreamwood, John Ireland.
CS: As you mention them can you say something about them, Vaughan Williams you mentioned.
UB: Yes Vaughan Williams he was wonderful, he was like all great men, he was very modest. I remember going to the Scott recordings once and he was going in his own car and he phoned up especially to ask Ernest Irving if they would let him, as he wasn’t with him. I think we were going to Elstree, and he said “If go straight there will they let me if I’m not with you?” So Ernest said you’ll probably find that when you get there they’ll have the red carpet down for you.
CS: Why would he have been going to Elstree?
UB: Well it might have been...what was the other one?
CS: I thought all the recordings were done at Maida Vale.
UB: That was in the early days. Abbey Road, we did a lot there, my first recording for Fiddlers Three I remember was done with a stopwatch at Abbey Road, no picture, so you had to do it by stop watch.
SC: I think you’re right because I remember a recording of a film called They Came from the City a film before your time; I think that was done by stopwatch. There would be other places you went to later on that you went to. Can you tell us any more about Vaughan Williams? How did he come over as a person, as you say he was quite modest.
UB: We all ran our legs off trying to help him, he was a real gentleman, a very great mind, and he was so so humble. I remember I was going up the corridor, he was coming down the other way his entourage, and he saw him and he said: “Oh Una, they tell me you’ve written a comic song for Tommy Trinder, I do think you’re clever, I couldn’t write a comic song to save my life. I said well “Dr, Vaughan Williams I couldn’t write a symphony to save mine” He was that sort of man, and if we went to any concerts round there he would always have time, if he saw you he’d always remember you and Harry my husband. He was a very great man, he wasn’t demanding at all, he used to take everything you did for him, gratefully, not like some them, and some of the lesser known one’s what everything. I think I told you when I went to White Gates I had to take this score, Ernest Irving wouldn’t allow the scores to be taken by any other way than by hand, this would have been the original scores by Scott, so I had to take them to White Gates which I now understand is demolished.
CS: Where was that?
UB: Dorking, so I used to take them over, and if he was there, he invariably was, I was invited to tea.
SC: Now it’s very interesting that you talking about Vaughan Williams and some nice stories there about him, now what about other composers you remember?
UB: Alan Rastle, I knew him quite well, for that type of work, met him quite a lot. Actually he was a very. very sweet man, fine composer.
SC: Of course he was quite young compared to Vaughan Williams wasn’t he?
UB: Oh yes
SC: Because he’d been in the Army during the war, tell me a bit more about him, any stories about Alan Rastle?
UB: Yes, you couldn’t get a stopwatch for love nor money, must have been the war, and he needed a stopwatch for this picture, and Jimmy said to me do you know anyone with a stopwatch. Well actually being in a pub you get to know an awful lot of people who are very useful, and I did know somebody, who worked on the submarines, with some technical job, and I approached him and he said I’ll get you one, and he got me one, don’t ask me where I got it from, but it’s off a German submarine.
SC: Why did they need stopwatching? … I’m straying a bit myself; presumably they use stopwatches in the submarine service for some reason.
Other voice: Possibly for timing from of the release of the torpedo before it struck.
Both: Oh yes could have been
SC: So anyhow you managed to get one
UB: So I managed to get one for him and he was highly delighted and I was very very stupid because he paid me by cheques which was £5.00, and was hard up so I cashed it, put it in the bank, stupidly, I should have saved it and it would have been worth a bomb, “Pay Una Bart £5.00 Alan Rastle.” I should have kept it, but in those days I didn’t think about it, I was always short of money.
SC: Alan Rastle was much younger as I was saying, and he died quite young too didn’t he?
UB: He did, he was lovely. There was a lovely club in London, it’s not there now, in South Audley Street, called the International Musical Association. It was a beautiful place, Doc Mathieson was a member, and Alan was of course, all the musicians, all the tip top musicians were members, you had to be a serious musician, straight music. I was told Ted Heath the dance band man couldn’t get in because he wasn’t an orchestra, but anyway, I wanted to join this because I wanted to use the club, so Doc Mathieson proposed me, and Alan Rastle seconded me, and I was home and dry, and Doc said “Don’t say anything about the dance numbers you know, you’ve just written this concertante bit they liked”, and that was with Alan, he was so nice. I wrote this concertante which is a piano piece that I wanted to write something, compose something flowery that I as a sort of florid youngster would like to play to show off, and I pinched the idea, I pinched three notes from the Warsaw Concerto, and it came out quite well, and one day Ernest Irving said they couldn’t get in the mood for the love scene, would I go down and play something romantic. Well this thing I wrote was real slush, Irving said whatever you do, don’t play any copyright stuff, so how do you think on the instant, on your way down, what you’re going to play, so that they can get in the mood, that’s not copyright. So I thought I don’t know Leibstraum very well, I’ll do my own, that’ slushy enough, so I played it. Michael Relph and Basil Dearden came out and said what’s that you’re playing and I said it’s one of mine, and they said they liked it, they would like it in the film. I said you won’t be able to do that, and they said why not, because the composer who does the film won’t allow it, he’ll what do his own tune, they said all right, well you write the music for the film then. So I had the offer to write for a film, I said I could never write 35 music pieces in three weeks, and apart from which I don’t orchestrate. So they said well we’ll get somebody else to do it, anyway Irving wouldn’t let it happen, the only way would have been if we’d both done it we could both have made a packet out of it, but he didn’t...he was little bit averse to me doing too much, I think he thought I might leave, and try for something...I don’t know, I got this impression that he didn’t want me getting any too big ideas. Anyway, Alan Rastle came to me and said: “Una, would mind playing this tune they’re all talking about, that they want me to write something like.” So I said I feel embarrassed, it’s such awful tripe really, it’s just a pretty tune, beside this great man, asking me to play this sickly little tune, but I did, and he said that’s quite pretty, he wrote a beautiful piece, really lovely, but they didn’t want it, wasn’t right for them. So in the end they got Lesley Bridgewater, to do it, he didn’t even want to hear my tune, it didn’t go anywhere, it wasn’t what they wanted, and Irene Cola played it, do remember Irene Cola? I still keep in touch with her, and she played it on the film, it was quite a nice piece he wrote, but they were never quite satisfied with it, which I was very happy about. Lesley Bridgwater who was another composer he paid me a full session to sing one note,
SC: Really how was that?
UB: Walter Saul used to provide the chorus, choir, and Lesley Bridgewater wanted a top C, just one top C in this score that he’d done, and nobody could sing a top C, and Irving said: “you can sing a top C Una. ” I said yes I can, so I went among the singers. it was such modern music, I thought I’m never going to pitch a top C in all that sound, I won’t know when to sing it, so Leonard Hirsch was leading, a violinist, and I said to him, I’m not going to be able to do this, he said: “look at me, I’ll give you a signal and the note will be a tone above what I’m playing”, and that’s the way we did it. I’ve never found out if it was spot on or not, because it didn’t come to anything, they abandoned the idea, but that wasn’t bad, £3.00 session money, for one note. There was another signature, Lesley Bridgewater, I could have kept his, and I cashed that too.
SC: You would have had quite a collection of cheques.
UB: I would wouldn’t I.
SC: Who else? Tell me...
UB: John Ireland , he was a very nice man, seemed very reticent, I never got very near to him, marvellous music, very descriptive music, but he was a very nice man, but very hard to know, kept himself to himself, very quiet, seemed rather bashful.
SC: What about William Walton?
UB: I never knew him, never met him.
SC: Would that have been before you came? I’m trying to think what picture he did.
UB: Yes it was, he did Went the Day Well
SC: What about the French composer, George Auric?
UB: I got on very well with him, he strung me along actually, because he wouldn’t speak in English, he understood it alright, but he wouldn’t speak it, and I was detailed to take him into the canteen and give him some tea, until Steve Dolby, who could speak fluent French arrived. I had studied French at Berlitz, but it was very sketchy. He was answering me with yes and no and he was smiling, he knew I was having a struggle and trying to keep the conversation going, and had a very amused look on his face, I know he was really having me on. Finally Steve came along, and took over then and they jabbered away in French.
SC: I must at this point contribute a story of my own, which was when George Auric was engaged by Ernest Irving, he insisted that he had to have a translation of the script of this particular picture Dead of Night into French and when I met him, it was my suggestion, because I knew about him that we used him and Ernest when I said to him what about George Auric. Ernest said there’s no further discussion needed, and went straight away and got him, and George insisted that the script should be translated into French, which it was and sent to him in Paris, and then when he arrived I found he could understand English perfectly well, so I said to him “George why did you need the script translating into French? You know English quite well.” He said “It makes a much better impression” and it was also a kind of protection, if necessary he could retreat behind his own language, but he did speak English quite well as you said. But he was a nice man wasn’t he?
UB: Very nice man.
SC: Any more stories about him?
UB: No, I don’t think so
SC: Because he did two or three pictures didn’t he?
UB: Yes, I didn’t always have a great deal to do with the composers except looking after them at the sessions, when that was part of my job to see they didn’t want for anything. Do you remember Irving’s lunches, they were famous his lunches, at the sessions, when I used to go and book a table at either a hotel or restaurant, get a private room, they was the composers, the director, producer, Steve, recordist, and Chris Greenham, Mary Haberfield, the sound engineer, all the technicians and the heads and myself, we would have big table usually for about ten, and you can imagine what the conversation was like, very very enlightening. I used to organise, book it, get the menu and find out what everybody wanted, because time was...Irving used to impress me, no minute must be wasted on the set, the recording time was so expensive, that nothing must hold it up, so I used to get everything and order for them, and all they did when we broke for lunch, they walked there, sat down and had it. I used to pay for it, and they’d get up and go and leave me to settle everything, and leave them a nice fat tip, so next time I got good service again, wasn’t my money anyway.
SC: Any more stories of George Auric?
SC: What about any other composers you met that you remember?
UB: When they wanted a picture done very quickly and well they used to call John Greenwood, because he used to deliver a very good score in a very short time, but there was sometimes like with Basil and Michael and I expect you were one, who had very definite ideas of who you wanted, and you usually got who you wanted, but when they needed a good score and they needed it quick, he used to say John Greenwood...it was his style, but nobody got a score just because of who they were.
SC: Ernest of course was responsible with I suppose Muir Mathieson shares the credit for that, bringing really good composers into film music, they both did that. Muir, Denham and then Ernest over the years at Ealing probably starting before Muir, because of course he was the older person.
UB: I think Ernest Irving started the trend for bringing in the cream.
CS: Yes I think he did, he was probably the first to use Vaughan Williams and I think Walton I’m not sure about that.
UB: and I think we were the only Studio, Ealing the only studio with a resident music department
CS: That’s true
UB: There were four of us
CS: Yes because I think Muir was freelance up to then, any more composers? No? John Greenwood was a very good craftsman I suppose you’d say. I think we’ve mentioned all the main ones. Let’s go back to Ernest a bit, tell us more about Ernest, I don’t know how far you gathered about his ....you must have done, known a lot about his background before you met him
UB: He told me he went to Charter House, he played in a band in a circus, when he knew my Father had been in a circus he said I’ve played in a circus, and I’ve conducted the band in the circus for a while.
SC: Then he went into the theatre, did you know?
UB: Oh yes he was marvellous orchestrator of course, brilliant orchestrator, he used to orchestrate stuff for the International Ballet, with Mona Inglesby, it was her company, he did most of that, and he used to orchestrate Coverstar, because I ruled all the lines, prepared all the score for him, I measured out all the bars, did all the clephs and time signatures, prepared the score paper, for him to orchestrate, and I think he did ‘Leaping......
SC: Did he do Hassan?
UB: I’m not sure; he did Two Bouquets.
SC: I though he did Hassan that would have been the music by Delius of course
UB: Yes, I think he was a member of the Delius str.....it’s all in Groves Dictionary anything you want to find out about that, he’s got a big column in that.
SC: I think he worked a lot with Basil Dean in the theatre, and that’s how he came to be at Ealing through, Basil Dean originally, and then he stayed on and became part of the studio and was taken over when it was controlled by Michael Balcon
UB: That’s a bit before my time
SC: But these were things you found out about him
UB: He was a little bit cagey about his private life, his wife and daughter lived at Harrogate or Brighton and he used to go there to see them every weekend, I think she was there for her health or something, but I didn’t know a great deal about his private life.
SC: He had a connection very much with an orchestra called the Phylamonia
UB: Oh yes, he was the first person to use the Phylamonia for films. I was with them then, when we first started we used to engage...Jimmy used to engage them all, ad hoc. He’d make collection of musicians, ring them all up, in the early days, then the Phylamonia formed and he used to have them on block, and also the Royal Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic, we had all the big ones
SC: And you had some marvellous players, I remember meeting Dennis Brain, he was the greatest horn player of all time
UB: I met all those, there’s one now doing a lot of work on Radio 3, clarinet player....
SC: You wouldn’t have known by then but was a great friend in fact of Thomas Beecham
UB: Yes he was, I never met Beecham
SC: I remember Ernest in relation to Beecham because I was working on something at the studio in Basil Dean days when they made a picture called Whom the Gods Love which was about Mozart. Beecham conducted all the music for that, I remember on that occasion hearing...they did a recording; they must have done the recording at the studio. I remember hearing Ernest conducting the rehearsal for Beecham, and with all due deference to Ernest I realised what made Beecham a very considerable conductor. I listened to Ernest conducting the rehearsal for Beecham to hear and it was wonderful music being Mozart and then Beecham came and did the actual recording and I did honestly notice the difference, the music seemed to come out more at the end of Beecham's fingers more than with Ernest.
UB: You can hear that on a recording, but getting back to Irving, he had a great spirit, because he always used to say he wanted to die on the rostrum, right in the middle of conducting, he said that’s the way I’ll go, I’ll have a heart attack, he didn’t of course, we used to have to take him in a wheelchair sometimes.
SC: He was very indomitable
UB: Absolutely, I think that’s what I admired about him, he wouldn’t be beaten by anything or anybody actually, he was a very strong character, of course poor old Jimmy used to go through it, how Jimmy....there was a love hate
SC: Jimmy was the sort of person that was too willing to take things
UB: He wouldn’t stand up for himself
SC: Where as you stood up for yourself
UB: Oh rather, I wouldn’t have taken what Jimmy did
SC: That’s not to be derogatory of Ernest
UB: Oh no, he was very nice and very helpful; I liked Jimmy he was a very nice man. Do you remember, were you there when he got his waistcoat caught up in the wind machine at a recording?
UB: Spoilt the take. He know he used to play with old, what’s his name, the other elderly friend of Irving’s, they used to come from Brighton for the recordings, he always used to put him in for the recordings, old violinist, the two of them used to sit on the last disc of seconds
SC: Jimmy used to play didn’t he?
UB: Jimmy used to play, yes that was one of Jimmy’s perks, but if anything wanted doing: “Jimmy” he used to call “Jimmy”
SC: That’s what I remember abut Ernest if anything went wrong whether or not it was...Did you tell me a story about a note being wrong in a score, or did somebody else tell me that, maybe it’s a malicious story, I’m don’t know, Ernest on one occasion was alleged to have put a false note in the score and then blamed Jimmy for it.
UB: No I don’t’ remember that
SC: Was Ernest capable of doing that?
UB: Oh I should think so, yes. He wouldn’t think twice about it, poor old Jimmy got blamed for everything. Any way, we were doing something with this wind machine, they needed the wind machine, so there wasn’t a player for the wind machine so Jimmy was called down to work the wind machine, we were sailing through the tape and suddenly there was no wind coming, they looked round and Jimmy had wound himself into the wind machine with his waistcoat, so he got a rocking for that.
SC: One could talk for ever about Ernest, you said earlier that Greenwood was very quick in writing a score, and of course in the days when Ernest....I think he’d almost given up writing himself, composing himself when you were there, but he used to do in the days before your time, I can remember he did do scores, and he had to them practically overnight almost, he was a very skilful musical technician.
UB: He was a brilliant; he could take nay tune and orchestrate it, to make it sound like a master piece, really brilliant. He used to do a lot of Lesley Bridgewater’s orchestrations, and they were much nicer than Bridgewater did for himself.
SC: And Ernest although not a considerable composer himself, had a great deal of respect from all the composers that we’ve mentioned, like Vaughan Williams and so on, he was a similar generation to VW.
UB: He had respect from everybody. He commanded, he had a presence, when he walked into anywhere, evening dress dos he’d take me to, he used to look very nice in his tails, and then he really used....you knew he was somebody. Did he tell you abut the time he walked into the Royal Enclosure, at the races, he didn’t know he’d walked in the enclosure, he’d got his mac up, it was raining and his hat, and he wanted to see a race, he thought oh that’s a good view over there, so he walked through, and fella tipped his hat as he walked through, he went and watched the race through, then he came out, and the fella tipped his hat again, he walked straight out, and somebody said to him, what were you doing in the Royal Enclosure,? He didn’t even know it was, he walked through and was not challenged. Jimmy told me before I went, Jimmy used to go to the races if he was needed in the theatre, Jimmy used to have to take , Jimmy used to have to take a board down to tell him to phone the studio immediately, because they didn’t know where he was, he used to get through on the phone, and tell Jimmy what to do about it.
SC: He used to bet regularly I suppose. You said earlier, that the day started with among other things, him placing his bets, did you have to do that for him or did he do that on the phone?
UB: He used to write them out and give them to me to phone through
SC: Did he ever make any money?
UB: Yes I think he did, I think he broke even.
SC: He was also a great cricket fan, did you know that?
UB: No, I know we went once to a cricket match and we took my Mother because she sat with him, and Mother applauded the other side.
SC: Was it the Ealing Studios cricket team?
UB: Yes it could have been because Hal was playing and so was Harry.
SC: Yes I remember because your brother was a very good left hand fast bowler. But Ernest I remember in terms of cricket, because I’m mad about cricket too and we were talking about a test match against Australia, and Ernest got very enthusiastic about a match which happened in 1905, where he heard that England looked like beating Australia at Lords and so leapt into a cab and got driven to Lords, and what a wonderful match it was, and he said to me: “You remember that Sid, don’t you?” and I had to say I’m sorry Ernest I wasn’t even born in 1905, but he was a complete Edwardian gentleman, he was one for the ladies in his youth, he loved his horse racing, his cricket. Any other things you remember about Ernest that you can recall?
UB: He was a mountaineer, he’d climbed all the mountains in England, he was very fond of mountaineering, he used to say me, go up the mountains, the higher up you get the nearer you are to God, it was always what he said, he loved mountaineering, he knew every mountain in England.
SC: Nearer you are to God, did he mean that, was he a religious person?
UB: Yes I think he was, in a way, he was always very respectful to the clergy, and if he went into a Church he observed all the....what sort of religion he had I don’t know.
SC: I imagine Church of England; he was a sort of establishment figure
UB: I think I remember one time, it was the Spring, he was looking out of his garden, you could look down into Michael Bolcon’s garden I think, any way, it was very pretty down there, and he said “Isn't it lovely, you must make the most of every Spring, as it comes because it’s always getting one less’ every Spring is important you don’t know how many you have left.”
SC: To establish the topography there, that Ernest’s flat was next door to the studio, he could look out of one the windows of the flat onto the garden that was at the back of the front office.
UB: The hours I spent looking out of the house we later bought that was owned by what’s her name.....just over the road.
SC: Una I think we really could find out now about the routine running of the department as far as you remember it, and since I’m so close to it myself, I think it would be an interesting idea if Roy Fowler, who’s with me, and chairman of this whole project, could ask you some questions, because I think I’m too near to that and I can chime in with something else, so over to Roy.
RF: Well Una, maybe you would describe the set up in the department, the people who worked in it, and their various functions, and jobs and then we’ll get onto how they worked in relation to specific pictures as the pictures went through.
UB: The first thing is the producer would approach the music director who was Ernest Irving, or Doc Mathieson, as the case maybe, about the music.
RF: Doc Mathieson’s role was what?
UB: Ernest Irving was the governor,
RF: Was Mathieson number 2 in the department?
UB: Dot Mathieson didn’t join until he came out of the Army, he was Ernest Irving’s assistant, until Ernest Irving retired, and then Doc Mathieson took over as Musical Director. Ernest Irving was the top man, then there was Doc Mathieson who was his assistant later on, there was Jimmy Crawford who was the librarian and head copyist also he used to book any musicians that were needed other than the orchestra. Until I arrived he used to do all the jobs that I later on took over from him, and then there was me. I joined as a rehearsal pianist, and I subsequently became the general piano playing gofer as I called myself.
RF: Where was the department located?
UB: Near stage two, we were one side of the gentleman’s toilet, and Basil Deardon’s office the other, on the ground floor, as you went in, straight opposite the entrance to stage 2. Just a room, a large room, filled with shelves of music scores, on music paper, everything you need in a music department.
RF: Irving also sat in that same room?
UB: He used to come down and grace us with his presence when he wanted to, or when he was absolutely needed. He didn’t come down all that often, because he had to spend as much time as he could lie in bed.
RF: What was wrong with him?
UB: His heart, he had heart trouble.
RF: and that’s what he dies of eventually?
UB: Yes he was on strong heart pills, and he had to rest, all the time he could he had to rest, that’s where I came in useful, because I could be like a little running dog for him, I was his feet.
RF: He was mostly based in his flat was he?
UB: Yes, and where they could and where they would, people used to go to him, even Sir Michael used to go up to him sometimes, when he wasn’t really very well and they needed his advice. He kept all the reigns in his hands he wouldn’t delegate anything that he could do himself.
RF: I got the impression before that he was a somewhat irascible man, is that true, rather bad tempered or ferocious?
UB: He could be irritable he could be short tempered, he didn’t suffer fools gladly.
RF: Was that product of his illness do you think?
UB: No, I think he was generally like that, he was very egotistical. He knew that he knew quite a lot.
RF: He was a dominant man?
UB: He was also very humble, in a way when dealing with people like Vaughan Williams, or the tip top composers, he would always give them their due, and treat them with great respect.
RF: A couple of questions about fees and payment, how much did you get when you first went there? Ealing wasn’t known as a generous payer was it as a studio.
UB: Well no, the studio didn’t pay all that well, I would have paid to work there to do my job, I loved it. When I first went I was offered six pounds a week to do four hours in the morning, when I left, I worked between 16 and 17 years, I was getting six pounds a week for doing from dawn until unconsciousness.
RF: I’d send a bill in if I were you.
UB: I never asked for a rise, but Irving thought I merited one, but he said I don’t think it’s the right time to ask. We’ll see that you get perks, so I was always paid as a musician when we did any recordings or any other things I did I got adequately rewarded. I didn’t care, apart from which I was moonlighting at home, I’d got another job, if the Musicians Union had known anything about it I would have been imprisoned, I should think.
SC: Were you a member?
RF: But you kept your membership of Equity?
UB: I was a member of the Performing Rights, and I thought that was enough.
RF: What did people like Vaughan Williams, William Walton, George Auric what were they paid?
UB: I really can’t remember, because I don’t think I knew, it was one of those things that was a very private thing, it was conducted between the composer and Ernest Irving. Some I did know but I’ve forgotten now, but it could have been anything from a few hundred to probably...I really don’t remember now, because currencies change, it was old money in those days.
RF: The choice of composer then was made by Irving with the producer and or the director. Tell me about the procedure then, when would the composer be brought in on a picture?
UB: When the picture was finished, and they knew what music they wanted, it might have been discussed earlier on, thought about, but finally it gathered momentum at the end of the picture and they knew what they wanted, the composer was approached by Ernest Irving. They would agree terms between themselves, and he was given a script with the timings, of where the music should be, where they wanted music. They had meetings with the composer, producer and director and would discuss where they wanted the music, actually Sid could tell you more about that because he had to do it, and then the composer took it away and wrote it, three weeks or whatever time they allowed him to have.
RF: Was three weeks the average?
UB: Three weeks stands in my mind because I said I could never write music in three weeks when it was offered to me. I said no I couldn’t write a score in three weeks, apart from which I can’t orchestrate. I imagine three weeks was about the time.
RF: In general did these composers do their own orchestration, were they expected to?
UB: Oh yes, they did, unless Ernest Irving was asked to do a part for any reason, he used to do any odd things, like there might be song or something they might use, or a bit of Mozart, or a bit of aria from an opera, in which case he would do that.
RF: And Jimmy would copy out the parts for the sessions, is that right?
UB: When the score was delivered then Jimmy went into action, engaging copyist, sometimes there would be as many as five in our little music room on the big table. If time was short they would split the score take the pages apart, and each do a part
Start of side 3
RF: Let’s just back over what we were saying, you were saying that there would 5 of them, round the table in the department
UB: Oh yes, 5 of them , sometimes they’d have to split the sections and copy and I would be given duplicates to do, one of the copyist would make the top copy, like the first violin, and then I would make the rest of the how many discs we needed.
RF: What happened to all those original scores, did the studio retain them?
UB: The studio had them all except Vaughan Williams, and they were presented to him, the Scott ones, the originals we had them all copied and the original copies were bound and the original scores, were bound and presented to him. Very nicely bound I used to take those over to a bookbinder in, beyond Wandsworth, quite well known, he was, and as each volume was bound I used to take them over to Dorking.
RF: Sid do you have a side line on schedules and stuff
SC: In general what you said about with the normal routine of getting the music commissioned and recorded for films, but there was one very important exception that happened in my experience, I think was a pretty unique thing, which was on Scott Of The Antarctic which as you know I was Associate Producer on, when we were discussing it, before the producer had started shooting it, we did decide the composer we wanted, we talked with Ernest and Ernest said for this you really need Vaughan Williams, and I think the reason said that was, because Vaughan Williams and himself were members of a generation to which Captain Scott himself belonged, that was an Edwardian experience, and Ernest suggested that if we wanted Vaughan Williams, he would approach him, but he was sure that Vaughan Williams would want to read the script. In fact before we started shooting and before he gave his consent, what VW insisted on was that he should meet Charlie Friend the Director of the picture and myself, and not even with Ernest there, before consenting to finally do the thing, because he wanted to make sure, that his feeling about this real life story of Scott and going to the Antarctic coincided with his, because he didn’t want to be involved in something which was contrary to his feeling about this, very important thing in English history. So we had a marvellous session, Charles and myself, an afternoon session in the, what was called the Snogs Restaurant, at Ealing which was the interior room where the higher paid personnel went,like Borgen himself, producers and directors and so on, and we went through the script from beginning to end, Charles and I had prepared where we thought music was needed, Vaughn Williams had done the same thing with his script and we sat there and went through the script, from beginning to end, and we found that basically we agreed everywhere except on two places, one of which was where Charles and I thought we needed something, in the way of music, and Vaughan Williams hadn’t thought so, and one where he suggested something where we hadn’t. We agreed amicably that he would write both sections, the one he wanted and the one we hadn’t and conversely, in fact, a long long time later, because it took us nearly two years to shoot the picture all told, when we came to the recording session, we did record both and when we listened to it we finally used the one that VW ssuggested and didn’t use the one that we ourselves had suggested. But I think that’s a very interesting story in itself of course, and shows the extraordinary, Una referred to it, the comparative humbleness of Vaughan Williams, but I think that meant he liked to work in congenial surroundings and with congenial people and then he could be completely and utterly himself, he didn’t have to put on some sort of act, as people don’t necessarily appreciate you. That was a great experience really.
RF: The integrity of the work was also a key factor.
SC: Absolutely, yes he wouldn’t have done it otherwise. So then one would hear that marvelous music, which of course they developed some of the themes afterwards into the Symphonia Antarctica, but he always said he wasn’t really based on that, but you can tell when you hear the symphony that there are some things that he must have thought of originally for the film, although there was a separate recording for the film.
RF: Sid, whilst we’re talking in somewhat more general terms, the point that was raised before about the named composers being brought in to score motion pictures Was Ealing perhaps a pioneer in that? The only one I can think of from the 30’s is of course Arthur Bliss on Things to Come, but how much of a departure was it not to use hacks but to use the greats.
SC: Well I think as I said before, I think it was probably a gradual process but it was shared, I think Ernest started to do it even in the early Ealing days under Basil Dean, probably was beginning to do something like that, I think that probably pre-dates slightly any how Muir Mathieson, doing the same thing at Denham, but it was gradual process, but certainly by the time I went to Ealing, which was in ’42, I would say that composers were used all the time, known composers of varying degrees, but classical composers.
RF: Una do you think we’ve covered the organization of the department?
UB: Well, that was up to the preparation when the scores were all copied and numbered, all put in their parts, Jimmy would make sure, ready to go on the stands for the session. The next department was to the recordings.
RF: Now were recordings always done off the premises, or did you use any of the show stages’
UB: No not always, sometimes they used to be done, if it wasn’t a very big orchestra they’d sometimes do it on stage 3, or a little combination of anything, that would be done on stage 3.
RF: Was that problem acoustically, were the studio acoustics satisfactory?
UB: I don’t think it could have been.
SC: I can remember sessions on stage 3 where actually on a set for instance, where I seem remember a Church set we had to film, which involved a choir, that would have been done there on the actual surroundings, even if we were….to get the right feeling, even if it wasn’t being filmed at the same time, to get the atmosphere, and as Una said. I think the small things would be done, in the studio as well, apart from anything else, it would be cheaper than going out and hiring if one was only using a few instruments or a small choir.
RF: Did Ealing have a good reputation for sound recording?
UB: I think so
RF: I once told Michael Balcon that I couldn’t understand a word of The Cruel Sea when I saw it in New York, and he was very upset about that, understandably.
UB: Did you mean the dialogue?
RF: Yes the dialogue, the speech, I never got to the bottom of it, but I found it almost incomprehensible, I think one’s ear get attuned to language and cadence and that probably was it. Two technical questions, when you were recording at Abbey Road, was recording onto film not onto acetate or any of those things, would you know?
UB: That’s a long time ago, I wouldn’t know, that wasn’t my department.
RF: Were you still at Ealing when they changed over to tape, I was wondering when that happened, whether Ealing was a pioneer in that respect, or not?
SC: I don’t think they were a pioneer in that respect, all the period we’ve been talking about, would all have been sound on film, definitely, because by ’55 personally I was doing TV film series like Robin Hood, and that was all on film, not on tape. So more towards the end of the 50’s and of course by the end of the 50’s Michael Balcon had left the studio’s and the studio had gone over to the BBC, apropos, which all those scores that Una talked about apart from the Vaughan William scores for Scott, which were in the archive in the music department, Ernest’s music department, supposedly must have gone over to the BBC with the entire contents of the studio, whether they still exist anywhere I don’t know.
RF: Well if that was so, I imagine they do because the BBC’s been very good about their archive; they’ve been absolutely superb in that respect. Anything more from your point of view the story of music at Ealing during your time there?
UB: When they were making musicals on the set they had to be synced, I had a very amusing experience myself, when they were making Nicholas Nickleby where they had some jugglers, and they wanted some music as they couldn’t get their rhythm. They decided they would have the music ‘The Grand Duchess’, they wanted me to go down and play it, and I was told I had to keep strict time, as it had to match the take when we put the music over it, we’ve got to do exactly in time, it won’t be your playing, it will be an orchestral version, but it has to be in strict time. So I had to go down, do you remember that little white piano they had, a little grand piano, there was no room on the set for me round the front, so they had to put me round the back of the set, and it was up high, on stilts, and I had to take a metronome, so they could hear. I had to start the metronome so they could get the rhythm, then I had to switch it off so they couldn’t hear the tick tick, and then start playing myself, so that they could juggle to it, they couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see them, and we had to keep time, and I got the bird from Irving afterwards because there was just a slightest deviation on a bar, he said we’ll have to fit that in with the orchestra when we get there. But that was quite a hairy experience to do; it perhaps doesn’t sound it, but perched behind all the scenery. That was the sort of thing that came up, that used to come up suddenly.
RF: Could we go back a bit Una to before you went to work at the studio, you were living in Ealing, I’m curious what position the studio had in the lives of the local people, how they regarded it, how they related to it.
UB: As far as I can remember, they were interested if they saw a film star, they held them in certain respect, but I don’t remember anyone going overboard, the studios is up there, because where we lived we were a mile away from the studio.
RF: Because at various times Ealing has the great box office stars, Gracie Fields and George Formby.
UB: Oh yes, but I don’t remember crowds round the gates or anything like that, like they do now, I don’t remember that sort of thing. As far as I recall, they took all very much for granted, it was there.
RF: Did young people want and go and work at the studio?
UB: They didn’t seem to, I don’t think Ealing encouraged anything like that, they were very selective in who…….I wanted to go and work there but it never occurred to me to go and apply, for a job, even though my brother was a studio manager at that time, it never occurred to me to go and apply, and ask if there was a job there.
RF: Ealing was a very middle class, slightly toffee nosed, area?
UB: Yes, it was considered the queen of the suburbs in those days, not like it is now, it was clean, wasn’t it Sidney?
SC: Actually when the studios were built which was 1930, the modern studios, I think it was insisted that the entrance to the studio should be as inconspicuous as possible, which in fact they are. If you didn’t know they were studios, you wouldn’t know- it’s a very pleasant Georgian entrance, apart from a gate and a sign, you wouldn’t know. I think the city fathers, although they didn’t kind of look down on the thing they didn’t want it stressed unduly, like we said very up market, terribly respectful, Ealing and Wimbledon I remember in my student days in the late 20’s was synonymous with that kind of slightly superior, toffee nosed atmosphere.
RF: Was the reality of going to work there very different from the mental image that you had, or did you just accept it for what it was?
UB: I think I had stars in my eyes, I never had much time for the actors and actress, I was born into it, so I wouldn’t have the same respect, I was born into that type of people, entertainers and all that, but the music part of it and the general making of the films, I was starry eyed about. It did appeal to me I was happy all the time I was there, it was a lovely atmosphere. I found everybody there nice, I can honestly say there was nobody I didn’t like, and I met them all in the course of that 17 years, carpenters, painters, scenery, all of them.
RF: How about the executives and the senior production staff Balcon and such people as Sid for example.
UB: Very, very nice, I got on very well with them. I used to come into contact them, they used to more and more as time went on, as Ernest Irving got sicker and sicker and I became more proficient in doing things. They would come to me to arrange things, as I acted as go between, because the less he was able to get down and boss it all around, the more he needed to assert his authority.
RF: You make it sound as if there were a few egos or dominating egos at the studio. Would you say that’s fair?
UB: they all had a personality, that what made Ealing so different,
RF: personality yes, but…..
UB: Oh yes, I was a bossy little thing,
RF: Were you?
UB: Yes and still am, actually. They were their own people, there weren’t very many that I know, even the boys on the front gate, Lionel and…..they had a personality of their own, didn’t they, nobody bossed anybody about really, you were your own man or woman.
RF: Who set the atmosphere, was it Balcon would you say?
UB: Yes I would say so, definitely. All revolved round him, and Hal, he had a good bit of influence there, don’t you think?
UB: Michael Balcon’s aide, he had a big influence.
RF: I think I’ve exhausted what I have to ask, so I’ll turn back to Sid, who will take you presumably through your subsequent career and activities.
SC: Una, when the studio closed, what did you do after that? You didn’t then …. Of course Ernest had died when, sometime before?
UB: Yes Doc took over; I worked for Doc for quite some time. Doc Mathieson and who was the boiler man? Gosh I can’t remember, we were the last to leave when the gates shut for the last time.
RF: Could you tell us about the closure of the studio, when you first heard about it, and how it was received?
UB: Well It’s a bit hazy, I thought I might be in Ireland, I heard some news when my brother and I were in Ireland, he was recuperating from the bad burns he he’d received, he had a telephone message, I think or a telegram, and I have an idea, that was when he learned that the BBC were making an offer, there was some negotiation going on, but I wouldn’t be sure of the dates now, it’s so long ago, or it could have been that Hal was offered a position as studio manager, could have been that.
SC: I don’t remember because I wasn’t at the studio by then I’d gone onto to work on a television series.
UB: I’m sure it was when we were in Ireland and he was ill, that was when he was made from studio manager to general manager.
SC: No that happened at a much earlier time.
UB: Oh well I’m confused then , but I don’t think I remember hearing anything, I must have been at home when he came one day and said the studios were going to close.
RF: Was it a great blow or had you been expecting it?
UB: Oh it was horrible, I hated it.
SC: It was out of the blue for everybody, I remember Alexander Mackendrick telling me afterwards that he got into the train to come to the studio at that time, and he opened his paper to read on his journey to the studio, there was an item saying Ealing Studios sold, and I always thought it was a lack of moral courage on Balcon’s part that he didn’t make any personal contact with people about it, and in fact I think that he left it to Hal to make the announcement to people, any how the studio closed. So reverting to what we were saying, after that, which was a traumatic experience for everyone including you, what did you do?
UB: I stayed with them because they closed the studio, but they carried on at Nile Lodge.
SC: Yes they called themselves Balcon ….what did they call themselves, they made pictures elsewhere, and you went with them.
UB: I stayed; the music department had a room or shared a room at Nile Lodge
SC: Where’s Nile Lodge?
UB: Queens Walk, that great big building up Queens Walk, Hal told me that when they knew they had to find somewhere else, he told me he was just looking round and he thought that was a fine house and he just walked up to the door and very politely asked them if they had ever considered selling the house
SC: Is that in Ealing?
UB: Yes, up the top of Eaton Rise, going down the other side, is Queens Walk. Huge great house there and they said yes, actually we wouldn’t mind selling it, so they negotiated for it and bought it. It had a lot of ground at the back and they set the studios up there, and used to shoot at Sheperton I think. We had this share of the room there, and e also had an office in Denham or wherever it was they were…..there was an office there.
SC: Would that have been Doc Mathieson and you?
SC: I’m surprised that in those days they still had a need for continuing….
UB: Well they did do it, the last picture I worked on was Sammy Going South I think Hal produced it. Well finally it folded and he just stopped, and that was the last I worked Sammy Going South, I did a bit of work in the cutting rooms and typing in the editing with Mary Kestle, doing the post production scripts, and she wanted some help so I went did some typing for her.
SC: Of course a point to Roy that may be hasn’t been recorded that in those days, I don’t know if everybody it, but Ealing used to have the most elaborate post production scripts that literally listed frame by frame exactly how the actual completed film went.
RF: I think if that was a studio tradition it probably came from the RKO connection, because the cutting (I can’t hear what he’s saying) in Hollywood are equally rigorous.
SC: Those were very useful those post production scripts particularly if we wanted to sell the picture to be done in another language where there was to be either dubbing or titling we had the exact measurements. Anything finally to say, usually on these recordings we ask if you had your life to live over again would you do anything different, but I think I can already know the answer to that one, from your general enthusiasm, about your days in the music department at Ealing. Would you say that, that you would still like to do that if you started all over again?
UB: I would love it, I would like to do every minute of it again, every minute, from the first going in, that first morning I walked in I was dancing on air, when I went as a rehearsal pianist, for the six weeks, I thought…..because I did one day, I forgot that, before I signed on, I was called in just to do one day, playing for Ann Todd to sing a song, Peter York was there too. I remember they wanted it in all sorts of different keys and I couldn’t do it, so Peter York had to do it, and I was feeling a little bit awkward about it because he was doing the work but I was getting paid, however that was just one day, and I left I thought I wish I were going in tomorrow, I wish I could work here forever, and when I did, I think it was only about a week later I was called again, for this interview with Ernest Irving, and I got the job of six weeks I was determined I was going to make it longer than six weeks, and of course they did ask me at the end of that picture, they were going to make Champagne Charlie and they asked if I was willing to carry on for that picture, which I did, and from then on I was useful, I made myself useful and do everything I could to make sure that I was going to be wanted again, and I stayed until the end, part from odd times out, when my Mother was ill, but I always went back again.
RF: Champagne Charlie was home made for you, with that sort of back ground.
UB: Absolutely, my brother said to me we’re going to make Champagne Charlie and there’s a lot of songs in there and he knew I was writing music, and songs, and he said they’re going to have a lot of songs about drink, so he said you live in a pub, what you don’t know about drinking….go home and write 12 you might get one in, I wrote 8 and I got one in, ‘Half of Half and Half’ they had about 8 song writers on it and I was the only one that both words and music, so I was rather chuffed about that, and also that Tommy Trinder chose it without knowing I’d written it.
CS: You had some stories about what did, or didn’t happen with that song with Tommy.
UB: Tommy said if you’re a good girl, I might be able to get this published for you, and I’ll sing it, but there was some talk of putting all the songs on a record and they wanted Arthur Bath in it and I had to turn down that offer. It never got published but was on the record. I loved every minute of working there, all the trials and tribulations, I used to get the bullet occasionally for things I did. Do you remember the amateur dramatics society; did you do anything in it? It was fun. They thought it would be good to form an amateur dramatic society where everybody did not their own jobs; it was such a fiasco that they turned it round and everyone did do their own jobs. It was so lovely I used to be tickled pink by the little theatre, a little tin pot theatre, with the stage and the lights and that, and the lighting men, dealing with all these great big arcs, pulling out these little leavers and getting wonderful effects on the stage, and Dickinson did the scenery, which was terrific. Cavalcanti produced it, and that’s what gave me the chance to play the infant Phenomena in Nicholas Nickleby, in which I was very very bad. I was shocking, I told Clive and John Croydon that I wasn’t right for it you want a child, they said Cavelcanti wants you, you look the part, you’re small and you look older than you’re supposed to be, and I could dance a bit on my toes, I had a whale of a time practicing for that, but I don’t think my heart was it, I didn’t like the part, I felt a right twit doing it, but I had some great fun learning the dancing routine, they had Charlotte Bidmead to teach me, I could dance a bit, but not properly trained. We used to go over to the Players Theatre to rehearse on that little stage, it was great fun. Cav was very disappointed in me, because I wasn’t doing what I did with the other part of the young rip on the stage, and the other Irish part
CS: Perhaps you couldn’t get relaxed in front of the camera
UB: No it wasn’t that, I didn’t like the part, I didn’t think I was any good for it, I was resentful of having to do it, because they would insist that I did it, I thought I looked awful, I said to John, I’m not right for it, he said they’ve tested children and they’re not right, they don’t look it
CS: The responsibility was theirs if they cast you
UB: I didn’t like it; I like to do things properly if you’re going to do it at all. Especially that sort of thing.
CS: So that was you’re only disappointment with the studio and that wasn’t connected with the music department.
UB: Yes, something right out of my line. But I loved everything, and they were all such lovely people.
CS: Well that seems a good note to end on. Thank you very much Una.
SC: This is still Sidney Cole with Una Bart and Robert Fowler on June 19th 1991. And having talked to Una and made very good recording, we are now interested in pursuing details about Hal Mason who was Una’s brother and was general studio manager and general manager at Ealing. I think Una you and I could talk a little about Hal. Tell me something about your brother and his early days before he entered the entertainment industry.
UB: Well he was born in Philadelphia, mother and dad were working in Philadelphia and he was born over there. He came back to Brixton and we both went to school in Angel Road, St John’s College in Angel Road and then we subsequently went to Ramsgate and went to St George’s until he went to Sir Roger Manwood’s in Sandwich, a minor public school where he studied until he was eighteen and passed out as an officer in the OTC
SC: And was he athletic in those days?
UB: Yes, he thought he’d like to follow a career in show business in the theatre. So dad thought he should get as many qualifications as possible. So he was taught boxing by an ex Welsh champion, Luther Thomas who was an ex welterweight champion. He used to go to boxing matches and he was a quarter finalist at the ABA one year. But then he decided that boxing was a bit too precarious a life to go in for so he went to Margate Theatre. There was an advertisement for assistant stage manager and acting parts, coupled with small parts which he did for some time. Then he thought it was too limited and he wanted to get up to London. He answered an advertisement for a professional ballroom post and became a professional ballroom dancer and judged competitions. A friend of his got him into the film business and he got in as a crowd worker. Subsequently he was spotted by Captain Summer’s stunt team and he joined that and he was a stunt man for quite a while. And from then he went into, he was asked one time, he used to organize the stunts, he was asked by a director to become a third assistant
SC: Third assistant production?
UB: Third Assistant Director, and he was very quickly promoted from third assistant to second assistant and from then on, you know, studio manager, to general manager and then he was on the board. He also did some photographic work for a time.
SC: But he had a good run at Ealing?
UB: When he was in the film business he used to do boxing as well, he had a very good fight and beat a Sergeant Beale. And from then on I’m should think you could provide more of his career than I can as he very much kept himself to himself.
RF: Other than to ask what sort of person he was
UB: Well he was generally liked, very much liked. He was very honest. Very straightforward, very straightforward.
RF: A nice brother?
UB: A Marvelous brother. When we were kids he always fought on my side and when we were kids and when we moved schools I had a good circle of friends at school in Brixton but when we went to Ramsgate I didn’t seem to make any friends there. So he would collect me in his crowd of boys, so I became a boy. As long as I didn’t cry I could go with them, so no matter how much I hurt myself I learnt not to cry. And I came in very useful to mend their clothes when they got torn before they went home. But he was a wonderful brother, yes, very caring and very protective. While we were kids. Of course when he got married and branched off away from the family I didn’t see so much of him then. His wife became one of my best friends; I saw much more of Pat than Hal. And she became my best friend until she died. She moved next door to us after Hal died, she moved to the flat next door to us. They were both very, very caring and protective of me. But in the studio I knew that I had not to aspire to any great privilege for being his sister. In fact it worked the other way. He ticked me off once when he found me smoking on the set. And he also, he was very very honest when they were doing a purge and they were cutting down and he told the board that the music department was overstaffed with four. They’d managed very well without me before I went and much as he was loathe doing it he thought his sister ought to go. There was no nepotism with Hal, none whatever with Hal. He gave me well to understand when I went there. He said I’ve done my bet in telling Irving that you play now you’re on your own. And he told me that I was going to get the bullet. But he’d reckoned without Ernest Irving and Michael Balcon actually. Ernest wrote such a good letter that said I did pull my weight and hadn’t asked for a lot of money and I didn’t keep on about it. They decided that on this occasion the music department could carry on and they were very fond of them. So I was allowed to stay on. And at the next purge, Hal told me that before we come to the music department he said he though Irving needed all the help he could get and he wasn’t going to let being family let it influence his justice. And I did hear from other people that he was very fair and thought of very highly in union matters.
SC: I got on very well with Hal. I agree with everything you’ve said. He was very loyal, Michael Balcon owed a great deal to him, I think in terms of the day to day running of the studio. Also in this egotistical industry that we worked in, Hal was one of the least self-seeking people that I have ever known. And he never really had any ambitions to do more than what he did. I think he enjoyed his job I think it sometimes amused him to deal with some of the directors and producers that he had to deal with. But we were all quite friendly, but he quite a difficult job to do and I wasn’t sure how far he believed in all of the details of what he had to do. Like I remember of occasion going in with Robert Haymer to Hal’s office to discuss a schedule and Hal had all the reasons from the front office point of view why the schedule should be a week less than it was. So we listened very carefully. So off we went and Robert said as we left, well of course it will still take that week, which of course it did. Hal was in a position of saying he had to cut down, though I suspect as he was a bit of a realist that he knew perfectly well like the people that were actually operating the thing that it would take that long. I didn’t know him that well socially, but he was a very good cricketer and I wasn’t a very good cricketer but I loved cricket so we played together a number of times. And he was a very good left arm fast bowler and we had very many pleasant games. I don’t know if I could add much more to Hal. I don’t think he ever particularly wanted to be on the creative side of films I think he was happy as an organizer which seems to be what he was very good at. People like that are necessary in any organization but perhaps their merits aren’t always recognized, particularly by the creative people who are concerned not so much with the time they are allowed to do things but what they are going to do. So that people like Hal have the difficult job of one the one hand accommodate the creative people who he obviously knew were the reason that the studio existed but also with the economic demands of time and money. Anything you want to ask Roy?
RF: Well, I’d like to establish the vital statistics, when he was born when he died for the record.
UB: Yes he was born in Philadelphia on 15th January 1906, and I can’t remember when he died. Died about 14 years ago.
RF: I thought he was younger than you?
UB: Yes he was.
RF: Sorry, we didn’t get your date of birth
SC: Well if you’re 82 darling, which means you were 1909.
UB: Sorry he was born in 1911.
SC: I can remember writing to his wife when he died.
UB: He was 54 when he died
SC: That would be 1965
RF: Why did he die so young? How did he die?
UB: That’s the interesting part yes. When the war broke out he was already OTC trained, he was straight into the commission and he was put straight into a Scottish regiment and went straight in as a captain. But he was given six months deferment to finish off the film Undercover. Which was being filmed in Wales and they were doing a battle scene in a field and they were using that stuff that goes off, flashes, magnesium and he was down looking at angles and someone flicked a cigarette at it and Hal was in the middle of it and he was very badly burned. He was rushed to the military hospital where there was saline treatment and they said his arms were dropping off, flesh was dropping off as he walked to the ambulance. And it left him with kidney damage. When he got better recovering, we went over to Ireland, we took his car over and he and the kids went by boat and train. They said there must be a doctor nearby. The kidneys got better but there was a recurrence and that led to kidney failure and all the cells died off.
SC: But he still played cricket?
UB: Yes but he had to give up boxing. He still went swimming and he got back more or less pretty normal for 15 years and then it all started up again but he was still able to go on for quite a while but then it started to deteriorate then.
RF: No I can’t think of anything more.
SC: It’s terribly difficult to present a picture of past years
UB: If I do find anything I’ll send it to Sid, anything. I’ve got all the books that have been written on Ealing and if that jogs my memory.
RF: Should I conclude the recording? Thank you Una, thank you Sid.