Adam Dawson

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Interview Date(s): 
5 Jul 1990
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Adam Dawson Side 1

Roy Fowler  0:00  

The copyright of the following recording is vested in the ACTT History Project. The day is July 5th 1990.  The subject of the interview is Adam Dawson and the interviewer is Roy Fowler, and we're at ACTT at 111 Wardour Street.

Roy Fowler  0:22  

Adam, when, where were you born?

Adam Dawson  0:25  

I was born on 20th March 1913 in Edinburgh.   And my first schooling was in an Edinburgh Academy from the age of six to nine.  And  then after that point my education, was down south in England.  I went to a boarding school, prep school, Boxgrove School in Guildford, Surrey until 1927, from '22 to '27.  And then, after that, in '27, I went to Stowe School, Buckingham.  I had been meant to be going to Harrow but my headmaster at Boxgrove was very keen on this new school, Stowe, which had been founded in 1923. I got sent there and I was very glad about it,

Roy Fowler  1:17  

Right.  Was there any connection at all in your family with what you subsequently did, with show business,  theatre, or any such ...?

Adam Dawson  1:30  

No, not at all. My father was a chartered accountant.  My mother was a very talented woman.  She used to like most people she used to sing and entertain.  And I had two older sisters, and a younger brother. So I had plenty of people around with me. And nobody had any sort of influence for me to go into films, or theatre or anything. I hadn't got a particular desire to go to theatre.  I wanted to film because I could see that you were able to do things, more things, closer and get more input things with film than you can using a theatre, or your in a  static position.

Roy Fowler  2:16  

Can you recall when first of all you became interested in films? What were the influences that led you to it?

Adam Dawson  2:23  

Well, I suppose it was when I went to a cinema. I mean  Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate, The Gaucho and Robin Hood, and things like that.  And I'd always been interested in films.  So much so, I got  a Bioscope - which is now defunct - which used to have very good reviews of films and unfortunately they weren't liked by the distributors. And so I used to follow what was going on with films and go up, during the holidays, to continuous performances up at Leicester Square. All these cinemas had people queuing out and, because they were continuous performance, you used to go and stay for two performances of the film. Like It Happened One Night, things like that. And no, my family had it really worked out for me that I should go and become a lawyer up in Edinburgh.  So when I was sent in 1932, after I've been abroad in Versailles for six months, and I hadn't had the six months in Spain I wanted to have because Alfonso had abdicated and my family thought it rather dangerous to send me out there for six months.

Roy Fowler  4:02  

This is what?   To polish your languages?

Adam Dawson  4:04  

I was doing languages, yes.  So when I went up to Oxford, I decided I'd do  a Pass degree.  There was no point in becoming a lawyer ... a law degree because there'd be English Law as opposed to Scots Law.   So I did five subjects, I did Spanish, French,  German,  Economic Theory and History, and Law Contract.  And I had a very good time. And while we were up there, I became involved with the  Film Society. And I became first of all Secretary and then the President of the Film Society.  So as a president, you have to select film.  Most of them came from the London Film Society.

Roy Fowler  4:54  

You went up when?  What year?

Adam Dawson  4:56  

I went up in '32.

Roy Fowler  4:57  

In '32, right.  So this is now well into the sound era?

Adam Dawson  5:02  


Roy Fowler  5:03  

Had Stowe given you any encouragement or ...?

Adam Dawson  5:07  

No, not really.  We used to have film shows, I suppose every other week because we   could not all get into the cinema the same time.  So you saw one film, but you may not see the next week.

Roy Fowler  5:21  

That was to keep the boys quiet and happy was it?  Was it part of the curriculum?  Or was it just to keep the kids happy?

Adam Dawson  5:28  

No, no, just just part of this thing of entertainment I think.  I mean, we had our orchestra and things like that.  Other things beside games, but there's nothing really.  The only thing I had was a ciné camera.  I had a Pathé Baby, motorised, but, of course, you only got one lens, and very limited.

Roy Fowler  6:00  

Nine 9.5 that was,.  9.5 millimetres.

Adam Dawson  6:04  

9.5, yes.  Which actually any films I've got I've had transferred onto video. So pretty amateurish.  Even with David Niven, because he was at school for a year after I got there.  I mean, he was doing his last year when I was doing my first year and so I used to see him in the swimming pool, when he is practising for life saving, and in an old pair of trousers and things like that, shipwrecked island sort of stuff, on the edge of a bar.

Roy Fowler  6:43  

Was he an adult friend? Or did you keep that connection?

Adam Dawson  6:46  

No, I just spoke to him, but I mean, he wasn't an adult friend at all.  No, because he left and went straight on to the army.

Roy Fowler  6:56  

I meant later in life, did you run across him?

Adam Dawson  6:58  

I met him once, I think down on Walton-on-Thames.  He was always a jolly bloke, and I liked him. A lot of people liked him.

Roy Fowler  7:09  

What are the films that you remember from the Oxford Film Society?  What were they showing in the early '30s?

Adam Dawson  7:16  

Well, I think the biggest hit of course, was Ecstasy with Hedy Lamarr. There's a nude scene.

Roy Fowler  7:26  

Keisler or Kiesler?

Adam Dawson  7:27  

Yes, it's a good film.  And we had lots of other films there. While I was up there, they also had the Oxford Film Unit. And we made a film and I was the editor.  I was meant to be the assistant director, but unfortunately I did something to my finger and was in bed while they were shooting.  But it was called the Legend of Godstow. It was all about the king, King Henry, with his girlfriend, the foir Rosamund. out of Godstow and eventually she gets banished to another area of Godstow.  We had people.  I think John Wood or somebody.  A fellow called Wensel was there.  We made the film on 16mm.  Some people had cameras. We made that.  And then the Oxford University Film Unit also had meetings where they would get hold of people to talk to us.  And I got hold of Hugh Gray, who was the research at Gaumont British at Shepherds Bush.  And it was through him that I was able to do anything at all on films because there's no training, no way of getting into films. The only thing that happened was that Gaumont British had had a training scheme before, just before my time, and people like Sydney Stone and Greeve Del Strother had been trained there.  So, I went down there and I was introduced to Teddy Baird.  And Teddy Baird introduced me to other people. And that's the way I was able to look around and see what was going on with Conrad Veidt ????? on the floor.  It seemed to take an eternal amount of time doing anything. And it was through Hugh Grey that I got an introduction to Ian Dalrymple.   Now Ian Dalrymple had been supervising film editor at Gaumont British and then he became a scriptwriter with Gaumont British.  And this I believe, was the first independent one that he had written, S.O.S. by Walter Ellis.   I went to see him and he tried to dissuade me like any sensible person in films does.  They try and dissuade you unless you're really intent on it  You don't try and persuade people to come into the film business. It's better now perhaps than it was then.

Roy Fowler  10:44  

I don't think so.

Adam Dawson  10:47  

But eventually, it was in 1935, I got a job at New Ideal Pictures, which had now renamed Triumph Film Studios to Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith and the producer was Simon Rowson and Jeffrey Rowson, production manager, and all the rest are down in that book you see.   Directed by Michael Powell, a Quota Quicky. And I was given the wonderful job of third assistant director at the princely salary of 30 shillings a week. And no overtime.

Roy Fowler  11:33  

Yes. Now were you actually taking on to the staff of the company or the studio? Or was it just for that particular film? 

Adam Dawson  11:41  

Just for that particular film.  We were never taken on because it wasn't big enough,  the company.  If you're Gaumont British or Gainsborough, then you will be taken on the staff. But so after that, I mean, I had this wonderful time of learning about films, having to work fast, and limited space with Micky Powell.  The sound man was in a box,  a sort of glass cabinet on wheels.  And the microphone had the amplifier on the end so it swung back and forth. Which was quite a job. You had to do a nice smooth moving of your mike.  Not my mike, but the mike man's.  That was  difficult.

Roy Fowler  12:35  

What were your impressions of Michael Powell?  At that time?  What can you remember?

Adam Dawson  12:40  

Well Michael Powell was a very ,,, I think he was a strict man.  My main impression was he didn't have much, give much time, to the poor stills man. Curtis Reeks, because he had to put in when he could and Michael Powell was always looking at watch, you see, naturally enough.   But I understood that at sometime he had been a stills man himself and I thought that's a bit peculiar. But we used to, used to have to, we went across, lunch was across the road at The Chancellor pub. And then we had something late, we probably have it up on the roof where they have a small canteen late at night. But the other thing was that I learned something about continuity, making continuity notes. Because Sylvia  Cummings was so busy trying to catch up with her typing, that sometimes I'd have to take notes for her as to what happened in the scene and what was going on. In fact, so much so that at the end of the production Sylvia was meant to be going on to another production, the Fred Carney production. So I was lent for a day to show a girl, I think it was Olga Brooks or Olga somebody or other, how to do continuity. She didn't know and it was quite a thing to do for somebody who has just started 

Roy Fowler  14:22  

Indeed.  how long was the picture shooting? How long was the schedule

Adam Dawson  14:26  

three weeks

Roy Fowler  14:27  

Right? Was... Who financed it? Do you remember? Was it a distributor?

Adam Dawson  14:33  

No..  I think it was Rowson Brothers  probably, they'd all got fingers in the pie because Leslie was lighting with the new Plus -X. So he had a light meter all time because we've got This Plus-X to get used to and no, they're all it's all tied up with Wardour Street and the Rowson family were there. New Ideal Pictures. I don't know what happened but the cast was so fantastic. The cast has got Hugh Williams Frances L. Sullivan, Felix Aylmer, Cecil Parker and then John Laurie and Googie Withers in her first role on the films and Sophie Stewart. And Viola Keats was the leading lady, Viola Keats was treated like a most wonderful girl.  She was always talking of orangy  thing and I believe she is, I don't know if she is still alive but she was quite recently still alive.  So I have quite a good experience there. But after that one had to find another job. 

Roy Fowler  15:48  

So were you still living at home?

Adam Dawson  15:51  

No, I'm living in Holland Road.

Roy Fowler  15:54  

Yes. Your family was still in Edinburgh?

Adam Dawson  15:57  

My family had moved down south in 1928.  We moved down to Chalfont St. Giles and it was from that point of view because it made much easier for me I mean, I was down south I wasn't up north.   In fact, I spent most of my time in the summer holidays always down south, and the north was ... The Christmas and Easter I used to go back up to Edinburgh.  So we were down south and that was useful but, no the thing was when we worked the hours we did you can't very well go back to Chalfont St. Giles from Gerrards Cross even if one had a car.  You know you can't do it.

Roy Fowler  16:48  

What hours did you have to work on that particular film?  Were they very long hours?

Adam Dawson  16:54  

All hours.   You start at  half past eight - nine in the morning - and you might finish, you finish maybe midnight, according to what the bosses said.  I mean they want to get on with it according to their schedule. So I think I won't bore you actually with the team because they're on the script. It's got all the people who were on the actual film.

Roy Fowler  17:25  

Yes.  Names are usually a matter of record.  We don't need to go into that.

Adam Dawson  17:30  

John Melonson,   Some people I've never heard of since, so what became of John Melonson,  Robin Carruthers, I don't know.   I've seen Harry Gillam since.

Roy Fowler  17:42  

Yes.   How long were you out of work after that?

Adam Dawson  17:48  

Well, about a year but I got involved with a peculiar,....  put in about a £100, quite a lot of money but somebody left me a legacy of £100 and I put it in to a company called Opticolor which did a very good system but the unfortunate thing is that nobody wants  to rent lenses.  It was a three colour system which was taken in through lens through colour lenses to black and white. And so you had in the ordinary frame you had two there and another along on the other side. And when it was projected  through the right lenses you got a very good colour.

Roy Fowler  18:34  

Was that a British system?

Adam Dawson  18:36  

No. it was a French one.   But, I think you see, this is it, things like that they die because unless you provide the lenses and don't charge for them nobody wants them. They want to have Technicolor or Eastmancolor.

Roy Fowler  18:57  

And Technicolor three strip was coming in at that point presumably

Adam Dawson  19:01  

Yes so I was rather wasting my time but I did carry on looking around for a job..

Roy Fowler  19:11  

What did you do for Opticolor  What was your job there?

Adam Dawson  19:15  

Dog's body.   Quite frankly they just keep me occupied because they got my money

Roy Fowler  19:23  

Your investment 

Adam Dawson  19:24  

They didn't pay me a Sou, you see, but you know you're young and hoping that you're onto something good because somebody else put them on to me,  somebody from Oxford one of my lesser friends.

Roy Fowler  19:38  

How long were they in operation,  Opticolor?

Adam Dawson  19:42  

I don't know, because there was Maurice Bell and Mary Murillo was the person who came from Hollywood, I think she's a British woman who had been over to Hollywood and written scripts and things like that.  I was out of a job, you know? Maurice Bell was a Frenchman

Roy Fowler  20:02  

Were you in at the beginning of the venture here?

Adam Dawson  20:05  

I don't know how they had been going.  I just put £100 in it.

Adam Dawson  20:12  

I'm dwelling on this because obviously there wouldn't be much recorded I wouldn't have thought.   Did they make, anything while you were with them  They made the odd film you know ,with examples ,I saw the films, yes.

Roy Fowler  20:31  

Were they short subjects or just tests 

Adam Dawson  20:34  

Just short things really. 

Roy Fowler  20:36  

For release or just tests?

Adam Dawson  20:38  

Presentation. You know, try get people to put up money.

Roy Fowler  20:42  

But nobody ever did.

Adam Dawson  20:44  

I don't think so.  All I know is she had a quite expensive place to live in Hamilton House off Piccadilly and they had a cinema, the Elephant Studios down in the Elephant and Castle, Walworth Road

Roy Fowler  21:05  

Someone who put up some money then.

Adam Dawson  21:07  

Or somebody's got some money. They had a projector, screen, their own cinema,  small cinema,  very small. But the thing was, eventually I got a job at London Films through Teddy Baird.

Roy Fowler  21:28  

How did you set about getting a job in those days writing letters or calling up...

Adam Dawson  21:34  

Most of time visit studios, and try and see people.  Like, for example, when I went to see Maurice Elvey over at B and D Studios and I always thought it was rather funny that it happened the day before the fire.  I went down there.

Roy Fowler  21:57  

The famous fire.

Adam Dawson  21:59  

You went round and you can get in I mean, I'd see somebody who I've been up at Oxford with a Jeffrey Elliot who's now big shot in Lloyds,  (the A1 at Lloyds, you know that people), who was working as a clapper boy on Midsummer Nights Dream at B I P Studios.  But you just went along and knocked and you would say you knew somebody working there and you wanted to, and could I see him, you might go on the set and see him.  I did get this job   Teddy Baird was working at London Films. He'd gone from  G-B to London Films.

Roy Fowler  22:49  

What year is this now? What year is this now?.

Adam Dawson  22:54  


Roy Fowler  23:03  

So it is after Henry the Eighth?

Adam Dawson  23:07  

Yes, yes, it was.  I had been over to Walton Hall because they were finishing it over there. They were doing Things to Come, and Henry The Eighth.  Henry The Eighth  had been finished then and in fact, when I went to Denham Studios as a third assistant director at four pounds a week I went to a show - they gave a staff show - for Rembrandt. So that gives us all the time, Rembrant had just come out and we saw a trade show.  A Knight without Armour went on.  It was a wonderful film to work on. Terry Baird started doing it, and then they needed him on Elephant Boy and Imlay Watts took over.

Roy Fowler  24:03  

Teddy Baird was a production manager.

Adam Dawson  24:05  

He is a first assistant first director and then he went off but I saw him around the studio , because he's working with Zoltan Korda  on Elephant Boy

Roy Fowler  24:22  

And it was he who hired you and this time you were on the payroll not just for the picture, but on ....

Adam Dawson  24:28  

 Just on the picture. On the picture people were on for the  picture taken on for a picture and I suppose people, you see, I was on an extra picture you might say because Jackie Clayton was a third assistant director before me at Denham. So I knew him well.  But Denham was a very interesting place because we always have an alternative call. A fair weather call or a bad weather call.

Roy Fowler  25:09  

Yes. Before we get on to this specific picture, give me your memories of Denham because this was now a brand new studio was it not?  It had just opened.

Adam Dawson  25:20  

Yes.  it was very, very good and it seemed to be packed with people. In fact, the thing about Denham was that it had really too many productions going on at the same time. We had two studios for Knight Without Armour. One was ????   They were both big ones.  But with the one actually used for a fire scene, there was always a fireman  on the scene doing it. you see.  And then they had seven stages there.   There's a long way to walk. And I assumed that the way to get from A to B was to walk quite briskly and not to run, because you go out into the cold passage from the hot thing and then back into the hot studio. It was quite easy for you to catch a cold and one had to do this about calling artists on the set.  Sometimes you even go down to the telephone room to call the crowd artists on to the set because they had a the microphone there he could speak up to the up to the dressing rooms and up to the canteen. And every day efficiently run, you had a very good operations manager, Lou Thornburn. And later on, of course, we had a man came in later on to cut down the ????????, a fella called Stapleton, known as Stapes, and the thing with Stapes was if you didn't know what you're talking about, you might not  go and see him at all. But that's diverting.   The studio was good. But, of course, the wrong shape.  Pinewood was better shaped because it had the things around the  studio you wanted.

Roy Fowler  27:29  

Rather than long and strung out.

Adam Dawson  27:30  

But it had to, unfortunately, because the site was the wrong shape. And you can't change the river. But, of course, they did a very good lot, down at City Square, which was called City Square after Things To Come.  And we even had a hut, an ordinary wooden hut, where we used to put our Mongols.   All the Mongolian types were put in there because they smelt to high heaven.  But the thing was that when I was there, if I had more than 100 extras, I had more assistants to help me so that was very good.

Roy Fowler  28:12  

Where did they get the Mongolians from?

Adam Dawson  28:15  

I don't know, I don't know where they got them from.  Asked the Association to do it?  I don't know who they ... 

Roy Fowler  28:20  

They were actually Mongolians? 

Adam Dawson  28:21  

Yes, actually Mongolians. They had to have someone to look after them.  They all had these costumes to wear, you know.   

Roy Fowler  28:29  

Maybe Korda had imported them.  Who knows.

Adam Dawson  28:32  

I don't know because we had a railway line on the  other side of the river which was mostly just the one track, where there's some wooden lines going off, you know, and a station and level crossing and things like that.  Everything to fit in with the requirements

Roy Fowler  28:55  

A real locomotive or ... 

Adam Dawson  28:56  

Yes, a real one.

Roy Fowler  28:57  

How did they get that onto the studio?

Adam Dawson  29:00  

Well, I suppose they loaded it onto a low loader and then they had an engine driver to look after the thing.   I don't know what happened to it in the end.

Roy Fowler  29:13  

Probably rotted away.   What other memories do you have of  the film.   That was Miss Dietrich, was it not.   What was she liked to work with? and Donat?

Adam Dawson  29:24  

I used to find to find myself very lucky if I can look through the camera to see what the setup what I want to see what the setup was.  But Jack Carter was very good about that. He was the camera operator at the time and Harry Stradling was lighting.   Harry Stradling was interesting, because Harry Stradling was  some damn Britisher who had gone over to America and it was only because he was born in Scotland, I think, Glasgow or somewhere like that he was able to get a ticket to light film.  . Because they begin to start you know, say when we got good cameramen here, why shouldn't we use one of ours? 

Roy Fowler  30:11  

Yes.  it was probably a matter of a work permit I would have thought rather than a ticket because A C T  wasn't organized...

Adam Dawson  30:18  

Oh no,  He had a Work Permit Yes, definitely Work Permit

Roy Fowler  30:22  

Well, if you were born here he would automatically be able to have a work permit. Is what I'm saying

Adam Dawson  30:27  

Well, we had..  Actually the sound recordist  although he's not given a credit on the film was Max Pagie , and Max Pagie had been brought over at the request of Marlene Dietrich. The thing I noticed about the whole film was a Marlene knew how she should be lit. She be able to tell Harry Stradling where the lights should be. And she's very, very professional.

Roy Fowler  30:57  

She'd learned that from Sternberg presumably she'd learned that from Sternberg presumably ,

Adam Dawson  31:04  

Oh yes she had.  and the only thing of course was the trouble was on the film we were always wondering whether Robert Donat was going to go to  go down with asthma, and he is really quite nervous on the on the set, and he had a thing about eyeline he didn't want people to be in his eyeline, so we would always hide behind the set or something, you know when he was on the set.  But I do remember Laurence Olivier rather sidling up  to me, because he's waiting in the wings in case Robert Donat went  sick.  He's working on ....  the Elizabethan film about victory.

Roy Fowler  31:58  

Fire over England.

Adam Dawson  32:00  

Fire Over England, yes, and with Flora Robson.  So,  he was there.  He was very charming.  The people I found most difficult to get on the set were the people who were not top act artists. People who thought that they were better other people who only had small parts. But otherwise I had no problem getting people on at all.

Roy Fowler  32:30  

Was that your principal function to get people onto the set?

Adam Dawson  32:34  

The other job was to arrive early and issue the tickets and vouchers to the extras. We didn't call them extras, we called them crowd artistes. Never called them extras. The other thing that was interesting then, in my days in Denham, while I was on the floor was to meet up with Danny Angel.  Now Danny Angel was working for his father's firm of costumiers.  And he was a wonderfully smart dapper man.  And it's interesting, later on, to find the poor chap had got the polio out in Calcutta or Burma, you know.  And he recognized me.  I worked for him for about three or four pictures. But everybody's nice. We had an American makeup artist and his wife they're both Americans came over with Guy Pearce and  Pat Pearce There are nice people and all the artists, makeup artist people were good.  We had Wally who was the wardrobe master or mistress you might call him.   He was a bit of a, you know, what we called a queer in those days, that's natural but they're all nice. And I got on well with the unit because Imlay Watts was quite a quite a good bloke. I liked him and we got used to his funny ways.   I'd rather have had Teddy Baird.

Roy Fowler  34:25  

What were his funny ways?

Adam Dawson  34:27  

Well, he had his own little basket of picnic for lunch You know.   Things like that, well probably pretty jolly sensible, saving money.

Roy Fowler  34:36  

Yes, and probably knowing what he was eating to

Adam Dawson  34:39  

Yes, quite. He's a nice bloke but I like Dell, Dell Strother, Greeve Del Strother.  He's a nice bloke and he later on went on to the BBC and did a lot of what became  eventually Enterprises   You know,  sales sort of stuff.

Roy Fowler  35:04  

He was also a first at this stage or a second,

Adam Dawson  35:08  

Second.  The second assistant director's job was to make appointments for all the all the artists, they got the costumes down, and everything made to do with getting them ready for being called and calling them.  My job was to do what I was told.  In fact, Terry Baird was on the set to start with the film. And he was very sensible because whenever he asked me to go off  I had to report back to say what I had done, which meant that he knew that I'd done it that he knew that what he had asked had been done and they haven't gone off and forgotten to do it. So that was a quite a good thing.

Roy Fowler  36:07  

Yes. The director was Feyder it was it

Adam Dawson  36:12  

Jaques Feyder

Roy Fowler  36:13  

 Yes, that's right. What do you remember of him on this picture?

Adam Dawson  36:17  

Well, Jaques Feyder was a sleepy, sleepy man. And he had an assistant who spoke some shocking French but Feyder understood alright.  I can't remember what his name was but Feyder got everything done and I think he got on well I think with with Korda which was the main thing and on the whole I think the film came out quite well and it was edited by American, Francis Lyon who later became a director back back in the States.  And I think Feyder was all right, and we had Lazare Meeson was the art director who is a very good man. And I was always interested in revamping of sets which are done quite often. just changing a bit.  you had your stairs, leave the stairs in and  change things around. And then of course, we had special effects where the scene where the soldiers come and shoulder at bust on the wall and the thing come out and things like that. And of course, we had a lot of dry ice in the forest to give us a misty effect

Roy Fowler  37:49  

Dry ice rather than smoke   Dry ice rather than smoke.

Adam Dawson  37:54  

 Dry Ice. Yeah. 

Roy Fowler  37:55  

Was it a fairly effortless production or was it was it troublesome it went on for a long time didn't it

Adam Dawson  38:03  

It went on for a long time because it had indoor and outdoor locations.  Alternative calls cost a lot of money I think too.

Roy Fowler  38:14  

It wasn't a matter of rewriting as they went along.  It was just the shooting

Adam Dawson  38:19  

I think if we look at this script.   See how much colour pages there are colour pages in and the shooting script,  There will be rewriting, I think, we just had a sheet we took out the old ones and put the new ones in made sure you had the new ones.

Roy Fowler  38:41  

Well i think it's it's known in history as a fairly difficult production now you don't remember it is that way,  that there wasn't a lot of rewriting and I mean,  why did it take so long to shoot do you think, just It can't just be because there were interiors and exteriors and night scenes and day scenes.

Adam Dawson  39:03  

I don't, know I mean, I've seen the finished production they don't seem to have left very much out. You see, you can take a long time shooting outside even when the weather's what you want

Roy Fowler  39:21  

Was Feyder an extravagant director. Did he go to a lot of takes, was he very slow working?

Adam Dawson  39:28  

I don't know. I mean, I haven't looked at the script again, I mean, on the script they might have,  they take what there was you know, sometimes I have to put it over. I probably did that more on later scripts, you know.

Roy Fowler  39:46  

I see.  Now, how about the production side of things.  Korda was the producer presumably

Adam Dawson  39:53  


Roy Fowler  39:55  

But he surely didn't function as the line producer did he? Did you have a line producer as well?

Adam Dawson  40:01  

No, I had a production manager.  Well that was David Cunningham, he did all the production. He was a production manager for all of them.

Roy Fowler  40:11  

How expert was David Cunningham as a production manager?  Was he capable?

Adam Dawson  40:17  

Yes, I think he was very capable.

Roy Fowler  40:19  

Because he was very close to Korda was he not?

Adam Dawson  40:22  

Yes. Well, I think he probably was a bit too close. Perhaps.  He wasn't able to say, well look, we're a bit over running things, you see. I mean, the person who knows really more about the whole thing would be Eileen Corbett, who you've probably already spoken to.

Roy Fowler  40:42  

No, no, we haven't.

Adam Dawson  40:43  

Well, Eileen Corbett did a film about Denham Studios. I think she was involved there. But Eileen Corbett was very close to the  Old House down by the ....

Roy Fowler  40:58  

Oh, we must try to track her down then. 

Adam Dawson  41:05  


Roy Fowler  41:06  

Are you in touch with her?

Adam Dawson  41:07  

Yeah, Eileen Corbett.   I don't know where she is but I expect ACTT might know about her.

Roy Fowler  41:14  

Well possibly.

Adam Dawson  41:18  

She was a continuity girl and later on she did all sorts of other things. Then, of course, we had other continuity girls, Trudy Rouse, I don't know what happened to her, whether she got married.  But I knew Eileen Corbett didn't get married.  Denham was a happy, happy place. I think until we had this disaster after my time. I mean, I wasn't on the floor and I went up to the cutting rooms, you see.

Roy Fowler  42:02  

Well, let me ask you before we get on to the next move your first recollections of Korda or the Korda brothers.  Were they very distant figures?

Adam Dawson  42:17  

They were very distant.  I saw more of  more of Zoltan and Vincent but Alex was very much ?? ?? and everybody was very much on their toes. I've never seen anything quite so amazing as the projectionist.  Because the projectionist in the theatre where he used to view the rushes.  If they wanted to see the film again the speed they rewound the film, and it was nitrate film too, and they rewound and put it on in no time.  Everybody was very much on their toes for Korda, that they appreciated it and made good films and I suppose it was part of your job,  you will do things quickly.

Roy Fowler  43:19  

Was Korda in the habit of coming onto the set or did he just see the rushes?

Adam Dawson  43:25  

He came on the set once or twice.  He didn't come on very much, he let people get on with their jobs, which was right, unless he was directing himself.  No, he mostly let people get on with it, then he'd see the cuts.  As things were cut together, he'd see them.  How it was getting on.

Roy Fowler  43:51  

Were there retakes as you went along, as he saw the material would he order retakes?

Adam Dawson  43:59  

No.  I don't remember much in the way of a retake at all.

Roy Fowler  44:01  

So really, it was shot in a quite businesslike fashion.

Adam Dawson  44:05  

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, very much.

Roy Fowler  44:08  

Because the legend of the Korda era is of great waste and inefficiency. I think it maybe based on that book by Jeffrey Dell.

Adam Dawson  44:16  

Oh maybe, maybe. I never worked when Korda was actually directing. I don't know how much ...

Roy Fowler  44:23  

I didn't mean Korda so much as a director but as a producer, and Denham in those days that it  became very wasteful. But it's interesting to to hear you give a different impression.

Adam Dawson  44:35  

I mean, we got the breakdowns and you got the maybe a few number of takes we had. I don't know. But then I went because I worked on another film you see, that was for Korda,  The Return Of The Scarlet Pimpernel that was for Korda as well. . And a different director.

Roy Fowler  45:00  

Right. Is that the next in line?  After Knight Without Armour

Adam Dawson  45:05  


Roy Fowler  45:05  

Right.  Did you have a break in between or did you go straight on to....? 

Adam Dawson  45:09  

No.  I had a break in between and I was looking around trying to find a job you know, One did do   In fact, I'm not quite sure of the times but I did go to see Julius Hagen, Julius Haygen Productions at Twickenham, where they used to make these Quickies, they used to have two production units and three editors working all the time.  And I went over there because a fellow called John Ball who was a production manager was thinking they were going to take on other production staff. There was another third assistant director required and it was going to be over the Gate Studios at Elstree, Borehamwood, also called Whitehall Studios but unfortunately that fell through because of the fire at B and D,  B and D moved out of the Gate Studios.  So that was bad luck. But I went round to Rock Studios, Southall, Pinewood was just about starting and Pinewood was a bit on the looming, you know, because Rank was moving over there. So I had been looking around for work. And not married or anything and living at home it wasn't so bad. And so the next film I got was The Return Of The Scarlet Pimpernel which was with Barry K Barnes who'd been in a film This Man Is News before that, a  newspaper story which was made over at Pinewood,  and directed by  Hanns Schwarz and, and lit by Mutz Greenbaum.

Adam Dawson  47:33  

And so Mutz was waiting for his naturalization paper to come through.  Max Green he became.

Roy Fowler  47:43  

Max Green.   I was talking to Roy Boulting over the weekend and he said that Mutz was one of the two best cameramen he's ever worked with.

Adam Dawson  47:55  

Mutz. Yeah, yeah. He is very good. Yes.

Roy Fowler  48:02  

So tell me about The Return Of The Scarlet Pimpernel, what your memories are of that

Adam Dawson  48:09  

Well,  really, the menace in that was the director.  Hanns Schwarz, who was an absolute so and so.   He treated his continuity girl like dirt. You know, he had no sort of manners.

Roy Fowler  48:25  

Where was he from? Germany, Austria, 

Adam Dawson  48:28  

Germany or Austria.   He was one or Korda's friends. I think.  But  I mean, the film went alright, it's got a good cast.   Youv'e got the cast list there.   You see, it's got  a good cast. And it went well.  Its all black and white.

Roy Fowler  48:54  

Was it entirely studio based? Did you do everything at Denham?

Adam Dawson  49:00  

We did it all at Denham.   We did have a few exteriors. And then of course, a lot of the stuff was stock shots, you know, the guillotine falling and things like that. I think Philip Charlot got those from the original Pimpernell.

Roy Fowler  49:16  

Did he?. 

Adam Dawson  49:16  

Yes.  I mean, as long as you didn't want to remove our stuff.

End of Side 1 


Adam Alexander Dawson was born in  Edinburgh , son of Alexander Bashall Dawson and Aileen Twentyman Smithers. Among his films are “Knight Without Armour” (1937), “The Conquest of the Air” (1940), “The Glass Mountain” (1949), the Dr Who episodes "Spearhead from Space" (1970), “A Place in the Country” (1967), The World of Coppard” (1968), “The World His Challenge” (1967), “The Highland Jaunt” (1968).

Adam Dawson is a descendant of both the Dawson whisky family of St Magdalenes, Linlithgow and the Gillonwhisky family of Leith.

Adam was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Stowe School, and The Queen's College, Oxford where he was President of the Oxford University Film Society. He joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment and from 1942 to 1946 he edited and produced many training films for the Army while in India. He subsequently worked for Nettlefold Studios and for the BBC as a Film Editor. While working for the BBC he edited a number of productions, including Z-cars, Dr Who and The Benny Hill Show, although he refused to have his name in the credits of the latter