Adolph Simon

Adolph Simon
Family name: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
16 Oct 1987
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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​Q:​This is the recording by the ACTT History Project on the 16th of October 1987, with Monsieur Adolph Simon, originally French, but now a long resident in England. Mr Simon, tell me when and where were you born?


ADOLPH:​The 13th of March uh 1895.

​Q:​Right, so that makes you 93 this year.



​Q:​Yes, yes. A lovely age. Ok, can you tell us a little about where you were born in France? Were you born in Paris?


ADOLPH: ​I, I was born in Paris, and I was brought here. I work at Pathé in France firstly, and I had a good run to hold a different part of wo-, of the uh, the film making there.

​Q: ​How did you come to go to work at Pathé Frères?


ADOLPH:​Well when I left school I, I was uh, um liking about the ci-, I liked the cinema [???] but I’ll try to [???], but fortunately one of the, my father’s [coughs] colleague was a re-, relation to the di-, to the director of the, the Pathé factory in Joinville. So, he got me a job there.

​Q:​What was your first job?


ADOLPH:​ Well I went to work in the, the, in the offices first, but I found out that it was boring, and I sort of impulse to move more. So, I went into the fabrication, you see.


And I was lucky to go through several processes: printing and developing and all that, you see.​And then a job came in London as a foreman to go to work in the lab as well, and there the manager of the London branch there pick me up.


He thought probably I was convenient and intelligent enough to do the job, you see. So, that’s how I came in Lon- … I was brought here in London, in 1913, you see.

​Q:​You were 18?


ADOLPH:​Yes, that’s right. And of course I worked there, and then there was a, they had a London firm used to have a, a branch in America – not America, South Africa I meant, where of course there was not enough work to really keep an office open there.


It would not pay. So, they put that work onto, they made arrangements with the African Film, Film Trust, you see. Well, to cut a long story short, they had a job vacant there, and I said I’ll have a go, because I was anxious, you know, to travel and, and see the world a bit, instead of sitting in one job [???]


Well I did, and I went to South Africa. I got the job there, and well they, they had nothing particular, except it was quite interesting job, and you know, you got to do everything, everything yourself. They took picture and developed the negative and all our prints went there to, to [???], and then sent [???] to either New York or where it would be [???] – New York or Paris.

​Q:​These were actuality films, were they?


​ADOLPH:​Yeah, yes. Well and the same time were documentary work, you see.

​Q:​Yes. What sort of things did you film?


ADOLPH:​Well, the, there’s nothing really striking there. All the thing that go by, except there was different climate and a different thing. And things relating to the work there, regarding the country, the gold mine and all, all those other thing.

​Q:​Your daughter tells me you were the first man ever to take aerial photographs?


ADOLPH:​Where? In, that’s in China.

​Q:​Ah, yes, right. So, we’ll come to that. So, you’re in South Africa when? Do you remember the year?


ADOLPH:​Yes, 1914, you see. I went there, I got there in June and [???] the 1914 war started, and I, I had to come back to join the army, you see.

​Q:​The French army?


ADOLPH:​The French [???] conscription, got to join the army. So, that was …

​Q:​Tell me, were you, as it were, the entire crew in South Africa, or did you …


ADOLPH:​No, there was, there was an established crew there, but I had, I rebuilt there, they, they had only a rough, a rough workplace [???] I rebuilt, rebuilt that and fit it with better equipment, which did a lot of [???]

​Q:​Were you actually working with the camera?


ADOLPH:​Yeah, with the, you were doing everything really. [???], [???], camera, you develop your [???], print it and all, do whatever there was to do with it.

​Q:​Do you remember what the camera was?



​Q:​Do you remember what sort of camera?


ADOLPH:​I used a Pathé camera.

​Q:​A Pathé camera. Was that very heavy?


ADOLPH:​Well not particularly.

​Q:​No, so you could get around fairly well.


ADOLPH:​[???] pictures here somewhere.

​Q:​Right, ok. Well we’ll look at those when we’ve finished recording. So, you had to come back to Europe, to join the war?


ADOLPH:​That’s it.

​Q:​As a soldier or as a cameraman?


ADOLPH:​As a soldier. As a soldier. I … a funny thing to mention there. When I was at school, or the last few year I was at school, and I had, they, the years I was working in the, in Paris, I used to fly kites, you see.


And at that time there were, there were not many planes about, and so we could fly kites as we wanted. And we, I used to go, we had society, I used to go to a society and we used to have a competition with other people and all that. It was quite a sport, you see.


And we had man-lifting kites; that is to say with a train, several kites together, make a train, and they take you up in the air. And my first flight really has been lifted by a kite and taken up to about 100 feet up in the air. It was quite a [???], you know, even-, eventment.

​Q:​Were you tied to the kites?


ADOLPH:​Oh, no, we had a little basket …

​Q:​Little basket?


ADOLPH:​Yeah, a little basket, yeah.

​Q:​And did you photograph from up there?


ADOLPH:​No, I, no, I have no photograph of that particu-… I have photograph of, of the kites somewhere. I told you we had society and thing like that, and have competition. And when the war started, of course they, they conscript you and [???], they put you in the infantry.


I was put in a regiment of infantry, 76, and we had a big painful trip and there all the time were jabbed [???] jabbed for something [???] We were always in pain, suffering from a jab. We were …


Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was [???] an infantry regiment, and 76, and sent down the south of France for the training. I got on alright. I got the training alright. And one day I’m called to the office; a chap said “Oh, you lucky so-and-so”.


​He say “You going to Paris, to the Liaison Centre at, at Versailles.” So, that time, you know, did not [???] to me but that time they were building an air force, you see, at the beginning of the war, and they took all what they could take, people who had any know-, any knowledge of flying [???]


So they rope in the kite societies, and they sent us in the air force. And very likely, well almost likely, that thing saved my life, because if I had [???] on the infantry, you know, the losses were very big, specially in the beginning.

​Q: ​Indeed.


ADOLPH:​So, I may say my flying kite [???] saved my life, you see. One thing …

​Q:​Did you train as a pilot?



​Q:​Did you train as a pilot, as a flyer?


ADOLPH:​Yeah, yes. As a, as an observer, with a balloon.

​Q: ​Right.


ADOLPH:​You see, a balloon observer, and we were, you see, I was [???] sort of to something more useful, I asked to be [???] I was sent to school for training [???] you know, and then passed ok and was [???].


And then I came back on the [???] balloon company. Well there, it seems funny, so well we were, you see, in the balloon, from the basket, we were speaking on the phone with the [???], you know, the, a phone line through the [???], which the plane, the observation plane, they had nothing.


The only communication they had was the Morse da-di-da-di-da-di-da, you know – all of, all that business, which lasted very long, took a long time to say something, while in the balloon, from the basket, we could talk to anybody. And so we did.


Often on operation I’ve spoken to general, where one on the phone to us, to know, to say oh what’s the thinking on the, on the battle, what’s going on here, what’s going on there, which we could see by the smoke going on. Often in good visibility you could see the men going over the top that were in the attack [???], things like that.


So anyway, I had that for, I did that till the end of the war, and I had four, about, I had four hundred hours, just over four hundred hours of observation in the air.

​Q:​Did the Germans try to shoot the balloons down?


ADOLPH:​They did. They did, they …

​Q:​Did they ever succeed?


​ADOLPH:​They had, the balloon was a lovely target, and I had my share of trouble. I, I was shot down three time; once by gunfire. They, they used to [???] a long gun, a naval gun, that they put on a little railway, you see.


And they used to shoot to us on that. Well, they did not do much damage, but when it was getting too near, you see, the captain himself of the balloon, who has got responsibility and he’s got our lives’ responsibility, [coughs] he had to decide to move [???]


So that was their object, you see. When we were moving, we were not working. Well and of course they used to shoot the balloon in flame. Well I was attacked several time, and once I was attacked by five, one after the other, five Hawker – that’s ten machine gun blasting at you. Very unpleasant, really.


But anyway [???] So I had, had, anyway I had to jump because you knew there was going to happen in the time it take for the balloon to inflame and burn, so it’s best to get away quick.

​Q:​How did you jump out? With a parachute?


ADOLPH:​Yes, yes. So I was shot down three time, once by gunfire, and I did not jump there, but they, they were, one, one was, one shell exploded very close and I’m surprised I did not get [???] But [???] if you’re not [???]


So anyway that time I did not jump, but I came down fairly quick with a balloon with quite a lot of holes in it. And the other two time, well I was just, just shot down and had to jump, you see, because you don’t want to wait once, once it start burning, you don’t want to wait. You want to get away quick.

​Q:​I’ll take your word for it.



​Q:​So you had four years, almost, of that?



​Q:​Four years of that, almost?





ADOLPH:​Yeah, but I was observer from the beginning of, of, the beginning of ’17 to, to the end, and I got four hundred hours, around four hundred hours, hours in the air.


And I [???] but we were doing very good work because we were communicating quick by phone, and some time, I had some time, specially in, in operation, you know, when they were trying to, you know improve the line in places, often I had a general on the phone, asking what was going on, and what I could see, you see, which he could not see on the ground.


Interesting work.

​Q:​1918 you were demobilised?


ADOLPH:​Yes. 1918 I was demobilised and then …

​Q:​Did you go back to Pathé?


ADOLPH:​Yes. I did not go back to South Africa. I [???]. So anyway, I went back to Pathé in London, you see.

​Q:​That was your choice, was it, to come to London?


ADOLPH:​Yeah, yeah.

​Q:​And what was your …


ADOLPH:​Yes, [???] had been before I’d left. So I had [???] so I, I went back to London.

​Q:​What was the Pathé operation in London? Was it to service the French news reel?


ADOLPH:​Yes, oh yes, this French news reel, and published here, you see, as well.

​Q:​There was a Pathé reel … of course there was, yes.


ADOLPH:​Yeah, there’d been [???] it was called Pathé Gazettes, then after the, which started which was published first in 1910. And after, it was called Pathé News.


It lasted till recent year when the television took over, you see. See, once television was, went on the air, it was finished for us, because it’s no use putting news that they have seen three days before on television, you see. [???]

​Q:​Was it very hard work, your work then? Long hours and lots of travel?


ADOLPH:​Well, it, it varies. You had [???] sometimes or, you see, you had to travel or drive all night somewhere, and all that was quite hard work. On the other hand you had some good days, easy day, easy days.

​Q:​How many would go out on a job?


ADOLPH:​On a job like that, a job like to fit the news reel – there were two.



ADOLPH:​Two or three, according to the importance, you see. You had the car with your camera and sound gear, you see.

​Q:​Well sound, not yet. Not yet sound. We’re still in 1918, ‘19, yes?


ADOLPH:​[???] sound only started in 1930.

​Q:​Right, ok. So when you first came back to London to work for Pathé Frères, two or three of you would go off. I was wondering who did what? If you went off to shoot something, how did you divide the responsibilities? Would there be a cameraman and …?


​ADOLPH:​To cover outside there’d be a, there’d be a cameraman, and there …

​Q:​Were you yet a cameraman?


ADOLPH:​Yeah, yes, I had been, I’d been a cameraman long before. And, and after that, when sound came in, well that introduced a lot of, more work, and [???] difficulties, you see.


​Some people said oh it won’t last, but, but you know, it’s like a lot of things they say it won’t last, and it last for good. Once it’s there, it’s there.

​Q: Yes, indeed.



ADOLPH:​I know what you feel like. Yeah, well, where are we?

​[WOMAN]​To China, after the First World War.


ADOLPH:​Yeah, wait a minute.

​Q:​I think we’re just about here.


ADOLPH:​Yeah, that’s it.






ADOLPH:​Yes, 19- … I remember. The firm had a job in, in China, so I say I will go…

​Q:​Right, ok.


ADOLPH:​I’ll take it because I’ll learn something, you see. And I had a trip to China; that was interesting to travel. In fact it was a very, very interesting trip. I went to, there for two years, but I did not stay the two years.


What happened, they, when I took the job [???] 

​[Oh, I’m sorry, I’m causing you trouble]


When …

​Q:​Sorry, we broke your train of thought. You said you were in China. You went for two years, but you didn’t spend …


ADOLPH:​Yeah, that’s it. I went to China. I went, took the job that was in the firm, in, in the Pathé firm in Shanghai, yeah. [???] you see, with Pathé [???] on it. Well anyway, doesn’t matter.


But what happened, when I took the job, accepted it to go over there, the silver dollar was at a very good level, very near the gold dollar. And you see over there it’s the silver dollar that’s got the, the Mexican dollar.


And it happened that when I got to, I discovered that it’s a long journey, that in those days you got to go by water – 45 days on the boat. Well anyway, getting, when I was on the way, yes, when I was in Hong Kong, when the boat called in Hong Kong, a stop, I saw all the rate of exchange, the silver dollar had dropped down quite a wallop.


And [???] I find out that I would be earning less than in Europe, you see. So I say what’s the use of …? So well anyway, when I told the boss there, he was, he was a bad Frenchman, that fellow, the boss there. He had a very bad name in Shanghai.


He was a mean, I’m going to say a mean bastard, you see – using, using good English. He had a bad name over there. So, that man, when I got there, and I told him that, I say well look here, I’m not going to contract with you for several year. I earned, now I earn less than I was earning in Europe, so it’s not much good be-, working here.


So I said, but as you spent quite a lot of money to being me here, I [???] £102, the fare from London to Shanghai, I said I’ll work a year. At that money, I said I’ll be losing money, and at the end of the year we’ll review, that if you can pay more, alright I’ll stop, if you can’t, I’ll go.


He said alright. So it did happen that way. The man, as I say, was a mean, mean so-and-so. When we got to the end of the year, he, he would not give me more money. So I said well, you take me back. You see, what happen [???] circumstances there was a Russian that had come over from somewhere, who used to work for the YMCA.


Called himself a cameraman. Well anyway, he did [???] for that. Of course he, the boss, grabbed that fellow for almost half the price of what he was paying me, was good, but I don’t know what his work’s like. But I know he used to be a gambler and a drinker, so that doesn’t go well with our jobs, as, as you know, you see.


Well, so I did my year, and when the year was finished he, he asked, [???] he asked me to stop. There was, there was several jobs in, in, there was two job in, in Peking and another one somewhere. Anyway I stop 18 months there.


And he, I enquired and by law, by French law - I’d been to the Consulate and ask - and what the law was that he’s brought me, he’s got to take me back, you see. He’s got to bring me back, that is the law. So I say well, I’m half way around the world, I’m going to treat myself to a world tour.


So I book my ticket. He wanted to see my ticket, to see that I really was going. I show him. He say alright. So anyway, I [???] and I booked to, to San Francisco. At the same time I saw Japan. I stop, I stop [???] in, in Yokohama. 


And [???] it was one way a train, and they all put their wooden shoes [???] just like [???] bench, you see. It made a clatter in the, in the space and it was a quite typical, typical sound at that place.

​Q:​Was China in interesting place to be in those days?


ADOLPH:​I [???] interesting thing.

​Q:​Yes? Can you tell us about them?


ADOLPH:​In, in work, oh yeah.

​Q:​In work?


ADOLPH:​I had, to start with, I must tell you I was armed. I always had a gun on me, when I was in Shanghai, you see, when I … And when one of the adventure I had [???]


I hate snakes, and I, I had to face one. The place where I was going to, there were very big floods [???] somewhere, in the region called, there was a, there where a river had overflowed with the bank, with rain, you see.


And the rain had [???] the, the country was, quite a lot of country was flooded. And there was a water tower in a place for the railway line, you see. I was on the railway line there, because I had water on both [???] 


So I went up that water tower, and from there I could see 14 villages, but of course little villages of about five or six houses, houses all together.


Well I could see, from that water tower, I could see 14 of them, and I had a [???] where you don’t, you don’t see the 14, but you see a lot spread out in [???] all in the water.


​And the trouble was that it’s, it’s a good thing I took them that time, because the following day when I came back, nearly all those houses [???] in the water because they’re built over earth, you know, and they’ve been soaked, you know at the base [???] they just crumble and people swam.


There was quite a few bodies floating about. Now round there I had, I hate snakes, and of course I would have had to fight one. Walking on that railway line and, you know, there’s just one with, just one with, with water on both sides. I come to a spot – I had just one, one help, one China man with me, to help me.


He did not speak English [???] you, you can make yourself understand with gestures [coughs]. Well [???] we, we saw that snake, nicely coiled on the, slap in the idle there, and so I had to pass.


So, to pass one side or the other was very risky, so I say he’s got to go, whether he likes it or not, you see. And I put the gun in my, my small gun in the left hand, in, in case [???], you see. You got to take a terrible [???], but you take it, you’ve got to face it.


And I went with a gun as close as I could, you see, gradually, gradually. Well I thought he was going to … It was one of those big, he was quite a big chap, with a flat head, with a flat head.



ADOLPH:​And when I thought he was going to [???] I let the shot go, and I must have blown his head off, you see. So, I did not say [???] what happened. I ask my chap - he was frightened to death about [???] behind, and he say, he point out that maybe it jump on something in the water.


Well I must have blown his head off, but anyway he was out the way. That’s all I wanted.

​Q:​Any other adventures like that that you remember?


ADOLPH:​No, no. No, going to that flood district there, at the [???] river, I had to pass over a long bridge, and a long bridge over the river which, a torrent, you see.


And it’s the railway line there. That’s all. There’s no floor, just the rail and the sleepers. And, you know, gap in between. And I had to pass round that because you see I had the feeling that the following morning there was all those houses there would be gone, you see.


So, I, I, I can tell you that’s one of the few places where I’ve really been afraid, be-, because at night and there were strangely enough of all places we met, I met there a fellow I knew in China [???], a fellow, a doctor Peter of the American Red Cross.


And he was going to Peking to collect [???], and he did not want to miss them. So we said well, we’ve got to cross that bridge, and we’ve got some coolies to carry our thing, and we did not like the look of them. And he said, I said what do you think? He say yeah. I say well [???] we got to, to frighten them, that’s all, you see.


Let’s get our guns out and make like if we load them. So we did get our guns out, you know. And well you see, they knew what tool … See they were already loaded because it’s, it’s no use travelling with a gun that’s not loaded.


Well anyway that went, but it was very frightening, [???] with the water underneath [???]. And we [???] coolies [???] what they were going to do. Well anyway, they were, you see, that thing we took our guns out to frighten them, well it did work, you see. They went [???] quite well.

​Q:​Tell me about filming from an aeroplane in China.


ADOLPH:​Oh, uh that’s in, in Kampung. There is a picture, there is a picture somewhere of me in the cockpit …

​Q:​Tell us about it first, then we’ll look at the picture later.


ADOLPH:​Yeah, well, they, I, they, oh yes … I went over there for the south – see China was not united at that time. There was a bit of, of a hotchpotch. There were some warlords, you know, fighting each other, and there was the north and the south.


Well in the south there was Sun Yat-sen [???] another bounty. So I went to film, to make a film for Sun Yat-sen, and then that’s where I say well, you, you will want a, a picture of Kuomintang and all that from the air.


And so that worked right.​Another time one of, a carpenter built with a floor foraged by two wood, built a, a well, it can’t be a platform, but [???] to fix a camera, and bolted it [???] camera – there’s a picture here somewhere.


So we went and I took a picture up in the air, probably the first picture taken in the air in China [???]



ADOLPH:​Alright. One, one funny thing. In, one, one of the, the last trips I did in China, there was a, a, in Peking, to open – not me - but to take the opening of the Roosevelt foundation.


The Roosevelt [???] given them a, a complete hospital, you see, built there, on that whole [???] And, the, I went for the opening and all that. I offered to take pictures of it.


And coming back, on the way back, I, I asked the – the train are quite good there – I ask-, just European [???] train. There, there were not many people, so I say well, I’ll take second class, I’ve got a chance to be left alone.


She said second, second fla-, class you’ve got two, two bunk, one top and one, you know, at seat level. And there were not many people, so I say, I took second class, and actually when, I saved, saved quite a few dollar, you know.


And the, so I got, I left, we left thinking alright, I was alone in there, and I hope I would be alone till Shanghai. But in a place called, called [???], we stopped there - that was the middle of the night.


And two fellows came in my compartment as [???] Two Chinamen [???] and they were, talked for a while, the two of them. And they talked [???] not half asleep but not quite awake, I say what the bloody hell are they talking about, you see, because funny it’s language.


​It did not sound like a European language, it didn’t sound … I just could not make out [???] occasion already what I could pick up. Well anyway, I did not worry any more. The attendant of the train came and, came and told them [???], so one went away and the other one got in his bunk, and that’s all [???]


Well, in the morning, daylight, that chap who got out firsts, you see there’s a, to go to the compartment – they say compartment with a lavabo, you know – is a [???] but for pe-, for people. And [???]


There was, there was that Chinaman, there was a white man. Was a white man dressed in full China dress, you see. So anyway, when he came back, say how do you do? [???] The custom we ask always when you meet somebody over there, you don’t want to make any mistake, you always ask him where he come from.


So I say where do you come from? He say oh, I’m a French Canadian. I come from, and I’m in, there’s a, a centre of missionaries there, and I’m going home for a rest. I say oh, I thought that people were not [???] they were going there to die.


I meant they were working there. Did they die or is it, you going back? He say oh, I am still quite young. They, [???] there asked the Pope that which will not be worth, that will not be nice to let you die there, to [???] to fetch you back and be cured and then go back, you see.


So he was a French Canadian, and he is speaking French very well, a well educated fellow. We had very interesting talk together, to Shanghai, and I took him to the restaurant car - on my expenses of course. And we woke up in the morning; we had a very interesting trip. He was speaking French perfectly, you see. That’s funny how you meet, you see, people … So we said goodbye to each other in Shanghai station. He was met by people there [???] I said goodbye and wished him luck. And what happened to him, I don’t know.

​Q:​The material that you shot in China, where was it sent to?


ADOLPH:​They used to send to, when it was of French interest, I sent it to Paris, or the French, I sent it to Paris. Then if it was of English interest, I sent it to Pathé London, and if, if it was of American interest, I sent it to, to New York, you see. Yes, and they used to pay so much a foot [???]

​Q:​They paid you or they paid the Bureau?


ADOLPH:​Oh, they paid there, they paid the office. Yes, that was the fairest thing.

​Q:​What was your favourite story that you shot there?


ADOLPH:​Well, it’s difficult to say. One day the, the opening of the, as I said, the Rockefeller Foundation, but there was another one I took before that. I took [???] in Peking, in the old Peking. I can’t remember what it was about, that. Ah, no. There’s a picture there somewhere.

​Q:​Well we’ll look at the pictures. You left China then and started your turn around the other half of the world. Was that San Francisco, you told me?


ADOLPH:​That’s it, right. I said I’ve been one half; might as well go the other half. And went to San Francisco – that, 20, 28 days journey across the Pacific. Very interesting, but it was funny on board how you mixed up with people. We were three in that cabin - a large cabin, quite comfortable.One Frenchman and one Englishman, and one American, you see. Anyway, we had a good trip together, but the, the Englishman there …


The Englishman in there was a, was an old, an old [???] chap. Well it’s quite a distance [???] but he had his own funny ways, you see. And that fellow, he had a shop in Shanghai, and he used to go to, he used to go to America every year to, to buy, to, to buy stuff to fill up his shop, you see.And he used to go, he only had a little attaché case, you know. And we, he had only enough for the journey, clothes and shirt and something like that there. Nothing else, no other luggage. He said one year, one year I’ve been caught – the, the, you know, porters were on strike somewhere, and I had to lug my stuff, so now I don’t [???] I send the stuff [???] and [???] just [???] you see. And that was, he was quite a decent fellow. We had all long chat. He was very, a very clever chap really. And then the other one was a, a Seventh missionary, an American missionary of [???] the Seventh Day Adventists, you see.

He was quite a decent fellow too. We made a funny mixture. Anyway, we got on all together very well, and then before the end I’ll show, show you all the, the whole [???], the, the missionary, Christian, Christian the old [???], you see. So, like that the old [???] quite sure he was right one way or, one way or another.



​ADOLPH:​China [???} I crossed the state, I was not, I was not surprised. Of course it was a bad time; it was the Partition, you know, and well, there was all sort of things going on, you know, against the bootleggers, all the rest of it.

So I kept armed, I kept my gun in my pocket, my small gun. You never know what happen in those … You might find yourself in an affray [???] So, when I got [???], and I met some friend in New York, where they entertain me for a while.

But the stay, I had to stay there to wait for a boat, and life was expensive, very expensive that time. So well, anyway, I would like to come home, and I had the chance to go round the world. Well I took it, because as it is, well, I will not have it again, you see.

​Q:​Let’s go back to your beginnings at Pathé in 1914, 1913.


ADOLPH:​No, my beginning at Pathé were in France, but of course I had when I left, when I left school. That was in 1910, you see. Then here in England - I was brought here, as I said before in 1913.

​Q:​Can you tell us your memories of the company at that time, in Joinville?


ADOLPH:​Well, yes. Well, there was nothing special about them, just, just like any other firm.

​Q:​But what did they do? What was their work?


ADOLPH:​[???] cinema.

​Q:​Well, yes, I know, but what kind of cinema? Were they making feature films or short story films, serials?


ADOLPH:​Oh, Pathé, well, not the, they only made any, they, what they were doing – well, you may remember it – they were running a newsreel, you see. [coughs] And they were doing some, occasionally they were doing, they had, they tried making a few film, but not a lot.

​Q:​So you only ever worked on the newsreel side?


ADOLPH:​[???] myself, yes.

​Q:​Because the French film industry was very important at that time. They also had a factory, didn’t they? They made cameras …


ADOLPH:​Oh, yeah, they make all, made all their equipment. Well, here in London we made quite a lot of, of our machinery.

​Q:​You’ve left America. What year was that? 1920?


ADOLPH:​’22. Well I was in New York in 1922.

​Q:​Yes, and you came then back to London or to France?


ADOLPH:​To London yes.

​Q:​All this time you’ve been still an employee of the company?


ADOLPH:​And all the time, see my motto was, I told you on the, that I was losing money on, in China, you know, as compared with Europe. But I had enough to live, and I still, I was [???] experience, you see, which it always come in useful.

​Q:​We’re back in London. What did you do when you got back to London, in ’22?


ADOLPH:​Well, I work in the, in the, in the laboratory as, as second manager, assistant manager.

​Q:​Where was the laboratory?


ADOLPH:​Well, in London.

​Q:​But whereabouts, do you remember?


ADOLPH:​In Wardour Street.

​Q:​On Wardour Street, right.


ADOLPH:​Which is the street of the cinema.

​Q:​So you managed the laboratory. Did you go out filming too?


ADOLPH:​On, well, my work there was not, but occasionally when there was a, when there were many camera man wanted, I was doing camera, camera work, you see.

​Q:​How many reels were issued? Two a week?


ADOLPH:​Two a week.

​Q:​And how many copies?


ADOLPH:​Oh, we had, we had to do 250 copies.

​Q:​What would be the timetable, the dates, the deadlines? When was the reel locked off, and how much time did you have to print the 250 copies?


ADOLPH:​Well, I know we always worked late, you see, to finish, to put all the, the latest stuff we could, we could put in. [coughs] Of course, as soon as television came, that was the end of it.

​Q:​Oh, but that’s much later. We’re still in the ‘20s. So after you were the laboratory manager, then what? Did you back to being a cameraman? Which did you prefer to be?


ADOLPH:​No, no, I, I took, I went out to, well, it was still in the Pathé organ-, organisation, I went out to do the, you know the small film …



ADOLPH:​Yes, that’s it. Well, I took charge over that, built a factory in the North Circular Ward, and then we carry on with it as mu-, best as we could. And well, there was, that was very nice, but there was a fault: the process was not right, you see.

And the emulsion [???] the, if a film has been stored in a shop, you see, all the damp [???]… Once when the customer send it in and put it in the [???], the emulsion came off and celluloid was [???] emulsion down the bottom.

So, and then the supreme chief technician of Pathé from Paris came, and told me what was wrong, how [???], so I saw [???] process is not right. He said what? So anyway, I [???] on it, just like in the [???] the emulsion drop off, and the other one’s alright, you see.

​So I say well here you are. Oh, you’ve got something wrong. I got nothing wrong. Here is the [???], you see. [???] And he decided to sack me. So I said alright, thank you very much, and that was that.

​Q:​You got fired?


ADOLPH:​Oh, I got fired, you see. Well, not for long. I, I turned round [???] train here, and, but there was no opening, because everybody, they, they’re all very nice to me but there they have no, no work for a man of my calibre, you see. So I said well I’ll go to Paris and see.

I got to Paris in the morning. I took the last train, I got to Paris in the morning at, it was 7 o’clock, and I went in the hotel that was there particularly next door to Pathé in the, in the place in Paris. There I had a good wash, a good shave, and when I thought they would be open, I went.

I met an old friend. I told him what had happened. I said I got no job. He say well, alright, well you got one now. Alright, so he say the Americans are coming here, to bring the sound, and show us how to work it, so  you just the right man because not only you speak English, but you know the technical term, which they had people speaking English there, but, I mean, when you start talking, you know, technique [???], they’re useless because they’re, they got no word to translate [???]

So anyway, I, I worked there for, at the beginning of sound. I was quite happy there. I [???], I learned sound, all the machinery attached to it that time. They were doing sound with a, a five ton car, you see, with a converter in it. Beautiful machinery, and that was, that was in 1930, you see.

​Q:​Before we talk about sound, could I ask you a question about 9.5? You were one of the pioneers introducing 9.5 into this country, yes?


ADOLPH:​Well, well, yes, but, yes, Pathé introduced it, and I, myself and I never had any [???] to treat it, you see, I could see what happening. The process was not right, and the film was not right. So it used to go by, you, you can do all the best, you could, you could have everything right, and it still would go wrong, you see.

It disappeared soon after, you see.

​Q:​I was wondering if you’ve ever talked with Kevin Brownlow?



​Q:​Kevin Brownlow. Do you know Kevin?



​Q:​He is an enormous 9.5 enthusiast. It was he who reconstructed most of Abel Gance’s Napoléon from 9.5.


ADOLPH:​Oh, yes.

​Q:​I’m sure he’d love to talk with you, if you’d like to talk with him some time, because he grew up as a boy with 9.5. Anyway, the sound: what sound system did you start with?


ADOLPH:​RCA. Yes, we started with RCA. That, we start, that’s 1930, you see. You see, I, I was in Paris. I had to teach them, to teach them in France how to use the gear, because, as I just said, they, they had people speaking English but not the technical terms. So they were pra-, practically useless, you see.

​Q:​What was the sound equipment used for? Feature films?



​Q:​Yes. No. What was he working on? Newsreels or on feature films?


ADOLPH:​On newsreel or …

​Q:​Always newsreel?


ADOLPH:​Newsreel and well, we also there we had studios [???] got their studio fixed up for sound.

​Q:​The RCA that you were working was on a combined system?


ADOLPH:​Oh, yes.

​Q:​Picture and sound together, no?


ADOLPH:​No, two film at that time. Then after that for news work, we had the two combined together, you see, to make it simple, because then you only got one camera, and you got less [???] to manage [???]

​Q:​It was more portable.



​Q:​Had you been technically minded before this, because that was quite a jump, to go from the camera and the lab suddenly to sound. Was it difficult to learn?


ADOLPH:​No, no. No, you see, I, it, there are [???] send it over the first wagon in France with two Americans, and we all got on very well.

​Q:​So now you are a sound recordist on the newsreel. You’re back here in London?


ADOLPH:​I was, I was, but now I’m retired and I’m glad of it.

​Q:​You were then to be precise, working as a sound recordist. You must have some very amusing stories of the newsreels of the ‘30s? It was a very competitive enterprise, was it not?



​Q:​Can you tell us about …


ADOLPH:​You see you had a, you had Pathé, Gaum-, Gaumont, Paramount, and Universal.

​Q:​And Movietone.



​Q:​And all these newsreels were very much in competition with one another, yes?


ADOLPH:​Oh, yes, very, very much in competition [???]

​Q:​Can you tell us some of the stories about those times, how you would be at war with one another?


ADOLPH:​Well …

​Q:​Did you ever cut cables or put up screens to …?


ADOLPH:​Oh, yes. One, I must say Pathé was, we were clean. We did not do any dirty trick …

​Q:​Of course not.


ADOLPH:​Well, the, one year I had the National, you see. At the National we used to buy the rights [???] four years, even well before sound. We used to pay a thousand quid for the rights, and then we used to, so many copies were going out [???] in British [???], in India, in all those country.


We were doing quite well [???] even paying a thousand quid for it. One year somebody paid a dirty tricker - lit up a bonfire, you see, in one place, so that there was smoke …

​Q:​In front of your camera?


ADOLPH:​[???] a part of the camera.

​Q:​But you never did that to anyone else?


ADOLPH: ​No, we don’t. We, we kept clean.

​Q:​You did?


ADOLPH:​Oh yeah.

​Q:​What would happen if you saw another newsreel trying to sneak into the Grand National?


ADOLPH:​Well, we had the right of course, one will [???] and chase him out, you see. But …

​Q:​Sounds very law abiding.


ADOLPH:​Yeah. It was, the thing was that the fellow that was, when we got the rights, the fellow who was pinching was very careful. He had a small camera and he did not put himself too near one of our camera, you see.

And that’s what used to go. But all that cut off after the war, the Second War, after the 1940 war, because Mrs Topham who had the, you know, who run the top, the, the National on Aintree, she gave it to it free.

She gave it to us free, all of them. She say oh you’ve been paying enough for years, so it’s [???] that was free for everybody, you see.

​Q:​You disappoint me that you weren’t in the newsreel wars.


ADOLPH:​Well, it was, you can’t call it [???} We, we were not trying to do each other dirty trick, you see. Say the cameraman might have been, might have done on the [???], you know, if they been a bit dodgy, but the sound men, we were all respecting each other.

In fact we were helping each other when we were broken down or in trouble, you see, because we were thinking - get going or what’s the use of coming back with nothing? I mean, you’re going to say - to do a job well, do it and do it properly. If you can’t, if your next door will help you, well all the better.

We’ll [???] some other sound man, some other sound man help me at time, you know, when you got [???], something goes wrong.

​Q:​Which was your favourite newsreel? Was it the one you worked for or did you admire any of the others?


ADOLPH:​Well, really there was not a lot in it, yes? Ours was quite good, I must say, but Movietone was good too. Para-, Gaumont, they were all good. The little differences in, in the thing there.

​Q:​When you were at Pathé, in the newsreel, do you remember Freddie Watts?


​ADOLPH:​Freddie Watts?



​ADOLPH:​Yes. Of …

​Q:​He was in charge of the newsreel, wasn’t he?


ADOLPH:​Yes, yes.

​Q:​Can you tell us anything about him at all?


ADOLPH:​About … Well, I rather not because it would not be nice. He, Freddie Watts was a funny chap. Funny fellow, and he was – I can’t say. I’d just say he was not nice. He could have done his job just as well and be much nicer to the people he had to work with.

That, that’s what I want to say [???] What you going to deal with it?

​Q:​No, I’m afraid he’s dead.


​ADOLPH:​He’s dead now, is he?



ADOLPH:​Oh, yeah, I’m not surprised. But of course he was older than me, I know, and I’m 93, so anything older, that mean very few little still alive.

​Q:​Do you remember Kenneth Gordon?


ADOLPH:​Oh, yes, I remember Kenneth Gordon. My goodness. Oh, I do. I had quite a few hours with him. He was a most … I don’t know … can’t find the word to use. Kenneth Gordon was a funny chap.

​Q:​Yes, yes, yes.


ADOLPH:​Funny how the, he was a bit bigger [???] at that time, and, but …

​Q:​That was his weight?


ADOLPH:​Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you, if you heard of him, but one day somebody sock him in the jaw, and he went rolling on the floor in the, in the camera room. [???] We had a small camera room where they do edit work and that.

We had a small billiard room, very small billiard room there, and Kenneth Gordon was playing billiard with somebody else, and there was a chap named Berningham. He was a small chap, not aggressive, very mild fellow, quite gentle – a good chap, very pleasant fellow.

Well, the Berningham in question was sitting near a window, reading a paper or [???], and the window was open, and Kenneth Gordon come – wait a minute …

No, yeah, Berningham was sitting with the window shut. Kenneth Gordon thought the window should be open for fresh air, so he come and open the window, you see. So when he goes back, Berningham shut it down. So Kenneth Gordon come again and shut the window, and opened the window again.

So that go once or twice more, and this time, when, last time Berningham got fed up, got up, Kenneth come and does his stuff, bang, he sock him on the jaw. He send him rolling, rolling [???] the billiard table. And Kenneth Gordon, you know, he was surprised.

You see, what happened in every respect of that, fancy that, a man having the cheek to hit him in the [???], the vice-resident of the u-, of the union, my goodness. He was not hurt because he got plenty of flesh all round, you know. But there was this [???] And my goodness, that scene went up and down Wardour Street like wildfire.

The phone was ringing every minute, asking for Berningham, and tell him well done, why you did not kill the bastard while you were, while you were at it. Oh, you do have [???] thing sometime.

​Q:​You mentioned the union. When did you join the union?


​ADOLPH:​The union? Well, soon, the union, it did not exist when I was to China. When the union was formed?



Ah, yeah, well it’s a long time after [???] At first I was not keen, because well, you know our work, like cameraman and recordist, well, it’s individual work, you see. You get a good cameraman, you get a good sound man, and you got another one that is indifferent and all that, so it’s quite …


If the, the union put you in the same level, that’s no good, you see. Well, anyway, we argued and they find out that the, after all we were not the, the only people in the [???] that [???] union and all the other workers [???] and all that, well, if we got to have a union, let us have it, and that’s that, you see.

​Q:​Did you think before the union that you were well enough paid and your conditions were acceptable in terms of the hours you worked?


ADOLPH:​Well, I can’t think … the union has done us good, really, because it did maintain that it did improve some of the salaries and all that.

​Q:​And the conditions too.


ADOLPH:​Yes. And like myself for instance, when I retired, you see, I, the union got me £200. [???] about six months before I retire, there’d been a general increase of the salaries, all the salaries.

And the boss I had there, Mr [???], I was surprised because as a rule he was a very good chap. He thought I did not have that, because as I was going, so he cut me out. So the other were getting money, I getting nothing. So I told George Irving the same day, in the evening.

George said what’s that? What’s that? I’m going to, to, to see to it. Don’t worry, yes?​The following morning I had a cheque of 200 quid …

​Q:​Good for George.


ADOLPH:​… which George, George Irving was very nice.

​Q:​Were you ever active in the union?



​Q:​Were you active in the union?



​Q:​Active. Did you …?


ADOLPH:​No, no, because I was, I was, you see, working as, when you go out on this and that, you can’t have a, a job …



Adolph Simon was born in France in 1895, and in 1907 joined Charles Pathe’s laboratories at Joinville. By 1910 he was taking Paris street scenes for Pathe, but was then sent to London as a newsfilm cameraman after the launch of Pathe’s Animated Gazette in July 1910. The date has been given as 1911, but Simon may have been the man ‘sent over from the French factory’ before the launch to help Harry Sanders [qv] supply Pathe with British material. On the outbreak of war in August 1914 Simon returned to France to serve in the army, and became an observer with kite balloons. After the war Simon went to Shanghai, where he distributed Pathe equipment and ran his own newsreel during the period from 1920 to 1926. According to one account ‘he once pinched the Far Eastern Games from a competitor in Peking by standing on a table outside the ground and then escaping, with the table, by rickshaw.' Simon later returned to London, and when Pathe launched its Super Sound Gazette in June 1930 he was one of the chief technicians responsible for the introduction of sound. Simon was also credited in camera teams at major events such as Grand Nationals, Boat Races, Cup Finals and Test Matches, his first being for ‘THE AMATEURS GRAND NATIONAL’ in No.31/32 of April 1931. 

In October 1934 Simon travelled to Belgrade with Ben Benson [qv] to cover ‘THE FUNERAL OF ALEXANDER I OF JUGOSLAVIA’ for Super Sound Gazette No.34/85. In May 1937 Simon was credited in the camera team that filmed ‘THE CORONATION OF THEIR MAJESTIES KING GEORGE VI AND QUEEN ELIZABETH’ for Super Sound Gazette No.37/38. It is possible that these credits were in fact as sound engineer, for during the war Simon apparently returned to this work. Reg Sutton [qv], who joined Movietone as a sound engineer in 1946, recalled that Simon ‘was a great help to me in my early days ‘on the road,' he was a nice man and had a wealth of experience.' Simon often worked with the Pathe cameraman John Rudkin [qv], as his sound engineer. In August 1947 they filmed the British Services Searchlight Tattoo in Berlin for ‘BERLIN SEES BRITISH TATTOO’ in Pathe News No.47/66. In January 1949 Simon was credited in the team that filmed ‘WHO’S FOR THE CUP’ in Pathe News No.49/4, and he afterwards appears regularly in the issue sheets. Simon appeared in the Pathe News comic item ‘MOO-SIC TILL THE COWS COME HOME’ in No.50/4 of January 1950, which he covered with Rudkin. The Pathe story card explains that it showed ‘C[lose]U[p] Mr Simon Pathe Sound Operator, sitting cross legged playing tin whistle. CU Mr Simon still playing tin whistle, egg falls on head.' 

Simon acted as cameraman in March 1951, filming ‘PEOPLE IN THE NEWS’ in No.51/25. He also apparently worked on the ‘Flying Enterprise’ story in January 1952, and was one of the two soundmen covering ‘THE LAST JOURNEY (KING’S FUNERAL)' in February 1952, for Pathe News No.52/15. In October 1952 Simon was again credited as one of the cameramen who filmed ‘TRIPLE TRAIN CRASH’ for Pathe News No.52/82. Simon was also sound engineer to Rudkin on ‘QUEEN MEETS COMMONWEALTH MINISTERS’ in Pathe News No.53/40 of June 1953, and also worked on ‘THE CORONATION OF HM QUEEN ELIZABETH’ in No.53/41 of the same month. Simon’s last sound engineer credit is on ‘THE SPORTING WORLD’ for No.54/56 in July 1954. Simon afterwards left Pathé, but he reportedly ‘went on to work as a freelance for many more years.' 


Cine Technician, April-May 1940, p.25: BUFVC, British Paramount News files, Issue Number 1718 (Rudkin’s rota dopesheet, 8/11 August 1947): P. Norman ‘The Newsreel Boys,' Sunday Times, 10/1/1971, p.11: B. Honri, ‘Newsreel Boys’ Reunion,' Screen International, 11/6/1977, p.10, and ‘Newsreel Nostalgia,' British Journal of Photography, 1/7/1977, p.550: J. Ballantyne (ed) ‘Researcher’s Guide to British Newsreels: Vol.II’ (1988), p.35, using material supplied by John Edwards of Buff Films