The copyright of this recording is vested in the ACTT History Project. The Subject is Angela Allen interviewed by Linda Wood, November 27th 1990, File 168
Honorary Member of the Guild of British Camera Technicians (GBCT) and was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) in the Queen's New Year’s Honour's List in 1996.
- Film titles are in bold text
- Unknown words have been highlighted in yellow
So can you tell us where and when you were born?
Yes, I was born in London in Maida Vale on the 12th February 1929.
Can you give us a bit of your sort of early educational background?
I think my very first school was a convent that no longer exists; in fact I think the BBC had kind of built around there in Maida Vale. Then I went to a preparatory school then I went to, it was called then, Paddington and Maida Vale High School that’s now I think an institute for adult education and it was all opposite from where I lived so it took me all of 30 seconds to go to school.
That must have been very handy I always had a bus ride when I was going to school. Did you have any sort of training at school that sort of fitted you for going into the film industry?
No, none what so ever.
Did you have an interest while you were still at school in film?
I think I always wanted to go into the entertainment industry, I actually wanted to act, and that was my ambition.
Were you in any sort of school plays or drama productions?
They didn’t do very much and of course I was at school during the war, there really wasn’t a tremendous amount of you know activity on the drama side. In fact I don’t think our school ever did any plays, you just had to read your plays and you Shakespeare for the exams, it didn’t have any societies. It was evacuated then it went back so it didn’t really have those opportunities.
Were your parents connected with the film industry in any way?
No not at all, no.
What was your first job? Oh well what happened, did you leave school or did you go on to further education?
Well I finished school and did a year at the poly (polytechnic university) and...
Which poly was that?
The one in Regent Street, it was a secretarial course plus sort of economics but I knew… I had a friend’s father in an agency so my, then I did sort of odd little jobs that I hated, in commerce, I was pretty awful. And then I had a job in a theatrical agency, film rights and then I heard about someone wanting a secretary and I was I think about 17 and I went down for the job and it was sort of very glamorous and I got this job for Marcel Hellman who was quite a tarter and I think I lasted for about two weeks because my shorthand was appalling and I got bitten by the bug. I realised I wanted to work in the studios, I really always knew I was a lousy secretary, I never wanted to learn shorthand typing, I was forced into it because I didn’t think I really had the kind of subservient enough personality to say yes and no all the time. And I discovered there was you know, the job called continuity so I literally went knocking on doors around London sort of saying “can I be a trainee?” and eventually I got into the Korda Studios and I trained under a lady, well my first film I trained with a lady called Betty Foster who subsequently married Jack Hiljarde and my very first film was called Night Beat and after 2 weeks I was sent out on the second unit to the Prospect of Whitby and it was I think the coldest winter on record and we went shooting down there for two weeks and then I progressed from there.
Do you remember what your first salary was?
Erm, I got 1 pound. I think I got 30 bob, I think my trainee salary was 30 or 35 shillings a week I think yes.
And how did you get to work?
I used to get lifts, I used to stand on corners, you know you’d ask anybody for a lift and then you’d get the tube or the bus to the nearest place and then I’d stand on the corner and get picked up and stagger, you know get to the studios then sort of beg, in those days I was very young and naïve so I didn’t drink and then you’d have to wait until they’d all had a drink before you got a lift home (laughs).
What was a working day like at that period?
Well you had to be there by 8.30am ‘till, I think it was, can’t remember whether it was 6.30pm that was the normal day, I think it was 6.30pm.
Did you often finish at 6 or did you find that you were required sort of to stay?
No, you finished on time in those days if I remember correctly. You know they used to have to ask if you’d work another half an hour and they didn’t, they knew they had to finish by a certain time and you did, I mean you didn’t work the sort of hours and do the things you do today.
What was the work sort of as trainee continuity?
Er, well the first one was Betty and I had another one called Winnie Dyer and it was very good. Obviously the first day you’re there you don’t understand very much.
Do you remember your first day at all?
No I don’t actually remember what the set was or where I was but you used to follow whoever the continuity girls was and you’d sit behind and keep your mouth shut and then, my two were very good to me because they would say “well what did you notice?” and they obviously the first day they would explain to me that you’ve got to watch everything and see everything and after a shot I would explain what I’d seen, if I’d missed anything she’d tell me what I missed and then I used to get sent to type it up. She didn’t dictate it, as long as I told her and explained I would go and do it, so she trained me and I found that’s the best way of training which is how I tried to train a couple I’ve had, is to tell them, you know train their eye to know what they’re looking for. If they’d have just dictated I’d have really just been a glorified typist and I wouldn’t have been observing and I wouldn’t have been knowing what I was supposed to be looking at. And they were very helpful and very generous; they never you know sort of said “keep out in the background you’re not to come along”. And as I said one was a great friend and the other one married was she was quite happy for me to do all the typing and then I got promoted subsequently, I was on Bonnie Prince Charlie and because it went on so long (laughs) and then eventually, so they promoted me to be on my own to finish it off and to graduate. I was about 19 then I think and this was all with the Korda Studio because in those days if you were there you went from one film to another. So I started I think the first one was Night Beat, very very first one. The next one was a film with Anthony Kimmins, Mine Own Executioner, then Bonnie Prince Charlie which went on forever and then I graduated to the second unit of the The Third Man. I was queen of the sewers and I still have my badge (laughs). I’d been down the sewers for three weeks!
You went off to Vienna?
Yes and it was just after the war, I think it was, I can’t remember, 1945 was it, 46?
I bet everyone thought oh what a glamorous life going two - three weeks to Vienna… little did they know (laughs). Did you realise in advance you’d be spending so much time underground?
Exactly! One of my funniest memories of being in the sewer, under the palace, was being there in the sewer and the waiter coming down in the full black tails and the silver tray like this holding it on his hand serving coffee in the sewers (laughing), I mean it’s a sight that has to be seen to be believed. But the sewers actually were very clean, I mean you never saw anything and they really didn’t smell, well it did sometimes, it depended which area, if you were in the broader, wider areas there were tube stations there so they weren’t too bad. But our unit was there for three weeks I think, we were the regulars so we were just down there every day. The first unit had a little bit but ours was the main one. But Carol Reed was a remarkable director and I think he was probably my greatest teacher, erm, he was a man who worked for two units, he directed both units, night and day.
I was going to ask you who directed second unit but it was actually Carol Reed himself!
Oh yes, and I presume he kept going on his sandwiches and but I mean he was totally dedicated but he was also a brilliant technician. Carol Reed knew exactly what he was doing, he knew what shots he was shooting and why he was shooting them and he didn’t shoot superfluous stuff, his stuff always went together and when we came back to England I used to take notes every night from him in the theatre which was a wonderful education and don’t always get it and in those days some of the cuts would be 8 frames long and you’d get a nudge in the ribs “cut this!”, “change that” and I’d think ‘oh my god’ which frame did he mean and I was writing in the dark and I’d look at these notes the next day to try and decipher them think ‘well I’m sure, perhaps he didn’t mean that, well I’ll put it down we’ll have to work that one out’ and then they’d have to cut them all and then you’d see them again the next night and you’d see why you changed it and then you’d change them again and he showed, he taught me a lot about how you could cheat and what you can get away with and how cutting a look or just using something erm and that most people might throw away or just that look would change the meaning of a scene. He was a brilliant technician and then, well after that one, well I sorted graduated then to being on my own. Ah I’d forgotten, the very first film I did I think on my own technically was an incredible thing called An Old Mother Riley you may have heard…
They were really horrible, the wife was ghastly and I was terribly young, I was 18 you know brand new and raw and they never did the same thing twice and of course I’m trying to… it was a nightmare, I think I thought after that one perhaps I can’t do this, it’s you know, impossible! But one sort of survived it thank god and in those days there was employment so knew you’d be trained so you got used to it.
It was good training for you.
Oh I think so yes. I mean yes they were alid comics and so you never knew, they never rehearsed it and if they did rehearse it they’d never do it the same way twice and they’d say different words and you’re trying to take it down.
And I suppose they were quite self-assured because their films were so successful weren’t they! So you the young continuity girl could hardly… sort of, one of the biggest stars of the northern circuit…
Oh yes, in those days you kept, and also of course I was very inexperienced so I didn’t have the knowledge to argue, I mean I could argue about left and right but no way could I sort of say well that was a terrible performance to the director. Also directors actually in those days were really, they were far better trained technically than they are today, I mean they didn’t come on the floor in most cases. So ignorant, you know that they didn’t know where to put a camera and just stand and sort of say “yeah well I think we’ll do this” or “how do I do it” or and not have a clue about how to cut two shots together. And they actually on the whole really kept a schedule better and didn’t work these incredible hours that today’s so, true the schedules were a little longer but if you actually add the hours up they come out the same.
Do you remember who directed Old Mother Riley?
No I don’, I don’t think I do remember.
Do you remember where it was made?
Yes, I do remember it was made at Wharton Hall which of course no longer exists
After Denham and Shepperton that must have been a bit of a comedown sort of
Ah well yes Denham was the first one I actually saw but I never actually worked at Denham as a continuity, I started at Shepperton and I was very lucky to have started at Shepperton because Korda was without question an ace producer, a producer of taste and he definitely had the best directors and the best technicians I mean far superior to ABPC (Associated British Picture Corporation), he was in a different class, so I’ve always considered myself very lucky that I managed to find a job there. He was also a very approachable and knowledgeable producer.
You actually had contact with Korda?
Oh yeah, he used to come around the studios and the brother was the art director. Oh no Alex was the great charmer you see and this is the art. Today when the producer has a dispute and the production manager is screaming and the boys wouldn’t work, oh the production manager would say “oh not gonna do this”, Alex would come onto the set and say “hello Joe, how’s your family, how’s the children, they doing well? Boys you know we’re in a bit of a fixture, do you think we can work…?” He had such charm; they’d do anything so this is a man who knew how to get anything out of him.
He always had a great talent for publicity as well, it was a combination of the two
Well I heard a story once from Siegmund Warburg the banker, the rich banker because I was going out with his son when I was very young and I was invited for tea and you know, “what sort of job have you got, what do you do?” And he told me a story against himself, he was then I think at Prudential Insurance but had spent all the money and it was “you’re not having anymore, there’s no question!” “Why didn’t you come out for lunch to Denham?” “I’m a busy banker I’m not coming out?” “But that would have been quite nice you know…” he said “well I turn it against myself”. Next day I’m writing the check for 8 million and that was his charm, he told it against himself, he could charm the birds out of the trees and it’s true he could.
Well he did exactly the same with the British government after the war didn’t he, yeah.
Yeah! We haven’t got anybody like him now that had, I think you can only use the Jewish word for it, he had the chutzpah to do those things and no we haven’t had anybody since him and this is why, that had the energy, the charm and the ability in all directions. He was an entrepreneur, I mean he did direct, they may not have been the greatest films but they certainly weren’t the worst. But we haven’t got anybody like that today have we.
No, no and as you say he also created this set up where some marvellous work was accomplished.
If you look at his stable for his directors, the people he selected and found, the stars he made were the international ones. Oh yes I think one was lucky to sort of join his stable rather than, say the Rank stable (the Rank Organisation), certainly the ABPC (Associated British Picture Corporation) one you know, just narrow minded and petty.
And certainly Rank by about 1948 was sort of cutting back left right and centre wasn’t it.
I mean, I can’t remember when one went freelance, well I suppose it was sort of after The Third Man and then I was so lucky, I went with John Wolf’s company and I did Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and then I was interviewed for The African Queen and in some ways I think I was given the job because they thought I was physically strong and, I was the youngest in the business when I went for it and I think there was, well I do know there was an awful lot of envy but, one was interviewed and, not by John, one was interviewed by Mr Speigel the producer and I was terribly naïve and young and I wouldn’t go unless I was escorted by somebody else around there and the assistant director, Guy Hamilton who was very kind and good would not allow me to go unless he came. So I got selected for that one and I didn’t meet John until Africa when we all met him there.
What were your impressions of Sam Speigel because he’s another legendary character isn’t he?
Oh yes. He was fat, very lecherous gentleman, his reputation proceeded him and I was terribly naïve, I really was, amazingly so. But I knew enough at least not to go round, you know it was like “you can come round to my flat” “but you’ve got a secretary”, “no but you can come around”, “no I am not coming round” and I was you know so green, I didn’t actually but if I did she’d always have to come with me which annoyed him (laughs). Erm but then I got to Africa and met John and I stayed with John, then I did fourteen films with John.
Good heavens! That’s quite a partnership isn’t it!
You get the impression that he was quite a volatile character so…
Well know he wasn’t, oh no, he never. I think in all the years and all the films I did I only actually ever saw him lose his temper twice or three times with a certain member of the crew and even then as far as I know he didn’t shout at them in front of the crew, I mean he took them away and you could see, I could watch his hand and realise he was giving him a real ticking off but not, oh no he used to sit there. John never lost his temper, if he used to change his mind which was frequent he just used to happily sit there and read a book until it turned out. Oh no, I mean John was a director who… anybody on the set, the crew, if they got an idea or a suggestion would go up and say “oh John I thought…” “this is a good idea now” and sometimes they would be and he’d be grateful and he’d use it or he’d say “well it’s a good idea but I don’t think it will work for this” and so he always encouraged contributions which is I think why, well I know it’s really why I stayed with him because one felt that one was contributing and doing something and not just being an automaton you know and just sort of saying left arm right arm, I mean I could say to him… when I look back I suppose some people might be shocked but I’d say to him “that was dreadful you’re not gonna pass that take are you”… “well what’s wrong with it?”, “well it’s awful, they’re too slow or too fast or they’re dreadful!” “You weren’t watching anyway” (laughs). I mean he’d do it again but I think you’d find it’s quite difficult to say that to certain young men today, but John actually appreciated people sort of making comments and it’s like all directors can either distil what they want from those suggestions and use the bits they need and discard the rest. But he wasn’t somebody who used to push everybody into the background, yes he liked publicity and yes he took credit for the final result and I do feel that some of us you know have contributed a great deal to films and I do think continuity girls are really, not because I happen to do that job, I think we’re one of the most unsung group.
It’s funny, I was saying that to a friend this morning, I was saying that I was interviewing you and your career had been continuity and I said sort of if it was a job that men had gone in for it would be a senior executive position almost sort of because there’s so much responsibility, you have to be so much on the ball, as you say you’re making judgements sort of and I think it’s a very understated job as well, but it’s almost like assistant director tends to be like an assistant producer but really it’s like a proper assistant director.
Yes, if you do it, I mean people like, my contemporaries like Eliane who’s marvellous, and Maggie Unsworth and, I mean they really contributed. And I you know, I’d always heard about Elaine because she’s you know done it a long time before me and I always knew that she was very good so I wanted to be you know, hopefully as good and one aspired to do it well so when I did my training I was trained, well really I did certainly two years, I mean I did three films that happened to be long pictures so my training period was over two years so I wasn’t thrown in on the ground you know I had hopefully learnt something and I had been trained but today there really is no training and I think in England especially the sort of production people we had, we’re looked on, Elaine and I often say they, we’re glorified typists because in the States they often don’t type and anyway they don’t have to have the responsibility, they’re not responsible for all the things we’re expected to notice and do, I mean, over here the poor continuity girl is expected to know it is not only the wardrobes might come down and dress them in the wrong gear, but everything else, the props that are missing etcetera, what the camera was doing when it stopped, well in the states the wardrobe is responsible, they’re for that and if they bring it down wrong they will get blamed for it, but over here you’re expected to…
Pick up everyone else’s mistakes
And be there and rush around and do all this absurd amount of paper work. If you do it well then the new ones don’t and I really think it is an underestimated job and when I saw that, I think it was BAFTA one year was giving out a prize to production accountants, but quite honestly I don’t think they contributed too much artistically to productions, I think they’ve done an awful lot of damage but, I really think it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you know they all did it to continuity or script supervisor or whatever word you want to use. But I think as you quite rightly say because it’s a female… over here it’s female, in America there are quite a few men, and in Europe generally it’s all women and maybe that’s true because women do pay more attention to small details than men. Maybe we don’t have a broad enough vision, perhaps that’s why it’s harder for women to graduate to directing.
I think it’s also sort of conditioning as well, until recently women haven’t been seen to be assertive, it wasn’t the done thing was it, to contradict men.
And also for a woman to be ambitious today you can but when I started… I would have liked to have gone on to directing, whereas they gave men the chance. In the production office they wouldn’t have dreamt of promoting the secretaries, they were called secretaries then to coordinators, although actually they were running the films and were the production managers; they never got the credit or the money.
Yes, it’s sad, at least things seem to be changing a little bit now but that’s no consolation for knowing your past.
No that’s absolutely right. I mean I know with Houston it took me ten years to finally confront him with something and he said “well my executives are ten a dozen and you’re one”, I said “I’m not getting paid or given the credit for what I actually do for you” and if I’d have been a man you’re quite right, I would have been made his producer.
Yes, it’s strange, as I was saying I’ve listened to some of the interviews and some of the people sort of deny that’s the case, that perhaps they are less perceptive than you or didn’t realise or perhaps didn’t have the ambition, so didn’t feel thwarted.
No, I think that’s true and I think you’re quite right, the conditioning was different that you were expected to work if you had to and if you didn’t, If you weren’t married necessarily but you shouldn’t aspire to be the director or producer, that was really more the man’s work and you’ve gone as high up your particular ladder as you could go and yet a third assistant director can at least expect to get to first and in a few cases has gone on to directing like Guy Hamilton did because Guy was a protégé of Carol Reed, if he hadn’t of had Carol as his, what’s the word I am looking for? His maestro or mentor he wouldn’t have been given his break. In England we never had a film school you see until, what the 1960s?
Yes mid to late ‘60s
So that maybe if I’d have grown up or been born in a different decade I wouldn’t still be doing this job and I would have started and gone to film school or maybe I would have acted, who knows? (Laughs) It’s hard to know.
Shall we go back to the African Queen now? What was it like arriving in Africa?
Well it was quite amazing.
Because travel was very different then wasn’t it?
Yes we took off from what is Northolt, it’s still there I had to be on a commercial, I don’t think I’ve been back there, the building I think is still there, and you went via I think Khartoum and you had two or three stops and then we went to what was then Stanleyville we were there for a few days and then we got in a train and the train was quite remarkable because it used to catch fire every few five hundred yards, it was a wood burning thing and you was bitten from top to bottom with lice and things because it was full of things. Then you got to the end, I think it was to Pontville we went up as far as and then we got off this and you crossed on this pontoon with the tracks then we went with the tracks to this camp that was hacked out of the jungle in… the Raweki River and we were in this camp and we had our, Houston and the actors had sort of individual bungalows and we had like a… they were made out of elephant grass, like barracks and you had your sleeping quarters and you shared so the girls obviously were in one billet and the boys were in another and you had to spray you know, you were told about the scorpions so you looked before you got out in the morning, you had to inspect your shoes and when you got to bed you had to sort of spray it a bit and then leap in as fast as you could and get the net around. Then you washed in the morning in a bit of a canvas thing with red water I remember it was, it was poured out by a little boy and the shower was a bucket, I mean you learnt, I mean what did they know, so you’d be having a shower and they’d come in and pour the bucket from the top or fill it up so you know… the latrines were dug outs in the thing and that’s how we used to live. We had Belgians I think who cooked in that part, they did really wonderfully well but we used to go to work every day on the African Queen and it would moored and it is quite true I remember getting back and the clapper boy, the late Jonny Zotze saying “I was the last home and I think it was shipping water do you think I ought to do something” and I said “well you better go tell the production manager”, “well he was coming round to bail it out” he said. Well the next morning there is this Africa Queen lying on its side, it had sunk. The trail is quite true, the entire male unit is now strung up round, all the Africas, everybody’s up trees trying to pull this boat up and they’re calling Sam Spiegel who of course is nowhere near and in those days communications used to take hours to get through on telephones and the lines were bad… “I thought you said the Africa Queen had sank”, “I did say the Africa Queen had sunk” says the production manager because he had chosen no to hear those words. But anyway we got the thing back up and of we go to work again. We had quite a few little adventures. We used to pass the hornet’s nest every morning… and then there was Catherine Hepburn we’d did this shot and she said “but you weren’t watching me John but I can hear you, that’s not the same, you weren’t watching me, I demand to do it again and you watch me”. Now we go round and we take the whole top of the thing off and nearly decapitate her and the thing because we’d got stuck in the thing and then we’d pass the hornet’s nest again and everybody used to duck and this is what our lives used to be. Oh and then we used to trail, we had the… it’s all been written about, but I mean we did not have floating toilets, the crews used to have to put up with… it was alright for the boys but it wasn’t so good for the girls in the jungle. And then we went on to beyondo and we had a joker called Kevin Mclaurey who was a boot swinger in those days and most of the unit had diabolical dysentery and he goes in and came out screaming “there’s a black mamba” which as we all know… so nobody could use it and to this day I still don’t know and nobody knows if it was one of his didly jokes. Then we went up the river and again I was very lucky because we did have most shut down but there were only about three of us that were still standing, me being one of the youngest on the unit so we were like the pill dispensers. We had our day off and I remember going with the boys to walk up to the top of the falls and we had the African to lead to us and he had a gun and somebody when we were halfway up sort of said “what you got in that, you got the bullets?” We got nothing. Because I mean the idea us having it was to ward off the animals you see, there were the crocodiles but we got nothing, he hasn’t got a bullet… he doesn’t know how to fire it anyway. You know they were all so green and naïve and you got so slaphappy that you’d sort of go “oh look at that, isn’t it a nice crocodile” and those stupid things but as I said the one that has survived, I didn’t fall down with any of the illnesses and on that the picture when the first unit went back I actually went up and that was my one, I suppose you could call it chance, somebody had to do it, directed the second unit, going back up the river with my poor camera man who got malaria or another double dose of it and I also had to double for Catherine Hepburn so I was directing and the double plus doing my own job (laughs!).
So they got their money’s worth?
They got their money’s worth but not a penny extra, yes. They’d got rid of the production manager, they got rid of I think our assistant director had gone, yes he’d passed out and had to go home he was very ill so I was 22 and you do rise to the occasion. Now if it would be today I’d no doubt expect to be the production manager but I think one just got on and did the job and didn’t in those days think to ask for anything more, not that I’d have got it anyway.
No (laughs), oh that’s fascinating.
So I suppose, we did the few shots up there and the only other time I had to go and do another second unit for John was again the worst part of Africa, the French equatorial, and again one did the job but you got no credit for it which today I think you probably do.
At that period credit was shorter in any case but nowadays if you want a film you have to allow an extra five minutes because everyone gets this credit
And do you think it’s right?
Not always, certain people I sort of wonder why they’re listed there, yes.
Yes, I think it’s gone silly… inaudible… They used to at one stage follow the Americans putting their heads of departments and that head of department may not have had anything to do with that production.
All MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc) costumes and designs by the same one, Cedric Gibbons
That’s right but he wasn’t on the film at all and contractually I suppose and it really went that way in England and certainly I think probably MGM… had to work under the same way as the parent company.
I should imagine John Houston was sort of sponsored by the American distributors.
Yeah well yes except African Queen and…
That was Romulus wasn’t it?
No it was all John Woolf, African Queen, Moulin Rouge and Beat the Devil were all John Woolf productions so they were really financed from this end. But John was an anglophile so he got on very well and liked to dig up living the life of the squire, you know he didn’t come over wanting everything to be American in London as a lot of them do.
Yeah, the funny thing is he sort of presented this image of the typical American, the Hemmingway sort type character.
Oh yes, the hunting, shooting, fishing, yes I think that’s the image he I think liked but I also wanted to be known as a connoisseur of arts first…
The scene that I always remember from Africa Queen was the horrible scene with the leaches; I still have to close my eyes every time.
Oh that was me! I did the finger that knocked the real leaches… inaudible. The first time we had them I remember we put them on some poor man’s body and they didn’t stick, they’re breeders said perhaps they hadn’t been starved enough, then they thought maybe it was the makeup they didn’t like so we had to take the makeup off the poor man you know but they still didn’t like it so they had to be sent back and we had to wait another week or whatever to be starved or whatever he did to them and when we got them back again I remember he didn’t practically want to do it so I got the job, there wasn’t anybody else about to do it so I got the job of picking it off but everyone thinks they are real of course.
They were weren’t they?
Well they were only on the inserts I mean, ‘cos you couldn’t go in the river, all those scenes were done in the studio of him towing because, no, anybody who gets that water, you know even if you get sprayed with it, it’s what happened to grey stone people, they didn’t go in the water but some of them literally because they were syphoning it out for you know, the set, like a sandman who after all is not being there, the bug goes in through the skin so if the water sprayed… that’s where a lot of them got it. We were always told back in those days you know you do not touch the water, well actually even the water we drunk, that was all foul too. Well they sued for that and because were given us polluted bottled water. That’s why really the unit was ill because the water was polluted. But I wasn’t a great water drinker so I was lucky! So you know, very fortunate.
END OF RECORDING
Tape 1 Side 2
Right, I, she’s just reminding me. Did you realise at the time she was going to become sort of, a mythical figure at all? Did she seem so exceptional at the time or is it just sort of in retrospect at all.
No, no not at all.
Though we did know, we did say…
That we didn’t she’d last another year.
Right…er side 2 tape. So you were just telling us about the African Queen and all the sort of, terrible sort of, traumas you had to go through for the sake of film art.
Yes and you lived in much more primitive conditions than you do today. Erm and you lived on the, well on the boat you all had to share cabins, and they were pretty small and you were there for… I can’t remember it must have probably have been about a month or more. Erm Living in, you know, pretty tight and there would be nowhere to go cause you were moored so you just had to, you know, go to work in the morning on the African Queen, float back again and then get your supper on the boat and that was all. Cause I mean there was nowhere to, there literally was nowhere to go. And I guess we just all made our own entertainment. You know boys, people played cards or and the food was pretty ghastly but… you know you forget all the, you forget the worst things I mean you really only remember the sort of clearer picture sort of see the animals now.
And experience sort of Africa sort of pre-tourist days.
Oh yes. Because we went erm I didn’t… well we were on the Murchison Falls but didn’t erm having get to the Victoria Falls because also travel, I mean I said you stuck there even if you got a day off. I can’t remember if we did or we didn’t but there was nowhere to go anyway. Erm then they went back to Boutiarbra I guess and I can’t remember whether we… on that… I can’t remember whether I went by Kenyer, no I don’t think I did on that one, no I don’t think, no we didn’t touch Kenyer as far as I know to… come back, we flew back from Uganda. And then we, you know went into the studio.
Yes, presumably they sort of worked pretty late, have a couple of weeks off between sort of, finishing off Africa and starting…
Oh no I don’t think so, I think we, you know sort of have a few days and I found an old pay slip quite by accident. I think I got nine pounds a week for it in those days, yes I think that was my salary on the film. I don’t think you got any overtime… But If you did it wasn’t very much.
I bet you thought you were doing really well at the time, sort of getting nine quid.
Mmm and I think actually in those days it was a 54 hour… in those days I think it was a 54 hour week before you, before you got any… so I don’t think you did. No, minimal. So you know people, I think it’s amazing that kids come in today and expect the same salary as I’m getting after one picture. And they do. I didn’t in those days I don’t think any of us did.
There seems to be a very high turnover today though, sort of, you know. Sort of you came in and stayed in where, sort of, I think sort of people often think it’s a glamorous life, come in sort of find it’s really hard work. They get a lot of criticisms because they don’t do the job well because they’re not proper trained and sort of, move onto something else.
Yes, and I think that there was a whole group of us I think that sort of stayed up you might say in the first feature division and not be, we didn’t sort of… like Elaine and Yvonne and Maggie. And I was lucky although I was young and all that, I, you know managed… I would have said really for eighty per cent of my career to work on first features and not have to do too much. Series or B pictures and things like that. So I do consider myself lucky. And I’m also have been fortunate that I have really been in work all the time and I haven’t actually… erm…. suffered hardships. And I know that, you know, a lot of people have so from that point of view I consider myself very fortunate.
Yes, sort of, certainly working on marvellous films that you worked on, sort of…
I think, yes and I think that you, well I was lucky and I suppose in forming a sort of relationship with John that he asked for you. But I do think there was actually a greater sense of loyalty in those days, directors, I mean I’m sure Elaine told you the thing. You know, whoever had Elaine wanted to have her back again. And as long as she was free she would do it and most of us if we survived the first one with the director were normally asked for again. Unless as I said you were working on something else and was unavailable and people didn’t… and they… they tended to keep their crews together and have a loyalty which I truthfully don’t think exists today.
No. Although I think it’s probably a little bit more difficult today in that, sometimes directors seem to make one picture to every two years.
But even then…
Yes I know. They don’t even ask.
They don’t want it and they deliberately changed because they think if they have somebody else perhaps it will be better.
I mean they change their cameramen and they do this and…
Yes I think that probably is sort of the case. It’s a little bit sad.
I think what is extraordinary about a lot of it is, specially the cameraman where they say I want the look of such and such. Well if the cameraman is a god cameraman and you ask him to do something I’d say nine times out of ten he’ll give you the look that you want I mean… after all it is a mechanical process to a certain degree and if you want to have a golden or a sepia look then obviously he’s going to put a sepia filter on. I mean the other one did it, it didn’t come out of his head… and I think it’s quite ridiculous the comments that are made sometimes by directors about the look and they want him to do it because… but you know the…that cameraman did it because the director had asked him to do it that way.
I’m sure sort of, cameramen don’t welcome being asked to achieve the same sort of effect as their previous film because it means they’re not sort of they’re not sort of…
…advancing themselves, sort of just repeating the same technique.
But they seem to think that because they’ve done one they can’t do something else. So you know and er…
Suppose it’s equivalent to actors and actresses being type cast.
Yes. It is. And I think a lot of that… goes on. And I think well, and also when I started maybe the rules were a little too rigid in the sense of being technically, you know that everything was left and right. But on the other hand I do think if you look at a lot of the old pictures they actually were smoother and cut together a great deal better than a lot of modern ones. There was smoothness to the narrative that is lacking in a lot of peoples work today.
I think a lot of the rotundity in the past sort of related to the equipment which is much more difficult to use. So you (handle) more discipline and working in advance.
You couldn’t hand hold the Technicolor camera it physically was beyond that, but when you look at some of the old films and the extraordinary shots they did it was quite amazing the contraptions that one built to get a shot… all over the place and erm you know and I remember films where we did Pandora (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman) the most extraordinary contraption in Spain we built.. built to get a tracking shot.
Cause that’s a really exquisite looking film isn’t it, it doesn’t really sort of work all together as a narrative sort of… piece of drama but sort of, you know you can just enjoy the sumptuous colours when you watch that.
Yes that’s right. And this was Jack Cardiff and we had our little director Al Luin (Albert Lewin) who was as deaf as a door post. I mean we were all, you know, he… we were all very naughty cause he used to drive us all mad so we used to whisper. So then he’s going mad trying to understand what the crews and then we’d all start to shout and when he got it up and then he’d go mad and we use to do this to him to annoy him when he annoyed us. I don’t think he quite knew what little buggers we were.
Or probably did but sort of realised that he couldn’t do anything about it. He was just going to have to suffer.
And one was thought of erm, I think our everder (inaudible) certainly when you start in the job was much more, you know I’d cry if a few notes didn’t match or you’d tell the director and he wouldn’t listen and you’d get all upset and you’d put comments on your sheets. Sometimes rude ones. With maturity I’d just tell them once and I don’t bother. I’d just tell them if they don’t want to know then I’m not going to stand there and have an argument which I will lose. It’s not worth it.
Yes some maturity I suppose helps a little. Or experience.
You’ve got nothing to put sort of what you’re doing into perspective when you first start and you just assume that everything has to be perfect haven’t you and then…
…part of the maturing process is realising that, sort of, a lot of things, sort of, aren’t and somehow they still sort of work at the end but…
Yes. You know what will work and what won’t.
Yes, it’s knowing when to make a stand or presumably you let a lot of little things go by. But if something was really important…
Yes then you
And that in a way I think I learned from Carol Reed who was such a past master of cheating and… but brilliant at it and knowing what he needed. But it’s hard to tell some of the sort of young ones today who will not listen and when it doesn’t work… they still haven’t learnt very much.
No. I often think, you know, there tends to be a lot of people who have a go at making two to three films and sort of, when they’ve got two or three failures they have had it, sort of, most… if they’ve got talent it comes out and if they don’t just that’s it and to move… try to do your best for them. And if it doesn’t work… they sort of… contribute to their own downfall.
Yes. You’re absolutely right. And I think what isn’t known is just how much technicians have contributed to people’s successes. I don’t think they’ve contributed to peoples failures cause often that’s because the director himself has been a fool in all areas. First primarily with the script but… erm… and then by not even listening to anybody. Sometimes perhaps being served by a poor crew but that’s what you get in every industry. But I think that, yes I do think talent… I think like normally, I have been, I’ve recognised who will go on and I think I remember me when I was very very young picking out three or four people and saying “he will go on to be a director” and he did. And other people was saying I was stupid. But sort of having an instinct for it. I think my best judge though was seeing on a Houston film when we were doing Beat the Devil young Stephen Songtime came with a friend, purely as a friend with another friend to visit John, a son of one of Johns friend, a very rich boy. And this Stephen used to tinker and I said “That boys going to go along way” and everyone said to me “Augh how stupid you are, I mean how can you be so ignorant and stupid he’s just a rich spoiled kid”. And I said “No I think he’s got talent and he’s going to go along way” so I always say well…
You discovered Steven Sondie.
I did, I did erm you know sort of recognise and he was only then 18 or 19 at that time.
So I thought well if my high fertility not totally flawed. Yes you can, you can recognise people who will go on and it’s rather like to go on to Marilyn, Marilyn to watch on the set was painful but she did and I acknowledge it that she had, she does, she did have a love affair with the camera that came out wonderful. But to actually watch it on the floor was very disappointing. I mean for everybody concerned the director used to think “What am I going to do with the scene” but strangely enough she had that magic that when you saw the rushes she would be the one that stole the scene. Although certainly not when you watched it.
Yes, well. It’s just some people, you can’t explain talent. But can you sort of charisma….
No, no and she had, she defiantly had it. And when I did that, I mean she was, well I guess it was her last film she created and it definitely wasn’t the heyday of her… perhaps her beauty and her figure. But erm yes she had, she had that love affair with the camera that very few people have. And you can always recognise it I mean the girls and the boys that succeed. You can be a wonderful actor but you just don’t come over on the screen. Do you agree?
I agree completely yes. It is something that is inexplicable or conversely there are people who are awful actors who still seem marvellous when you see them at the cinema. Or sort of very mediocre rather than awful put it that way.
Yes that’s right. It’s knowing how to use, it’s the eyes, it’s just knowing how to do the least and… being able to listen. That’s the art of screen acting I think. It’s something that a lot of them over here need to learn I think. I think the drama schools really ought to do more about teaching actors how to perform for the camera.
Yes particularly sort of, where sort, stage work seem to be becoming less important. And I suppose sort of its historical as most peoples career were on the stage and there was only a limited amount of film roles. Whereas now I should imagine a lot of works television and some film and sort of, refrican...nican is all over sort of, Britain, is close down.
I think they do need, I mean, they need to learn the 3 techniques. But they do need to learn how to relate… to play the same scene but if you’re going to play it on the stage, to play it for a camera you’re going to have to minimise your facial expressions. And I’m not sure why, I don’t know if they teach it but then a lot of them that come straight from the theatre have no way of knowing how to underplay.
Whereas you said, sort of, the discipline of the, sort of, being able to start a scene where you left off in exactly the same positions without it appearing to false.
And being able to do the same thing and recreate it you know umpteen times and you know it’s boring to match when someone says your to pick the cup up with the right hand. I always told them work it out for yourself cause then it will be natural. Whether as if I’m telling you to pick it up with the right hand you get to that point and think “Arrrh she told me to pick it up with the right hand (inaudible) where’s my hand” you know, and you can’t get there. If you’re working your own actions out and so that they’re natural to you you’ll find that when it comes to the close up you’ll be doing it the same way anyway as its part of the scene you’ve worked out. And the good ones are normal, they… I mean there are a few you know who can’t but then you don’t mind those ones and they always… quietly… you know, fully admit it to me you know the comedy ones. But the Americans on the whole are very good at that where I think because they are trained in film techniques. And walking and movement I think they are… its… its different I mean they’re changing over her now. I hope.
Yeah sort of. Yeah sort of some of the sound sort of people have said that the American actors were at doing voice overs if necessary much better than the British ones who tend to freeze up.
Oh they are yes, they’re used to it. They are used to the media. A lot of them have to learn to go on the stage if they choose to go on Broadway and they haven’t always started that way first. Yeah it’s a different erm… technique but I mean… but then I was also lucky in, if I take my career back that, Houston was law and then since he took me to the states to do erm… The misfits and I think the only word that he could actually get me in although I had technically had a double, cause I was in the contract. Otherwise they could have said no. And I worked on that and I was really I mean apart from doing my own job being continuity I was also I had to do all the scrip changes with half the men there. The secretary seemed to want to type. And we did plenty of those.
Of course it was before word processors so…
They must have been a lot more burdensome sort of.
You’d type thirty pages before you’d finished the last thirty pages you’d be back on page one again…
…Cause they had rewritten it and as you said they didn’t have word processors. I have always been a very very fast typer and I think that they used to say well you were so good on that script. And I think I’m one of the few continuity girls to always get the script changes to do as well as my own job, I mean there’s times they were given to secretaries. But, John always thought well I was the quickest and the secretaries all thought I was quicker and faster at it so I used to be frequently typing the script on the set and the actors were all waiting while John was re-writing it yet again.
I should imagine you’d become quite familiar with his hand writing as well which became an advantage and…
…you could understand his own short hand that people...
Oh yes he’d write that then he might dictate a few words or Aidy could even do it straight on the machine cause they use to have to take to take it down but erm but I use to you know and in those days as you said without the process so you’d type the page and before you’d finished it they’d changed it again so it was constant boring typing. Which again in the States would always have been done by, I think, a secretary would have come down. I don’t know, I always seemed to hit the films where I’ve always had to do the changes. Instead of putting my foot down and saying get a secretary. I don’t know I’ve always ended up doing it.
But it seems you’ve sort of done a lot of films out on location. I suppose sort of when you are on location you don’t have this sort of administrative backup. There’s no typing call out in Africa and…
No, no no.
…or Italy or wherever it was.
And that’s the point and people today laugh because they say well “ah well it’s not on a nice typewriter” I said “Well it’s on top of a mountain in Lake Niles. On top of a mountain it’s difficult to plug in, you know, the electricity isn’t on the rocks you know.” So the old trusty manual I still use cause where else can you, and I know people have laughed at me around the world when I sit and type with it on my knee or in the road or in the gutter cause if I can keep up I don’t like to sit and as you do, you have to sitting up for hours at home after a day’s work but it… so I’d do it anyway. I’ll sit down anywhere on the floor and just bang a typewriter on my lap and get on with it. Which most people find difficult I find they expect a table and an office. And that’s something else you have to be flexible, that you have to be prepped. So I think a lot of people aren’t as flexible today as perhaps as I was in my youth. Or even still do I mean at this age I still sit in the gutter occasionally.
Have you gone over to… do you still have your sort of old manual typewriter or do you now have one of these sort of laptop computers?
Ah well yes I have, no I still have an old…I’ve got an old manual and I have, and I think I’m one of the few who bought, I thought I may be old but I’ve got to get with it so I bought a laptop portable. I’ve still ma… yes typing, I’m still mastering word perfect. But I’m more daring on it I’ve noticed that some of the secretary’s trying to find out what else it can do and… I get a bit panic struck with certain that I can manage to delete or…
… at the beginning. That’s erm cause I don’t think I’m by nature terribly mechanically minded but I’ll have a go.
I think sort of, lots of people think they’re not mechanically minded it’s when they find, sort of, that the advantages of being mechanical far outweigh the advantages of not. But totally, sort of, they discover talent which they never knew they existed.
And it is. I mean I do think the word processing thing is a marvellous build. I think writers definitely and people who used to hand write now use them, learn to use them, because they realise how much time and I find because I think I’ve typed so much in my life that it’s very hard for me to hand write the letters. My hand writing is very small because I’ve always, my technique was to always put my notes in my script. And again my hand writings got so small that even I now have difficulty reading my own because it’s too tiny. But… so I tend to type my personal letter which maybe aren’t correct but at least I say to people “It saved your eye sight”.
Yes, sort of, I think they are marvellous these little computers. Especially for people who like your saying if you’re doing script changes I think the people who decided to change things sort of don’t realise how much work they are creating.
No especially when it’s got be sort of sent out to others and printed. No I think it’s wonderful erm… I think it’s a wonderful inversion. Like the Polaroid camera was the most wonderful invention. I mean when one started it had just about to come in but you had to draw in those days you had to sort of imagine…
I was gunna…
Drawings not my talent I wish I could, I wish could learn how to draw. I’d have to label it to tell myself it’s a chair or a table.
I think we’ve got something in common there.
But I mean, so the Polaroid camera and it also stops an awful lot of disputes. It’s also been, amazingly, it’s the instrument that sort of makes friends and gets things done. I mean I was in Afghanistan on a picture and it used to be bribery and corruption, if he did a shot would he get a Polaroid, if he was a naughty boy he didn’t get one. And that was, they, the director got me doing this because it was the only way it was… “I don’t want to do it” so then it use to be “Well if you don’t do it, we won’t give you, she won’t do a Polaroid” you see. And it used to be like two forty year old men “I want them” and so I used to be… and then they used queue up. I once found myself in the middle of this field. I was following on, you know, to the crew but I had to sort of pick up my whatever. And there are my, in the middle of this incredible field sort of I’ve got like a thousand following me all going like this “take my picture” you know. And I was like the son of… they thought I was the local photographer I think… sort of had to escape to the unit to erm... sort of ask them to bail me out. And explain, get somebody to explain that we had the film to… indulge them all as much as I’d like to.
Yes. A subsidiary career sort of travelling sort of photographer.
Oh yes, I think it’s one that erm, you know but it’s… I think it’s sort of being… but the traveling was also… well I still love travelling and I think that in the film industry one certainly had some wonderful trips. I mean you just, you went all over the place and you experienced different things. Erm… it’s not like being a tourist cause you’d be there for a few months or six weeks or whatever. And you’d be working with the locals so I consider, you know it’s been… that was I think the thing that has always fascinated me I mean I actually I do dislike having to be here too long or in the studio. Vacation films have… still for once fascinate me. Not on the cold streets of London in the winter anymore but, I mean if I had to I did. But I loved to go sort of hot places or far off places I think it’s fascinating.
Do you have any languages?
My French is… its… it’s not bad but it’s not perfect. I mean I wish I could, I can get around in Spanish I can get around in Italian. But I’m seriously thinking now actually now going off and doing a course in Italian in case something comes up. I promised Sitherelia that if she’d make another one there I promise nick the star a go and ma. Or read better, I can understand but I might be able to speak a bit more.
I can tell you are positively planning for the future.
Well I’m optimistic I don’t know that… I mean I probably shouldn’t be in the climate of the film industry at the moment. It’s not very healthy. And as you get older I’m sure we all know what you get asked first. Well its fair enough I mean I had my at the beginning, I don’t in any way resent… and I do think young people… have to be given their chances. The only thing I do feel today is a lot of them do… do not do enough training and I do think they jump from job to job without adequate… ability. And really put themselves up for jobs that their not really competent for in all areas. I certainly know it in mine but I’ve seen it in another department too.
I would imagine that even if you wanted to trained these days it would be very difficult to find somewhere to get the training.
Well it’s true…
Companies aren’t prepared to…
They’re not prepared to pay and I… I think it’s morally wrong to expect somebody to work for nothing. I really do in this day and age. I had somebody who didn’t get paid I mean who wanted to do it who was not, put it this way my cup of tea, and I don’t really think is the right material but I still wouldn’t let her do the typing to treat her as a free typist cause I just thought it was morally wrong as the company wasn’t coughing up anything. And I think it is sad because I think that they don’t… they will pay for people in the offices but they never give again, the continuity girl, or very rarely does the continuity girl get an assistant who really could do a bit on. Certainly these days with the long hours and the amount of paperwork. And also I think if you train somebody properly it’s for the future. I don’t think the Englishmen sees it that way though. Maybe post Thatcher it will change.
Yes I hope so.
One hopes because I do think that everything has been money, everything is money orientated.
It’s terrible sort of I think the film industry has had a problem in that, sort of again it’s all one off projects but television… sort of… even there they’ve been cutting back and trimming. You know that because Dave used to work Alder Boutique and I’ve got friends who work or the BBC and they’ve been cutting back a lot sort of, you know all this about we’re going to let thirty per cent of the work go to free-lances, it’s just an excuse to cut budgets.
Sort of, you know free-lances don’t have the overhead; it needs to be the BBC sort of has to train one third less staff cause they know the free lances aren’t going to do it. It’s just savings, and I’m sure that’s really just a government motivation enforcing this thirty per cent independent quota. And it’s a bit of a dilemma isn’t it because in a way sort of if you are an independent producer it would have been, in the past, it would have been really difficult to get in and get sort of your projects off the ground. But on the other hand sort of… fostering the independent shouldn’t be an expense of sort of training individuals.
Mm but also the independents got to find the money to start his office up and pay the overheads, the rents are going up. It becomes a vicious circle. I think that erm… we can only hope that with eventually a new government… and… I feel sure… I did predict, I did make an accurate prediction that she would go this year. I thought she would go on a scandal of some sort I wasn’t quite sure what. But at least I’ve been proved right she’s gone. I did think there would be an election but I do think there will be one next year I don’t think they can survive till 1992.
I think it will depend what the polls are if they’re sort of against them they’ll stick it out till the bitter end but if they think there is the slightest chance of winning the election they’ll go in quick.
Well it will be interesting won’t it to see erm… cause they might have another one next year. Mind you I think the opposition needs to change its leader to…
…to have any hope. It’s… well I suppose in a way I’ve had, I’ve had some very good years in the industry and maybe I had certainly the better years. So if I was starting, suppose we all, everybody speaks like that about their decade. But the way it is at this current climate I think that I was very lucky to start when I did. I think it certainly was… might have been paid less but then on the other hand the costs of living were less in those days. And I think the opportunities were greater, you certainly got better training in… in… when I came in than you’re getting today.
Yes I think you probably just came in at the right time to get the training but then you were very fortunate in that, sort of, you seem to have done a lot of ‘A’ feature work. There was still a lot of ‘B’ feature work and a lot of… then… in those days television wasn’t quite sort of the quality it is now sort of… far more is spent on television production…
No I was lucky as I said I will always agree that I’ve been fortunate in having managed to stay and I don’t know whether I should blow my own trumpet and say well I guess I was good otherwise I wouldn’t have been kept on the… a first. And I suppose, you know, were… and if you worked for a good director that always helped your reputation, if he films… he has a reputation his crews normally get picked up by the next one coming in.
Well anyone looking at your CV and sort of seeing The Third Man followed by the African Queen sort of… are bound to be impressed aren’t they.
But now it’s quite funny because you know in those days we never did see the thing you know…
You never were asked you know. And nobody ever sort of said send me your CV I mean it wasn’t a word, it wasn’t an expression that was used. And people knew people they phoned you up or… and I think you might on the interview; you know he might say you know “what have you done” but you didn’t actually have to type it up. Now today of course I have to type it out and I always ask to do… inaudible… an American TV company and he said “could you send the CV” so I get it out yet again cause they… the girl had managed to lose the first one. So he calls back you see and he said “Oh I’m very impressed” I said “yes but I have to tell you something because I am actually walking, I’m still walking without the aid of the wheelchair or the stick”. Cause you probably think Jesus, God, you know look at all this she must be as ancient as the thusila because I had to go to America or Canada two years ago on a film and, again there was the CV for the work permit, and the girl said “Oh, oh my goodness” I said “No you don’t need to send the wheelchair to the airport I’ll still manage to get off the plain and… I still play Tennis”. And that they… you know this is it I’m actually now, but I say this because… I actually now don’t… I mean on my original one I put my age on the top of the CV but I realised that it’s… it frightens people. And somebody said well if I was you I wouldn’t put the African Queen it makes you too…
It makes you part of cinema history. So the past rather than the present.
So they think you know, it’s really a bit of a dilemma for some of us oldies or mature… for a better word to use to know what to do when you have to send in your CV. And my best ones have been recently; I had one recently for the television “Have you worked one a film?”
“Well Yes I have actually”. And they got me up there and I let him interview me and at the end I was waiting for it, and so you realise by that time I’d done a lot and he was interested. He said “Now I’ve got to ask you for the CV” I said “Yes I was waiting for you to ask” and you know he did. (Inaudible) I said “Yes well I think you could say I actually have done a film I think I could qualify for one” I said “I think so”. But you see now you’re going through a whole new generation who really doesn’t know anybody else and they… and it in away its… some people find it very rude and very embarrassing to be sort of asked “Have you actually worked in the business?”. When you’ve been in it as long as I have, I don’t because I think you know everybody’s coming in from different areas, they might come from television so they know people from television, they don’t know film. There’s no point in being bitter about it is there?
I mean if… I mean I… well I hope to go on working as long as I can I suppose till I’m dropping. I mean I hope I might graduate something else but… I don’t know I mean some people have chosen to retire I think it depends on your future.
Very few I think.
Yes. I mean I think Elaine has consciously, when she’s enjoying travelling or she’s doing… I suppose if she was offered a really pleasant film she would do it but… and erm… a lot you know some… and it is, I only say this for women cause it is very hard work. It physically is as well as mentally very tiring. And I think it’s probably the physical side and these incredible long hours that are putting certain people off now. Because really you know the days today are turning into 18 hour days, 6 days a week. And I think that, you know, unless it’s worth it or you feel that you’ve learnt something or its been rewarding in some way I’m not sure now that I wanna to do 18 hours and I would want to do 18 hours, which I loathe the subject matter to start with. I think at long last I’m learning a little digression in all of choice.
Yes. I think when you start your just desperate to work aren’t you.
Oh yes you work on anything.
And it’s all marvellous but then if you say, sort of after you’ve done the job for so long and you know you can do it sort of…
I mean I went down, I went to help out for a few days on that thing called “Paradise Club” the young on…
…on the first series she asked me if I could come down, I mean it was before I was going on something. I was really, they said this, I was so appalled that I actually wouldn’t have gone down if I’d have had it first. And I was nauseated not only by the script I was nauseated by the lack of care the… the scruffiness of everything. Shoot, shoot, shoot, and it didn’t matter if it worked there was absolutely no polish just turning over film. And I thought “I don’t want to work on this sort of stuff”. It’s not the sort of stuff I wanna watch, I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t dream of watching it. So what would I want to work on it for? I just feel those sort of things are appealing to the lowest common denominator over here and I find it very sad that those are the sort of films, things, that get off the ground than people with more rewarding projects can’t raise the money. I just find the climate over here is…
I have to say, sort of, you do wonder what peoples criteria’s are… sort of because as you say it’s not just in drama it’s in other areas. You see the most appalling thing sort of shown, and then you know people who have as you say a worthwhile project that they’ve been desperate to get off the ground for years and no one seems to be prepared to take them. It’s all because its money. If its love or to make money.
And the other thing I’ve noticed is that things seem to turn over much more quickly. At one time you’d read something in screen international and a year later it would finally surface. Now sort of its in screen internationally marked by sort of July it’s either released or on television I can’t believe how quickly…
Well they’re having to do that now because of the financial situation. I mean money is so expensive that you really… and in some respects it’s not a bad idea because it stops people playing around overly long in the cutting room. And that’s really why the turnover has to be faster I think because of money. And I’m all for, you know, cutting down and not wasting but I think sometimes it’s in the wrong direction.
As I’ve said I do think directors need to be, need to learn their technique a little better. Because you’ve been a writer doesn’t mean to say you’re going to be the director first. You can but then I say…. It’s most extraordinary over here that they pick themselves the most inexperienced crew on their first time. Now that is what people like Michal Reeves they did not, and the John Houston’s when he first started directing in California he was given a very experienced crew. Often the blind leading the blind, he was a new director with a totally new crew. When the director becomes experienced he can afford to give a chance to somebody else cause he’s the leader. But over here I do think in England it’s definitely become the fashion to have an entire crew doing it for the first time. And I think we’ve all seen some of the results. Some of the things I’ve seen, I mean I try and watch channel 2… er… channel 4, screen on 2 sort of thing.
I persevere and I wonder why I do but sometimes they defeat me and I have to give up. Oh I really do think some of them are so badly done. Technically as well as verbally.
I think some of them have no chance before they start because they have such terrible scripts sort of.
Yes, I mean that’s the basis of it. But everything seems to be so violent over here, unless it’s ugly it doesn’t get made. People look ugly, places; they pick the most unattractive parts of the whole country. Everything’s ugly. You see I feel in England you’d never have made a film like… it’s hard but it’s amusing. Was working Earlier, you’d never get that sort of script, nobody would ever touch it or “Pretty Women”. It’s the sort of subject where if over here you presented it nobody would back you.
And yet it was amusing, entertaining and it made a lot of money. So there is a market but over here I think we don’t have a look at those kind of… everything is down beat and I don’t know whether that’s… whether… now she’s gone whether there will be a change in the arts, who knows. Let us hope.
Yes, sort of… I think a lot has had to do with strain sort of, as you say attitude. Very materialistic perhaps that has reflected. We’ve got soulless films sort of cause they do reflect the climate.
Maybe the nineties will be different who knows. Whether I shall survive through the nineties aw I don’t know. Let us hope a couple more years I don’t know. Well I feel I’ve used up enough of your tape.
Well I… I want to sort of go back now to actually go through some of the films if that’s alright.
Unless you’re in a rush to get…
No, no. Well what did you do after the African Queen?
I did… I did er… mou…
Moulin Rouge, yes I did Moulin Rouge. Which was my first time in Paris. Then Beat the Devil which was …computing co and Rebello in Italy. Then Moby Dick which was a very long.
Aw just. Were you based on the boat on the time?
On the boat, on the wale all sort of things yes. We started in Fishguard and we went to…
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Right, side 3 tape 2. So you were on the boat sort of going up and down in the North Sea?
Yes we got lost out at sea. They had all sorts of SOS’s sent out because we hadn’t returned we use to… we had… we changed captors when we were eventually got captive veneers because the one before damaged the ships so often he landed it in the evenings and then we had boats, the whaling boats, somebody once forgot to put the bun in so it would of course got dropped and the poor actors jumped in, they think their things should have been the liverish ship in water like that and they’re trying to find their hole and there’s somebody else broke his bottom cause they’ve slipped.
Oh well we use to have…
Accidents galore on that one I mean it was a permanent state of bruises. Infact I think I looked at myself because you use to have to climb up a Jacobs ladder to get onto the side of the peapod. I think for, sort of I was on it for 6 months or so, I think I got permanent bruises from your ankle to your thigh cause you were always, you know, crashing against the boat but you kinda got used to it. And we had erm… and it sort of dates back, to give you an example of ABPC who were the financial people and for the sake of, I think it was like £400 they found the hull of a boat to build the “Peaquad” on…er… they found a cheaper one. And the £400 one would have much better, it was a better hull. So they buy the cheapest and spend £40,000 putting it on and when this boat was built, the “Peaquad” was now built, and it’s sailing over to your… it… sprung something like and I can’t remember when they call it like a 40,000 ton leak so it had to be towed into Plymouth then it eventually gets you know things out its gotta save itself over to… to Ireland and its gets… Now this harbour again the ABPC wouldn’t allow the money for £11 I think in those days sort of spent but bought out.
So the bought, well finally gets… and yes we towed it cause it can’t get on its own steam. Now, it’s stuck in the mud. Cause the boat… we could only shoot on two types of boat. Cause the boat couldn’t move it was wedged in the mud. So you had to wait till the tide had changed and it was up and it floated it out. This mad captain you’d have the entire crew sort of pulling ropes, pushing this boat off the thing. So we were all on this extraordinary hours and you know sort of having to work with the tide cause we couldn’t get it off any other way. Although it would stay up cause we couldn’t get it in. I mean that was an example of £11 pounds with ABPC saving money. Everything they save money on cost them of course they went over budget and over schedule. Like no tomorrow in those days. And then we went to, we finished up in the Canary Islands I remember sitting on the whale when it broke loose through its reigns again when the storm was coming up.
How did you hold on?
Well you just sort of… well you clung on to a bit of rope actually with this enormous whale in the sea and just say “get the girl off, get the girl” you know you sort of slid down it eventually into some sort of boat that was at the bottom. And somebody else sort of… swimming under water cutting ropes and erm… oh no you had all sorts of adventures you see with erm… Moby Dick. Then I stayed on the tank, I was up on the tank for... let’s remember now… four, five months and half the time the thing was in the shops and you had nothing. And in those days it used to be, they used to make people clock into work. Nut we had nothing to shoot cause the whale was in the workshop I mean we didn’t have it. But you’d have to sit there from eight thirty to five thirty when you’d have to clock out and that was the mentality of erm…. and they docked things like sort of sixth pence off your wages if you were. But I was a rebel. So I used to call John and Alan and say “We’re sitting here, can we go home”?
“Oh course you can go home” but you saw worse and they use to sort of say she’ll tell him. She won’t phone him. So we use to sort of say “She will”.
So John Houston had disappeared off to Ireland while…
Well we think cause he was on his taxing he couldn’t be in England so they were sort of cutting in Ireland, they were cutting in Ireland and we were supposed to be doing this… the effects by this time, the whale. This went on for months. I went over to Ireland I think a couple of times. And erm it all went to staff so you know I was very lucky I use to… Well in those days they kept you on you know much longer. I mean these days they get rid of you the day of the film finishes. But you tendered, which was also good I suppose cause you went in the cutting rooms and you could see things and erm watch it change, which I’ve always found fascinating I mean I think now really I probably should have gone into editing that’s erm… the most fascinating. It’s rewarding because you can change things and make it look proper. I don’t know I mean it’s difficult now cause there are too many people doing it to be here. And I don’t think they probably want me as a junior. The clan carrier. Though that gets me through Moby Dick. What do you want to know next?
What happened… what was after Moby Dick?
I didn’t bring the erm… I didn’t bring my CV. Oh I did…
Oh yes I could have interviewed you like an employer.
Oh please do. I think I, well I, well in between John Houston films I mean obviously I worked, when they finished I went erm… whoever hired me. I think I once did erm oh I did a television series called Martin Cane I think that’s where I met June Randle in fact I got an increase in salary they weren’t having us back for second episodes unless they upped her salary. She couldn’t do it cause she was ABPC so I was like the men took, I was younger but I was the tougher one and I was the outspoken one, never cared, I think has been my downfall. I’ve never been frightened of anybody. I went too, then I went to Mexico for Houston on The Unforgiven when we were down there. And then I… after that one I sort of went back to the states after that and … I got my green card, I did a bit of babysitting while my brother was there. Bert Langster was very helpful he got me into universal studios so I did, I stayed there for a bit and I did some, well I did all ‘Wagon Strain’ and ‘M-squad’ and you know they put you on the… remember. And of course being the foreigner I used to be inspected by everybody. And I was told that I wasn’t allowed to type cause I’d ruin their whole system and they knew I could do that well but I wasn’t to do it. And I wasn’t use to hand writing everything but… they used to shoot Belfast so I stayed there for a bit and then I, as I said I loved to travel and then there was I think, I did something like Suzy Wong erm… so that was a trip to Hong Kong so I thought oh, you know, must do that. And so I really used to spend my life, you know… well for about three or four years I had the green card I went back and forth between the states. I worked there, I worked on the world’s fair, I worked for the producer and he was very nice and I was sort of like an assistant to him. And, we cut that and put together on the New York world’s fair. Er… I worked for Ray Stark erm… that was after we did the night in Iguana. I went back to… I wanted to work in New York so I worked for him both… I stayed technically on the sort of cutting so that I could be allocated to the other pay role. And then I… which was interesting the secretary’s all thought that going on tour was glamorous so they were on tour with ‘Funny Girl’. And I was nothing to do with that side was… somebody got a call on a Sunday morning “Oh I’m bored with this I don’t like it. Can you meet him at the station like in a couple of hours”? And so then I went on tour, well I loved that I went to Philadelphia and I must have been one of the few people, well she wasn’t a star then Barbra Streisand and I hadn’t even heard her records cause I was a classical fan. And I saw this girl I remember seeing her in Philly and he said to me “well what did you think”?
I said “oh that girl is the star” I said “cause although the show as we all know needs work, your eyes are totally on this girl. I mean she has magnetism she’s going to be a big star”. So it was, we went to Philly then we went back to New York and I went to the opening night of ‘Funny Girl’ because of course it was the company but it was kinda marvellous because she was a star overnight. And I’d seen that cause she did, she was absolutely marvellous on the stage.
She has an exquisite voice.
She had but I mean it was the, you know cause she was all miked up, she has a very small voice but… it’s a very true one but it’s very small. And she doesn’t get passed the sort of… tenth row without the mike.
Really I didn’t know that.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. And erm…
Cause I’ve never seen her on the stage but I’ve seen the film of ‘The New Girl’ and on that , sort of, the sound sort of makes it sound as if she’s got a really great voice.
No, no, she doesn’t reach, she doesn’t reach at all I mean she’s totally miked up. But she had this tremendous… you did see a star overnight I mean here was a girl who was not a star she’d only ever been in the small shows off Broadway and she was a star overnight after the opening night, she was marvellous. I mean I saw her there and then I saw her in the London production and, which I didn’t think was as good, she wasn’t as good. Gone to her head by that time but she was marvellous. As I said you watched, you saw a star perform in front of your eyes. So I enjoyed doing that and then, you know, again one came back to England and so I had a sort of splitting and eventually I… well I sort of lost my green card only because I didn’t get back in time to erm… renew it one year and of course you can’t resurrect it you have to go through it all which I hadn’t done erm… on the last humblesnatch too. But it was sort of fascinating fun being there, I loved my time in the sixties in New York. I found it a very invigorating an exciting place, I find it somewhat scary now. You know those days you could walk… well I wouldn’t walk past central park perhaps in the middle of the night alone. But you could at least go down stairs and not think my goodness I’m gunna be mugged crossing the road or doing that. So I was there in the more exciting and should I say pleasanter time I think um… there and in California. Oh yes I worked in… oh in California I did the… well you know that was when I waiting for it I did my baby sitting and then I worked for a television group in an office in Manhattan. And I could actually have got my union card I think, well yes I could have done. But because I, I suppose foolishly kept on coming back here cause I’d get an interesting offer to travel, I didn’t actually you know take up roots there and do it. And I, well you can always regret that you didn’t go and live there but I don’t know perhaps it wouldn’t have been any better. Might have been I don’t know.
But it’s sort of you were seriously tempted?
Oh yes my brother, yes my brother went there early on and stayed. And certainly you know, you can get sucked under by the lifestyle in California it is pleasant. It’s easier. You know apart from the climate I mean general living is easier than it is here. But I did miss the couch and I missed being able to walk down the road and go to the theatre and walk to see a friend or see something where it’s totally mobile society. So I don’t know I mean, actually I can live more or less anywhere I don’t mind. I adore Paris I wished I spoke it better but I mean I don’t really mind being put down anywhere I don’t suffer from wanting to come home and erm… talk about England I mean… wherever I go it’s sort of home in a few days. Well there are certain places I perhaps I don’t choose to live in. One country I certainly didn’t want to live in was South Africa.
And I genuinely just didn’t like it.
Did you ever work in South Africa?
Yes I’d been down there on a film I was there on ‘Zulu Dawn’…
…Erm… ‘Zulu Land’ and down in erm… the Pietermaritzburg and around that area. I’ve also been along on some… well it was on a commercial and I’ve been on something else… I think it was a dreadful film. What do you call it ‘The Garden of…’ something or other ‘The Garden Coast’. I just don’t like it, I really felt as uncomfortable in the country. I actually don’t even find it amazingly beautiful everybody tells me it’s so stunning. I… it doesn’t do anything to me. It just did nothing to me at all. I found Afghanistan fascinating. I found that amazing and beautiful. But I never felt, I don’t… there was nothing I felt in South Africa about anything. I really was quite, I was pleased to get out of there.
Yes there’s something disturbing about sort of…
…One small per portion or the population living so well at the expense of the majority. No we all want to have a nice lifestyle but sort of there are things that sort of you don’t want other people to suffer so that you…
…Sort of benefit.
One of the funniest things on that was, I mean and it’s quite true, there was a little hovel of a hotel in Zulu land. I mean its like got one bedroom and the plumbing is… it had to be designated by the government, a five star hotel, because we might have put some blacks and some whites in it and only blacks and whites can stay in five star hotels. I mean that is the biggest joke you have ever seen. We nicknamed it, I think it was called something rather Hilton we nicknamed this hotel and we took photos up, and put a sign up on another on a shop in the middle of the Zulu land with the Harrods on the top and we painted it green. We told people at the Inn that there was branch Harrods and they actually believed you. But… I mean that… I found that very uncomfortable I found the fact that the blacks on the films were, at the end of the picture party, would ask me to dance and I danced and the whites looked to see whether I would do it. And I said I’m going to and I remind you that this picture is being paid for by other people so don’t tell me what to do. But they wouldn’t have asked a white South African girl or women, you know, cause they knew the difference between the groups. And I just, no I feel very uncomfortable in fact all what I call the English colonies. I don’t actually… I haven’t been back to Kenya since, oh god the sixties or seventies, but again I find the English presence not particularly pleasant. I don’t think they are the greatest colonialists. I felt uncomfortable. I mean Indian I loved the one time I was there I thought was very good….
I was… I was keep on forgetting its name erm… it was a film with Roger Moore and Gregory Peck erm… it was about the blowing up of a ship. A Nazi boat in the Harbour we were in Goer. It’ll come back to me I always forget the title. That I loved, I loved that and I loved India and I would love to go back and see more of the country I found I did like, I loved the east. I mean I only worked on a… a dreadful television thing called ‘Lace Two’ because it was a trip to Thailand that was my only motivation for doing it, no other thing at all, now that you see I have to admit that I… that was not for me. The quality of the work, it was the quality of the travel that I went for in that case but er… cause it’s all such rubbish. I know it probably makes money and people view it but I can’t… I can’t say… I personally wouldn’t…
I don’t think it would make…
…Wouldn’t want to do a steady doubt of those type of erm…
No. I’m not sure it could have made too much money because I’m sure there would have been a ‘Lace Three’ if it had.
Yes I think the second one didn’t do particularly well I mean I never thought that… well I think they made me see the first one on tape but er… er… no I mean so… and obviously you do work, one has to be honest, you do work on things when you think you could do with the money or you need to pay the mortgage or whatever. So you except things that perhaps can optically please that...
Do you find… sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt I just want… er… do you find that there’s any difference these days between sort of working on sort of top notch sort television films like sort of ‘Lace Two’ and sort of theatrical features?
Yes to a certain extent there is because television type stuff is made to a formula, got to be done on a schedule therefore it is quantity not quality. You know you’ve gotta get through the pages in the day no matter how you do it. And there’s a vast amount of over coverage on an awful lot of it but it is entirely formula shooting, you know, you know that it’s gunna be a two shot and you know then its gunna be a big size close ups. And there’s very little imagination it’s done… you know I feel sometimes you could feed it into the computer and tell it to cut it or tell it to direct it. I mean the longest one I ever… television thing I did was ‘Holocaust’ that was eighteen weeks I think in Germany… er… well Picker Park in Austria. I said to Marvin at the end I wouldn’t ever do another one about that subject I didn’t want to do…
It’s such a harrowing...
I couldn’t bring myself to watch it I’m afraid I just…
And… erm… yes it was moving to go to a concentration camp. Not particularly pleasant work in it. I was quite astounded at some of the Germans that I met. I can’t say, well I was an anti-German and to a certain extent I still am of a certain age group. Not the very young ones. I found that perhaps one of the most… yes I would say that was physically that was the hardest job, I was definitely doing eighteen/twenty hours a day six days a week. Cause I mean you use to be shooting… and I was doing the sort of English system of being immaculate in typing so I would be up at five o’clock in the morning and finishing on twelve o’clock and one o’clock and er… sort of buy myself a sandwich for lunch because the food was so foul that they served up. Well I’ve had to… it was the only time I’ve been told, this was the Germans telling you “You will eat in this…” you know they used to order the meal and I said “Well I don’t eat this, well I don’t eat certain things”.
“You will eat it”.
I said “I won’t eat it”.
And that the very Germanic attitude that I’ve never had in my entire career of “You will eat the boiled beef”.
“Well I don’t want it can I have a piece of salad or could I have an egg or something?”.
That is what it is. So I got up and I dudgeon and slum mucks out and then from then on I made them give me the money and I used to go an buy myself a cake or something in the café cause it was so… if I could find a café nearby but… and I used to get with the work but it was the German attitude was very different from any other group I’d ever worked with I think on that one.
I would have thought sort of that they would be feeling sort of extremely uncomfortable about the film being made sort of it must have been, well sort of, it’s part of history they’d prefer to forget sort of.
They couldn’t have welcomed.
No and a very interesting remark was made to me by a child of fifteen, I think I was typing in the corridor of a block of flats or whatever, and this little girl said to me in English “Why is it you Americans…”
“I said I’m not American model alright I’m English”.
“…always make films about those people” I think she didn’t even want to use the word Nazis. And I felt, well she’s very young, and I said “Well perhaps it’s… let’s say the less we forget… I wouldn’t you to go through what perhaps what your parents went through. Perhaps that’s why”. But I gathered up to then you know it was really like a page and half in the history books of the school. And if nothing else I can only say that it had actually… the holocaust did change the erm… what was it, the statute book, that’s right cause there was going to be erm… they went allowed to persecute them any longer but I think that actually the program did actually succeed, even though it was tried in many ways, did succeed in prolonging it. But even its erm… very strange people on that trip. I remember when we went to berlin and I remember thinking then that even, this was sort of eight years ago, how decadent Berlin seems. It’s an incredibly decadent city. And it still is.
It’s done a full circle…
…It was decadent before Hitler and now it was decadent again.
There is this sort of their nightclubs their whole… everything about their cafes; certain cafes in certain areas are very strange. There’s a very strange feeling about it. They’re… I didn’t feel particularly, put it this way I wouldn’t say I felt at home…
…Amongst them. But a lot of English do they get on better with Germans, I mean I get on very well with French which a lot of English don’t. I think I prefer perhaps more of a Latin temperament than Nordic. But that was I suppose, yes that was the biggest television erm… sort of series it was an eleven hour one. And I haven’t had to; well apart from Lace I don’t think I’ve done another long one. There… I find that... I mean sometimes some of them are well done but because again, because of television, because of the economics very often things have to be sluffed over and… because there isn’t the time. And I think I in some ways recent, not the speed of shooting, but the compromises that very often have to be made.
I should imagine it affects your work in particular because you have a person that sort of picks up the things which perhaps which should be correct but sort of you know that pressures of time…
Yes that’s right even if you say something or you know that something’s wrong in the dressing or something’s wrong well that nobody will notice this and its quick and its… erm… and again everything is time in television. And so you, you know, you accept that and I think that one has certainly had; you change a style of working too, I mean I think one has had to and that nowadays people are tending to work the American way of, as a script sort of marking up the script, which is quicker because ‘A’ they are cutting it that way and because they have to cut at such speed it’s easier for them just to go from the script than to go through lots of paper work. But whatever system you do its still takes; you don’t, you can’t finish it when everybody else has perhaps stopped work at the end of the day you’ve normally got another hour or two too erm… if you’re lucky to hope you’ve finished the day’s work. And they sort of think everybody’s a machine you know that you can always come up with how many minutes they worked, that’s the only thing anybody wants to know all day long. In the states its… they ask you at lunch time and about five o’clock and again at… I think sometimes at the end of the day how many minutes and how many pages. Pages are what the Americans work on we don’t work on pages thank God in Europe. But it’s how many minutes and how many pages and how many set ups etc. But that’s all they want to know so they cross it off on their board. I really don’t see sometimes what pages mean but Americans are more interested in pages than minutes which seems to me a little ridicules when the minutes are showing that it’s going far too long.
But something that I tell you that is different today in films is that the John Houston’s the Carol Reed’s were… their scripts were much tighter, were much more to length. You did not over shoot and come off the floor with an hour and a half of film that was to go on the floor. John never… in any of John’s films did we go over length, I mean the normal twenty minutes, and yet today people shoot films where there’s an hour/an hour and a half that’s a total waste of money, if its not going to be shown then what have… you’ve been shooting all that film, spending all that time, all that money for nothing. I consider that very inefficient. But I must say I never experienced that in my early days. And no matter these days you’re asked to time the script, you prove that it’s too long. I don’t really know sometimes why I’m asked to time I said why do you ask me I’ve said how long it’s gunna be. They still so don’t cut it so… and it still goes on that way. I just find that very boring and time consum… well its time wasting. But there is a lack of discipline today that I think there wasn’t when I started. In certain areas certainly I think in script writing lengths over here. I don’t know so much about in America but certainly I think some of them over here tend to be vastly over length. Certain… maybe I think people who come from commercials. They go from thirty seconds to three and a half hours. It’s a… but it has been interesting that, you know, to do commercials and to work in other things because they’re all different aspects of the industry.
Do you do a lot of commercials?
Oh I do them, yes, I do them as you know…
When did you first start doing commercials?
Oh I don’t know oh erm in between when one was asked about eight or ten years ago something like that. I do them, you know, whoever choses to phone me up and ask me. In fact they’ve kept a lot of us going, they do keep you going in better bread and butter than all of the jam rather than films today. And they are quite a good training ground people do more experimental work on commercials because they can afford it. You know they can play with the camera and do things that they couldn’t have the time to do on a feature. No I’m hopefully still even at this age open minded too learn new techniques and seeing new things, I’m fascinated by it all.
Again I have to sort of ask you if the difference between and theatre; do you find… what is different when you work on the commercial?
Well mainly because they are mainly interested in the timings, sometimes there’s really very little to do. Sometimes you can offer up help, sometimes you can find the most extraordinary mistakes that they’ve come out… I mean those so called writers and their organisation. I mean to give you an example the other week I went on one and I didn’t even know what products, they don’t tell you till you get there. You get what’s there was only a page tear sure of thirty seconds to read it. I looked at this and I said “Incidentally are selling washing machines or are you selling washer dryers”? And the director said “I don’t know, you ask the agent” I thought I don’t want to well I’m the new one they’ve all been working on this for months. And I get the script and I said “Well I think you’ve taken out a word there that doesn’t seem… I’m sure you’ll want it back”. And I said “What are we selling?” and he said “Oh, washer dryers” and I said “But you’ve taken that out” and he goes… now this was not my business cause I wasn’t supposed to know what they’re selling and I mean I found this but I found it staggering that they’d all had these scripts for a month between them and here we are about to do something, I mean yes somebody would have noticed it I’m sure, well I would have hoped they would have done. But there we are giving out actors and the director was selling the wrong product which I thought was wonderful. But that was an example and another example of commercials that I mean it’s only unique to this business that they even forget, it has been known, they even forget to bring the product with them. You know or they brought the wrong labels and things you know which I mean that as continuity you can’t be clever on because the name reads sign them see. The things that happened on commercials are more mind blowing to people who worked in features cause the time factor is incredible the amount of time it takes to do one simple shot, but hours I mean. You never need worry that if you come in at eight thirty that you’d be shooting by nine I mean it’d be even or midday probably or it more likely could be about five in the afternoon. And some of them use to go on like the Ridgley Scotts film took till two and three in the morning. I mean but that’s a totally different ball game. But you just have to be adaptable and some people are more adaptable than others and obviously find it excruciatingly boring or they don’t like the people. But I just find it fascinating you know there’s… that’s a different group of people, advertising people and totally different from feature film people. I think that television, you know, trainees are somewhat different. They train on the small screen the others are trained and the big screen. And I use to think there wasn’t a difference but I think there is. Only from the results you see that’s… it’s interesting that some of the best television directors have not made a good feature cinema film have they?
They just haven’t. And I don’t know why. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it why they’re so good at television and yet somehow cannot translate it to a bigger screen.
Especially sort of when you think that probably their early education was watching films on the big screen.
Mm but most of them came from the bidden places you know. I mean I can think of a director who’s charming and does some lovely work is Jack Gold. But somehow rather he’s never graduated to the big scene or any of his group have really lasted in cinema world. It’s interesting I just, I don’t know why I wish I could put my finger on I, I don’t quite know what it is.
Yes, Jack Gold is a particularly good example because as you say he strikes as you as being a very intelligent program maker or television film maker but as you said sort of…
Yes I did his very first film I think ‘Bothers Scum’ was his first so called feature film. And he is a very, I mean very good director and very good with his actors yet somehow all his subsequent films never quite took off on the big screen.
I suppose his sort of one or two like John Slesenger and Ken Russell who sort of moved very very early in their careers before…
Yes and they didn’t go back really.
Yes. They are the exception.
And they’d also done documentaries before…
Yes because their background was rather sort of film…
British transport films.
They’d come from a kind of different… but Jack Gold was trained at the Beeb, they were sort of the University boys who went to the Beeb. So that’s where their training was done.
Yes. But you’re about the first person I’ve come across that hasn’t totally dammed the world of commercials. Sort of as you say…
Oh no. Oh no I think they give a lot of opportunities and they’ve certainly given enormous opportunities and chances to young cameramen. I mean all… I’m always meeting new ones sort of every week, I say I’ve worked with him you know and… they’d never be working cause I mean there certainly aren’t any films so they’re given tremendous amount of work/employment. In fact people simply wouldn’t be in the industry, cameramen wouldn’t have developed without the commercial lot. So we do have a lot to thank them for. Oh no I certainly wouldn’t knock them. They’ve brought up I think the brighter people.
I think it’s a more visual medium than television because their selling an image aren’t they, sort of whereas television drama sort of more concentrates on the words.
You see at the moment I feel where… what we haven’t got… yes they have the visual side, the others of the verbal haven’t perhaps always got a very good visual image. And they haven’t, you know, and the theatrical director gets his first chance normally in television but then he’s… he needs to come away from it early enough or he tends to see it as a per senior march style. But the theatrical directors better with the actors because that’s where he’s trained. The commercial ones are not good with actors on the whole because a lot of it comes strictly out of advertising because they’ve had no experience of working with actors in the theatre. But an awful lot of directors now are doing commercials like the Ken Loach’s I mean everybody, every director you know is happy to do commercials because of the financial of rewards which are not slight. So the commercial world now is you know picking out people in all directions. Which is quite good because if he’s a theatre director he’s worked with actors so he gets the dialog ones and they can learn a bit about technique. It’s not a bad training ground.
No, No. And also sort of it sponsors other work doesn’t it…
It always people to perhaps sort of works six weeks on a project which they’ll never get properly paid for…sort of but…
I mean Ken Loach who I worked with the other week for the first time, he’s the most left wing and he sort of was trying to apologise “Don’t” I said “Well don’t” he said “Well I know now I’ve got to pay the brass able absolutely” why not. There’s nothing to be ashamed of we’ve all got to pay the bills. And advertising is a fact of life so you might as well take advantage of it. And if you can do it better than somebody else and you know make it if you like ore truthful then well you know you’ve achieved something. Oh no I don’t… I… I do think a lot of people that are in my generation or even older than me they tend to resent new processes, they tend to think the old days were the best. I don’t I think there are… I mean I’m glad to have more money and afford central heating; I don’t want to go back to, you know, living as they call it in cold water flats in a way. You know I’m more for progress I’m more for the Polaroid camera, for the world processor. You know most of my colleagues they wouldn’t agree to working, they won’t even have any… practically you know won’t even use an electric one but… you know they are very stick in the mud. No I think new things are interesting. I think if I ever lose my enthusiasm for change and life I better go in the box.
You know otherwise what you going to look forward too.
Yes, marvellous attitude.
Oh it doesn’t always work but might as well hope that it will. This is like sort of saying as I said I still you know enjoy playing tennis I’m not going to give it up because I’ve seen people playing till seventy and eighty.
I saw a marvellous program on the London marathon and there was this woman of sort of sixty five.
That’s when she took it up wasn’t it?
Yes I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t do that sort of, I couldn’t have done that in my twenties.
Do you do marathon running?
No I don’t do any exercise.
I couldn’t… no I don’t think I’d be much good at running no not that I’m aware but erm… no I mean I’m… you know last week I was running away like a mad thing even for me I said my god I didn’t realise I could do this. Well it flattered me when I was playing, well I think a thirty year old I’m sure, and she said “Oh” I said “Do you mind” I mean I just did a smashing shot I said “You weren’t supposed to get that one back”.
“You could get them if you tried”.
I said “Well Kruter can’t get that, how do you expect me to run in the same motion”.
“You can get them if you try”.
So I go “Well I suppose I’m gunna have to try”. Well she nearly killed me at the end I was at… but I was... I said well “Well you know you are younger so you can actually run faster than I can”. She wouldn’t that she was “Oh no much” I said “Well we won’t discuss the difference in numbers”. So I suppose if you get pushed to do something you know you sort of suddenly find the energy that you never thought you had. And it’s true you know you never thought you could get there but with a little effort you can. I mean I don’t how long one will keep on working. It remains to be seen if one gets any new offers. That’s all you can know. Grateful, but I still don’t want to sit and home and do nothing. I’d have to go be retrained or recycled.
Or find something to do. Well I think you’ve had enough of me and I think you’re wasting all this tape.
Well what I would like before we sort of stop is I… er… a full list of, as many as you can remember, of your credits because it would be nice to have them on the tape because quite often it’s difficult to find what the continuity credits, it’s easier to find out sort of what…
Well you want me to see how many I can remember?
Yes. We’ll test your memory if you can remember where every bit of…
No I can’t… erm… I… well we’ll do it from when I was full continuity so erm… Pandora and The Flying Dutchman, The African Queen, Moulin Rouge, Beat the Devil, Moby Dick, Heaven knows Mr Allison. These aren’t necessarily in order. The Roots of Heaven, The Misfits, The Night of the Iguana, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Wise Blood, The Man who would be King. Erm… The Running Man, that was with Carol Reed. Erm… I’m just trying to think of erm… some of the others. The mind it goes blank occasionally.
We can switch off for a while.
Oh I can send you in the CV dear cause I can’t remember, if I’d have known I could have brought it along with me but I can’t erm… oh, with Peter Hall I did Midsummer Nights…
END OF RECORDING
Right. Side 4, tape 2.
Yes the last one of Peterson’s was three and two ago. I did Macbeth with Palansky. I did with Sethereally I did a film, which he was not too proud of cause it hasn’t been shown here, called The Young Toscanini when I first met him. And then I’ve just finished Hamlet in 1990. I… the name… the title has escaped me of a film I did in India with Andrew McLachlan. I did another one with him in the North Sea, Hijacker I think that was called. I did a horrible film called… and it changed titles saying dumb and jacks with Bert Reynolds erm… David Niven. And I can’t remember what it finally finished up as. I did a pleasant one before called The Black Windmill with Don Siegel. With Mark I did The Little Hat many many years ago in Rome and the West Indies and then one in… it was about a train crossing that wasn’t very good. I did Michael Angelo, yes I’ve got that with The Agony and the Ecstasy with Carol Reed in Italy. I did various; oh I did The Horsemen with John Frank and Hymer in Afghanistan and Spain. I did a not very with him in England called The Whole Croft Covenant and one in America called Dead Bang. I did a television pilot that I think was named…. That Was Pleasant in the south of France. I did something… er…. What are Friends For or it was called the Marcy Connection I think with Robert…. Erm… Bob Parish in France. So I said I did things like Lace 2 and Holocaust all for television and I did one called Soli… well it was about solidarity written by Tom Stoppard, directed by Michel Apted. Oh Square and Circle it was called. And I sort of think that there were a few small ones as I said which I can’t remember the titles of and… Westerns in Spain back in the sixties. Oh I did the film Ships many many years ago in Yugoslavia it was my first time there. I went to Hon… oh I did The World of Suzy Wong in the sixties and it was strange to go back in 1989 on a television one, see how much changed Hong Kong was. I did… oh I did The Dirty Dozen, yes, in the sixties and then strangely enough I did a television version of it, how many years, twenty odd years later with Terry Subravis playing Lee Marvin’s part in Yugoslavia. And then I seem to go back to Yugoslavia to do another one called The Plot to Kill Hitler about Count Von Staffenberg that was for American television. Same cars, same everything. I think that sort of… oh I did Theatre of Blood with my friend the late Daglous Hickok’s and the Zulu Dawn and, well I think it was called Brannigan with John Wayne. Oh earlier I’d done something called The Barbarian in the Geisha in Japan with John Wayne, that was John Houston. Oh and I think I forget to say I did The Roots did I say that? I did The Roots of Heaven. And many years before that I’d been in Africa on another small film with George Marshall and I’d worked with I think Rita Hayworth on some sort of film in Spain back in the sixties about stealing paintings if I remember it. The Rockaby Venus I think the painting was meant to be. Well I think that’s, well that’s off hand I’ve sort of remembered…
Not bad going.
…films. There are probably others. I’m sure there’s others I often find but I think that’s a fair selection.
Right. Can I just ask you about working with Polanski, what was that like?
Ah well that was… yes he was definitely erm… shall we say not a misogynist but erm… women after a certain age if you were past eighteen often to be seen not heard. So as Rex certainly recognised his talent but you couldn’t offer up anything to Romand he was very opinionated, occasionally he was wrong, but I enjoy… I liked him. And I certainly respected him as a director and you know had a lot of time for him. Difficult and hard though he made all of our lives I found him fascinating and I think all the directors that I warmed too are certainly not easy personalities. Nobody could describe Frank as a Ferellei as an easy personality but I love him dearly and I think all… really all the most talented people are difficult and all great directors are egocentrics. But if you’d go in knowing that I think you can learn a lot. And Its better be around people you learn from than erm… bein banks ot second rate. So I consider I’ve lived a privileged life.
Can I… well you ‘ve referred to quite a lot of what a continuity women does but could you just sort of go through what your work would involve from the moment you get the phone call that…. You’ve been asked to take on a project.
Yes. You get phone call frequently today they send you the script and ask you to time it. That might be well before they actually engage you to go in on the set. And then you normally get a week or two weeks preproduction, most days is times… today it’s a week whereby you break it down in the sense of saying, you break it down you go through it to work out for yourself when the days change, in other words where the days change then you could have a legitimate change of costume erm… when its day when its night, when it goes you break it all down so that you know and if somebody asks you a question you say “No, because she can’t change the costume because she’s listed in this sequence in time”. So you do all that for yourself and as I said you’ve normally got a timing you break it down and then if they do rehearsals you go along to rehearsals and you obviously note the movements, the actions and anything the director tells you he wants to do in the way of shots. And then you start on the floor and depending one who it is and how you can work, but you know your job is there to observe everything, to remind them if they’ve forgotten a shot or to know and say I think you should pick up a close up here cause you’ll need to point out to the actors obviously if they mismatch. But it all… you don’t actually tell the actors, you should not tell the actors you should discuss it with the director and it’s up to him whether he wishes to tell them or we go again. Certain directors don’t like continuity or anybody speaking to the actors but then others ask you to do it yourself. So you have to judge each director as to each way he wants to work and what his attitude is generally to people offering suggestions or not. You type then… under the English system you can type out either a very detailed sheet describing the action and dialog, well as I’ve done, with all the dialogue and all the changes each time. And the reason why the takes are cut, because you may want to print them up an you may find if something for instance did go wrong in the lab well we have got a tape that was complete, it may not have been the most perfect performance but if we have to live with it we could and because we can post sync it all it will work. And also if there was another technical break or you suddenly find a bit out of a shot it might just be a movie and that you can use so I always put down exactly where it cuts on which words so that if you do want to print it up you know how far the shot is without having to spend the money on printing blindly. And these notes are given to the editor, that’s who you’re making them for, and you obviously keep a copy for yourself. The production office likes them and on top of that in the old days you even had to, even occasionally I’ve had to do it these times, is to keep a daily dairy of sort of every minute of the day and you… if anything breaks down if something blows up or goes wrong for a hold up you put that down and that’s for the production report. Then you have to do, at the end of the day or for the following morning when you send it in, the total minutes shot for the day, the pages, the scene numbers, the slate numbers, the time of the call, the first shot in the morning, the first shot in the afternoon, the lunch break and the rap time cause all that goes on the production report. You do not have to fill in, although I have to in the past but you don’t normally have to fill in the actor that’s the assistant director’s job. And you have to keep your notes up to date so that even if you did tune forty set-ups (coughs) pardon me, erm in a day it might mean you’re sitting up there till the early hours of the morning cause you hand them in the next day for the editor so that he can have them when he syncs up the rushes. And the editor will then… and it’s normal to discuss with the editor which system he would like. Whether he would you to work the American system which is called a marked up script, whereby you draw lines where the shot begins and ends on the dialogue side, the written page and on the left hand side you’d type a much more abbreviated one certainly putting all the takes but it may be a description like ‘Medium shot – a close up of Joe blokes looing right. Rises, turns around, the camera tracks’ etc. But it’s a brief, very brief summary of what the shot is. As opposed to the sort of English, the old English system of describing it all in detail and typing every… at a full description of every setup.
(SECOND INTERCIEWER INTRODUCED) Can I ask you a very quick one line, had you actually timed the script by reading, so an A4 page at a certain pace and then putting a stop watch on it or what?
Well it’s as I always say I call it an educated and sometimes an uneducated guess because it has to be in a way your… well you know the bit of experience you’ve seen how long, but it says you know you walk down the road to enter his house. Well subject to what sort of film or where it’s set you say to yourself well there’s obviously gunna be probably a long avenue so he’ll walk down the road and past a car so it’s about 25/28 seconds. And on certain things you make it less, nine times out of ten they’ll make it longer. But when they come to cut it I try to do it on the biases of what it would be when you cut it down to what I call a sensible cutting thing. Although you may shoot much more but you shouldn’t but it’s amazing how long, people can’t believe this, but how long walks or if it’s described as a close up. When it comes to dialogue you read it and then you have to act it out yourself and go strolling round the room. But of course again it’s a guess because when you get an actor in they might want to have tremendously long, and they all do, pauses in totally different places. Not where certainly it’s described where it might say ‘He pauses’ he wants to pause somewhere else. Or he sits down and he thinks for about twenty seconds before he opens his mouth again. Or he crosses and he fiddles and he… I mean that, you have only got the page of how the author wrote it and says ‘He picks up his coat and puts it on’. But of course he may have decided he goes to switch the lamp off and he changes the picture on the wall and he dreams a bit before he gets over there. So I mean you’ve tried to sort of time it about and turn it off the lamp but with years of doing it I tend to sort of add on a bit saying ‘well he’s bound too’. Not for television but for film he’ll wander round and do this. And it’s just an assessment and you’re fairly good…
But really you’re a director aren’t you actually visualising it from the script.
That’s what you’re trying to, that’s the only way you can do it you can sort of visualise. I mean I was, I think lucky because on the last one on Hamlet I had three scripts, three versions of it. And then the last one I timed and then people would put backing lines and I just didn’t have the time to do it yet again. But it came out on my floor timing and actually it came out at what it would have done and that was to my astonishment. The editor and I, my cut time I mean my daily physical timings on the set, and he would too… I think we were a minute and a half out which is nothing, and that was you know again, but reading Shakespeare which I’m not a Shakespeare expert is I found very hard because of knowing the rhythms. I found it easier once we started working with the dialogue coach explaining, well doing and hearing the rhythms. And dialogue is not as difficult because at least you’ve got something to read and you can add on a bit. But you’d be staggered at how actors can erm… I mean that was the interesting thing about Hamlet the same speech, the first actor did his test took him three and a minutes to get the same speech as the last one did it in a minute and a half. Now that gives you an idea of one can drag it out and it has to be your assessment of what you think, how you think you’d like to see it I mean the director might see it totally differently. And to hope… it’s always a guess and I always think it’s… I hate doing it I mean I’ve got one to do at this moment which is… I think it’s gunna be the most horrendous one I’ve ever had to do. But most of us don’t enjoy having to do it. Some people sort of do it I think all the time now but it is a guess. But you get fairly good I mean you know you might be… well you can be ten/fifteen out but that’s because anything’s changed. But television has to be timed; I mean they do all these things. But then you have a control because you can say when you’re… the script… when the director turns round and says “how long did you time it? How long is it running with the actor playing it”? Now if it’s vastly over then he’s gunna have to tell the actor to pick up the pace. Or he’s gunna have to do something to get it down to the give time. So there of course they are controlled more. But even then some of them go way over, the do. They won’t believe you they don’t believe the stopwatch. I mean I had one and he said “What did you give it”? I said “I gave it twenty eight seconds”.
“And how long did I take”?
I said “A minute fifteen “.
So he said “I liked it”.
So I said “Well right what you want me to say”?
You felt guilty?
No I just said “Fine” no I said “Fine. That’s fine”.
“Do you want to do it again”?
I said “Well all I can tell you is that’s what it took, that’s what its gunna be. And we got no cuts in it and its got nowhere to cut to”.
“Oh well we’ll do another one”.
So we get it down to four… forty five if he found more things to touch. So I said to the director after “Now what do you want me to do”? I said “Describes him walking into the room. Walking into the room and looking out of the window. He’s gone round and touched every single object he can find in the room and its taking forty five. Now, you’ve got nothing to cut to”. I said “I know where it’ll finish up”. It finished up exactly where I said it would finish up in the end they cut him and well I know but they would not listen, so you waste all that time and money and energy. So I mean I just do find it a bit of a bore these days just trying to time and then you find, and knowing before you start it’s too long and you still get the same script though. It’s still gunna be two hours but you’ve told them it’s two hours forty-five. It doesn’t make a difference; we still carry on, we still come out two hours forty-five and we still gotta cut it down to two. So it’s I mean, I really wanted to say it I don’t know why you’ve paid and asked us to time the script because nothing changes. Not one line. That’s sort of encapsulated what the job is to you.
I was just going to ask you about the cutting room. Did you… during cutting did you, you know, beg the film. Do you actually… are you actually more in the cutting room.
Not normally. I did stay on in Hamlet cause Franco asked me to but that’s very rare and I really enjoyed it. No, normally you get fired like everybody else does. (Inaudible) use to stay on. But I found it fascinating because, well Franco allows you to make, me to make, a comment. So I mean I could see something, he could see it cut, and you could say to him well don’t you think if we did this or that. Even though the editor knew, you know, Dickey Martins terribly nice we all got on pretty well. I mean a lot of directors wouldn’t allow you to… I mean I met a television director, a young television one on a commercial who often would have been doing so… I said “Oh I’ve been on to the cutting” I said “well er…” he said “Well what do you mean”? I said, well you say to Franco something similar.
“Well I wouldn’t allow it. I wouldn’t have anybody tell me what to do”.
So I looked at him and I said “You know that’s perhaps the difference isn’t it”. After all Franco doesn’t have to use my suggestion but he might find it quite useful, Fredy Est used one but, god knows it was more than one, but that’s the difference between the bigger directors. Houston I mean occasionally, well I used to sometimes stay on with him and make comments and if he liked them then he’d change them. And that I find interesting cause also its true sometimes if you know, you can be quicker at finding them the extra shot because it saves the editor having to look up his notes because you know, having been there, you can say “Well we have got a close up, we’ve got that version. We’ve got a close up of Ruth we need it there”. And so him having to look it up he can… or we can try, we’ve got another tape we could print up or something like that that might work better. But no normally you don’t unfortunately. It just depends I mean everything as we said is money. But it’s mainly attitude I’ve found that most of these BBC ones… your totally, you’re a typist. I call myself an expensive typist cause they don’t allow… no… they don’t want you to make a suggestion. And I’ve found the pacing in England appalling on some of the stuff I’ve been looking up my box. And certain European things, some German things I just see… I’ve just done four hours morning, no I did it two hours yesterday and two hours today watching this tape, he don’t speak for fifteen minutes.
What it’s like to give you an impression of the director’s style so you can then sort of time something.
Well no they said it a little bit differently, it weren’t. I mean, I know we saw a truncated version cause I call up, cause I don’t speak German and it’s in German and I... well I know there’s large chunks missing so I goes, it was eight hours or something, but I’m still trying to work out with Shubert whether what I saw on the begging was his niece, his wife, his girlfriend. I don’t know. I’m still trying to find out.
Must be marvellous plotting a film where you can’t understand the dialect.
Yeah I can, you know a couple of words here… you’re not recording all this are you?
Oh no don’t do that.
I’ll switch off.