Billy Williams

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Interview Date(s): 
20 Nov 1991
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Born Walthamstow 1929, father Billie Williams a cameraman who started working at Walthamstow Studios (Wood Street) in 1910. He describes the work that his father did and the types of camera in use. Billy left school in 1942 to work as an assistant to his father at £1.50 a week working on Admiralty training films; he says his father was a hard taskmaster. In 1946 aged 17 he went with his father to work with the Colonial Film Unit in West Africa where he met Bob Paynter and Bill Sellars. In 1947 did National Service in the RAF before being demobilised in 1949, when he decided to break away from his father. Got a job with the Transport Film Unit where he was sent to Hull to join the unit making Berth 24. He talks about the training he got with the Training Unit and the people who influenced his career. He left the Unit in 1955, now earning £11 a week. He then went to film Centre having spent all his saving on the purchase of an Arriflex camera. He was sent out to Iraq where he worked with John Shearman who had a permanent Film Unit, he talks about the making of The Rivers of Time.


He talks about working in the extreme heat. He then worked for Ethos Film working on European Tapestry when he had Harvey Harrison as his assistant. Then he moved to Merton Park [Studios] with Film Producers Guild; here he met his wife Anne, he talks about his family and in particular Clare who went to the National film School to graduate as a Director Cameraman. He talks about the difficulty of moving into features. In 1957 he started to operate for TV Advertising who had a basement studio in Film House, where he became a lighting cameraman earning £50 per week. He talks about making commercials with Ken Russell and John Schlesinger. Then in 1962 he freelanced still making commercials. Then in 1965 he got his first real break on a film San Ferry Anne, 1967 came Just like a Woman, then followed others. He talks about equipment, both lighting and cameras etc. and the "war" between Moles, Sammy's and the Lee Brothers [Lighting and camera companies].


 He continues to talk about the "war". He then talks about The Billion Dollar Brain and the reason he got the job. He talks about the great help he got from Dave Harcourt, Camera Operator; he talks about the position of the Operator as he sees it. He worked on The Magus at £300 per week with Guy Green directing. He sold his own equipment which he says was a great mistake, he talks about cameras, lenses and the use of Zooms. Back to the Billion Dollar Brain when he talks about Michael Caine; he then talks about the making of Women in Love, then about the relationship of the cameraman with his ‘Gaffer’ [Chief Lighting Technician].


He continues to talk about his own Gaffer, George Cole, and how the English system differs from the US one. Then goes back to the making of Women in Love, the nominations for an Oscar and a BAFTA Award. He was offered the chance of filming The Devils but didn't like the script and turned it down. 18 years later Ken Russell asked him to film The Rainbow which he enjoyed making. Then he talks about the Film Workshops: he takes in the National Film School and also at Rockfort in Maine (USA).

He talks about the making of The Shadow of the Wolf and its problems. He talks about a cameraman's relationship with the cast of a film, working with Faye Dunaway, on Gandhi with Ben Kingsley. He talks about working in the States but has never worked in Los Angeles; [he] is a member of the local 644 [?] based in New York. He then goes on to talk about Women in Love.

SIDE SIX (NB there is no side five)

He continues talking about Glenda Jackson and her role in Women in Love.   He then talks about the relationship between cameraman and Director Then about working on On Golden Pond, with Henry Fonda, and Katherine Hepburn.

He relates a story about Katherine Hepburn and Jane Fonda. He then talks about the filming that he did for The Exorcist in Iraq. He says that in the present day [1991] there aren't many good producers about. He then talks about his first USA film which was made in Mexico, Kid Blue.


He relates the time when was cast in a Peter Yates film Suspect, he talks about working with Sean Connery, then about Eagles Wings, shot in Mexico 1977. Then he talks about On Golden Pond, then about Gandhi.


He talks about the making of Elaine and then about Peter Yates film Suspect which was shot in Washington and studios in Toronto. He then talks about the making of Stella which he says was a very unhappy experience. Then about Dream Child, a script written by Dennis Potter who was also Executive Producer.        He then talks generally about 'releasing printing', projection brightness, and the lack of any recognised standard of screen illumination. He also talks about the transfer from film to video and the different requirements, and although he has safeguards written into his contract none of these have been taken up.



Son of Billie Williams, cameraman at Walthamstow Studios from 1910

Billy Williams BSC

Partial filmography. [NB Some dates have been corrected]


1990 SHADOW OF THE WOLF Jacques Dorfman

1989 STELLA John Erman

1988 RAINBOW Ken Russell

1987 SUSPECT Peter Yates

1983 MANHATTAN PROJECT Marshall Brickman

1984 ELENI Peter Yates

1984 DREAM CHILD Gavin Miller

1984 ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE Desmond Davies

1982 THE SURVIVORS Michael Ritchie

1982 MONSIGNORE Frank Perry

1981 GANDHI Richard Attenborough*

1980 ON GOLDEN POND Mark Rydell**

1979 GOING IN STYLE Martin Brest

1979 EAGLES WING Anthony Harvey

1978 SATURN 5 John Barry

1978 BOARDWALK Stephen Verona


1975 THE WIND AND THE LION John Milius


1973 THE EXORCIST (Iraq sequence) William Friedkin

1973 VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED Stuart Rosenberg

1972 THE GLASS MENAGERIE Anthony Harvey

1972 NIGHT WATCH Brian Hutton

1971 KID BLUE James Frawley

1971 SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY John Schlesinger***

1970 THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN Roddy McDowell

1970 ZEE & CO Brian Hutton

1969 WOMEN IN LOVE Ken Russell*

1969 THE MAGUS Guy Green***


1968 30 IS A DANGEROUS AGE, CYNTHIA Joseph McGrath



1967 RED AND BLUE Tony Richardson

1967 JUST LIKE A WOMAN Robert Fuest

 1965 SAN FERRY ANN Jeremy Summers

*Academy Award Recipient

**Academy Awards Nomination

***British Academy Nomination