Transcript created Sep 16, 2018 4:30:57 PM, from an automated transcription service, supplied by John Harwood and edited by David Sharp in 2019. The numbers in square brackets are timecodes.
[Filming began outside]
Interviewer: Jimmie King. David Woodward on camera.
Jimmie King [JK]: If you’d like to introduce yourself Bob.
Bob Jordan [BJ]: Good morning. My name's Robert Jordan. Today is the 20th of June I believe. I'm here to talk about my life in the film industry.
JK: Would you like to say how you started out?
BJ: Well basically I had no idea I was coming in the film industry. I went to school, grammar school, being paid for by my father.
I was always bottom of the class and it wasn’t until recent years I realised that I had slight dyslexia and that’s why I was. That's what my father saw, that in me there was no future in academics so he decided that he would put me in film industry before…
JK [interrupts]: There’s a lot of wind noise coming in. It’s a shame. [interruption of wind noise etc.].
BJ: Shall we go inside?
JK: Yes, it’s a shame. [01:00:53:700]
[Interview resumes indoors]
BJ: Well fine. Well my name is Bob Jordan. Having been in the film industry for the last 40 ,41 years. 1957 I joined the film industry. The reason I joined is, it’s a bit diverse. My father who was a bookmaker, his brother was a guy in a caravan, called Bill Jordan, Billy Jordan and he helped get me into the film industry through Pathé News. It wasn't as direct as that because at the very beginning Morton Lewis, [Probably Morton M. Lewis. DS] God rest his soul, promised me the earth and I never got the job but eventually I joined Pathé News in the camera maintenance department under the guidance of Sid Randall. Interestingly the co-runner messenger boy that worked with me was a Hungarian called Peter Marek. He joined it when [it was] the time the Hungarian revolution and he left the country. But because his uncle was company secretary of ABC Pictures he got the prime jobs and I was just left … sweeping the floor most of the time. Learning how to repair cameras which stood me in great stead. I eventually got involved with Danzigers [The Danziger Brothers], again through Sid Randall because his son Geoff Randall was clapper loader on most of the Warwick, and Eon productions eventually and at the time he was working at Danzigers on a television series. When one of Warwick pictures came up and, obviously, he wanted to do it and it was in the prime days in the film industry with no other technicians were [sic] available. So, to get his son in the picture Sid Randall sent me down today to Danziger’s studios and that's how I became a clapper loader. My first cameraman was a wonderful man called Jimmy Wilson. I can't say too much about the operator because he was not very pleasant but a guy called John Winbolt, ex- Technicolor technician. Johnny Shinerock and Wally Fairbrother were the focus pullers I worked with. And we used to make all these films at Danziger studios for United Artists. And it was a great experience and a great training. My key moment, or my key thought I ever had was from John Winbolt when I first started:he said “Bob we realise you hadn't done this before. And we're going to teach you to be a clapper loader. You can make any mistakes you like once. Second time you're in trouble” and true enough it does tighten up your mind, thinking, and that's how I basically started. From there. I met a guy, a camera maintenance man who was at Danziger’s Studios called John Kerley. And he, when it all wrapped up went to Bray Studios for Hammer because they’d recently bought themselves a new camera, [Mitchell] BNC and he was employed as a maintenance engineer to look after it and he recommended me as a clapper loader to Jimmy Wilson. I beg your pardon, Arthur Grant. I do apologise, not Jimmy Wilson, Arthur Grant. And that's where my basic mainstay in my early days in the film industry stayed. I was Arthur Grant's assistant focus puller, and operator for nearly 25 years. Having done 20 odd Hammer Films, two Val Guest pictures and numerous Children’s Film Foundation pictures. And other things and he was very, very, kind to me and very good to me. Whether he furthered my career, I don't know, being stuck with one technician all the time. It is not necessarily good when you have other people around. But subsequently, Arthur died. I was very fortunate to get involved with Denys Coop. Another great cameraman who taught me an awful lot.
But during my focus puller's years I worked on other feature films. And as I just said I worked on 20 odd Hammer films, two with Val Guest and eventually, two with Michael Winner. And Michael Winner is an interesting man to work for. You watch your p's and q's a little bit with him but it's them and us with Michael and the whole crew is against Michael so you’re in good company. But I don't know what else you want me to talk about because I'm drying up a bit here.
JK: No, No, that’s fine Bob. Very fluent. Could we ask you please about, if you like to do it in blocks, your feature work.You were saying Hammer, that was the early stuff wasn’t it?
Would you like to talk about Hammer?
BJ: Yes. Hammer. Well I started off as a clapper loader with Hammer. Arthur Grant as I say was the cameraman, theoperator was a guy called Moray Grant. He did an awful lot of the Carry On films, or should I say Ealing films, not the Carry Ons. Wally Byatt was the focus puller. John Higgins at one time and I learnt, I was with them as a loader for I would say, very difficult to say, I should say three years. And Arthur then very kindly promoted me up to a focus puller. I fortunately had [a] three films contract for that job which was lucky because the first half of the first film I got 95 per cent of it wrong, everything was out of focus but Arthur was very kind to me and nobody is saying here is the natural thing to do. I suppose I got away with it and suddenly I learnt my trade very well for Hammer because you do work very, very, fast and get it right and Hammer is very good.
JK: [Background comment, apparently a technical matter, unintelligible]
BJ: If I can remember. You are running, are you?
JK: Just the end now Bob.
BJ: I thought yes what I was given the chance to be a focus puller and It is very kind of pulling focus. Pulling focus in those days was particularly difficult because there were no reflex cameras as such. Arriflex was there of course but that was not a sound camera. You used to use the BNCs and they had a side view-finders so the operator could never tell if he was out of focus or not. You never knew until the next day or so any difficult shots you had on one hundred mm or something, you've to mark lines on the floor [and] as the dolly went over those lines, your assistant used to tap you on the shoulder because you knew that was [gesturing] six feet, five feet. four feet and would be pulled into focus accordingly.
And, as I said earlier, I was very fortunate to have a very loyal cameraman and I suppose a director as well that put up with me because as I say the first half of the picture was out of focus. The second half I seemed to get the idea of how to do it and eventually I did get the idea. And if I say to myself, I think I became perfectly good at it.
Also, I was the focus puller on Lawman with Michael Winner
JK: Can I ask you before you go into your further career point of his career, do you have any memories of the artists at Hammer?
BJ: Ah well of course Peter Cushing wonderful man
BJ: And Chris [Christopher] Lee. Chris Lee was a bit aloof. Lovely man I mean nothing [by that] but he wasn't the gentle man that Peter Cushing was. Peter Cushing was a gentleman totally through. A few others were, I don't know, I suppose the directors as well as me there was always Harry, Harry Gillham who is a very difficult man to work with as a director, very non-compromising but then you come to other extreme where you had a wonderful director called Gerry Fisher who would bend over backwards to make the picture work. Now if that meant changing the picture, the shot, for the technicians he would do it.
JK: Wise man then. [01:08:21]
BJ: Yes, and he did very well and I guess I’ve got a still upstairs, I must dig it out later, of me with
Gerry who was actually a wonderful man. As artist goes – actually, my lasting memory is of the Bray canteen. It had the most amazing cook in the canteen and if you saw me then and you see me now you can see I put on about four stone and I put it down to the canteen because they used to make the most incredible bread and butter puddings. Every lunch time we’d be in there filling ourselves with bread and butter puddings! Hm, artists, it’s very bad of me, I can't think. I mean obviously I worked on a few Hammer's with Valerie Leon – you may remember her as the karate girl in the commercials[Hai Karate aftershave. DS]
JK: ah yes.
BJ: And dear old Seth Holt was the director of that and he, he had a wonderful technique with her, he just told her to shut up, don't fall over the furniture and stop trying to act. And he actually got a performance out of her.
BJ: Very sadly of course, Seth died before the end of the picture and Michael Carreras came in and took over. Unfortunately, he didn't know about that technique and if he did, he probably didn't have the nerve to do it. And then she was let run riot as an actress and lost the performance we had previously. So, directors taught me an awful lot as well, how to handle artists. You know quite a few of them would just walk in the film set. I've always thought and was probably told … as well, where do you put the camera. Where does the camera go first? You know the first set up, where does the camera go and the obvious way of doing it is to run the acting, to run the actors. Not necessarily block the actors, let them block themselves. And I think probably as Gerry Fisher or probably some other great director would say “right, show us what you want to do lads” and we used to watch it and then block it out ourselves and say right, that's good and change it. And so that I learnt as well. I worked an awful lot with Neil Binney in those days and I think he's my mentor as an operator. I think Neil was incredibly good, calm. And very,very, thoughtful to everyone around him. Never, never got into a flap and always willing to tell you why he did something.
I used to ask him quite frequently, and he taught me an awful lot. As far as acting, actors, goes I suppose my worst moment or – well it wasn’t my worst moment because I couldn't stop laughing, was a picture called Blood from Blood, Blood will have Blood [released as Taste the Blood of Dracula]and the real - Roy Kinnear was in it and there was scene going in where he has this powder, red powder and supposed to be Dracula’s blood in powder form and he runs a shop, where the set was and he got me going and I couldn't stop laughing and I cried handkerchiefs and I was actually sent off the set by the director called Peter Sasdy. Who had the most incredible halitosis but there you go, didn’t get too close to him.
But there again, Hammer was a wonderful training ground a majority of the time I worked with a very, very, good assistant director called Bert Batt who in all my years - and there are other good ones as good as - Bert was wonderful. He was a wonderful man. Which brings me to a lovely little story on Quatermass and The Pit which I was on as an assistant and we had a scene in the bar when
Quatermass thing starts coming alive and everything starts flying through the air.
Ninety percent of the scene was in a pub and all these things are flying through the air, well 60 to 70 percent of the props were made of balsa wood so if they hit anybody it didn't matter but story-wise they shouldn't hit anybody. The idea was that although they flew through the air, they would avoid people. That's the story line.
But Bert, in his wisdom, decided that he would actually throw a proper style barstool through the air and he took the responsibility on himself and he said “right lads. When I say throw it but don't hit the artist” because what did he do? Threw it and hit an artist. Which is also very amusing at the time and I think James Donald was the artist involved in that. I can't remember. So, we had some wonderful moments with Bert and, yeah, we just had a great time, you know. And also working, going on from Hammer, I was going to mention one other time I worked with Bert was with erm, Run a Crooked Mile for Universal Columbia Pictures or Universal Pictures. I should be on there, and the executive producer from America wrote an article for one of the trade magazines saying the British technicians had no verve, and all he wanted to do was break for tea which, as any technician of my time would know that's a load of rubbish and the article was written and unfortunately for him it came out a week before it should have done and he was still in the country and in fact on the film set and we’re working in a bar with Bert Batt and all the others.
And he had this great big bottle of [St] Raphaël and he had it in the art department he put on the label “verve tonic specially imported from Hollywood for these useless technicians” and put it on the set and I think if you ever watched the film it is still there...
[Laughter from Jimmy King]
… in the back of the shot unfortunately, which was very embarrassing for the director because he wasn’t supposed to be in country when this was published. Bert was a lovely man, one of my other mentors as well, although on the production side, he knew my job.
He knew the director's job. He knew the art d[irector], he knew the chippy's [carpenters] job he knew everything that had to be done and he knew - not how to do it - but he knew it had to be done
And … another little story of Bertie's… he called for silence on a particular shot and there was someone whistling in the back just walking through the stage door whistling away he shouted at the top of his voice “for Christ sake shut up!”. It turned out to be the executive producer and his next line was “catchy tune guvnor, a catchy tune”. [Laughs] So, but that's just talking about one particular person. Actors I never really got involved with, although I did fall in for love totally with Judy Geeson, lovely lady, lovely lady and that was, Jimmy Sangster directed that I think. Night er, night something I can’t remember the title [Fear in the Night. DS] that was shot some years ago and unfortunately
you know, I don't know if Judy's around, or if Jimmy is, but there I came across Joan Collins who I personally didn't think was the most wonderful lady I’d ever met but I won’t go any further than that.
JK: Can we ask you, so, Hammer, were you contracted for that….?
BJ: No, I always worked on a per picture contract and three pictures mainly, you should make three pictures, six-week schedule, three pictures, so I'd be employed for 16 weeks at a time. 90 per cent of them were at Bray. We also did some Hammer films like On the Buses. I did the first On the Buses. I also did Robin Hood [A Challenge for Robin Hood? DS]… I think it was made at Pinewood. I suppose the best Hammer film or the most important Hammer film was, erm, before the horror thing. Oh. I've lost it. Sorry.
Made at Elstree Studios. I'm trying to think of it, it’s a famous book. Can we just stop a minute?
JK: Of course, of course.
BJ: Yes and of course I was very fortunate to work on The Devil Rides Out which is a Wheatley, Dennis Wheatley's book I believe and a very well-known film and I think very well done. Laura, Laura Thorson [ Sarah Lawson DS] was in it,obviously Pete Cushing, no Chris Lee was in it. And a gentleman called Leon Greene. Now Leon Greene was a trained opera singer and he actually made his film debut [in A Funny Thing Happened] On the way to the Forum film…..musical, opera. He was brought on as Little John, as one of Peter Cushing’s henchmen. And to say he couldn't act his way out of a paper bag is not an exaggeration and he …. Speaking,and Laura Thorson's [Sarah Lawson’s] husband is used to dub for him. Trying to think of his name… [Patrick Allen. DS]
JK: He went on to great fame, didn’t he?
BJ: Yes, he did but it was very difficult he was he was also playing John in the Robin Hood and the Challenge. A lot of fun, a lot of fun you know.
[01:16:33:960] – JK: So, after Hammer, where did your work take you?
BJ: Well basically I got involved, I did say I was with [Michael] Winner. I worked with Bob Paynter, cameramen. I was very fortunate, and how you get work in this business is incredibly -
you just don't know where the next job's going to come from and I went to see a trade showing at the Odeon Leicester Square one Sunday morning. And I walked out the foyer who should be there but “Su” [Wolfgang] Suchitsky.
And it was the time of the ITV strike and this is going back a few years. ITV had been on strike for some time. And they were just about to start up Worzel Gummidge again.
I didn't know this at the time and I just said “How are you?” [when we] met in the foyer. “Hello Bob how are you doing?”I said “well I'm not working at the moment”. Next morning, I get a phone call and I'm the operator on Worzel Gummidge the next day. And I would say that was probably the happiest thing I've ever done. Fun, you know but was very professionally done, everybody knew their jobs. The main camera crew came from Southampton, Southern Television, me and the cameraman Wolfgang Suschitsky, [BEHP interview No 66] of course, and myself, and the director I think, were, basically the only freelance people on it. And a lot of fun.
JK: What about Suschitsky?
BJ: Wonderful man, very, very talented and very good Stills man, of course. He's done a lot of photographic work on the stills side and I’ve seen his books and I've seen his exhibitions, I've seen them. He's a wonderful man to work for, a very fine artist.
JK: (interrupting) Did you learn anything from him?
BJ: Yes, well this is the beauty of working with people of that class. Denys Coop I include, and
Arthur Grant as well. Once they employ an operator who knows what they're doing and trusts, they don't actually impart anything to you unless you want them to. They let you get on with your job.
And he did you know occasionally say “well perhaps we should try it this way or that way” and a discussion would go on. But yes, I think having them behind you when you're doing a job is a great feeling of a kind of comfort, it’s a comfort zone you’ve got because you know you've got a cameraman there and I have worked with cameramen who haven't, who know less than a clapper loader. Then you’re in trouble because if you get a problem, they can't help you. This is why I feel that experience comes by all else you know, regardless of your qualifications, whether you come out of film school or messenger boy or something, you should learn your job because once you get there you should know the answers to people, you should be able to help people and if you turn around and say “I don't know” then I'm afraid you are wasting your time.
JK: Can I ask you, on features what [are] the focus of responsibilities, I know…on set or before the picture starts maybe?
BJ: Well before the picture starts, when I was a focus puller… you would have a week's preproduction.
You would be employed a week before the picture starts, the whole crew would be, and you would have to go in and you will be given a camera. In the early days it was off the shelf at Pinewood Studios or at Bray or whatever. Nowadays it's all from Samuelsons , or the hire people. They would supply a camera. This camera would be there and you would test it although it'd probably be maintained perfectly well, you would personally test it. And one of the first things you would do is you would do a focus depth of check because you didn't - actually, in fact, I used to get told off for looking through the camera to try and get the depth of field. And I know it sounds a bit big headed but I knew the Kelly calculator for depth of field off by heart. In the early days of my focus pulling I could tell what was in focus now by what lens I had. But you get a harp, what they called a harp which is at an angle to the lens [he demonstrates]. With strings down it and you put the centre point of focus with the flag and every other string would have how far away it is from the centre. And you film it. And you would you set that depth of field to the Kelly calculator not to your eye but to the lens because you would never look through the camera in those days because it wasn't reflex and you could tell if the lens was performing according to the Kelly calculator. So that’s the first thing you do. Next thing you do you do is a double exposure test. You'll put a roll of film through on a grid, twice.
And you move it one sprocket down from where it was before, and the way you did that, you put the film into the camera, you take the lens out and you make an ink mark, you make a square into the aperture gate on the film. And you do the first run. You rewind the film back, you find that square but you move it down a notch. So, it’s one perforation down, so you then end up with double grids, double exposure and any unsteadiness in the camera, you get that. [mimes].
So, you knew the camera was steady. Next thing you do, you do a leader, which you know about. So,
the end rushes come up top and bottom, the frame. [mimes]. So, the projectionist in the theatre
when you’re seeing your rushes, would rack it to the correct frame size so you weren't, so your
composition was as it should be. You would order all your stores, you would go to the stores
department and order your chamois leathers, your filters, your oils, everything you need for the
whole picture. Camera tape. Your assistant, the clapper loader would then be sorting out your stock
making sure he’s got enough stock in, all your stock how much he's got. Four-hundred-foot rolls for
the Arriflex; thousand-foot rolls for the BNC and then probably that would take about three days to
sort all that lot out doing it properly. The last two days were basically walking on the set with
everybody getting the feel of the picture and you'll be watching and listening to the director and the
operator and the cameraman talking about what's going to happen on that particular set on the
Monday morning, which I eventually did myself of course. So, basically a focus puller was in charge
and then if you're going on a foreign location, there's a whole new ballgame. We've got carnets,
you’ve got to get the gear out there, you've got to make sure it's all properly listed for the Customs
and Excise. Everything is going to be taken in boxes, you’ve got to make sure it's packed correctly.
That is a lot of work involved there. But you know you as I say, you have time to do it. So basically,
you have just, the actual responsibility of a focus puller is keeping in focus, coming down
from 1 to 10, first: keep it in focus, keep the aperture correct, make sure that the camera is ready
when the operator wants it, not say “I'm sorry Guvnor, give me another ten minutes”. Get in ten
minutes early, make sure that camera is ready. That’s a good focus puller - I'm not saying it doesn't
happen – but if it is not ready, in my opinion, you’re not doing your job. Never - and I used to always
make it a game - that I never ask what lens was going on the camera, I used to listen.
And I used to hear the operator say to the director “we’ll do it this way on a 50 mill”, I’ll go and put a 50 mill on. So, when he told me I was going “I've done it”. But you know it’s a lovely game. I recently had to do a lecture at the Prince Charles Trust about my film career and talking about anticipation and doing your job properly. When I was a clapper loader up at Pinewood Studios, the canteen is way over the other side of the set and one of my jobs in the morning was obviously get the camera ready to film on the set and everything but also as the cameraman, operator and focus puller arrived, they wanted a cup of tea. Well to save all the aggravation of going to the canteen I used to get myself a thermos flask and a tray and sugar and milk and bring it on at my own expense. They pay for it but there you are, and I related this story to the Prince Charles Trust down in Leatherhead about this and one of the girls was very interested at the end at how I knew who took sugar or not. I thought actually she was taking Michael. But you know it's something that you do – it’s not crawling, it's anticipating your job and making your job easier for yourself so you can do your job properly, you know. And I think the other thing in the film industry is total honestly you can't hide. You may be able to now with this computerisation [that] has come into it.
I don't know anything about that because I don't, I haven't done it for ten or fifteen years but I feel that in my day if it’s wrong, you did it, you couldn't hide behind “oh no, so and so did that” you know who did it and who was responsible. But basically, a focus puller was you know, incredibly important, that he was on top of the job and he gave the operator as easy a life as possible. And not to ask to look through the camera all the time, you had to do all these tests. I run the tape out on a shot and I would work out my depth of field. But then experience brings you little touches like I had one depth of field that wouldn't cover anywhere near on a wide angle and the foreground artist happened to be a lady so I let the focus drift on her a little bit:
Not out of focus, “diffused”, it was diffused and you got away with it because the eye always goes to the sharpest point of the film, you must always remember that. And the other thing it always goes to is the eye. If you've got someone on a set, you look at their eyes you don't look at their feet - unless they're dancing of course - but that's another gag [laughs]. But you know you go to eye and you learn as you go along; these things just come naturally and it's like experience and that's all I can say about the film industry. Anybody starting, get experience, don't bluff your way through, learn.
JK: You know you have to teach ‘em how…
BJ: Well we have these films schools which I'm not against. I was in the early days when we first started in the film industry and you know someone's just coming out of film school after a two-year course - I don't know how long they were I never did it myself. You think they come on to a film set and start wanting to be a Director of Photography day one, after only two years where most Directors of Photography I worked with [had] at least 30 years going through the grades before they became a Director of Photography. I personally was a clapper loader for nine years. I think I was focus for another ten, and I ended up, I ended up operating [but] I retired some time ago, but I operated from 1972 to 1980s, no 1990s, to 1991. And you do learn in those times, you learn situations, it's like any job you know if you don't take it on board you take on board subconsciously you call on your brain cells and “ah, I remember that last time happening”…and going back to my very first job I made a name for myself because we're on location when my first job as a clapper loader and the camera packed up: an Arriflex camera it was, and I was working in camera maintenance at the very beginning my career and I’dwatched Sid Randall and his assistant Keith Wardell the other engineer was called, repair a camera and exactly the [same] thing had gone wrong with this. And I was a very young inexperienced clapper loader, I wasn't taught, and I suddenly said “Well I know what to do to fix it” “oh, what, what?”. And I did it and it worked and I made a name for myself you see, but that’s drawing on experience, learning, listen, listen, you know, people always used to try to chew me in because I would always be earwigging [eavesdropping DS] people you know and I'd be listening, you know, “what's going on?”
Might be nothing to do with me but I always used to be in touch with what was going on in a film set, so you never get caught out, you know.
JK: I notice Neil Binney does that.
BJ: Well yes Neil Binney is very good. I mean he, he there’s so many things he used to do that I’ve forgotten now because you know, such a wonderful man that he used to learn from he used to … line up shots straightaway you… I used to say what I learnt from him more than anything else: Propping. Propping a set as a camera operator. I am an “underpropper”. I don't think you should have too much on the set, it detracts. I'm not going on to commercials yet, but that is the downfall in my opinion of some commercial directors. They want to put too many props in and the actors don't have a chance to win a point. But I think the other great mentor of mine was Freddie Young who I had the great privilege of working with. Not a lot but enough to be privileged and it was on a particular set that a very experienced operator couldn't get it right, and he asked for Jimmy's advice and actually Jimmy Young sorry, Freddy Young, he took out the props, “take that out, [and] take that out” and it fell into place.
It looked right you know. It’s knowing what to do, when to do… when and how. You know.
JK: Going to art galleries?
BJ: Well this is something I've never done…. This is a very conceited thing to say I've never learnt my trade by going to watch paintings. But I have worked with somebody who knew Stuart Josephs [BEHP Interview 559 DS] and he had a very good expression, and I know you know it as well. If something wasn’t right, he’d say “it's out of bonk”. I think is a great expression, [shrugs] because if it's not right it's out of bonk. He doesn't know why it's not right but he knows it's not right. And I think you Jimmy are the same. You know when it's not right and you, you probably don't know what [to do] to put it [right] but you know and that's what technicians are about. If you know it's all right, mention it. And you’ve got to put it right
BJ: And of course, Stuart's other great thing was do a great shot for him, do a great set up for him, I mean he loved it. “Great Bob, great. That's great right… do another one, the same but different”.
“Same but different” really. I mean this confuses you. But this is experience, you pull on this, and then you scratch your head and you're looking at the assistant and thinking “well what's next?” you know. But different jobs, and learning from different people. I think that's what I'm talking about now. It's so important and I think about Denys Coop.
BJ: I mentioned the story earlier and you were personally involved Jimmy in this. We were working at Five Cities with Denys and I know…most of the work, it's commercials …but we were working on this commercial and you and me were doing the set-up, just the two of us. Denys wasn’t involved, he was there if you ever wanted, but he didn't actually involve himself and I got the set-up with you, you liked it, I liked it and I turned around to Denys I said “it’s all yours, do the lighting” and walked away. That’s another thing, I always walked away and never fiddled until it's my turn to fiddle. Everyone had their turn. And Denys came up to me and said “why is the camera there, Bob?” And straight away I took the negative attitude. I’m thinking “Christ I've got it wrong” or [including Jimmy] “we’ve got it wrong”. I said well it's there because, because, because, I gave the reasons I put the camera there or why we put the camera there. And he said “very good, very good set up, Bob never put the camera anywhere without a reason”. It may be the wrong reason but never put the camera anywhere without a reason. You must think you just don't know. We do know there's some great shots are a lucky accident.
But that's a different ballgame altogether. That is something that happens during a take that works but didn't [isn’t DS] meant to happen. But that's not premeditated. If you've got a premeditated shot you have to know what you're doing. And you've got to know with a crane, with a crane for instance. I was a very good crane operator. I really could work it out and I had a wonderful grip called Dennis, [sorry] Jimmy Dawesnow a lot of people didn’t like Jimmy, especially in the office but I thought he was a great, great grip and we had a great relationship. I used to take him on the crane, great big translater [?] crane, forty-foot reach and I’d give him the beginning of the shot and give him the end shot and I want to start there and I want to finish there. I’d take him through it on the crane slowly and say “right, show me what you can do”. Again, I used his expertise. I'm not a crane operator I'm not a grip. I employ people that do that properly but I know if he gets it wrong - it's not right… you know it's not right. It's not what I want.
Do something else. And that's how you should work. You shouldn't try and do all the jobs yourself like Michael Winner does, he tries to do every bloody job himself. You get the point where people think what am I doing here, why am I here?
JK: [faint] I’m going to ask you who else you depended on?
BJ: The grip- ah well- the focus puller, the grip and the cameraman. The continuity girl is a great asset to have because we go back to the old line, crossing the line, looks, and looking the wrong side, the right side of the camera, which is confusing even now. I am out of practice, I probably wouldn’t get it right but…. I did actually get it get it wrong once, and it was on Worzel Gummidge and I totally got the line wrong.
I told the continuity girl “No it’s this side” she says “It’s that side” I noticed right away I was totally wrong. And rushes really had a go at her. I said “sorry it’s my fault. I overruled her. Could you check with me?” I got it wrong but crossing the line is the most important thing and the most confusing thing. You get six people round a table, ten people, all cross cutting you, you've got to have it here. [Gestures to head]. And this is experience, you know, you only learn that from experience and doing it… So basically, you rely on the continuity girl and some of them were excellent. I mean, Phyllis Townshend, she was a lovely lady, I mean she was so kind of laid back and she … really sweet; “Splinters” Deasonof course, and I course I worked with her son Teddy [Edward]who I only met last week, very sadly, at Bobby [Bob] Stillwell’s funeral. My God he does look old. He’d would probably say the same about me. I mean all these people, Teddy’s another one who's a brilliant assistant and he's good, he doesn't make a noise, he doesn't get in the way but it's done and that's the secret of a good assistant or a good technician. And don’t make a song and dance about it. And Harry Gillham also gave me some great advice when I was an operator at the time but I used to watch him operate and a very, very tall man, he was about six foot three and we used to call him the happy coffin man or the laughing grave I believe. But he was a lovely man. And I said to him once … as we lined up the shot… “I said ooh this sounds difficult”. He said “no it's not difficult at all. If I make this difficult then I got it wrong” and this is the other thing, you know you must make the shot as easy as possible. And the other great secret, in myopinion, about photography is if you notice the camera move, you have failed. You are not there to watch the camera move, you are there to watch the artist act. The camera is supposed to portray that. All right, there are spectacular shots in war films that the camera does quite well. But in drama you're there to portray the actors in the best possible light. So, if you start doing camera moves then everyone goes “coo, bloody ‘ell, what’s that camera doing?” and there was a camera thing on television recently, I watched the camera work and I think what the hell are they doing that for? I want to watch him, I don’t want to watch the camera moves. In my opinion. But I’m an old-fashioned sod, you know.
JK: You were talking about [Denys] Coop. Other cameramen that might have influenced you?
BJ: Some were negative.
JK: Well, even those? What was wrong with them?
BJ: Yeah. I can’t think of any…. Well basically they were insecure, I think. Not necessarily in their own jobs … well yes in their own jobs… they didn't have enough… [pauses] I mean another great, I wouldn’t say he was a great cameraman and I don't mean this disrespectfully, but a very adequate cameraman was Austin Parkinson [?] but he always let me get on with my job. But he did that because he didn’t really know himself. I sussed that one out a long time ago as far as camera operating goes and if he ever sees this, I do apologise Austin, but I don't know you know he really wasn't an operating cameraman, he was lighting cameraman. That's the difference between a Director of Photography who does both. He is a good lighting cameraman and a good camera operator who become a Director of Photography. If you are a lighting cameraman or were you got to do both. I didn't think Austin was particularly [good] on operating, I’d ask him in the old days certain things and he’d go mm, mm [shrugs]. You know it was non-committal and I’d think well that's not really what I want to hear.
JK: What do you think about these cameramen that operate, they do both, I see features…?
BJ: This is unfortunately actually my uncle, Bill Jordan, who sadly died last year…
JK: A cameraman.
BJ: He was a good cameraman and he very rarely had an operator, he liked to do it all himself and certain people wanted it. So, I personally don’t think on certain jobs you can do both, do both properly. Not with pure dedication to detail. You know because you’re lighting, you're operating certain things if you do do it yourself, you need an extremely good focus puller who is watching your back if you like, i.e. for what's going on. As far as employment goes well it's out of their hands isn't it. It's down to the producer. Are you prepared to pay for an operator? If the camera man is strong enough to say that I want an operator regardless of budget, and gets one, that's a different matter but if the cameraman is on a break [from working] and he's starting off on his own he's going to do what he's told to do, isn’t he? But I don't think it's a good thing that a cameraman operates on feature films. On documentaries, yes of course you do. I mean I did it myself. I mean you know I've done documentaries and operated myself. Different thing: that's a documentary. On a feature film you've got artistes you’ve got lights, you’ve got propping you’ve got everything. Can't be done. In my opinion.
JK: Can we look at features you’ve worked on after Hammer?
DW: If we start a new track. Can we change tape?
BJ: Is it going all right?
JK: You can hear him all right can’t you?
DW: Oh yes. Absolutely Fine.
JK: I believe Bob, you worked with Alfred Hitchcock, says he, looking for the mic.
BJ: Yes, I got, its only two days so really it is not a credit I really can claim too much. But I was called down on a second camera thing at Pinewood Studios, the picture was called Frenzy photographed by Gil Taylor. I think, actually, Hitchcock, by the time I got to him, was past his prime poor soul. He really was a very old man and. I watched him…- as you know, as everyone knows by the history of him that he doesn't -
He gives a piece of paper with a lens and the distance and the moves-
JK: [interrupts] and he doesn’t look through the camera…
BJ: - and he doesn't look through the camera, he doesn't even say “action” and “cut”. Colin, Colin, Colin the assistant director [Colin Brewer. DS] did that for him… but he just sits in his chair underneath the lens and you know “action, cut” and he walks off the set so in a way it’s great to see the great man but I don't think I saw him in his prime I think it would have been nice to see him about twenty years earlier or whatever when he really was at his peak.
JK: Gil Taylor was the cameraman. Did you work with Gil [Taylor} the cameraman otherwise?
BJ: Yes, I started with Gil as I worked on The Avengers at Elstree, the series with Linda Thorson, you know it was the last of the old Avengers yes, yes, the New Avengers came much later, but that was the last, that she took over from Diana Rigg, and I worked with Linda Thorson and Gil Taylor was the cameraman on that. And I did a few months on that and he very kindly asked me to go out to work - In fact, I'm on the wrong picture but he very kindly asked me to go out to do a picture with David Niven called Before Winter Comes,also with Topol. So, I'm sorry, I've drifted away from your question Jim but we'll go on that later.
JK: …I was asking about Gil Taylor…
BJ: Gil Taylor wasn't the cameraman on Lawman that was Bob Paynter but I'll come back to that. Gil Taylor asked me to go out to Austria to work in the winter.
It was a very memorable picture, apart from anything else it was the period my son was born and I was on location. Just got home I believe before he was born, about two days. But no, that's great. Working with Herbie [Herbert] Smith a very, very good operator. Jake Smith, er, no, Wright, a very, very good assistant director and a very good crew altogether you know and all the equipment was taken out on a camera car, it wasn’t flown, it was driven out there so we had this massive camera car with all dark rooms and everything, all facilities there so it was very enjoyable working with Gil , now that is probably the last time I worked with Gil Taylor
From there I went on and joined Bob Paynter.
JK: Before that. Can I ask you about, you told me a story years ago about David Niven, he was the star on that picture with Topol. Can you remember the anecdote about that?
BJ: Well two things happened on that picture which I hadn't… David Niven was the only person in the village. We're in a little town called Abtenau, about 30 miles outside Salzburg in the middle of winter. Nothing to do, nothing at all, apart from filming and sleeping and eating and he was very pleasant and he organised a day trip out for us all, on a coach which was very nice, at his own expense. … you haven’t heard this one before, I’ll come to the other one in a minute, and the whole crew were very grateful. The wives were out there as well because were all given very good living allowances so we all went out there with wives including my own. And, anyway, we all decided that we should repay him, so as it was an Army film - he played a captain in the army - and so we had cast in gold, a medal [indicates where medal would go on chest DS]
A dress medal, beyond the call of duty, about taking us out and we did a presentation outside the set one day, that he actually got this medal from the crew, that pinned onto it. But David was a lovely man and he would ask - one particular night [we were] in the same hotel together and in those days artists and technicians don't necessarily mix, on a social basis, but he asked me and the other chaps we were with, could he join us for dinner? And that was a lovely evening. I mean there many lovely evenings, because he did it quite often and he goes on - and I expect you've all heard this before in his book - but he always goes on about his great friend of all times, Noel Coward. And there's always this terrible story about why he was never knighted…. And it's always, the story goes that he was sitting with the then Princess Royal in the balcony while the coronation of our Queen was going on. And then the great Princess of Tonga came past, an enormous lady in an open carriage a Landau, with the little footman sitting opposite. And the Princess Royal turned around to Noel Coward and said “Do you know who that gentleman is?”
He said “I don't know but he could be her lunch”. So, we don't know if it's a true story or not but it's a very amusing one. …David was a very, very nice chap and these stories were in his book and he would tell us all these great times with his Hollywood days and everything. But he was a true British -
I would say technician, but I know he's a true British artist. I mean he went to Hollywood. But he still loved, you know…. He always said he lived in a little cuckoo clock up in Switzerland, his house like a little cuckoo clock. And it's a very sad end to him actually having alzheimers, I believe he said...
JK: …some sort of degenerative disease…
BJ: I'm not too sure, yeah, he was very wonderful.
I have another great moment with David Niven because I also did a picture with David Niven with Val Guest, many years ago, previously, when I was a clapper loader. It was Where the Spies Are with Nigel Davenport and him. Shot … in Beirut and Pinewood Studios. Which has been on television recently and not a great claim to British [inaudible] a very basic film. Some six years later I worked on this picture with him and then went on to become a focus puller, and he joined this film some three or four weeks into the production. And he was flown out to the location and he came out on location purely to see the crew. And I was on a very high rostrum looking down on this road, with a
camera, and as he walked past he looked up and he said “Hello Bob”, and that’s after six years and it really did bring a lump to my throat that he should think of me and remember me and he even remembered my name, you know. He was wonderful man. He really was a wonderful man.
JK: We can't hold you on that anymore. Well can we talk about the camera man?
BJ: Bob Paynter?
JK: A lovely camera man.
BJ: Oh, it's always lovely here with a crew basically yeah. Pam [Pamela] Carlton with the continuity. Tony Trokeoperating; myself focus, and Bob Paynter. But they're all lovely crews. But then [Michael] Winner would have that knack. He always puts nice people round him so that they don't mind him too much because he can be difficult. I mean you know I think his bite is worse than, sorry, he’s bark’s worse than his bite in my opinion. But he is - I mean there was a situation with Michael which upset me a bit. We had a very difficult crane shot to do, Tony was operating, I was a focus puller and it was zooming and craning and God knows what …. and we rehearsed this. Me and Tony got it down to a “T”, stand by to shoot and Winner said “bring the crane down” and he got on and took it over and he did the zooming and to this day it’s in the picture and it's awful, it's all bumpy and lumpy and horrible but he insisted on doing it and that's what I said earlier about people doing their jobs they shouldn't …
JK: [interrupting] Can you guess why he did that?
BJ: Well because he didn't look important enough staying on the ground with this great crane going up. He always had a great expression. He always had a great thing that whenever a still picture was taken of the crew, he always points. I said “why is that Michael? He said “well the person pointing is always the most important person, the person on the set”. So, he’s always pointing.
So there was this picture taken where unbeknown to him, behind him, we're all pointing.
But I've never seen that picture…
JK: [Laughter] It does exist somewhere!
BJ:…but he had a great he had a great affinity with the sp- the electricians for some reason, he’d always be with the electricians on the set chatting and laughing with them.
Maybe because they weren't a threat to him in the sense that you know. He always hated publicity because there's always a bet on a Michael Winner picture [as to] who's going to get fired first and odds are even it's always going to be the publicity man you know.
But he was okay, and I did another one with him afterwards
JK: Well let’s stay on Lawman. But you told me once I don’t know whether you were pulling focus on Robert Ryan…
BJ: [interrupts] Well, no, we were chatting, we were in the middle of this great big desert scene and it was the entrance to a ranch, all you can see before you… you would see these posts [gesticulates] in the middle of the desert with cross horns on the top and people went through it and there is Michael Winner rushing round organising the set up
and Robert Ryan standing there with me and Bob Paynter and he turned around and he said “you know I think there’s horses in Hollywood can direct better than he can”. So, it was quite amusing but Robert, Robert Ryan was a great hero of mine anyway and I have the privilege to have worked with him. But much to my disgust, I came home to my lovely wife Carol and I said I worked with Robert Ryan and she unfortunately said “who's he?” and I was so upset. I mean, if you don’t know who Robert Ryan is… But she's not a film person so I forgave her. But he was, I think, I think the thing about Michael Winner that he does particularly well, he's very efficient at what he does, [which] is bring the picture in on budget and, you know, on time yeah. But he does tend to shoot in continuity, won't go out of continuity one little bit. So, you’re forever moving the camera. Backwards and forwards backwards and forwards.
JK: You really have to watch line crossing and stuff like that.
BJ: Well not in a way because we all say all we got to do with Michael Winner is cut the clapperboard off and you've got a picture. Because he’ll do a close up of you, a closeup of me and come back into a close up with you again He won't do it all on you and all on me so we have to keep moving the camera. It's harder.
JK: Well not really the best technical way to do it
BJ: Well I mean as I'm not a director and I don't want to be - well -although I did direct one picture once. It was a disaster, that was an absolute disaster, so we won't bother to go into that.
BJ: It wasn't really picture at all it was just a –
JK: But Winner had other major stars, Lancaster-
BJ: Burt Lancaster. Alain Delon and Bob Ryan, Joe Wiseman.
JK: Oh, Joe Wiseman who was Dr, Dr. Who, no Dr No. He was the original Dr No. Yeah.
BJ: Joe Wiseman, of course Robert Ryan and the other, played the rancher, and what was his name oh famous man?
JK: Lee J Cobb.
BJ: Yes Lee J. Cobb, yeah. He had another expression. You know he turned around to us once, we were in this ranch house, interior ranch house - as I said before, going backwards and forwards over every, every set up you know, and he turned around to us and he said “I suppose he knows what he's doing because I don't”. And that was Lee Cobb you know because he's lost him totally.
But it was the first, I think very few British technicians had done an American Western or Western with a British crew. It was hard work.
JK: Winner has written a book or memoir and I'm sure many many, many, more. I think he referred to Lancaster holding him over a cliff or something.
BJ: Yes, yes, I was there when it happened, it was basically, well Lancaster’s directed himself. you see because he knows he’s done his own pictures, and there's a certain sequence where he has to ride up the side of a hill chasing some outlaws and the outlaws are up in the hills further on and they fire back on him and we’d set up the ricochets back off the rocks and one goes off very close to him, you know it’s only a detonator in a rock nearby which makes him jump off his horse and then they trip the horse so it falls over as well.
And that's the sequence. Well we did that in long shot and Winner wanted to do it again in medium shot not close-up, medium. So the whole thing was repeated, and we're on a sheer drop literally from here to about ten foot away [gestures] was a sheer drop and Winner turned and was about to say “right, over here” and Lancaster said “you don't want that shot you've got me already, it’s a close up is what you want”. He said “no that’s what I want” and he said “well if I fall off that cliff, if I hurt myself doing it this time again” he said “you're off the side of that cliff” and Winner said “well I don’t think I’ll bother with that”
JK: [Laughter]. OK staying with Winner, there was another picture that I think this was called Scorpio wasn’t it?
BJ: Well I was second camera on that, I was called out to do-
JK: [interrupts] that was the second film wasn’t it?
BJ: That was the second one……….. but it wasn't his second film, the second film was The Nightcomers with Marlon Brando which I was asked to do but I wasn't available. I was,I was already on another picture but Nightcomers was done between Scorpio and [inaudible] it was with Marlon Brando but I wasn’t on that at all. I didn't know where I was. Well it was well into the picture but I was called out there.
Paddy, Paddy O’Herne ??Sp was the operator. I don’t know if he's with us still. I mean he had a bad start, he missed his flight from Ireland to get there and … that was another the story. But that’s where I met a very, very, good friend of mine, Dave Watkins, first time I ever met him, camera assistant, who's become a very, very, dear friend of mine and we still, we don't see each other - and just a slight anecdote, he’s now an actor I'm told, according to his Christmas card, he does a bit of theatre, and directing and, I mean he always was an actor wasn’t he [laughs]
JK: Oh, charming, very charming, yes
BJ: But that was the first time. Anyway, I was called out to Austria and it was Scorpio with Alain Delon, Burt Lancaster...
JK: Paul Scofield.
BJ: And Paul Scofield, yes. And, basically, we were called out there to do all the chasing scenes when they were building the underground out there, building the Metro in Vienna. And it was a hard, hard, job you know, and it turned out that when I finished that location, they took me on to Paris to do some more. And the focus puller was a camera assistant who is now a director in television called Dewi Humphreys and he was focus at the time, and he had to leave to come back for other commitments. So, I was asked to go take over the main unit in Paris as I had already worked with Winner. because there was another focus puller out there, who didn't want to do it. He was a coward basically he said well you've done it before, and there I am the Champs-Élysées, first morning beside the camera. And he knew exactly what I was doing there but his first question was “what the hell are you doing here?” I said “well no one else will work for you, so that's it, you’ve got me you see”. But he actually smiled. [JK laughs in background] the picture we had to go to [inaudible] office to do some pick-up shots, on a desk, close ups of papers and things and I was on my own, just me and Bob Paynter, no-one else there ‘cos it was just locked-off shots and I was loading a magazine in his outer office, and he walked in and he looked at me and smiled and said “Hello Bob” and I realised straightaway that he shouldn't be smiling at me or talking to me and “Hmph” [gestures] in one of those, and walked away again. [They both laugh] These are all my perceptions of things you know. They may have a totally different story but that's the way I read it.
JK: So, you’re on the second camera, action shot. So, what would be, bullets what…?
BJ [interrupting] well, not really that’s more of a chase sequence and jumping through. In fact, Alain Delon’s stunt man, who actually I knew very well - I can't recall his name offhand. He had a very good stunt man on the Avengers when I first met him. Been sitting in the hotel for three weeks … waiting to do a stunt and in the first take breaks his leg jumping off this wall. That was a good claim to fame wasn't it? So, who knows? Basically, it was just running through it. There were ricochets of bullets, yes.
JK: There a story about Lancaster being angry or because they were too near him or…?
BJ: Oh no that was on Lawman. No, no, yes, I was on the side of the camera pulling focus and he had to exit camera my side. And he asked me to move and I couldn't, I had nowhere to go and I he refused to move. Yeah. [Shrugs]. There’s a lot of things that happen. You know, I don't [know] whether I should tell this story because actually quite frankly it's a bit embarrassing for the crew, but we had, on Lawman, a story line, he's supposed to play the flute.
Because he can’t play the flute obviously. So, they've got a man from Mexico City, from the music academy, to play the flute off camera…. And he would play the flute on camera but this chap's supposed to show him how to do it all [Bob miming flute playing].
Anyway, he couldn't speak any English, only Spanish, and Lancaster wouldn’t have any of this, so he said “Get rid of this man, give me someone else. So, they sent for this lady who came from the academy up in New York, I think. And very prim and proper. And she arrived on the set the day they were doing a bed scene with Sheree North and there she is sitting up in bed, topless, nothing on while we are lighting it. She didn't care, she was reading the paper, I mean the script …..
And she walked on the set and double takes this girl with nothing on. Sheree North with nothing on. [She says] “Well, what’s going on?” And the Assistant Director, er, Winner says “Take her to get changed. Well you see we are doing a nude scene, we’ve got to do it in the nude you see”. Which upset her a bit. So, she runs off and there's Burt Lancaster sitting in his Winnebago playing cards with all his mates who knew nothing about this at all. She went past and said “Mr. Lancaster, why have I got to play the flute in the nude?” and all he said was “well, it’s that kind of picture girl, because it’s that kind of picture”.
And then she left on the car, very fast. I don’t think this is a good story because it just shows us to be, the film crews, they can be very cruel to people. But she did ask for it. She turned up on the set [affecting snooty voice] “I’m here to play for Mr. Lancaster” well the crew went “here we go”
So: she got what she asked for. But a bit cruel, bit cruel. But she got in the car never to be seen again. Cloud of dust in the middle of a desert.
JK: [Laughter] So, so, so, the chase, let’s go onto Scorpio. Now the chases were done in Paris.
BJ: No that was done in Vienna. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, done in Vienna in the underground. Whether, no really, it’s a bit vague because I came into the picture quite halfway through it as second unit.
JK: Was Scofield involved?
BJ: Oh yes, he was there. I mean we did some shots with him in Paris. I very fortunately got a week in Paris after the picture finished on expenses because we couldn't get the equipment out of Paris for a week through customs. So, I got my wife out there on expenses and had a lovely week when I was getting the gear out, so there are few perks in the job if you don't expect too many of them.
JK: You did some Film Foundation films. More than one, in fact.
BJ: Yes. I did in fact yes well, the first one, the one that sticks in my mind is one in New Zealand [Rangi’s Catch, 1972 DS] which I did with Bill, my uncle, who asked me to go out there and I think was done with Michael Forlong, Michael Forlong,director there. He is a New Zealander anyway, Michael Forlong and we got out there and it’s for the Children's Foundation and it's basically a story of two convicts who escape. From prison. And the kids playing get to see this and they follow them all over New Zealand, so not only is it an adventure story but it's a geographical story as well of New Zealand so you see all of New Zealand and we had a,….continuity came from Australia and I think the assistant director came from Australia; sound crew came from England.
Production Manager was Hugh Harlow. Remember Hugh Harlow? He was, a producer now, I believe well he was a producer last time I saw him; he was out there and that was done and that was really very fortunate from my point of view, though I got a lot of stick when I came home right through that three-day week with Heath [Edward Heath, UK Prime Minister DS] because everyone was freezing to death out here with the power cuts and there I was the sunbathing around a pool in New Zealand and my wife didn’t like that too much, didn’t go down too well. Locations can be cruel. They can also be very boring and very long as well. People think it's a wonderful, wonderful, life. “Oh, you're off again, you're off again”. But it does get you in the end.
JK: We’ve got Zoo Gang down here.
BJ: Yes, Zoo Gang, well that was a picture. In fact, it's on television now believe or not. I saw it on Capital the other day; on Capital. The stars of that were John Mills. [pause], Barry Morse. Lily Palmer. And someone Keith…
JK: Brian Keith.
BJ: That’s it, Brian Keith. Brian Keith. It was directed by Hugh Harlow, not Hugh Harlow, oh my brain’s going, John, oh John…. [Hough and Sidney Hayers. DS]. Paynter, Bob Paynter was the camera man again. Doug Milsome [ Douglas F O’Neons credited. DS] was the operator. Again, I got onto that through difficult circumstances but they went out to the south of France to film it and it wasn't the focus puller’s problems, fault, really but he wasn't strong enough to change it. They decided to go with the mobile system where everything goes on the same truck. Cameras, sparks electrical, everything, goes on the same truck from location to location. Well on paper that sounds good but it doesn't work because it takes you ten minutes to wrap a camera and can take an hour to wrap a light, lights. So: you're waiting for the slowest section of the crew to move and of course this poor assistant was getting it in the neck from the camera crew, the camera man. Well not from Bob but from the production: Why isn’t the camera here? He said “oh, it’s coming, it's coming”. Anyway, a few other things happened and he was asked to leave and I was asked to go out and take over which is a bit, as we say in the business, a bit sprung loaded.
Which way is it going to go? Anyway, first thing I said is “I want my own camera car”. I said “I'm not going to work out of that thing, good as it is, I don’t care what it's costing you to have it. I don't want it, I want my own camera cars so we can have our own cameras, in our own truck, and we are there even if we have to wait”. Going back a bit. One of my best things Wally Byatt ever taught me was to be seen to be doing your job, whether it is going to work or not is irrelevant. But be seen to be doing it.
JK: Not to hold up the production.
BJ: I mean, if it doesn't work, doesn't matter. You've got your bit right. It sounds selfish but it's the only way it really works and that's what I did and I went into that and we went back to Pinewood Studios. It's on television now. I came across it by chance the other night and watched some of it. But John Mills - it was you know, I think about 10, 12 series, episodes, I can't remember exactly but it was … Bert Batt again was assistant director on it, again a great man to work with. Seems to be coming around all the time you know you work with great people all the time.
JK: Bob Paynter. Was he a cameraman who influenced you? He chose you.
BJ: Well he didn't chose [sic] me for Lawman, John Kerley chose me for Lawman. Camera maintenance man who was at Bray [Studios], who wanted an assistant. In fact, what comes around, comes around is that Jeff Randall who I mentioned earlier was due to – He’d done the previous Winner film and he was due to do this one. I was down to do it and then pulled out at the last minute so again they were I suppose pushed to find someone quickly or whatever.
JK: Luck played a part then.
BJ: Well exactly and I got a call, would I like to go to Mexico and all this was very exciting and nerve-racking but it's amazing all those years in the film industry I can't remember being that nervous. I mean I used to feed on adrenalin and things not going wrong, ‘cos no-one wants that but it used to kind of get on top of me.
JK: How was Paynter as a cameraman?
BJ: He was very laid back. I would say. To influence me is a very difficult thing to say because he was so laid back in his work. It all worked very well. All very good but he never did anything that really stuck out that I learned from, although I think he was a great cameraman. You know, certain people impress you when they do things, you know.
JK: He told you how to put up with [Michael] Winner didn’t he?
BJ: Oh yes but he can handle Winner. He can handle it. I mean there's a lovely, lovely, story. Which wound Winner up rotten and it's a lovely story. Bob Paynter happened to buy a house that happened to have a lift and it purely had a lift in it because the previous occupant was disabled and he had the lift put in. Bob never used it. It was there, it worked, it was a proper lift you know in the house, and we were on the set talking about this one day and Winner overheard: he said “what you’ve got a lift!” “Of course.” Out goes the bait you see. Paynter says “Hasn't everybody?” Winner says “I haven’t got one”. He wound in Winner like a kipper he really did. He took him all the way you know, through the rest of the picture. Winner kept saying “Why has he got a lift, why has he got a lift?”. Pure chance he had a lift.
No but Bob Paynter was always, you know he, he, would stick up for the crew as well. Tony Troke the operator - I wouldn’t like to operate for Winner. You're not really given a chance. You know Winner does it all, does the line-up, gives you the camera at the last minute, really you know you're on a hiding really either way.
JK: You didn't work on The Games did you?
BJ: Oh No, no I didn’t no. One of the few that didn't.
JK: About the Olympic Games. No: you didn't. Tony Trokewas the operator on that.
BJ: Yes, Tony did a lot, and he was sadly not very well I don't even know if he still - he eventually retired and took a pub up near Pinewood Studios I believe…
JK: He’s ex- Pathé.
BJ: Oh yes. I first met him when I first joined the business at Pathé. Him and the cameraman, George, George someone. He was a lovely man.
BJ: Stevens, yes.
JK: He lost an eye. Great cameraman. He could do anything.
BJ: Lovely man. I also worked on Star!, the Judy Garlandpicture, on the publicity unit and I got a call. From Ross McKenzie, Ross McKenzie who's a production manager come producer –
JK: [interrupts] - are we talking about Julie Andrews now?
BJ: Star, Star, Star!, was the Gertrude Lawrence story wasn't it-
JK: and that was Julie Andrews wasn’t it?
BJ: Yeah, Julie Andrews, I beg your pardon.
JK: Thank you.
BJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And then I got a call, would I like - from Ross McKenzie, would I like to be an assistant cum driver to Maurice Brockman [?] his name who was a New Yorker who was filming all around the world for the crew and doing all the publicity shots. And I said “yes, lovely.” So, I met up at London Airport. He brought out his own camera and we loaded it up. Off we go. Usually about a nine o'clock call at his hotel, and I’d have breakfast with him then wander out to do a few shots for the crew, wander around London, pick up some publicity shots of London, one thing and another and he said “fine”. I was charging for my time, plus my car as a camera car. Anyway, Isleworth Studios, that the production offices were for that picture at the time, well just around the corner from Isleworth Studios… Anyway, I drove him back to the airport after about a week and a half I think and I tore off a bit of scrap paper, well notebook paper, Bob Jordan [mimes signing paper]
-that was how much the figure was, he signed it and off he flew. I went back to Isleworth, they didn’t know who I was! “Who? Bob…never heard of you. Doing what?”. Now you know what I was thinking, I'm never going to get paid on this. I make one call. To Ross McKenzie who was then in his Soho Square, [office, at] 20th Century Fox. They were behind the picture at Soho Square, who endorsed the money and quite amoment I thought I'd done a bit for charity. [laughs wryly].
JK: Were you ever double crossed over money?
BJ: No funnily enough, through all the years I've been in the business and I’ve worked with the people I have, I've never yet ever, never once have I lost any money at all. The only time I got into trouble it was with Anglia Television as it happens, I had to get the ACT, as it was in those days, to get my money for me. That was nine months, but I eventually got it, but that was nine months waiting for two days work.
JK: That's pretty good.
BJ: What nine months?
JK: No, I meant pretty good of the union.
BJ: Oh yeah. But it meant I’d never work for them [Anglia] again. This is the problem with the film industry.
Once you start making waves as a freelance technician they follow - I'm not saying this - but you have to bite [your tongue] you know you want to work you do have to take an awful lot. Sometimes. Well I did anyway.
JK: You told me story, going back to Durango. You were settling down for Lawman and a man got you into conversation. Can you remember that?
BJ: [Pause] Off the top of my head, no.
JK: Famous film director, I’ll give you a clue, he had a bandana....
BJ: [sudden recognition] Ah yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Well this is actually very true. It seems so far-
fetched not to be true but it is totally true.
We flew out to Mexico City from Heathrow and we were given a hotel literally for six hours, seven hours. We flew in at eight o'clock at night and we were given a hotel; we were flying out the next morning on an internal flight up to Durango and we went down to the bar.
And it is true. It was the night of the American Academy Awards and this guy sitting in the bar having a drink with another American and I’m sitting next to him and … he said to me “what are you doing?” and I said “we are going out first thing to Durango”. And he said “Oh I work there”. And I’m thinking… he’s trying to get onto the picture. So anyway, he says to his mate to get on the phone and “see if I'd done anything you know” He got on the phone and he said “no, you haven’t won anything” It was supposed to be –
JK: [interrupts] It was Sam Peckinpah,
BJ: - talking to Sam Peckinpah, and it was Sam Peckinpah. Sorry, my brain's going Who is Sam Peckinpah? which didn't mean anything at all until I went on to Straw Dogs. I went on Straw Dogs again on second camera - with Herbie [Herbert] Smith actually, that's how I got the job - because the other chap had to leave and I went over the main camera and I walked on I thought I know that face. Luckily, he didn't remember me. I don't think we ever crossed his mind that I’d blanked him. Probably was a nice surprise for him really. But it's actually true. Yes, it was Sam Peckinpah and he was actually finding out that night if he'd won an Academy Award for The Wild Bunch of course that is true.
JK: And you did, in between shooting features, you came on to commercials. I remember once when I was in advertising, on a unit with, might have been Jake Wright [?] who said “well we're really lucky, we’re going to get Bob Jordan on focus”. That was how I first knew about Bob and there was this feeling that feature people didn’t want to work… in commercials. Did you catch that at all, or …?
BJ: Well I think it's more, I think, I don't think it’s not wanting to. When I was - in those days - on features all the time, commercials were considered a fill in job between pictures. You finished a picture you may have two months before the next one started which used to happen all the time in those days and so commercials used to be your kind of, “oh well we’ll do a few commercials in the meantime.” Not wanting to do them, probably, its true to the degree that you would prefer to do the feature. I mean in the end there was much more money on commercials if you kept working on them of course. But there wasn't the actual longevity, job satisfaction,and what I mean by that is that I can go into a commercial and unless I know the director, like yourself or someone else very well I'm going in very cold, where on a feature I can discuss a shot with the director a week before we do it and I can say “right for that shot I need X Y Z “and I can get … involved in it. So, in that sense I prefer feature films. But then you know when you’ve got to pay a mortgage, you do commercials, and commercials are not so satisfying in a sense you've got too many people there with an opinion and I don't mean that disrespectfully. You have the director, which is important person of course, but then you have the client, the agency, and all that and it can get a little bit “Shooting by committee”. Whereas on a feature film you wouldn't, you’d have the director and the operator, and things are much more decisive and much more productive in fact.
JK: And the Cameramen you worked with on commercials? You mentioned [Denys] Coop of course.
BJ: Well Freddy Young I work with out in Spain, with Orson Welles on the Domecq sherry shoot commercial.
JK: How did that go?
BJ: It went very well. I mean we were treated very royally I mean we had a little man from Domecq sherry house with his white coat and his ice bucket following us round all day with Tio Pepe Sherry [Tio Pepe sherry is made by a different estateDS] which we all dreaded to drink because in that heat if you chose to have a glass of that you wouldn't have a crew would you, we’d all be flat on our backs. As far as Orson Welles goes, very, very, awe inspiring yes. I mean he is. You know you stand and look at him you think my God that's Orson Welles, you know. Working with him, I suppose in a sense, he's done what he's done in his life.
You do what he wants to do basically, although I don't remember it not going very well. I do remember a little story. We were lit, all ready to go for the first rehearsal and they were outside overlooking the vineyard, there is Orson Welles on a verandah and standing behind this all is that Freddy Young, our great Freddy Young, Oscar winning Freddy Young with his spot meter looking there [gestures] and Orson Welles says “get that man off the set with the camera”
I mean he didn't know that was Freddy Young, I mean to him, Who's Freddy Young? you know he doesn't know his greatness, well he probably does if he’s told. But he was sending Freddie off the set which was very embarrassing I thought.
JK: You know he only worked with great cameramen in Hollywood, didn't he?
BJ: Well yes but as you know, the company that did that was Abacus… that John McKay [?] he always surrounded himself with famous people. If you can afford it, I suppose, to a degree you know, like Freddie Young you know on certain commercials and Freddie was very good. I mean he was a very astute man. He had done it before and again he did it without you knowing he was doing it almost. … it was done and … it was there. But I do remember him helping out the operator on a certain shot and he did it by un-propping something. All these things were supposed to be in the shot and he said whatever. “Take that one out, that one out, that one”, which happened to be table, the chairs.
And it worked perfectly…. He had a great eye you know and this is the secret of camera people having an eye -you have to know what you're looking at. You have to know composition, you can't teach composition. You can't teach an eye.
JK: I’m sure you’re right.
BJ: You can learn. It’s like golf. I love my golf but I’ll never be a golfer because as good as I might think I am, I’m not…
JK: Did you start too late in golf?
BJ: Yes probably, but I didn't take it seriously. I didn't make a living so there you go …[laughs]
JK: I was asking about the cameraman you worked with on commercials. The only great thing that although it only lasted a day or two, you did work with different cameramen. You worked with Brian West for example.
BJ: Oh yes Brian West, yes, he was, I think he was - actually I worked with Brian at a very interesting part of my life, where things weren't going at all well, I wasn't getting a lot of work. I had a lot of debt problems. And what have you. And I had, obviously, and you were involved in this and you used to employ me and thank goodness I had Five Cities behind me in those days, and when I worked with Brian, and I was talking to him one evening about my you know [situation DS] and he said “the problem with you Bob is that because your personal problems, you have an air of doom about you and people don't want to work with people with an air of doom about them.” Which is a very interesting remark to make. They want people bubbling and you know, not a care in the world.
JK: Well you were tall and tall people can look gloomy.
BJ: Well I was gloomy. I think, I don't know, I think I was very, very, worried in those days. Things have come around. I’m okay now.
JK: Of course. Yeah. Can you remember any of the others - well you mentioned Stewart Josephs as well.
BJ: Stewart Josephs who like yourself is a very good friend of mine. I mean I don't see him anymore but he was a very good cameraman and then he started directing with his own company. And you see Austin Parkinson who's another very good cameraman A very easy-going cameraman, very good, and very good at his job.
But – because, there comes another story - we used to do the Texas Homecare commercials and the store we used to use was up in Coventry, and the reason we used that is because for six, five days a week, it was closed for staff training. Proper store, all fully kitted out and everything, and only opening Fridays and Saturdays, or Saturdays and Sundays I can’t remember exactly, so we could go there with indemnity and film as much as we liked without interfering with the public. And, anyway, we got to the Thursday night and like all commercials there’s still half of it to do. So, we didn’t finish filming until 4:00 in the morning. And I get in my car in the middle of winter all frosted up and everything and I don't wait for the windows to clear, and do the reverse thing and go straight into a lamp post and smash the back of the car in. It just struck me as being rather funny. What was I doing in a car park at four o'clock in the morning at Texas, smashing the car up, you see. And when you're filling out your claim form you think, you know, perhaps I don’t know they’ll be thinking “what’s he been up to?” But you know these things happen [they chuckle].
JK: And can we think of anybody else whom you might have worked with? We’ve done Denys Coop, Brian West, Stuart Josephs …
BJ: Oh, let’s see there’s so many, there’s Wilson, Ian Wilson - didn’t like Ian Wilson, he’s a camera operator, he wants to operate all the time you know and he actually said to me once that he didn't like working with operators.
I don't know why, that’s his choice. He works and I don't. Sue Gibson I worked with. I find that intimidating to a degree that I'm not a feminist I mean I have nothing against women, nothing at all but I just found it difficult working with her - in fact one commercial I had to- the director was a girl, and she was as well. I think felt very much put upon but there you go. I worked a lot at Park Village and working with the director ofWinsor, Terry Winsor. There I worked - another great cameraman and I worked with really for Park Village comes to mind now who I rate as much as I rate Denys Coop, Arthur Ibbotson.
JK: Yes, indeed.
BJ: And he is a wonderful man. You know I worked on a few commercials and he is a true Director of Photography. Same as Denys. I mean he really knows how to run a department [and] do it properly. Trust his operator, let his operator get on with it. And talk to his operator about things. And involve his operator as well. If he was having a discussion with a director, he would call me over where some photographers wouldn’t. Not saying all, but a lot wouldn’t.
JK: You’re talking about leadership really?
BJ: Absolutely yes totally and very sadly I got him at his lastebb before he retired which is a great shame but I’d have loved to work with him in the early days - which I did actually as an assistant, many, many, many, years ago but he wouldn't remember that, and I only just did as well, come to think of it.
JK: Bob, we are winding down a bit, but I was going to ask you about the state of the industry, the film industry, not the one you were in, the one we’re in now. Oops [camera shakes]
BJ: Well I could only judge that from what I see on the television.
JK: Sorry Bob can we start again? We have two minutes left on this tape and I think
DW: Let’s change over, change it over.
JK: Right Bob now a question. Can I ask you what a cameraoperator does, what's his job?
BJ: Well to be flippant about it, and I will tell you in a minute but I also remember Harry Gillham a very tall man, visitors came on the set. They ask him exactly the same question –
JK: [interrupts] he was an operator?
BJ: He was a camera operator and he was introduced them as a camera operator and they said “Well what do you do?” Andhe said “well I keep their heads in unless it's a dancing picture and then I keep their feet in”. So - but that's being very flippant about it - but having said that, to operate, the most key thing of [being an] operator is communication. If you don't know what the director wants, you’ve got no chance. You have to in essence read your director's mind and I think the relationship between a director and an operator are paramount; apart from the cameraman. It’s nothing about loyalty, I have loyalty to everyone but I would always see the director's point of view before the cameraman’s because that's my communication level - telecommunications or telepathic if you like to call it doesn't come into it but I have worked with certain people including yourself, that I know exactly in my mind's eye what you want. But that's the most important thing for an operator. The second most important thing is to know what equipment you can do the job with, there is no point going onto a film set and saying “Oh, I would have preferred to have this”, you have to discuss the shot beforehand. And this isn't always - this is sometimes a luxury when it comes to commercials because you don't get that chance. But if I am given the chance, we discuss equipment and once you have the equipment, there is the application of it. I mean I like using a geared head as you can turn the handle to tilt and pan.A lot of other operators don't like that, they like to use an ordinary friction head. I can use both or not. I mean it's not the question but I find that once you learn to use a geared head there's a lot more security in that and you can control the shot more.
You know you can get in position with the handles and stop the camera and it won't move because even though …becausewith a slip head it can all go wrong. But that's another story. But knowing, knowing, the shots you're lining up, you have to think, and I prided myself that I could work out roughly, and I'm talking to someone here who knows it totally, the cuts. If I'm doing a scene if I’m lining up a scene with a director, I know after years of doing it, roughly where you are going to cut. Now the secret of an operator, is, it used to be - I don’t know if it still applies - but when I started operating you never cut on a moving camera unless you had to, unless it was moving to moving but in fact you always had to make sure that when you come to where you going to cut, the camera's static. You also had to make sure that if you were going to cut it you cut to a percentage in or out, not too similar, because it doesn’t cut, it looks like a mistake, like a jump cut, but knowing what to do on a set is very important and then knowing what makes an interesting shot because you can put a camera on a set and they can walk in front of it all day long and you get your close ups and that's the end of it and. that's what happened when I when did this picture in Africa, with a chap called… ex- Pathé man. Oh dear, terrible with names, with Oliver Reed. We were out in Africa with Oliver Reed. And we were filming so fast because he wouldn't cover any close ups, no close ups at all. We couldn't - we had to wait for the art department, they couldn't keep up with us so we had days off right, left and centre and the film was in a terrible state and although as much as I tried to say “look we need a cut here”, and he’d say “not necessary, not necessary”. You do need to pad out the film even if you don't use it. You don't go getting in the cutting room later and say “oh I should have a close up there, I should…”- Do it! I did a picture not so long ago … the American Royal thing, on Fergie [Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York] which we shot at Chelsea Harbour. I remember the cameraman. Oh dear. He couldn't do it on the day and he asked me to go in and do it. I went in with the American director and he said “I want to do this cut and I want to do that cut” and he forgot all about it
But I reminded him: we were just about to move off the set. I said “what about those two other cuts you wanted?” Now that is part of my job, I should know as well what he wants. But apart from that, you've got to make sure that you are honest. Alright, in my early days nobody knew what he shot until the next day when the rushes came on the screen. It was a big surprise to everyone including myself. But now you have all this assistance, videos and everything else. Everybody knows. I'm afraid - from my point of view and my point of view [only] it took the edge off my concentration and I’m being absolutely honest here. The days when nobody else knew what I was doing, I concentrated like mad but when I’ve got all these other people watching television screens all over the set, seeing what I’m doing, I tend to think “well, they’ll know if it's right or wrong”. Which is the wrong attitude totally. I didn't do it all the time but occasionally I used to get into that dangerous situation.
But making sure, you know, that you've got the cameraman asking about lighting; you've got the prop man asking you about propping; you've got the wardrobe asking about wardrobe; you got the director asking you about everything; you’ve got the sound man asking you about where I can put the microphone, “where is the best place I can put the microphone?” You're lining up a shot, you go through a shot you’ve got to look for, to look for mic shadows; you've got to look for this, you’ve got to look for that. And it's all going on. In that viewfinder. In the early days it was down to you. Now you’ve got half a chance other people can see it as well. I'm not talking about mics so much. And I think you mentioned it to me earlier, that the sound always took second place behind the camera.
JK: Inaudible in background]
BJ: I don't buy it. By definition they really have to, they have to… I mean they have to because of the shot. You can't do the shots again but you can always put the sound on again. Which is a very selfish attitude but sometimes, yes. I mean I was told, and I don’t know if it's true or not, that every - I know I was, I was on the picture, so I saw it - every shot was a guide track for Michael Winner. It was a guide track. And he’s got sound but he just didn’t [use it]. But about 90 percent of his work he post-sank [post synchronised] to put sound on. Back in the studio [?]. Michael Winner did, you know, personally,everything. I’m not saying he did, I mean some of it might got done on location but any time there was a sound problem he’d just say “forget it. I’ll sync it later”. So, he said “Put guide track on every time, on clapperboard, guide track every time.”I think that's not right because I think the sound technician is a very important person and should be given half a chance. But technology has now improved, they can put mics on them and God knows what else. And there was a very funny situation, talking about mics on, the radio mikes on the set, where on a certain picture a gentleman who had been a little bit naughty with a lady of the night and caught a little disease and was discussing it with the doctor and he’d forgot he still had his mic on in his room.
And it was being picked up by the sound recordist but I won't mention any names on that one but all the crews got called “Here come and listen too this!” There he was talking to the doctor that he's been a naughty, naughty, boy and forgot he’d left the radio mic on. [Chuckles] You have to be careful, that’s modern technology for you.
JK: Can I ask you about, I was going to say the future of the industry. That is the training of the industry?
BJ: Well I think is paramount because I don't know; I haven't been on a film set now for 10 years. I think the youngsters today, I mean there is the basics of filmmaking which mustnever ever go away depending if you got computerisation and God knows what else.
You've still got to shoot the picture. You still have to get the artists looking properly. You’ve still got to light it properly. And I think teaching the youngsters today how to do it, practically, is more important than going to film school. Now film school is a cramming situation. I'm not saying they are [not] useful, they are very useful, but they're only the stepping stone to learning how to do it properly. You know: now you've learnt to, now you’ve passed your driving test, now you learn to drive, is the thing that comes to mind. You know alright, you can be a cameraman, you can be an operator but don't expect to do it straightaway. Go back, go on a film set as a camera assistant and watch some experienced operators and cameramen, how they do it. Get another perspective of a view. Get another way of doing it. They may do it terribly different to the way you were taught. And it may be better, but it maybe worst, it may be better. Don't assume when you walk out of film school you know it all because that is the pitfall…. You could get lucky, and I'm sure some have and maybe some people will say I'm talking rubbish but I think you should learn your job and give yourself time to learn it. So, when you do get in the position of authority you can answer 99 percentof questions thrown at you.
JK: We have these wonderful technicians, especially in the camera department all over the industry forced into digital use of pixels [?] and cameras and stuff we haven't seen before. Will they be able to adapt to that?
BJ: Oh, absolutely oh yes. I don't see a problem there. I mean from the point of view, like computers, the computer engineer looks after your computer, where you operate it, that’s two different operations where a cameraman and an operator - sure, you would need a specialised assistant probably, to use the electronics in the camera. And now, most of these new cameras, Betamax and whatever they are have auto focus on them; I know I've seen them you know, where you don't actually have a focus puller which I find very dangerous situation on a film. I'm sure it doesn't happen that way; but I haven’t been on a film set for ten years or so. But I'd love to go back and teach, if they’d listen to me, some of the basics in filmmaking. Because I think once you learn the basics, then you can experiment. You can break the rules: once you know the rules, you can break them. You can't break the rules if you don't know them. You know, if you don't know what the rules are anyhow, you don't know what you’re doing. I mean there's so many rules that you shouldn't do and I'm not saying you don't do, but that you shouldn't do. Once you know those rules you can then make it your own judgment to break them or not.
JK: Excellent. Thank you, Bob.
BJ: Thank you very much.
JK: Nothing else you want to add?
BJ: Not really, I’ve forgotten... [Tape Ends abruptly]