The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Bryan Langley was interviewed by Arthur Graham on 18 November 1987.
1. Improvising with film stock
AG: We're on the different types of film stocks. What were their differences, and what were their special requirements as far as shooting was concerned?
BL: Well, originally film was blue sensitive only. It was called, when I started, 'ordinary film' and I arrived at the time when orthochromatic film was in common use. I mention this ordinary film because Mr. Parkinson... one of his strategies was to photograph landmarks in London, like teashops and monuments and so forth and mark the frame. You would photograph these things, fade out on the lens diaphragm and then you'd mark the frame, wind back and put it in the can. You would write down where it was shot, where the sun was and where to point the camera.
Years later, when I arrived, these cans would be produced and I was told to go to a certain place - I can't remember if any frames were developed - anyway, point the camera at this thing, turn the handle and fade in on a certain count. So we'd dissolve from then and now. The film I was exposing was 'ordinary film' which was blue sensitive. The consequence of shooting with blue sensitive film is that anything which is red or yellow simply doesn't expose - it comes out as black. Anything which is blue comes out as white, so that you got a pretty contrasty affair, but it's very crisp. Shall we say it's different?
I did a number of these scenes either with a cameraman or as an assistant or on my own. With orthochromatic stock this was sensitive, I can't really remember what it was sensitive to, but let us say it was green. It would make the sensitive part, it was rather like Verichrome, it was half way to panchromatic, I don't really remember, but it did have some blind spots and this was the normal way of shooting.
Jack Cox once told me when I was assisting that actors who had blue eyes - and he mentioned Brian Aherne - they had terrible problems being photographed on ordinary and ortho stock because the blue eyes vanished and they became like people without eye pupils. So Jack Cox's method was to shine an arc light into their eyes on which there was a red filter so this would give some modulations in grading in the eye parts. It meant that with ordinary and ortho red buses came out black and yellow tulips came out very dark and murky. Then of course with the coming of sound it meant that you couldn't use arc lights, and that meant you had to use incandescent lights which were very red sensitive and it meant that the film stock had to be sensitive to yellow light in particular, incandescent light, 3250, I think - degrees Kelvin.
So this panchromatic stock was used, I think it was called Super X and it graduated up through Plus X and Double X and 4X. I'm sure all old cameramen know their filters off by heart, A1 and A2 and 23 As and reds and the whole catalogue of reds. I certainly did and I can nearly remember all of them now. Then stock went into colour and that was the end of pleasure from a cameraman's point of view in a way.
2. Changes in frame size
AG: Over the years changes have taken place in the frame size. What were they, and how did they affect production - if at all?
BL: They certainly did. The original frame size was what we call the standard frame, and this extended edge to edge of the perforations, and from frame line to frame line, and it was 1" by 3/4". And then when sound came, the first sound I think was on gramophone disc, but then they had sound on film and the sound had to be printed on the positive. It meant the frame size had to be reduced to one-eighth of an inch off on the left which left you with a square frame, so they cut off a bit top and bottom and you ended up with a frame considerably smaller than the standard size frame. I think it was 16 by 11mm or something like this.
That was the Academy frame and of course this was the standard size and you often see it in old-fashioned newsreel. If you look at an old-fashioned newsreel of the First World War, you'll find people's heads are cut off, their feet are cut off and you can't see what's on the left of the screen. This is because it was in camera and it's on the negative but when it's printed it's printed with, as it were, an Academy gate, leaving room for the soundtrack.
3. Independent Frame
BL: Independent Frame was a process devised at Pinewood. At the end of the war Mr. Rank, J. Arthur Rank, thought that British films needed mechanising - almost mechanising - more scientific. He got a gang of scientists from Watson Watt, the radar men, down to Pinewood to make filmmaking more scientific and it was called Independent Frame. Several of the people: Vivian Bowden, he was the principal man on the radar, he's now a lord: Dr Loins, he was a chemist and he left Independent Frame in due course and went to Rank Laboratories and became their chief man; there was Robert Holt and a whole number of people of very high academic scientific qualifications. The idea was to invent ways, develop ways of making film production more speedy and this consisted essentially of draughtsmanship. They had draughtsmen galore making plans about where to put the camera and how high the projector should be to point the back projection plates onto the screens and at times you would have a set up in which there would be three projectors coming from three different angles so that you could do a pan say of 45 degrees from one way to another way across the three screens projecting and everything was in synchronism and the sizes were right and everything was right.
In the end what seemed to bedevil Independent Frame was that the scriptwriters and actors and directors couldn't keep up with the pace of these advanced methods and consequently the films were always hurried and awful. And another problem we'd had is that all the planning was done before the shooting was attempted so that if the director found something was awkward or difficult he couldn't shoot around it he had to shoot because it said so on the plan and it had to be in a certain position. Now all that lead to the abandonment of Independent Frame but what has survived from it and what we should be very grateful for to Mr. Rank and his colleagues were the three great things that came from it. One of which are the giant rostrums some 10 or 12 feet square on which the sets would be built off stage and the whole thing rolled onto the set the day before shooting and simply bolted together. That was an enormous advancement from building on the set, that things were built off stage in a carpenter's shop and then wheeled into position. This was a wonderful advance.
4. Descendants of Independent Frame
BL: Another thing which we should be grateful for is all this back projection. Back projection and front projection are direct descendants of the Independent Frame. And the hotspots and so on. You should really talk to Charlie Steffan [?] about this because he is the man who was involved in the back projection. But to give you a very small example: on the big stage at Pinewood they built at the end of it a long tunnel like a tube tunnel and at the far end of that was a giant lift thing like you might see in a dockyard. The projector which was a triple projector of course, three projectors into one so you get more light, would go up and down ever so high and ever so low and the projector was really a floating object in this tunnel all worked out on the drawing board. I believe one of the draughtsman was John Hawkesworth who was one of the producers of Upstairs, Downstairs. It's the same name, it may not be the same person but if it is the same person you should talk to him because he will know it as a draughtsman.
My connection with this was in the travelling matte aspect of Independent Frame and this depended on having a beam splitter camera which was made by George Ashworth. The beam splitter camera consisted of a camera in which there were two gates at right angels and in between the gates was a prism and through the prism was passed one image and reflected from the prism was another image. One was photographed on blue sensitive film only and the other of course plus X, this was in the black and white days. Travelling matte had the great advantage compared with back projection in as much as you could shoot it now and put on the background at leisure, anywhere and any different background, if you didn't like the background you could change it. This was the theory and the practice. And I had virtually ten years at Pinewood doing this and we went to the smallest studios, for example Pathé in Wardour Street to film a Triumph motor car dashing through the Alps on a children's film. We of course had to squeeze up against the back wall and the blue backing was squeezed up against the other wall which was not very far away and in between was a Triumph Dolomite car and the actors were in it. We did all these things, weeks and weeks of shooting, and afterwards of course the cameramen went to the Alps and shot the background and the two things were united, stuck on top of each other.
5. Problems with Independent Frame
This went on and there was hardly a British film made in which travelling matte wasn't used: all over England, we went to France, 5 times I think doing travelling matte so it was a good thing. At first I thought it was marvellous and it was marvellous for me. I met these scientists and learnt all sorts of things and in the end it became repetitious and boring and I was particularly incensed because on one film called Journey Home or Voyage Home at Pinewood, a film about a ship coming from South America to England, and the whole film was shot in the studio against blue backings, the whole blinking film except a few location shots done by Peter Hennessy. When the film was finished and printed somebody said to me I saw a lovely picture the other day, pity about those three or four travelling matte shots in which we saw the black lines were in it. I nearly burst my boiler as they say. Because in 95% of that film it was unnoticed that it was travelling matte but of the 2 or 3 shots with the black rims round I got the feeling that in the end travelling matte was recognised as being kind of filming with black lines around it and I became disillusioned with it.
While I'm on this can I say when I was at Pinewood I went to see high definition films on an official visit from Pinewood at Highbury Studios. Norman Collins was in charge of it and high definition films was some way of shooting with thousands of lines of definition on a television screen. I dont really understand it very much, this was really part of the evolution of television. But they suffered from the same thing as Independent Frame. Their great problem was was that the scriptwriters and stories were to be churned out at sufficient speed to match the shooting. At Pinewood we had the same problem. We couldn' match the output. You can't mechanise thinking seemed to me the conclusion of that time.
6. Schufftan process
AG: Talking of these processes did you ever have anything to do with the Schufftan process?
BL: The Schufftan process yes. I came across it at BIP studios and this was really a wonderful process. It had the disadvantage that it had to be set up on the stage and all the arts and all the craft necessary was done on the stage so it locked up the whole stage for maybe a fortnight while it was being married together. The system was there was a lathe bed, one end of which the camera was mounted and it could move in all directions on gears. On the other end was a cradle holding a mirror at 45°and the mirror was surface silvered with stuff which we said was German silver, very soft [unintelligible] silver. The set would be built on this studio floor up to head height we'll say, just above head height and you'd have a miniature set built or a photograph or a model to be reflected through this mirror to coincide what was built in actual size. The set might be a 10th of the scale of the actual set and the job of the Schufftan technicians was to scrape away the silver so that the reflected image and the actual image would coincide and marry up one with the other. Of course, the mirror being relatively close to the camera would be out of focus so that the mingling from the model to the actual was an out of focus blur. So it was really imperceptible so long as the lighting was level. Naturally if you overexposed one or the other you could tell it but generally speaking it was jolly good. They could do all sort of things. On one film I remember there was some disaster happening and all they built on this stage was a window frame and a foot or two wall around it. Out of this window somebody had to holler ssh, stop. The rest of the entire set was a model reflected in through this mirror, most wonderful really. But it had the disadvantage that it locked up the stage so it was superceded by hanging mattes and front mattes but old timers like me will regard the Schufftan process as a bit of magic.
7. Quota Quickies
BL: Quota quickies, in my book, are the reason why the British film industry is so good today. Somebody passed a law that a certain percentage of all footage screened on British screens should be made in British studios, they should be originating in British studios. I don't know what the percentages were, it was a quota - we'll say 10% of all things seen had to be made in England. Now, the films, they had to be made and they weren't going to be made to attract people, so they had to be made very economically, cheaply. The schedules were very often 18 days, 12 days I suppose, and the films were often just 60 minutes long, an hour long. But many people of my generation worked on them and, as far as I was concerned, I wouldn't have got my job as a cameraman if it hadn't been for quota quickies, because there weren't enough cameramen to start with, and they couldn't afford very expensive cameramen. On many occasions the situation was abused. I remember on one film I shot - something about Sexton Blake, a man coming out of an office into a motorcar - the director deliberately made him cross the road and come back again because you got a pound a foot. The return was a pound a foot so that if you could do a long pan you got more money for the least output. I think they were a good exercise. I don't think there isn't anybody who hasn't benefited by those quota quickies. Of course, many people were exploited no doubt, but they did learn their trade and I sometimes wish they had it nowadays.
AG: Would you say there's any resemblance between the quickies and some TV series?
BL: I have a very limited experience of TV series. The one I did which Alan produced, English By Television, I must confess to thinking it was going on forever. Very strict office hours, never a minute early, never a minute late and it seemed to go on and on and on. Now a quota quickie went on, if you were lucky, for 18 days and that was the end of it. So there was really in my view no comparison. In one you had a unique one-off bash on the quota quickie, either good or bad. My experience of this one television series was that it seemed to go on forever and I could never see the end of it, week after week.
Bryan Langley: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1987)
1. Starting in films
BL: I was born in Fulham in London in 1909, December 29th, so it's really 1910 almost. My parents lived in Uxbridge during the First World War and I went to the local secondary school there and my father was an opera singer and he was touring all he time so he carted me off to a public school, what they called a public school in Somerset and I was there from 11 to 17 and during my holidays I joined my parents on tour with the opera company. So I had a secluded upbringing.
AG: When did you enter the industry?
BL: I entered as an unpaid assistant during my holidays from school working with the H.B. Parkinson Company. My father was acting, singing for Mr. Parkinson making two-reel opera shorts, silent films oddly enough. The idea was that an artist would appear on the stage and sing to accompany the film, this was the great thing. My father was, an opera singer and during my holidays I went with the film company while they were filming various operas and my father would be singing and acting in the thing. Now I worked as an unpaid gofer as we call it now during the holidays but when I left school at the age of 17 I went straight away to Mr. Parkinson's, H.B. Parkinson's company as a trainee because I had no photographic ideas or any ideas whatsoever. All I knew was that my father had arranged for Mr. Parkinson to take me on and for them to find out what was most suitable for whatever talents I had.
Mr. Parkinson passed me through every department he had: negative cutting, positive cutting, vault work - I used to hump cans of films up and down Wardour St to a chap called Wally Dahlberg [?] who in later life I met at Pinewood when he was chief projectionist. I did all these things as well as assisting the projectionist and helping in the film labs, R.E. Strange's film labs - Percy Anthony and Leo Kass were there. In due course Mr. Parkinson noticed I appeared rather strong and he wondered if I could carry a tripod up and down Wardour St, around London, I suppose to save the bus fares. I humped this tripod up and down, all over the place. Mr. Parkinson was making a series called Wonderful London, which is very famous and is in the National Film Archives. His son Roy can tell you all about these things.
Anyway in due course I found on top of the tripod was a camera which was a Debrie and I practiced in my lunch hour loading this camera and in the end I was able to do it against a stop watch with my eyes closed. I could do it now actually, in my mind anyway.
2. The talkies
BL: We had two cameras, a wooden Debrie so called, and a metal Debrie - Super Parvo, and we made a great number of two reel films some of which we did at Stolls Studios usually using sets left over from the previous production. The sort of films we were doing, these were silent films, had the titles like Ave Maria, The Rosary, Rock of Ages all these sort of religious things. I suppose the end idea was to get some chap on stage to sing to accompany these films.
Anyway I cut my teeth on these things and we worked also at Southall Studios which used to be an aircraft hangar in the First World War and Worton Hall Studios and on one wonderful occasion we heard the talkies were coming in the shape of Dark Red Roses lit by Eric Cross and it was going to be a night shoot. And so I stayed up all night watching Eric Cross and these other people shooting Dark Red Roses, this was about 1928 or 29 and they had incandescent lights and I think the director was Sinclair Hill. Anyway I remember him saying to the actors whatever you do don't dry up, just say anything that comes into your head it's a talking film and you must talk. This was the principle. This was the advent to me of the talkies.
I must pay a credit to Mr. Parkinson, not only did he pass me through all his departments, in every department, he also had me trained to drive, I suspected at the time he wanted me as an unpaid chauffeur. Anyway he had me taught to drive at the British School of Motoring and he sent me off the Regent Street Polytechnic to attend what I think was the first course on kinematography, with a 'k' in those days, and one occasion Mr. George, I think it was George Pearson, Mr. Sinclair, either Mr. Newman or Mr. Sinclair, one of those two people came to give us a lecture on the camera he'd made for Mr. Ponting who went to the South Pole to film this expedition. He told us that his camera had only one claw to shift the films but Mr. Ponting said this is ridiculous, you must have two claws to shift the film. And Mr. Sinclair or Mr. Newman said alright well I'll put you in a second claw. And he told us confidentially he put this claw in and made sure so that it didn't touch the edge of the perforation.
I must confess to not being a very good student but that was my fault, my omission. Mr. Parkinson certainly fulfilled every obligation whatever he had with my father both practically and in a good sense and I would never have had an all round training had it had not been for him. And I found this in later life invaluable. In my later career I had to be in charge of a film laboratory and I took this, to this control, the management without a great deal of doubts because I'd seen it all happen with Percy Anthony and Leo Kass dumping their film in the tanks. In the lab I took over we had machines with cogs but I was able to look after it pretty well and I shouldn't have been able to do that if I had not had my training at Parkinsons.
3. H.B. Parkinson's film lab
AG: From what you've said Bryan, you obviously started work some time in the middle 20s. When exactly was it?
BL: I was at school at Wellington in Somerset and I left there at the end of term in 1927 so I must have started in August, something life that, 1927.
AG: Where was Parkinson's place of work, was it in Wardour Street?
BL: No, it was actually in Little Denmark St, off Charing Cross Rd and it was located in the laboratories, the first floor up of R. E. Strange and Company. H. B. Parkinson had a whole floor in Mr. Strange's Laboratory factory [unintelligible] and on the ground floor in the basement Mr. Parkinson had a film vault from which I would get on suitable occasions, nitrate film. I remember the smell right now of nitrate film in the vault. One of the films Mir Parkinson always trotted out was Married to a Mormon. Whenever the Mormons were coming Mr. Parkinson would cash in on this and release his film and 1 would used to get it and I remember on one chilling moment I went in the vault and the door shut. I was then starting to experiment with smoking and I reached in my pocket for my matches to find a way out but fortunately I hadn't brought them that day so I'm still here. [Laughter]
AG: A certain amount of danger attached there. What wages did you get?
BL: I can't remember. I've been trying to remember. I don't suppose they were magnificent. At the end of my time at Parkinson's which was in 1930, I was the chief cameraman and lighting, so called. Anyway I was photographing at any quite a number of Mr. Parkinson's films and I had the idea, vaguely, that I was getting about £5 a week which was a hefty salary in those days. I suppose it was considerably less than he would have been paying to Frank Cannon, the cameraman I displaced I suppose is the word - there was Frank Cannon, Sidney Eaton, Alf Tunwell and Bert Ford. All of these were freelance cameramen who turned up and when Mr. Parkinson found that I could a handle with great success, I had a strong right arm, I suppose he took a prudent decision and promoted me and reaped the benefits financially to my benefit too. Anyway, I think it was about £5 a week.
4. R.E. Strange and Percy Anthony
BL: Mr. Parkinson sent me down to R. E. Strange's developing department laboratory and in particular the negative developing part which was run by Percy Anthony, father of Bryan Anthony. Percy Anthony had one eye, he was a cameraman originally before he became a lab manager, and the labs had great big drums on which the film was dried. We would shoot film in either 100 ft rolls on Imo or 400 ft rolls in our Debrie magazines, and they would be also chromatic or ordinary film and latterly panchromatic.
Ordinary film of course is blue sensitive only, ortho is sensitive to something I can't remember what, panchromatic is sensitive to everything. These films, the exposed films were given to Percy Anthony who would unwind it on a frame which you would wind. The frame would stand in a horse and the film would be unwound out of a magazine onto the frame so 400 ft of film would be held on this wooden frame, of course never touching, one on top of the other, and the frame of exposed film would be dunked in a bath of developer, D76 I suppose, and dunked in there for so many minutes and then put into a stop path and then in a bath of hypo.
Now, a hypo, when the rack was taken out of the tank to put it the washing tanks it dripped on the floor, the floor was covered with duck boards and underneath the floor were all these liquids which were dripping of the frame and consequently the labs smelt wonderfully I think of hypo. So, whenever I go to a laboratory nowadays I always ask to go where there's some hypo so I can smell this lovely smell of hypo.
The film after it was washed was then brought out and unwound. And I was given this job to do of unwinding the film from the frame onto a giant drum about 5 or 6 ft in diameter, you'd clip it on the front part of one of the bars and unwind it slowly so it didn't touch anything else and this drum was driven by a motor and in due course it dried. And I also had to pass the film through the chammy leather in my hand so as to wipe off the excess moisture.
In the days of ordinary film and ortho film, in the laboratory you had a red light so you could see everything in a kind of red glow. But when they invented panchromatic of course there was no light other than a very dull green light, you could hardly see anything. Now we dried the film and then Percy Anthony also did the titles. He had a camera, I think it was a camera like a Williamson you turn at the back and you'd photograph the titles. Because all films, silent films had titles and somebody had to photograph the things, and then R. E. Strange's had automatic tubes for positive film developing which went up and down the building from top to bottom, giant tubes of positive developper, I didn't of course have anything to do with those.
5. Sound recording on films
BL: And if I may, while we're at Parkinson's and before we cast him to oblivion, I'd like to tell you about our entry into the sound recording business. Mr. Parkinson somehow got involved with an inventor of sound recording techniques and this consisted of connecting the Debrie camera which in the end I had to hand crank. The Debrie camera was connected by a chain, a bicycle chain and a cog on the handle-shaft to another cog which drove the turntable of the gramophone. Now the idea was you'd go out and buy a lovely gramophone record of say Caruso singing whatever it is recorded with the very, very best techniques of the time, His Master's Voice, and it would probably cost 1'6.
This gramophone record would be given to an actor, a singer who was told to go home and learn the song just like the man sings it. So the next day he'd come and I'd mount the camera on the tripod, the special little tripod and my chains and cans and things and gramophone disk. We'd put the gramophone disk on the turntable, I'd crank and I became so expert in cranking this thing that the sound would never waver, warble or anything wrong. I was mechanically as good as the machine I thought and we made dozens of films like this and the actor would sing away up against the sky and I suppose Mr. Parkinson had a cinema somewhere where the whole system was reversed. Where there was a turntable connected to a projector and you could see the man singing. Anyway my end was just cranking the thing and making sure the exposure was right.
And then Mr. Parkinson made a fatal mistake, he hired a director. Hitherto it had all been done by him, he hired this director who said we'll knock this singing fool stuff to six I suppose. Anyway he had an invalid car company dolly made for me and the camera and the turntable and the idea was that we'd go on location and we went to Twickenham, I remember very well. We tracked along some chap singing, like it was singing on a gramophone and the director said cut Bryan so I stopped turning and the director said now the next camera set up is here and we moved everything round and he said start. And the actor couldn't pick it up. So the director got the needle back in the grove and we tried all day and we never got the thing in synchronism and so the thing was abandoned.
Nowadays I think we realise that if we'd have started right again from the beginning and got the actors to sing everything twice in two positions that would have been alright, we could have managed. But we couldn't pick it up in the middle of the gramophone record in synchronism and this was a bitter blow I think to Mr. Parkinson's sound recording hopes. The quality of the sound was first class, it was very much better than anything you could hear up in the cinemas because of the bad sound recording and inefficient systems. I think that is worth nothing down.
6. Colour in silent films
AG: Did you have anything, either shooting or in the laboratories, to do with colour?
BL: Yes, in silent films. We had a system which was developed called tinting and toning. Tinting consisted of ordering any one of umpteen coloured tints in which the celluloid, the base, was coloured - one I of them was called Pathe pink I remember and there was all sort of hues. The idea being that all the transparent parts of the film, the hi-lights when projected would come out whatever the hue was, the tint was in the hi-lights of the film. And then someone, I have no idea who, found out that if you treated the deposits, the silver deposits, the black parts, with some chemical they would be toned some colour. So in Parkinsons we quite often had films which had pink hi-lights and blue shadows so you got an impression of colour. It was very attractive especially for fire sequences and deserts. The tinting was really a very attractive thing. I believe it was very difficult thing to do, the toning to get it consistent but the tinting was certainly a jolly good system and it was much appreciated. People would compose their scripts and write on their scripts pathe pink here or frosted blue there or whatever. Also while I'm on what was in the scripts, the directors used to put down the camera speed. Normal camera speed was 16 frames per second and it was the practice then to under-crank or over-crank various things according to the nature of the scene. For example I think boxing matches it was always thought best to under-crank boxing matches so they appeared more animated. Dancing you over-cranked a little bit so they became more graceful and these things directors would specify.
7. Hazards of early studios
AG: You've mentioned a number of studios you worked in like Worton Hall and Highbury. What were the various studios like, what were the condition like in them, what were they like as studios?
BL: With youthful eyes I thought they were wonderful but thinking back, at BIP and Welling, I'm probably not thinking back in sequence but at BIP and Welling the original sound stages were draped in great big blankets which contained a lot of dust and were terribly inflammable. Why there weren't more fires when you think of all those carbon arcs, I thought the idea of parting the curtain and going onto the stage was wonderful. It was like going onto a circus.
Whilst at BIP I was hired out as a camera assistant with Walter Blakely to Gainsborough Poole St on a film called the Stronger Sex which was the first film after the great big fire at Gainsborough Poole Street. The equipment there was a mixture of mercury banks of lights hanging in the rafters and incandescent lights so actors looked sometimes horribly blue and sometimes jaundiced yellow. Much of the equipment you asked for they'd sometimes say that was destroyed in the fire guv. So it was pretty hard at Islington on the first film after the fire, justly so. Another thing at Welling, Welling had been completely equipped with arc lighting lamps while they were run by British Instructional Films, came the talkies these light were absolutely useless because they howled and whistled and hummed and so at Welling there were crates and crates of lamps which were never unpacked. A terrible expense of course.
Another problem we had was in the development of sound at BIP originally microphones were buried in bits of the set. Actors would walk up to a microphone and say their bit, walk to another place and say their next bit, microphones didn't follow. Then they developed bamboo poles and then some bright chap invented the Lazy-tong Boom which Otto Kanturek my boss described as the Loch Ness Monster because it was staked out undulating all over the set casting enormous shadows, it was terrifying from the cameraman's point of view.
Another problem was that the sound man at BIP and other studios always used to be away in a glass fronted box, he didn't sit on the set looking at the action, he was up there looking at the levers and modules. Another thing was the sound was recorded on film so you never heard it till tomorrow when it was developed and printed, so you were never really sure how it was.
8. Stolls Studios in the '30s
At Stoll's where we made a number of films, they seemed cavernous. One time we went there they had a giant set which stretched from one stage to another through a kind of tunnel. I remember walking through this thing doing our Rock of Ages scene or whatever it was on the corner of this big set. It was enormous.
I would think the greatest difference between then and now is the weight of the lighting equipment because the lights were mostly old military searchlights. For example we had 1000mm sun arcs with facet mirror reflectors - you could almost stand inside them, these things were enormously heavy - all the lighting equipment was heavy. Every arc light had to have an electrician standing by to keep the arc burning properly and to stop the howling. The cables were heavy but of course there were lots of people available and this in turn gave lots of work to lots of people.
Then later I'll never forget they invented Colourtran. I was at the BBC Ealing and a man came with Colourtran and said look two kilowats of light in that little thing, I didn't believe him. He lifted it up with one hand and there we are two kilowatts of light, unheard of. The light was wonderful. And of course cameras, the first stage of sound required that the cameras to be in a booth. The booth was originally just like a sentry box and then they put it on wheels and then the booth revolved and tracked. Nevertheless the camera crew was sitting inside this thing, the cameraman Jack Cox usually and me, I was pulling the focus.
Bryan Langley: BECTU Interview Part 3
Covering WWII beyond Europe for The War Office Film Unit
1. West Africa and Crete
BL: Having joined the War Office Film Unit as it was called then and having been shipped overseas at remarkably short notice with a great big revolver, I'd never had any military training. And I said to the man in the War office when I was in the OTC at Wellington I'd learned to four fours and I see that the soldiers walk around in 3s, shouldn't I learn what to do. He said no, we think you'll be much better going as a cameraman uninhibited by any military regulations and you can be jolly sure if you do any faux pas somebody there will always kindly or otherwise correct you. So it worked out. I've ridden in the same car as generals and field marshals and haven't felt awed or sat upon by their rank. To me they were just people to be filmed. The only time I really came to regret this lack of training was when we had a crank handle college in India. Of course, we then went into another league in which we had a whole gang of trainees and troops and so forth. For several months I was in sole command as my CO Jerry Keane had been killed so I didn't have any clue what to do as far as awarding punishments and drills and I had to rely heavily on those people who had been luckily enough to be trained but had been brow beaten possibly in the process.
Coming back to the question. I went on this troopship and we went to West Africa and then I flew in a Sabina [?] aeroplane right through the Congo to Khartoum and then down to Cairo. I was there a short time and they said the Germans had landed in Crete, lovely story, they're coming down like snowflakes I hear, the man said. And I thought about G filters and blue skies and whether a 23A would be better and my mind was purely photographic. And we went to Alexandria and soon after we arrived it was bombed, Alexandria was bombed.
Anyway we got to Alex and we were put on half an hour standby to go to Crete and the retreat was starting. Every half hour or so ships would come in from Crete loaded with so many personnel that they said that had all the people on the destroyer gone to one side it would have tipped over. Incredible, absolutely stuffed solid with people in abundance. And the guns were twisted and I filmed all this of course, the arrival of people from Crete, along with other newsreel cameramen, and all the time we were trying, someone was trying to get us to Crete to film the rest of the story, the parachutists. Happily we never went and so we came back to Cairo and the man said hard luck old man we'll get you to Cyprus, they're going to attack that next. We'll get you there first before they come. And the chap said you'd better take just what you can carry and a lot of film. I said how about getting the film back if they do attack and he said oh you'll have to improvise. Famous army words, you'll improvise the shipment of exposed film!
2. Cyprus and the Far East
I went to Cyprus. I was there a couple of months I suppose filming everything and preparing to go on top of Mount Trevelas [?] as a trogladite possibly [unintelligible]. We got bombed by the Germans, from, I think they came from Crete, the Italians from Rhodes and Vichy French from Beirut. And their bombing techniques were unbelievable, absolutely three different systems. You could stand on the ground and say Vichy French today, you really could by their actions, or their aeroplanes or whatever. Anyway, that didn't happen, so back to Cairo and they said better luck next time, we'll send you off to the Far East to Singapore. So, I went in a flying boat, an Imperial Airways flying boat, 300 miles a day from Cairo via Persian Gulf, [unintelligible], Karachi, India, Calcutta, Rangoon, somewhere in Siam, Penang and Singapore.
I arrived in Singapore, I think it was about September of 1941 and of course it was all peace out there. Lights everywhere, no guns, lots of gin slings and all these things. And they gave me a lovely camera car, a baker's wagon but with a roof rack and [unintelligible]. Inside. And I drove up and down Malaya filming all the defences as I was ordered to do. And then the Japanese attacked Malaya and I filmed all the way back. I got disabled at Kuala Lumpur on Christmas day and was shipped back to base on a hospital train but happily for me I wasn't that seriously upset to be in hospital, I could be an outpatient.
After about a couple of weeks I was back in working order to film the last bits of Singapore, the Great Causewav, I filmed that being blown up, about six feet or so and the air raid damage. And I might say that when the Japanese attacked Singapore on December 8th, of course I heard all the aeroplanes coming and I wasn't at all put out by these Japanese because I'd been taught to believe they couldn't fly, shoot, couldn't walk, they were cross-eyed and they didn't worry me at all. Having been through the Blitz in London you see I was a bit cocky. Anyway next day we went down to the dockside and we saw the bomb damage, very small, filmed that. And I had a photograph of these troops dancing, we all danced, at the news that America had been bombed in Pearl Harbour because it meant America was coming into the war.
BL: Fortunately for me the day before it capitulated, February 15th, I and the rest of the war correspondents were shipped off to Potavia to carry on with General Wayvell [?] SE Asia Command, then the Japanese invaded that and we were all evacuated again. Any old boat going any old where, to Ceylon, and from Ceylon I was ordered up to Burma and that fell before I arrived so I had to go to Calcutta and I filmed a lot of things there. Then they decided to form a training college in India along the lines of the Army Film Unit's so called crank handle college, very good description. I had the syllabus sent out and we adapted it and we trained a lot of people there and I get more satisfaction out of that because four or five of those lads that I trained became professional cameramen in India and Burma afterwards. So, at least my bit of the war did some good for somebody.
Bryan Langley: BECTU Interview Part 4
A sighting of Mr Baird and working at BBC studios in the late '50s
1. Baird, the inventor of television
And at the corner of Manet Street, before it became [unintelligible] there was Kingston and Lynes and we used to have all our cameras serviced there, Parkinsons did. And on one occasion I went to Kingston and Lynes and I saw Mr. Baird, the inventor of television, out with Kingston, Arthur Kingston, concocting some piece of machinery and somebody said that's the man who's invented some crazy idea. I didn't take any notice at the time other than to remember his name. But that's a little highlight of my life to actually see Mr. Baird in the business of inventing television.
2. BBC Ealing
I was at Ealing from 1958 to 1960 and without making you blush Alan I regard my time at Ealing as my university because there I met people who had backgrounds other than film or theatrical or acting. I felt my whole life had been in this groove of films, theatrical and acting and at the BBC I met people who had been to university like David Attenborough and religious people, and women who had been actresses and now became producers. It was a whole different world and I rubbed shoulders with these people and I learned from them that, in particular if you don't know what to do you should jolly well ask.
Many young people came from the Television Centre, came to Ealing to do a little filming for a programme and these young people would no nothing whatsoever about filming and they would ask me as a cameraman what to do and I was able to advise them on several occasions. I learned this positive thing that if you don't know you should ask. I also learnt at Ealing, I'm going on a little bit here because it's very important I think from my point of view.
Two other things I learnt at Ealing: one was how to shoot in 16mm, how to handle 16mm. My whole life had been 35mm and the entire works, great big heavy things and great big crews; the other thing I learnt at Ealing, on some occasion, not very often, I had an assistant who was really bone idle and didn't bother to turn up on location. But the producer was brought up with the belief that the show must go on and you couldn't stop just because somebody didn't turn up, you'd got to do your stint. So on these rare occasions I had to reorganise my thinking from a full crew with all the trimmings to do it yourself or don't do it at all.
This was also brought home to me by a BBC cameraman, I was sitting next to him in the BBC camera room, this was a rather elderly cameraman and I said where are you going to next Dougie and he said I'm off to South America next. I said oh yes, who's going with you. He said it's just me and the producer, a two-man crew. I said but how can you do it, loading and humping all the stuff and he said well they can't afford the airfare for an assistant and all that happens is that everything takes a little bit longer. Because I've got to load the magazines and I've got to unload them, I've got to dust the camera, I've got to think about what to do, make out my timesheet. It gives me a longer on location but I can do it myself. And he did this. Also there was David Attenborough and his cameramen whizzing round the world doing a two-man crew operation because really you couldn't do it any other way.
So I learnt three things: one, if you don't know ask; two, 16mm and three, to do it yourself.