Charles Potter

Family name: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
23 May 1989
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

Horizontal tabs





Born in Ilford in1914, an only child and didn’t go to school until he was seven. Father managed a cardboard box company. Went to Clark’s College, left at 15 with no qualifications. His uncle who was then under-secretary of L.M.S [London, Midland and Scottish] Railway Company got him an interview for a job (strictly on the understanding that he was not to say anything about his uncle) and he got the job in the “cartage office” in Maiden Lane, King’s Cross at 18 shillings a week. His training period was three years and in that time he had 33 different jobs and in 1933 was moved to the publicity Dept., under Loftus Allen, then after about a year a new man turned up to join the Department: John Shearman, but Allen told them that there was only one job; Potter then told Allen that his uncle was the Secretary of the LMS, and Allen then told him that John Shearman’s father is their Chief Engineer, so we do have a problem. So they both stayed on. Potter then looked after the Press & Photo desk for a time. He has some good stories about press photos being shot for “the sleeping car service” and the “restaurant car service.” In 1934 the LMS sent the Flying Scotsman on a publicity trip to the States which was filmed, and the film was shown all over the LMS area to the staff. They then started making films, John Shearman being a “natural” for writing, and his job was to get the films shown. The first programme – again for the staff – The Sentinels of Safety – made in 1936 so impressed Lord Stamp they got a “4-wheel compo brake car” which was converted into a workshop, store and living quarters: it housed the projector (a Simplex, complete with arc rectifier) supplied by Brockliss of Wardour Street, with their projectionist Joe Hall. Stories about travelling throughout the UK hitched to the trains got North, South, East and West.

His war years spent in the Engineers, first in France, then, after getting out of Cherbourg in a blitz, with “Heavy Demolition and Rescue”, then to the Outer Hebrides – he was there when the S.S. Politician sank, and he said that the whisky tasted foul (it was probably well over proof), and after that to North Africa. By this time he was a WO1 [Warrant Officer 1st Class] and has a nice story about a sea voyage with a Guards RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major]. After North Africa, back to Europe to do a “Cook’s Tour” , finishing up in Lubeck in May 1945, taking over Himmler’s HQ, then a spell in the Control Commission , coming out in December 1945 and then back to LMS. Worked getting facilities for Ealing, where met Sid Cole, Basil Dearden, Michael Relph and Gordon Dines. He heard that Christian Barman and Jock Brebner were about to set up the the British Transport Commission’s film unit, so he wrote asking if he would be any use.


He was sent for and was attached to them as Distribution Assistant [ready] for the time when they had made films. He then talks about the various people who applied for the job of Films Officer, Jack Holmes, John Taylor et al, and then Edgar [Anstey] arrives and they worked from the 10th Floor of 55 Broadway. He was able to fill both Barman and Edgar on the railway background. In 1949 he was promoted given £540 a year, with first class travel. Edgar got £1,800. He then talks about the early days of the Unit, plus the Southern Railways Film Unit. Then he talks about budgeting, Brebner seemed to get what he wanted. Later the Unit started to make training films. He explains about Anstey’s responsibilities, then about the deal when they got cinema releases for their films via “Fancy”, and from these circuit deals they got back production costs. Talks about the move to Saville Row, then about Anstey’s concern for the welfare of his staff, he also talked about his own job as a kind of “parish priest”.


The Stanley Raymond period when they had to get rid of contract staff and continue with the established staff. A lot of detail on financing, on shows for the staff and family, talks about TV commercials, about making “videos” in the various workshops aimed at accident prevention – some interesting comments here.


He talks more about Anstey and his ability to assimilate the changes of the unit as the political colour of the government changed.

A lot of the interview came from an article that Charles Potter has written for publication in the Autumn of 1989, there is much detail about the distribution side of the LMS and Transport Film Unit that is completely unknown to the ordinary film man.


Charles Potter participated in the making of Night Mail for British Transport Films