Derrick Knight

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9 Sep 1999
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456 Derrick Knight – summary


Born 13 Feb 1929. Mother French, came to UK in early teens. Father son of parson: engineer and boat builder who married in 1923.Worked on shores of Poole Harbour, converted boat into floating home and shop for boaters [Chandlers?].

Derrick didn’t go to school until he was 8 and a half, but learned much about the weather, fishing and boating. Mother ran bumboat service around harbour, serving boat owners with papers, milk, groceries etc. Attended school in East France, bi-lingual. Encountered poverty amongst French farm workers.

First introduced to film when father acquired 9.5mm projector; shows on the boat-home, hand-turned projector showed Disney cartoons, Felix the Cat, Q Ships, White Hell of Pitlpack, Shirley Temple. First memory of cinema visits. Sea Hawk, Errol Flynn.

1939 War. Boat home tied up so parachutists couldn’t take over. Father joined navy, withheld money from family, and eventually deserted family. Sent to paying prep school, paid by grandmother 1938-42. At 13 sent to Culford public school as day boy, gift of local authority. This is where film interest began seriously: school had 35mm projector in assembly hall, run by 5th and 6th formers. Ran shows on Saturday nights: I Know Where I’m Going, A Matter of Life and Death. Bournemouth Film Society moved in during the war, held Sunday shows introduced to French and European classics, Roger Manvell lectures and his book “Film”. Attempted to see all the films listed in it. Learned how films were made, given Rotha’s Film Till Now book. First thoughts of seriousness of documentary.

Reasonable scholar – would like to have been aircraft designer but didn’t have talent for maths, or would like to have been in medicine but couldn’t master science and chemistry to master upper exams, best at languages, literature and history. Enjoyed lectures on art at Culford, from such as William Coldstream, Anthony Blunt. Picture Post had influence. Won a scholarship to Oxford; conscripted for National Service: Royal Education Corps1947; attached to Catering Corps at Aldershot.


Cos?? Cinema, Glasgow arthouse type, began second stage of film education, teaching using film. AKC films and all early documentaries. Became really interested in documentary film and its usefulness. At Oxford involved in University Film Society – Experimental Film Group – possibility of making amateur films. Editor of Isis Magazine film page. Sam Kaner, Fulbright scholar “Why don’t we make a ballet film?” Between Two Worlds. Mai Zetterling helped with dancers via husband Tutte Lemkow, choreography by Tutte, music by Christopher Shaw. Sets by Sam. Borrowed gear, shot in gym at Cheltenham College. Full description of setting up, shooting, editing and production. Won Amateur Cine World Best 10, BFI Sutherland Trophy, led to first job at Technical & Scientific. Produced and directed Just in Case for local hospital, won ACW Best 10, BFI Sutherland Trophy. Scottish AMT was road shown.

Dr Ward, Technical & Scientific Films, offered job in 1953, scraped through honours degree; talks of non-human types of industrial film made by documentary companies of the time. Got ACT ticket during summer shortage of assistants. Joined Labour Party as a teenager because pool had good billiard table. By time joined army a convinced socialist but didn’t join any political activity until he retired. Within 6 months of joining T&S he was acting shop steward.


Talks of his feelings about current affairs and social changes, his developing interest in art and documentary. As shop steward became union activist shorts and docs negotiator. Promoted to Editor to take over from ill colleague: film on steel, managed to add shot of workers. Became tired of little challenge and decided to move on. Film about a dam in Scotland, called in to edit but found material couldn’t be put together to make film, and convinced sponsor that more material to make a film called The Morrison Project. Talks about the lack of synchronised sound shooting at the time.

Film about farming for Basil Wright. Bill Smeaton-Russell, cameraman. Started Derrick Knight and partners, 1957, cutting room in Old Compton Street. Bernice Rubens and Alan Forbes. Attempting film on buskers, film about the last debutants – at odds with sponsors – 1957/8 premiere at a Chelsea cinema. Spring 1998 discussing political projects with Alan Forbes. FLA Tunis into Algeria, wanted to make impact film but couldn’t break through political barriers to be accepted by liberation people. Other projects: Aldermaston March, others in the union became involved, co-operative venture. Roofing techniques films, built sets in Hampstead Community Hall – proved possible to make instructional films showing people in them. Plasterboard film Self Portraits sees processes through workers who make the product. Creates portrait of factory and workers. Science for Life illustrating peaceful uses of science against military uses. Writer Tod Greenaway, for Quakers.


Mischa Altman [?], Hollywood exile musician/composer starts company called Co-productions [?], aimed to take and translate best Soviet films for showing. Paul Strand, photographer friendship with, appreciation of Strand’s work. Geography of Hunger, first appreciation of Third World. Zabatini[?] school of fledgling directors to be sent out into the world – Third World would become major preoccupation. South Africa boycott committee request. Tod and Derrick worked on script, but rejected. Look Down Your Wigg [?] apartheid film, Lionel Ngakane – racial tension in Notting Hill Gate, Peter Sellers put up money, Bob Angell  Jemima  and Johnny 35mm black and white; film in Kenya for Christian Aid. International Defence in Aid Fund film for UK schools (1966) about apartheid; made Witnesses, trained James Neatti [?] as cameraman to go out with frontline ANC[African National Congress]; Angolan committee MPLA [People’s Movement for the liberation of Angola] group in London, not want to know. In ten years something like 230 production numbers, not all films, some editing jobs. National archives have copies of most films.