Doris Martin

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16 Aug 1988
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The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Doris Martin was interviewed by Sid Cole on 16 August 1988.

1. Getting started in film

SC: Your parents didn't have any connection or did they with the film business?

DM: No connection at all. My father had a small printing business and my mother had been a civil service in the post office, but she had a cousin who had a connection and that's how I got in. She was the secretary to the Head of Paramount all over Europe. You know that big building in Wardour Street well she worked there. It was a kind of PA job but they just called it secretary and it was a very good job. And I started working as a kind of secretary to, you remember Earl St John? Well, before he went to Paramount, before the theatre was built, he was the exploitation manager then, and he used to travel round a bit but there was also a very nice woman Lilian Brind [?] who was on the - not exactly the script department - she had to read all the new books that came out. 

SC: What we called a literary editor.

DM: And made a precis of them, she did very well and I used to type them for her and they went to America, to someone over there who vetted them, Paramount of course. So I had the two because Earl wasn't there a lot. When Lilian left, for a time I was with a department, it was to do with the London branch and it was vetting contracts for films. I was the senior of the girls and the woman who was in charge she left and I should have been in line for the job and he put somebody else in. We always thought he was a nasty type. Well I left and I... there wasn't much around. I did temping and I got a job and then I got a call. You know the theatre department had offices in Oxford Street and it was working for a talent scout. America had appointed a talent scout, Donovan Pedelty, 

SC: Oh yes, he's very well known.

DM: Well I worked with him and we got on so well. He wrote scripts and I used to type them in my spare time. He used to give me about £5 for typing a script and that was a fortune then on top of it all. He had a house at Hampstead Garden suburb and I used to go out there sometimes and stay the weekend and type them and we did very well. Then he wanted to direct. By this time I'd heard about continuity work in the studio and I thought that's a job I'd like. [Laughter] I didn't know anything about it, I'd never been in a studio then but anyhow I mentioned it to him, and I must say he was very good I owe my start to him. He said well if I get a chance I will. Well he got a chance to direct one of his films but we still had this talent scouting and I had to hold the fort for him, and he didn't want to give up the job then because it was hit and miss. He said I'll get you down as often as I can and I went down and I stood by and there was a very nice woman doing continuity then, she was married to one of the Keys brothers [?], her name was Ann something and she was so helpful, it was some time before I got a chance of course, because I had to dash back to the office. We had offices above Paramount, above the Plaza theatre.

SC: What was the film, can you remember?

DM: Yes, they went up to Scotland... it was called The Fiery Cross and it was about the highland custom of running around with the burning cross. And the first day I ever had in a studio on my own I will never forget. I had a class full of children, and you can imagine. [Laughter] And I went round religiously taking their names and just before we were going to shoot Donovan said I shall want a close-up of that child, now move him there, move them there, he moved them all around didn't give me a chance. Of course being more experienced I would have said wait a minute. [Laughter]

SC: Tell me about the continuity sheets in those days, did you have to do many copies?

DM: Oh yes, about 6. 1 don't know if you did when you started but when I came back after the war it was more organised.

SC: In those days when you started I suppose a lot of people had to invent their own method of dealing with things.

DM: Well they did sheets. No I can remember when I went to the studio, passing the table and there was a sheet in there. I remember trying to linger to see what it was like and somebody pushing us. No we did but they were more stylised, organised after the war.

2. Vernon Sewell and Ghost Ship

DM: I did several things for Vernon Sewell, you know he had a yacht. The first one I think was called Ghost Ship and we went out the Nor [?] Lighthouse, that was interesting. Four nights I had to sleep on the lighthouse because it was to rough for them to take us off, at least four nights. It was quite an experience but it was bigger than most lighthouses because they built these mystery towers for the first world war and nobody really knows what they were going to do with them because the war ended. But they towed them out and the Nor was being towed out to some spot when it broke away so they cemented it down and it's a lighthouse now. 

SC: Ah, those platform things you mean?

DM: I think it's called the Nor. Well it was very much bigger than ordinary lighthouses. The lower part belonged to the navy and they used to store stuff there. We had the top part which of course was Trinity House, that was very interesting. We had some canaries out there for this scene and the old head lighthouse keeper fell for these canaries so we donated the canaries to him at the end. He was so pleased. They had a platform, I remember once all the big liners used to go right past us, and I was wearing a bright green frock and we went out for a breath of air and we didn't think about it! [Laughter] We saw this liner going by and we were looking at the liner and they were all looking at us, what's a girl doing out there. [Laughter] There was another actress and myself and they gave us rooms to stay but we couldn't sleep because the radio was going all night, so we took out mattresses, well we got someone to carry them up and we went to sleep right under the light there. 

SC: Well I was going to ask you about whether the light didn't disturb you if you were sleeping in a lighthouse.

DM: No we were right under it. Oh that was another thing. When we had... we used to give them a big extra when they were shooting, and of course if it was foggy they couldn't because of the blooming noise you see. If it was foggy we couldn't shoot when they had this thing on. It got when we were on deck one of them would come up and say to the other I think there's a bit of fog coming up don't you? Yeah alright, put the light on. And it was as clear as mud, we'd have to slip them something not to sound the foghorns [Laughter]. So they were on a good thing while we were there. But they loved us going there because we brought out fresh milk every morning and newspapers which they didn't get. 

Then after that it did get rough, we had about six weeks there. Then I got a message to meet Vernon in Wardour St and when I got up there he walked across and he said Doris I promise you this one won't be as rough as the last! And it wasn't, we just went out from the shore, I did 2 or 3 with him. He was a nice man.

DM: Then I went to Shepperton, that was when ITV was starting and the year before they wanted to stockpile some stuff, do you remember?

1. Early television and The Prisoner

SC: That's right, it was earlier than 60s, that was about 55.

DM: In the beginning not many girls wanted to do series, they all went toffee nosed, and I thought this is silly, this is where our future is going to be in television. And that's how I got in, I took television series. And I did so many I wasn't out of work for ages. I got known and I went in. I liked it. You know you get a long run, you get to know everyone.

SC: Yes and in those days they'd be shooting 39 episodes a year, 39 half hours, that was practically a year's work.

DM: It was and in between I didn't mind having a bit of a break.

SC: By this time what sort of money would you say a continuity girl would be earning like yourself?

DM: £20 or £30, I suppose. It was always good money, much more than you'd get in an office or anything. Anyhow the work was so much more interesting. I couldn't have worked in an office. We had so much fun I wouldn't change any of it.

SC: Great.

DM: I worked with so many artists. I did Pat McGoohan, The Danger Man, that was Ralph Smart and you.

SC: Yes Ralph Smart, I took over from Ralph. But I was sort of associate producer.

DM: Well he was very nice then but then I did The Prisoner later and he had gone a little strange.

SC: The Prisoner was, well tell me he was very difficult on The Prisonerwasn't he, Pat McGoohan?

DM: Yes, yes, terrible

SC: Don Chaffey, you remember Don Chaffey he was directing a lot of them, but he finally as I understand it he finally had a quarrel with Pat. DM: Oh I think most people did.

SC: Tell us something about The Prisoner.

DM: It was a weird thing. Portmarion. We did one episode of Dangermanthere and that's what gave him the idea. It was when he went back, it was a lovely place. Well of course we shot a lot of it there, it wasn't so bad at the start, he was writing it. He couldn't work out what these awful things were going to be and in the end he finished up with big rubber balloon things. Oh it was stupid, it was beyond him. He tried to do everything himself and he couldn't.

SC: I heard about this from Don and people that Pat was starring, producing, directing, scripting.

DM: Yes, doing the lot. Leo McKern was in it and he had a breakkdown, because he's a very conscientious man. Of course Pat was drinking very heavily then and I don't know whether he was taking anything else or not. He wasn't the same man.

SC: Mm because at his best he could be very nice couldn't he?

DM: Oh he was charming. I liked him very much then.

2. Black Beauty and Born Free

DM: I enjoyed Black Beauty, that was one of my favourites. We had 2 lovely years there. It was such a nice crew, such a nice atmosphere, and we were out in the air. Sometimes we had too much! [Laughter] But mostly it was healthy and lovely

SC: Can you say just for the record where was that shot?

DM: Oh Stockers Farm, Rickmansworth. The canal, that was lovely 

SC: And the house, we used the house didn't we.

DM: Mm. Another series I loved was Born Free in Kenya

SC: Oh yes did Jimmy Hill direct that one, James Hill?

DM: Yes, I think so, was it?

SC: On Born Free I remember getting a card from Jimmy Hill saying he was in Kenya entirely surrounded by lions. [Laughter]

DM: Oh I loved that. 

SC: It must have been very nice.

DM: Born Free [unintelligible] there were other things. But the lions of course came from America. That was lovely and Kay Rawlings was out ther. Funny we both lived in Ealing and we met in Kenya for the first time. I went out to do one episode. They had the man who was doing the animal stuff was going to direct one and they had to get a continuity. He didn't want a continuity and they insisted he had to have one for the editor. I was warned about this. I didn't really want to go at first, because when they rang up I said that's on the Equator, I can't work in intense heat, they said no it's high, it was quite cold. [Laughter] 

SC: Yes [unintelligible] is on a big plateau isn't it?

DM: Yes. Oh I was I was so glad I did it, I loved it. I got on so well with Jack, it was funny, we had a lovely little native assistant cameraman, Mathew Kipoem [?]. And there were just the three of us, afterwards. But I went out to do this episode with him and we got alright then. And then the said stay on there's a few pick ups to do and we went round doing these. He just went round with the assistant doing the stuff and he got this pile of scripts and he kept on going through the scripts and I thought this is crazy. So when I used to get the call sheet from Kay, I'd go through what we wanted and make a précis of what we'd got to do the next day. He thought that was brilliant, but it was only common sense really

3. Changes in the television industry

SC: In general Doris, down all those very interesting years you've been talking about, what are the main changes you've noticed since you first started, when you were young in the business.

DM: Well I'll tell you the biggest thing from our point of view that you can have a tape played back when you want to get the dialogue, so you know you can get the dialogue right. It was such a struggle to get the shorthand and watch what they're doing, you know check. I used to have a system that when they altered things before, I'd write in longhand what the new thing was, then when we actually shot I'd take whatever they improvised in shorthand and I knew which was on the screen so to speak. But it's a great help now having that, they've really got it made.

SC: Did you work at all, particularly on a series when they had a TV monitor on the stage?

DM: Yes.

SC: Did you like that?

DM: Yes, we started that in Persuaders, that was a great help. Yes, I used to use it in my lunch time and pick up then and in the evenings but I was organized. Oh it's was wonderful. I'll tell you another difference I noticed, when you did the doubles, it was a nightmare because they had to shoot it and then cover one side of the camera as you know and I had to time it exactly that the words came. And then we'd play it back, it was hard work and took ages to do it. Now it's so simple. 

SC: Can you say more about that, the technique of that. I mean what sort of shots are you talking about?

DM: When you've got the same person in the same frame, playing two different characters in the same frame, that's really what I was thinking of. They've got to answer themselves at the right time. Now you see they can play it back and they can hear it. It's a doddle but it wasn't then, I used to dread it. That's one big technical difference.

SC: Yes, that's a considerable change, that and hearing the tapes. Otherwise I suppose the actual method of recording, putting down your continuity sheets is more or less the same.

DM: Oh they haven't really changed, no. Of course I did Superman, the flying units, I did 1,2 and 3 and Supergirl, I did 2nd unit on that. The last thing I really did was 2nd unit and again the stunt stuff on Return to Oz

SC: Where was that shot?

DM: That was at Elstree, a studio I don't like.

SC: Why didn't you like that as a studio?

DM: It was too higgledy-piggledy. It wasn't kept very clean and it was such a journey getting there from here. Pinewood was my love, straight along, apart from that it was always so well run.

SC: Well of course Elstree, the BIP or Canon as it now is or was did grow up higgledy-piggledy.

DM: That was the way it grew, but the best thing about it was that it was right at the end of the shops and lunch time you could go out and do your shopping. When you're at Pinewood and anywhere like that you had to shop weekends for the rest of the week. 

SC: So in other words you really enjoyed your life.

DM: I've enjoyed my life, I wouldn't have changed it.

SC: You wouldn't have changed it, looking back.

DM: Looking back, no, I don't think I would have done. I think I did the best thing going on to series because I was employed all the time. One reason I never really wanted to go on the big pictures because I always felt they have more time on their hands and there can be bitchiness there, because everybody is trying to be better, I've seen a bit of it. You never get that on a series, everybody's got their own job and you all pull together.

I'm glad I got out when I did because now it's going back I'm afraid to the old days. The hours have got longer and they're trying to make all-in deals. It's very sad. No, I had the best of it.

SC: Yes, I know. By all in deals you mean that you're only paid so much and you work untold hours?

DM: Mm.

SC: Well thank you Doris, that was great.

DM: Well I've enjoyed it, it's brought it all back and made me think what a lovely time I've had. But you do remember the best. There were times when you get browned off, standing out in a field in the middle of the night. [Laughter]


Doris Martin was born in Haringay, London, in 1906. She entered the film industry as a secretary to producer Earl St. John when he was based at Paramount's British offices. She left a few years later to become the assistant to the talent scout Donovan Pedelty. When Pedelty moved into directing, Martin shadowed the continuity girls on the set. Eventually, she got the chance to do continuity herself on Early Birds (Ireland/UK, d. Donovan Pedelty, 1936) at Highbury Studios. After the war (during which she worked in a hospital in Northern Ireland), she applied to Marylebone Studios where she assisted in making accident prevention films for the RAFat Manston.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Martin returned to feature film production, working with directors John E. Blakeley (What A Carry On!, 1949), John Durst (The Secret Cave, 1953) and Vernon Sewell (Radio Cab Murder, 1954). She also worked as a script supervisor on the television series The Buccaneers (1956 - 57), Adventures of Sir Lancelot (ATV, 1957) and Sword of Freedom (ATV, 1958-59).

Between 1960 and 1980, Martin's numerous continuity credits include Danger Man (ITV, 1964-69) and The Prisoner (ITC, 1967-68); the flying units of the first three Superman films and (d. Richard Donner/Richard Lester, 1978/80/83), Supergirl (d. Jeannot Szwarc, 1984) and a special unit on Return To Oz (US, d. Walter Murch, 1985).

Doris Martin was a committed member of the ACTT serving on the camera/script and supervisors/stills departments for several years.

Ann Ogidi