Freddie Young

Family name: 
Awards and Honours: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
1 Apr 1987
14 Aug 1987
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

Horizontal tabs

Interview notes

SUMMARY: In this detailed and extensive interview, Freddie Young discusses his seven decades in the British film industry. Highlights include accounts of his early career with Herbert Wilcox, where he was involved in photographing the first British sound film (not Blackmail, he claims, but White Cargo), his impressions of the Hollywood studio system in the late 1930s, and his experiences working with Michael Powell. Throughout, Young speak frankly about working with a variety of British and American directors, who he categorises as those who were prepared to look through the camera’s viewfinder, and those who were content to leave it to him. The latter approach seems to be exemplified by George Cukor, who Young claims was only interested in speaking to actors, while the former is exemplified by David Lean, who Young holds in immensely high regard. The interview also contains a great deal of valuable technical information.  


Freddie Young (FY) 



Interviewers: Alan Lawson (AL), Roy Fowler (RF)

Date 01/04/1987 and 14/08/1987

5 Tapes

(The second interviews covers similar ground as the first – at the start of the second AL mentions technical issues with the first interview)


Side 1

00:00:00 – 00:10:00 Introductions; born in Marylebone, London, 1902; left the council school at 14 during the war; worked at a factory making hand grenades, then moved to Napier’s motor cars in Acton, splicing ropes for army tents in White City, at an artificers’ guild; used to visit the cinema two or three times a week; Gaumont was a big glass studio in those days; he visited the studio to ask for a job, in photography, and was told to start the next day in the laboratory working for Harvey Harrison; after a year, Harvey took over as cameraman in the studios so FY was left in charge of the laboratory; FY talks about processing film in the early days using frames; after a year, the studio lab was closed; he developed First Man in the Moon which he also tinted and toned; FY describes the colours used in tinting and toning; he then moved up to the studio as assistant cameraman, first cameraman was Arthur Brown; FY took stills, processed the film and projected the rushes at the end of the day; FY started working for Gaumont in 1917 and left ten years later, by which time he earned £5 a week; a director invited FY to shoot his next film; FY gave his notice to Colonel Bromhead the head of the studio at Gaumont.

00:10:00 – 00:17:05 His first film was Victory shot on Salisbury Plain, directed by Wetherell; FY then worked on various other assignments including three two-reelers at Gainsborough with Ivor Montagu, starring Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester and Harold Warrender; FY describes shooting the Gainsborough films.

00:17:05 – 00:27:10 Working conditions in the studio; after making a few films he started working with Herbert Wilcox at British and Dominion (B&D) in 1929; the first film was still silent; the first talkie they made was The Loves of Robert Burns; they then went on to make a series of farces including Rookery Nook; five cameras were operated in booths whilst filming these farces; sound techniques – one mike on a long boom; FY discusses long working hours; FY talks about working with Jack Buchanan and Tom Walls; not a great deal of location work in those days; shooting Victoria the Great in Denham Village; FY discusses location and studio filming for 60 Glorious Years.

00:27:10 – 00:31:25 Newman-Sinclair cameras; B&D used Mitchell cameras; they made their own blimps for the Mitchell cameras.

Side 2

00:00:00 – 00:07:30 Changes in lighting equipment; early days at Gaumont they worked with daylight, blinds and carbon arc lights; when more lights were available the studio was painted black; FY did some work on Blackmail; on reshooting White Cargo for sound – Blackmail is known as the first British film with sound but FY suggests that it was in fact White Cargo; discussion of back projection; changes in frame sizes.

00:07:30 – 00:21:45 Nurse Edith Cavell made in Hollywood, 1939; at the end of his tenure with Herbert Wilcox, they both went to Hollywood – FY talks about his experiences there; on returning to England he makes The Young Mr Pitt with Carol Reed, Contraband and 49th Parallel with Michael Powell – the latter shot in Canada; FY talks about working with Michael Powell in Canada.

00:21:45 – 00:30:35 Changes in the crews – more electricians and the unions had come in at this point; FY discusses the early years of the union; AL asks about ‘quota quickies’; Thorold Dickinson asked FY to join him as head cameraman with the Army Kinematograph Service (AKS) during the war.

Side 3

00:00:00 – 00:04:20 

AL: You say that you were invalided out of the army, what did you do after that?

FY: Well I went home – I was living in Gerrards Cross at that time and I hadn’t been home 24 hours before Richard Norton – you remember Richard Norton? …

AL: Yes, yes.

FY: ...rang me up and said “they want you to go down and take over Caesar and Cleopatra at Denham with Gabby Pascal, Bobby Krasker is ill – he’s got diabetes” so I went to the studio and met Gabby and …

AL: Norton?

FY: No… the cameraman…

AL: Krasker. Bob Krasker.

FY: Bobby Krasker.

AL: Yeah.

FY: And I had a word with Bobby and he had his diabetes and he was feeling lousy, so it was, you know, an amicable takeover – he wanted to go because he was ill. So Bobby went off and I immediately took over the lighting and we had… Gabby was an extraordinary bloke, I don’t know if you ever had any dealings with him?

AL: None at all, no. Tell us about him because he’s an interesting character.

FY: Well he… he was really a charlatan I would say and he would sort of overwhelm you, you know, after a few days he would say “you are my blood brother, we must have our blood mixed” and he wanted to cut our wrists and mix our blood and all that. So he [unintelligible] about directing, but he was a promoter. We had … I had Bluey Hill as my assistant… I mean as Gabby’s assistant and so Vivien Leigh at that time was a … she was very beautiful but she had just had a miscarriage or something and she was not feeling very good. And I remember in those days we had this enormous set and you could only light…only had sufficient light to light one half of it, you see. So all the lights were concentrated on this … council chamber it was called. And so I said to Bluey “That’s fine, well Vivien’s not in this set all – she’s down the other send you see, so she can have a day off” So Bluey said “Yeah, that’s a good idea”.  So he went to Gabby and said “We’re not calling Vivien in tomorrow because she’s not in that end of the set and we can’t possibly use her”. So next morning I went in and Bluey said “Vivien’s here… Vivien’s here” I said “What! We can’t use her” So he said “I know, but Gabby rang me up about four o’clock this morning and told me to call her in” So I went along to Gabby and said “Look Gabby, why have you called Vivien in? We can’t possibly use her.” So he said “Well… you go and tell her” I said “No, you go and tell her” So he said “You go and tell her, Bluey” So Bluey said “Not bloody likely”.  So in the end Bluey and I had to go along to Vivien’s dressing room to tell her because Gabby wouldn’t go. We got in there and she’s got this elaborate make-up.

00:04:20 – 00:09:00 After leaving the army FY, Richard Naughton asked him to take over work on Caesar and Cleopatra – FY talks about his experiences on the film; Jack Cardiff shot scenes for the film in Egypt; FY talks about painted clouds for the desert shots.

00:09:00 – 00:19:20 Technicolor three-strip, Natalie Kalmus, Bill Skall; Skall was sent over to the UK to advise new camera operators, Kalmus was the colour consultant; Kalmus was told to leave the set as her comments on colour and lighting were dismissed; Bill Skall also offered advice which was accepted by FY and his crew; FY talks about lighting for five cameras; of all his pre-war films FY is most proud of Goodbye Mr Chips – good back projection work.

00:19:20 – 00:30:05

AL: Now we come to … really I suppose now the post-war period. …This is where your name really became to be reckoned as a power and your credit list is a very impressive one. What was the….

FY: Well I was lent out to MGM to do Goodbye Mr Chips by Herbert you see but as soon as I came out of the army MGM signed me up for seven years – it went on for 15 years. But that was through what they thought about me on Goodbye Mr Chips.

AL: Now… You’ve worked with David Lean.  The first one was with Dr Zhivago, wasn’t it?

FY: No, Lawrence of Arabia. Then Dr Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter.

AL: What do you find about working with David?

FY: Well, I liked it very much.  He was a perfectionist, he was very keen on the pictorial side of a picture.  In the old days very often you would have a director who all he was about was speed and getting through on schedule.  And more worried about the sound [unintelligible] and it was in the argument about the mike, he would say…he would give sound the priority.  And some directors would only be interested in the actor – they wouldn’t be looking through the camera at all. George Cukor never looked through the camera. And Gabby never looked through the camera. Several directors I have worked with never looked through the camera.  But David was very, very keen on the pictorial side. He has been accused of waiting hours for a cloud to come across. That is true to a certain extent, but on the other hand he knew what he wanted. He knew that this particular scene he wanted it very beautiful and romantic. Another time it wouldn’t matter if it was overcast and raining, but would want it the way he thought it should be. Well, other directors – they wouldn’t give a damn about the photography – just keen on getting through on schedule as long as the [unintelligible] was OK.

AL: On Lawrence, I can remember the incredible impact ... the visual impact on that. Did that present bags of problems, or was it….

FY: No, we worked very closely together and he was always willing to listen to suggestions from the operator or the focus puller…anybody… the property man.  He didn’t necessarily take any notice of it. He’d say “No, I don’t agree, I’ll do it my way.” But another time he would say “Thank you very much what a very good idea.” He was very easy to work with really.

AL: Now, I was thinking from the photographic point of view actually, the problems of working on Lawrence. Did you come across many?

FY: No, not really. We had problems with sandstorms and flies and things.

AL: I can remember the mirage, that scene was magnificent…

FY: Yes, well you see. I’ll tell you about that mirage. When I went out on a recce, before we started shooting, David said “I am very keen to get a mirage. I don’t know how the hell we’ll do it but I want you to think about it. So then I left and I went off to Hollywood to choose the Panavision equipment we were going to do it in 70mm film. And I went to Hollywood and I was about there a week choosing all the camera equipment…including filters and lenses and so on and so forth. And while I was there, going around with Bob Gottschalk, who’s the president of Panavision, I saw a long lens lying on the bed. I said “Bob, what’s that lens?” He said “Well, that’s an 800mm.” I said: “Well, put that in” because I suddenly thought “That’s what I want for this mirage”. So, from there I went to Italy to choose some other equipment … and, you know, when you are going out on a long trip like Lawrence, you have to have every bloody thing […] you can’t have it just on Wednesday and send it back on Thursday, or something. You’ve got to take the whole lot there. Of course, it’s no good getting out in the middle of the desert and suddenly saying “I wish I had another brute or I wish I had another lens.” So you had to carefully figure out everything you might need in the way of umbrellas and gauzes and flags of every description, and so on. And when I got back to start the film, I said to Dave “I got the lens for the mirage.” He said: [unintelligible]  I said “It’s a long focus lens” and I said “you get a close-up of the mirage” Because a mirage is always miles away and as you go forward it’s still miles away, but if you put a long focus lens you get a close-up of it. So when we did that mirage scene we sent ol’ Omar Sharif down until he was just a pinpoint and David told him just to ride towards camera and keep coming until he got close to us. So we shot nearly a thousand feet with him coming and coming and coming and coming and gradually he looked like he was coming through water and then you start to get the noise and poom, poom, poom, poom … of the feet…very fascinating… until he got to this point quite near to us and then he jumps off. Well, then, that was it, I mean we’d shot nearly a thousand feet of that. Well David Lean kept coming back in the editing, kept coming backwards and forwards to, you know, first of all seeing this and the Arab with Lawrence getting a bit worried because he knew he shouldn’t be drinking that water in that well. Then as the Arab was going away, Peter got concerned and so he kept cutting to Peter in the end.  Closer and closer and closer. And he made a meal out the editing of that scene. That lens and the editing made a marvellous sequence.

AL: Working in Panavision – any extra problems, or was it just…

FY: You mean 70?

AL: Yes.

FY: Well working in 70 it is a bit of a problem because it’s a much heavier camera and the threading of the camera is much more tricky. Replacing a 70mm film is much more tricky than a 35. We had two or three worrying scares because, you know, you wouldn’t see the rushes for weeks. We had a little plane called a [unintelligible], a twelve-seater, and we would send the rushes off, back to England and after comparatively a few days we would get an “OK” from the lab to say that everything was okay, but it would be quite a long time before you had the rushes back and see that for yourself. One day we had a message from the lab to say that we had mottling. They thought it was due to atmospherics in the plane – static – some sort of static – and that turned out to be, after a big scare, they washed the negative again and it was just a dirty wash. Another time we got fingerprints right in the middle of the roll, so they blamed that on to the loader. So I said “How the hell could the loader get fingerprints in the middle of a thousand foot roll?” So they said “Ah yeah, that’s true”. So Technicolor, the manager, they all wore white gloves and they stayed up all night to see what they could do and they still got fingerprints. So we said “Well it must be codex in the perforating”. The same thing happened in Rochester where the stuff was coming from, so they stayed up all night and everybody wore gloves and they still had fingerprints. So they took fingerprints of everybody and they found it was the chap in the perforating room.  Which was done in complete darkness. Perforating - apparently. And this fella used to touch it now and again to see if it was going through alright and it got his fingerprints, you see.  This sort of thing.

Side 4 

00:00:00 – 00:02:15

AL: Shooting it under those conditions, you know the problem with the sun immediately above all the time … give you lovely black faces, but …

FY: People wondered why you take brutes out in the desert and that’s the answer. I mean we were doing a close-up of Lawrence riding along on a camel and you’re tracking with him, you’ve got a brute right over the camel smack into his face because otherwise he’s just got black eyes and also backlight very often – he’d just be a silhouette – so you need a brute to fill in the face. I mean, the brute is still like a candle compared to the sun so you had to be really quite close. Brute smack in his face from about eight feet away. And it’s remarkable really that Peter O’Toole could take this, but he did. And another occasion, talking about overhead sun, was when we were doing Ryan’s Daughter in Ireland we were there for 12 months and we had this beautiful light in Ireland – where the never really gets high. It sort of goes around like that, you know. And we got to December and it was raining and we still had some summer beach scenes to do, so David Lean sent somebody out to recce in South Africa and we finally went to Cape Town and we did several beach scenes out there. Well the sun was immediately overhead most of the day and the rocks were white, instead of black like the granite rocks in Ireland. So we sprayed the rocks with black paint. White paint to wash off.  And again we had to fill in the faces with these brutes. I had 12 brutes out in Ireland.

00:02:15 – 00:11:25 Working on The Blue Bird in Russia; FY replaced the Russian cinematographer who had never worked in colour before; Eastmancolor film was processed in a lab in Leningrad; The Winslow Boy with Anthony Asquith – an artist’s director; in the early days cameramen really knew little about lighting; David Lean was the director who had the most impact on FY – felt you were really doing something worthwhile on one of Lean’s films.

00:11:25 – 00:17:30 Working in commercials; around the time of shooting The Greenage Summer, FY was asked to shoot a commercial for Cadburys; the only film he directed Arthur’s Hallowed Ground.

00:17:30 – 00:26:20 Involvement with ACT began when he worked with Herbert Wilcox; in the pre-war years their standing was very good with the companies they worked with; FY talks again about working on commercials and the difficulty in pleasing all parties involved; the cost of making a commercial are insignificant to the cost of playing them on TV.


Side 5

00:00:00 – 00:06:10 Commercials and why they take so long to make; the director isn’t given the freedom they have on a feature film – they have customers to satisfy; the agency and the client have their own input; even though the commercials are short, it takes a lot of work to achieve a result which satisfies all parties; these commercials can be expensive to make – the crew are paid on a daily rate; TV transmission at the peak time is £1000 per spot – the cost of making is peanuts compared to transmission costs.

00:06:10 – 00:14:05 AL talks about FY’s book on cinematography; FY talks about his interest in painting as a child and how this relates to his work as a cinematographer; FY didn’t have as much competition when he became a cinematographer; lighting was crude when he started; inspiration was taken from the lighting in the painting of the ‘old masters’; in the early days some of the old camera operators were very secretive of their techniques; when FY started at Gaumont in 1917, they relied a great deal on sunlight and a few arc lamps; the brightness of the sun and cloud cover effected the exposure; FY would make adjustments in the developing stages; his experience in the lab was important to his later work.

00:14:05 – 00:22:10 FY talks about his transition from Gaumont to working as a Director of Photography; after leaving Gaumont he did some freelance work before joining Herbert Wilcox and later working in Hollywood; working with Michael Powell [most of this is repeated from Side 1 & 2].

00:22:10 – 00:30:40

AL: Can we ask you how you approach, you know, lighting a new film. What is your approach to it?

FY: Well I try to, you know, read the script and you discuss things with the director and what I try to do is to light it as it should be naturally lit.  If it’s a room and it’s daytime, there’s a window on the left, right? The lights coming from the left and you just sort of use your imagination and imagine how the room would look at that daytime and if its night, I mean, you’ve got several lamps in the room so you light as if the light is coming from those lamps.  If its exterior, of course, you got the sun, so that’s fairly simple, excepting if it’s in the tropics and the sun is dead overhead you have to sort of try to make the leading lady … light it for the leading lady; shade the sun off over, you know, the gauze, and use a brute and so on and make her look pretty, otherwise she can look pretty ghastly if the sun is bang overhead.  But there are … every cameraman has different ideas I suppose, but there are some fundamental rules to lighting and you have to use a meter to get the correct exposure, but you don’t let the meter rule your life, you know, you have to constantly think of what would be a nice way of lighting it depending on the character in the script – whether it’s a drama or a comedy, you have to light it differently: a comedy it’s just all nice and bright and if it’s a drama, you know, it has to be dramatically correct for the whatever it is.  It’s very difficult to talk about how you light, actually.

AL: There are ground rules, you said there are ground rules, but you know, are they there to be broken as well, do you think?

FY: Oh yes, I mean for instance I did a picture with Sidney Lumet just after colour came in and it was for Warner Brothers. And Sidney Lumet said “It’s a pity, you know, it really should be black and white, it’s a grim spy story and colour is just going to beautify it and pretty it up.” But Warner Brothers wouldn’t hear of it being done in black and white, so he said “Is there anything you can do Freddie, to subdue the colour?” He asked me to go out to New York and talk to him about it before we started.  So I came back and I thought about it and I did some tests where I exposed the film on a white card and gave it a ten percent fog.  On a white card.

AL: Yes.

FY: Free exposure and a 15 percent and a 25 percent.  And then I did some tests in the studio and on exteriors and when Sidney Lumet came over I showed him the test and he was delighted and I got Technicolor to put the amount … we decided on 15 percent exposure … pre-exposure.  So what it did was it sort of subdued the brightness of the colour and in fact it made the film faster because you didn’t need so many fill lights, because, you know, you already…

AL: Done it, yes.

FY: Slightly foggy, you see.  So all the colours were muted and it was very good for that, well since then everybody’s been doing…

AL: Yes, tricks like that, yes.

FY: … things like that.  And then there are other things, like the speed of film has increased and if you are out on night exteriors, you know, you use the faster film.  You’ve got the alternative of 100 ASA or 400 ASA film, so you take a bit of each and on the night exteriors you’re using your fast film and if you are short of … you’ve got a huge area to light and you haven’t got much light to do it with you ask the laboratory to …

AL: Yeah, pre-fog.

FY: No, to over-develop, you know.  Develop one stop more.  So you might be shooting at say, a two-eight and you ask them to …

AL: Develop it for a three-eight, three-five, rather

FY: Yeah which gives you one more stop.

AL: But what does that do to your colour?

FY: It’s perfectly alright, yes.

AL: You were talking about that Sidney Lumet film and him saying that it should really be shot in black and white.  Do you think colour has killed black and white stone dead, or do you think there is still the place for black and white?

FY: Well, in a way, towards the end of the black and white era we were doing beautiful black and white photography. The film had become, what they call, panchromatic film, instead of orthochromatic, so you got beautiful gradations and by this time you had a lot of very skilled photographers about.  So in a way you can still enjoy black and white etchings and pictures in your house, so now and again … well I have shot a few commercials in black and white because they wanted it to look old-fashioned, you know.  Well, it’s rather difficult, I mean sometimes the lab has to make up special baths for black and white because they haven’t done any black and white for a long time.  But I think the public prefer colour on the whole.  In fact, when colour first came in, exhibitors insisted on having colour, you know, they said “Oh, this will bring more people in to see colour.” So there is a number of reasons why colour has taken over in the same way that sound has taken over from silent film, you know with titles.

RF: What’s your opinion of this new move, especially in the States, to colourize for television …

FY: Oh I think it’s a terrible idea.  Bloody awful idea. Ridiculous.  And I’m no part of that.

RF: Do you think the people originally involved in making the films, such as you as the director of cinematography, should have the power to stop it?

FY: Well, I don’t think you’ve got the power, but I think that the majority of the people in the film industry that I’ve talked to about it all loathe the idea.

RF: No, I was thinking, you think ought now to have the power.  You think it ought to be made a law not to tamper in that fashion with …

FY: Well, I don’t think you can stop it, but you can’t create a law to stop it.  If somebody’s bought some old black and white films cheap and think that they are going to get a better sale on them by colourizing them, I don’t think anybody can stop them.  But on the whole I think it’s flogging a dead horse, I don’t think that colorization is ever going to mean much at all.  I think, you know, the unions are against it; most directors and producers are against it.

00:30:40 – 00:44:55 FY talks about his influences and some of the difficulties filming in the early days as Gaumont; using exposure meters; a good operator maintains composition while the camera is moving and actors are moving in front of it; many operators do not want to became cinematographers; a lot come in through television rather than the other way around; Cyril Knowles was one of his favourite operators and worked with him the longest in the early days; Skeets Kelly came to work with FY when he was 15 [recording stops mid-sentence].

Side 6

00:00:00 – 00:07:20 [Starts mid-conversation] FY continues talking about working with Skeets Kelly; working on Ryan’s Daughter – Skeets was killed on set following a collision between a plane and helicopter; Jack Cardiff worked with FY as a focus puller before moving on to Technicolor; Tubby England, John Wilcox, Ernest Steward, Peter Newbrook, Angela Martelli worked with FY in the army; filming in the silent days wasn’t very easy.

00:07:20 – 00:20:50 White Cargo first talkie made at Elstree – made by two brothers who owned Pritchard’s Restaurant; FY hadn’t been a cameraman for long and was asked to the close-ups and medium shots for sound; shooting took 7-10 days; Hitchcock was then moving into the studio to shoot his first sound film; FY worked on the montage for Blackmail – it was all done in the camera at this point; soon after Blackmail the labs starting doing the dissolves and fadeouts; FY talks about working with Hitchcock; they first met when Hitchcock was a title writer at Famous Players Lasky.

00:20:50 – 00:29:40 FY on Bernard Wetherell and Victory; FY also worked with Jack Raymond –mainly comedies; FY talks about some other of his colleagues; working with Herbert Wilcox, a terrific promoter but not a great director. 

00:29:40 – 00:30:10

FY: I think the best, one of the best films, I think was Victoria the Great.  I’ve seen that … it’s been reprint … redone, you know, on the new stock.  And Herbert was alive then and we had a showing in town and I must say it was very impressive.  Looked damned good.  The colour had, kind of, a rather muted…

AL: Yes

FY: Whether it was faded or what, I don’t know, in the putting it on to new stock.  And I wish they would show it on television because it was a damned good film.  I mean Anne was good … I mean Anna, to me, was a lovely girl, but she wasn’t a good actress, but she was very good as Queen Victoria.  She was much better playing a character.

00:30:10 - 00:35:50 Herbert Wilcox owed money to FY and other technicians which was paid off by RKO.

00:35:50 – 00:43:15 While working for MGM, FY was often loaned out to other studios; FY discusses work with Alexander Korda; FY made four films with Robert Donat.

00:43:15 – 00:45:07

AL: Earlier you were talking about Sidney Lumet.  Tell us a bit about him – working with him.

FY: Well, Sidney, you know, made his name with 12 Angry Men for the box, you know, television.  And I’ve seen it since, I don’t know whether you have, it’s an excellent picture.  But I found that in common with a lot of television people in recent years, they like to use one-angle lens and get a whole set in, you know, with people working in the foreground and all that sort of thing and Sidney would do this. We had Simone Signoret …

AL: Yes

FY: She was a great actress, but she was a bit on the plump side and she wasn’t too young at that time, and he would start off with a 25mm lens, right here, you know…

AL: Yes

FY: And being fat and a lower camera like this would distort her face and be very unkind, you know.  And I would try to get him to do this close-up with a 75mm, you know, and sort of give us a chance. I mean we always used a 75 or a 100mm on close-ups in those days, but you know, he would start off and a camera would come back, you know, and you’d do a long scene with this 25mm lens.  So it was very cruel to actors and actresses, this method.  But he was a good director and anyway we had James Mason in that, do you remember it?

Side 7

00:00:00 – 00:10:10 Herbert Wilcox, more of an entrepreneur than a director – quite an important person but Alexander Korda got all the praise; relationship with Victor Saville and Michael Balcon; FY made a number of films with Victor Saville; FY recalls a film he made with Bernie Knowles that Victor Saville produced; FY never worked for Michael Balcon; FY worked with John Ford on The Conspirator and Mogambo

00:10:10 – 00:12:17 FY made Edward My Son, Bhowani Junction and The Blue Bird with George Cukor; FY recalls reading a book on Cukor in which the director talks about the brown sepia tones of Bhowani Junction – Cukor never looked through the camera nor did FY add any filters to the shot.

00:12:17 – 00:25:25 FY discuss Cukor’s behaviour on set and interaction with extras; on set with George Cukor and Spencer Tracy; King Vidor and shooting Solomon and Sheba in Spain.

00:25:25 – 00:29:52 Working with Mark Robson on Inn of the Sixth Happiness and The Little Hut; Inn of the Sixth Happiness – Wales doubled for a village in Italy; story about Cecil Ford production manager on Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

00:29:52 – 00:31:10

FY: But, you know, there are look-throughers and look-throughers, I mean David Lean is absolutely… he wants to look through the camera all the time to see exactly what you are doing and so on. But he doesn’t interfere with you, but he insists “you know Freddie I want you to make this marvellous.  You’ve got to give me something Freddie – make it absolutely fantastic.”  You know, he brings out the best in you and makes you really, sort of, come to your brains to try and think of some lovely thing you can do about it.  So, for him, he doesn’t, sort of, just talk to the actors and get big close-ups and things, he is very keen to get a beautiful sky and marvellous atmosphere and two tiny little figures walking across the sand – showing how insignificant they are compared to the vast sky and sea.  And then, at the critical moment, he would jump in.  So he is very pictorially minded, David, and he’s also very, very grateful.  When he sees the rushes he’d put his arm around you and say “Yeah.  Thank you. Lovely, lovely, lovely.”

00:31:10 – 00:33:20 John Ford had marvellous camera crews on his films but the crews wouldn’t venture much further than the area near the hotel.

00:33:20 – 00:34:40

FY: Whereas, David Lean, when we did Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean … we’d go 30 or 40 miles in that direction and 30 or 40 miles in that direction and the next day, always trying to get different backgrounds.  And we’d find a place with white mud flats and another place with red sandstone and all that sort of thing.  In fact, I was two years on Lawrence from start to finish.

AL: Really? Two years?

FY: Yeah.  And he said at the end he wanted me to go and grade the picture, you see.  And in fact what the laboratory was inclined to do was to try and make all the sand yellow and I’d have to tell them “that’s white … and that’s red” in the grading. Otherwise, you know, they … I don’t know if you remember this old story, one of the early colour films they shot in Ireland. Wings of the Morning, or something like that.

AL: Wings of the Morning, that’s right.

FY: And the pillar boxes were green in Ireland and Technicolor made them brown trying desperately hard to make the red, you know, they managed to make the brown and they thought “You know, there’s something wrong here – green…”

RF: And that is a true story, is it?

FY: Yeah, oh yeah.

00:34:40 – 00:47:25 FY talks about the relationship between the work of the cinematographer and the final product; accident on the set of You Only Live Twice; FY talks about the risks involved with aerial photography; shooting You Only Live Twice in Japan; Lewis Gilbert was a very competent director – they also worked together of The Greenage Summer.

Side 8

00:00:00 – 00:22:50 FY talks about the studios he worked in; Treasure Island was made at Denham with matte painter Peter Ellenshaw – such marvellous work Disney took him to Hollywood; FY looks back on Goodbye Mr Chips with particular fondness; Doctor Zhivago is the film he prizes the most; on shooting Caesar and Cleopatra in Egypt; FY’s preference on films is those about people, human relationships; praises the work of David Lean.

00:22:50 – 00:33:10 Technicolor three strip; colour came around the time of Victoria the Great and they decided to do the final reel in Technicolor; Bill Skall came over from America to advise; Natalie Kalmus visited FY and art director Bill Williams; Herbert Wilcox barred Kalmus from the studio; FY didn’t change his technique during the transition to colour – it’s to do with balance; relationship between the cinematographer and art director on set; the main problem with three-strip was the weight of the camera.

00:33:10 – 00:35:05

FY: I remember going to Hollywood when they were doing The Robe, there was a famous cameraman shooting it, I can’t remember his name offhand now, but he had three tiers of rails with brutes, it was a big Roman set, with pillars, and because of Cinemascope, the were shooting in Cinemascope on The Robe, one of the early Cinemascope… The idea was that to shoot at six-three to get a better depth, you see, because the lenses were all, like instead of using a 50mm it would be a 100mm lens getting the same background. So you had short focus, so to get depth of focus you wanted a lot of light so you could stop down to six-three.  Well he had all these brutes, three tiers of them, and I went to see the rushes then next day and it looked as woolly as hell and I realised why, because every column had about eight or ten different shadows, little shadows, so that made it woolly.  And it would have been much better if he had shot it at F2 with one brute on each column, because that would give you a sharpness, one shadow; if you’ve got ten little tiny shadows from ten different mounts, it just makes it woolly, like out of focus. So that was one of the drawbacks of the three strip Technicolor when it first came in, combined with Cinemascope.

00:35:05 – 00:47:30 Working with Robert Taylor and his relationship with Louis B. Mayer; the American production managers which came over to the UK were rather tough; the importance of the producer in relation to the director; the Lee brothers at Borehamwood; FY talks about veterans night; corruption in the industry.

Side 9

00:00:00 – 00:04:25 [Starts mid-sentence with FY talking about Mogabo] Disguising the microphone on Goodbye Mr Chips and looking for errors in the rushes.

00:04:25 – 00:17:45 FY finds that more work is now on location, in real buildings; no art director can achieve the real thing; it’s a shame that so many studios have closed as skills have been lost; discussion of the labour force, politics and the unions; issues with the Electrical Trades Union – grips were brought in on Ivanhoe.

00:17:45 – 00:21:10 Problems with American’s working in the UK adapting to the union rules; American capital has been important to the industry.

00:21:10 – 00:28:20 Working with Vincente Minelli on Lust for Life for which they wanted to replicated images from Vincent van Gogh’s paintings; FY talks about working on set with Minelli; working on the Arnhem Drop [AKA Betrayed] with Mark Robson.

00:28:20 – 00:45:50 Personal pressures in the industry; in the early days the Americans were more efficient than the UK studios; while the American studios forged ahead during the war, the UK fell behind; a lot of British films in the past have relied on British sensibilities and have failed internationally; the German and French industries are subsidised and British films should be also; in Japan American films were shown dubbed and with subtitles, and the subtitled films were most popular; FY discusses lectures he’s given across the United States; Lord Jim and Peter O’Toole are discussed briefly.

Side 10

00:00:00 – 00:19:40 Shooting Lord Jim in Hong Kong and Cambodia; the shooting conditions on Lawrence of Arabia – two-thirds of the film was shot in Spain not Jordan; Doctor Zhivago was shot in Spain – David Lean thought of making it in Russia originally; FY talks about his Oscar wins; Cubby Broccoli sent FY to Technicolor Hollywood to check the prints of You Only Live Twice; he recalls meeting Walter Pidgeon.



BIOGRAPHY: Among the most celebrated of all cinematographers, Freddie Young entered the film industry in late 1917 at Gaumont Studios in Shepherds Bush. Working initially as a laboratory assistant, he was soon promoted to the camera department and earned his first credit as lighting cameraman in 1928. The following year he was placed under contract at British and Dominions by Herbert Wilcox, shooting numerous films for him before WWII. After the war he was contracted by MGM-British, for whom he had previously shot Goodbye Mr Chips (1939). From this point onward, Young worked almost exclusively on big international movies, notably his trio of films for David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970). He won Oscars for all three and built a formidable reputation in the industry. Additional credits include You Only Live Twice (1967), Battle of Britain (1969) and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971).