BECTU History Project Interview with HARRY MILLER – sound, sound editor
Interview Date(s): 23 October 1987, 12 September 1988
Interview number: 20
Interviewers: ROY FOWLER, ALAN LAWSON
Tape 1, Side 1
ALAN LAWSON: This recording is copyright by the ACTT History Project. Harry Miller dubbing editor, interviewer Alan Lawson, 23 October 1987.
ALAN LAWSON: Harry where and when where you born?
HARRY MILLER: 1904, November the 25th 1904.
ALAN LAWSON: What kind of schooling did you receive?
HARRY MILLER: I was born in London, by the way. My schooling was a Catholic Church school, we were Catholics our family were Catholic. In Macklin Street, I went to one or two other little schools you know, but the school I remember most was the last school I went to and that was Macklin Street Catholic Church, off Drury Lane.
ALAN LAWSON: What age were you when you left?
HARRY MILLER: Twelve.
ALAN LAWSON: Twelve?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, I had to we had a large family, nine children. You had to be in, in these old, it was only an ordinary council school and you had to be in what they called X7 for six months before you could take this exam, which was a called a labour exam. I still have the thing upstairs. If you passed this exam, you could either go … my thing was, I could either go to Herne Hill Grammar School or leave school entirely. So I chose, because the family was large and that, to leave school and go to work.
ALAN LAWSON: What work was that?
HARRY MILLER: Well my father who originally belonged to the family firm of Miller Heinz and Beachenor, shipwrights and shipbuilders at Ramsgate and they, they were big in this thing that describes it this book thing. He didn’t go in for the family business and, after certain things he wound up at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square, which became The Talk of the Town and is now back as the Hippodrome. And he was the property master there and when I left school this opportunity came for being the callboy, a callboy was wanted, so I got the job as a callboy. I used to earn more money than, than anything else I’ve ever, in ratio. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Then you progressed from that?
HARRY MILLER: Callboy. Now, while I was a callboy there, I did this piece of acting for Harry Tate. He had a company you see, and among these, in this company there was a dwarf called Harry Beasley who fed him everything and there was this great ‘flu epidemic and half the company were off and they were saying, “Well, we will have to cancel the show until you get better” and I overheard it and said “Well, I could do this” because you know you listen to the show and you know it backwards. And so a quick run through in the dressing room and I was on and I must have played that for about. Well, even when Beasley came back, Harry Tate was still having us both going on and off. I remember one of my, the famous lines there, there was a gag writer called Walt Pink who used to write in, this was during the war …
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, the ‘14-‘18 war?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, and he used to write gags for different … normally on a Saturday night and at that period Turkey was about to surrender. And the gag was, I used to say he’d say so-and-so, I’d say “I … I want some, er, hot cross buns or something,” you see? And he’d say, “Hot cross buns? You can’t have hot cross buns. It’s hot cross buns at Easter or something and Shrove Tuesday for pancakes.” And I used to say “I bet you we get turkey before Christmas.” Of course, in the war it went down very big. Quite a big part really, for a young lad. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Did you go on and do any more acting after that?
HARRY MILLER: Well, no. The only acting I ever did after that was when I was touring, and someone fell ill and we didn’t really have an understudy I used to pop on and do an odd bit here and there, you know, but never seriously only in the capacity, managerial capacity of, you know …
ALAN LAWSON: So, so from a callboy to a child actor, you then graduated?
HARRY MILLER: Well, actually, from the callboy I got promoted to assistant stage manager and then, I, as soon as I thought the money’s not so good as my callboy salary so I thought manager, stage manager is the thing to aim for quickly. But as soon as I sort of got to that status there was this big slump and that’s when I went with Julian Wylie who had a show on at that time, and took this job as stage manager and assistant business manager on tour with his reviews and pantomimes and I worked with him for quite a while.
ROY FOWLER: It sounds a bit strange to hear you say you made more as a callboy than as a stage manager. Maybe you could explain that?
HARRY MILLER: No, more as a callboy than as the assistant stage manager. Yes, well I mean people like George Robey would give me £5 pounds worth of war loan, stopped once a fortnight, as a tip. Phyllis Dare and Albert de Courville was, why all the leads would give you a pound or a couple of pounds you know. Then all the chorus rooms where there was say seven or eight girls or, so many others, we had dancers and showgirls in those days, and they’d all put something together and the dresser used to collect it and give it to you every Saturday night you see.
ROY FOWLER: Why did they do that to the callboy?
HARRY MILLER: Well because his job was to go and tell them, just before they were due. Give them time to get down on to the stage and make sure they didn’t slip up.
ROY FOWLER: If there were a thoroughly evil callboy in the company and he didn’t get paid would he not call them?
HARRY MILLER: No, not really, he’d lose his job. [LAUGHTER] Then there were lots of people who’d call to see the people, the stars and the artists and that, and you’d whip them up to their room, tell them that the artist – and you’d bring them up to their room and maybe they’d give you a tip or something. In fact the stage doorkeeper got so much money he gave up his job and started as a big bookmaker in London. [LAUGHTER] I was also a bookmaker at the age of thirteen at the Hippodrome. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: That’s a kind of traditional thing wasn’t it then, rather?
HARRY MILLER: I don’t know if you want to hear about that, do you?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes.
HARRY MILLER: When he, Arthur Goodall, this stage doorkeeper I used to phone and collect the bets and send it to him and get a commission, you see? And I thought I’ll start a sixpenny book but then I found I couldn’t spare enough time to get all the bets in and that you know? And so we were doing a pantomime and Lupino Lane used to do a trap scene where he’d dive into what, one of the side pieces of scenery, dive through the traps and a double would come up through the star trap in the stage you see, and he’d dive through a trap and then Lupino Lane would come out of the wall again you see? And this is all this chap did. And like I said, I mentioned this to him, he said “I’ll collect the bets for you and come into partnership with you, right?” So we did this and it was in the year when Papyrus or something won the Derby and he came and gave … The thing was he had to come and give me these bets before the ‘off’ and if I had too much I would phone up Arthur and hedge it, you see? And he came and I got so much money for this Papyrus horse I just hedged it, you see? And to make a book in those days, I wasn’t too bad although I left school at twelve. [LAUGHTER] But he didn’t know it and when he came off the stage and heard that Papyrus had won he got frightened and nipped up to his room, got all his stuff packed and he didn’t come back again. [LAUGHTER] And I won money on the race. But the trouble was the manager of the theatre, Frank Boare, quite a character in the theatre world in those days, he heard about it and he said, “Now then, you either stop this or get out”. So I stopped it. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Well, now … you’ve destroyed one of my, one of my long-felt illusions about the trap act. I never knew about the double.
HARRY MILLER: This was one of the Lupino Lane’s great acts. The Lupino family: Stanley, Barry, Mark a great family the Lupino’s, very traditional. I mean the father used to be a star at Drury Lane years before all that.
ALAN LAWSON: Now the slump really hit, hit the theatre bad, so you, you decided to move out. Why, why … really?
HARRY MILLER: Well, the slump. The theatre decided they couldn’t afford shows and they used to bring these bands, American bands over, Ted Kid Lewis. And all it meant was that the set was a band and they could still sell seats. That’s when I decided to move out with Julian Wylie’s shows and I was stage manager and assistant business manager and we toured and I, I did, did a spring tour, Summer season at Blackpool or the Isle of Man or somewhere like that. Then came out and did an Autumn tour and then we did pantomime, somewhere like Liverpool or Leeds, or some big town you see. This went round for quite a long time. Then I suddenly … we had another big slump …
ALAN LAWSON: That was the ‘talkies’ really wasn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: Yes and, well just prior to the ‘talkies’. Yes, it was the ‘talkies’ but the ‘talkies’ had not come to England – right – so I, things really closed down, my father at that time then he’d left the theatre and he, because of all his, he was a great maker, he used to run a stall years ago at the back of the Palladium as well as run the Palladium property department for Albert de Courville who was a big producer in his day. He used to make all these props out …
ALAN LAWSON: Papier mâché, wasn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: Papier mâché stuff and, you know. Down at Elstree he was in great demand, he was in the property department there, but he made up all these sort of imitation stuff. He made hedges, where they used to send over to the farmers they’d say let us have a dozen bushes he’d just make this thing and put the artificial things in like a stand, you could wheel a hedge in and out which was great for them. And he said “I’ll talk to Christenson and see if we can’t you know, get you in here.” So then they offered me a job as a ... because I lived in London and had to travel down to Elstree each day they asked me to go in as a property buyer and I used to go and buy flowers at Covent Garden at about six in the morning for the set, and then I’d probably have to go to get some silks or things for lampshades or things, or different things for the set, you know? And that was my first job in the film industry.
ALAN LAWSON: So really your transport problem was partly solved then of getting to Elstree?
HARRY MILLER: Not really, I still had to catch the train.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh, you did? Aha.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, I used to live in Drury Lane and I used to get a bus to St Pancras, the eight o’clock, get off at Elstree, which in those days was a little quiet village street and the only shops were up by the station and the bank, and I used to travel down with the chap who ran the greengrocer’s shop and the chap who ran the fish shop. They used to go up and get their stuff and bring it down, a very quiet little place.
ALAN LAWSON: How much were you earning in those days, on that?
HARRY MILLER: Well, let me think. [PAUSE] Not very much, I think it started off round about three or four pounds a week.
ALAN LAWSON: How old would you be then, about?
HARRY MILLER: Wait a minute when I was at Elstree, I’ve got a note here somewhere, 1927.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh, yes. That’s when you started so you were still well into the ‘silent’ days?
HARRY MILLER: Oh, it was silent, yes. Started in the silent days. Elstree. I can always remember that I was in the office with Chris Chapman, who was the property master there you know, getting them to make things that he wanted, and there was this director called Harry Lachman, an American director and Chris was in tears nearly. He said, “He’s fired every charge hand I’ve put on the set”. In those days the property man was different, the property charge hand he used to stand practically by the director, like the assistant director did, and he’d get the men doing all the jobs you know? Then he’d probably dress the set in the evening or do lots of overtime like that and when the art director used to come and buy furniture and stuff, he’d put them out for the art director to go and might change a few things, know what I mean? Anyway Chris was in tears, and he said, “I haven’t got anyone else to send out.” So I said, “Well, I’ll go and hold the fort for you ‘til you get someone.” So I went out and held the fort and this director, Harry Lachman, we got on very well and he wanted me to be his assistant director but I got more money than the assistant director you see? I can’t remember the chap who used to be the assistant director but he used to travel with the prop van when we were doing locations and things in the studio and I used to do his job and my own really at the same time and that was the silent pictures, right? I mean I got on well with old Harry Lachman because he used to ask for some really astounding things. Like we were down at Ashridge Park and they were felling big oak trees and we were doing a film called Under the Greenwood Tree and, and … Claude - I was getting down to Ashridge Park …
ALAN LAWSON: Was it Claude Raines?
HARRY MILLER: No, no, the, the cameraman, the first cameraman.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh, oh, Friese-Greene.
HARRY MILLER: Claude Friese-Greene. Well, Friese-Greene couldn’t get much light. We’re doing this Under the Greenwood Tree, which was this great enormous tree. Friese couldn’t get enough light with these reflectors you see? We didn’t have any lamps and that down there and he said “We’ll have to do this in the studio Harry”. So Lachman saw all these great big lorries and trailers they were putting these trees on and he says “Harry,” he says “Have that down the studio by Monday morning.” [LAUGHTER] I said “You only want 12 feet roughly don’t you?” and he said “No the tree”. There’s no good arguing with him and I say “You know it is going to be difficult the tree”. So on the Monday morning I arrive from the station, walking up the village and there’s a hold up, a complete traffic block, police cars and all that lot you know. They could not get this tree into the studio at BIP. There was an awful row and eventually I had to come out, cut about twelve feet off take the rest away, take twelve feet into the studio. But they’d say “What about Mr Lachman?” And he was a very famous American director, apparently in his time there, and he had a Chinese wife, and he’d just gloss it over. In those days in between pictures I had to go and report to him every morning so he knew the studio had not fired me for some of those things he did or wanted. Now then back to the silent days, in those days they used to have two or three pictures probably in the same studio, in different parts of the studio, you see?
ROY FOWLER: It was one large stage?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, well they had two very large. This was British International Pictures, Elstree, and you’d have three units, a Hitchcock and, I can’t remember at the moment, Monty Banks, Wilcox, all the old names that you’ve probably got records of. They’d have a pianist too, to play for, put the artists in the mood and they’d probably be playing one tune here and another different one up there and another up there.
ROY FOWLER: It was Tommy Bentley probably.
HARRY MILLER: Tommy Bentley, Yes. Tommy Bentley I remember more from Denham. Young Woodley, one of his. But Hitch, he was a famous character he had a property man named Harry something and he used to always get him playing tricks. Like he’d give him a fiver to ride a horse into the ladies’ loo, perhaps I ought not to have said that! Or another thing he did, he’d give him something like one of these spearmint things that was a laxative and he’d say, “Take this, take two of these and put these handcuffs on until you come back tomorrow morning and I’ll give you a fiver, or something.” This poor chap used to go and home, come back and you can imagine what [LAUGHTER]
Although he was a great comedian, Hitchcock, he was a great director. And when he did the first ‘talkie’, Blackmail, you were talking about any post-synching going on, well there, Anny Ondra, I have a feeling they did the three versions, English, French and German, and Anny Ondra I remember was the woman star and her English was pretty poor. So they had this young girl standing at the side of the set and she spoke the lines and Anny Ondra mimed them. Now that’s better than post-synching because post-synching came in much later really so that is a record really. She married one of the soundmen in the central recording room, a very nice young girl.
ALAN LAWSON: Joan Barry, was it not?
HARRY MILLER: Joan Barry. Good Lord you are much better than I at memory.
ALAN LAWSON: No it’s not a memory I read that
HARRY MILLER: Now then this was before sound. We went to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to do a film called Compulsory Husband. Harry Lachman and Monty Banks were co-directing and Guido Baldi, you have heard of him, he was with us to do some miniatures and things in the snow. And poor old Guido he’d build these miniature things and at Chamonix the sun used to come out over the mountain at a certain time each day and he’d have this set built all ready to shoot, you see? But Lachman and Monty together were quite a problem – one would want to do one thing and the other would do the other. And he’d build these sets and he couldn’t get them to do it and this set would gradually melt, it was made of snow and they would melt and put it back another day. But he was a great technician, Guido he invented this machine for cobwebs, on a drill with rubber solution. Now we went out to do this film and the girl who played the lead, she was a cinema usherette that Harry Lachman had found and was going to make her a star. I think she got £7 a week, plus hair-dos and dresses and things. I’ll think of her name maybe in a moment. There was another famous director who was a still man in that picture.
ROY FOWLER: Michael Powell
HARRY MILLER: Michael Powell and he used to do a lot of the cutting in the bedroom in the hotel. Lily Manton was the girl’s name right and this was silent. And we did this work at Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and various other places, Nice, and it was a bit difficult with Monty and Harry Lachman because I think it was the production manager who went down with a nervous breakdown and we were left with the accountant. I did make one of my only appearances on the screen there as the driver of the Funicular Railway. And I always remember Monty Banks and Lachman sharing a luge coming down the run there outside the hotel. And at the end of the run you go over the top and into a big heap of soft snow. They didn’t go into the snow, they went into the crowd all round and we had buy paper dresses and things. [LAUGHTER] Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
Now, when we came back and finished this film, the director Lachman said to me out there, he says “Harry, Lily must have all her meals with you and you must watch her, she’s putting on too much weight.” So we had to have our meals together and then she confided to me that she was pregnant. And in the end when we got back to England we had to have a stand-in for the long shots and she stood in for the close shots. This was the last silent picture I worked on because immediately after that they made the first ‘talkie’. But a little later they decided to put a ‘talkie’ sequence to the Compulsory Husband and they called Lily down on that. The only trouble was that Lily was quite a Cockney like myself you see, and she had to be whipped away to a school for elocution and whatnot for a bit and came back, it all worked out eventually in the end, it was just a sequence.
Anyway Blackmail was made and I was still working with Lachman who was going to do Under the Greenwood Tree. In fact we shot lots of stuff out at Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to use in the picture for titles and things. But Blackmail started. Two systems, weren’t there? Western and RCA – RCA started. And to help them do all the installations and things they took a couple of charge hand electricians called Bert Ross and Charlie Tasto and they helped me to do all the installations and that. And then they graduated to mixers they were two of our early mixers. The chief of sound was a gentleman called Atkins and there was a Major Brice who sort of helped him out. I can always remember Major Brice doing early mixing sessions with the dialogue coming through the speakers and a band on the floor and he always used to be with a chair with rheostat there, mixing it. [LAUGHTER] Very old fashioned. Anyway the mixers in those days were Charlie Tasto, Bert Ross, Alec Murray, a chap named Scanlan. Scanlan used to walk around the set and as soon as he walked on [clap, clap, calp] clapping all over the place for reverb, you know? He had quite an act, a very good mixer. Scanlan, Cecil Thornton, Dallas Bowers, amongst others that graduated to mixing afterwards. But originally they had these big wax discs. Now, at that time I was not in the sound department, you see, but after Blackmail on Under the Greenwood Tree the sound department then suddenly discovered they wanted to know how to make certain noises and things. In the theatre you have these old props, like the wind machines and things, so I used to say “Well you do this, and you get a fork and rub it on this plate and make a screech and things”, and all these little dodges in the theatre. They asked me to join the sound department and as, what they called an effects man. There was no grade in ACT for this, right? So I took on this job as effects man there and I sort of had a couple of rooms and everything that I could make up little dodges, like for carriages and things I had a box with a bar across and a band with two little wheels you could turn this handle. They were the carriage wheels and you could have different surfaces, like gravel, lino was hard roads and all these different things, and the old coconuts you used many years ago. Organ pipes for sirens, we used to blow them.
All the dodges that they still use in effects like the BBC boys took them all up didn’t they? And I became the effects man there and then I graduated in the sound department, in the music recording room I took over the boom and helped to mix and all that and when it got to the dubbing stage, which was about two channels, I can always remember going up and loading one sound head, because the other one was on the projector, sticking a couple of records on a thing, dashing down the stairs, tearing up the stairs to the mixer which is in the theatre. In the theatre they had a window for the mixer to sit at which you could look through, right, and the other side I had a room that I could put tracks in later on. Then I’d pop up there to take one knob for the effects and bits and pieces, you know? That’s how I kept slim in those days. Sound now …
ROY FOWLER: Harry, do you know where those early sound people came from? What their previous work had been?
HARRY MILLER: What the mixers? Only that the two charge hands, the electricians’ charge hands, became mixers. They were electricians on the set in charge of their units. I think Dallas did some work and things at the BBC didn’t he before that?
ROY FOWLER: That was later. He came from Marconi.
HARRY MILLER: Atkins came from the GPO, and he built the telephone exchange at the studios at the time. John Reynders who was the musical director at the time he used to be the conductor who played and orchestrated all the music for a cinema against the silent pictures in the Strand. A famous …
ROY FOWLER: The Tivoli.
HARRY MILLER: Tivoli, yes. He used to direct the music and he had an assistant then who was a very good musician, Idris Lewis, who eventually went to be a director in Wales here. They had this room with all these shelves and all the different scores, like when they wanted a bit of sea music they would get the Flying Dutchman out or something and take a few bars. Later the directors would start bringing their own writers you know, and conductors. What else now? The sound department: lots of the boom men and assistants generated to mixers eventually.
ROY FOWLER: They were just taken on were they?
HARRY MILLER: They started in the sound department as assistants and they were taken on and taught the trade you know. On the sets they had these booths made on wheels, portable, they were about the size of that square, that bookcase.
ROY FOWLER: About six feet wide?
HARRY MILLER: There was just room for the camera and the cameraman and it was all insulated and sound proofed and blankets over and everything, and a window in the front. And there was also the same thing for the sound equipment
HARRY FOWLER: What the recording equipment in a booth on the floor?
HARRY MILLER: The mixer and the recorder both in there. And later on they changed this over and built a central recording room in another block, which was wired to all the stages, and then the mixers were up in a room above the stage looking down just with a mixer. But the recorders were all in the central recording room in another block so if they blew a galv, a galvanometer, they could switch them to another machine. It was only very much later that, when the systems changed, that they had the floor mixing. It came in later then.
ROY FOWLER: Do you remember when? Would that have been at Denham, or even later than that?
HARRY MILLER: I can’t remember that, to tell you the truth. D P Field was a great maintenance …
ALAN LAWSON: Was he at BIP?
HARRY MILLER: Well next door to BIP there was B&D and he worked for Wattie who was the chief of sound in there. They had a bit of a bust-up and he left Wattie and came in and, this was a bit later, much later, and he took over the dubbing. And I can always remember he used to put some of his own gear in you know, to modify the assembly and at lunchtime he would leave it there because he couldn’t lock the door, but at night he used to take it all off and take it home with him so that no-one else could see what the lash-up was right? We got on famous old DP and I, and then of course when they went to Denham he with went with Wattie who took over at Denham, and then he went to MGM at Elstree after that.
ROY FOWLER: What was the pick-up on the very first films? Did you start out with booms or did you have base microphones?
HARRY MILLER: On Blackmail and these early films they had a length of sash cord and if you take this table in half, a wee bit higher, you had this box with the amplifier in.
ROY FOWLER: So let’s describe that, that’s about two feet wide and about two feet high?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, with a flexible lead coming out with a mic hanging on it. And they used to tie this up with sash cord and pull it up into the centre of the stage, and it was there. So if you turned round, or something, you went off mic you see? There was no boom men at all right? And as an effects man in those days all the sound effects had to be put on while they were shooting and I spent hours sitting on a spot rail. Hitchcock’s picture Room 17 there was the murder and the blood was dripping down and I’m up on the spot rail going tap, tap, tap, but very much wetter, the dripping blood.
ROY FOWLER: You had better describe for the ages how you are doing that as we are on tape on audio tape people can’t see it.
HARRY MILLER: I used, just in between the two fingers, put some spittle on it and hit the gap between the two fingers. Another thing I did there was a picture where the Germans and the French were mining and they were coming together and I experiment quite a bit, and the best thing I could find in those days was these long bars of Primrose soap. And I remember sitting up on the spot rail with a bar of Primrose soap and this hammer and getting as near the mic as I could and this was doing the mining all the time. Another thing was I built these things like in theatres in the early days for the sea we had a drum with some lead shot in I changed this to canvas which I had starched very thickly and used lead shot in that. And I built these things up and I designed a wind machine with the drums, the thing which D P Field helped me to design, to soundproof it in other words, and with different canes I could give you various winds. I also built the wind machines with the canvas and the Jap silk to give you high and low winds. And there was the old thunder sheet hanging up on a thing you could wheel in. Then my thunder was I had a big base drum with a roll of stair carpet tied to keep anything I dropped on the drum from falling off, and I used to have a pair of steps and I used to have a guy to pull this thunder sheet in with a rope on it, and I’d tip a thing of potatoes on to the drum and rattle the old thunder sheet. That used to be thunder right?
Every time I walked on the set with my gear and stuff all the electricians would, “Here comes wind and piss’. [LAUGHTER] Later I found that by getting some tracks of revolver shots and guns and things, putting them on the projector, turning them over by hand and varying it, I could get some very good thunder. In fact some of the thunder you hear now is probably the same track from the libraries you know. In those days I had to sit in the theatre, I’d have a table with all these miniaturized things and do it to the screen whilst they were dubbing.
ROY FOWLER: At what stage did dubbing come in?
HARRY MILLER: Dubbing started very crudely because they had the original track running on the projector and they only had another, at most two, sound heads, one for one track and the other for gramophones or things like that you know. In those days it was the editor after the thing was dubbed, he’d cut back the original dialogue into the track for neg cutting.
RAY FOWLER: This is right from the start?
HARRY MILLER: In the early days, yes, go back to the original track. Bill somebody in the labs at Elstree he used to be in charge of the cutting rooms. You’ll probably know his name he’s still alive, I think. I had nothing to do with the cutting room but I would often hear him say to the mixer, “Well, I’ll go back to the original track for that” you see, and of course they used to shoot on disc a lot and they had these great big discs, 331/3, and I had some, I lost in the fire, up to very recently. There was one thing in those days after the microphone technique changed a bit later on, this was at BIP early, the mic from this box thing, they then built a thing up where they wired the input, the signal through to the central recording room. The microphone in those days was about four inches square and they found that something was wrong with the mic and they made it a bit more directional by putting a face on it, round it. In those days the mixers they all had theirs mics that they were issued and they were supposed to return these to the space every weekend, every night really. They kept them during the week and then, at the end of the week it used to be funny because one of them would come and say “Do you think you could keep my mic for me over the weekend?” you see? Because if they had a good mic they didn’t want someone else to have it, they wanted to keep it, there use to be some weeks I’d have all the mics there in my room locked up in a cupboard, the whole system.
ROY FOWLER: Was all the equipment imported at this stage at Elstree? Was it all American?
HARRY MILLER: No, I think there was a long condenser mic that they got from Holland? RCA were the first ones and then I think they got a Philips. And I was in a slack period, I was never put off there but they used to give us odd jobs to do you see, and there was a mixer called Ben Fish, very nice chappie, you heard of him? He was working at the studio further down the road opposite in those early days but he came to BIP and he was designing a crystal mic, to pass the time away and I was there to help him. We were all given these odd jobs. And Richard Tauber came in to do this picture and the soprano opposite him her range was so high that it just overloaded and distorted and they were saying that they couldn’t record it and they were wondering what to do you see. And old Ben was there and we were talking about this, and I said, “Why don’t they put a bit of silk over the mic?” because they used to do this as a wind filter. Ben suddenly disappeared. I always think that I must have given him an idea because he went down and he said he could record this duo, and they gave him the chance you see. What he did, he got some screens made, quite large with silk things on, that you could wheel them in and out, and he used to stand Richard Tauber one side and the singer the other and, of course, he was the only who could record. He became Tauber’s sound expert right? [LAUGHTER]
In the early days the studio sound acoustics were never really up to a high standard. We had masses of you know this felt you have under carpet and masses of blankets all over the place and great big gobos, like a screen you opened out, and they used to have to move these in behind the camera to stop the reverb on the set and all that.
ROY FOWLER: Did they treat the walls of the stage at all?
HARRY MILLER: The walls of the stage were treated with a sort of seaweed with wire netting holding it all up or something. But these were before the sound studios were built and they were doing them in the old stages, and lots of these sets were very echoing and they built all these things to deaden it all down. In fact, they put, even in the music theatre when they were recording the singers and people they would make a little cubicle up and put them in these alcoves with all this felted stuff all round, which of course developed into more modern treatments of acoustics in the place – they were quite a thing to have around. Also, you see everything had to be damped, all the floors: they used to put green baize on the shoes of the actors walking on the wooden floors. If they had a scene with a set with a tea table or something, the mere spoon going there would cause a hell of a noise. Anything like this they had to be careful putting them in, all these little noises. The galvanometer, which was one of the recorder’s pieces of equipment, they often blew this with a very loud noise and we had a chappie called Luscombe who used to have a permanent job just repairing the galvos. In those days they couldn’t record very loud sounds. So, you know the old leather armchairs and things? This used to be a very tiring job. In order to make a gunshot I used to have a ruler and go “bang, bang”. For machine guns, a couple of canes going “bom, bom, bom” like this on the same thing. You kept wearing your arms out. [LAUGHTER]
ROY FOWLER: This was during the shoot is it or the dubbing?
HARRY MILLER: Later, it was developed later. But on the set you were expected to provide rain noises out of a watering can or something and all these sea noises that was all done on the set, everything – bells, telephone bells. I had a board up with all the different bells and I made a telephone bell up that worked by battery. You used to just wheel them into the set whenever they wanted a bell going, you know, and lots of equipment like that.
I can always remember a German director, Dupont, doing a tale about the Jews in the ghettos in Russia, forget the name of the film, I used to get them together in the little theatre and shoot tracks you see. And I’d show them the film and I had Joe Grossman, the studio manager, doing something, I had the director doing something, and someone else doing something, and I’d be doing something, and we’d run the film and record it. I can always remember giving this German director a .45 gun with a blank in it, and putting him right out in the corridor. So we’d say ‘Turn over’ and by the time we get to the spot he’s right by the mic and he fires the gun and blew the works. [LAUGHTER] He wanted to get some big effects you see. [LAUGHTER] In those days, I used to have them all mucking, everybody. In fact Joe Grossman, studio manager you have probably heard of, he was a Cockney, and I can remember the Duke and Duchess of York, one instance, he’d show them all round the studios and then someone would ring over and say “Joe’s coming over to see you with somebody, would you be in your room?” I remember the Duke and Duchess of York coming up, that was our King and Queen, the Queen Mother now, yes, and he said …
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HARRY MILLER: He’d say to me, “Now Harry, show the Duke so and so and so and so”, you see? “You see Duke it’s all done like this, you see?” and I’d do a bit with a coconut and a bit with something else, and a few owl whistles and cuckoos and all these bits and pieces you know? In fact a lot of the drummers’ equipment of the day I used. I used to use one of these siren whistles with a megaphone thing on the end for a destroyer siren. You know, things like that. They did bring over a chap called Count Cortelli. He stayed at the Italian Embassy and he worked for all the major big American studios, or lots of them, in the same capacity you see, and they, they paid him to come over to give us a few tips about sound effects and things. And he, he’d get things like he’d have a piece of broomstick and a coconut on one end and a coconut on the other, um. Inside the coconut there’d be a few little pieces of something, sugar or something and a piece of vellum on the top, like a drum, and you’d do this and you’d make an engine, you see? And he had … but the … all these designs that he’d got, you see, they were, you were getting just past that, past that stage. You know, he’d have a thing turning round, which was a ship leaving dock and there were all different compartments in this big sort of drum thing, if you turned the handle all these things flopped about inside and it made, I suppose in the every early days it’s quite a good effect for a ship leaving port. But at that stage it was a bit obsolete because I can always remember that he couldn’t stop to see the results when we were dubbing, see the rushes, he had to get back. He stayed at the British, Italian embassy and had his lunches brought from there too. And I can always remember when we did see the rushes I had to do it all over again. [LAUGHTER] And my prestige went up enormously. [LAUGHTER]
On one occasion we had a lot of water noise. In this room in the dubbing theatre I had a tank put in, a big tank about the size of that settee you’re sitting on.
ROY FOWLER: 6’ by 3’?
HARRY MILLER: Yes and I had to put, line it with felt for certain things, for the water. But I built this little, these little boxes, little one into a big one, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger until the bottom, to give this sort of waterfall thing and all that sort of stuff. And I can always remember you see I had then to turn it on to get it going, right? And I thought I’d got the horn just enough so it was sort of draining away and dashed over to the dubbing mixer opposite to go and handle the effects track or something, you see? And I can always remember, we did two or three takes and there’s the fire brigade, all on the job because Joe Crossman the studio manager was chief of the fire brigade, and, er, this water had overflowed, overflowed out the room and there were all the artists’ dressing rooms along this wall [LAUGHTER] terrifying it was. But I was, I was very lucky you see because I was in a job in those days that I don’t think they thought it wise to fire me because I was about the only one doing anything like that you see, and other people were just starting to do it.
ROY FOWLER: Harry, how did you tackle this job? Were you thinking ahead all the time or would someone give you a problem you would set about solving it? Or were you experimenting in your own time?
HARRY MILLER: Well, I was … in my spare time I was always thinking of different methods to improve it. Like B&D next door, Percy Daton he’d got the same job as I had eventually. He used to come in and borrow things you know, and if I saw something that I thought I could use, I was getting sound minded, I used to have this two rooms, sort of thing, all filled with little gadgets I’d made up to do these tracks. On the floor in the very early days if they wanted a train effect, I forgot to tell you this I’d had a woman’s scrubbing board for the old washer-woman remember it? Board with a metal thing and I, I had another thing, I made a drum up with a metal top on it, a thin metal thing, pieces of electric lead covered wire cut so that I made some little struts and I had a coconut and I used to go round on this thing, going bumpety-bump, bumpety-bump, bumpety-bump, for interior trains. For the exterior trains I used to have an air cylinder, right, one air cylinder with a key they’re very difficult to handle these things and another one with a real train whistle on later, earlier we’d use you know other things. And then another, steam, I used to let the steam out and do this thing on the scrubbing board with a roller skate, right, choo-choo-, choo-choo-choo, choo-choo-choo-choo, choo-choo-choo-choo-choo, choo. This is how we did the trains in those days right? And I always used to do things like, I can’t do it any more, I was trying to show my grandchildren and I used to be able to do owls (blow into hands) like this and I used to play the whatshisname … da-diddy-da, da-diddy-da, bumpety-bump, bumpety-bump and I got very good at it. I find I can’t do it now. And all these contraptions I could get anything that made them, like chains. Very high frequencies things like bells and chains were very difficult to record in those days. If you found a piece of old chain that gave, met the requirements of the system and didn’t get this thump thump instead of metallic rattle you hoarded it. You know? You’d get the harness rattle or all sorts of things, all these contraptions. I used to make up little ratchets with different sized metal wheels to put on. So if you wanted a high winch you had a heavy winch, you had a big wheel one about that size, and graduated for the different things, you used it for any sort of thing like that. I made all these gadgets up you know and I then I started the, I found it … the films looked very … well I’m going too far ahead now am I?
Can we just cut off now? Where were we?
ALAN LAWSON: Well really you were still talking, talking about the equipment that you were making.
HARRY MILLER: Oh, yes, all these props and things. Well, gradually you see, gradually, I discovered that I’d make tracks and they weren’t really, well in those days they had to be used because we did them with the film. But as we progressed I found that lots of the tracks weren’t being … I would make tracks where you mixed two or three tracks together to get a result. This was in my mind all the time how to get these and I never was really able to achieve that because it was all just direct recording business in those days. This all came subsequently. If I’ve got anything down here that might … I’d have made notes for the other thing there. [LONG PAUSE]
Actually, in those days the finance was I think still provided in some way like it is today. Someone came in and put so much in to the film but I wasn’t conversant with that set-up, so I can’t help you in that respect. Can later on maybe.
ALAN LAWSON: I was wondering if you had any anecdotes of incidents that happened while the film was being made?
HARRY MILLER: Well we had a fire you know, at Elstree and BIP and I got a new set of tools out of it. [LAUGHTER]
ROY FOWLER: How did the fire start? Does anyone know?
HARRY MILLER: Not really.
ROY FOWLER: Was it suspicious?
HARRY MILLER: I don’t think so, funnily enough no-one ever sort of made a thing about it. There were really … you want to keep the instance of the, of the studio don’t you?
ALAN LAWSON: No whatever occurs to you.
HARRY MILLER: Ah, well there was [PAUSE] in the sound department, there was these, this was, it was right out of the studio where a lot of the extras would come and park their cars and stop the vans and things going in and there was two, two, two fellows you know very nasty pieces of work. And they would never, they’d come and park their car and instead of putting their car in the car park they’d come park their car right in the way there. And I remember, I remember giving the boy one of my bars of Primrose soap and he went out and he got a mallet and he just tapped that right through to the exhaust. And it was very funny to see this car heaving like a human being when they tried to start it up. [LAUGHTER]
ROY FOWLER: Did they continue to park there?
HARRY MILLER: No, they didn’t park there any more.
ROY FOWLER: They’d learned their lesson?
HARRY MILLER: There was a time when we had to stop shooting for a day. In those days there was a Farmer somebody opposite the studios and if they wanted anything agricultural or trees, or fernery, or animals, or anything we just went over and hired them from him you see. And we were doing this film and there was, er, I’m trying to think of the name of it, but it, the name escapes me but it was a farmyard, there was an old cart there and chickens and everything …
ALAN LAWSON: Not the Farmer’s Wife?
HARRY MILLER: No not the Farmer’s wife. I may think of it later on … they wanted this pig to run amok, this great big pig you see and so I went over to this farmer and I said “We want this pig and we want him to run amok”, I said “And how do we do this?” And he says “Well,” he said “you get somebody with a, I think it was turps on a big rag, and at the crucial moment”, he said “rub it up his behind and he’ll go and he’ll go nuts”, you see? You know, we thought he’d just run a bit wild. And, er, this all came about, see, and this bloke, one of the men I put on to do this job, he did it you see. I think he did it too well because this, this pig he was quite a size, he ran amok, mate, he knocked half the set down. We had chickens laying eggs in the gantry weeks afterwards and it was so funny. [LAUGHTER] There was, you remember that tubby American comedian called Tubby somebody, a very fat chap, many, many, years ago, Arbuckle. We, we had a chap, a sort of double for him. He was playing in this thing you know in this farmyard and the pig knocked him over. [LAUGHTER]
ROY FOWLER: Some of the people who were there at the studios. What was the atmosphere in the studio was it very friendly?
HARRY MILLER: Lovely. Everybody would help everybody you know. They were all so nice. I’ll tell you some … I don’t know if, are you … is Dallas Bower alive still?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes we’ve interviewed him, yes.
HARRY MILLER: Oh, he’s a nice chappie, wasn’t he? I, I remember Dallas when he was mixing a film for Monty Banks and they’re still in these booths,you see, in these days, I forget what the picture was now but when Dallas, when he’d finished the shot, they’d all look, you see, and the camera master would say “OK for camera master”, and you see, and Dallas would come out of the booth, you see, and if was scratching his head like that, Monty would say “Right, we’ll go again”. [LAUGHTER] And then he just came walking out, and he said, “Right that, print it’. [LAUGHTER] But we used to work some terrible hours, I’ll tell you! That’s the Union. You don’t want to get to the Union yet do you?
ALAN LAWSON: Well no, the conditions then when you were working are interesting.
HARRY MILLER: Well eventually we all joined ACTT, sort of founder members, right? And, and there was a Captain Cope used to come down and he’d go in that pub opposite and collect the subs and things right? And we were getting a bit fed up with the money and everything because the best paid men in the studio in those days in ratio to everything else were the electricians and their Union, ETU, was the strongest. In fact they wouldn’t deal with any of the admin people except Joe Grossman the studio manager, he was the only people they’d talk to. And they had all these ETU overtime things and that. They were best off in those days you see. There was NATKE, the other Union, but they they got overtime as well but all the technicians weren’t getting as much money as the electricians and the carpenters and people right? So, we decided something had to be done and we kept pushing and pushing Cope and everybody. Nothing happened. So we got so fed up eventually that we decided we would go on strike and the ETU shop steward down there said they would support us. So at that time the feeling was so bad about the money that they said “Why don’t you join us?” and we joined the ETU en bloc and we negotiated an agreement that I think was the first ACT agreement ever got, people got paid overtime. We got paid normal rate of salary and we got time-and-a-half between six and eight; we got double time from eight until eight o’clock the next morning. If we worked after ten o’clock at night we got four hours inconvenience money and at that time it used to be rather funny because the camera would be … if we were going a bit and they thought they’d just get this last shot in by ten o’clock, camera would stop and reload. You get one take in and sound would reload and there were times when the old production managers used to walk round … the four hours you see, inconvenience money. But very often we worked right through to the middle of the morning and then it was all cars home and everything, but …
ROY FOWLER: Tell us about the working hours before the Union arrived the conditions and the hours that they made you work.
HARRY MILLER: Well, you worked all the hours under … and all you got was a supper allowance.
ROY FOWLER: Which was how much?
HARRY MILLER: You just had supper at, at the, they’d lay a supper on, yes. But what happened then after we were all in the ETU right, was the sound department and we were all organised you know, and we were getting overtime and everything, the works right, because I was on the negotiating team. Sid Cole, Jarvey I think they got above the rate but some of the editors in those days only got about £7.10s a week. And then we got people like Sid and Jarvey and, I can’t think of all the names at the moment, but when, after I’d been at BIP for so many years, Denham was being built and that was in 1936, was it, I think.
ROY FOWLER: Just about.
HARRY MILLER: Yes and they, they approached me and asked me if I would go and work there.
ROY FOWLER: Harry, could I ask you just one question before we leave Elstree? How did ACT come to Elstree?
HARRY MILLER: Well, originally, er …
ROY FOWLER: Who did the recruiting?
HARRY MILLER: I think the people like Sid, Sid Cole and er, I can’t think of the names of the other people.
ROY FOWLER: What was your number?
HARRY MILLER: I haven’t got my old ticket but it it was one of the very early ones.
ROY FOWLER: They had one to sixty down there assigned I believe?
HARRY MILLER: Did they?
ROY FOWLER: Yes, so you would have been in the first sixty?
HARRY MILLER: Yes but when I left, when I left Elstree they offered me a contract at Denham for …
ROY FOWLER: One final question. Was it dangerous to join the Union at Elstree, or was it accepted from the start? Were you in jeopardy if you joined?
HARRY MILLER: At Elstree, I think they didn’t like it but they, the electricians were so strong and the carpenters’ Union was so strong that they really couldn’t put up a fuss about anyone being organised. That’s why we were all so mad about ACT not getting going with us because we felt we were in a strong position.
ALAN LAWSON: When did you switch over actually to the editing department?
HARRY MILLER: Well I did that at Denham. I was, I had a liaison with the editing department at BIP but only in the sense that they would say, “Well, we want to do this, have a look at this bit of picture, and they want to do that” you know what I mean?
ROY FOWLER: Yes, so you were always effects at Elstree?
HARRY MILLER: Yes always, yes, yes. And when I left, I left Elstree as an effects man to go to Denham as an effects man and …
ROY FOWLER: Who recruited you?
HARRY MILLER: Wattie, Watkins. Well, I think D P Field had a lot to do with it because I worked with him. I was his assistant during the dubbing you see, in the early days when he left Wattie for a bit and went back again. Are we finished with BIP.
ROY FOWLER: If you have.
HARRY MILLER: Well if I, if I remember anything else I’ll come back to it.
ALAN LAWSON: So, you went to Denham but still as an effects man?
HARRY MILLER: Yes on a two years’ contract.
ALAN LAWSON: How long did you stay as the effects man before you actually went into the cutting room?
HARRY MILLER: Well, I’ll tell you now. But basically before they would, no-one would have, Korda wouldn’t have any Unions at Denham. Nobody could be in the Union, right? And I remember talking to the, our rep, ETU rep at Elstree and he said “Well, look” he said, “give in your ticket,” he said “We know you’re sympathetic to the Unions and that”, he said, “and take the job on”, he said, “you’ll be in,” right? So I took the job in and it was after we experienced the same sort of conditions there as before that we had these meetings and decided we want to join the Union and we all voted on whether we should join ETU or ACT and we voted to go back to ACT at that stage right. But when I went o Denham [clears throat] then I was an effects man and the hours there originally were shocking, it was the same thing a supper allowance. I’d not been there about, er, three months and they said, “Well Korda’s in trouble and he wants everybody to take a cut, a ten percent cut or something.” And I thought, ‘well I’ve only been here three months,’ I said “And I only moved from my last job to come here because of this” so I wouldn’t take the cut. But they all did it out of loyalty mind it didn’t come back in the same way. But I went there as effects man and I used to do effects for all the pictures there the same as I did at BIP. They used to hire me out for the picture and they were making a profit on my salary, obviously, all the time. And Bill Hornbeck was the, the American supervising editor who supervised lots of our good technicians in those days and he and I got on very well and I did all this, all this business. I started to say “Look, Bill, why don’t we get this bit of library bit that you’ve got on two postcards up-to-date?” And so I start, stepped in and helped a bit with this, setting up this library bit and getting it established. So I did quite an odd few bits of time in the cutting room. In fact old Bill Hornbeck would have paid me to stay on in his department but I think the studio was doing alright out of him they didn’t want to lose me.
And so I was still an effects man until we did a film called Goodbye Mr Chips with Robert Donat. I was getting a bit fed up at the time then because none of the tracks that you shot were ever laid properly, if you wanted to mix tracks to get an effect they were just laid in and they went down and they didn’t really understand what they were, what they were for. And Dick Smith, you’ve heard of Dick Smith, a very good mixer and he said “Why don’t you go in to do the tracks on this picture, they are a horrible mess”, or something. Someone was ill and he said “And you know we’ll have something to work on.” So I said, “Alright” and so I took over the job of dubbing editor on Goodbye Mr Chips. And we used to work on that picture from eight-thirty, it used to be, in the mornings until about four in, in the next morning, go home, come back at nine the next morning. And I used to put a notice on my door, “A reel a day keeps old Pelton away”, who was the ‘big shot’ brought over by MGM to see everything went. He knew more about every department in the studio than our own people used to do. He’d go round plasterers, carpenters. I mean, he’s the bloke who used to say me, “When we take a picture to preview it or something”, he said, “We’ve got to clean the film up”, he said ‘we put our synch mark a little pinprick in the, in the frame lines” you know. So you have a sneak preview or something on the cutting copy and rub all the synch marks out, obviously, to do that. And he showed it to you like that. And he’d say, “All our editing rooms out in the States, in the cupboards containing the cans, we have a brick in the film can with some water, which kept the humidity down.” He knew everything about everything this man. He was fantastic. You know, he’d go down to the admin block, studio manager and everybody, and they would start telling him something but he would be telling them. He was a fantastic guy.
ROY FOWLER: What was his name?
HARRY MILLER: Pelton, Fred Pelton. And, anyway, so at … I did Goodbye Mr Chips as my first film there.
ROY FOWLER: Harry was it a big jump for you? Suddenly, your, before this you’d been recording effects so you were used to handling the tracks.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, at that stage it didn’t make any difference in my money if I might say so.
ROY FOWLER: No, but physically handling the film was something you had been doing?
HARRY MILLER: Oh yes. You see I was sort of, I sort of knew all about the cutting rooms but I never physically handled it and when I did my first film, I remember that when I was laying tracks I used to have two synchronisers and have eight rolls on, eight reels on the thing to get them done in time because the schedules were all so tight. So I was laying eight tracks at once on two synchronisers [LAUGHTER] And they were all, none of them were, they were always working on one, weren’t they, in those days?
ROY FOWLER: How could you read a track in those days?
HARRY MILLER: Oh, well, optical was much better to work with really in a sense that way because you could read the track. You could see the frequencies you know, on RCA the area the high frequencies would be high peaks and the low frequencies would be the low peaks, on density the thick lines would be the low frequencies and the thin ones would be the high. So that’s really where I learnt the business because I could tell how and when to cut the track right. In fact I got very good at it I suppose with the experience and all that, you know. I mean the dialogue, for example if a track was too long or too short I would cut between syllables and abbreviate the line. Or else I would get extra prints and elongate the spots between syllables and things, which none of, nobody else ever knew about you see.
At that time too there was the question of when you’d made a cut it made a bang on the track when you had to do this blooping. You got this ink and a very fine paint brush and you either did two half moons at the join, coming together at the join, so that it sort of, it was a sort of a modulated thing or else you did one straight line through it. I spent hours painting dialogue tracks because on the optical you had all these pinholes from the prints on the prints and things. In fact they then started a department at the labs purely and simply for painting the tracks, to clean them up. Which Luscombe, the man who did the little, whatsaname, repairs, galvo repairs, he took over that department for the labs you see. And I thought that was a very wise job, because of the labs [LAUGHTER] the lab theatres in those days had frequency cuts so they cut out the very high frequencies from the noise on the prints right. So you thought you’d got a dirty track, when you’d got all these things in you went into their theatre, there was always a top cut so it diminished all the dirt and whatnot noise. When you took them to your dubbing theatre you could hear them all you see. This was where you had to get the old blooping thing in. I remember blooping all night in the labs and they were doing some repairs in the room opposite with a pneumatic drill. I was tired and I can … [LAUGHTER].
ROY FOWLER: Did you have a sound reader on the synchronizer or did you have to use the Moviola if you wanted to listen to the track?
HARRY MILLER: You had to use the Moviola. Now on the Moviola, well, that’s tape. Now even on the optical when I marked something up for synch on a Moviola I had this thing about my stuff where I’d, I’d want to mark it with a synch mark right. And I’d turn the head over, the old whatshisname with the little aperture like that to the thing which came to the top of the frame and I’d mark that frame and then I would mark the centre of the whatshisname, sound thing, right. And then my things were always dead in synch you see.
But I used to watch lots of people in the cutting rooms, they used to get the thing and they’d turn this thing too hard and the picture was in the middle and they was always half a frame out of synch you see. And by the time they’d loaded that onto the projector and the projectionist had put that another frame or two frames out of synch, you used to wind up seeing things out of synch right. And I used to get very unpopular with the projectionist because I’d just cut if we’d start, and I’d say, “Cut!” and ask them to lace up again. And they’d say, “You can’t see two frames out of synch,” you see, and I’d say, “I’d sit in that cutting room for hours putting things in synch and by the mere fact of you lacing them up you are putting it out of synch.”
Now McCullum, Gordon McCullum, who I used to reckon as THE top mixer ever, he was fantastic. Not only did he have the technical knowledge but he had this artistic flair that could produce results. Do you know what I mean? He was great, Old Mac. Now I said, I just went to Mac on this, on this particular day and said, “Mac come into my cutting room and I’ll put some tracks on.” And I put the original track and on and the dubbed track and then I’d take a thing and mark a certain noise and put them together and, of course, they were two frames out of synch. And immediately I showed him this he stopped all this. He made this arrangement and said to the projectionist, “When you load up you’ve got to load it up like this. And when you get interlock you have got to check it after interlock to see it’s not slipped.” And this became the practice of the day and it still is I should imagine. And the same thing happened at Shepperton, I had the same experience at Shepperton. So I take a little credit in showing this bit of lace up business to these two studios.
But it was, it’s amazing how when tape came in the difference, you see? Where you used to be able to read, to look and read a track, if you had a gunshot, you could mark the gunshot like that, look at it right. With the tape you couldn’t see it, could you? And so when tape came in, it came in later at Pinewood than it did at some of the other studios, Shepperton and places like that and people were working on tape before we worked on it there. And what they did though they had an optical print as well as the tape, so they had rushes. They had an optical print and a tape print right? So when it came to dubbing, you know, they had this optical print on and the tape on so they could mark the things on to the tape.
And I remember old Wyn Ryder, going over to Wyn to help him out on a film, he had a very tight schedule and he was doing this at Walton Hall I think it was. You know, they used to give you impossible schedules so he needed somebody to go and give him a hand on a couple of reels right and I was sort of not very busy so I said, “Yes, I’ll come over”. I think it was in the evenings and Janet Davison was his assistant and Janet said to me, “I’ve got all the loops ready and everything” you see. “I got the optical loops and the other loops”. And I said, “What do you want the optical loops and the other loops for?” and she said, “Well you know you have to mark them off”, you see? And I’d only just started on tape and I never started doing that and I didn’t see the need for it. So I said, “No I just want the tape Janet and the film, the picture.” The only trouble I had over there was that the Moviola lead, if you walked on it, the Moviola would pack up. [LAUGHTER] Walton Hall you know, you’d have to fiddle around things, the equipment wasn’t what you call up to, really up, up to Pinewood scratch. But, well then they had these things at, at Shepperton if you had a lamp go on the Moviola you couldn’t go and ask the man for another lamp and put it in and the sound maintenance man couldn’t do it, you had to get a house electrician to come in to do it. They had all these funny little things going. But, where were we now?
ROY FOWLER: What would be interesting I think, is to go back to talk about Denham and the studio as it began. Was it completed when you moved in or were they still building it?
HARRY MILLER Well, they’d practically finished, yes and Korda was there making films.
ROY FOWLER: Tell us about those early days, the feel of the studio. How it impressed you, coming from BIP, which was fairly run down by comparison I imagine?
HARRY MILLER: No, but by that time Elstree was getting, getting a better stuff they were improving all the time. Except the system Ambiphone, it was the brainchild of Atkins, Doug Myers and someone else and it was a bastard sort of RCA. But then after they came back, I think, to RCA I think, yes, and Western because they had different things coming in. But at Denham everything was sort of new and the mixers were on the floor with the ... I’m not sure whether they had the central recording room in those days.
ROY FOWLER: Yes they did I think.
HARRY MILLER: Yes I think they were wired. Yes they were, yes.
ROY FOWLER: There was a console on the floor?
HARRY MILLER: Yes just a mixer, yes. And there was a little bit of experimenting with microphones and things such as the one I was telling you about, we were putting the baffle on it, and things like that and Watkins was the sound chief, D P Field was his assistant.
ROY FOWLER: Had they imported any Americans on sound?
HARRY MILLER: They had one, had one American mixer … English mixer who worked in America and he’d worked with – I think Korda had brought him over. I can’t think of his name for a minute. But he was just a mixer on the floor.
ALAN LAWSON: That wasn’t Sash Fisher was it?
HARRY MILLER: No, no, this was an Englishman, a tall chap. And what he did, his technique was, I remember this now, his technique, where it differed from English mixers at that particular time was that he would clock in between dialogue. In other words, he got, he knew that he’d have the script there and he knew the lines and so immediately a line, he’d clock down and come up again for the next line. Sometimes he would chip a little bit off, clip the front of the line or something like that but that was his technique. I’ve got his name on the back of my mind I can’t say it.
ROY FOWLER: What was the purpose of that, to take out extraneous noises?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, yes. I think lots of our mixers probably adopted a bit of that technique but the only fault with this he could clip dialogue and things you know. Because in the very early, I’ll tell you one thing, in the very early days of sound lots of the actors had this things of ad-libbing sort of throwaway lines. You see the point is you can’t have throwaway lines on film, people would see their lips move and they want to know what they’re saying and this took quite a while to get them out of that rut but they gradually lost it all and you don’t see any of it now in these days. But they had at Denham the early mixers had been newsreel men who did the camera and the sound all on the one remember that? Cotton, I think, a chap named Cotton...
ROY FOWLER: Cotter?
HARRY MILLER: Cotter, Terry Cotter?
ROY FOWLER: Yes that’s right, it was one of the Cotters, yes.
HARRY MILLER: Terry Cotter [PAUSE] I know the mixers at Elstree more than I do the blinking, Sash Fisher of course and Jack Dennis. Jack Dennis afterwards took over the theatre that did all the post-synch and the effects and he was in charge of that theatre. There was Desmond Tew who was assisting Dick Smith. Two very good mixers, and Red Law came there for a bit. Red Law and then after that we had a couple of other people and then [PAUSE] Mac, McCullum, Gordon McCullum he came in. Mac was the tops of the lot, though I mean, you know but in those days the mixers were all newsreel men I believe, except I think Sash who came from somewhere else there. Course lots of the assistants became mixers in time as they carried on you know. I can always remember in, at Denham in the test room they had one wall which was wooden with all the different tools painted so you knew where to put the tools back right? I was doing a film of Korda’s, Zoli Korda’s, called, [PAUSE], one of the, er, early African things.
ROY FOWLER: Sanders of the River?
HARRY MILLER: No with the boy, Sabu Elephant Boy, things like that yes. And I got on very well with Zoli, eventually we used to do our pools together. Because I started putting sounds to things like a polo match, which he was going to run silent and he didn’t realise you know that we could do all these sounds and make it alive. There was the, The Drum where they were experimenting with Boosey and Hawkes. Boosey and Hawkes were sending down drums as big as that thing there you see? And they kept listening to them and recording them and none of them worked for this, for The Drum. And I was not known to any of, I had not been introduced to any of the producers or anybody at that stage, you see? I had just started in, and I went over to the mixer, I forget who it was, and I said, “Why can’t they get the right drum?” So he said, “Well we have got all these drums down and they don’t work.” So that night, I had a room behind the screen, and I got, you can order anything you want from the stores, and I got some bits and pieces in and I got the carpenters to cut four pieces of wood about that size of, er, about six by one or six, no six by one and I tied them together to make a box thing. Very roughly because it had to be ready the next morning you see, because I hadn’t told them. And I got this vellum in soak and that evening I put some green baize stuff all on the edges of the wood and put the old vellum over the top, still damp, and just nailed it on. I hadn’t got any gear to make it like a drum and I laid it all on and I got a couple of timpani sticks. And the next morning they were around and I said, I think it was Red Law, I’m not sure, I said, “Just make a little, shoot a little test of this drum would you?” This is the one they used for The Drum [LAUGHTER] and all these Boosey and Hawkes instruments were all there. I can remember coming back to the tool rack in the test room and I had a … in The Drum I think Zoli had this hoard of locusts all fly up, masses of them, you see, so I got Percy Dayton who was next door, he was out of work, and I said, “Do you want a job, Percy?” And I got a piece of three by one, about ten foot long with like a cross. And I got the carpenter to make a ring of some ply board round it like I’d say it was, a ring round it across like that, right? And I got Percy to cut … you know these kids’ toys they have like a windmill, with a button and a pin and fold the paper over? You get a piece of paper and you fold it over and you put a pin through it and through a bead and put it on a stick and give it a tap. I got Percy making all these things up, putting all these things all round this thing, all across the crossbars and everything you see. My idea was that when you lifted this up like that, they all go round and make this noise you see. And Percy did this you see and so the next day he said, “All ready Harry.” And it was in the test room at the back of the theatre and I called Zoli down, and he came down and we were all ready to shoot this scene you see and Percy comes out with this thing you know, worked all two days, three days, making this thing up. Comes out and he said, “Turn over” and he lifts this thing up and nothing moves and in the night D P Field had got the test room boy to get some tubes of Seccotine and put a blob of Seccotine on every one of them, he worked overtime on it. Percy Dayton was supposed to have had the best vocabulary of swear words in England and he used them all that day. [LAUGHTER] And they had to do it all again. When it, it did work very well funnily enough you see and it was so funny but they used to do these things.
I mean, on The Citadel, the American director, I forget who it was, I think that he was American? Saville was it? King Vidor, yes. Well he said to me, “this alarm that they ring when the mine’s in trouble or something I wanted to have a certain you know.” So I said, “Well I’ll rig something and then you can select it. I’ll give you a variation.” And I got three steam whistles and made this thing up with these three steam whistles just with taps on so I could vary or bring any, make a mixture of the three whistles right. And I got it lashed up to an airline going through to the test room because that’s the only place where there was an airline and I called them all down to hear this whistle and choose the right one, you see. Old King Vidor always had a few people with him, they all come to the theatre and sat down you see, and I, I turned the airline on. I says “Ready” I says, “I’ll do each one separately so that you can select them and then I’ll make mixes so as you can pick the whistle.” And I turned this thing on and the bloody room filled with French chalk, they were pouring French chalk in the airline in the test room. That caused a bit of a consternation and they got mixed up in the airline [LAUGHTER]. Eventually I did it and, and shot it and I let him hear, let him choose three or four, out of the one … that was The Citadel one.
They were always, what I did, just to tell them not to play tricks like that on me, I went in after closing that next night, with the same tubes of Seccotine and I glued every tool on that big board onto the wooden board behind it. I even, I even glued the old slippers they were wearing while they were working on to the floor. [LAUGHTER] We used to get up to those pranks. ‘Course you dare not do things like that now.
But you see, in those days there was a lot of free and easy stuff. I mean, Korda would say, “I’ll come down tomorrow evening and hear this reel” or something, right, and we’d all be there waiting for him to come down, right, and make notes of anything he wanted to change or anything you see. I forget which picture it was and he wouldn’t turn up and we’d have supper and then Wattie, the chief of sound, and all us sound boys we’d be playing penny up the line and at about midnight Korda would arrive you see. And it was this sort of thing by the top guys at Denham which made things, this waiting, you couldn’t do anything you know not, no end product in sight until he arrived. But those were the things, which used to get …
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Start Tape 2, Side 3
ALAN LAWSON: We’ve talked about the work that you did there but we haven’t talked about what the studio was like, a brand new studio and also some of the films and some of the people that were there. So let’s start with the studio and how …
HARRY MILLER: Yes well the studio, they had a fire. It was bombed, all these fire bombs and actually at the time the studio was storing food and stuff and some of the stages were packed and stacked with food and stuff and we …
ALAN LAWSON: This was when during the Blitz?
HARRY MILLER: Yes because we had to take turns in fire watching and it didn’t affect me much because I would be on fire watching, we all had stirrup pumps and things and we knew where it all was you know. And we had a notice up to say what date … because I used to be working all bloody night, so it didn’t make any difference whether I was fire watching or not because I was there. And they bombed it with these firebombs and set fire to the dubbing theatre one night. And they rebuilt it and they, lot of time you know spent on acoustics and everything because they’re recording music in there and they dubbed in there right and my office was at the back of the screen there, one of them anyway. When it was all finished you see and they started recording music they found that there was not enough reverb there so they’d done it so, whatshisname, dead that there was not enough reverb. So they get some big flats in and sort of fixed them up, sort of a couple on that wall and a couple on that wall you see and the studio executive manager or somebody came in and he looked at this, he says, “What’s this? Take them down at once. [LAUGHTER] What are they there for? You know you’re ruining the new studio.” He’d just had built because they had to have them up there and it looked so funny this beautiful new studio and these old, whatshisname flats stuck up there which I thought was rather funny.
ROY FOWLER: What about the studio in the days of the Korda Brothers?
HARRY MILLER: Well, in the Korda brothers, Alex. I did one, oh I did lots of his films but Zoli I worked with most of all – Elephant Boy, The Drum, The Four Feathers and all that. In fact Ray Poulton did a little while before he retired, he did a remake of The Four Feathers and I think he wrote it in The Journal somewhere. And he said when he came to dub the Battle of Arma … something, Omdurmam he said, “I just went down the vaults” he said “ and took all your dubbing tracks out”, he said, “added a bit of left and right”, he said, “and we used them for the dub.” That was a helluva million years before optical, right?
Anyway, Zoli was lovely to work for because he was very appreciative but what happened was Zoli never really settled on something. I remember Bill Hornbeck, supervising editor, I think the chap who did Genevieve, whatshisname? Cornelius. I think Corny was cutting one of these films and Bill says, “Harrys, here’s reel four. You can take this it’s finalised, it’s finished, OK’d, you can dub it right, get it ready for dubbing.” So I take it into my cutting rooms, which was opposite Cornelius, there was this block at Denham where all the cutting rooms were down by the river bit and the Old House and I take this in my cutting room and I’m working away. Suddenly who should put his head in there but Zoli and he says, and he said – how could I hide this from Zoli? I’m shut in, the door’s shut and everything, Zoli walks in and he says, “Harry, oh, that’s interesting, this is reel so and so” “Yes, but I’m only just having a look at something”. He says, “Wait a minute, let me have a look at it.” And I swear this is God’s truth, this whole sequence that was finalised and OK’d ready for dubbing gradually he took it out and it ended up all in the bin on hooks. The whole lot,can you imagine it? Eh? [LAUGHTER] That’s true.
ROY FOWLER: Did Zoli know what he was doing in terms of directing, putting a picture together?
HARRY MILLER: Yes but Alex was the same. Alex said to me once, we were doing a picture with Jarvie cutting and we were doing this. We’d be taken up to London to save him going down to the river and at the back of Seven Dials there was an old American distributor’s place and there was a cutting room there and this was on optical and Zoli and Alex were coming round to have a look at something you see. And he rolls up in his big car there and he gets out and comes up these iron steps to the cutting room and the room’s full of bins of optical cuts and things and Zoli, um, Alex stands there saying, “Yes, er, so and so” and he’s got this bloody great cigar and he’s flicking the ash into the bin. I say “Jarvie I m going”. Jarvie says, “I’m coming”. Korda says, “What’s the matter?” “The cigar.” “What’s the matter?” “You’ll be blown out the bloody room in a moment”. [LAUGHTER] And so he then threw it out the window you see. I remember he said to me once, there was a scene with Donat and someone in this film they were in a train and he’d seen somewhere in an American film where the dialogue which was sort of a montage bit they did the words in a montage use. “Yes I will”, “No I won’t”, “Yes, I will”. And he’s saying, “I would like this treated like that.” I said, “What you gonna make treat? There’s no dialogue there.”
ROY FOWLER: Which picture would this have been? One of the earlier ones, Knight without Armour perhaps? You say Donat?
HARRY MILLER: No not Knight without Armour Jarvie was cutting this. And then to wind up on that picture, on that picture Boxall, Harold Boxall was the production manager. He says to me “Alex can’t really tell what’s going on” he says, “unless he sees it with sound”, you know? He says, “So could you do a rough dub?” you know. I said “When by?” and he says “Sort of tomorrow” and I says, “No” and so we settled on about three days I think, this is the whole film you see, rough dub. And I’d been talking to Alex about different things that I think ought to have been done you see and changed and that and things I wanted to post-synch and things like that. And he says, “Well, we’ll talk about it”, you see, and then eventually I did this rough dub. He got up and he says, “It is fine, everything is fine. Harry now you can do exactly what you like with it, what you want to do. You do what you want to do with this.” And walked away and all the thing had gone from me then you know, I thought, ‘cor blimey, all that work, day and night, to let him see it, to let him make a …you know? He didn’t know anything unless he could see it with sound and everything, you see?
ROY FOWLER: You say your first credit was on Goodbye Mr Chips for MGM? That was Sam Wood. Any memories of that because that was MGM’s first major production in this country wasn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: Robert Donat. Yes that got, I think that got in the line for the Oscars and things but in those days dubbing editors never got Oscars, they all went to the sound department, you see? And I think they gave me my Fellowship of the Guild for all the pictures I didn’t get the Oscars for. Because we were nominated for sound and things you know. And it all went to the sound department. You could look at lots of things at Pinewood in the hall there.
ALAN LAWSON: In the cabinet.
HARRY MILLER: But I mean the only time when Oscars started being given to sound people was on the Bonds or something like that. Now I did do all, I did not the first one but From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and I think, maybe one more, I think it’s down there somewhere. But I just did dialogues on them because they used to get, they used to get these foreign artists who couldn’t speak English you know and I used to have to re-voice them all. In fact there’s a certain, um, he’s still alive I can’t tell you about that now. Certain artists were, didn’t even recognise it wasn’t their voice doing certain lines, not Bond, not Sean Connery. Sean and I would go into a theatre and do about three hundred post-synch loops in about two days and he said, “I don’t want anyone in here Harry except you and I.” And you know we’d wade through them. He’d say, “How’s that for you?” I’d say, well I’d say, you, “That’s alright with me, how about you?” And he’d say “That’s alright with me” and we used to wade through them. It was lovely working with him. He was you know pernickety about things but he saw your point too and you could comment on the performance with him and he didn’t get upset or anything.
ALAN LAWSON: Some of the people who were there … let’s as I say concentrate on Denham during the war because there were so many remarkable pictures made there.
HARRY MILLER: During the war there was, um, there was John Mitchell a soundman, an editor who became a director I’ll think of his name in a minute and I. He said he’d got an uncle at, in the Admiralty at Whitehall, [PAUSE] I’ll think of the editor’s name in a minute. So we all decided we would volunteer for the Navy because AS, the echoes in submarines detectors, ASDIC. See we thought sound department we’d get in on this you see. We all went down to volunteer and then John Mitchell was accepted into the Navy, the other chap editing he didn’t get taken in because he was doing some instructional things. In fact I think he went into the Army film unit as well. Anyway, I, when I went up to the studio they said I’d got this letter saying I’m in the reserved occupation. I went up to see the who ever it was I forget now, I says, “What’s this about reserved occupation?” He said, “Well,” he said, “you’re, we can’t let you go,” he said. “You’re doing all these things.” And I was doing some of these shorts for propaganda for the MOI. Yes, I used to get about fifteen quid to cut and dub the lot in the you know, in one day sort of thing, and on top of my own work. I remember John Mitchell he was I think he was one of the best floor mixers that I ever met, no dubbing editor could ever complain because he would shoot everything that you needed on a wild track: dialogue, sounds, everything. You started off with half your job done as with regards to getting tracks. He was really good you know, ‘course, he did a lot of the Bonds too didn’t he? That was the Navy.
I’ll tell you a very true experience I had: I was working on a, down at the cutting rooms by the river and there was a system there that when the lights went out three times, or something, or flashed twice or whatever it was, everyone in the cutting room had to go down to the air raid shelters right. And anyway I’m working there and I’ve got some brand new rolls of spacing from the labs, untouched, opened it up, laying tracks and the lights went out and all that, you see to go down to the shelter, you see I thought I want to get home soon and I’ll wind it through still. The lights all went out and flickered and there was a big bang here and there and the guns were going and all of a sudden on this piece of spacing, in blue whatshisname, pencil I read this ‘Doomed to Die’. And I thought, “How the bloody hell did that get there?” Right? And I thought, “Right, mate”. So I put my stuff in a bin, got well out, my car was outside the cutting room door, drove home and I thought, “What am I going to do tonight?” And as I went out the gate they dropped that big bomb in the river by the cutting room, didn’t they? Right? [LAUGHTER] But going home down the Uxbridge Road to Hayes End where I lived on this little lamp hole, that much, on a dark night was murder, in the dark trying to see where you’re going.
And I can always remember when war was declared Hugh Stewart was cutting a film called Englishman’s Home, which was all about the attack by some, dressed like Germans, attacking England, right? And it was a replica of a lot of sort of what happened. War was about to be declared and Hugh Stewart said to me, no wait a minute – the sirens went and war was declared if you remember. And I thought blimey my wife and kid I haven’t done anything with windows, gas masks, I’d better get off early tonight and go and do this, which I did and thought “Oh”. And then I went back and Hugh Stewart said to me “If you and I are at Baker’s Hill, Iver, at seven o’clock or something tonight”. Do you know Hugh Stewart? What’s the name of the bloke who ran Ealing Studios, he was a commandant there? [BACKGROUND DISCUSSION]. ??? Balcon is the commandant there. We were in the ack ack, we are in the ack ack, right, and I said, “I don’t mind, I see where you’ve got a bunk to sleep in but blimey it’s a bit nippy up there!” Anyway he went and he enrolled right because a chap came in and finished the picture off for him. Now and again he’d wander in with a little beret and he said “‘Cor blimey,” he said “the army’s cleaning spuds and cleaning latrines” and he’s like this you see? And I’m still working on this film and suddenly he appears full Lieutenant, all kitted out, up the labs, and walked in to have a chat you see, because he lived at Denham and of course in no time he was running the film unit wasn’t he? Because I used to work with Hugh on lots of his films but er, that was the war.
One other little experience, if it’s any good to you, I was sitting in the theatre, it was Henry V I think we were doing or something, something like that. Laurence Olivier and he has a son about the same age as my son and I think we were saying something about Christmas presents or something, we were talking. And the old doodlebugs had just started and George Pritchard the RKO production manager said to me, “How about having a break this afternoon?” I said, “Well, I think we’ll be finished by lunchtime because they don’t want to work overtime today.” And he said, “How about us going to Wembley to the dogs?” I said, “Yes alright”. So he was living in Ruislip and he said, “Make for my place and we’ll all have a drink there.” And there were these two brothers, one was assistant director and one was a production manager. And I took one of them and I had this old Ford 8 but you couldn’t get replacement cars and things and my roof had gone and I’d put a sheet of that black-tarred stuff over the top. And as we went outside the gate of Denham Studios the guns were all pooping off and everything, you see? And I stopped, and I saw this thing coming, this doodlebug and I said, “Quick, underneath the car!” And I’d nipped out my door and sort of crouched down underneath the car, bit of the wing bit, and this thing came over and went like those paper airplanes you make, it went down like that into the studio grounds and exploded on the lot there and all this stuff. I said, “Don’t get up what goes up’s gotta come down.” So we sat there and this stuff all came down you se, and I got up. He’s still in the car, and I said, “I forgot, that door didn’t open from the inside.” And he says, “Cor blimey I’ve never felt more pleased than to have the roof over my head as I did then.” So I didn’t say anything, you see, and we got round to George Pritchard’s house and George has given us a very stiff Scotch each and I said, “By the way, that roof.” I said, “it’s only a piece of tarred paper”, and he went ashen white. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Harry, I see The Thief of Bagdad is on your list, which was never completed here of course.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, it was.
ALAN LAWSON: Did they bring it back here to complete?
HARRY MILLER: I remember that picture finishing, with a German actor in.
ALAN LAWSON: Conrad Veidt? Are you sure? I thought it was finished in the States? War broke out you remember?
HARRY MILLER: They may have altered it or something. I’d a feeling we finished that one.
ALAN LAWSON: What do you remember of it? It was a fascinating film.
HARRY MILLER: Yes it was bit on the ship wasn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: There is a ship in it yes. Sabu again, Conrad Veidt.
HARRY MILLER: Yes I can’t remember much about it to tell you the truth.
ALAN LAWSON: Alright, OK. I was just looking at your list of credits. Spy in Black.
HARRY MILLER: Conrad Veidt.
ALAN LAWSON: Conrad Veidt, yes, Michael Powell, Emric Pressburger.
HARRY MILLER: Yes Michael Powell was the still man I said we were cutting the film with out at Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, as a still man on that early silent picture.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, with Harry Lachman, yes. What were your memories of them on that film, Pressburger and Powell? Do you remember them at all?
HARRY MILLER: Yes I thought Mickey Powell was a very nice chappie. You know quite, quite nice to me. Because I’d been out in this, on the silent days I’d been out on this exterior to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc with him. He was a still man right, with Harry Lachman and Monty Banks. So we knew each other. I mean I can remember cameramen getting up to … Ronnie Neame, I remember used to be a still man at one time, then an operator and then he was one of the best cameramen. They all went on. And there was a film called Unpublished Story which Havelock-Allen produced and Reggie Beck cut and we were working on this film in the laboratories and they said they wanted … The production manager came over and he said “They want to run the film in theatre two in the studio.” So Reggie said, “What reel are you working on?” I said I was working on eight, or something and he said, “I’m working on six. Well, take this over,” he said, “ and leave these two reels, and then we’ll fetch them over when we …” So this bloke put all this film in the back of his car in the boot and drove out the lab gates and as he was going out the lab gates all this smoke was coming out from the back of the car. And he stopped the car and what had happened he’d got a battery in the back there of the car and these tins had all shorted out and the whole of the film was destroyed.
Now Reggie Beck, who was a fantastic editor, he recut the whole of that film in two or three days from the trims, looking at the cuts to see what he’d done and he recut it. I learnt an awful lot from Reggie Beck, as you know. When he was an editor if you made a cut, you lost a frame, two frames either side because it was all stuck down with the old cement and everything, Reggie would stand for a long time unpeeling these things to remake them. But he was a great craftsman, Reggie. I remember he and I, Laurence Olivier, doing Hamlet I said to him, “We ought to post-synch that speech”. “I couldn’t do it. No I can’t do it.” And I took Jean Simmons she did so and so, and he said, “Well she can do it easily. I can’t do that. I can’t do the performance.” And then about the day before we were supposed to dub that reel, he says, “Well, I’ll have a go at it, but not to the film”. So he said, “I’ll do it in a studio.” So we got one of the empty studios and got a sound crew in with us and he got on the old floor. Then he started declaiming the speech you know and we recorded it. And I think that cutting that speech into synch was the biggest job of sound cutting I ever did. Every sort of ten feet I had to just go and join it all because there were so many clips in to lengthen lines. He never knew it had been done, I don’t think. How can you do a speech like that? … Eh?
ALAN LAWSON: Indeed! Do you remember which speech it was?
HARRY MILLER: Er, er, um. [PAUSE]
ALAN LAWSON: Any of the words?
HARRY MILLER: I think it was the soliloquy I’m not sure.
ALAN LAWSON: What, “To be or not to be”, that one do you mean, or?
HARRY MILLER: To be or not to be? I think so I’m not sure.
ALAN LAWSON: What about the other Olivier Shakespeare film, Henry V?
HARRY MILLER: Henry V? I did that one. Well before I was, I was working on a film and Sammy, who was the production manager, asked me to do it and I said, “Yes, but I can’t start for about three weeks.” He said, “Right”, and he had the BBC boys down for something or else, and he said, “I’ll get them to shoot a few tracks”. I said, “If you like,” you know and so he got them. And you know they shot where the archers are all ready and the French were going to attack and they give the signal and the archers fire and all the arrows go whizzing in the air? So I, when I’ve got them, he said, “They’ve shot all the tracks for the arrows going through the air.” So I said, “Well look, let’s hear them” you see and what they’d done, you know the pickup of a gramophone pickup? They’d sort of got the amplifier of that and they were going clonk … clonk … clonk … clonk, things like that, ridiculous. [LAUGHTER] And then everything they did was, was so much out of – oh, again, Reggie Beck and I, we spent two whole nights cutting the horses footsteps that they’d shot, some of the horses’ footsteps that they’d shot into synch. So everything was out of synch, you know; they had the impression, you know if you gave an impression of a horse walking that was it. But when you saw a big horse come down like this into the water or something, you’ve got to fix it you know. And anyway I remember I went into the big theatre with a roll of piano wire, in my stocking feet, I started whirling this round, nearly getting myself dizzy you know and recording it. I recorded long canes going whish, big canes going whisssh, sort of wire going whissssh, higher frequency than that and I mixed all these tracks together I think with a piece of constant wind or something or else, something else, and made this noise for the arrows.
And there was a big thing about the time I think about, er whatshisname, the big, a very good musician who wrote music for it all, William Walton yes and the idea was if you wanted the idea of fire you know, a big musical thing, and world war music and I happened to mention that there was a track they might like to hear, I thought. So they heard it and they cut out the music and just had the arrows and it got a write-up. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: A very famous sound yes.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, I can always remember Hamlet, another one I did, Laurence. Er, perhaps I ought not to tell you this one. Not that I did anything about it but I remember I was … when I went on the film, onto the film they said the sound department had been practicing for two weeks or three weeks to get a voice to play because it’s not in picture, the Ghost voice, to get a quality of sound recording for the Ghost voice. And I listened to this it sounded just like a voice from the Tannoy speakers that we used for playback and things and I said, “I don’t know that sounds like a Tannoy voice” I says, “It’s terrible”. He says, “We’ve tried everything for three weeks.” This is Larry, he says, “That’s it.” And of course I could have reproduced the voice for the Ghost using an echo and stuff you know and he was adamant about this you see. So I thought, “Well, what’s the good of me having a row with him?” right. But the funniest thing about it was I didn’t really feel happy about it because I’d much prefer it to have been a good rapport. One of the critics, paper critics, put, ‘The Ghost voice did sound like a voice coming over the Tannoys.’ [LAUGHTER]
ROY FOWLER: You, you’re now working for Two Cities, yes? What do you remember of Del Guidice?
HARRY MILLER: Well, after I left B&D Studios I worked for RKO for quite a while and then, then they packed up or something and I then decided … I’ve got contracts upstairs, there was only one occasion that I was ever out of work and that was the period when D&P Studios wanted me to take a cut and I refused and I went freelance. And from then on I, I’ve got years, two years, three years, contracts with Two Cities, Rank Organisation for the remainder of all those years. I was never out of work ever, that was a bit of a record I suppose. I mean on a Saturday I’d finish a picture, on the Monday I’m on another one. I was hired out sometimes, I was hired out to Shepperton to do, um, The Flying Dutchman did you see that film?
ALAN LAWSON: That came later. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Yes, that’s right. What do you remember of those marvelous Two Cities films of the middle war to just after the war, Del Guidice, especially. He was a very colourful character?
HARRY MILLER: Actually he had been interned and he was released, right? Now the Two Cities’ films, of the ones, are there any there that …
ALAN LAWSON: Yes there are lots of them. Well: Way to the Stars, Way Ahead, Odd Man Out, Henry V, Men of Two Worlds, The Demi-Paradise, Brief er no, not Brief Encounter.
HARRY MILLER: Way to the Stars I cut, I dubbed yes and I shot a lot of the tracks for that in an American Fortress camp up in Kettering somewhere. It was a very good picture, I thought. Whatshername, the girl who sang, “Let him go, let him tarry”, Jean Simmons that was her first big spot. And she used to come with my wife and I to the ice hockey at Wembley and a bunch from the studio. And she used to have, get crushes on some of these players if I remember rightly, not that it ever meant anything she just liked the look of them. She wanted to buy a little car. She said, “If my mother and father will let me drive it will you sell me your little Singer sports car?” But they wouldn’t let her have it you see, I didn’t want to sell it anyway. Jean Simmons. American actor played the lead, Johnny Mills, wasn’t it?
ROY FOWLER: Douglas Montgomery. Johnny Mills wasn’t it, right. Puffin Asquith directed and Tolly de Grunwald wrote it and produced it.
ROY FOWLER: What about working with Tony, Tony Asquith?
HARRY MILLER: Very good actually, very good He used to – we used to go to lunch at a pub called the, er, at the corner of the bridge at Uxbridge. [PAUSE] We had lunch there every day at this pub, this pub had a room upstairs – The Treaty House, the Old Treaty House, where the Treaty was signed. And Puffin would be in these denims, one of the first people ever in denims. He’d be going there and have his lunch there, you see? But he didn’t go out for lunch he’d go and sit in the pub, he used to have lots of long chats with the big great canal man there. He was a great character, as a director he was, we did the battle of Dunkirk thing for him with Ralph Kemplen and I did other pictures for him which are probably down there somewhere. But Way to the Stars … Very considerate man you know in his way and you could talk to him about things. Apart from that Way to the Stars I can’t remember much more about that. Except that when I went to shoot some tracks at the American fortress place, the commandant said, “What sort of tracks do you want to shoot?” I said, “Well, I’d like to get a shot of this Flying Fortress,” I think it was either diving down doing a whatshername, roll, which Flying Fortresses don’t do. He said, “I’ll do it for you over the airfield.” And he did it.
ALAN LAWSON: You were saying Del Guidice that he was interned, do you remember?
HARRY MILLER: Well,when he, after he was interned he started making the films. He had a place down by the river and a yacht, I think, where he used to have lots of parties and things. And he used to throw parties for technicians and artists. I remember Russ Lloyd’s wife was a well-known actress who was in Way to the Stars. Your remember Russ Lloyd, the editor?
ROY FOWLER: Somebody Johns, Rosamund Johns.
HARRY MILLER: He was married to Rosamund Johns and er, they used to get invited down there lots. I think Del Guidice used to have lots of things down to the production in his home, like tapestries and things.
ALAN LAWSON: He eventually got fired, I think.
HARRY MILLER: After we’d finished a film, I think it was called Unpublished Story, one of those that he did, he gave us all a party at the Café Royal. And my wife and I, she said, “I’m not going” and our next-door neighbour said, “I’ll sit in with Peter” that’s our son. So on these conditions we went and I can remember we were sitting down there having dinner and halfway through dinner at the Café Royal and Del Guidice got up and made a speech. And the warnings went and the gunfire started and Del Guidice’s line was as we were going out the door, creeping out quietly outside, out the door, Del Guidice was, and he said, “Nothing strikes me more than this wonderful attitude of all you people sitting here with these guns going off.” And there was my Peg and I, we was slipping out, getting in the car and tearing off home to the kid, you know what I mean? But he, he was quite a good bloke to work for you know. I’ll tell you an interesting thing. He had a friend living near him. He’s dead, Del Guidice, isn’t he?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes, he died in poverty, in a monastery.
HARRY FOWLER: Did he? Good Lord. He had a neighbour or something that was a musician right and he gave him the job to, to compose the music for this picture. Tell you which one in a minute. Muir Matheson was directing, musical director. And Muir comes down to do a music recording and starts right, running through rehearsing. Every time, the, the big theme that this writer had got was you remember that song “Pennies from Heaven”? ‘Every times it rains, it rains pennies from heaven’, right, this kept coming up all the way through. And Muir said, “We can’t use this”, right. So [LAUGHTER] he had to take it all away and rewrite it again, but he didn’t rewrite it. I think they got a proper musician in to write it, I can’t think of his name, he was quite a well-known writer wrote lots of film stuff.
ALAN LAWSON: Not Bill Alwyn?
HARRY MILLER: No not Bill. [PAUSE] No, I can’t think of his name. But they collaborated and completely rewrote the whole music score, you know, because this chap hadn’t any idea.
But I remember later on, later on he did something for … for a little short of some sort, of an exhibition of pictures or something. And er, he asked me if I would have a look at it, I mean, and fit the music for him [LAUGHTER] fit the music for him. [LAUGHTER] The music he’d scored, he’d scored it but of course, it didn’t go anywhere in the right places. Well, I started fitting, cutting and all that and he kept asking me to do other things and I said, “I’m sorry, I’m too busy”. You know, I mean it’s er, that was when he had to finish that film. But, there was some good times we had, Bill Alwyn was a nice chap, wasn’t he, Bill? Actually Bill wrote Carol Reed’s, a lot of Carol Reed’s stuff, The Way Ahead was it, or …
ALAN LAWSON: The Way Ahead was Carol Reed yes.
HARRY MILLER: Um, yes. I can always remember, in the end, at the end, Bill Alwyn had a piece of music that he had in every one of his pictures. It was a sort of a triumph, triumphant sort of little passage where like, er, the battle was won, Amy Johnson had crossed the Atlantic. This piece of music he always used for that sort of thing, this bit of theme, recognizable to someone who’d done all the films you know. Lovely, very, worked very well. Because I worked on the Amy Johnson and They Flew Alone: Wilcox and Anna Neagle. I’ll tell you something about Anna Neagle’s wedding to Herbert in a minute if you like, or is too early? It was at Denham.
ALAN LAWSON: Well, yes, anything more to say about Two Cities? We’ve got to talk about David Lean for sure and …
HARRY MILLER: Well, Del Guidice I mean he, he just looked at the film afterwards, really, you know. He wasn’t a great inspiration to writers and composers and all that he just hired and used them I think, in my opinion as far as I could see. But there were quite a lot of good pictures in those days. Samuels, P C Samuels was the production manager all the time who was a very experienced man, very nice chappie.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you do Blithe Spirit? That was Two Cities. No, actually, it was Cineguild. It came a bit later.
HARRY MILLER: No I didn’t do Blithe Spirit. I remember Bill Sistrom giving us tickets, Ralph Kemplen, Alan Jaggs and I, to go and see Blithe Spirit – the show, not the film. I can’t remember what it was for though, to look at something in it.
ALAN LAWSON: David Lean?
HARRY MILLER: David Lean I worked for as, when he was an editor and when I say as an editor, he was also, and when he worked on the film for Gabby he was practically the director all the time. He was the most accomplished director that I’ve ever met. I mean not only had he this great flair for pictures but he technically had it all at his fingertips too. When he was a young man all the girls in the studio used to be looking at him, running after David. But he was a very nice chap and, and er, funny because one of his wives was a girlfriend of my sister’s when we were very young and lived in London.
ROY FOWLER: Who was that?
HARRY MILLER: Kay Walsh, and we knew the Walshes, my sister, they all went out together you know, to dances and things and I can, Kay Walsh she was a lovely girl. I will always remember her I was post-synching her in the theatre, doing some lines, you see, and the theatre’s full of people, you see, and she’d say to me, ‘How’s things Harry, are they alright? Been to Ockers lately?” And Ockers was a fried fish and chip shop at the corner of Betterton Street and everyone was pricking their ears up, “What’s Ockers?” you see. And she would keep cracking all these lines just between us two because we were the only two who knew about it. But, er, she had a sister who started working in the cutting rooms, actually, after me she went to America.
ALAN LAWSON: You said in the very beginning that you were born in London but you didn’t say where in London?
HARRY MILLER: Well, I was born in a street called, I think, Drummond Street, off Hampstead Road. I don’t think we stayed there very long because we moved from there to a place called New Street, in St Martin’s Lane, opposite Daley’s.
ALAN LAWSON: Slap bang in the middle of things.
HARRY MILLER: And that’s when my father was at the Hippodrome. Then we moved from there to Drury Lane which was right next to the Winter Gardens which was the Old Mow, it was called in those days. I once remember as a boy seeing Charlie Chaplin with the Mumming Birds, custard pie things.
Er, but coming back to the studio, David, he was the complete, complete director. I mean I worked with some very good directors in my time and I reckon that Carol Reed, David, he was the tops.
I can always remember one little incident, nothing to do with his proudness or anything like that but Gabby Pascal, on Major Barbara when the Salvation Army was going along bumping their things. Well in those days they could decide in the dubbing theatre to change a cut, right and you had to, in the projection room you had a couple of re-winders only and a rough old synchroniser everything kept going out of synch on. You’d have to, they’d make a picture cut you had to take the tracks there and start winding through and cutting all the tracks, perhaps a dozen tracks you know. And, Gabby says something about the third drumbeat down is not as good as the rest. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: That’s typical Pascal.
HARRY MILLER: And I’ve got all these tracks there and I’m looking for this thing. Actually I got to this thing and half deadbeat, sleepy, I cut through the bloody drumbeat, you see? And David Lean walks through the cutting room and says, “How’s it going Harry?” I said, “I’ve just made a balls-up here”, I said, “I’ve cut right through the bloody drumbeat.” He says, “Don’t worry,” he said. In those days, you never ever thought of joining anything except on a join there with cement, right, so he said, “Got a bit of Sellotape?” which now they use, so he cut this bit of Sellotape and said, “Stick it down with that.” So I stuck this bit of Sellotape over the join, both sides, and put it back and then we went in again and finished it up. And when he come in Gabby says, he says, “Now that is the best drumbeat, can’t the others be like it?” [LAUGHTER]
Now I can always remember … I’ll tell you about this cigarette case. We’d finished one of these films of Gabby’s and he wanted to get, to get the English version, the American version done and take it over the States for some reason, to get cash or something, or sell it or something, right? So we dubbed this American version first and the dubbing mixer was Desmond Dew. I don’t know if you know him, he went over and took over the sound of The National Film Board of Canada. Anyway, we finished this thing and Gabby says, “Now Harry”, he says, “I am very pleased with everything and there’s a little present for you. This is the only one like this in England, this …” I’ve got it upstairs, I’ve never used, it’s from Bond Street, a pigskin cigarette case. He said, “All I want is that you do everything the same as you’ve done on the American film version. You are in charge do it.” Right. And I went in the theatre the next day to start dubbing the next version you see and Desmond Dew said, “Cigarette Harry?” and he’s got the same cigarette case as me. [LAUGHTER] But one other little thing about Gabby Pascal, he, it was about midnight or after midnight and we were in the little theatre down at Denham studios and at long last he’s seeing the last reel of the film to decide if that is the cut or not right. So about three o’clock in the morning, he says, “That’s it. We’ll dub it tomorrow.” I said, “You can’t do that Gabby”. He said, “Why? What have you been doing up to now?” I said, “It’s not a question of what I’ve been doing. It’s a question of what you’ve been doing. You’ve just decided that that’s the cut,” I said “and up to now it’s impossible to lay anything until you’ve decided it. Not only that, to see what you’ve decided.” I said, “You can’t possibly dub it tomorrow.” He said, “I am going to dub it …” I said, “You go and kiss my …” and I walked out of the theatre and I thought, sod you mate, I’ve had enough of you right. Because he used to talk to people as though they were, you know. And, the next morning I thought, ah bugger this, I’m going in and get my things and pack it up, and bugger him, let him get on with. And I remember going into the cutting room into the studios at about eleven or twelve, instead of eight-thirty, with a bag to put all my cutting room stuff in, packing up. And there’s Gabby standing by the Old House and David Lean, he’d probably remember it, and a few more of the people, the top boys there you see. They’re stuck. They can’t do anything you see and he comes up to me, he says. “Harry, I want to say I’m sorry,” he says, “I do not understand everything like this”, he says, “what goes on”, he says, “Until they have now told me,” he says. And he says, the expression he used was, instead of saying, ‘My heart bleeds’, he said, “My eyes bleed for this”, or something like this you see. Groveling, absolutely groveling and for Gabby Pascal to grovel, mate. I mean he used to have them down outside that house, the art director, and talk to them as if they were, you know, runners and people. It used to hurt me to see him talking to English people like this. But he was like that.
End Tape 2, Side 3
Start Tape 2, Side 4
HARRY MILLER: Why I didn’t think he was a terribly nice bloke to work for was when, er, he had Shaw down once in the theatre to show him the film and this attitude behind his back sort of thing. You know, as if he was some, um, and I thought, that’s not very nice to a bloke who’s given you the sole rights of er, er, um, a big shot like Shaw, you know?
ALAN LAWSON: Well, as it turned out more fool Shaw but that’s a long story. Anything else about Gabby, he’s a largely forgotten character now, I think?
HARRY MILLER: Yes I don’t think we need a lot of producers like Gabby in the business. Not that I am in it any more.
ALAN LAWSON: It was the ACT’s decision if you remember he was forbidden to work in this country ever again after Caesar. It was such a mess and it lost so much money. They passed a resolution they’d never work with him again.
HARRY MILLER: The, er Johnny Mills, er …
ALAN LAWSON: Way to the Stars?
HARRY MILLER: No, the other one. The IRA thing you just mentioned it there. No not Johnny Mills, James Mason.
ALAN LAWSON: Odd Man Out.
HARRY MILLER: Odd Man Out. I thought Odd Man Out was a very, was a very good picture for me. In fact I got some letters from the sound department of American studios complimenting me on the sound track, which was unusual for us. Er, whatshisname, Carol Reed. That’s the first picture I did for Carol Reed and we shot some of that stuff over at Islington studio or something like that and you mentioned a sound recordist who was shooting it, short chappie, in the early days. Sash Fisher was the sound mixer.
Carol Reed, I used to talk to Carol Reed and he said, “I’d like you to come over to the studio and start work while I start work” because no, I’d done something else before that, a war picture I think. And he said, “I’d like you to be there from the start”. And old Sash used to come to me and say, “ I can’t get him”, he’d say, “ I must have a bit more level on the artist’s lines”, he said “because, you know, you record this and you get nothing really, you see all these whispers and things.” And so I was able to go and say to Carol, “Look Carol you’ve got to give a bit more level”, I said, “You can always take it down when you’re dubbing” and this, you see? And he said “Right” and he’d do it. And I think it was on the strength of, er, one of the reels, where, Johnny Mason goes into, and he’s on the run and he’s wounded and he goes into this pub and he’s looking in this pub, in this glass of Guinness that he’s got there and he’s seeing faces there, right? And they’re doing a montage of lines and things through it, lines that they’ve spoken. And er, I thought to meself that a good way to treat this is to distort the lines but to get the sound people to sort of understand this, they didn’t seem to realise that this could, could work. And I said to Carol, “Look Carol I want to do this”, I said. “Now I haven’t got really got enough power to say do this or else pack it up. Now you’ve got to go in and say, “This is what I want, do it””. Right? And we did it because once you’ve started overloading the dialogue it all went papery and thin and distorted and we got this effect on these lines he’s looking at, you see. I couldn’t go wrong with Carol because they, he went to Shepperton and they wouldn’t release me to do some of his films because I was already doing some of the Rank films at that time, Morecambe and Wise or something. So I, I never really did another picture for Carol when he left but I can remember there was a, was a picture, picture of the er, training all the soldiers and they went on the boat.
ALAN LAWSON: The Way Ahead.
HARRY MILLER: The Way Ahead and that was not shown because the doodlebugs started coming on the day it was supposed to be shown.
ALAN LAWSON: The Way Ahead was shown. The Army training film that was made before it was not shown because of the Army brass, The New Lot it was called. Did you work on that? I think The New Lot was made at Wembley.
HARRY MILLER: No, The Way Ahead if I remember rightly was supposed to show, start at the Odeon, Leicester Square, open on the Leicester Square the day that the doodlebugs started coming over.
ALAN LAWSON: Ah, I see what you mean. It was shown it may not have been shown that day but it was shown, I remember seeing it.
HARRY MILLER: I think the theatres closed down for a bit then, didn’t they? The cinemas?
ALAN LAWSON: Well my memory’s hazy I don’t remember that but I remember seeing The Way Ahead in the cinema, so it did get some sort of rerelease but not a very wide one.
HARRY MILLER: It got a very big reception the next time it was shown, sometime much later. But in this, er, I mean, you could, I could say to Carol, “Look, Carol when the boat, ship is sinking I got a siren with a peculiar sort of plaintive noise in the sound,” you know? I always looked at sound as though you have to choose sound that keeps the mood of the picture, that the picture’s depicting, in if you can. Know what I mean? To work with what the Editor and Director is working for. And, er, this siren had this peculiar little thing and when the ship was going down I had this siren calling … beep … beep … you know, ‘help’ sort of thing. And I remember Carol saying I used quite a lot of it to get this thing over and Carol kept saying, “Can’t we have some more sirens?” you see, and I was able to say, “Look, you don’t want to overdo it, Carol. You’ve made the thing, and that’s it”. And he’d say, “Oh, right” you know, he was a great man, a great man Carol Reed. I made The Way Ahead and some others I did for him, I forget what.
ALAN LAWSON: Well, there are so many on this list of credits.
HARRY MILLER: Anyway Carol Reed and then David Lean. When David went to Shepperton I was under contract still to Rank so I couldn’t do any of his pictures then. But he was a great director. They were two good directors, weren’t they in all ways? But I think David was THE perfect director.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, his, probably his most lasting film Brief Encounter is on your list.
HARRY MILLER: Yes well that was very early on.
ALAN LAWSON: ‘45 wasn’t it, ‘46?
HARRY MILLER: Ryder, you know Wyn Ryder? Well, he started as my assistant on that film and Jack Harris cut it and the music was the old Chopin’s piano business all the way through.
ROY FOWLER: Chopin’s Piano Concerto.
HARRY MILLER: Yes and I thought it was a very good picture. And old Wyn started, it started Wyn’s career. Well I mean some of these pictures still stand up over time.
ALAN LAWSON: Immensely so, immensely so.
HARRY MILLER: We’re still at Denham aren’t we?
ALAN LAWSON: We’re still at Denham yes. I don’t quite know where to start on because we’ve been hopping about. Odd Man Out I think is one of the most important certainly and Henry V, Hamlet, Brief Encounter. Vice Versa was an oddity in its day do you remember that? Quite amusing.
HARRY MILLER: That had a certain great thing about it because that’s the first picture that Peter Ustinov directed and I thought that it was a very good picture you know. And the press reports were, “It’s a bit before its time” right? But he’s a great intellect, er, whatshisname? Peter Ustinov. I can remember going into his office one day, saying “Peter we must have the titles for a length.” And he said, “OK” and he sat down at his desk and went through them and it’s got all these funny things. I mean, what did he call me? Professor of Something, and the cameraman was something else. Every one on the unit had a big laugh about the way he described it, and he did it like that and that’s it. [LAUGHTER] Fantastic man. I thought at the time if he’d have been, you see, and what happened, and that stopped him making a lot of pictures. It didn’t do much good and I think if he’d have been given some more pictures to do then he, he’d have made a great impact then, from then on. Because he was at the age where it was all coming to him you know. He went to America and he’d come back, and I said to him, “What was it like?” And he said, “I met these producers”. And he’d do a quick whatshisname, sketch of some of these big American producers you know. The, the, er, mostly Jewish but er, big shot Jewish, mostly Jews in the business then. They knew how to do the job, didn’t they? The financial end but he was fantastic. And actually in those days he was one of the people who would go to the Annual General Meeting of the ACTT and get up and speak, because – I don’t know what your politics are – but we had a lot of left-wingers, out and out communists, and most people didn’t agree with their politics you know, and he was one.
I remember as a bunch we all went to ACT once – me and him to squash certain resolutions or something you see – a whole gang from the studio, and when we got there things were prolonged and prolonged and prolonged till everyone got so fed up and went home. Then when there was about fifty people left they passed all the resolutions, you see. [LAUGHTER] I don’t know what you’re politics are and I’m not running them down, everyone’s entitled to their …
ALAN LAWSON: When was that? Well, actually, we’ll talk about ACTT later on. There’s one film on the list that probably was quite interesting from your point of view because it was made so quickly that’s The Lion has Wings.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, that was a propaganda film. The director was, er, oh …
ALAN LAWSON: Didn’t everyone have a hand in that?
HARRY MILLER: Well, not really, er, lots of people did, but he used to be either an Ealing or a Gaumont director, didn’t he?
ALAN LAWSON: I can’t think who it was.
HARRY MILLER: Because I remember I was given this job to do…
ALAN LAWSON: Alex produced it, didn’t he? I think he did.
HARRY MILLER: Did he? I can’t remember that. A patriotic thing he done wasn’t it? Because I remember that, er, in order … all these factories making munitions and things, to put sounds to them all you know in such a quick time you, you really had to have, I was much younger, I was able to cope with it all, you know, and use diff … Mangles turning fast, and things, and different things for different sounds. Took the mangles in Genevieve, the old clock that used to wake them up at night in the digs that was a conglomeration of a mangle going round, among other things for old Cornelius. [LAUGHTER] Er, but, er, The Lion has Wings you know that’s very early.
ALAN LAWSON: ‘39, as soon as the war broke out they put that into production. One other London Films production, which is now legendary, was never completed, I don’t suppose it got anywhere near laying tracks, and that, of course, was I Claudius. Did that ever have any part in your life?
HARRY MILLER: Well the only thing that I Claudius did was when they, they stopped production, didn’t they? And whatshisname, the big actor …
ALAN LAWSON: O’Brian and Laughton.
HARRY MILLER: Laughton was playing it and they stopped production, it was cancelled. Everyone thought that Alex had stopped it to get the insurance money or something, whether that was true or not I don’t know. But I remember they did quite a bit of shooting on it and we had a slack period at one time and old Wattie said to me “Anything you think you can do in the way of a short with transport, medieval transport, sort of a top priority?” And I remember going through all the Claudius and all these old things, getting the old chariots and all these different old things and making a short up of it. I don’t know what Watttie did with it but I never heard any more afterwards. But I did make one up from, purely from library stuff, you know? I Claudius, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Shall we move on from Denham then? You say from there you went to Shepperton, yes?
HARRY MILLER: At the, I was working at Denham when they decided to close Denham down and at that time I was under contract to Two Cities still. And, er, you’ve got the date I think there, haven’t you, somewhere?
ALAN LAWSON: Well not on this list no.
HARRY MILLER: Not on one of the sheets?
ALAN LAWSON: Beg your pardon, yes you were at Denham ‘36 to ’40 and ‘40 to ‘45 you were freelance for RKO and Two Cities. ‘45 to ‘48 Denham, Two Cities under contract to them, ‘48 to ‘69 at Pinewood.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, well when Denham closed down I was under contract like a lot of other people, in fact Herbert Smith, the studio manager, was under contract and er, they bought him out and I thought perhaps they’d buy me out and I would do all right out of this, but they didn’t. They transferred me with the studios to Pinewood, to the Rank Organisation, and I finished that contract out with Rank at Pinewood. Then I stayed with them to the end of my working days 1969. But I was under contract to Rank for the whole period, all that time, different times you know. We made quite a lot of pictures in those days, didn’t we too? You tell the names of the pictures I’ll probably …
ALAN LAWSON: Well, there are so many. In a way they don’t match up to that marvelous Denham era. There’s one on this list, which I rather enjoyed at the time and that’s A Night to Remember, story of the Titantic. HARRY MILLER: A Night to Remember yes, the Titanic, yes. There was whatsaname, Roy, no Roy Baker, nice chap, yeah. Roy Baker did that and it was quite a big thing to do sound-wise because there was no sound whatsoever with it except the dialogue bits and pieces. I remember going, taking the crowd out on the lot, shooting crowd reactions for people drowning, people getting mad and going off the top. I … so many tracks I shot for that scene. I made up different mixtures of water noises from different parts of the ship, different part noises of engines for different parts of the ship. The whole lot of that sound was, when the picture was finished and had been shown, been shown in London, the whole of that stuff that I’d given them for library was accidentally wiped, all those tracks, which was a pity because there were some very good tracks in there.
ALAN LAWSON: You did a one off Pandora and the Flying Dutchman it says, at Shepperton, yes? That was Albert Lewin. What do you remember of that Harry?
HARRY MILLER: Well, Al Lewin was, he had a, he had an earpiece, listening and he was quite a nice guy really. I think he had a bit of a crush on Ava Gardner because he used to go and she used to say, “Come and tell me I’ve got a phone call or something after about a quarter of an hour or so”. [LAUGHTER] Or else he was too keen on direct, teaching her things. Lovely chap. He said to me that the sound people in America hadn’t treated him all that well they deceived him a lot or something, he wasn’t very happy about it. Because I remember my first thing with Al was the scene with Mason and Ava Gardner on the beach. They recorded it with so much sea noise you couldn’t hear the dialogue at all, you see? And I said, I said to him, “We’ve got to post-synch this.” He said, “What about all the close-ups?” I said, “Well, the close-ups,” I said, “They are completely unusable too,” I said, “I’ve been through all the outtakes as well.” He said, “Well I think we ought to have another look at it”. And I’d already looked you see, so I said, “I’ll tell you what Al give me a half an hour with them one day when you’ve finished shooting one day”, I said, “and I’ll do a little test for you and you can sit in and see what you think”. He said he didn’t think we’d get the same performance you see. So I took them into the theatre and post-synched the sequence with them and they were both very good, both quite talented people, although Ava, she wasn’t just a showpiece, she could act. And we did this and just to let him get the feel of it all I put a very light sea noise behind it you know. And of course, this made my day with him because you know he’d not got this sort of service in America.
And then we had this motor racing sequence, I think, yes. And I took, I got a couple of racing cars out at some tracks and did some speed things not just straight speed stuff, doing turns and twists and stops and things, that they would never have allowed on the course but these drivers were willing so I let them do it you see. And then he had a lot of friends over from America, Al, and he wanted to show them this and I said “Let me do some sound on it first.” And I laid the tracks for this thing because he hadn’t finally cut it, and I made a quick rough dub and took it into the theatre and we, we showed it to them, these American people you see. And I sat on the fader and I helped it a bit you know, every now and again and could … I mean these things have got to be finalised in the dubbing theatre and not just a run. And he said, “Now that’s the sort of thing we get over here, the sort of sound we get over here” to all these people, you see, and I couldn’t get … he gave me my first television set as a present and he gave Ralph Kemplen something for his car.
And I had, had a cold and he, he’d say to the assistant director, “Down the village, get him a scarf,” you see, of course we were working all hours under the sun. And “What’s the food like Harry?” “Not very good Al,” “I will eat supper with you all at night now, I’ll and go and see the restaurant.” He went to the restaurant and you should have seen the difference in our meals at night, our supper meals, that now he was taking supper with us every night because he had to have the same as us right? He was that sort of a guy. He used to send me a Christmas card from America for a long time, long, many years. There was something I wanted to tell you about. He was the sort of man you could say, “Look Al we want this done” right? And he’d say, “Right!” and he would just do it, give instructions right away, that’s it and he trusted you that you weren’t leading him up the garden or something you know. I mean people in the studios in those days, you see, they would, in those days if you wanted a lamp changed on the Moviola at Shepperton it’s no good going to see the sound maintenance man you had to get one of the electricians to put that lamp in. But if the Moviola went a bit haywire our sound maintenance man had to do it you see. They had all these little restrictions and things going on and he was a great chap to work for.
ALAN LAWSON: The heyday of restrictive practices was it not? Do you remember more of them? I say the time of restrictive practices on the part of the Unions when there was so much dissention, demarcation disputes. Did you get involved with any of those?
HARRY MILLER: Well, when I first took this job on as sounds effects man there was no, none of the Unions had a grade catering for that. And then the carpenters and whatsaname people said, “We, we’ll make a grade or something.” So I said, “No.” and I joined the ACTT but they didn’t have a grade for it. But then they, I don’t know whether they made one or not but I was always a member of ACTT.
ALAN LAWSON: Ok any other films that come to mind from Pinewood, the Pinewood days? Purple Plain?
HARRY MILLER: Purple Plain, yes Purple Plain had an American director and it was the first picture that the art director did as a producer, Barn, Barnes was his name, he used to be the art director.
ROY FOWLER: Bryam, John Bryam.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, John Bryam. The first picture that John Bryam cut, John Bryam produced and Clive Donner directed and it had an American star …
ALAN LAWSON: Gregory Peck
HARRY MILLER: Gregory Peck and this director, and Gregory Peck, he’d done a picture of Gregory’s in the States beforehand and that’s why he was given the job of directing this one.
And I can always remember this director for one thing: he said to me one day, he said, you know “What do you think about this scene so-and-so?” he said, “Do you think we could cut it out?” I said, “No, I don’t think so.” And he said, “Come over and have a drink with me at the bar”, he said, “because I’m meeting John and Donner, Clive,” and, of course, they were mates of mine too you see, and he said, “Because I want to have someone to argue with them on my side because they’re two to one.” [LAUGHTER] But he was a great bloke he was, to work for. My son met him in the States and they were talking about me some years back and I think he came over here to do some more of some sort, but I don’t remember where. But what was it about, this Purple Plain?
ROY FOWLER: It’s a marvelous story, H E Bates, isn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, yes, yes. [PAUSE] I can remember a lot better than this when I’ve just woke up in the middle of the night. I remember John Bryam, who was an art director, I think I did one other film with him, I don’t know whether it was before or after about the gardener, the …
ALAN LAWSON: Was that The Spanish Gardener?
HARRY MILLER: The Spanish Gardener, right and he produced that, I think. Yes, yes he did, yes. And I remember he wanted to call some extras down to do some, lot of crowd reactions to the pelota game and things like that, the wall game and things like that you see. And he wanted to call some extras. Now the extras if you said to them, “Look, instead of saying jumble … jumble … jumble … jabba … jabba … aaa … abracadabra,” I said, “Could you say a line, and if you did it like this.” They’d hold a meeting and say, “We want more money we’re saying lines,” right, which used to annoy me because how could they feel in the mood and being angry with somebody for saying abracadabra, abracadabra you know. It’s ridiculous this bit of Unionism. And I said, “Call down, there’s a Spanish school, call down a bunch of students,” right. So John called this batch of students down and he was sitting in the theatre while I shot these tracks you see snd many a time afterwards he’d always say to me “Who could have got that from those people but you?” [LAUGHTER] Because, I, I had them. I was so polite to them all, you know? I sort of nearly groveled to them to start off with, saying, you know, “You must help me” and all this “I haven’t a clue about all this so I am relying on you,” you know and they all got into the things of being young students they really got, really on top of it all. We got some fantastic tracks and old John always remembered that because he kept saying on The Spanish Gardener “You, you’ll get the performance alright out of them,” you know, “I’ll leave it to you, and, er, er …”
ALAN LAWSON: There’s another very, very famous film on your list, Genevieve. Cornelius. What about that?
HARRY MILLER: Cornelius I knew when he was an editor mostly you see and he directed he, he directed this thing. I just gave the garden roller away that he gave me for doing Genevieve. [LAUGHTER] Well Genevieve he, he ran short of money towards the end. And I looked at the rough cut and I thought, “Blimey, this is going to be a winner,” and in spite of several things about this picture which I’ll explain to you. And I said, he said, “I can’t afford this, and we’ll have to wait and see. I’ve got someone coming down to talk about some end money,” or something and I said, “How much do you want Corny, and if I’ve got a chance to put a few bob in it and I’ll do it.” But he said, “No” he said “I want to get it all in one go if I can Harry.” You know? And anyway he got the money, the end money, from someone and I never had any money in Genevieve, which was unfortunate.
But as far as continuity he was a world of his own. I mean you could see say, Spyker coming down in his old car down the Mews pelting with rain, right and he’d get out the car and it was dry and the sun would shine and he’d walk in. And I … he’d say, “People never notice it,” and he had a line saying, “Every director has a right to one mistake in his own films.” That was his line. And when I’d say to him … oh, when I went to shoot all these car tracks, all these old crocks, I’d laid on a sound crew and arranged to do it all round on the lot. And on the morning when we get there to start shooting the snow’s about 3” deep, and it’s snowing like hell and I think John Mitchell was recording the sound, so we had to devise ways and means of getting all those old crock cars standing still in a garage mate most of them, which was very difficult I must say. And another line of Corny’s was, I’d say to Corny, “How about … what do you think about … Corny, it needs a little lift?” “I want a nice sexy train whistle there.” [LAUGHTER] That’s a line of Corny’s.
I remember I’d just bought a house at Ealing just by the Broadway there, Common there, and he sent his secretary down to say “We hear you’ve just bought a new house. Now, what is it you need in the house?” So, this secretary, well, “What do you need? What about the garden?” I said, “Anything for the garden, yes.” So this roller, this garden roller rolled up about two days later.
He used to wear a beret, sort of French beret, and before he became the producer as an editor he’d go into the theatre and he’d put this hat down and we rigged up a little wheel thing coming out from the recording room with a piece of thread coming down and we used to tie this thread round a little cloth thing on top of the beret and he’d go to walk over to get his hat and it used to go up above there, you see and he’d get up on the chair and the seats, the row of seats, and it would go up a bit higher. And he was a, he was a great, he was a great guy.
ALAN LAWSON: Are there any other films that come to mind for one reason or another or shall we go back now to technique? Oh, I’m sorry yes of course, the Bond films, the Bond films that you worked on we should touch on those should we not? Your first was From Russia with Love you missed Dr No?
HARRY MILLER: Yes. Well I went onto the Bonds to just to do dialogues. Well, I went on to do the whole sound but the saddest thing was that some of these actors were foreigners who couldn’t speak English and we just had to re-voice them. So Peter Hunt was the editor and he was a very competent editor you know he had a flair, I mean at the beginning he didn’t have all the technical bits but in no time he had them you know. But he had a flair for cutting too and he really would recut the Bonds after the director and people had finished them and they’d give him a go at it too you know, because he really had a flair for cutting, Peter. But we used to get so many people who couldn’t speak English properly that we had to re-voice so many lines, so many people that, you know I just concentrated on the dialogues most of the time. Norman Wonstall came in as dubbing editor then and he did all the tracks and things you know. He’d come in and say, “Got any ideas about this?” or something and then he became quite a competent dubbing editor and another chappie, I forget, took over from him and they were both very good. But basically I just mainly did dialogues on those Bonds.
ROY FOWLER: Did you enjoy it?
HARRY MILLER: Yes. Cubby Broccoli, a very nice chap to work for the producer. Well, there was Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli. But you didn’t see much of Harry Saltzman except at rushes and he dealt mainly with Cubby and Cubby took over. And he’s a very nice man to work for.
ALAN LAWSON: What was Cubby’s input? What was his contribution to the films that you saw?
HARRY MILLER: Quite a lot. I mean, he would, I mean he … basically I mean I was never in any discussions with anybody but he’d see rushes and, you know and he’d have quite a lot of say in the rushes about casting and all this sort of thing. Peter Hunt used to have a go at all the pictures at that stage and then they gave him one to direct. Can you cut that for a minute? [PAUSED] But in spite of Peter Hunt you know first directing a big picture like that I, I think he made a swell job of it of a bloke who couldn’t act. I mean he at least made it presentable, you know. Because Peter lived, just lived the Bonds in those days. I, I can … if when the director saw it and said “That’s the cut, that’s it”, he’d go to America or somewhere or leave then Peter would sit down and start work on them.
ALAN LAWSON: Now, Harry, can we go a little bit backwards now really and start talking about the technique of working with optical sound, sound tracks? You know in the latter days, I mean in the early days of editing with sound it was very crude but it did become a little bit more sophisticated, didn’t it? Can you describe what the technique was like kind of round about the ‘39s, working with optical tracks?
HARRY MILLER: ‘39s. Um, what were we making around that time, from whose position?
ROY FOWLER: You were at Denham The Spy in Black.
HARRY MILLER: From whose position?
ALAN LAWSON: From the dubbing editor’s position.
HARRY MILLER: Oh, well working with optical I mean, the whole time I was working with optical it was much easier for me. The only thing was that you got the better quality with the tape. Secondly, that’s first, you … you were able to read tracks and things much easier than on the tape, which was working blind really. Thirdly, with the optical you always shoot it and had to wait for the next day’s rushes before you could start work, with tape you could go straight away and work on it, except for numbering it. I mean it saved such a lot of time.
ALAN LAWSON: Now, yes. Before you had tape joiners you had problems didn’t you, really if you made a cut and it was a wrong one you had to get a reprint or something?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, you … you mean picture wise?
ALAN LAWSON: No, sound wise too. Both in fact, of course.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, you did really. Yes, well with a tape you can put a sprocket hole in it and tape it in, or take a sprocket hole out and you’d never hear it now but with the optical it would cause a big great clonk. But we, we got over a lot of that by blooping the whole bit out. But if it was in the middle of a line, of course, you were sunk you had to wait for a reprint.
ALAN LAWSON: Magnetic tracks, I mean, they … did they make your life easier as far as laying tracks was concerned?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, the only things is at the beginning it was all new as I say, and lots of people had to order up optical tracks of the same thing in order to see what was, where the things were, which was rather expensive and that went on for quite a while with certain people.
ALAN LAWSON: Now, obviously life was made a little easier I suppose, but in fact only in the immediate. Has life become easier for the editor now or are the pressures too great?
HARRY MILLER: I think the pressures, I think that the only pressures on the editors now is that they get a little more time to do it in than we used to have. Some of these pictures the final dates were given by people who had, didn’t know what had to be done. I can remember an accountant ringing me up once, saying “Could we leave the dubbing till after the showing”, after it had been released or something, you know [LAUGHTER] to give you an idea of the sort of thing. But tape, you see the handling of film was much easier because with optical you had to be so careful of getting the bits of dust and dirt and things on it, you used to go through the velvet and clean them all so much more. With the tape you can give it a lot more rougher usage, and run it into bins and wind it up more quickly and everything, it was much easier to handle the tape. And you had the added benefit of so much more volume and better quality.
ALAN LAWSON: Now, in the latter years you know when magnetic had come in what machine, what kind of editing machine did you favour?
HARRY MILLER: Well I always favoured the Moviola. Apart from the other editing machines I always found that the Moviola was, were the easiest to handle, maybe because I had always handled one. But I mean they did make other, other things like I went down to MGM to do Nine Hours to Rama and the, and the machine they gave me was of those things from the firm at Denham by the Old Mill there.
ALAN LAWSON: Steenbeck?
HARRY MILLER: No it was the same as the Moviola in its way.
ROY FOWLER: That was the ACMIOLA.
HARRY MILLER: But when you, you put your foot on to start it went [WHISTLE] like an aeroplane, you see. And when I went into MGM to do Nine Hours to Rama and I called my old mate D P Field over, I said “This is ridiculous”, and within the lunch hour he’d got a transformer in or, or a condenser in that restricted the motor like the Moviola and made it a lot more easier. But I always found that they weren’t so easy to handle as the old, as the old Moviola. Because on the old Moviola you could hold the old whatshisname wheel that you rewound on sometimes and slow it down and stop it. With the old other ones they [WHISTLE] you know you’d have half your hand gone or something. But, er, that’s the Moviolas. And of course we only had the little …
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, the bull’s eye, the bull’s eye viewer, yes? It has been said about you you could tell half a frame out of synch.
HARRY MILLER: I think so yes, without lying. People used to say to me that you know its nonsense and projectionists used to say, “Oh, you can’t tell two frames out of synch. You can’t do this.” You see if you sit at a Moviola for a number of years that I’ve sat at it it’s not an accomplishment really, it is just experience and you get so used to it. And if you were used to putting sprocket holes in and taking sprocket holes out to make it fit you know you became quite aware when you saw it on the screen that you weren’t getting back what you’d put in. And it’s just, it’s like a man, a painter he gets used to painting, doesn’t he? or …
ALAN LAWSON: It’s also you know, I think it’s been said, and said in a very nice way, you’re the grand-daddy of sound editors. Tell us about some of your grandchildren. I mean there is Wyn Ryder you’ve already talked about, any other you’ve …
HARRY MILLER: Well, yes, I mean there’s Wyn Ryder started dubbing with me. He used to be the second assistant to Jack Harris and he was a very good assistant in no time, you see, because he’d already been in the sound department.
ALAN LAWSON: That’s right at Ealing yes?
HARRY MILLER: And most of the assistants didn’t know much about sound. I had some very good assistants, like Archie Ludsky??. I … my trouble is I was speaking to them all a fortnight ago and I can’t remember their names. They’re all saying “Look we’d learnt this from you at Denham”. All my assistants I had were good you know and all went on to better things.
ROY FOWLER: How did you select an assistant, what did you look for?
HARRY MILLER: When I selected an assistant, I just looked at them and what they were personally, whether they looked as if they would be interested in the job and they were. In those days you could get an assistant that was always late in, roll in about half past nine to ten, wanted a break for lunch about half an hour before the lunch hour, another hour for tea and all that, sitting there in the restaurant, ready to go home at no time. If you’d say “How about a bit of overtime?” until they got paid for the overtime they weren’t all that interested. But I mean most of the assistants I’ve had have all been dedicated people in the film industry and the way I used to talk to them and listen to them, if they were talking about a film they were working on they’d always say “Now, my film” not the film I’m working on but ‘my film’ you know, and they were all so interested in the films they were working on. You can tell a lot from this angle.
ALAN LAWSON: Now which of the directors if you like has given you the most help you know in carrying out your job?
HARRY MILLER: I think you can learn something from any director, even if they are new they have all got something that sold them into the job. When I’ve talked about David Lean and Carol Reed and those people I mean I think they’d been through the business and they were the tops because they’d learnt it so thoroughly. In addition to which they’d got this artistic flair that gave them the edge on their directing. I have met quite a lot of directors who knew nothing at all about sound and you’d say something and they’d say “What for?” you know. I have worked for directors who simply would say, “Look we’re going to have music there we don’t want any footsteps, we don’t way any effects, or anything, and we’ve got to keep the cost down.” And you get in the dubbing theatre and then suddenly the music would be so repetitious and so boring they’d say “Couldn’t we do something to liven this thing up?” I can quote you names, but I won’t. I used to lay a couple of tracks to cover these occasions and nine out of ten they were needed. It is only because they didn’t know anything about sound.
ALAN LAWSON: You were talking about music. What do you feel about the use of music in films?
HARRY MILLER: I think it is a pretty essential item, I think that music can do such a lot for films. You get people say, like McCullum, he was great at handling music and dialogue he used to get the music coming through without interfering with the dialogue. He always hit the right level and knew when to bring it up and down in between dialogue and things to give point to thing, he was a great artist in that respect. You get some mixers they’d put a music track on and it’s running through there and suddenly you find a line swamped or something so you’d say “Take it down” and they’d take the lot down but he’s working on the music track the whole way through. You know you get the good and the bad and the inexperienced and experienced people in the business, fortunately I’ve met most of the very good ones in my time and had the pleasure of working with them.
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Start Tape 3, Side 5 [Some material has been lost at the start]
HARRY MILLER: … this type of people were interested in.
ALAN LAWSON: You can’t remember who it was who recruited you into ACT?
HARRY MILLER: I think someone would say, “Let’s have a talk about it after we finish tonight” and we’d go into one of the rooms and we’d have a chat and think about and we were then discussing whether the ETU, or the NATU, or what unions, you see. We came to the conclusion our Union we wanted to be a bit snobbish maybe but a little bit out of the rut of the trades’ people and I think it became the general trend of our thoughts, so we joined ACTT. But we didn’t seem to get anywhere with ACTT except paying our subs. I think old, is Captain Cope still alive?
ALAN LAWSON: No, no I don’t think so.
HARRY MILLER: He used to come and collect the subs at Elstree, in the pub opposite. Then there used to be one chap in the cutting room who collected all the cutting room subs and then if anyone was hard up he’d let them have a sub until the end of the week. [LAUGHTER] But basically they were all good people. I think Sid Cole I mentioned he was quite interested in the Union at that time and there was a Scottish editor there when the offices were in Soho, early.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, I remember his name, Neil Brown.
HARRY MILLER: Yes Brown people like that. They were always talking about the Union and doing what they could to enlist people and as I say, we joined it en bloc as a department and we left them en bloc and got the best conditions that they had ever got. Then when I left there they were still in the ETU at Elstree, I don’t know what they are in now.
ROY FOWLER: They are all back in ACTT.
HARRY MILLER: Are they? Yes. My earliest number in ACT was very low. Then when I went to Denham you were not supposed to be in any Union otherwise they didn’t want you to work there and so I dropped my ETU ticket, with the consent of the ETU branch, and then we had a meeting there because of the conditions and we agreed that we needed to be in the Union. And then this question came up about what Union and we took the same attitude as we did funny enough at ABPC what kind of Union we wanted, so we all rejoined again and I’ve been in it ever since.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you ever hold any position at all?
HARRY MILLER: Look actually I was always working too many hours in my job to really take an active part, I went to all the meetings and supported the Union. In fact I went to all the ACT meetings because I thought we should be paid overtime, but the point is you see the assistants at this time all got paid overtime. In fact some weeks the assistants got more than the editors in salary because of the overtime but they outnumbered the editors numerically when it came to the voting. The idea I think they felt that the editors were getting enough money without overtime. You kept hearing about all these golden hours in American they got paid and thought “Well, why are we slavering away?” It was this time off in lieu that the firms used to offer didn’t work out so much because you found that your time off in lieu only came round in the winter time not when you wanted to take it.
ALAN LAWSON: What do you think ACT’s standing was up to the war years?
HARRY MILLER: Well it was a bit in and out. We had our little cliques of Union in the studios but we found that there were lots of people doing moonlighting and stuff. In the old days the editors paid their assistants they took a price for cutting a film and then they paid the assistant, originally right. Now then suddenly they found that the old schedule’s going up the spout and they were working much more longer hours and longer periods and still paying the assistants and so they all wanted to be in the Union and get something done, it was a question of getting the Union to do something. I don’t think the Union really understood what amount of push they had in the studios, in the sound department and editorial.
ALAN LAWSON: Do you think there’s a future for ACTT now in the industry generally you know?
HARRY MILLER: I think it’s needed, ACTT is needed like it’s always been needed. You see once you get an employer getting cheap labour he’s not going to disperse it and throw it away, he’s going to keep it going and he’s not going to go out of his way. All this talk about giving them incentives and things doesn’t really work out in real life.
ALAN LAWSON: Do you think ACT has played a useful role?
HARRY MILLER: Oh yes, I think it’s played quite a good role, a very good role yes. I haven’t always agreed with some of the executives I think we could have done a lot better. I can remember lots of occasions where you got to the stage where you mistrusted certain local people of cutting your stroke with the other Unions sort of thing. During the war there were all these meetings where we would go, go to the Joint Works Committee things, and all this you know, and they would vote for all these things, help to Russia and all these things, and they were more concerned with the other Unions’ aspect of life instead of ACT and they used to be in complete conflict with us. You had to watch these people.
ROY FOWLER: Are you talking about the paid Union staff, the shop stewards or the members in the office?
HARRY MILLER: No, no, just the members.
ALAN LAWSON: Have you ever made any TV commercials?
HARRY MILLER: No, no.
ALAN LAWSON: Now which of all the films you have worked on has given you the most pleasure?
HARRY MILLER: It is hard to say. I think I got a lot of pleasure out of Odd Man Out and The Way Ahead, those films. In spite of other things that went, I thought Henry V was quite … working with Reggie Beck on that picture, for example and the people I worked with had a lot to do with it all. That gave me a lot of pleasure. I can’t really pick out, I got a lot of pleasure out of A Night to Remember because there was a lot of research, signals and nautical things that went on on the boats and things. I can always remember the chap who directed, not directed produced A Night to Remember the Irishman …
ROY FOWLER: Bill MacQuilty?
HARRY MILLER: No.
ROY FOWLER: Wasn’t it Bill MacQuilty? I thought it was.
HARRY MILLER: Kevin somebody. He got the rights to one of the Bonds and made a Bond.
ROY FOWLER: I know whom you mean there.
HARRY MILLER: Kevin McClory is it, or something like that?
ROY FOWLER: Kevin McClory. But did he do A Night to Remember?
HARRY MILLER: I’m sure he did. Roy Baker directed it. I think it was A Night to Remember at the premiere instead of the people introducing the artists they had the artists introducing the technicians for once. I don’t think it’s ever been done again and I think it was that one. We had a meeting. I had Kenny More introduce me. And anyway some of these artists introduced all the technicians. We had stars introducing us. This Kevin bloke, director, he called me up to his office the next day and said something about “Well, thank you so-and-so, it all went well. Are you happy about everything?” I said, “Yes, I’m alright, why you’ve paid me?” I said “I got paid for my work” and that’s about all. He didn’t know much about it he was one of those directors who really didn’t know a lot technically although he had worked as a boom man or something in his life or something. He had other good qualities maybe, you know, but as far as our line he wasn’t very conversant with it all. He said, “Well, you got the biggest hand there tonight so you ought to be happy.” I said, “That was all my mates in there.” [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Fine on that score. Which is the one that has probably given you the most headaches?
HARRY MILLER: Headaches? I don’t think any of them really gave me headaches I used to take them as challenges.
ALAN LAWSON: [LAUGHTER] Any of them you’d like to forget?
HARRY MILLER: No, not really. You see in my time if you weren’t interested in your job you wouldn’t have stuck it because the hours and the pay were never really up to the standards they should have been for the work we were doing.
ROY FOWLER: Could we talk about pay for a moment? What were they paying you at Denham when you were there?
HARRY MILLER: Well, it varied. I used to get different contracts for a year, or two years. At one time for example there was a bit of a slump on and they were paying editors I think, about 20 quid a week and I was getting 40. Latter when the freelancing situation got more stronger you know things veered round again then I could have earned a lot more money in the latter part of my days. I was in the pension scheme for Rank, still am, and this really kept me tied to them for a bit. Actually they have been very good to me, the Rank Organisation as regards pension and they sort of upgraded it and made it index-linked, I am very pleased that they have done this and grateful to them for it. But they have always been good to me in the sense that I could choose my own pictures, they would consult me and say “Which one of these? Do want to do that or do that, what do you think?” I wasn’t told to do things. Then in the latter half my salary, I could have made a lot more money I know that because they got the money that I would be getting because they were only too happy to tie me up and get the money.
ALAN LAWSON: It must give you quite a bit of pleasure to know that your own family and your grandchildren are following you up?
HARRY MILLER: It’s nice you know because they are all doing so well at it too you know. I mean Jonathan, he’s only 21 he’s a fully-fledged dubbing editor. Sue is an assistant editor but my grandson Jonathan and my granddaughter not only can they edit film in the capacity that they’re engaged at but they can sit down and edit and manipulate the video, all the video equipment, intricate stuff I mean, both of them. Of course my son is a producer, writer mainly, writer/producer. It’s nice to think that they’ve all got a living in front of them. Susan had quite a job getting her Union ticket but I think she got it a couple of months ago.
ROY FOLWER: Jim Cunnock doesn’t let people in lightly!
HARRY MILLER No but the point was that she was working and I think there was someone who, down at this end of the thing, one of the Union reps who thought that because she was the daughter of a producer or something she shouldn’t have any preferential treatment. Not on her merits at all. But Alan Sapper sorted that all out.
ALAN LAWSON: Harry if you could start again would you change?
HARRY MILLER: Well you see I had two careers really.
ALAN LAWSON: Well I reckon you have had three.
HARRY MILLER: What’s the third one?
ALAN LAWSON: On the boards themselves [LAUGHTER]
HARRY MILLER: I can remember we had a show and the scene was a song shot and the whole stage was like platforms and there were swinging doors. On one side there was songs like Lily of Laguna or something like this – all the old ones – and you turned this thing round and someone would come in and sing that one and on the other side there was another song. Prior to this scene there were front tabs where two blokes walked on, and one said “Where you going?” and one said, “I’m going so-and-so”. And he said, “Oh, I don’t want to go today I want to hear some of the good old songs” right, “And where’s that?” and we’d both exit an opening to this scene. This chap was ill one night so I went on and the chap who was doing the lines, he was a bit of humourist you see and I said “I want to hear some of these old, old lovely old songs and that’s where I want to go” “Such as what, such as what?” you see, “Like Alabama bound” you see. “How’s that go?” you see, and I said “I’m Alabama bound” right and do a bit of a buck right? And walked on and he said, “Right, let’s go.” That night Julian Wylie was sitting in front he used to come along sometimes and sit in front and not tell you, right. And he said “That’s in” and I said, “You’re joking, it’s out!” [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Anyway coming back, would you want to start again do you think?
HARRY MILLER: Well, the only regret I have about the industry is that I never had enough time with my wife and son, family. I realise that now. I think my wife was a hero to stand the hours, you know and I never remember her ever making a complaint about it, well she did once to Cubby Broccoli. He threw a party at the Café Royale and I’d been re-voicing an artist in the studio all day and went home, dressed and she said “There’s no shop tonight, eh, because when all you people get together there’s nothing but shop.” At the top Cubby and his wife are waiting to greet all the guests and we get to the top and he says, “Harry, how are you? Mrs Miller, have a nice time. How did it go Harry?” and my wife said “I thought we weren’t going to have any shop tonight.” “You’re quite right Mrs Miller. Go on!” See my son, you go home so late in the early hours in the morning they’re asleep in bed and you’re up and away. And in fact Geoff Foote was doing a film at Pinewood and I was dubbing it and he lived in Denham Village he was staying in lodgings there you see and we used to work until about 4 o’clock in the morning. I give him a lift in my car and drop him off in the village and I can always remember his landlady met me one morning and she said “You’re a wicked man keeping this young boy out at these hours at night.” I said “He’s keeping me out mate.” [LAUGHTER] But we did put some terrible hours in and your family life suffers from it, doesn’t it? That’s my only regret. Otherwise I’d do it all again, I suppose so.
ROY FOWLER: Harry leaving you own work aside for one moment, it’s apparent you have a very perceptive ear for soundtrack do you have a favourite of any other filmmaker’s work, a film the soundtrack of which you have particularly admired?
HARRY MILLER: Well it’s one I made up myself and I’ve heard it in millions and millions of films all over the world. On In Which We Serve, I think it was, they said to me “Would I dub the film?” And I was working on an RKO film and I said, “I’m sorry but I just cannot …” They said “Would you work at nights on it”, David Lean and Co. I said, “Well this picture I’ve got is fairly tough picture and I don’t think I’d do it.” So I said “I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you, I’ll shoot the tracks for you.” Thelma Myers was dubbing the film then and so I had a quick look at the thing and I shot lots of the important tracks they wanted. In the film where a ‘plane is shot down they have this noise I suppose you have heard it in millions of war films – whistle … bonk, crash – and I can always remember I shot the tracks to do that. And I shot another thing with piano wires going all the way round, constant wind, a camera motor on a resistor and, with sound you get a lot of sound resonating from other surfaces and, and things and when it’s damp you can cut a lot of the base out and things like that. But it is a question of knowing sound a bit and I got all these tracks and sent them over to the theatre to do this track, it had to be a pre-dub of about six or seven or eight tracks. Then I got a message from David Lean saying, “They don’t seem to be understanding mixing this track Harry.” I said, “Well tell Mac” MacCullum was doing it, “tell Mac so-and-so” and he said “Right”. Then Mac said, “Would you come over for a couple of minutes?” So I went over and it was just a question of knowing what to do and what to use to build up and do all this. And we mixed this track and I’ve heard it in so many films over the years you know what I mean, that I’ve always thought, ‘cor blimey if I had got a royalty on that I’d have made a few bob wouldn’t I? Eh?
ROY FOWLER: You would indeed. Well I hope you made a few bob anyway. [LAUGHTER]
HARRY MILLER: Well I thought I had until … I’ve lived through the worst period of inflation since I retired. When I retired inflation was at its highest so I’ve had bad times for that way, so I’ve managed to survive financially but I wouldn’t say I’d buy 10,000 P&Os or BPs. The minimum would be more my mark! [LAUGHTER]
ROY FOWLER: Well, that’s been a very rewarding interview. Do you have anything else that comes to your mind to add?
HARRY MILLER: Dallas Bower had a car that I always liked it was a Jowett because Dallas would say the further you go up a hill, the stronger it gets. And it became my ambition to get a Jowett and I bought this Jowett from a Salvation Army general who wrote me a letter saying “This car is fit to go from Land’s End to John O’Groats”. And I think I paid the princely sum of £20 or £40 I forget, £20 I have a feeling. Second-hand, short chassis Jowett. On the way home when I went to pick it up I had to stop at a garage because things were happening and the bloke says “Cor blimey” he says, “This gearbox has been stuffed with sawdust.” I had to leave it there and he gave me a statement of what needed doing. And I think I mentioned this chap Ben Fisher, a mixer, he had a really legal mind and I said “Ben give me a hand to concoct the reply to this general so-and-so.” I told him all about it. So, he helped me with this letter to send back and this general said “I see that you have taken legal advice on this matter” he said “therefore I am quite willing to meet all the expenses that are due for putting this car in order at this garage and they’ll send me the invoice and I’ll pay it.” So I paid I think £20 for this car and I think he paid about £40 odd to have it repaired, I’d only driven two miles in it. [LAUGHTER] In those days the only place you could get Jowetts serviced in London I know was a place up Hampstead Heath, up Haverstock Hill. Right at the top there’s this little bloke who did all Jowetts, nothing else, and they were really a bit of a mystery these Jowetts. You’d go to a garage and they’d say, “I don’t know anything about them.” But that gave me lots of good service, my Jowett, once I’d found this bloke to do any maintenance jobs. Dallas is not here now is he?
ALAN LAWSON: Oh yes, he’s still alive.
HARRY MILLER: He’d probably remember the Jowett then. Yes, he’ll remember it.
RAY FOWLER: He’s very well.
HARRY MILLER Is he? Oh that’s great. Give him my best wishes if you see him. He may not remember me.
ROY FOWLER: I’m sure he will.
ALAN LAWSON: I think he will. He’s got a very good memory.
HARRY MILLER: Very nice chap. I remember they did a film at Elstree with Jimmy Rogers was the cameraman and Ernie, who did the ‘Carry Ons’ cameraman, Ernie Stewart was the assistant and we went out to Spain to do it. We stayed at this hotel at a place called Ronda and we had this director, I think he was a BBC type or something you know, a bit Shakespearean air, a bit you know, and didn’t know much about films. But I can always remember when we got back we had to do a retake of half of it because he did such a lot of standing them up against a rock [LAUGHTER] Maid of the Mountains right? The cameraman who took over I saw recently was Ernie Palmer. He had a mate used to do stills called Jock somebody. They were great Chinas you know, well we all were in those early days.
But I can always remember that Maid of the Mountain because we got down there and one of the interpreters said, “Would you like to see this night club? There was a company here a fortnight ago and they all went there and they loved it.” We said, “Yes we’ll go there and have a drink there.” And we got to this place and we were all sitting down and having a drink and there was this Duenna, they called her Duenna, walked in followed by about eight funny shaped women, all nude. He said, “Take your pick.” So we all picked our glasses up and left you see. [LAUGHTER]. Because they really looked you know? We’d never met anything like this before, it goes part of the bill of fare or something.
I remember that Jimmy Wilson he had a bedroom facing the front of the hotel and outside this bedroom there was all these prickly plants, great big bushes enormous cactuses all along the front there. We had a guy, I forget what his job was, a second assistant or something, he had a bedroom next to mine, the other side of this passage. So we were always playing jokes and I said I’d got this thing that women wear a stole thing, like a fur thing, about that thick, about that long. We tied a bit of string on it and put it in his bed, we pulled the string out through the corridor into Jimmy’s room and this bloke says, “Well, I think I’ll got to bed,” you see. So we’re all looking and listening you see and this bloke goes into bed and about five minutes later we hear this bloody terrible shout “Aghhhhh” the door opened and he dashed out straight through Jimmy’s door, which was open, straight through the window right down into the cactus and we were using tweezers for about a week afterwards. So we did have some fun on some of these excursions. [LAUGHTER]
ROY FOWLER: There was no time for social life I suppose outside the unit was there?
HARRY MILLER: Not really, no, no, no.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you do any other locations at all? You told us about the Swiss one and the Spanish one. Did you do any other location work?
HARRY MILLER: Once I’d got into the dubbing bit I went on a film when it sort of finished shooting I could go somewhere and shoot tracks. I remember a film they shot of this plane that was faster than sound and everything, one of the futuristic planes I’ve forgotten the name of it. And Freddy Wilson was editing and he said to me “Well, I don’t know what this plane is doing or what it’s like, they’re all in a muddle.” They’re doing all models of them you see, and he couldn’t cut them together until he got these models. So I had to get these straight. Down at Wattisham airfield they’d got these new jets so I got them to fix up a couple of days there for me. And I went down there and the boom man, he became a dubbing mixer later on, he was a bit of a lady killer, and I can remember we were up on the control tower and he was standing outside with the boom stick and the mic on the end you see. I made them laugh because in the script it said they want you to do something like 3Gs or something, which I didn’t know what it was and they all laughed these Squadron Leaders who were flying these planes. They laughed like hell you see. I said “I want you to come up to this control tower, dive straight out and go straight up like that right and then do another circle round, do all these sort of things to give me some things for these models, doing all these sorts of things faster than sound mate” and so they said yes. So over the control tower suddenly the voice would say, “Am now at so-and-so, five miles distance am now turning” and I’d have to say to the bloke on the thing “Turn over” because before you knew where you were they were here. And as they flew at this thing and went up like this, old Bill holding the stick he went up too. [LAUGHTER] He came down. I remember it was raining hard and it had just stopped and all the hardcore where the jets were lined up was soaking wet, puddles and everything and I said I want to record one starting up after the other right, as soon as one engine started up the whole ground dried up just like that. Then the other thing that was funny was that they had the WAAFs there. So Bill makes a dive at one of these WAAFs you see, and she has a friend who was a bit stout, and he said “Why don’t you come to the hotel and have a drink tonight?” So she said, “Yes, love to”, you see. So Bill’s all primed, and his mate, I forget who the other chap was, for these two WAAFs to come and have a drink with them that night. When they arrived they had about four servicemen with them. [LAUGHTER] Bill spent the rest of his overtime money that week buying them all drinks. But those planes could fly! I remember the film when we’d finished it and the sound got a write-up saying “When S407 or something is in the air the film becomes interesting.” [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Was this the Barnes Wallace film? Was it the film Barnes Wallace who was the jet man?
ALAN LAWSON: No, Barnes Wallace I don’t think was the jet man he was the Dam Busters. It wasn’t the Lean picture? That was a very good film, Breaking Through the Sound Barrier? He did that at Shepperton, this was at Pinewood?
HARRY MILLER: This was one it was a futuristic film about this wonderful plane that they’d invented and way faster than today’s time even.
ROY FOWLER: Who was in it? Might think of it that way.
HARRY MILLER: Can’t really remember to tell you the truth.
ROY FOWLER: It obviously made no mark.
HARRY MILLER: No, not really.
ROY FOWLER: Did you have much to do with the executives at Pinewood when you were there? Was Sydney Box there in your time?
HARRY MILLER: Sydney Box came there and did one film about South Africa, Diamond City, with David MacDonald directing. I dubbed that and then his wife did one, Muriel Box, she did one and then I did a couple for Betty and Sydney. Peter Rogers, he was a producer, yes. But Muriel directed it
ALAN LAWSON: Muriel directed it and Betty worked with either Gerald or Ralph Thomas.
HARRY MILLER: Ralph Thomas told me at one time “All we get out of this is a new car every year you know.” But Gerry Thomas was a very nice chap he did all the Carry Ons. I never did any of the Carry Ons. I may have done one of the Doctors, or something, it’s so long ago some of these things. One of those I might have done it wasn’t Doctor in the House. You know the chap with the beard, Robertson Justice he was in one of these that I did. I can’t remember which one it was. With the students, and all that.
ROY FOWLER: I thought that was Doctor in the House.
ALAN LAWSON: There was a series.
ROY FOWLER: But I think that was the first one.
HARRY MILLER: It was one of those probably.
ALAN LAWSON: How about Earl St John. Did you run into him?
HARRY MILLER: Yes I used to get on very well with the old Earl because he used to live at Finchley. He had a house at Finchley and he became executive producer at Pinewood and was he at Denham? Yes, he was. I had a house at Finchley. We talked sometimes and I used to go and see rushes sometimes early when he saw them. I’ll tell you something about him – he’d say to me “Your contract Harry” we’d walk across the car park to the admin block and he’d say, “By the way your contract comes up for renewal or for looking at, or something” and he’d say “Well, don’t go on to so-and-so.” So I had a friend at court you know what I mean? I used to get on very well with him. I can always remember him and John Davis. John Davis had a film called Robbery under Arms done it was all shot in Australia. Most of the dialogue and the sound was unusable for aeroplanes and different things you know and we had to do an awful lot of post-synching. And at that time John Davis called a meeting of everybody in the studios in the Board Room to discuss finishing films. And he said, “I’ve decided that in future you’ll have so much for fine cutting, so much for so much and so much for the final print.” And I was dubbing Robbery under Arms you see and there’s all the directors and the producers all there you see, and then nobody said anything, maybe they thought it wiser not to at that stage you see. And so I said, “Well in the case of Robbery under Arms that’s impossible”. And he gave me a look that would freeze the icicles off the top of your nose and he said “Why not?” And I told him why not and he said “Well, in the case of er, I’ll have to rethink about doing any more films like this out on these exteriors, or give it another thought,” right? And then a little later they were talking about the finishing of films and he said, “We seem to be taking too much time on the dubbing and all these effects and things that that you’ve got to put on.” The Earl said, “Well I think it gives it all a bit of a polish you know, which I think is very necessary” and he really stood up for me at that stage.
ROY FOWLER: John Davis actually would come down and pass on these instructions in person would he?
HARRY MILLER: No, no. He came down and saw rushes once or twice a week maybe. He never really discussed except at Board Meetings like this. This happened to be at one of these Board Meetings when he was telling everybody. I mean you didn’t discuss things really with John Davis he just told you you know. Mind you he did a wonderful thing for Rank didn’t he?
ROY FOWLER: Well he saved them I suppose but at what cost?
HARRY MILLER: Well the Xerox mate.
ROY FOWLER: Well, yes, yes, I think that was a lucky accident rather than any particular executive foresight. But anyway give him his due it was I think his decision wasn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: Yes he was a great financial man and he introduced the pension scheme, for which I am very grateful. But lots of people didn’t like him you see, he was a very, very good accountant wasn’t he you know and his job was to make the thing pay. Lots of people were scared stiff of him.
ROY FOWLER: Yes. He was perceived as the great ogre I think.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, that’s right.
ALAN LAWSON: Well it was John Davis who introduced Independent Frame wasn’t it? And what a disaster that was!
HARRY MILLER: That’s right and I can always remember they were sent down by this great engineering firm, Vickers, and I can remember the studios were closing down at Denham and on the lot there’s these big open, like, silent studio bits really, and they were bringing these machines down and storing them in the this place on the lot. And I thought, “Why are they fetching these things down, still fetching them down and the studios are closing down?” They were fetching them down and wheeling them in there ‘cos they only got to take them out again because it didn’t work, did it?
ROY FOWLER: No a lot of money was wasted on that.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, thousands, thousands, hundreds of thousands.
HARRY MILLER: Still, I mean anything is worth having a bash at if it works I suppose. He got a knighthood or something for, he did get a knighthood didn’t he Sir John Davis?
ROY FOWLER: I think so yes, for giving money to the Conservative Party, not for running the film industry. Right, well we’re approaching the end of the tape so I think it remains to thank you most sincerely.
HARRY MILLER: Well I’m sorry if it’s not very good for you.
ROY FOWLER: No, no don’t think that at all.
HARRY MILLER: We’re not liable to be sued for libel now are we?
ROY FOWLER: It goes into the archive now. It’s for history and no other purpose. Good. Thank you Harry.
End Tape 3, Side 5
Start Side 6 [extra material, interviewer Alan Lawson, recorded 23 October]
ALAN LAWSON: Harry one or two points which were a bit unclear out of our first interview. You talked about the location of Under the Greenwood Tree was that done in Ashridge Park?
HARRY MILLER: Ashridge Park, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Because that’s when you had a bit of tree taken down.
HARRY MILLER: We also had Friese-Greene, the cameraman couldn’t get enough light on it.
ALAN LAWSON: You told us that. You talked very briefly about Monty Banks and you talked briefly about Hitchcock and Tommy Bentley. Monty Banks you were talking about, have you got any brief memories, or more memories of Monty working with him at all?
HARRY MILLER: I don’t … Monty yes, I can remember I think I told you this once when Dupont was making a film called Atlantic: Sinking of the Titantic he got Monty to play a part in it, a small part you know. I can always remember that the day before Monty had had a row about some artist who couldn’t remember his lines on his own film. So Dupont had to do this in the evening for Monty when he had finished you see, and do this like and it was in the saloon of this place that we were shooting this scene and I think Monty went up to about 32 takes. [LAUGHTER] Most embarrassing for him but he was a great character Monty Banks.
ALAN LAWSON: He worked; did you work on films with him actually?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, I worked on a film called Compulsory Husband with Harry Lachman at Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
ALAN LAWSON: With Monty Banks though? Did you work with him as a director though?
HARRY MILLER: He was co-director with …
ALAN LAWSON: With Lachman?
HARRY MILLER: With Harry Lachman, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you work anymore with Monty Banks at all?
HARRY MILLER: I never worked with him after, well I did work on a couple of pictures that he was directing but I was just doing sort of effects in those days.
ALAN LAWSON: Now what about Tommy Bentley?
HARRY MILLER: Tommy Bentley. I think I told you about his scripts were the most clearly written indications of all scripts that I have ever read, most except latter ones. He had this thing about when he was going to shoot: he would rehearse the artist and he would say, “Now, when I say five seconds, dear boy, four seconds dear boy, start.” So the camera would say ready and the sound would say ready and they would run up and they would say, “Running” and he would say, “Four seconds dear boy” and the artist would start.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. What was the reason for that?
HARRY MILLER: This was to give them a chance to sort of get over this running up business and …
ALAN LAWSON: On the effect with clappers
HARRY MILLER: All the clapping and everything you know. So they could settle down before they started.
ALAN LAWSON: Can you describe him at all?
HARRY MILLER: Frederick Bentley?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, Tommy Bentley.
HARRY MILLER: Well he was er, a very sort of quiet man on the set. When you say describe him I didn’t know him intimately you see, only as a director. But I only remember one instance; I think I have told you about this, where he used to say, “Quiet everybody, four seconds dear boy, and start” and one of the sound boom men had tied a lot of the iron things that hold the scenery up which had some weights and things on, he tied a lot of them on a piece of sash chord over one of the top of the sceneries. He had this held tight below on his foot you see and when Tommy Bentley said, “Four seconds dear boy” he just let that go and there was this terrible clatter when it fell on the ground and of course nobody knew what had happened. There was great consternation. They were always playing practical jokes like that all round the studio and in those days.
ALAN LAWSON: Particularly on Tommy Bentley or on anybody?
HARRY MILLER: No on anyone. Monty Banks, Monty Banks used to put a piece of newspaper under Friese-Greene’s production chair, on the canvas and have a pin there you see. And Friese would say “right” to his electrician, set distance and set the lights and all that and while they were setting the lights up he would probably have a little doze and Monty would light this paper under the seat. And I think they are still doing that gag now all over the, you know.
ALAN LAWSON: The other person though of course is Hitch. You did talk about Hitch on Blackmail but have you any other memories of working with Hitch at all?
HARRY MILLER: Hitch was a great practical joker, I think I told you about that.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, you told us about that. Did you work on any other films besides Blackmail with Hitch?
HARRY MILLER: I can’t remember any but he started the mode of travelling shots, travelling cameras, which everyone else sort of took up afterwards. He would do long travelling shots all over, everywhere you know, from one artist to the other and panning, on the dolly and backwards and forwards.
ALAN LAWSON: What kind of dolly did they have? Can you remember at all?
HARRY MILLER: Well it was just a, they used to lay these little tram line things down on rostrum tops, or had a special one made length wise and it was purely a little dolly thing with a camera on.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. Was it a four wheel or was it …?
HARRY MILLER: Four wheel.
ALAN LAWSON: Yeah, I see. Large wheels were they?
HARRY MILLER: If I remember rightly I think they were wheels about that size.
ALAN LAWSON: Well that’s about 12 inches.
HARRY MILLER: No, not as big as that I don’t think.
ALAN LAWSON: No, not as big as that. 9 inches? 9 inch wheels?
HARRY MILLER: No. There was always a labourer behind pushing.
ALAN LAWSON: Were they pneumatic or hard tyres?
HARRY MILLER: I’m not sure about that.
ALAN LAWSON: You did talk about …
HARRY MILLER: I think they were hard.
ALAN LAWSON: You did talk about Guido Baldi, what kind of work was he doing up at BIP? Do you remember?
HARRY MILLER: First of all he would do all the trick shots, like running slowly and fast with the camera shots and things and he would make miniatures and models up.
ALAN LAWSON: It was models really wasn’t it mostly his line?
HARRY MILLER: Yes. But he also did lots of camera work.
ALAN LAWSON: Really?
HARRY MILLER: Trick camera work too.
ALAN LAWSON: I didn’t realise that.
HARRY MILLER: Oh, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: So he was a specialist cameraman?
HARRY MILLER: In a way, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh, that I didn’t know. What do you mean high speeds?
HARRY MILLER: I can always remember him, the first time I ever saw him he was working with a camera on a rostrum doing something at a much faster speed or a slower speed.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes a high-speed camera probably?
HARRY MILLER: Yes. I don’t exactly know what he was doing then. But then I remember him mostly for all the models he made, ‘cos out in Mont Blanc he used to make all these models in the snow, which got melted as soon as the sun came out. He invented this machine for making spiders’ webs all over the sets and things with a drill and a cup of rubber solution.
ALAN LAWSON: Now …
HARRY MILLER: He had an assistant who he took out of the property department and he trained him and he sort of took over the job when Guido left.
ALAN LAWSON: Now when did you first come across Wattie?
HARRY MILLER: Wattie? I came across Wattie first when I went, I was working at BIP and Wattie came from Walton Hall to Denham and he approached me to go to Denham. They gave me a two years contract to go there as an effects man, sound effects man. That’s when I started at Walton Hall.
ALAN LAWSON: That’s the first time you met him?
HARRY MILLER: Yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Can you tell us a bit about him? You know, I’ve met him, I met him in the early days too, much earlier days than you probably. Can you tell us about him a bit?
HARRY MILLER: Well Wattie’s office at Denham had a mic lead from all the sets so he could hear exactly what was going on on all the sets to his office. In the sound … He was very good to his staff, very loyal, ‘cos D P Field was his right-hand man. He was a wonderful diplomat. I mean if there was a producer or a director that had a big complaint of some sort about a hold-up … I can always remember a terrific hold-up on the location because you used to have to run long cables way down onto the lots and they had this bit of trouble and in those days you had to go back and check each cable and take them out to see whether, which was the dickey one before these, whatshisname, meters all came in. Victor Saville was directing this picture and he was furious, he had got an enormous crowd and Wattie went down and he sort of smoothed it all over you know and then it all went all right. In those situations he was great. I can remember him speaking to Korda from America on the phone, I was doing some post-synching with the editor at Denham posting some artists and doing effects and things and Wattie, whom I never saw in the theatre he happened to walk in and say “How things” and all that and the phone rang and said, “Do you mind if I take it” and it was Korda in America. He was saying to Korda “Yes, everything is alright Alex and we are now doing so-and-so-and-so-and-so” [LAUGHTER] He knew what was going on. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Now the one person you touched on at BIP but didn’t really say very much about was Joe Grossman.
HARRY MILLER: Old Joe he was a fantastic character.
ALAN LAWSON: He was the captain of the fire brigade too wasn’t he?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, he did.
ALAN LAWSON: Well tell us a bit about him.
HARRY MILLER: Well if there was a fire in the village or somewhere the fire engine would drive out quickly and stop at Joe’s house, which was right at the gates of the studio and wait for Joe to come out. Right? Joe would come out and jump on the thing. Now if anyone else had not arrived by then they had to run after it, they didn’t wait for anyone else. [LAUGHTER] He was great. He used to take all … I can remember him taking the Duke of York at the time, who was then King …
ALAN LAWSON: He became King George VI.
HARRY MILLER: And the Queen Mother they came down the studio once and Joe used to often, often bring lots of these VIP people down to my room. He would ring up and say, “We’re coming down Harry to see a few bits and pieces” and he’d bring them down you see and he would introduce them. He would come into this little room I had with all my bits of gear for making noises and I would have to show them how we did the horses gallop and one or two of the sirens and things that I had, all these bits and pieces that I had made up, you know, horses’ harness and things, and the things for wheels that I made up for the carts and carriages and things all going round in a box … the wind machine that I had to make up and all those devices. That sort of amused them all very much.
ALAN LAWSON: What was his relationship with the staff really?
HARRY MILLER: Well he was the, he always handled all the difficulties with unions. And he had Maxwell wasn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. He was the boss.
HARRY MILLER: Now he had the ear of Maxwell you see and all the unions if they had a grievance would go to Joe Grossman he was the only one they would listen and deal with. They, Statham and people they wouldn’t deal with them. The Unions would deal with Joe Grossman and he used to be able to handle them all right.
ALAN LAWSON: He was a cockney, wasn’t he?
HARRY MILLER: Yes. Jewish cockney, yes. I can remember his saying, “Now you see Duke this is how we do so-and-so-and-so-and-so”.
ALAN LAWSON: ‘‘Cor blimey boy’, isn’t that one of the things he said.
HARRY MILLER: He used to fire me once a week. He used to catch me smoking somewhere or other and he’d say, “You’re fired”. A week later he would come and say, “I fired you last week” and I’d say, “No, not me” [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: You did talk about Mathew Cope in those early days you know when he was the first general secretary of ACT.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, Captain Cope.
ALAN LAWSON: Can you remember anymore about him at all?
HARRY MILLER: Actually I didn’t know him very well. I just knew that he used to come down to the studios and he used to collect the subs in the pub opposite. He never seemed to want to do anything except let things run complacently along, you know. We were all itching for changes to be made we wanted overtime and things you see. Nothing happened. ACT, we were all members of ACT and every time we said, “How about let’s having a strike or something, so we would get something” he always said, “It was not the time or something.” Eventually we all went on strike and we joined the ETU. I think I’ve told you.
ALAN LAWSON: You told us, yes. When did you actually first work with Alex Korda?
HARRY MILLER: Korda. Oh well, at Denham.
ALAN LAWSON: What film?
HARRY MILLER: The Drum, Elephant Boy, Goodbye Mr Chips
ALAN LAWSON: Did you have much contact with him yourself?
HARRY MILLER: When I say contact I used to, he talked now and again when he saw me. I remember Jarvey was cutting one of his films and in order that Alex didn’t have to keep coming down to the studios they rented this little cutting room just up behind Seven Dials right? And Jarvey was cutting it there and I was working with it and Alex would always come in with this great big cigar, I think I have told you about this.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes.
HARRY MILLER: Smoking and we had all the film in these bins and he would be flicking his ash in it. And I said, “Jarvey I’m going” “Why?” he said, “We’re going to blow-up any minute”. “What for?” So his cigarette went out the window. He used to say to me, “I would like to do something that I have seen in an American film.” In this train Robert Donat, or someone, was in this train and he would like to get a thought coming back like ‘I know this is wrong, I know this is wrong, I know this is wrong’ in the rhythm of the train you see, things like that, you see. But basically he couldn’t, Alex could not really judge the film until he had a rough dub on it and Boxall, whatshisname the manager, said, “Alex really must have a rough dub on this film before he can really say what’s in”. I said to Alex before that we ought to redo these lines and post-synch this and do that. He said, “Well he can’t make any decisions about that until he had seen a rough cut.” So we worked like stink for about a week and got a rough dub, right? And when we got a rough dub and he saw the rough dub, he came over and said, “Now Harry you can do what you want.” [LAUGHTER] Zolly, I knew Zolly very well, I worked with Zolly quite a lot.
ALAN LAWSON: Well that was The Drum wasn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: And Four Feathers and all those films.
ALAN LAWSON: I mean, what was he like actually to work with?
HARRY MILLER: Who Zolly?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes.
HARRY MILLER: Marvelous. We used to do our pools together, Zolly and I.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you win?
HARRY MILLER: No we never won anything. He was married to a very lovely actress I can’t remember her name. But Zolly, Cornelius cut some of his films and an old mate of mine he’s now in Spain …
ALAN LAWSON: Ray Poulton?
HARRY MILLER: Ray Poulton used to be his assistant and they all used to be in this cutting room and there would be Zolly, Ray and the editor…
ALAN LAWSON: Cornelius.
HARRY MILLER: ??? interpreter and advisor, all in this little cutting room and they used to keep the door wide open because you couldn’t breathe in there because it was a hot summer’s day.
I think I have told you about Zolly, I was dubbing one of the films and Corney said, “Now Harry” was it Corney, well one of the editors I was cutting this film for, I think it was another editor came and said “Now you can dub this but don’t let Zolly see it or know you are doing this” because he has finalised and OK’d it. I was running this thing in my cutting room, on my Moviola, and suddenly Zolly’s head popped in and he said, “Ah, Harry what are you running?” and I said, “Just run a little bit of ???” and he said, “Can I have a look?” and I said, “Yes, sit down at the Moviola.” And eventually we wound up with the whole sequence on the bin in cuts. [LAUGHTER] This is true. [LAUGHTER] And the editor at that time he is a director now, still directing now, can’t think of his name. [LAUGHTER] We had a supervising editor, Bill Hornbeck.
ALAN LAWSON: Now that’s somebody I want to talk about. Did you have much to do with Bill Hornbeck?
HARRY MILLER: Oh yes, quite a lot actually I use to do … he would come and hire me from the studios to do all the sound effects on the film. Right? And er, of course he wanted to sort of keep me for all his pictures but I was working for RKO and other companies as a freelance most of the time.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh I see.
HARRY MILLER: This was the latter days of Korda and I had to keep in touch with all these people. Anyway I’d see him and we would run the picture and he would leave me to do the effects and things. Forgotten now what I was going to tell you about him. He had this gang of young editors who he supervised he was a marvelous chap to get on with.
ALAN LAWSON: He was an American wasn’t he?
HARRY MILLER: Oh yes, big name in America too, yes a very clever editor too. He got on very, very well with Alex, you know. Great photographer in his day
ALAN LAWSON: Really?
HARRY MILLER: Stills photographer. He had a great amount of 35mm gear and camera and lenses in great big cases.
ALAN LAWSON: What did he specialise in?
HARRY MILLER: I don’t know really but he was always taking pictures and stills. There was one little humorous event where his office, when one of the editors thought they would play a gag on him and they were all locked in there and they put one of these stink bombs in the doorway. They all had to climb out the window because he had locked the door. [LAUGHTER] They were always playing these jokes and things down there in those days you couldn’t do it now of course.
ALAN LAWSON: Now one of the questions Roy (Fowler) asked me to ask you about, have you got any memories of Korda’s montage dialogue film, Perfect Strangers?
HARRY MILLER: Perfect Strangers. I worked on that yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Can you remember about …
HARRY MILLER: Robert Donat wasn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. Can you remember about that at all?
HARRY MILLER: [PAUSE] I think that is the film that I’ll tell you about that Jarvey had to cut because Alex didn’t want to keep coming down to Denham.
ALAN LAWSON: Ah, that one. That’s right, this is the train journey.
HARRY MILLER: Yes. That was the film we had to do a rough dub on.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. Now the other thing too, this is really going back I suppose to the BIP days, the Ambiphone system.
HARRY MILLER: The Ambiphone, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Can you remember that at all?
HARRY MILLER: It was er, Atkins was the designer of it and Doug Myers he used to work in the labs at the time I think, he did a lot of work in collaboration with him. It was very limited in its range because we had this Austrian or German, tenor, Mr Tauber came down to do a film and when the soprano was so very high, she was very high, they couldn’t record the musical numbers to get together with them because she kept overloading the system. It couldn’t reach that high. I think I have told you before about somebody getting the silk screens and things up.
ALAN LAWSON: It was a Chinese copy really of RCA wasn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, yes. We went to RCA afterwards didn’t we?
ALAN LAWSON: It was a non-copyright RCA.
HARRY MILLER: It was variable area wasn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: It was variable area.
HARRY MILLER: He had two chaps working on building all the electronics stuff you know the amplifiers and things. One of them went to Chief of Sound at Ealing.
ALAN LAWSON: Who was that? Marcus Cooper?
HARRY MILLER: No.
ALAN LAWSON: West?
HARRY MILLER: No. I’ll think of his name in a minute.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh, Dolby. Steve Dolby.
HARRY MILLER: Steve Dolby, yes. He was one and he had another chap who I never heard of in the business afterwards.
ALAN LAWSON: Now then you did talk about very briefly, about being in the TA in an ACAC Battery with Hugh Stewart and ?? Bal??n
HARRY MILLER: I was not in it Hugh was in it.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh weren’t you?
HARRY MILLER: I remember, I told you, Hugh Stewart and I was working with him on a picture he was editing called An Englishman’s Home and we were doing it at Denham labs, cutting it there, and War had been declared and Hugh said something to me about ?? Bal??n, who was in charge of this Territorial Unit at Iver, top of the hill there, said “If we are over there by six o’clock tonight” he would let us in. I said that, “Well I prefer the Navy where I’d get a hammock to sleep on not in the trenches”. Actually, I went with Charlie Friend and John Mitchell down to Whitehall to enlist in that but only one of us got taken on that was John Mitchell, because we were reserves. I didn’t go with Hugh but he went and he joined and he used to come to the lab then with this old black beret and a private’s uniform looking very miserable saying he had been cleaning latrines and carting, and peeling spuds and all that lark. About two or three weeks later he suddenly appeared in full Lieutenant’s uniform and he was on the film unit, you see. From then on in no time he was in charge.
ALAN LAWSON: Now you talked about Henry V, Hamlet, Brief Encounter, Odd Man Out, now did you work on the tracks of all those or were you doing effects or both?
HARRY MILLER: Well, I did the effects and … in those days I use to shoot, we shot all our own effects.
ALAN LAWSON: I see, so in fact you were laying your tracks as well.
HARRY MILLER: Oh yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Can you tell us anymore about Henry V?
HARRY MILLER: Henry V? I think I told you about the …
ALAN LAWSON: You told us about the arrows, yes, yes.
HARRY MILLER: I was working on a film and I couldn’t go on that until a bit later. For that picture they got the BBC boys down to shoot, I think I’ve told you about this.
ALAN LAWSON: What about Hamlet?
HARRY MILLER: Hamlet, well I can always remember on Hamlet, I think I have told you about this about the ghost voice?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, you told us about that.
HARRY MILLER: How Larry didn’t want to do a post-synch of one of the speeches, the main speeches and then the day before dubbing he said he’d do it. I told you all about that.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes. Brief Encounter?
HARRY MILLER: David Lean. That was a nice film to work on. David was always a wonderful director to work for.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you work on Oliver Twist or Great Expectations?
HARRY MILLER: No, that was done at Pinewood and I was at Denham then.
ALAN LAWSON: Now Odd Man Out can you tell us anymore about that?
HARRY MILLER: Carol Reed.
ALAN LAWSON Yes.
HARRY MILLER: Odd Man Out, I think I’ve told you about this, I did a film for Carol about the army-training thing, I’ve forgotten what it was now.
ALAN LAWSON: The Way Ahead.
HARRY MILLER: The Way Ahead and I think one other. Then he was doing Odd Man Out, yes he was. He was doing some early bits of this over at Walton Hall, I think, to start with. He insisted that I was over there on the set when he was shooting. I don’t know why because I never did anything. [LAUGHTER] He really appreciated anything in sound that helped the film you know what I mean?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes.
HARRY MILLER: I had quite a bit of influence with Carol in regards, I think I have told you about the mixer asking Carol if he could have a little more voice because he was doing some stuff in whispers and Carol said “No, I want to get this thing” so the mixer would come to me and say “Look would you have a word with Carol so we can get a bit more level on the line then we can all take it down” you know. So I would do that. He was very appreciative of anything you did, Carol Reed. He use to, I can remember the ship sinking in The Way Ahead and I used a distress siren to try and get them, when they were trying to get help of some sort when they were sinking. He thought this was a great signal to use for distress and he kept saying, “Can we have some more sirens?” and I said, “Yes, but don’t overdo it Carol” I only had to say that and he would say, “Oh right” and we knew we had had enough. He trusted me to get the balance right for all these things.
ALAN LAWSON: Let’s talk about Peter Ustinov a bit, about Vice Versa
HARRY MILLER: That was shown somewhere in Bristol at the cinema recently, I don’t know which one. I nearly went and used my veterans’ ticket to go and see it! [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Was it an enjoyable film to work on?
HARRY MILLER: Very enjoyable. He was a great chap to work for Peter Ustinov. I think I mentioned to you once about how he wrote the titles for Vice Versa. I went down to see him and I said, “You have to give us these title ends, we need the ends Peter” and he said, “Right” and he sat down at the old thing and he wrote, they were all comedy lines, I mean the cameraman was professor of something or other. He was a great man to work for. I remember he went to America, I think I have told you this too. He went to America and when he came back we said, “What are all these big moguls like the chief of the studio and that?” he said, “I’ll show you”. He sat down and he drew a picture, you see, of this chap with a great big fat cigar and a great big beak because he was Jewish, he accentuated it all. You know what I mean? Everything he did was a bit of fun. He was a great man for ACT too.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. You did say you remember seeing Charlie Chaplin in Mumming Birds.
HARRY MILLER: Mumming Birds, yes, I saw that at The Old Mow, it was called The Middlesex, but we used to call it The Old Mow, in Drury Lane. It was then the Winter Garden I think it’s got another name now, hasn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: Drury Lane… Can’t think what it would be?
HARRY MILLER: It’s right up at the top end.
ALAN LAWSON: Is it The Royalty?
HARRY MILLER: I don’t know what it is called now. It used to be called The Middlesex and we called it The Old Mow, and it was changed to The Winter Garden and in the War my family used to take air raid shelter underneath the stage now. I saw this I can remember but it was a terrific long time ago but he had this company called The Mumming Birds it was all the custard pies and slapstick stuff, wasn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: That’s right.
HARRY MILLER: I can’t remember much about the play itself because I was very young. I also remember he came to Denham to do a film.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes, that’s right.
HARRY MILLER: He would only come in around about, when he’d finished, when he’d finished it he would only come down shoot so much a day, a very limited time. When he had finished it in the cutting rooms he would only come down about eleven o’clock or ten in the morning and finish at four. When he left no-one had to touch the film until he was there to see it. So the editors had a very rough time with it you see. I didn’t work on it because Roy, whatshisname, the studio manager assistant, said, “It’s a great privilege to work on a Chaplin film” he said, “So everyone’s taken a cut”.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, I see.
HARRY MILLER: I said, “I’m sorry I’m not everyone. I can’t afford to take a cut!” So I didn’t take the job on. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: Did you work on Caesar and Cleopatra?
HARRY MILLER: Caesar and Cleopatra. I was due to start they didn’t finish it, did they?
ALAN LAWSON: No, no.
HARRY MILLER: They started on it and that’s all I got to. I never
ALAN LAWSON: You were saying, do you know what the reason was?
HARRY MILLER: You heard lots of funny stories going around so you never really knew what the truth was. Some people say that Korda stopped it to get the insurance money, or something. But no-one never really knew except the people involved. I don’t know if you knew anything about it?
ALAN LAWSON: No. Night to Remember was produced actually by … you thought it was produced by Kevin McAroy but in fact it was Bill McNulty, Bill McQuilty. Why do you think it was Kevin?
HARRY MILLER: I got mixed up in it. You know why? He, he had the rights to one of the Bond stories. What’s his name you just mentioned?
ALAN LAWSON: MacQuilty.
HARRY MILLER: MacQuilty, yes, that’s right, yes. Bob wasn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: Bill. Well, I’m not sure.
HARRY MILLER: Bill MacQuilty. He wasn’t a well-known producer, was he, in any way.
ALAN LAWSON: No. Purple Plain, did you work on that?
HARRY MILLER: Gregory Peck. No.
ALAN LAWSON: It was Robert Parrish. Robert Parrish directed it.
HARRY MILLER: Robert Parrish directed it. Wasn’t it Gregory Peck who acted in it? I think yes.
ALAN LAWSON: I’m not sure. Have you got memories of it all?
HARRY MILLER: Bob Parrish, very nice chappie. He used to be, he used to be an editor and a dubbing editor in the States. He used to there were some things I think I have told you about this, there were some things that he didn’t quite agree with the editor and the director, the producer I mean.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes.
HARRY MILLER: He would say what do you think about so and so and I would say, I think so and so and he would say, “Come over before lunch and we will have a drink and give me a hand in this argument because I think the way you think.” “I’m glad you think the way I think,” not the way I think. We would go and put this and the producer was a wonderful chap too, can’t think of his name for a minute. He used to be an art director.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh yes, Brian. John Brian
HARRY MILLER: And the editor was …
ALAN LAWSON: Russell ???
HARRY MILLER: No. He’s still doing something, directing now, he went directing afterwards. Can’t think of his name for a minute. But he was a wonderful chap. He wanted to get, in this picture they were all out in the desert or somewhere and it was so hot and everything and it didn’t look all that hot, I put some mosquitoes humming around to give it a bit of atmosphere and he was very appreciative, you know, of anything you did in that way. I used to get messages from my son Peter when they met in the States, from him.
ALAN LAWSON: How nice. Now then, have you, did you work with Sydney and Muriel Box at all?
HARRY MILLER: I worked with Muriel Box on one picture. Well I worked for Sydney Box on a film, something about African. I remember Gordon McCullum when we were dubbing I would walk in and would say, “How is my Uncle Jam Blue?” which was one of the characters in this film. But I worked on this for Sidney Box, this one film and he was very nice to work for, the only one I ever worked for him. I can almost say ??? “Well” he said, “I suppose you ought to know that your reputation or something”, very good about it really.
His wife was lovely to work for. I did one film for her and the editor was, a lady who had been married to the assistant manager of the labs.
ALAN LAWSON: Dot Timpson. Not Dorothy Timpson?
HARRY MILLER: No, no. She cut all her films for her, Muriel’s films for her.
ALAN LAWSON: No I’m not sure.
HARRY MILLER: They were very nice to work for. I can always remember that there was one scene in that film where the crooks were going to burgle the manager’s safe or something and offstage you actually had the film going on from the screen in the cinema. I got this track from some American gangster film or something where there is guns going off and everything and all that and I remember Sydney said to Muriel, “I don’t think it’s so good that background film going on” and she said, “Well, I like it very much.” [LAUGHTER] I left them to argue it out. [LAUGHTER] She was a great lady to work for and he was.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. Now you know you’ve told us quite a bit …
HARRY MILLER: When you say Muriel Box that’s the wife of Sydney Box isn’t it?
ALAN LAWSON: The original wife.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, because there was another …
ALAN LAWSON: Betty, Betty Box.
HARRY MILLER: Yes
ALAN LAWSON: Yes she’s the producer.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, she was married to another, who does the Carry Ons?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, Thomas.
HARRY MILLER: No he’s a director
ALAN LAWSON: Rogers, that’s right.
HARRY MILLER: Rogers, yes. I did a film for her once too. She was very nice.
ALAN LAWSON: We think there is a little bit of a mix-up. There was a film you worked on again this is silent days I think, Lupina Lane, location film, you said it was in Spain. Sorry, you didn’t say it was a Lupina Lane film but you said it was in Spain you thought it was Maid of the Mountains but Lupina Lane is credited with Maid of the Mountains and he had Claude Friese-Greene with him and Crabtree and the film you talked about was with Jimmy Rogers.
HARRY MILLER: That’s right.
ALAN LAWSON: Well, what film was that I wonder? It wouldn’t be Maid of the Mountains because it was a film with Jimmy Rogers and you said …
HARRY MILLER: Jimmy Rogers was a cameraman
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. You said the director was a BBC type.
HARRY MILLER: That’s right, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: I wonder who that was? We couldn’t place it actually but the Maid of the Mountains wasn’t made in, done in Spain.
HARRY MILLER: Jimmy Rogers’ assistant was the cameraman who shoots all the Carry Ons.
ALAN LAWSON: Aha, yes. Well I’ve forgotten now. Not Lionel ??? No I’ve forgotten. Well you can’t clear that one.
HARRY MILLER: I think you are right about that, I think I must have been a bit confused there.
ALAN LAWSON: Never mind, it doesn’t matter. You’ve told us quite a little bit …
HARRY MILLER: That was a silent film, the one that I am talking about.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, that’s right. Well, Maid of the Mountains surely was a silent film.
HARRY MILLER: Was it?
ALAN LAWSON: I think so.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, because whatshisname was a cameraman on that.
ALAN LAWSON: Claude was on Maid of the Mountains.
HARRY MILLER: Was he? I don’t think so.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes he was, he is credited. It wasn’t silent it was a sound film. Claude and Arthur Crabtree, that’s the credits on that one. Anyway, it’s something you know … it’s in the past.
You’ve told us quite a bit about working with Herbert Wilcox. Anything else you can remember, you have told us about him letting you in on his secret of getting married.
HARRY MILLER: Oh, yes, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Anything else you can remember about him at all?
HARRY MILLER: Well, he is a very expert director, of the old school. You know. He had wonderful subjects and wonderful actors to fill the parts for it. I can’t remember much about it. Anna was a very nice lady.
ALAN LAWSON: Finally on those things did you ever meet Arthur Rank?
HARRY MILLER: Arthur Rank?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes.
HARRY MILLER: Only once. I think I’ve mentioned this to you.
ALAN LAWSON: What was the occasion?
HARRY MILLER: I didn’t meet him socially.
ALAN LAWSON: No, no.
HARRY MILLER: I was doing some work in Theatre Two at Denham and as I came out into the corridor, to walk up the corridor, Arthur Rank was walking down with a bevy of VIPs in the studio. Right? They were all walking down in a bunch they were sort of showing him around everywhere. A lot of them would never ever say good morning to me, I was just a mere whatshisname, but suddenly Arthur Rank saw me and as we passed Arthur Rank said, “Good Morning” and I said, “Good Morning Sir” and then everybody went Good Morning, Good Morning. [LAUGHTER]
ALAN LAWSON: That was your introduction to Arthur Rank? [LAUGHTER]
HARRY MILLER: Yeah. Arthur Rank joined the branch of the Freemasons’ at Denham. Everyone then had to be on their best behaviour because they all started stopping drinking and things like that [LAUGHTER] because they met up in there.
End Side 6
Start Side 7
ALAN LAWSON: Now so that we can understand what it was like laying tracks in your early days and compare them, I think one should perhaps know how you laid tracks in the very final film you worked on.
HARRY MILLER: Very final one?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes. So we can then go back. We will know how it was when you left but then we can see how it was when you started.
HARRY MILLER: Well it was 1969 and it was the year, the last Bond I worked on was You Only Live Twice or something like that. At that stage laying the tracks was, we had, by that time we had a theatre in the studio which shot all the effects, you’d made a list out of all the effects that you want and they would get the BBC boys and Beryl for the footsteps and John – the chappie who ran that theatre, the sound mixer – all he did was to shoot post-synch dialogue and effects in that theatre. You’d sit in and they’d do all the effects in the theatre and then you’d ok it or not. You’d prepare loops in those days, to shoot to.
ALAN LAWSON: That’s for post-synching?
HARRY MILLER: And effects. Not always, you know you made loops if you wanted to have four or five goes on it quickly or if it was a sequence of something, you would have a little sequence. You would shoot all the effects and then what you did, it is still the same today I think, there must be some difference today yes? You would have a dialogue one and all the dialogue. You would strip the dialogue one and you would strip it at this stage not only of all the dialogue but you would strip all the rest of the set noises just put the dialogue alone onto one track and all the rest of the scenery noises and the actions you would put on another track. Then you would have, sometimes you would have twenty tracks of the effects if it were a big picture you have your music tracks. Normally you’d have a music editor in as well in those days, in the old days we used to lay our own music. We would shoot our own post-synch and you just laid them and space them.
ALAN LAWSON: How many kind of pre-mixes did you do?
HARRY MILLER: Well, we would have a dialogue pre-mix, then you would mix certain effects like background effects and then you would choose from other effects tracks, the tracks mainly on one track probably but if there was something you wanted to push through other things you’d put that on a separate track. You know so that you wouldn’t get it lost amongst the rest of the track because you can’t really judge how much level you want to put on it in those pre-dubs. You know what I mean?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes.
HARRY MILLER: And then, of course, you had all, when you had finished that all you had to do was eliminate the dialogue track and you have got your foreign version tracks all laid. Perhaps one or two little additions, you know, you couldn’t separate from the dialogue.
ALAN LAWSON: So on a final mix how many tracks would you have going?
HARRY MILLER: Well you would have one dialogue pre-mix, the music track and maybe two, one effects pre-mix and then perhaps one with the isolated things you wanted to push, you know. This varied according to the dubbing editor who laid them. I mean, lots of these tracks, the dialogue for example you got different qualities on post-synch and original dialogues so the mixer had a big job to get them all leveled up and get the right qualities and equalized, so that all went on the pre-dub, that was quite a lengthy job really. Perhaps we would have one or two loops going as well you know in the final dub, little things extra that they thought we would add.
ALAN LAWSON: Like sea noises? Wind noises?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, just a bit of wind, just a bit of nothing sometimes.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, space. So when you first started laying tracks then, you know, what was your position then? I mean what did you do about dialogue tracks or didn’t you?
HARRY MILLER: When we first started we really laid the dialogue as shot. The only thing about it was that when we stripped the cutting copy we’d probably have to strip anything that the editor had cut in, you know, like to help to, like wild lines or effects to boost it all up. But then we would get the trims out we’d have to probably build up the real original track for dissolves and things from the cuts and mark them up for the laboratories, so when they neg cut it they cut the neg to correspond with it. Then we would put the post-synch tracks on another separate track.
ALAN LAWSON: Was there much post-synching?
HARRY MILLER: No not much. Originally we did hardly any post-synching but that developed very quickly and effects too you know. Originally you would have perhaps the dialogue track and one extra track and the music track and we use to put effects on in the theatre at the same time.
ALAN LAWSON: What spot effects from disk or from …
HARRY MILLER: No, no I would sit in the theatre at a little table and I would miniaturise little things that they wanted to put in. So if they wanted ??? or an anchor coming up I’d have a little ratchet thing that I had built up and I would be turning this to synch. You became very proficient in synchronizing things in those days.
ALAN LAWSON: Spot effects?
HARRY MILLER: Yes you had to be spot on, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: I see. You said something I think, something about recording set noise. What’s the purpose of that?
HARRY MILLER: Well the thing was in those days they had these arcs, and they had these what’s their names that you cut the hum out?
ALAN LAWSON: Chokes.
HARRY MILLER: Right but some of the carbons that were going still gave quite a hum at recording and on the main and the long shots you had quite a lot of this background behind it so that when you cut away to another shot you lost that, so you had to then build it up again to make it fill in. We used to ask the director to shoot the track of the set with all the lamps on alight and nothing else, quiet right. Of course he didn’t want to stop shooting to do things like that so we had a great trouble trying to get him to do it.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, I remember this now, yes.
HARRY MILLER: You would shoot that set noise and you would lay that on a separate track so that they could fill in, cuts that fill in all the different spots where it was missing, where it was decreased as such to a low level.
ALAN LAWSON: So how many tracks would you have going in a dubbing theatre?
HARRY MILLER: At that time?
ALAN LAWSON: Yes.
HARRY MILLER: Very limited. Going right back at that particular time I was not editing, I was shooting mainly effects and I would run up to the projection theatre and put one effects track on and I’d have a gramophone thing – bank of three or four heads tables – and we would put some gramophone effects on at the same time which came from places like you know HMV, they made tracks those days on records. So there’d be those two tracks running and there would be the music track and perhaps the two dialogue tracks.
ALAN LAWSON: I see. Now, before the Italian joiner came in presumably when you spliced you lost …
HARRY MILLER: Two holes either side
ALAN LAWSON: In other words you lost a frame?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, that’s right yes but the Italian joiner eliminated all that.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes but how did you build up when you had lost a frame?
HARRY MILLER: Just with a black frame.
ALAN LAWSON: Just with a black frame yes.
HARRY MILLER: This Italian joiner saved a hell of a lot of black frames.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes.
HARRY MILLER: Mind they still used it when they had to cut a break in a film or something to build up until they got a reprint of something.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes. In the days of the optical tracks you say you still stripped down the dialogue track. What kind of part did the lab play in this?
HARRY MILLER: Well what happened was the editor in the cutting copy, the labs, when you started on a film you would order a roll of what they called ground noise, which was a bluish track with a sound track on it that blacked out. That was for ground noise we’d call it and he’d cut in ground noise where there was no soundtrack. We also ordered a roll of the same sort of thing in amber colour for a blacked out track. Now if he had to build up something he would cut a bit of that in, which would tell me that it was build up and also the labs. But I would add to that I would draw a line through it to mark it and put BU on it, build up, so that they would be doubly sure that they knew about the build up and the labs knew about the colour code too.
ALAN LAWSON: I see blue and amber?
HARRY MILLER: Yes. On the sound tracks you did an awful lot of marking up. We used to use an ink sort of thing with a little brush and you would have to mark up and tell them where … You see what happened when you sent the dialogue, the stripped dialogues to the laboratories they would then cut the neg exactly to match that and give you a dubbing print, which you used for dubbing. And then you used to probably spend a lot of time with a little brush brushing the straight lines or a curve to cut out the little spots from the bad, the dirt in the bath, they just didn’t like pinholes. They developed a department then at the labs, which Luscombe used to run, with a staff of girls that did that so they cut all that out.
ALAN LAWSON: Spotting.
HARRY MILLER: Spotting, but we did all that in the old days and when you got this dubbing print back eventually we used to have to bloop those joins together, later they did a photographic bloop on those optical track dialogues. So every time there was a cut there was an optical bloop, you know a photographic bloop. We also had to write in where you cut optical, where you put positive prints in, ‘cos if you cut a, had a post-synch track or a dialogue track or a wild track in order to fit it I had a technique of adding or subtracting between syllables to elongate dialogue and syllables and cutting and shorting them and that way to make it fit. Of course, I used two prints, sometimes three, positive prints when I cut it originally. So when I sent it to the labs that was cutting the dialogue track I had to write a line right across and mark it up saying, ‘Do not cut neg, cut in positive prints to match’ you know ‘we need three prints or two prints’ or something you see and the lab did that so that left you free from a lot of extra work of cutting it in, having done it once you know. Not only that when you made cuts in the cutting copy print in the dialogue I used to put a little mark on each side of the cut ‘Lose two holes’, ‘Add two holes’, ‘Lose two holes’, ‘Lose three holes’ you know what I mean, which the lab girls or the cutters there … Actually, the girl I told you about Nancy Treadwell at Ealing, she used to do a lot of that work.
ALAN LAWSON: Oh. Now how did you lay-up dialogue scenes where words had to overlap?
HARRY MILLER: On two tracks yes.
ALAN LAWSON: On two tracks, I see.
HARRY MILLER: Put them on separate tracks.
ALAN LAWSON: The reason for blooping, what is the …
HARRY MILLER: Well on the optical tracks, that doesn’t work on magnetic of course, on the optical tracks the reason was when they were developed in the bath you would find pinholes caused by little spots of dust or something, which left a tiny little white thing on the optical track which went crickkkk. When they run the old films now you can hear this horrible background noise going “Crrrrrrr”, which is much accentuated.
ALAN LAWSON: So the blooping of joins though I mean …
HARRY MILLER: All the joins, on the optical all the joins sounded except the photographic bloops, which covered most of the joins. If you cut in anything on effects tracks and things or in the dialogue track, you could do one of two things, you could do two half moons, logarithmic half moons across with the centre just covering the join and blacken each side out or you could do one straight line through the whole lot and this went through without, you know
ALAN LAWSON: I see.
HARRY MILLER: You had to be careful though if you had any modulations where they were cut very tight. I had a system of cutting my dialogue, when I cut post-synch dialogues, when I cut them I would always, most of the cutting I would do for eliminating or adding to was done in between syllables with ‘dees’ and ‘tees’ or they had a bit of a tack on the front of the line and they used to cover the cut in that way so I didn’t need to have to bloop.
ALAN LAWSON: When did the diagonal join come in onto the soundtrack?
HARRY MILLER: Well, that came in quite a long while after. The first diagonal join was a little thing with a diagonal cut, first of all it was a straight cut about this size, do you remember them?
ALAN LAWSON: No I don’t.
HARRY MILLER: About this size
ALAN LAWSON: About 20 ???
HARRY MILLER: And then you had one little cut for a straight cut and then you had another one for a diagonal cut. Now that covered most of the cut something where you didn’t have to bloop and helped it out a lot, especially in dialogue.
ALAN LAWSON: Was that before the Italian joiner?
HARRY MILLER: Yes they were before the Italian joiner.
ALAN LAWSON: Now the post-synching in the optical days must have been a bit of a pain in the neck because you had to wait for your result didn’t you?
HARRY MILLER: Yes. You had to wait for your result every time because they had to go and be processed and get the print back, whatever you shot.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, yes. Did that present lots of problems?
HARRY MILLER: Yeah, well it did because it was a question of getting it back and sometimes the lab would take a little longer than, you know, until the next day as the rushes you’d get it back a day or two days later. So you had to give a strict instruction that you needed this back as rushes you know. We knew to ring them up and ask them to put it through quicker to save time. You lost a day anyway.
ALAN LAWSON: Sure you lost a day. I mean, did you have several goes at post-synching? I mean as it were anticipating the loop but in doing several takes and printing them all and hoping for the best or did you only print the one tape?
HARRY MILLER: Well, we’d probably do about several takes and choose one, like you do on the set. Really to be any good at it you had to really be able to look at that screen whilst they were saying it and see whether you could fit it. I used to work with a director and say, “Look it’s no good you getting a good take and it is looking terrible and they are all ???”. I had an agreement where we would shoot something you see, and I’d be sitting out in the theatre with the artist and he’d be sitting in the recording room and if at the end of the line I put my thumb up like that he’d know it was alright from me and then he’d say fine if it suited him or perhaps it didn’t suit him you see. We worked that way I think it was very useful to do it that way. Mind you some directors didn’t want you to be involved in any way with it and you got some stuff back you could never fit.
ALAN LAWSON: And you get the blame? [LAUGHTER] Tell me why are, why where sound effects recorded at a higher level than voice tracks?
HARRY MILLER: Because on the Moviola to start off when you are fitting them sometimes you can never hear them. Secondly, more important still, when you were dubbing and you wanted to push a sound effect through a bit of music or something to play that a bit high you would bring all the surface noise up with it, you see.
ALAN LAWSON: I see yes.
HARRY MILLER: Of course the mixers you know would think oh we’ll shoot this at the normal level we shoot it at on the floor but when you shooting effects you need to play, put the monitor down and shoot it higher.
ALAN LAWSON: Now once you have prepared all the tracks for dubbing what was the mixing process like bearing in mind that before magnetic arrived it was necessary to dub straight onto optical? Did you pre-mix at all and how many takes of each …
HARRY MILLER: We still did some pre-mixing and when you, each time you dubbed of course it didn’t have any rock and roll and it took about ten minutes between each take for rewinding the projection and everywhere and you would do enough takes until the director was happy and we were all happy sort of thing and they would say print that one and you wouldn’t see that until the next day, as rushes again.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you ever you know take two pieces of final mixes and make them as a one?
HARRY MILLER: Yes, we often did that, we use one take one for that much and take two say and perhaps even go back to one again, you know. Sometimes just for one line or something.
ALAN LAWSON: Now, this business of cueing of dubbing mixes, which is a thing we did talk about before we started recording, what kind of system did you offer the mixer in the ways of cues to start with?
HARRY MILLER: I used to give them a line on the picture the length of a ruler, 18” ruler, going right to the moment the line started or the scene started whatever it was. In post-synching right to the line and right to the spot, so he knew that he had to hit it on that spot when it hit that bottom of the frame.
ALAN LAWSON: Now was there any visual indication on the screen at all other than that?
HARRY MILLER: No. You’d go from one cut to another so you had to put the white to the cut but with this line coming across you knew to the frame where it was going to hit the bottom.
ALAN LAWSON: I see. You were saying, you thought that it was up at Elstree they did run a footage film from a second projector.
HARRY MILLER: Yes, yes, but later that was all automatic with the installation.
ALAN LAWSON: That’s when the tickers came in?
HARRY MILLER: Yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Because I was asking you about that one. Does, the ticker obviously worked to an enormous advantage to the mixer and presumably to you?
HARRY MILLER: Oh yeah. The mixers would just drop the footage down where they had to do certain things on the rehearsals and they set this and would do this and that and bring an equalizer in there
ALAN LAWSON: It also I suppose it made your job a lot easier in as much as you could inform people exactly what you were looking for?
HARRY MILLER: We had to make out cue sheets for the mixers and the dubbing and we put the footage down where they just changed, you know,
ALAN LAWSON: Now let’s go back into the cutting room the equipment you used in the early days with all your tracks, that was the Lawley wasn’t it?
HARRY MILLER: Lawley?
ALAN LAWSON: Wasn’t it a Lawley machine with, erm, you wound your soundtracks all in synch?
HARRY MILLER: The synchronizer? I don’t know the name of it.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes.
HARRY MILLER: I don’t know the name of it. Four-way or two-ways, they had four-ways or two-ways, yes.
ALAN LAWSON: Yes, it was the Lawley I think.
HARRY MILLER: You put four spools up you put them through the synchronizer and wound them up onto the other four spools, yes. We didn’t have any readers and we didn’t have any scanners. Today you’ve got a little picture on the Moviola, you could synch up without the Moviola some things.
ALAN LAWSON: Now what was the difference, the final difference on your last film? What kind of thing were you working with?
HARRY MILLER: I was still working with the Moviola but by that time they had changed this little lens, about three inch lens, to a little screen about this size, you know the ones they have now
ALAN LAWSON: Six inches.
HARRY MILLER: They are bigger now I think, yes, which saves a lot of people’s eyesight. It was much easier to work with because the little ball was terrible for synchronising things. That’s when I had to wear glasses for the first time I was synching up a silent film, mostly shot in long shot, you know, which when you see it on the screen you can see it on that Moviola it was horrible.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you have to take any special precautions working with magnetic tracks?
HARRY MILLER: Well when magnetic came in we had it at Denham, a bit later than some of the other studios, and they used to, people used to come and say to me you wait until you get onto magnetic, oh it’s terrible you’ll see. But what they did they ordered up to start with a positive print and a magnetic print. Right? So when the dubbing editors were synching things up they put this optical print in beside the magnetic one, which had the start marks both marked on them so they could see where to cut and things you see. The first film that I did on magnetic I couldn’t understand why they did that because that is a very expensive item and I didn’t see the need of it. I think one of the reasons of this is because on my moviola, on magnetic, I used to mark where the centre of the sound heads came on the side of the Moviola so I had a point where, that was the point where on the Moviola where I had to cut. Most people didn’t do that. What they did was they run the Moviola along and they sort of made a mark where the sort of thing you see. Also another thing I did was I used to turn the head round so I got it to the top of the frame that’s where I marked so when I put it in the synchroniser that went to the top of the frame, that mark I made you see. But I know dozens of people who were always a couple of holes out to start with when they marked it up on the Moviola.
ALAN LAWSON: Did you take any special precautions when working on the mag track, you know care not to wipe it or mag it up? What does that mean mag it up?
HARRY MILLER: Well I’ve never heard the expression before but you could, you could so easily wipe a track. I mean, when we first started most of the instruments in the cutting room like the Moviolas and everything and the synchronizer were all degaussed. The maintenance man used to come round and degauss them, right? That was dispensed with later. I can remember doing a film for my son up in a cutting room in Wardour Street there and they were doing some work there and he said, “Have you got, can you put something there?” and I said, “I’ll bring my tracks up, effects tracks and you send them off to the labs and get prints from them and then I’ll cut them in”, right? They were doing something there in that room on electrical equipment and I don’t know what happened but when they got to the labs they were all wiped, you know and what had happened was that a lead had come down and it wasn’t earthed on one of these bits surrounding of the table there. If you, you could eliminate, just by cutting you made a noise on the track.
ALAN LAWSON: You had to have a pair of phosorous bronze scissors?
HARRY MILLER: I’ll show you a pair in the cupboard if you want to see them. You know them
ALAN LAWSON: I know them yes. [LAUGHTER]
HARRY MILLER: Often you could, we used to pick up sounds at Denham originally and we wondered what it was that we were picking up and it was at the end of the corridor there were two projection theatres and the field of the motors on those two projection theatres we started picking up one time. All the sound crew came round and found out what it was you see, you had to be very careful how you handled it. But I always found I didn’t need this optical print made ever, I could cut on the tape right away and mark it up all right.
ALAN LAWSON: Looping and rock and roll, now tell us the advantages of rock and roll?
HARRY MILLER: Well rock and roll you can do a bit of dubbing and then go back and start afresh in the middle of the reel or somewhere, right? And then you would rewind you would go to speed where before you had to take them all off the machines and rewind them by hand. In dubbing it makes dubbing so much easier because you could never stop in the middle of a reel on optical and go back again. You had to get them all off and make another, if you wanted to start doing a section again we had to take them all off put them on the synchronisers and make a start mark, another start mark on all the tracks of the picture and put them on at that spot again. On the rock and roll you just wind back and forwards to the position you want.
ALAN LAWSON: They are in lock of course, dead in lock?
HARRY MILLER: Oh, yes. I remember I had an assistant who said her father had invented them in France.
ALAN LAWSON: Do you think he did?
HARRY MILLER: I think so. I don’t now his name.
ALAN LAWSON: Well I think that’s it Harry. Thank you.
HARRY MILLER: Marvelous. Thank you sir.
End Side 7
Start Side 8 [additional valuable material supplied by Harry himself 12 July 1988]
HARRY MILLER: When I first started at BIP in 1927 it seemed that it was usual for productions to end around November and start again the following April. A lot of staff were redundant for that period. My first year there I filled in with a pantomime at Liverpool. It was a difficult decision to return for the last silent picture I worked on Compulsory Husband, which had a sound sequence added later as the salary was much lower but the prospects seemed better.
When talkies arrived and I joined the sound department our department was always carried through the slack period, doing odd jobs such as painting gear and maintenance work. Although not connected with the editorial staff I worked with them when they needed sound effects shot. Bill Hammond was the supervising editor and editors Jarvey (Ted Jarvis), Sam Simmons, Charles Friend, Walter Stop???, John Neil Brown, Bert Bates, Les Norman and Sid Cole were some of the names I recall.
Early days there were some lengthy hold-ups due to a faulty cable, this entailed a new one put in all along the line until the faulty one was found. Later meters appeared to check continuity and made a much quicker job of it.
Cameramen used carbon arc with chokes this created a hum that we called ‘set noise’, mainly on the long shots. When we moved into a closed shot and the arc lamps were not used most of the hum disappeared so it was necessary to shoot a track with all the lights on as set noise to fill in. It was always difficult to get directors to spare a few minutes to shoot this, they thought they were losing their shooting time.
In the optical days editors would use a roll of blue coloured film with a blacked out soundtrack, called ‘ground noise’ to indicate silent sections in the cut and copied sound. An amber coloured roll with a blacked out soundtrack was used to indicate sound build-up. A roll of black frames was used to indicate build-up in the cutting copy picture, also lengths cutting to indicate listening scenes that were optical. The labs were aware of these codes.
The arrival of the Italian tape joiner made a great saving in the use of picture black frames build-up. Up to then you had to allow two perforations at the end of each piece of film you wished to join, so you lost a frame at each side of the cut. The Italian joiner cut and joined on a frame line and you could unpeel any join and change a cut without any loss.
At dubbing time the cutting copy dialogue track was stripped and marked up for the labs to neg cut and provide a dubbing print. This print came back with a photographic bloop on all joins. In the case of some very tight dialogue cuts you would mark up ‘Do not cut neg, cut any positive prints with diagonal joints and do not bloop’. Most cases we would have a dialogue one and a dialogue two. Where ends and fronts of dialogue were clipped we would put the incoming track on dialogue two and get the trims out and build-up and mark up the front and do the same for the ends on dialogue one. Also with overlaid lines or commentaries they would go onto dialogue two and we would salvage as much as possible of the original on dialogue one.
When filling post-synch dialogue or wild tracks I would often use two prints to elongate between syllables. I would mark up these tracks for the neg cutters not to cut neg but to order up dubbing prints and cut them to match into the print from the dialogue cut neg. The joins in these sections would be diagonal and not glued. My method of cutting these tracks using mainly ‘pees’, ‘dees’ and ‘tees’ etc. to extend or delete between syllables did not need blooping as the incoming signal covered the cut.
In conjunction with these dubbing mixers it took some time to persuade some floor mixers to record sound effects at a higher level than normal with the monitor down so that we could listen to listen to them as normal. This has two advantages, one: you do not bring surface noise up when pushing them up against other tracks when dubbing. Two, we could hear the tracks above the noise of the Moviola when synching up, especially the soft noises like footsteps etc.
Some studios required all leaders including picture, extended for dubbing, needing the extra length for their machines to get up to speed. For dubbing we put a thousand cycle pip on leaders on dialogue one and effects one to check synch of dub tracks and requirements of the sound department. After dubbing we marked up dub tracks for the labs, the leader had film title and reel number, start mark and search frame picture marked. At the end of the reel we marked up end of picture and end of twenty frames for changeovers. We used lots of wipes on pictures to cue dubbing mixes using a colour code, like red wipes to start and red dotted lines to end, another colour for interiors, another for exteriors, another colour for special items with lines across every frame. It was an amazingly lot of concoctions we could think up to help them. We used the same system for cueing artists when post-synching dialogue.
Some of the early scripts were pretty poor with regards to giving information apart from dialogue. The first really professional scripts I met up with were the MGM pictures I worked on: Yank at Oxford, The Citadel, Goodbye Mr Chips. They told you everything you needed to know, if you enquired about anything you were told to look at the script and it was there.
With the arrival of tape we were issued with very large scissors made of a non-conducting alloy to cut film with. The ordinary still scissors we used before made a big click on the soundtrack if we cut with them and there were regular degaussing on lots of cutting room equipment.
Herbert Wilcox would never be absent from the dubbing of his pictures. He had just finished the silent cut of The Yellow Canary and we were due to start dubbing after the weekend, I was just leaving the studio with my wife, he met us and he invited us up to his office for a drink. Anna was there. He opened some champagne and then said, “No-one knows about this and it has to be kept secret. Anna and I are getting married. Take this telephone number, don’t give it to anyone and only ring me if any real problem crops up during dubbing”. I had no problems and when he returned he ran the picture and surprised me and said, “OK, no changes.”
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