Jack Hildyard

Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
7 Jan 1988
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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Interview notes

Jack Hildyard (JH) 

Director of Photography


Interviewer: Alan Lawson (AL)

Date: 07/01/1988

2 Tapes


Side 1

00:00:00 – 00:09:15 Introductions; born in Mortlake, Surrey 1908; attended a council school then moved on to a business college; his father worked for Colman’s Mustard; a friend’s uncle worked as the Chief Engineer at BIP studios, Elstree, who suggested JH worked there; he had some interest in photography at this point; he started at BIP in 1932; prior to this point JH joined an American shirt company in Old Bond Street; he worked as assistant cameraman on Blossom Time with Claude Friese-Greene and Ronald Neame [Friese-Greene and Neame did work together at BIP during this period but are not credited for Blossom Time – IMDB]; when he first started at BIP he was cast as an extra as there was no work in the camera department that day; JH discusses his parents reaction to him entering the film business.

00:09:15 – 00:20:00 He started out on 15 shillings a week which then went up to 35 shillings; work started at 8:30am but the day was open ended; Brian Langley worked there at the same time; JH lived in Richmond at this time; someone from Cook’s lenses would be sent to refocus the lenses – this would happen late in the evening; on films he worked as ‘clapper man’ most of the crew were junior to him at this point; there was very little opportunity for JH to learn how the camera worked, Ronald Neame offered to teach him but he had to start work an hour earlier; they were still filming in booths at this point but only for back-projection; the assistant camera operator was taken ill one day so JH was given the opportunity to fill in.

00:20:00 – 00:25:45 After BIP JH moved to BND; in the middle of one film the studio burned down so they had to move to Isleworth to finish production – he met Burt Easy, chief of the camera department here; this was just before Denham was completed; JH was on focus at this point; the day before they moved to Denham the stage they were assigned caught fire; JH became an operator at Denham; JH joined Bob Krasker and the first big picture they made was Henry V; JH then made Caesar and Cleopatra.

00:25:45 – 00:30:30 The first camera he worked with as a cinematographer was three-strip which required four times the amount of light used today; a daylight shot in the studio required 800 foot-candles; this was not a problem as they had the correct rigging; JH says photographed in B&W and lit in colour – a question of separation; with the early Technicolor you could over-all light on the set but this couldn’t be done with B&W as the image would become ‘a grey nothing’.

00:30:30 – 00:34:10 Most of his early work was in the studio; no ‘natural’ locations but some exteriors; he did some work in Freetown, South Africa, and Egypt as an operator; JH talks about travelling to Freetown.

00:34:10 – 00:46:10  Changes in frame sizes made a difference as a cinematographer – there was a lot of space to take care of in CinemaScope and you couldn’t always put the lamps where you wanted them; changes in film stocks and less lighting required; most of the photography was B&W at this point; JH talks about some of the cameras he used and the problems with viewfinders; JH worked with special processes on a [Shifton?] crew at Denham; Gus Driss is mentioned; sound techniques and the impact on his work; camera crews haven’t changed much over the years apart from the effects of the long hours in those early days.

Side 2

00:00:00 – 00:10:35 JH never worked on quota quickies; he worked at Denham on the first and last day they were open; when he was assigned to Pygmalion, he became more aware of the work of the cinematographer through the techniques of Harry Stradling; technique is developed from doing the job; Bob Krasker and Harry Stradling had the most influence on his work; Anthony Asquith was most sympathetic to the operator; JH worked with a number of well-respected directors.

00:10:35 – 00:22:25 During the war years JH worked at Denham; he was placed in reserved occupation making films for the war effort; a number of American films were made during the war included A Yank in the RAF, JH and Ronald Neame did the location work in Ayr; JH first got involved with ACT while at Denham; it was a long time before they got a union; Percy Daton, John Dennis and Sash Fisher mentioned here; JH’s first lighting break on Caesar and Cleopatra – Bob Krasker started the film and JH was the operator, but Krasker was taken ill and Freddie Young replaced him; shooting exteriors in Egypt; JH’s standing with Gabriel Pascal was very high after working together before; English cameramen at this point were very loathed to dual set-ups and this fell to the operators; JH talks about how he got involved with Caesar and Cleopatra; JH chose not to shoot in Egypt with the rest of the crew, he work with Gabriel Pascal in the studio shooting scale models.

00:22:25 – 00:36:10 In 1946 JH made School for Secrets with Peter Ustinov; While the Sun Shines and Vice Versa are mentioned; Affairs of a Rogue [AKA The First Gentleman] with Cavalcanti; he worked on a few films with John Paddy Carstairs; Cardboard Cavalier with Walter Forde – JH walked of the set for the first time in his career as a result of a disagreement of a shot set-up; Chilton Hundred with John Paddy Carstairs; working with Bernie Knowles; Ken Annakin and Peter Ustinov on Hotel Sahara; Sound Barrier with David Lean – he had already worked with Lean as an operator; Lean and JH moved up to the roles of director and cinematographer around the same time; Lean wasn’t the fastest director; Frank Launder on Folly to be Wise; George More O'Ferrall and The Heart of the Matter.

00:36:10 – 00:44:25 Hobson’s Choice with David Lean; JH worked with Wendy Toye on The Teckman Mystery; Anatole Litvak on The Deep Blue Sea; Summer Madness with David Lean, a film JH enjoyed the most; The March Hare with George More O'Ferrall; Guy Hamilton on Charley Moon; Anastasia with Anatole Litvak; Albert Lewin and The Living Idol on location in Mexico with a Mexican crew; Bridge on the River Kwai, one of the early CinemaScope films; JH always new Kwai was going to be a great film but not one that would win him an Oscar; it was the first year of the Academy Awards when they only had one award for cinematography rather than one for both B&W and colour.

Side 3

00:00:00 – 00:10:30 JH felt that not many cinematographers working outside American were recognised at the Academy Awards; JH could not go to receive his Oscar for Kwai, he was on location in Austria with Joseph Losey; Lewis Allen Another Time Another Place, the first time in a while JH worked with a true American actress Lana Turner; JH talks about Lana Turner’s key lighting and how to light a dark spot under one of her eyes; The Journey with Joseph Losey and Deborah Kerr; Jet Storm; Devil’s Disciple; Suddenly Last Summer shot in Spain with Liz Taylor; The Millionairess with Anthony Asquith, Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren.

00:10:30 – 00:18:40  Fred Zimmerman and The Sundowners, shot in Australia; JH talks about dealing with the wildlife on the set of The Sundowners and refusing to shoot injured kangaroos; Nicolas Roeg was the operator on the film.

00:18:40 – 00:30:00 Road to Hong Kong with Norman Panama, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope; Live Now Pay Later with Jay Lewis – Borehamwood High Street night shooting; Nicholas Ray and 55 Days to Peking, Ray was taken ill on the first day of shooting; Casino Royale which he calls a ‘phoney Bond’ and working with the various directors on the film.

00:30:00 – 00:45:35 Circus World with Henry Hathaway and John Wayne; The Yellow Rolls Royce with Anthony Asquith; Battle of the Bulge with Ken Annakin, a tough film to shoot in the hills during the winter in Spain; a great number of tanks used for the film and it became hard to distinguish which army they represented; Modesty Blaise with Joseph Losey shot in Sicily; The Long Duel with Ken Annakin shot in Spain; Villa Rides Again with Buzz Kulik made in Spain; Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter with Saul Swimmer; Topaz with Hitchcock; Lee Pogostin and Hard Contract shot in Spain; Puppet on a Chain with Geoffrey Reeve shot in Amsterdam, working with the canal police during the boat chases; The Playroom with Ken Annakin which ran out of money; commercial for Ronald Spencer Stuffy Old Bank; Italian film which JH doesn’t remember.

Side 4

00:00:00 – 00:10:00 Continued discussion of the Italian film mentioned on the previous side directed by Massimo Dallamano, filmed in London, Rome and Beirut, virtually all location, some set work in Rome; commercial for Ronald Spencer My Word is My Bond; The Last Chapter with David Tringham; The Beast Must Die made for American television; Cat and Mouse directed by Daniel Petrie; Emily with Henry Herbert; The Message with Moustapha Akkad; Lion of the Desert and working with Anthony Quinn.

00:10:00 – 00:18:20 Harold Snowden and Ray Cooney on Not Now Comrade, an experimental film using TV cameraman but they couldn’t see any eyes so JH was asked to come in to help; Beauty and the Beast made for TV in the US; Wild Geese with Andrew V. McLaglen shot in Africa; JH mentions his agent Maurice Lambert of Film Rights; JH states that he had been asked to film Tai-Pan in China; Ellis Island for American TV; Florence Nightingale directed by Daryl Duke; after doing the recce for Tai-Pan JH had a stroke so Jack Cardiff took over; his favourite films were Summertime and Bridge of the River Kwai.

00:18:20 – 00:27:30 JH had a close relationship with the labs; his favourite labs were Technicolor and Denham; JH didn’t rely on a light meter but when necessary he used one made by the Rank Organisation; JH calls sunlight ‘the key light’, used like a lamp; brute lights were used until recently and superseded by the HMI light; JH had no interest in directing although he was offered work; discussion of working with directors.

00:27:30 – 00:36:50 JH has always enjoyed photographing women because of the challenge; JH used diffusion but not so much soft focus; JH and AL talk about actresses he has worked with; Moustapha Akkad was his favourite producer – thought about the crew a great deal.


[Notes from file attached to log-sheet; they appear to be a mix of prepared questions and prompts, drafted prior to the Eastmancolor project notes, above. DS]

 In, 1945 you got your first real break as co-lighting cameraman on Caesar and Cleopatra: tell us the circumstances of that - what was it like to work with Gabby Pascal, was he supportive?

After that film were you now established as a Lighting Cameraman?

 1946 You light School for Secrets with Peter Ustinov - tell us about working with him.

1947-48 You light two films: While the Sun Shines for Tony Asquith and Vice Versa for Peter Ustinov - tell us about those productions and problems.

1948 saw you busy - The First Gentleman for Cavalcanti - tell us about working with Cavalcanti - then you went on to Sleeping Car to Trieste with John Paddy Carstairs - how did vou get on with Paddy Carstairs — then Cardboard Cavalier for Walter Forde, now he was a real oldtimer tell us about that production.

1949: one for John Paddy - The Chiltern Hundreds then The Perfect Woman for Bernie Knowles an old cameraman was that a difficult position for you?

1950 The Reluctant Widow for Bernie Knowles - one for Paddy Carstairs Tony Draws a Horse - then The Dancing Fleece for Fredrick Wilson.

1951 Again you were with Paddy Carstairs on Talk of a Million, that seems to be the last time you worked with him - any reasons - then you did Hotel Sahara for Ken Annakin tell us about working with him.

1952 Seems to have been a bit busy for you - Home at Seven - Edinburgh with David Eady then with David Lean for Sound Barrier, the start of a batch of films you made with David - tell us about that. Theh you went onto Folly to be Wise with Frank Launder.

1953 The Heart of the Matter with dear George More O'Farrall tell us about working with him - then back with David Lean for Hobson's Choice.

1954 Another one with George More O'Farrall The Green Scarf and you followed that with The Teckman Mystery with Wendy Toye, who was perhaps the first woman director in England for several decades to tackle a feature film: tell us about working with her.

1955: another busy year for you The Deep Blue Sea with Anatole Litvak - Summer Madness with David lean - and then The March Hare with George More O'Farrall.

1956: Charley Moon for Guy Hamilton - then Anastasia for Anatole Litvak.

1957: another busy year for you - The Living Idol for Albert Lewin - then The Bridge on the River Kwai for David Lean - there must be a lot to be said about that film, what problems did you face?

1958 Then after that for Joe Losey on The Gypsy and the Gentleman. Another time, another place for Lewis Allen - then another – 1959 - with Anatole Litvak The Journey. Another busy year - Jet Storm for Cy Raker Endfield - then another one with Guy Hamilton The Devil's Disciple followed by Suddenly last Summer for Joseph Mankiewicz.

1960. You renewed your partnership with Tony Asquith on The Millionairess tell us about that film and its problems. - then The Sundowners for Fred Zinnemann

1961 Only one film The Road to Hong Kong for Norman Panama what problems did you face if any.

1962 A James Bond [I think this may be an error based on the title]. DS] Live Now Pay Later Jay Lewis. What are the kind of films like to work on?

1963: After that 55 Days to Peking for Nicholas Ray. Valley of the Fallen for Andrew Marton followed by The V.I.P.s for Tony Asquith.

1964 Henry Hathaway's Circus World. Anything to tell us about that? Then Tony Asquith's The Yellow Rolls Royce.

1965. Ken Annakin’s Battle of the Bulge - what kind of problems did you face on that?

1966. Modesty Blaise for Joe Losey.

The Long Duel: again, you were with Ken Annakin - then Casino Royale with 5 directors John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish and Joe McGrath not an easy assignment.

1968 Villa rides Again with Buzz Kulik anything special about that? and then Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter with Saul Swimmer.

1969 Topaz for Hitchcock and Hard Contract for Lee Pogostin.

1970 Puppet on a Chain with Geoffrey Reeve, any special…?

1971 The Playroom with Ken Annakin, which wasn’t finished. Why was that?

1972 Ronald Spencer's Stuffy old Bank [? DS]any special thoughts?

1973 You went to Italy and made an Italian film Servizio di scorta - what about language problems and crew? In that same year you made another film with Ronald Spencer My Word is my Bond.

1974 The Last Chapter with David Tringham - The Beast Must Die Paul Annett - then a film made for US TV, Cat and Mouse directed by Daniel Petrie.

1975 nothing, resting between pictures is the expression.

1976 Emily with Henry Herbert - then you made The Message with Moustapha Akkad. You followed that with Not Now Comrade with Harold Snoad and Ray Cooney - then you photographed another TV film for the states, Beauty & the Beast

1977 Resting again. 1978: The Wild Geese with Andrew V McLaglen.

1979 Again resting which shows what the industry was going through - tell us about your reaction to these trying times.

1980 You made another film with Akkad Lion of the Desert tell us about that Since that time have you done anything?

Over some 43 years as Lighting Cameraman which film gave you the most satisfaction and why?

Which film gave you the most headaches and problems? Why?

How do you approach the lighting of a given film - have you a particular method? How much do you rely upon a meter -— either for interiors or exteriors?

What kind or kinds of meter do you use?

Have you ever worked on TV Commercials? Tell us your experience of them.

If you could start all over again - would you want to change course and do something different?



b. London  1908    d. London    1990


CINEMATOGRAPHER .  Began as a clapperboy at Elstree in 1932, Camera Operator 1937   Cinematographer  1945.  Many films with David Lean including Oscar for " Bridge on the River Kwai".   Last film  "Lion of the Desert"  1980 .

His younger brother DAVID is a sound recordist.