Jack Hildyard

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

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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.