John Jeffrey

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Interview Date(s): 
23 Feb 1993
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Born 27 Sept 1917, Motherwell. Educated locally, first job was with Liptons as a delivery boy, then on the counter, then on the night shift in a bakery. Came south and worked for The Cold Storage Company in Bournemouth. Returned to Motherwell, then sent on a training course to Watford where he learned scientific glass-blowing. Joined Atlas Sprinklers Co., Hayes and then moved to Fairey Aviation, then joined up. Took various courses and on demobilisation went after a job at Hawker-Siddeley, but there was a strike on. On his way home he passed Technicolor Plant, got off the bus and asked for a job. Went into soundtrack development at 1shiling and ten pence an hour [c9 new pence], then moved to Positive Control at 3 shillings and 6 pence an hour [17.5 new pence], then moved to Register Control. After the “lock-out” of 1954, he left to go to Colour Film Services with Roland Chase, later went on to the Board of Directors. CFS moved to Portman Square, then later opened a new lab in Perivale where they processed the first Ektachrome [film stock] in the UK. From his talk it is obvious that Roland Chase was a very unpredictable man to work with, and after some 22 years it was time to break that service and he relates how he joined Humphries Labs.


He backtracks to CFS and relates how he, together with his local MP, battled with Customs & Excise [now HMRC] to get the duty raised on imported “one-off” colour print from which internegatives would be made. He then goes on to talk about the problems he faced when he took control of Humphries Lab’s out of date equipment and the difficulties faced when trying to get new equipment moved into a building which had narrow passages and iron doors. He relates an interesting story about Stanley Kubrick and the Barry Lyndon negative. He talks about being asked by Weintraub to examine the negatives held by Pathe Library at Elstree. He then backtracks to Technicolor and the training that was given. Now in retirement he works on Adult Education teaching literacy and numeracy and starts to describe his work.

SIDE THREE [only about 15 minutes duration]

He continues to talk about his work in Adult Education and the various other activities that take up his time, and finally fishes up at Technicolor. [END]


John Jeffrey (JJ)

Laboratories (Technicolor, Colour Film Services, Humphries)

BECTU No. 273

Interviewers: Alan Lawson (AL) & Syd Wilson (SW)

Date: 23/02/1993

2 Tapes

Side 1

00:00:00 – 00:09:05 Born 27 Sep 1917 Motherwell; schooling; 1926 strike & depression; marriage at Gretna Green and move to Hamilton; started in Lipton’s groceries, deliveries and later behind the counter; worked night shifts in a bakery before moving south to Eastbourne; moved back to Hamilton when his wife was pregnant and got a job at a steelworks in Motherwell; the steelworks put him on part-time so he pleaded with the labour exchange to put him on a glass-blowing training scheme in Watford for 4 months; he then got a job at Atlas Sprinkler Company in Hayes before moving to an aviation company; he then joined the home-guard during the war; later joined Magnitech and then the army where he was sent to Blackpool.

00:09:05 – 00:15:40 John was sent to a training camp at Squires Gate, with the East-Lancs regiment; he then went to train as a driver mechanic at Ashton-under-Lyne and was then sent to Norwich and then moved to Doncaster to train as a radar mechanic; move to Huddersfield then Twycross for further training; he spent most of his time in technical colleges; Colonel Gates; towards the end of the war he started a vehicle electricians course at St Georges in Glasgow, then to the Army School of Science in Bury then to Rolls Royce in Derby; he was demobbed and moved back to Magnitech for 5 days.

00:15:40 – 00:23:20 With his new skill as a vehicle mechanic he went to Hawker Siddeley in Langley; this is when he first saw the Technicolor site and went in for a job; a man named Mitchell offered him a job; started at the light end of the sound wave – track developing and matte loops; a lot of women working there then; then moved to positive control; then first operator; finally in register control – dye transfer; his supervisor was a man named Ivor Lomas who went on to work for Roland Chase and tried to persuade John to join him; George Newton; he stayed out during the lock-out in 1954 as he was an active union member; Ray Sharp; Alf Cooper; he went to join Colour Film Services; his son turned 15 and joined nautical college; Roland Chase; mentions Kodachrome films [Down the Road Thinning?] and [No Hands Stripping ?] which were sent over from the US for prints to be made in the UK which were then distributed across Europe; Roland Chase started making prints from a basement in Welbeck Street.

00:23:20 – 00:23:33 John joined Chase when he had moved to Shelton Street.

JJ: The problem was getting stock and you had to go cap in hand to Kodak to get a few rolls of stock to do your prints.

00:23:33 – 00:30:24 Clients would come with Kodachrome originals and it would take three weeks to see the first prints; as a result of developments at Technicolor before he left, Ivor Lomas knew that because of the high-Cyan contrast of duplication, if you printed a mask and blanked-off the Cyan in the shadow area you would get a more pleasing result; with the old system of 1-to-1 duplication you would just double the contrast “which was hopeless really”; a high price was charged for their work because of the quality; Colour Film Services then moved to Portman Square with the biggest share of the 16mm business for many years; then opened a processing laboratory at Perivale where they processed the very first 16mm Ektachrome in the country – Kodak didn’t want to process it themselves as it was too awkward; the first Ektachrome film they did was for Dr Brian Stanford; at this point they had nearly 100 staff at the two locations; Jack Davis (from Sub-Standard film – later Filmatic) and Roland Chase began discussing the possibilities of a merger – Chase backed out and looked to Vic Gover (Overseas Film and Television) but Gover then stepped back from that deal; a deal with Studio Film Labs also fell through; he worked with Roland Chase between 1954-75.

00:30:24 – 00:40:36 Ron Hague joined from Technicolor and started to develop their own ultrasonic cleaning equipment; JJ was a senior direct at Colour Film services, travelling around the world to bring new business in – offices were opened in Zurich and Manchester; Humphries wanted to merge with Colour Film Services as they believed more 16mm work would be good for their business; Roland Chase pulled out of this merger and JJ demanded to be released from his contract – John Davey from Humphries paid the fee Chase requested to break the contract; Humphries were overstaffed so JJ had to make redundancies – this was a result of poor management; JJ discusses the unions.

Side 2

00:00:00 – 00:05:15 JJ discusses recording on magnetic and film; John Seabourn; duty charges on films taken in overseas – when a positive image was seen he was hard to convince them it was going to be used as a negative for printing – JJ went to see their local MP to discuss the issue and cut down the duty and help the 16mm business and later TV; early history of Humphries – started as a titling business; some of the finest black and white features were processed by Humphries; Bob Ellis.

00:05:15 – 00:05:34

JJ: It’s funny that they used to say that when Eastman first came in, colour, everybody, nobody took it serious nobody thought it would last at all – truly. But it lasted, yeah. And they just built up their business on feature after feature after feature and really it was the prominent laboratory in London wasn’t it?

00:05:34 – 00:20:00 It was known as Best Lab at first; by the time JJ arrived everyone was getting modern – Hazeltine Analyser Model C; the building was decrepit at the time; they were always three steps behind in equipment; Lesley Oliver; Jeff Bridge – accountant took over when JJ left; they couldn’t compete with Technicolor or Rank; all the Minder series, Danger Unexploded Bomb and World at War were printed at Humphries; JJ was the director of seven companies before retirement; satellite laboratories were set up in Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow; Glasgow was a new lab with modern equipment; before Humphries crumbled JJ offered these satellite labs to Rank who purchased them – they were handy for TV; Bill Lloyd; Roger Beck – Thames Television; JJ discusses the regional TV stations and personnel; ‘greasing palms’ for business; Stanley Kubrick used to send presents to Humphries at Christmas.

00:20:00 – 00:24:27 

JJ: We had just finished… no, we’d done Clockwork Orange and we were on Barry Lyndon, we had all of the negative of Barry Lyndon in the place and when I got there, of course we were desperately short of money and I looked it up and found out Kubrick owed us 20,000 quid and hadn’t paid anything for a long time and the other thing was that he was getting reprint rushes at a lower rate, I mean, he was getting his rushes at a rate lower than anybody else, normal rushes. But when you want reprint rushes, as you know, you’ve got to get people in the vaults, you’ve got to get them out, you’ve got to find them, paper them up, print sections, you can’t do that for a cut rate.

SW: Reprints always take the higher charge.

JJ: That’s right. So I refused. I said “No, I’m sorry, we can’t carry on doing that.” And he took umbrage at this and I said “Well, you know, if that’s how you are going to be then we won’t process any more until you pay up.” So he sent his son-in-law, I think it was, he was an accountant and I got word in advance that he was coming up to knock my head off, because this was Warner Brothers. So this guy comes up to the office and said “You can’t do this”. I said “Well I’ve bloody well done haven’t I, I mean we need money.” He said “Well so do we.” I said “Whose need is greatest? We’ve got all these people that have got to get paid, we need some money for God’s sake.” And he then said “OK, you’ll have your money, but we’ll take every bit of negative away from you.” I said “Well, so be it.  There’s no point in us processing negative and not getting paid for it. What’s the point?” Well, it was arranged that they would send … Securicor came on the Saturday afternoon. We had to take the staff on then and there, at 5:30pm precisely, cos the temperature, it was summertime, would be right for these negatives and they’ve got thermometers, putting them in all these cans and he … he knew every frame of that film. He knew and everything was checked and double checked and treble checked and it went away to Rank’s and it was funny, about a week later I was sitting in the golf club one Saturday morning and John Hudson came in, he was swearing like blazes, he says “I wish you’d kept Barry Lyndon, we’ve done twelve inter-negs and we haven’t got one right yet.”

SW: They had a room full of them.

JJ: Now this man, I mean, he’s probably a great producer, but he’s too much.

SW: We first had him on 2001, which was 65mm.

JJ: These shots were actually lit with candles, do you remember? He had got candles made with three wicks, or four wicks in these candles and he had all these burning. I think he was a bit of a nut, weren’t he?

SW: Well he was. With Clockwork Orange you did 50 prints for him and he pulled almost 50 prints in after so long, brought them down to us at the film clinic. We had to polish them and all the rest of it, get rid of all the defects and he personally sat through every one of them of those 50 prints.

JJ: He would ring Bob Ellis up at three o’clock in the morning at his home and say “Bob, I was looking at yesterday’s rushes again and I don’t like them. Come and look at them with me.” And poor old Bob used to trot up to Whitfield Street in the middle of the night and sit there and look at these rushes again and again. So when it came to The Shining, wasn’t it?  Was his next production. The one that burned down at Elstree. I said to Bob “Well, you know, we need this work, Bob. He’s a great pal of yours” but Bob wouldn’t go near him. I think Bob could’ve got it back for us, maybe, because Kubrick had such faith in Bob. Bob Ellis.  

Al: My son worked for him. He was on Barry Lyndon

JJ: Was he? Some of the stuff was beautiful. It really was beautiful. And it was Alcott that shot it, wasn’t it? Alcott was it? Johnny Alcott I think it was. But some of it was lovely, wasn’t it? But, you know, he was too much of a perfectionist to be commercial, in my opinion.

00:24:27 – 00:30:22 JJ recently had a call from Weintraub about buying the Pathe library at Elstree – they wanted advice on the negatives; Weintraub went ahead with the purchase; JJ mentions that a lot of old printing equipment from the labs were shipped to India.

00:30:22 – 00:45:24 JJ time at Technicolor was most fruitful – good training, learning about photography and film; the ‘lock-out’ at Technicolor was not a strike; JJ thought about moving away from Colour Film Services to set up another company; 1950s and 1960s were the best days of the laboratories; at Technicolor they could spend a whole week just making IB prints of Gone with the Wind; JJ describes the difficult working in a higher office and negotiating with the unions; Brian Pritchard and Henderson’s; JJ now spends a lot of time playing golf; JJ also dedicates time to adult illiteracy.

Side 3

00:00:00 – 00:15:57 JJ talks about adult education, the Samaritans, ARISE, and former colleagues at Colour Film Services; within an hour of the announcement of the King’s death, Hamilton Knight called Technicolor to book all four of the Technicolor cameras in the country to film the new Queen’s coronation; JJ talks about the Freemasons; JJ’s son became a Master in the Navy and then a jet pilot; Technicolor went public while JJ worked there and they made they first £1 million.