[Transcribed from David Robson’s handwritten notes. DS]
Born 1923 at Plymouth Hoe. Father was a local GP [doctor]. Earliest film recollection was being taken to see The Scarlet Pimpernel as a reward for being good at the dentist. He also attended a film lecture at the New Gallery about that time, aged about 11 given by a man called ‘Grey Owl’. The next stage was when he founded a film society at Winchester [school] in 1937. He made short films there, one about life at school called Wavecrest and experimented with editing. From school he went into the Army (1941). Used to watch Anthony Asquith making films at Shepherds Bush whilst he was on leave. Asquith advised him to join the Crown Film Unit when he left the army, which he did as a positive cutter. Was interviewed by Terry French. First film was Killing Farm Rats, director Graham Wallace. Next picture was A Diary for Timothy, directed by Humphrey Jennings, 1944. Interesting account of how he edited the out-takes to produce another picture portraying Myra Hess! Production details of ‘Timothy’ during which John suffered a nervous breakdown – mountains of rushes and there was a near-miss from a V2 [rocket] which showered glass everywhere in the cutting rooms. Next film was The Railwayman, followed by Instruments of the Orchestra – his first big break (1945-6). Production details. After a fight with ACT he was upgraded to an Assistant Editor. Next picture, as editor, was String of Beads, director Ralph Keen 1947, Merton Park. Followed by Three Dawns to Sydney which was released with The Third Man and then Waverley Steps, director John Eldridge. On this picture John claims to have introduced the technique of overlapping sound into the sequence before. Sound for this picture was ‘wild’ and recorded on disc – very difficult to synchronise. After that he worked on a few sponsored films. Screenings were done at Guild House where Peter Morley was the projectionist. Some reminiscences of Pinewood – out of context. John left Green [?] Park to join Group 3 to cut  Brandy for the Parson, director John Eldridge. Details of personalities in Group 3; production details of ‘Parson’.
Some observations on [John]Grierson. The Brave Don’t Cry, 1952 director Philip Leach – the only Group 3 feature that made a profit -production details, Leacock good to work for, trusted the editor, never entered the cutting rooms. There were two further pictures from Southall: The Oracle, d. Pennington-Richards [BEHP Interview No 122], and Background, d. Dan Birt: Production details. Next film was Blue Peter, d. Wolf Rilla (Beaconsfield). Cast and production details. After that he left to edit The Kidnappers, d. Philip Leacock at Pinewood. Set in Canada, locations in Scotland. Production details: first rough-cut was two and a half hours and quite a lot had to come out. Rank didn’t think it would make money but it was successful despite the fact it was not made in colour. It had to be shot in wide ratio so that it could be projected in 1:66 or 1:33 formats. Next picture was The Black Rider, d. Wolf Rilla at Walton Studios. Rilla a much under-rated director. Cutting rooms at Walton a bit of a shambles. John worked on several films there: Life in Danger and Cover Girl Killer. He then embarked on nearly ten years of second features, seven of them for Lance Comfort a marvellous director to work for, his films cut so easily, only two to three weeks on the [studio] floor. Details of some of the films, one of which, Strongroom, was shown as a feature at Leicester Square Theatre. Another two films, shot at Beaconsfield, were The Man in the Back Seat and House of Mystery. Michael Winner anecdote.
Pacific Destiny d. Wolf Rilla, shot in Samoa: creeping synchronisation due to a technical problem; camera running slow entailed a great deal of post-sync work. It was cut at Shepperton. Received a scathing review about editing. Dilys Powell always liked John’s work. Escapade, made at Walton, d. Philip Leacock, produced by Sid Cole [Interview No 7]. Cast and production details – boring to cut. In between second features he cut a few documentaries, some for Worldwide and British Transport Films among others. Every Valley was one for which he also wrote the commentary for a film about railway track laying. A third film for British Transport was Four Back Rooms, and he thought up the titles for all three. Edgar Anstey gave him the job of directing a film about the end of steam, but although some film was shot, it never came to anything. Julian Wintle offered him the job of directing The Malpas Mystery; he directed for the first week and was then taken off the film. John says he was good at dealing with bits of film but unhappy when dealing with people speaking for himself.
The Man Upstairs for ACT Films, d. Don Chaffey, 1959 and produced by Bob Dunbar[Interview No 73]]: interesting account and production details. Good notices mentioned the editing. After that he cut three more for Don Chaffey: Danger Within; Lies My Father Told Me and Middle of Nowhere. A marvellous director to work for. Production details. There was one more film for Chaffey, called Clinic Xclusive, made at Shepperton – a sex film before the craze for sex films started: story – John was ashamed of it and changed his name on the credits to Mortimer Lodge. But Chaffey never forgave him, taking it as an insult and John never worked for him again! More details about John’s second feature period. There were five films for Harry Alan Towers – various titles – and Crooks Anonymous for Julian Wintle. Also The Face of Fu Manchu, d. Don Sharp[Interview No 304] probably one of the best films Sharp has made. Details of ‘Fu Manchu’. Towers: a marvellous producer to work for, despite his reputation for not paying the crew. Another of his films – Ten Little Indians – was made in Persia (Iran) and cut in Madrid because it was the only lab in Europe Towers didn’t owe money to! Stories about Towers.
The next stage began in 1966 with Privilege, d. Peter Watkins, which John cut. Watkins a very odd director – details. After Privilege the good times began as American money came into the industry. He cut a Peter Collinson short for TV called Day of Peace, followed by two features called Penthouse and Up the Junction – both for Paramount. These were followed by two more for Collinson: The Long Day’s Dying and The Italian Job, 1969, which commercially was the most successful picture John has ever worked on.
More about The Italian Job. He also cut Pied Piper, 1971, d. Jacques Demy, produced by David Puttnam [Interview No 600] with a cast of practically every British character actor who ever existed. Production details. Puttnam: marvellous to work with. Next film was Get Carter, 1971, writer-director Mike Hodges. John reckoned it the best film he has ever worked on and the best editing he’s ever done. Shot on location in Newcastle. Production details. Next film was Entertaining Mr Sloane, d. Douglas Hickox, 1969. Cast and production details. Hickox a sarcastic character. Next film was The Breaking of Bumbo, d. Andrew Sinclair. John was sacked because he grew impatient and started cutting before the end of the film, against orders. The picture was never released. [It is available on DVD] Another film on which John was fired was The Fourteen, d. David Hemmings. He was expected to stand behind the director and advise him if he was doing something wrong that wouldn’t cut. But due to the distance between the studio and the cutting room, it became an impossible task. He was sacked for lack of enthusiasm!
He cut two at Elstree: Alfie Darling, d. Ken Hughes and To the Devil a Daughter, d. Peter Sykes. Sykes an underrated director. Of all the studios he liked working at Twickenham the best, partly because it was close to home, [but] it also had good facilities. He talks about the various studios. ACT a great help when he was sacked on The Fourteen film. The next film was Swedish, called Black Sun, set in Spain and not shown in the UK. (It was largely out of date anyway, since [General] Franco had gone). Another feature that was not shown in the UK was an American TV film called Charles and Diana: a Royal Love Story. 1982. Production details. Steenbecks and Movieolas compared. Cutting room practice in Hollywood discussed.
In 1978 he cut a TV series called Danger UXB, d. Ferdinand Fairfax – an underrated director. John cut 8 of the 13 episodes over a period of six months. (Euston Films). Production details. From the early 1980s onwards, he did a lot of documentary training films for Rank Audiovisual – good to work on. He also worked on four series of films for BBC English – training films for teaching the language abroad. He also worked on a navy recruiting film called All of One Company, d. Mike Dodds, which had to be ditched when HMS Coventry was sunk in the Falklands.
He cut a film about Kew Gardens in The World About Us series which was done in Bristol. An unhappy experience because the BBC refused to pay expenses for the reasons stated in the interview. Then he worked with John Legard [Interview No 402] on a series in 1986 called Follow me to Science for Chinese TV (English by television), based at Kingsway. From April to April 1988-89 he worked on a series called People and Places: ten films about places in the UK, all shot on 16mm [film]. He chose the music for this series. Production details. The last job, lasting for 3 weeks in 1990 was for an amateur filmmaker who wanted to show his work – a soft porn subject.
The remainder of the interview is largely about film appreciation and techniques.