Ken Holt began a long a fulfilling career as a technician at Denham film laboratories in 1944. Much of the interview, which was conducted at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, is devoted to his years in the labs where he describes in some detail special effects and the workings of the sensitometric and optical departments. After seven years at Denham, Ken moved to the labs at MGM Studios, headed by Thomas Howard who in 1947 received a best visual effects Oscar for Blythe Spirit. Subsequently, he became Thunderbirds studio manager in Slough. He briefly returned to MGM before turning freelance. Ken completed his career in commercial television as assistant head of film at ATV in Birmingham.
KEN HOLT – laboratory worker; special effects; studio manager, head of film unit at ATV.
Interviewed 13 June 2013
Interviewer: Sean Holmes
Camera: Andrew Dawson
DoB: 14 February 1930
Family background: Youngest of five siblings of working class family; born Uxbridge. Father cabinet maker; family originally from East End.
00:02:49 Schooling: war disturbed education.
00:05:27 avid cinema goer; often three times a week
00:06:27 Career aspiration: wanted to go into films; left school aged 14; no vacancies at Denham Studios but interviewed for Denham Labs.
DENHAM LABS, 1944-51
00:08:48 Junior clerk in offices of Denham Labs; transfers to technical side; George Barker boss; Sensitometric Dept; uses a densitometer
00:14:08 Grading. Handling newsreel rushes for Pathe and Gaumont; D-Day footage. Working during air raids.
00:18:22 ACT film I Know Where I’m Going. Denham lab described;
00:26:05 lab hierarchy
00:27:35 women in labs
00:31:34 describes work of neg cutting dept
00:37:47 dupe negatives
00:42:10 shooting back projection
00:43:05 working with studios
00:45:49 lab social relations
00:47:00 workers and management
00:50:28 a staunch Churchill man.
MGM LABS 1951-59
00:51:57 leaves Denham in 1951. Moved to Boreham Wood, 18 miles away; Thomas Howard, received Oscar for Blythe Spirit special effects.
00:56:32 Much smaller than Denham; his work described.
01:06:17 Eastman Color arrives.; is now a contact man.
01:10:10 unions at MGM described – ETU, ACT, NATKE, NUJ.
01: 11:52 labour management relations. Miniatures for 633 Squadron; Stanley Kubrick takes over special effects dept
Studio manager. Slough Trading Estate. Full of young talent
01:19:39 responsible for day-to-day running of studio model making, puppet makers, editors. Also involved in Captain Scarlett 150 employees.
Lew Grade pulls plug on Thunderbirds
BACK TO MGM
01:30:09 Life of Dickens documentary; other locations around the world.
01:36:47 Assistant head of film, running film unit.
01:43:21 biggest achievements.