Ken Holt

Family name: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
13 Jun 2013
Production Media: 
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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

00:40:31 opticals.

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




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.


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.

Part of this interview appears in Culture, Creativity and Disappearing Celluloid, Audio Visual Thinking (Andrew Dawson and Sean P Holmes, 2014)


Ken died on 2 December 2018.