Len Runkel

Family name: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
9 Nov 1988
13 Sep 1989
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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Interview notes

The 9 Nov 1988 interview was conducted by Alf Cooper and Alan Lawson (sides 1-3), and Alan Lawson on 13 Sep 1989 (sides 4-6).


Notes from audio interview by Phil Windeatt 15/12/17

Disk 1


Born Wood Green 1922. Grammar school and matriculated. Went into insurance office for a few weeks. His Uncle Ernie “Pop” Runkel said “come in with me” to be an apprentice camera mechanic. Father clerk of the chapel in Fleet St at time of 1926 General Strike. Newspaper wholesalers. Outbreak of 2WW. Joined up early. Tank regiment at Catterick in 1940. Driver/mechanic and then fitter. Wireless and gunnery courses. Applied for a commission. “Officers were thick” Went to Sandhurst military college. Played clarinet (Benny Goodman fan) and got an MU ticket. Played jazz professionally. “Had a good war”. After war back to ED Runkel & Sons Cinematographic Engineers. 1944 severely wounded at Anzio. 15 mths in Queen Marys, Roehampton. Lieutenant by then.

Maintenance of cameras – from Movietone and GB newsreels dried up. Work for BBC newsreel – fixed Mitchell cameras. Studios bought new equipment so Uncle went into manufacture. A lightweight tripod for lightweight 35mm and 16mm cameras. “Made the base for the friction head”.


Made editing equipment, a counter… synchronisation”. Made a stack of studio shutters…”. Stayed until Dec 1947. Industry was booming but little work, practically out of business… more or less out of work, the old man very ill, “cant afford to pay you…” Saw ad for Maintenance Engineer at Technicolor. 2 and 7 halfpenny an hour for a 45 hr week. Not a union member but wanted to be one. “Bert Craik and George Elvin came down and I told them I wanted to join and also the Labour Party. 8 mths before I joined! Lab workers were second-class citizens, short of money, short of staff…”

Full-time union officials should get the same wage as those on the job. 1948 became a shop steward.

Long and detailed explanation of a pinbelt by Alf Cooper.

Exacting standard – built 22 optical printer. But Dry Maintenance set them up “ a piece of film is the governor”. Role of the toolroom and maintenance. Complications in cameras. “Problems were overcome through experience”.

Problems with the Americans – Formerly independent Technicolor was taken over again in 1960’s. Elvin told Len to attend the Negotiating Committee in London 1948 or 9.


Disk 1- 1:29:43

Alf says “Some of the employers we respected, Elvin had respect…” “You could wine and dine George but you couldn’t buy him…”

Len – “in the main easier negotiating in town than locally… I didn’t like Hendersons or Humphries… we were grossly underpaid”.


Alf – “sick and tired of the wages we were getting … I tell you I used to look at all these flash names of cameraman, the way they were treated and they got credits and everything else God Dammit, the guys in the labs saved everyone as big as they were at the time… yet the labs always got the blame for everything…”

“Labs always seemed subservient. Just because we were not credited doesn’t mean we didn’t contribute anything…”

Len “.., the labs undervalued themselves…more industrially-based then any others… we were working in film factories…”

Alf disagrees with film factory “you can’t turn film out like sausages…”

Len “…treated us and paid us as factory hands”.

Alan Lawson “tucked away in the dark…”

Len “Elvin told him “profits are undistributed wages … still true that the producer doesn’t get his share of the cake. 94% of wealth is owned by 6%... not a democracy…”

Strike threat opening day of ITV. Agreement reached at 4pm. TV people “got outlandish pay compared to Labs. Same at Visnews “3 days on, 3days off”. Alf compares wages there with wages at Technicolor. “robbed me ever since”.


Len “What changed Technicolor was the lock-out. Sent scabs to Coventry, Lasted for months and upset them. “We were v.angry” (Alf).

Technicolor went into the doldrums… Rank got into colour quicker. Technicolor had a poor attitude to its customers, they went to competitors. Decline in quality. Competition of television “suicidal”. 65mm and 70mm made money for the labs but cost the labs a lot.

Amateur union officers at Technicolor better than full-timers who on an invite-basis only. “We could screw more out of management… (Len)”. Praise for Bert Craik who was from the labs “a lovely fella”. Alf “he knew what it is was like to work in the ”. Bert Craik “one of the best optical printers in the business” – the other person speaking not AC or LR; or the other person.


Len “Most people in our industry don’t have a piece of film in their hand … no idea of the stress a piece of negative causes when it comes into the lab, its more importance than life itself…”

Discussion of two legal cases brought against the union.


Legal case one – a Producer left a crew abandoned in Spain. Producer’s union ticket was withdrawn. He took union to court but lost case.

Boulting Brothers had lost their union tickets because they allowed their dues to lapse. They withdrew their legal case.

Discussion about “a fat little slug in the sound dept” (Ernie Cousins). Leaked union details. He libelled Alf Cooper accusing him of stealing union funds, Cousins was manipulated by Charlie Wheeler (Chair of sound committee). The allegation connected to ACT Films – Heavily in debt changed its title to Soho Films and was bought by a company as a tax loss. ACT Films then re-started without debt. Couldn’t get a distributor for ACT Films – exhibitors hostile to a trade union making films. ACT Films primarily a vehicle for unemployed technicians.

Len – was a member of Council, EC, Neg Committee. Refers to father. Only left-winger in Pop’s workshop but was paid the toolmakers rate of £6 pw after the 2WW. Went to Dry Maintenance at Technicolor, Went to Alf Cooper. Got a form after 3 mths of badgering. 8 mths to get a ticket. Outspoken so became shop steward for Dry Maintenance. When Alf lost his place on the committee joined national negotiating committee around 1948. 1949 General Council. Had to make speeches at annual conference but nervous about public speaking. On EC.


John Allen, accountant and MD of Technicolor took Len and Alf Cooper to a club in Jermyn Street. Red carpet was rolled out, bottle of everything. Paddy O’Gorman was present. Allen offered one of the topless dancers “Do you want her?”

Other labs – Kays and Humphries did the same

“Printing film was a license to print money… nightshift on treble time, the whole plant shows there’s money about. We never did as well by our members at local or national level with hindsight. Could have paid printer developers more… labs always poorly off”.


Len - In early 1950’s spent took much time talking about differentials in a department. Percentages should have been set. Didn’t know what foremen and supervisors were getting. Some weren’t doing well. “Shows you management don’t deserve committed staff members”.

Job evaluation – time and study anathema to trade unionists. How do you set a rate for a job? Discuss and assess scientifically. A good thing for LR. Go through the whole plant. No-one will have their rate cut. Started with Optical Printing Dept. 8% rise from job evaluation. Ray Sharpe Communist Party member made a fuss on the Executive and it was stopped. Done properly and openly and agreeing, much more sensible way…”

Highlights of career? Getting onto the Executive and Labs Negotiating Committee. ACTT largely dependent on its lay members. Discussion of union full-timers Elvin and Bessie Bond (labs organiser). Role of the professional trade unionist. Craik had worked in the Labs then become a union official. Local autonomy criticised. Criticism of Sharpe (on branch committee) and strike of neg developers at Technicolor. Bad time to strike. Alf Cooper opposed the calling of a strike. No work at the lab (date?).

1953 - Vacancy for Foreman. Wouldn’t make me up (I was the convenor). Chose someone unsuitable. “It cost me and my family”. “Too soft to be a convenor”. Became Foreman. Became Production Engineer.

Involved in solutions, dyes, hot film, wet film.. work your way through those bloody machines until you get it right… not so sure about taking the job on I wasn’t sure… was glad I had… went back to run Dry Maintenance, clean, quiet, with a job to do…”

Feelings of despair? Greatest moment of let down in trade union terms was in the 60’s, 18 yrs of trying to get a 40 hr week, endless struggle. Eventually got it, absolutely tremendous. At conference someone stood up and said when do we get a 35 hr week? It was the straw that broke the camel’s back… I can’t face it again… so frustrating… attacks now on closed shops and trade unionists”.

Greatest satisfaction? “signed agreements, got them through the members… explaining at mass meetings…”

What would have changed looking back? Could have stayed in the Army. CO offered a 7 and 5. Bring your family out to Germany. £24 pw. “a fortune then”. Living like a gentleman. To some extent I regret that. Beautiful home and servants. Horse and groom. Own office. Got on fine, all tank men, had been through the War with them. His uncle pressured him to leave.

Morton Lewis offered him a job – regretted I didn’t. Wanted a Contracts Negotiator but I said no. Has 3 young children and my job was damn too easy. The spectre of the 30’s, keep a steady job. Didn’t make enough of my assets.

Fantastic standards at Technicolor.



Big disappointment? Technicolor big reduction in 1978. Switched from 3 Strip to colour pos. Toolroom sacked. Half of the maintenance dept sacked., Wet and Dry Maintenance amalgamated; retained toolroom supervisor and I was his assistant. Disappointment.

Building lots of optical printers in the tool dept in the 1950 and 60s

Like to be remembered for? “One highlight at annual conference in 1953. General Council asked me to move a resolution on house property prices, jacking up of the cost of living by the Tory government. Pleased about that, heckled by a Tory … and I shut up her up a treat.”

Engineers not treated well, bottom of the heap. Very badly dealt with. Never argued my own case v.well. Engineer does 5 years, then 2 to 3 years as a film man, but gets less than others less qualified. Mid-1950’s – I went on and on about plight of engineers. Eventually Syd Cole agreed with me. New grade:

Cinematograph Engineers and Super Cinematograph Engineers was down to me.


Winifred Crumb-Ewing a Tory in ACTT in the 1970s [director, script]

Campaigns for engineers in ACTT in the 1950s; better rates; to be called cinematograph engineer

Personally making machines account of a wet printer machine which took 18 mths. “Interesting entertaining life, I wouldn’t have missed the film business for the world, I love it. I wouldn’t want to have been an engineer doing anything else… no way”. Something special about film machinery. “Ive enjoyed this, recollections Alan, yes”. Long description of the Technicolor process.