Nora Lee (nee Blackburne)

Family name: 
Lee (nee Blackburne)
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
29 Sep 1994
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 
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NORA LEE Synopsis. File 335.



Side 1.

Born1914inasuburbofBuenosAires.            Fatherwas English, a Banker byprofession.            He married a lady of Spanish extraction and they had three children, Nora being themiddleone.            She remained in Argentina until she was 6 years oldand wasunabletospeakEnglishwhenshefirstcame toEnglandtosettleinHampstead.

She tells of anamusing incident atNurserySchool.            Later she was educated at South Hampstead High School for Girls, a day school, and one of the best inBritain

It would seem. Most of the teaching staffwere Oxford or Cambridge graduates. She remained there tor eight years. She regretted not going on to higher education, but girls were supposed to stay at home in thosedays!

From sixteen onwards she triedall sorts of jobs andeventually found herself in comrnercial radio working for Radio Luxembourg and other French stations in the mid 1930's. She was basedat No. lO A Soho Square.

She talks aboutChristopher Stoneand how hebecamefamous. Sponsored programmes were recorded on disc - some early regulatory problemsare discussed and how the programmes   were made and recorded   at   a separaterecordingstudionearby.            It all came to an end on theoutbreakofwar .She had now become a programmemaker.

She talks about her first job at the age of seventeen at Gamages working for a silhouettecutter.            

Her next job was in Bond Street atCarat's helping to sell garments on the'nevernever'. There was great camaraderie amongst thegirls.

After the Radio Luxembourg job finished at the beginning of the war, Nora wasat alooseend.            She explains how she met her husband-to-be, Adam Dawson, at a localhop in ChalfontSt. Giles where her parentsnowlived.            Adam was the film librarian forLondonFilms.            She talks about people's attitudes to life at the beginningof

V        thewar.          Adam suggested that she should take over his jobat Denham whilst hewas

waitingtobecalledup,whichshedid.            Henry Miller helped her over any difficulties.            Shementionsafewof thefamouseditorsshemet.            Shealsomentions thearrivalofsome'verystrangepeople'-theGPOFilmUnitfromBlackheath.            Ian

Dalrymple, who was in charge of production, was not accepted by the GPO boys because of themany differences between feature production anddocumentarywork.            A fascinating insight into the differences and personalities involved is revealedin

the discussion.

Harry Watt asked Nora to become their film librarian inthe new set-up which had becometheCrownFilmUnit.                        She talks about the difficult working arrangements. Eventually, Dalrymple, who thought of Nora as a disruptive influence, arranged for hertoworkwithHumphreyJennings,            She describes what it was like to work with an intellectuallikeJennings.            Apparently, the extra responsibility was the making of her,though.

Theproductionof"FIRESWERESTARTED"isdiscussedindetail.            Morecommentabout Jennings'peculiarities.



Side 2.


Continueswithamoredetaileddescriptionof"FIRESWERESTARTED".Jennings - agenius, but could flyintorages.Details on the crew and their distaste for Jennings - a sort of love, haterelationship.Film stock was rationedand

Commercial shooting was necessary because ofbudgetrestraints.Wageswere£15per




"LETTERFROMULSTER11  d.BrianDesmondHurstisdiscussed.Itwasproducedfor distributioninAmerica.Anotherfilmof the period made for American audiences was "LONDON CANTAKEIT"d.HarryWatt.These pictures were made to nullify American criticism in somequarters and to gain sympathy tor the cause  - thatwasthe jobof the Mo!.


Nora recalls her first introduction to John Mortimer - ‘a personjust down from

Oxford who showed promising signs of being able towritesomething'.Hedid,in

fact,write the treatnent for "FOR ABSENT FRIENDS" d. Nora Lee - mostly studioshots.

"THE TRUE STORY OF LILLI MARLEEN" d. Humphrey Jennings1   was the  next picture  she workedon With Jennings, apart from casting themany other drama documentaries of theperiod.Humphrey is   compared withtheother famous directors oftheday.There

was great competition, but some could not see where hismagiclay.He hasbeen  likened  to  a  poet1     rather  than  astory  teller.Productiondetails.

Ian Dalrymple formed Wessex Films, bought the book of "THE WOODEN HORSE" and put

his own moneyintoit!ItwasdirectedbyJackLee,1950,Nora'ssecondhusband. Dalrymple's career isdiscussed.

Nora'scareer in filmmakingcame to an end in 1947 whenshe settled down to raise a family.HerlastworkwasasUnitManageron"WOMANINTHEHALL"d.JackLee,1947, the first film thatWessexmade.She talks about all the other Services that made up Crown.

Side 3.

Nora talks about Crown after Dalrymple moved on and Jack Holmes camein. Basil Wright alsoproducedthere.Onesuchfilmwas"CHILDRENONTRIAL"whichNoraworked on as Unit Manager. Production details.

Tina Peters - previously interviewed by John Legard in May, 1992 - is also the

subject of discussion and we hear a different slant!

Nora goes on to talk about her various jobsoutside the industry  which  she  took  on whenherbabieshadgrownup.They included the CoalBoard, Public Relations at the Connaught Rooms; she also worked for a dress designer, started an Art Gallery, and worked with Pat JacksonatPenny Farthing.She also worked with one of the Debenhams in a shop of goodtaste.

More. reminiscences about Jennings' career and Crown ends the interview.



COMMENT: -Although Nora's career in film making was a comparatively short one, it spanneda period where the British drama documentary movement was at its prolific best, largely influenced by the conduct of the War.By all accounts, it was ah exciting and artistically. rewarding time for the filmmaker.


Cast in order of appearance:-

NORA LEE was interviewed by John Legard.

DAVID MATHER ROBSON recorded it and wrote the synopsis.


Wife of 1) Adam Dawson, Film Librarian at London Films; 2) Jack Lee, director.  Mother of John Lee (editor)