Paul Dickson

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Interview Date(s): 
25 Sep 2004
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Interview notes


[Compiled by Rodney Giesler]

SIDE ONE [45 minutes]

Born January 1920, mother Russian, father had a business. First theatre experience at school. Joined Territorial Army so that “King’s Shilling” would pay for their cinema tickets but paid in beer instead. Served in the Royal Artillery throughout the war on anti-aircraft defence and later in Algiers and Italy. Refused a commission, returned to Woolwich in 1945. Had written shows for troop entertainment. Enquired about the Army film unit, trained as a battle cameraman at Pinewood. Met Basil Wright at the Crown Film Unit and wrote a script for him on the United Nations whilst still in the army. Drew on the writings of Frank Buckman. Wrote scripts for Pearl & Dean, where Gavin Lambert was literary editor. Got a job with Paul Rotha as an assistant editor on demobilisation. Worked on series Britain Can Make It with Jimmy Hill as director. Lists some of the subjects. Rotha’s producer was Jack Holmes. Writers were Duncan Ross and Langton Gould-Marks. Worked for a time with Richard Massingham. Film on Army Hygiene; also worked for World Wide at the time. Made The Undefeated for the Ministry of Pensions. Details of casting and shooting. Script was written by Ted Willis. Incident of the blind soldiers. Complete freedom of action, film had a full theatrical release, won several awards. Met Jochen Severin, Director of the Berlin Film Festival in Berlin, made a film on Berlin, and the effect of the Wall. Student in Berlin was the result which featured an Indian coming to Berlin to study engineering. Made David, the story of a miner for the Festival of Britain as Wales’s contribution. An idea of Aneurin Talford-Davies. Restrictions of working underground. Shot in 1950, also had a wide showing. Made another film at World Wide on the Van den Burgh family for Unilever. Went to Canada and the National Film Board. Wrote a script called Stigma on mental health but the film was cancelled. Planned to stay in the USA at the time. Knew Mogens Skot-Hansen the UN representative in Hollywood. Cinemascope scuppered all his plans. Went to Mexico and met Bunuel, then returned home and worked for American producers on TV series. Earned a living from TV commercials. Also The Film That Never Was and The GP in modern society [Enquiry into General Practice ? DS] for World Wide. In 1954 became a dialogue director for Anatole Litvak at the suggestion of Leo Genn. What the job involved.

SIDE TWO [44 minutes]

More on the work of a dialogue director. Worked on television series at the same time Surprise Package with Yul Brynner and Noel Coward. Got to know Carl Foreman and Joe Losey, also Howard Buckman, all McCarthy refugees. Collaborated with him. The reason why there are so many writers on American films. Also acted as Dialogue Coach for the Rank Charm School. Used the Alexander Technique to bring their voices down in pitch. Sent to India by Unilever to script a film: problems of trained Indians leaving India on graduation. Talk of involvement of Satyajit Ray, but film was never made. Talks about Stone into Steel and its concept as a film without commentary. Used well by the sponsors. The Autobiography of an Ingot was another. Refers again to Student in Berlin. Wrote the story around an Indian student seeing Berlin through his eyes. Another film made in Berlin by Andreas Sarlar. Together they started Eurofilm Workshop, making commercials. In 1965 made commercials in the USA. Television series in the UK followed. Working methods on TV series. Seven minutes a day. Liked working on The Avengers. In 1973 set up a production company in Manchester. Partner was a Granada editor, Gerry Dow. Eventually sold out his interest for a pension. Made the TV Times commercials. Great satisfaction as an entrepreneur; a privileged view of the world that a film maker has. At this time was approached by Colin Young to teach at the National Film and Television School. Pioneered bringing in actors as part of the course. Travelled to schools in Moscow, Sydney and Lodz. The stimulus of teaching, releasing latent abilities of his students. Where do you put the audience? Bresson and Hawks quotations. Dreyer “use the camera to conceal the camera.” Get out of the way when there is confrontation. Looked on it as working with actors. Problem of learning to make films from looking at films. The only way is to make the film yourself.

SIDE THREE [16 minutes]

Expatiates on the technique of acting. The importance of “actioning”. What characters are doing to each other. The importance of the verb. Mental actions implying movement; provides energy that the cameras eavesdrop on. Tension between sound and image. Action every change of thought. Use the right verb, verbs imply movement. Gets great pleasure when students understand this technique. Memories of artists he’s worked with. Ingrid Bergman’s method, contract with Vivien Leigh leaving the set to start crying. Actor doesn’t know in advance how the performance will emerge. Noel Coward and Olivier very mannered. Olivier couldn’t understand raw performance. He never moved you. Sybil Thorndike reaction to Marilyn Monroe.


Partner of Gerry Dow, editor

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