Roly Stafford

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Interview Date(s): 
20 Jul 2001
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Interview notes



(Wartime Crown & R.N. Film Units) Interviewed by Rodney Giesler on 20 7.01

Born 21.2.1925. Father in the Bank of England and a teacher. Brother Alec worked for GPO Film Unit, and at age of 17 Roly joined as well. Interviewed by Ian Dalrymple. Joined sound department. Impressions of Ken Cameron. Worked with two American technicians: Charlie Gould and Kay Ash as boom swinger. The two sound-on-film systems: RCA and Western Electric. Very low pay. No craft delineations. Looked on films as being socially useful. Working with illustrious people: Vaughan Williams, Humphrey Jennings, Pat Jackson etc. Worked on studio scenes of FIRES WERE STARTED. Memories of working on WESTERN APPROACHES, in open boats off Holyhead. Constrictions on working with blimped Technicolor camera. All artists and technicians in the boats. Weather problems. Lights and generators needed. Phyl Ross on continuity. Seasickness. Second unit on convoy sequence. Vigorous, enthusiastic people at Crown. Death of Humphrey Jennings. Leaves Crown to join the Navy. Posted to R.N. Film Unit at Portsmouth to work under Ching Mountnay. (30’32")



Reverts to  Western Approaches. Remembers the recording of the ITMA programmes at Bangor. Gerry Bryant, the unit manager, contributed to the scripts. Worked in sound department at RN Unit at Chitnor. Arthur Carey the dynamic projectionist. Given Mitchell cameras. Camera department: Gordon Dines, Ernie Steward, Martin Curtis, Bob Thompson, Bash Beeson and Ron Bicker. Directors: John Paddy Carstairs, Terry Bishop. Hazel Wilkinson, Joe Mendoza, Terry Skeen editors. Types of film made. Combat units. Rushes to labs by Wren courier. Briefed on D-Day landings, and promptly locked up under armed guard. Filmed the invasion beaches. The BBC war correspondent and the recording equipment he used. Worked on Technicolor-made training films. Peggy McClafferty continuity. Application to move to Army blocked. Shot film all through the Fleet. Recorded combat sound tracks for Combined Operations to play as a diversion on decoy ships. Naval discipline very relaxed. Their admin officer Commander Phillips. Had no idea of naval discipline. Visiting senior captain appalled at sailor with brown shoes. Alan Izod in charge of production. Problems of fitting film unit into naval discipline structure. No relation between ranks and production jobs. Director an able seaman, and his assistant a Royal Marine officer. Fitting Terry Bishop into a gunnery course. (31 minutes).




SIDE THREE Leading seaman Bob Thompson’s brush with authority. Good living conditions.


All lived in flats in Southsea. Nine to five hours of work, and wore civvies in the evenings. Good camaraderie. Brilliant animation section run by Ralph Wansborough. Typical filming assignments. Beach parties with Wrens. Three Arts Club sponsored by Navy. Left the service in 1946 and joined Greenpark Productions owned by Mr. Pelly, and managed by Ralph Keene. Humphrey Swingler took over. Directors: John Eldridge, Paul Fletcher, Joe Mendoza, John Elliott. Became a cameraman. Writers: John Summerfield, Laurie Lee, Dylan Thomas, Paul Fletcher, John Terry, John Mortimer. Structure of the Film Producers’ Guild. Making sponsored documentaries. Amount of travel involved very enjoyable. Postwar flying experiences. The oil industry’s involvement in film sponsorship. BP’s activities postwar. Martin Wilson cameraman in Abadan. How RIG 20 was made. Making films for BP. In 1955 lured from Greenpark by an advertising agency: Service Advertising. Creative director Peter Fenson. MD Sidney Horniblow. The transition to commercials. (30’22")




SIDE FOUR Learning how to deal with clients. Very disciplined form of film making. Catching the big fish. Advertising Senior Service cigarettes. Working in Australian summer. After nine years of advertising recruited by BP to run their film programme. Ronnie Tritton head of information department. Building up a film library. (Reference back to two way traffic in ideas between Ministry of Information and Crown Film Unit.) Helped to raise BP’s profile prompted by oil discovery in the North Sea. "People documentaries": GIUSSEPINA. DISTANT’ NEIGHBOURS etc. The significance of the oil discoveries in the North Sea and Alaska, and how they prompted great films. Dudley Knott takes over from Tritton and moves to New York. Stafford takes over and recruits Ian Brundle. Responding to the environmental movement. To get ahead of the game made SHADOW OF PROGRESS and TIDE OF TRAFFIC. The confidence of the Chairman. Good quality films. Travel costs controlled by owning a travel company. A co-production programme with the BBC thwarted by a politician. (31’11")







SIDE FIVE Collaborating with John Elliott on BBC Series "The Trouble-Shooters". Helping them get the facts right. Sent Elliott on a global tour of BP’s operations. Rewarding feedback from the series. (Documentary mantle carried on by television). How oil-sponsored films were distributed. The Petroleum Films Bureau central library for distribution to schools etc. Local distribution arrangements overseas. Foreign language versions. In 1975 moves to BP Oil UK marketing arm as Press & Public Affairs Officer. Brundle takes over film programme. Looks back on changes in his career. More on the advertising business. Influence of commercial techniques on feature films. Remembers the first Technicolor film at Greenpark. (31 minutes).