Interviewed by Andrew Dawson, University of Greenwich, 24 August 2010
Roy, before we actually get started on the interview can you give me your date of birth please?
It was the tenth of March 1927.
Okay. You’re one of the founders of The ACT BECTU History Project?
I am the founder.
It’s something that has been questioned over the years so I...
Some, sometimes you’re called the cofounder so that might be an interesting thing to explore. But let’s go back to 1985, mm, why did you decide to establish a history project?
Well, I’ve told this story quite a few times and, and it is the truth. Mm, it all began at the ACT, ACT annual conference that year at, mm, the TUC and, mm, Bob Dunbar, who was an old mate, and I went and had lunch in The Pizza Express in the course of which we were corpsing each other with stories of the old days, things that had happened. And it was later that day, mm, that it suddenly occurred to me what a shame it was that none of this had been recorded, that these were if nothing else funny eventualities and it would be lovely to have them as a matter of record. So I then wrote, having thought about it a bit I then wrote an article for the union, it was ACT in those days, for the union journal which was called, in fact Sue’s just found a copy Don’t Let The Incinerator Claim Our Golden Age and inviting comments and contributions and an interest, a show of interest from other people. Well, in the initial documents that I have to locate, they’re somewhere in my house, there are the replies or a list of the replies and the people who responded and out of that bit by bit came the formation of, of the history project. Mm, there were one or two people who were in at the very beginning, mm, and others came in bit by bit as we progressed. We started with two, well a main committee as it were and two subcommittees, Ways and Means was one and, mm, I’ve forgotten what we called the other one. But anyway as I say we have to look for the documentation on that because my memory is a little hazy. So that was the beginning.
So that, and this was at the union conference?
Mm, and just take me through some of the things that you talked about? Why were you bothering to collect people’s memories?
I’ve always been immensely interested in motion pictures generically and generally and I suppose specifically in the British film industry. I was aware of it from very early age, sort of around the age of eleven I was determined to, to work in it as a profession and, mm, my Mum always used to say ‘he’s film barmy’. So from very early on I was paying attention and I subscribed to The Trades. I saw a lot of movies, corresponded bit by bit with people. Already was, when I was still at school I was writing. I became a reader for Twentieth Century Fox when I was sixteen so I’ve always had that kind of connection with, mm, with the industry. I was, at sixteen, seventeen I was also an associate member of The Screen Writers Guild so I was meeting people then like Eric Ambler for example that was quite surprising that, mm...
Were you particularly interested in recording the memories, mm, of those who appeared on screen?
No, no, no, no. No, I share Hitch, Hitchcock on that kettle. Mm, no it was the film makers, only the film makers that I was interested in.
And similarly you were talking about Bob Dunbar wasn’t it? This is he, that was he who you were having the conversation with, is that correct?
Yes, yes, that...
And he had a similar kind of attitude or...?
No, I don’t think so. I mean Bob always subsequently claimed to be a cofounder, which in, in my semantics is, is not true and I suppose that’s why I’m making a point of it. I’m very fond of the history project and I do like to claim authorship.
Yes. But what I’m probing here is were perhaps your motives slightly different from him or were there a variety of motives in the, you know, you, Bob Dunbar, there’s other people come along fairly quickly, Alan Lawson, Gloria Sachs, others?
Was, was there tension, not tensions…
But there were differences, amicable differences perhaps?
Oh absolutely, yes.
I mean we all came to it from different directions. Mine was a far more dedicated one was theirs. They had an interest. I think it was indeed seeing the history of their times and their activities preserved. Mm, it was never a selfish thing.
You know, it was always an altruistic in general and safeguarding our history, and our industry history.
Were you all similar ages? You by the mid 1980s you’re, you’re in your, you’re in your late fifties, your late fifties?
Was I? Yes.
Yes, I guess so, yes.
Yes late fifties. Was the rest of the...?
Bob was older. Alan Lawson was older, mm, I couldn’t give you their precise ages. Bob, Bob was I think eighty-five when he died and that’s about ten years ago.
Do you think there was something in it in terms of your ages at that particular moment that you start thinking about, mm, in your youth you don’t think about preserving because you’re busy carrying things out and doing things, it’s only as, as you come to, towards the end of a career that perhaps you then start thinking about the broader issues?
I’m not sure that’s relevant. I think really what it was was that we were intellectually interested in a variety of aspects, the history of things, our own contribution, our own involvement. Mm, I, as I say, I couldn’t account for them I can only tell you what but… Well, Alan Lawson for example became an absolute treasure in terms of organisation. Mm, he was constantly trotting back and forth with cassettes and things like that and without Alan I don’t think anyone would have bothered to perform those functions.
I was going to ask you about, okay, mm, in 1985 you thought it was a good idea to record people’s memories, but what experience had you or understanding had you about oral history?
Oral history interviewing?
None at all?
No none at, all, no. We were audiophiles.
Mm, you, so you didn’t know about the technology, the particular appropriate technologies. Neither were you in connection with any other history project?
No, nothing at all. We, I suppose, I can’t remember precisely but I think we must have talked about it early on with people at The BFI and I think David Sharpe quite early on joined the group and again was a very useful contributor and contact. Mm, we took our time actually getting established. We discussed things, we had, as I say, committees that met regularly and pondered how to proceed. So we didn’t rush into it and I think we were self-taught as interviewees, but I mean grant us a certain amount of intelligence and a fairly quick ability to, to catch on.
Yes. Now the, the oral history movement, mm, is really something that starts in the 1970s?
But you felt, at this stage you, you didn’t know any, know of its existence of...?
I don’t think so, no, we didn’t know.
Bur are there oral history projects from the 1970s are kick starting and doing in many ways the kind of things that, that you were doing?
But you were, you were in a sense self-taught?
We had no outside incentive. Fairly early on I couldn’t tell you when but reasonably early in things, mm, Stephen Peet joined and of course, Stephen was enormously aware of, mm, oral history and so I think was Norman Swallow who also came in quite early.
Tell me a bit about them because I, I‘m, I don’t know anything about them. Peet?
Well, Stephen was, mm, responsible for some brilliant BBC television programmes, and Norman of course, was equally again involved in putting history, mm, often contemporary history but nevertheless it was history on, on to television. I think he did that at Granada.
Norman also did one of the definitive histories of broadcasting.
At Granada in about Eighty-six I think.
An excellent documentary maker.
Are you getting that?
Mm, I’ll, I’ll pick, I’ll pick that one up. Mm, okay you called yourself, well, well, tell me about [0:10:00] how you decided to name the project, your group itself?
I think it just came naturally, it never seemed, there never seemed to be any other alternative other than the History Project. Mm, we were working on the physical premises of the union. The union was very good to us, mm, in that they provided facilities, a place to meet, also copying facilities, things like that. And, mm, so, and also we were all union members and good union members com, serving on committees and things like that so that seemed a natural connection. But I was absolutely adamant that we were independent, and this subsequently led to my quitting the operation because one or two people kind of subverted that notion. We’ll get on to that.
But you called yourself a History Project not an Oral History Project. Is that, was there any discussion about that?
Did it, did it matter?
No. It was the history of the industry that we were… Well, the industries I should say because we were always aware of television as well as motion pictures, but our primary interest was motion pictures.
But your primary interest, at least from what I can gather especially in the Eighties, mm, was interviews, collecting memories of working in the industry. So that’s an oral history project not a union...
Well, but you’re quibbling, you’re quibbling it’s just one word over, why, why?
Well, the reason I ask that is because later on and certainly by the early Nineties there’s considerable interest in archival work, collecting, mm, magazines, journals and other printed information.
Well, let me touch...
Produced by the, produced by the, by, by the union. Mm, but it strikes me that in the early days it was very much a focus upon memory and collecting memory of members?
Indeed, precisely that. We, we would always, or invariably let me say, ask the interviewee whether they had any articles, you know, artifacts that were worth saving and if they had and they wanted to donate them then we would find a home for them, which was usually The BFI. Mm, but very few people actually wanted to give stuff up, you know, they were very personal things, if they’d saved them that length of time then they tended to keep them until the grave I think.
Yes, yes, yes. No, that’s understandable isn’t it?
But what, what I was thinking of here is by, there’s a reference in the committee minutes in the 1990s, in the early 1990s a stress that, mm, the history project is going to be a repository for previous unions’ archival material. As those unions disappeared and as BECTU replaced them that the history project was really going to be the only organisation. Maybe the union was unconcerned about its own archives at this stage and that really the history project in 1992, mm, it feels very responsible for what’s going on, and I just wondered if that’s not an additional or a slightly different emphasis than you, you had in the early days in the mid 1980s?
No. I think that always existed with us, that the, obviously we didn’t have the facilities to do it but it was always part of our hope that these would be preserved and we would fight tooth and nail with the union that they, they preserve their own archive. For example the, the ACT was going to sling out all its old membership records going back to day one. Mm, and, mm, we said ‘good God no’, you know, so we found a home for them at The BFI, Berkhamsted. But I gather Berkhamsted doesn’t want them any more so it’s an interesting thing now what’s going to happen to those.
That’s true, that’s true. But, but certainly you saw your role not just as an oral history project as, as collecting memory, but, but also as, as a, as a way of collecting all of the other information that comes, historical information that comes out as well?
Well, we were intermediaries in that aspect.
You, oh you see yourself as intermediaries?
We were, people there to record the memories.
Anything else we would do our damnedest to see preserved one way or another.
But, and if you remember we were a bunch of rather elderly even then little old men and women.
Well, late fifties I don’t consider that old to be quite honest.
Well, the others were.
Mm, who, who in the early days were you concentrating upon in terms of collecting memories? I know the five hundredth interview is Dickie Attenborough. the sixth hundredth interview is Lord Puttnam. Mm, is, was there any sort of discussion in the early days about what kind of memories, what kind of people?
The industry is a big industry with lots of different kind of people in it, was there any discussion in, in ...?
There was discussion and we very consciously decided we wanted to, mm, cover the entire gamut, you know, from plasterers to producers.
So it was eclectic rather than...?
Oh absolutely eclectic, yes.
There was no kind of sense of, mm, we’re going to focus on celebrities or the opposite of saying almost history from the bottom up, we’re going to concentrate on the, normally the, the people who don’t get their lives recorded? There was no, there’s no kind of social purpose or political purpose in terms of what you were trying to do?
No, not, not in that sense. It was again a matter of whom we knew, who was available, mm, whom we liked. Mm, I suppose to some extent a judgment of their contribution. You talk about celebrities, well, obviously celebrities usually are those who have accomplished more.
There is mention in the minutes in, you know, the year 2000 by some, by somebody who says is the project, they were concerned that the project is interviewing big names.
I don’t remember that ever being a topic. Mm, but again you must remember that ACT in those days was communist dominated. so consequently I’m sure there was from the bureaucracies aspect, mm, a concentration on names rather than the little boys in the book.
Yes. Well, you do have communist or former Communist Party members on the committee don’t you?
Oh yes, yes, yes.
And, mm, but, but...?
I think everyone was politically certainly left of centre, some way of left of centre.
Yes, yes. But you don’t think that that created a social purpose or a particular weight towards the social purpose?
It was implicit, it was inherent.
Yes. Mm, just switching to, mm, a slightly different topic here. Mm, by 1999 at least there seems to be a change in focus of, it had been back of camera up until roughly that point but at some stage you were interviewing also people front of camera, mm, and there is mention of that in the committee minutes. Was there any, at any stage, you know, you, you know, that there was a conscious policy that we’re going to…?
No, not, not that I recall it was even discussed. Mm, once or twice it happened again because of acquaintance. The only front of camera person I ever interviewed was Bob Beatty, Bob Beatty, but that’s only because he was a neighbour of mine.
Yes, yes. So you never, but you never felt that, mm, it’s, that you had to concentrate upon back of camera, occasionally somebody in front of camera...?
Well, those were, those were the disciplines that we, we knew about and were interested in. I don’t think any of us was an actor molkay [ph 0:18:56] you know.
Let’s turn away from the purpose of the, mm, project to looking at relations with ACT, BECTU, with the, with the union. Mm, going back to 1985, 1986 how did ACT respond to the creation of the project? At some stage you must have gone forward and said to the union ‘look we’ve, we’re, we’re forming a history project’. How did the union respond to that?
The union was absolutely enthusiastic and could not have been more helpful. Alan Sapper was the General Secretary, mm, and Alan fully endorsed the, the idea as did Roy Lockett who was the Deputy General Secretary, and as you know Roy is, is currently very active still with the project. I was a member of General Council so I formulated, drafted a motion for General Council to explain what it was [0:20:00] and to make it legal and again Council was, was fine, they passed it no problem, mm, so we had official standing within the union, authorised by the union. Mm, but, as I said a moment ago, I was determined that we were independent, that we ran our own affairs because you know what unions are like and bureaucracies are like there can be a great deal of interference, which eventually did come up and led to my departure.
Mm. Mm, financial assistance from the early days?
Mm, [Pause] I kind of remember, we must have had a little financial assistance from the union, I can’t remember to what extent. Certainly we had total back-up in terms of facilities, a meeting place and coffee facilities and a room to store the tapes. Mm, financially we went around with, with our begging bowl. Mm, mm, [Pause ] I’ve forgotten how I did this. I think, I know that we made appeals to membership, I can’t quite remember how, whether or not they were circulated by mail or whether it went out with the union documents or how the hell we did it. But members were again quite, some members were quite generous in those days, you know, with fivers and tenners and things like that.
Oh I see. So, mm, you may have received financial assistance, some financial assistance from the union but it was the members directly that contributed, mm, as, as well?
Yes, and also outside people too.
Yes, we’re going to come on...
I mean Jim Garrett for example was, was very good.
And I think Cameron Mackintosh kicked in some money, mm.
Yes, yes. Now we’re going to come on to outsiders or outside organisations, mm, in a short while, but presumably the union, mm, contributed at least in kind. There was, you did have access to rooms or facilities or places to store materials?
That was in the old Wardour Street days?
When we had Wardour Street.
Yes. So from very early on you, you had a room or a place to store equipment?
Oh, oh yes.
And meeting rooms, which obviously were very important to us as well.
Yes, yes, and were interviews conducted there or did they tend to be conducted in people’s homes?
Some. Mm, very few as I remember things. Mm, most of us went out on, on the road to, to wherever the interviewee was.
How did the, you say the union was enthusiastic, it was committed to supporting the project. Did those relations change or mature over the years do you think? Were there some waymarkers or changes that you could detect now looking back?
Well, you must I think relate these things to what was going on in, in the wider world. Mm, these were the Thatcher years and unions were more and more fraught. Mm, [Pause] ACT was broke and I think BETA, which was the sister union comprised of NATTKE and the old BBC union ABS, mm, were equally approaching the rocks, so this was the merger which was a very, very hard fought and hard debated issue. We in ACT wanted to preserve our culture which was that of an association of professionals and a lot of people didn’t want any commerce with scene shifters and, mm, you know, whatever. Mm, [Laughter] so, so much for our social attitude. Mm, but the fact is this was the end of ACT, our culture was first of all submerged and, and then eradicated so this was the beginning of the rot. Mm, there were joint General Secretaries for an interim period and then in, in effect BETA took over when it became BECTU by, as it increasingly became BECTU. Does that answer your question or do you want me to enlarge on that?
Well, how, well, how does that, yes how does that impinge on the history project itself?
Because they wanted, I say ‘they’, the bureaucracy which primarily, I can’t remember his name, he died just recently, Roger someone of the old, what was his name?
Oh yes, mm.
Bolton, that’s it, Roger Bolton. There are so many Roger Boltons and he’s, he was one. He was my bête noire I’m sorry to say. My best description of Roger is that he was not type Catholic freak.
Okay. Well, tell us how Roger impinges upon the changing relationship that...?
He began to demand to see the minutes, which, mm, I was although Chairman also writing the minutes and, mm, they, they were [Pause] seen by, by him and, and he began to raise for me nonsensical picking on issues that just irritated the shit out of me. Mm, and, as I say, Roger was a control freak, it had to be his way or nothing.
But, but presumably even before the mid 1990s, mm, you’d been submitting or your, copies of your minutes, of the project minutes were available to...?
Oh of course.
To every, everyone. So what’s, what’s changing here?
Attitude, attitude, yes. Roger increasingly thought it should be, mm, made a union institution rather than an offshoot, you know, a friendly operation going along side by side.
How did, how did his sort of philosophy or conception of what the history project should be, how did it differ from the project members themselves?
We were always very informal, friendly. Mm, we didn’t like bullshit or nonsense, you know. We were a bunch of people meeting together to perform a purpose, which in our minds is very clearly defined, we knew exactly what we were doing. Mm, Roger on the other hand, mm, seemed to regard us as an adjunct to the NEC, the, the Executive Committee and, mm, to do things rigorously by his book. Well, his book was not our book. It wasn’t mine.
What, what specifically would he have wanted you to do that you weren’t doing?
They were little things like questioning my, my method of expression. Which had nothing to do with him so far as I was concerned.
Should we look particularly at the, the resignation, your resignation and this is...?
No. I’d done it for, oh, I don’t know how long but, mm, you know, I’d done my bit. Also it seemed to me it was very undemocratic for me to be in the chair as it were unchallenged and all that time with, without anyone else having a chance. And, mm, I was bored, you know, I wanted to do other things. I was in my retirement, mm…
Oh you had retired by this stage?
This is Nineteen, this is November 1996 or approximately November 1996 when you, when you resigned?
Mm, mm, mm.
Now you resigned from the chair of the project and withdrew from the project as well?
No, no. I remained, I attended all the meetings still.
Oh. The, this...
It, my, my terrible error came to light gradually, at first I was quite content. Let me get into that. We have a new Chairman, yes? Alan Sapper in my declining years was Vice-Chairman and Alan, against whom I had nothing at all, mm, you know, I mean we were, we were mates, nevertheless was a joiner. As Vice-Chair he automatically expected to become Chair. Well, fine, other than I knew he would do nothing and the Chair was a vital institution in terms of getting things done, no one else would sit down and write letters and make phone calls or, or very few of them would. Mm, so I didn’t see Alan as being a satisfactory Chair in terms of the future of the, of the project. I knew at that time someone called John Sealey, and John I suppose is one of the great bullshit artists, one of the great conmen, mm, and we all went through a period where we thought ‘ah’, you know, ‘here is someone who will be a very effective Chair’, and in some ways he was because John had a, an ability to get money out of people and sometimes to their great distress. And so we consciously organised a movement to make him Chair. Alan was very unhappy about this but accepted it. Mm, but, as I say, well, we’ll get on to John with the focus of that I think will be the, mm, read my lips event that they, eventually was organised.
Can I, can I just...?
Draw attention to? [0:30:00] I haven’t seen a copy of your resignation letter.
I don’t think I did one.
Mm, though I believe there was one circulated, there was one circulated.
But there’s a reference, it’s the freebie incident isn’t it that sparks the whole thing, that sparks off?
That, that was the kind of thing...
Could you talk us...?
Could you, could you talk us through precisely what that freebie reference is and it’s, mm…? There was a, there was an interview, there was an interview conducted by one of the members of, mm, on The QEII I think or what, as I remember it, and that sparked off this reference to freebie and...
I honestly don’t remember the details of this.
Do you remember that?
And again I’m sure they exist somewhere in, in the various papers. Mm, I’d forgotten the cruise, mm, the cruise thing. It was a jocular thing, it was a friendly thing, you know, between friends, between mates to say he was off on a freebie. This was exactly the kind of thing that Bolton would seize on and be critical of. And, as I say, I don’t think it had anything to do with him, it was none of his business, you know, the way we conducted our affairs. This was the key to, to the problem, you know, the independence of the project away from the bureaucrats.
Yes. Outsiders, somebody might, who might be listening to this tape might think it does seem to be a relatively minor issue. And, and the reason I ask this is I wonder if there, at the back of your mind there were other things going on that, that really this was perhaps the final straw and that there were other issues that you were feeling angry about or irritated about and that precipitated things?
I mean looking through the minutes there are some clues and I just wondered if I can, I can ask you some…?
Your memory is, is better refreshed than mine, it’s a long time ago I just don’t remember.
Well, yes. Well, first of all there’s, I wonder if you were disappointed at the lack of commitment on the part of the union for the Cinema Centennial Project, 1995-1996. It doesn’t seem to have got anywhere as far as the union was concerned.
No, I think that’s true.
And, and did that figure in your, in your mind as well in terms of resignation?
I rather doubt it because we were very active ourselves, mm, in the centenary year in organising all kinds of things. And again I‘m sorry to be so immodest but me especially I was organising plaques all over the bloody place. Mm, [Pause ] I think we accepted that the, the union was a trade union and, and, mm, their interest in history was minimal and, mm, that was fine, you know, let, let it remain that way. It was only when they began to interfere in what we were doing as gatherers of this history that I began to get a little tightlipped with Roger. Not with any of the others. Roy was, I mean the, the bureaucrat par excellence but Roy was always very favourably inclined, Roy Lockett that is.
Mm, who he, full approval of, of the project. Very useful.
I could always go to him and say, you know, ‘Houston we’ve got a problem’.
Yes, okay. So you’re saying that, mm, a lot of work was done. A lot, there was a lot came out of the centennial, The Cinema Centennial Project and not, not...?
No, I didn’t say it like that.
I don’t think a lot came out of it.
Well, a lot of blue plaques?
A lot of blue plaques that you drew attention to.
And that you, your expectation of the union wasn’t all, it’s a union?
It’s a trade union, it’s not a historical org, organisation.
I always, Andrew wanted to be at arms length with the union because it seemed to me it was important that the project be independent and fight for its independence if necessary. Mm, and you must remember that there’s always a set of differences operating between the members of the union and, and, and the bureaucracy.
And I can’t say that BECTU or even ACT were most efficient organisations in the world. I mean generally the intellectual quality of the membership was considerably higher than, than the union employees. I look to Sue for endorsement in that remark.
[Laughter] Yes, that’s quite true I should think, yes.
Now there’s, there’s just one other little, it may be a clue or it may be, it maybe a red herring but in February 1996 the minutes have this little cryptic comment, well, it’s not cryptic. ‘Although the world, the country and BECTU were passing through a rocky period it was important we continue our efforts for the sake of posterity’. This is almost apocalyptic.
Well, this is a grandiose statement if ever there was one.
It’s grandiose but, but it’s, but it’s apocalyptic. Is there something going on, as I’m saying, I’m coming back to this notion that I think the freebie controversy may be something that tipped you over the edge. I think there were other things going on in the mid Nineteen, in the mid 1990s, mm, and things had changed.
[Pause] Well, they had changed because the union culture had, had changed. As I say, whereas before, mm, it had been an association of professional film makers under ACT, it now had become a nuts and bolts union. And, and fine, I mean that’s what unions exist for, but it wasn’t necessarily, mm, that much of a pleasing change to, to those of us. And I, you know, I joined ACT in, in 1948 so I’d been around a long time and, mm, my joy was writing for the back pages of The Cine Technician.
Well, when you resigned, mm, the new Chair was much more a union man than...?
No, I thought it was Alan Sapper. Alan Sapper takes over as Chair at least at some of the time.
No, no, no it’s John Sealey.
Well, immediately it’s Alan Sapper if you look at the minutes.
Oh is it?
If you look at the minutes immediately, yes.
For how long?
Mm, for a short period, yes.
I just wondered you, you going...
Oh I see. That would have been, mm, that would have been me going, Alan as Vice-Chair.
Occupying the Chair for that time.
Until there was an election.
And it was then during that period, mm, when we organised...
But he’s there for a little while and does supervise the, mm, the National Lottery or the final stages of a National Lottery application.
No, I do think for the sake of record we must make it clear. Alan did very, very little. He might have leant his name to activity, Roy Lockett was primarily involved in, in the Lottery application.
We all were but it was, it, Roy did the, the groundwork.
Okay. Mm, just your comments on Alan Sapper? You’ve, you’ve made some already quite positive comments, is there anything else you want to just say about him?
Well, I certainly don’t want to say anything against Alan. Mm, he, I don’t think he was the greatest General Secretary of a union. I mean he was a poor imitation of George Elvin for example. Mm, but Alan was very amiable and, mm...
You think he made a positive contribution towards the history project?
[Pause] He made, he didn’t make a negative one. I can’t remember anything that Alan actually did for the history project other than come to meetings and, and generally be amiable, you know. I hope that’s true. Ask Lockett, you know.
Okay. Right, let’s move away from looking at the relations between the history project and the, and the union to relations with The British Film Institute?
Because it strikes me the project starts to develop quite close relations very early on. Take me through the discussions as you remember them of how you established connections with the, with The BFI?
Well, it was almost automatic that one would go to The BFI and say ‘look we’re doing this, what, what can we do together’, you know, ‘how interested are you’? Mm, David Sharp I think was our key contact. Janet Moat also came to meetings. Mm, [Pause] Elaine Burrows a little later on but I think initially it was, it was Janet and, and David. And David’s always been extremely well disposed towards us so he wanted to cooperate. There wasn’t a great deal they could do for us in terms of, mm, finance or anything like that but they agreed to archive our master tapes out at Berkhamsted. They had copy tapes at, mm, Stephen Street I think it was initially. Mm, so yes I mean we had a very close enjoyable relationship with the BFI people.
So was it you who approached them and said...?
‘Look we’re going to be generating [0:40:00] a fair amount of material’?
Although they, obviously they, they didn’t, they had no idea who we were until we went to them.
Mm, and, and they were very sympathetic?
Because in the minutes you do come across...
Not so much, mm, mm, large sums of money but, you know, regular small sums of money or payments in kind, equipment or that does seem to be donated or given by BFI to the history project. They seem to be a, quite a, a presence and a presence over a number of years.
Again you’d have to check the record because I, I really don’t remember. We didn’t have that much in the way of equipment. Mm, [Pause] and by and large I think we raised our own finance. I could, I could, I have no idea what BFI gave us but if they did then obviously we were very grateful.
So you’re thinking here of, of in, and we’re going to come to financial support directly in a, in a minute or so but you think that The BFI was a relatively minor contribution of, of finance, its contribution lies in other directions?
I think that’s true. I think again for obvious reasons that their own finances I think have always been tight, you know.
Mm. So their contribution has primarily been, mm, offering a safe...?
Well, support and a safe deposit presumably for all your tapes etcetera?
Yes, access to information.
Yes. You know, it’s been a fraternal relationship for which we’ve...
A fraternal and a two way relationship or an one way relationship? What do you think they got out of the links with the project?
Oh I think a very useful adjunct to the library.
What, providing material, providing interviews?
For research, yes.
Yes, the tapes.
Yes, yes. David Sharp?
Yes, that’s right.
You’ve mentioned him. Mm, like to say anything more about him because he goes on to do quite well within The BFI doesn’t he?
Well, David is a very likeable person, very, very helpful. Whenever he’s been asked to do anything he’s always done it gracefully and, and happily, joyfully. Full marks.
Relations with BAFTA?
Let’s move on.
Relations with BAFTA. When did they develop, how did they develop, mm?
Oh, it was a very glancing relationship with BAFTA. Mm, what was the name, Emily? There were the, the events lady in those days. Mm, I’m hopeless on names so it’s not, mm, it’s not.
We can look that up.
But you think it might be Emily?
[Pause]. By and large, again forgive me using first person singular, but, mm, I would want to do something and I would take it to her and usually she’d be very involved, very interested. Mm, I remember one of my favourite things, oh it was Alexander Korda’s centenary I thought we should mark that and so I got a print of The Epic That Never Was which I’d seen once on television and absolutely loved and wanted to see again [Laughter] so there was a very selfish interest on my part. And that became an event. Mm, [Pause] what else did we do? Bob Dunbar I think at eighty we organised a, an event around that and we screened one of his movies, The Man Upstairs. And Dickie was going to come but arrived too late. [Pause]
There was also an organisation called BAFTA/LA.
Which provided, which seems to have caused all kinds of...
I was against that, that was Alan’s.
Well, what is it first?
Mm, interest. And I was against it because it would cost us money over which we, the expenditure of which we had no control whatsoever. I thought if they wanted to do it they should do it, we shouldn’t subsidise it but they expected us to do that. It also got to be a little silly because, mm, mm, you know, I remember there’s one interview that, mm, there, I’ve forgotten which room but it’s on the staircase and they’re looking at pictures and they’re talking about the pictures without describing it or anything, you know, this is on audio tape so it seemed to me they hadn’t quite caught on to what we were doing.
What was the purpose of BAFTA/LA or what was...?
You tell me.
Well, well, mm, mm, was it an organisation, was it a grouping to collect interviews or was it just BAFTA members who just happened to be exiled to Los Angeles or what?
Oh, oh it was, no, they’re resident there and they’re active there in the motion picture industry. No, no, no, mm, our involvement in BAFTA/LA was, as I say, a little quirky and it seemed to me a waste of money and time. Mm, and the people they should have been interviewing for example, Peggy Robertson was out there, Hitchcock’s, one of Hitchcock’s assistants, and I said ‘for Christ’s sake, you know, go and interview her’ but nobody ever did. Mm, no BAFTA/LA as New York BAFTA/LA, as BAFTA/NY are totally legitimate adjuncts, offshoots of, of main BAFTA, they’re quite important.
So the project’s, mm, mm, links with BAFTA/LA were just purely to harvest...?
Were tenuous but were, at least ostensibly, to harvest interviews and material, and materials?
Yes, yes, yes.
But whatever financial, mm, support was offered, mm, it was deemed unsatisfactory by the history project itself? Would that be correct?
Well, it was again lack of control. I suppose I sound like Roger Bolton here and a bit of a control freak but, mm, they wanted money to buy equipment and, and tapes and things like that. Well, for God’s sake, you know, here we are in the centre of one of the richest areas in the, in the entire universe and, and they want money from us, they practically couldn’t raise a few hundred bucks among themselves, well, it seems to me quite extraordinary. Mm, and we were hard put financially, you know, we had no money to spend at all or spare. It was a concatenation of circumstances. It seemed to me really rather pointless to try and do oral history at 6,000 miles. Mm, in the documentation if you go through it you’ll find I was very active with The Directors’ Guild, mm, and what they were doing. They have a superb oral history enterprise and so we learned from them and we tried to help them whenever they needed it. But I mean that sort of thing yes but to, mm, try and organise interviews at 6,000 miles remote seemed to me, as I say, pointless.
Well, pointless, mm, perhaps but, but certainly not very productive in terms of you didn’t seem to get many interviews?
No, it, as it turned out no not many.
Didn’t seem to get many interviews?
I think they contributed three, three interviews.
Something like that.
Not very good ones.
That’s right and often very difficult to keep in contact with.
I think was one of the other, mm, major things. And those links were terminated, BAFTA/LA links with the history project were terminated again interestingly enough in that crucial year of 1996. I don’t know if that...
Well, is that when I quit in Ninety-six?
Well then that’s, that’s the explanation.
Yes, yes. Let’s turn to financial support. We’ve, it’s cropped up under a number of other headings but I wonder if we can turn to outside financial support, not union but to organisations or individuals because you have mentioned individuals by name as contributing to, mm, the funding for the project. What had been the most important sources of funding for the project over the years?
[Pause] As I say going around with a begging bowl. Mm, the union in the early days, union members contributed. One or two individuals. Shell BAFTA gave us fifteen hundred pounds. Mm, I don’t know, mm, [Pause] our principle source of any income. We had some from the union, a few hundred pounds a year I think. Mm, Sealey when, when he became Chair or when he was on the committee was very effective, mm, in getting stuff out of Sony.
So full marks to him for that.
Well Sony would certainly crop up in the committee minutes on a, on a very regular basis?
Yes, yes. Well, that’s Sealey.
Not cash but equipment.
It’s almost, it’s always, it’s always equipment and...
Mm, mm. Sony were very benevolent to us.
Oh were they?
To, oh yes. I think why not financially but, you know, they were always there. John had a contact there so, as I say, that was his doing. [0:50:00]
Mm, there is, now you had very little connection with The National, National Lottery applications, is, is this what you’re remembering?
Indeed. You must go to Lockett for that. I was involved but it was, mm...
Mm, you know, again think of me and my state of affairs at that time, I really was not involved in writing long documents soliciting money.
Also the, the, the requirements were onerous, one had to match, mm, the grant.
Yes. Now there’s an application in 1996, and again you perhaps don’t know too much about this but, but I’ll just say it anyway. There seems to have been, there was an application that begun in 1996 but was rejected in 1998.
Do we have anywhere the grounds for the rejection? There is some reference in the committee minutes but you’ve not come across anything, you don’t know about the application forms themselves and the grounds for the rejections because they could be...?
Well, Roy’s got a good memory so I’m sure he can answer that question more than I.
I can’t, I’ve no idea.
Okay. So I need to look, I need to look to, to Roy Lockettt?
Mm, to, to, to sort that one out. And there seems to have been a possible second bid again in 1998 but the minutes are not, not entirely clear on that.
It was a constant hope that we would get money out of the Lottery and it seemed to me it was a legitimate hope but, mm, we never did. And, and Roy was the leader on, on that project.
Okay. Mm, because a lot of other organisations did get money.
And are still getting money that have broadly the same remit as, as your own organisation.
I’ve got a vague feeling that the objection on their part was that we were, that there was no public access.
Or not sufficient public access. I think that was it but again please go to Roy.
That’s certainly my understanding.
From talking to Roy about it.
Was that there was a requirement, mm, for, you know, certainly academic, mm, accessibility if not wider public and at the time it was felt that wasn’t possible to give that to the interviews.
And it’s still an issue so it’s still an issue of allocating.
I’m coming on to accessibility in, in a minute.
Oh okay, yes, yes.
But that’s, that’s, that’s a good point.
Right. My, my understanding that was the main problem.
Okay. Other organisations that were, that were mentioned?
Would you like a cup of tea?
Tell me a bit about the Krasner-Krause Foundation and their support?
Well, again you’ll have to look into… It was very familiar to me at the time but I must say it’s the kind of thing that, mm, escapes my memory now. It was a foundation that had money to dispend and they gave us some. How much I can’t, I don’t remember.
There was quite...
But again they were very friendly and very helpful.
Yes. It was quite, it was quite, quite a substantial amount.
And the, and I think, mm, the project goes back to them on a, on a few occasions.
And gets, and get support.
There’s also mention Arts Council. Do you recall anything, it comes up? Now whether there was any application or any connections with it.
I’m sure there were.
The Shiers Trust, S-h-i-e-r-s?
Administered by The Radio, mm, Television Society’s History, History Group?
That means nothing to me whatsoever.
Okay. Let’s, let’s turn our attention to a different topic the actual process of interviews, interviewing, mm, selection of, of who’s to be interviewed. In part we’ve, we’ve touched upon it but I just want to go through the actual mechanisms of the interviews, of transcription, mm, you know, the mechanics if you like of, of what the project does. Mm, were most of the interviewees contacted, mm, through networks through word of mouth? Was that the primary, that was the major way that the interviews were put together?
By, most of them were internally arrived at at the committee, either people we knew or one thing leading to another, but invariably it was a personal contact.
Ah. So but it would be screened or vetted by the, by the committee?
So it wouldn’t be just somebody coming forward and saying ‘I’ve done an interview’?
Or it could be that?
They would be discussed usually ahead of time but, mm, there was never any kind of, mm, an interview was never denied, it was never, it was never said ‘you must not do that’. Mm, in other words it was individual activity, initiative and either people would say ‘I’m going to interview Charlie Staircase’ or they would come back and say ‘I’ve interviewed Charlie Staircase’.
So there would be some discussion or this would be just to notify the committee, it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be and in your recollection nobody ever got turned down. ‘No, you really oughtn’t to be interviewing that particular person’?
No, no. I mean...
‘It’s an inappropriate person’ or the...?
No, no reason why they should be.
Or, or the interviewee was an inappropriate person to do the interviewing, there was no discussion of that?
Well, we were a bunch of, you know, colleagues and, mm, I mean nobody would think of denying a colleague his right or her right to do whatever they wanted providing it was within the, mm, you know, the parameters, mm.
In the early, they, we would at the monthly committees always go over what had been done or what was about to be done, ongoing activity, but there was never any kind of closure on, on anyone’s effort.
Okay. Mm, you’re relying upon volunteers, people coming forward?
Few people necessary, had the necessary oral history skills at least initially, was there a problem of quality in terms of interviews?
Now there’s been one or two mentions of it so far but I’m wondering if you, if you’d say a little bit more about that topic?
Well, I don’t remember specifically people who weren’t very good, mm, I’m sure there were some. Mm, I mean obviously a lot of the interviews are very superficial and far too short from my point of view. I used to indulge myself with long, long interviews extending over five or six sessions, other people would come back after an hour. Mm, some of the interviews are absolutely hopeless, you know, it’s a matter of ‘what, what did you do Alb, where did you go’? ‘I don’t remember’. Mm, meaningless, absolutely pointless. But they were few and far between.
I think there’s some, bottom there’s some, some good content in, in practically all of them. And if only the voice of the individual it’s, it’s worth having, you know.
Do you, did you...?
Thank you Sue.
Mm, have any kind of template or standard sort of, mm, mm, interview questions that interviewers were encouraged to ask?
Alan, it was the sort of thing Alan loved to draw up and did. Alan was always producing paperwork of one kind or another, mm, and...
Sorry, which Alan is this?
Alan Lawson, yes.
But not I, you know. I used to, where interviewing was concerned I’d follow my own path and I think by and large it was quite interesting, quite good, you know, I got good results. But that’s because I knew about the period and I knew about the person and what they’d done, which again reflects my interest in, in the film industry.
To what extent were interviewers trained in any way about the aims and objectives of the project and basic interview technique?
Well, again I think you’re looking at it wrongly. It was the, the committee comprised a small number of people. We all knew each other in varying degrees, we’d meet once a month so everyone was fully aware of the purpose anyway. Mm, you mustn’t underestimate the, dare I say, you know, the intellectual quality of the, of the people involved, they’re all, they were all intelligent, aware of their subject, mm, [Pause] obviously able to communicate, it was the nature of their work, mm, so it, it worked very well on an informal basis and they all either acquired the skill or they already had the skill.
Okay. So there was never anyone who was encouraged to [Pause] not to do any interviews? [1:00:00]
Mm, for fear of, of poor quality. There was always a feeling that, that, mm, with the considerable knowledge and expertise that, that people connected with the project had that these were the ideal people to conduct, to conduct interviews?
Yes. Again it’s a very tight-knit little group. Volunteers from outside were few and far between. We were constantly soliciting from, from other departments in the union or outside but very, very few ever came forward. Mm, I think the general attitude towards to recordings that were made was better something than nothing.
Yes. Is there a fine line between indulging yourself and self-indulgence do you think?
Well, you must listen to the tapes and tell us.
Okay. What about, mm, technical quality and the constant problem of future proofing of trying to ward off obsolescence? What, what interest did the project take in, in this area?
Well, oh continually, continually. Mm, we began with a Walkman as I remember. Or well, we had a Marantz and the Walkman and they were both I think more or less state of the art. They were compact so they were transportable and quality was good. Mm, RadioShack mikes, mm, so the initial audio recordings on cassette were I think acceptable. Mm, no, I’ve never heard complaints on that score, the quality, it’s, it’s discernible, you know, it’s, it’s listenable to. Mm, subsequently I was a bit of a dinosaur when it came to video recording because it seemed to me that lugging video equipment around in, in the days when it was first mooted it was far less compact than it is today, it’s, you know, it’s not a matter of a tiny little hand held thing, if you lugged around a Camcorder with a tripod and batteries then, you know, it was, it was quite an operation. Also you needed lights invariably and it seemed to me to get in the way of the one-on-one interview. Mm, but other people disagreed, the majority disagreed and, and went into recording and again Sony came forward with some equipment.
Sony, mm, mm, donated a, the first video camera.
To the, to the project?
There had been some discussion before that as to whether it was an appropriate, mm...
Way to conduct the interview?
With video was the appropriate way, but I think definitely with the acquisition of that camera from 1997 onwards there’s a belief, there’s a positive belief in the positive advantages of, of video.
Mm, for hard of hearing, mm, for wider context, visual context clues as being, and this, this is discussed and debated within the project.
Well, from my point of view, this is purely personal, the one thing I used to detest was lugging equipment around so I wasn’t interested in carting around a whole lot of video equipment with lights and the rest of it. Mm, other people I think felt, I had no wheels so it wasn’t a matter of dumping stuff in the trunk and driving somewhere. Mm, also I didn’t really see the need, I’m sure I’m wrong but I never saw the need for, mm, a whole procession of ‘talking heads’so I figured a photograph would, would be served well. We bought a camera, a still camera which I’m sorry to say promptly got stolen from ACT, mm, but such, such was the nature of the union. [Laughter] Mm, so I ever only did audio recordings with very few exceptions working with John, John Hamilton, who had his own equipment so, so we did a few together on video.
Transcriptions, what was the early policy on transcriptions?
To get as many done as possible. We knew that it was important to, for the sake of accessibility. Also looking toward publication, which I would loved to have seen. Mm, but again getting an accurate transcription, as you know, is, is not inexpensive. We had a volunteer girl, mm, who should have been very good because she had a knowledge of the industry, or the history of the industry, but her transcriptions were, I mean monumentally inaccurate to the point that the meaning was either totally lost or totally reversed. So I got very angry at that and, and I‘m afraid I was responsible for her departure. Mm, we sought, sought funding. I went to, mm, mm, oh Christ what’s his name? The oil man, the oil man?
Getty, yes, I went to Getty for some. And, you know, he was sympathetic but no money, mm, so we were constantly going around looking for money. I think that was the purpose of the, mm, Lottery applications to get things transcribed.
So, mm, transcriptions have been a bit of a bottleneck?
And would that be a general assessment?
Until, until UEA came along and I mean...
We’ll talk about them in a, in a while but yes, but yes.
So it was a great...
Mm, so up until University of East Anglia did, started doing some of the transcriptions who would be doing the transcriptions? You had this volunteer but nothing, you couldn’t, not everything could rest upon their shoulders in any event.
Well, hers was the primary activity and, as I say, the sad thing is that although one’s grateful to anyone who, who goes to those lengths to do it, mm, it becomes an enormous worry that they’re just not accurate, you know, they’re just not up to snot. Mm, because if there’s a transcript nobody is likely to refer back to the tape so it could well be propagating total inaccuracies utter inaccuracies. Mm, other than her there was very little activity. Alan I remember did one, the same thing, you know, it was a monumental mess and it took me a weekend. And again I say ‘me’ but I enjoyed doing it actually, mm, to, to listen to the tape and, and transcribe it accurately. He was a Cockney actually who’d never in his life finished a sentence but an absolute key man in, in the history of the industry in the Thirties. It was Harry Miller who was the first serious dubbing editor, the first man actually who created soundtracks in this country, mm…
So were people who had, were interviewers encouraged to do their own, mm, transcription on the basis that nobody else would do it would, would they do it?
Some did. Mostly those who did made synopses rather than transcriptions. I don’t remember many transcriptions being made by the interviewers. Certainly again I never did.
Let’s turn now...
Can I just add, I think The BFI had someone who did some transcripts.
Yes. David Sharp’s referred to some that...
Do, you don’t remember the name of the person who did it?
Some of the names.
I’m skirting around not mentioning the person I have in mind.
Who, who made so many errors. It could be the same person.
Maybe it’s the same person.
Yes. Could be.
Yes, and this file I’m looking at out of interest.
It’s all the replies to Roy, mm, to your letters there to say...
Lockett or Fowler?
No, to you, mm, asking for, mm, support from various different charities.
What letter, what is the date of this letter?
All of it, early Ninety-four.
And this is correspondence, this is out going correspondence?
This is the replies back.
Oh this is...
I mean that’s, that’s the letter Roy sent out I presume to everyone.
So it’s correspondence.
And here are all the, mm, the replies. It’s in a file labelled ‘History Project Appeal’ and this is the one I was thinking of I remembered seeing and seeing how, mm...
There were so many different files, if only they could all be collated.
Volume One, yes.
Well, that’s what I’ve started trying to do here.
Have you, right?
Sorry but just distract. So, mm, and the other thing is I don’t know if it’s relevant to your discussions now, there’s that list there of individuals and/or members who donated something. [1:10:00]
Well, there you are you see. Now this is...
Ah well, it’s not.
I, I would think it’s of a similar period to this.
But early on because there are some names here that… Now this, these were appeals obviously to union members and whatever they sent in.
And it’s, it would come back with a little slip like this but they’re not dated.
That’s right. Yes, I remember that.
It’s obviously a campaign I should think that you had.
Mm. So five quid from Bill Douglas no less.
Yes, and there’s fifty here from [Pause] somebody.
Fifteen from Recorded Picture Company, Jerry Thomas. [Pause]
Yes. Sorry I didn’t want to interrupt the flow but I just want to say, help Roy trigger or trigger things from Roy.
Now there’s funds from Video Studios. Oh that’s fascinating. Is Stanley Forman still alive?
Ah, he’s, if he is he’s in Harrogate.
Because he’s got a son up there. His wife I think did die but last I heard was that he was, mm, Alzheimer’s had, was cutting in.
Right can I...?
We better get on with the interview.
Right, sorry, you carry on.
Can I continue with interviews and the product of the interviews, the tapes, the tapes themselves and the, and the transcripts. I just want to ask you Roy do you think that the policy on accessibility that the project has had and has had over the years, and it’s changed or developed, it, do you think the, the outputs of the project, which now we’ve done 600 interviews, is, is that material sufficiently accessible to the outside world?
I can’t answer, I’ve no idea.
Well, let me just say that if you go and look on The BFI website there’s no direct access to the interview materials though they’re referred to, and that if you want access to the interviews and the transcripts you have to come via the history project itself.
Now that’s slightly different from the University of East Anglia website where you can, after you’re suitably accredited, gain web access to the materials, the interviews themselves.
The committee has always been a bit anal where the tapes are concerned and Roy especially, Lockett. Mm, again it’s the bureaucrat training attitude, approach. Mm, I mean so far as I’m concerned I was only wary that we were not sued for slander or, or libel, mm, other than that. In a few instances, not many, mm, whoever was being interviewed such as Sidney Gilliat retained their copyright, which is understandable with someone like Sidney Gilliat who might well have written his own autobiography and didn’t want our competition. Mm, so again it’s I think more than anything a matter of mechanics to make it accessible. Nowadays you could stream the audio tapes, if anyone were crazy enough to have all that material online.
Well, the technology is available to do precisely that.
That’s what I mean.
But, but has the history project, mm, got that attitude of mind that it would want to do that anyway?
You must ask Miss Manley that, well Mrs Manley that because I, I really have no idea. I’m not involved in the project these days other than...
Well, okay. Well, when you were.
And obviously I’m...
I mean let’s go back and when you were and it strikes me that there was that anal quality as you talk about?
I think you’re right.
Comes from a number of sources. There’s, one is the fear that there is something controversial on the tapes and that the safest thing...
Possibly actionable, yes.
Yes, the safest thing is to, is to keep it under, at least not lock and key but, but at least monitor who has access to it. But there’s also a feeling that, mm, somebody else, and you’ve again alluded to this, might want to gain commercial advantage from this material and that you have to be careful about how that material is, is, is out there.
Well, mm, were there a commercial advantage seemed to us only just that the project be reimbursed or, or rewarded in some fashion. Mm, I don’t think significantly it ever has been and we’ve always gone to some lengths, at least I used to anyway to help anyone. I had a great friend in the States who is a foremost biographer of various people, Pat McGilligan and, you know, Pat we gave every assistance to. Mm, I think it was horses for courses, you know, whoever it was and their purpose, mm, self-protecting ourselves. Mm, Sue do you have anything to add to that in sort of a sentence?
No, I think you’re quite right. I, I’ve been trying to make the material more accessible.
And I come from a background of having looked after the BBC’s oral history collection where none of that could be accessed by anybody, for all the reasons that I kind of understood. And it seemed to me that they weren’t, they didn’t apply so much to the BECTU stuff and that there was a great resource that we ought to try and make more accessible.
But again that was...
Roy’s right. There are others that are very concerned that A:- there might be something controversial there and B:- that we might be seen to be making money out of a union member’s contribution to the tape.
Again we come back to transcriptions or organising a kind of streaming activity on whose website for example. It would never go on the BECTU one, mm, it could go on The BFI one.
Ah. We have plans for it on the BECTU one.
Now let me...
Well, I only say it couldn’t go on the BECTU one because it seemed to me such a weakling effort.
Well, yes, yes.
Can I just bring the discussion back perhaps to the early period and move on slightly but to the whole question of outreach and fully on to the question of dissemination.
And I want to ask you Roy especially in the early days who did you think your audience was? Who was going to be the consumer, the reader, the user of the material? And remember now we’ve a substantial number of interviews, and while you were there sub, a substantial number of interviews. Who was going to use it, for what purpose, how did you envisage them?
My great-great grandson in 2050. I mean it was purely a preservation of present day knowledge, common currency to a time when it would have been totally remote and, and, and, mm, just not known about. It was the preservation of memories, personal memories, people.
So you, did you think more about the act of preservation rather than the people that you were going to present it to?
Well, no, no. No, they go together don’t they?
Who were they? It was your grandson and who else?
The people in the future.
Historians writing about what we did.
Okay. And these historians beat a path to your door fairly quickly judging by the committee minutes. They’re, they’re there asking you questions about ‘can I have access to this tape’ or ‘have you got...’?
Oh right from the beginning, yes.
And the BBC, as Sue says, you know, they would come in with requests for information or, or...
Somebody writing the biography of some, of somebody or other?
Yes, mm, mm.
Again would come, would come forward?
It’s a rather specialist audience though isn’t it?
Well, you know, we weren’t an industry, we were a bunch of characters I suppose essentially doing our thing, things that we enjoyed doing, thought had a purpose but a limited purpose, you know. Doing, going back to will we incinerate or claim our golden age, the whole point was that all this was getting lost, either people were being incinerated themselves or, or the contents of their attics were.
Yes. No I can understand that point, mm, that part of the, mm, of the desire on the part of the history project to, to preserve something, if they don’t do it nobody else will and...
That’s right. And, and, and the, and the possible anger of the disinterest of the union particularly?
I mean just think The BFI had existed for what? sixty, seventy years at that point had never done a bloody oral history in its, in its time.
Which I mean to, to me seems outrageous but there you are.
And I can see that, mm, the fact that the historians, mm, mm, beat a path to your door want to use the resources and quite clearly the generosity of project members in, in supporting them in their endeavour is a good one. But there is the whole issue of the wider public, and I notice in the minute of December 1990 [1:20:00] there’s the first reference, at least the first reference that I’ve come across, to disseminating, publishing the interviews. Not just providing information for researchers who are going to publish on some particular aspect but that the project itself might be interested in publishing.
Edited selections from...
And the first dis, the first identification of the lay public, not the specialist historian.
Well, it’s a specialised readership anyway. If you’re going to publish things about, you know, what, Wally Teaset making Gone With The Wind, mm, or Great Expectations, mm, that’s a limited audience right from the start.
You know, yes.
But there’s a great thirst.
Yes, you’re not going to get it on ITV in prime time.
But there’s a great, maybe not, but there’s a great thirst for all things connected with, especially with the film and TV industries isn’t there?
Yes, but it’s, it’s Diana Dors isn’t it, rather [Laughter] than David Lean
But, okay. So, as I was saying, at least, there seems to have been a move, a shift in purpose or a widening or an amplification of, of the purpose of the project to include not just specialist historians who were going to avail themselves of, of your materials but that there may be a wider audience. And did, was there anyone in the project who was leading this or, or was it everyone...?
No, once again I think you’re misleading it. It, we, [Pause] we were very practical and pragmatic. In other words the purpose of the project I think collectively was understood to be gathering the material while we could because it was ephemeral and we were dealing with people in their seventies and their eighties and they were fast disappearing. So that was the primary purpose to, to record it, just to obtain it while, to gather it while we could. Mm, usage was seen to be for the future. In other words it was a resource for people writing about the film industry of the Thirties and Forties and Fifties. Mm, none of us… Well, that’s not true, I was about to say none of us was an academic, but I suppose that’s not quite true because Stephen was.
I think we could call Norman Swallow, mm, sufficiently, you know, strict in, in his discipline to be so. But most of us were just ad hoc practitioners. You know, we enjoyed doing it, we were interested and so we did it. Mm, but you’re fine tuning things to a degree that just didn’t exist within our minds.
Mm, okay. And then later on, and this may be after you’re administration, but later on there’s also, mm, mention of, mm, of getting secondary education, a secondary not further or higher education but secondary education - school kids - interested in the materials.
I think that stemmed purely, directly from the need to raise or the aim to raise money, to raise funds, because as things developed in the, in the Nineties I suppose it was with the, mm, the noy arbite [ph 1:23:39] bunch. Mm, education, outreach was, was a critical factor in getting support so inevitably that led into those directions. Sue do you...?
So, so you think that’s not, it wasn’t the project members that were leading this it was as you looked for outside funding the outside funders said ...?
Hey what are you doing about, mm, you know your audiences?
Are you addressing the general public?
As the project grew it became almost a required, mm, adjunct to, to the activity, or purpose, you know, it was an added purpose, not just the collection of material but the usage of material, the immediate usage of the material for educational purposes. But that related directly to funding.
How did the project members respond to what was essentially a requirement coming from outside and beyond the organisation?
I think we were always, in my time anyway and I’m sure later still more so, very enthusiastic about it. I remember we had lots of dealings with Elstree, they had a project going that, you know, we thought was excellent.
And certainly tried to help them.
Let’s turn our attention just to some of the other outreach activities. We’ve talked about your services to, the project’s services to researchers and historians who came, who came to you, but you were also involved in a range of other activities and I’ve just noted a few of them here and you might want to allude to some more. You’ve already mentioned the 1995, 1996 Cinema Centennial celebrations?
We did a hell of a lot in that, a hell of a lot.
What, what kind of things? You’ve talked about blue plaques but how else?
Yes, and encouraging other people to, to get involved in blue plaques, which required research. Well, they weren’t blue plaques they were rather hideous and silly little thing that was designed for that year. Mm, [Pause] we were constantly, or at least I was, constantly trying to get some plaques involved to people that I related to. James Whale for example who lived in a house on, on the King’s Road not far from me, I’d love to see a plaque for him. So there’s quite a bit of research on that. Mm, Alexander Korda I think deserved one somewhere or the other.
Did he get one?
I don’t know.
That raises a general issue. I mean did the project, the project came forward with a list of names? Was, was that it?
No, I did it midway…
You did it?
Midway through the Project.
Oh I see.
I’d write and say that, mm, you know, it was me.
Right. And how did you select the names just as a matter of interest?
Because they interested me. I said Korda.
Mm, I actually did one for Micky Balcon with Westminster. And there is a fat file, if you want a file on how you get a blue plaque, or a green plaque in this case, put up it’s rewarding. You know, again you’re tangling with bureaucracies.
I can, yes, I can imagine.
And, and perverse creatures I tell you.
Mm, Nineteen, just moving forward slightly, and again this is I think probably just almost a, you know, a random selection or just what I noted. Mm, fiftieth anniversary celebration of the first Aldermaston march, you, you, the history project was involved in. Was that showing of the march to Aldermaston film, was that the original documentary film that they shown?
Yes, I think it was.
The 1949 film I think.
It’s only fair because the name Sealey will come up from time to time and people have opinions about John Sealey so I think it’s only fair that you go and have a chat with him some time, mm, if anyone knows where he is. Is he out of prison or...?
Ah. But, mm, that was Sealey. Nothing to do with me, I went but...
I remember someone emptied a glass of red wine accidentally over me which annoyed me but spoilt my evening.
Okay but the, but the history pProject was involved via John Sealey in, in...?
It was under the umbrella of, of the history project.
Yes, yes. And I noticed that, that financially the project made some money on, it did made some money, and received some money from CND on, on, on that.
Really? Oh alright. I think John did a revised version. It’s hazy, this is why you must talk to him, a revised version of the original film on, on I think video cassette.
Video cassetts, VHS, yes.
Revised in what, sorry in what way can you remember?
I think he added something to it, you know.
Oh really? Yes.
I think. Maybe I’m again imagining that, I don’t know .
Check with him.
Yes. Is there any other outreach sort of dissemination activities that you’d want to talk about?
Well, we’ve about, I feel we’ve covered. Mm, [Pause] The BFI, yes, I think we did one or two things either with The BFI or with The NFT. I remember we did one, a memorial for Sid Cole and another one for - now who the hell was it? I know that, mm, oh shit names, I’m hopeless on names nowadays, I used to be very good but I can’t remember now. Famous art director who became a producer at Ealing. Mm, and has a son. Simon what’s his name?
You know who I mean?
The son was, that was at BAFTA?
Anyway it will come.
It might come to me in a minute.
Mm, we did some kind of, I’ve forgotten the occasion but it was, that was at The NFT. Mm, [Pause] so yes we, we did something in concert. The one that I do remember was, was the memorial for Sid Cole.
Yes. Now most of these activities, or almost all of these activities were London based were they? Any, were there any sort of activities that the project engaged in outside of London?
We had no country members.
Okay. Mm, relations with higher education, we’ve alluded to them already? [1:30:00]
Higher education, with the uni, with the university, with the university sector. Now two or three, well three or four institutions do feature in the committee minutes.
But perhaps the two most important, or you might want to add to this list, but the two most important were The Bill Douglas Centre at Exeter and of course, The University of East Anglia.
Project which begins in 1998 which you, mm, according to the minutes had quite a hand in.
Is that correct? Okay, Bill Douglas, what was the connections with Bill Douglas?
Bill Douglas was a student with Bob Dunbar when Bob had his film school. Mm, again that’s a topic of interest to you I’m sure to go into some time but, mm, again destroyed by The Communist Party strangely enough. Mm, and Bob had a partner, Peter Jewel, and when, not Bob Bill, Bill Douglas, whom I didn’t know. When Bill Douglas died he and his partner spent years against all the odds acquiring a quite extraordinary collection of artifacts and books. When they had no money, you know, they were going around all kinds of places and picking things up for a song. So they’re, [Pause] Peter when, when his partner died, mm, didn’t quite know what to do with it. He lived in Barnstaple and Exeter was quite close so he offered it to them and they accepted it and they got a Lottery grant to create The Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Motion Pictures, well Cinema and, mm, Popular Culture. Mm, so Bob was involved in, in that as a kind of paternal figure I think, told me about it. I had about five or six thousand books that was taking over my life in the apartment and I, you know, I’d read as many of them as I was intending to so I offered them and they again accepted them gleefully. Mm, a fair number were duplicates obviously because the, mm, the Douglas Collection was quite extensive in the way of books and so the rest of mine went to The National Museum of Photography in, in Bradford. And because of my donation they invited me on to the Board of Management. The university in turn as a donor, as I was a donor they made me a life member of the, the Court, which made me feel very important, mm, and that was that. That’s the connection. I’ve always enjoyed going down to Exeter for the day. I, I haven’t done it recently because it’s a bit of a drag just, you know, doing, doing all that. Mm, so there we are. But I, it’s again a personal connection rather than a project one.
There were some project connect, and that’s, that’s interesting what you’ve said but there was a project connection as well, there was various attempts to, mm, put magazine materials?
The Cine Technician.
Yes, ‘The Cine Technician’?
The Cine Technician was again something that concerned the project, again primarily Alan and me, Alan Lawson and me. Mm, there were two bound copies of, of The Cine Tech, Cine Technician from the glory days from the beginning in 1933 to, oh I don’t know, when it became The FTT with Roy as editor. Ah, one set got nicked and I told you about that.
After the person who stole them died they were anonymously returned to us via The BFI. I mean strange things happen in union land I tell you. Mm, so Roger Bolton never had the least interest in the history of, of the unions, he was always moaning at the fact that the ABS records were in store at Pickwoods and were costing the union five thousand quid a year. I don’t know if they’re still there are they?
I think they are still there.
They are, right.
Some are at Warwick.
He’s probably moaning from his grave.
Yes. But some are still in store somewhere.
I think they’re costing ten thousand now.
Well there you are you see.
But, okay ‘Cine Technician’, mm...
And the, but the union from what I can gather from the minutes was a little bit dubious about The, mm,...
The Bill Douglas Centre.
About The Bill Douglas Centre, yes.
They, they didn’t know what it was but, but when I explained. Again it’s typical of the nitpickers in various parts of the bureaucracy who love to seize on things, think they know more than, than the experts and worry something to death. This was Bolton and the NEC as I remember, mm, but when I explained what The Bill Douglas Centre was and who Bill Douglas was, and he couldn’t have been a greater trade unionist man, he made after all Comrades, you know, the whole thing about the Tolpuddle Martyrs. They, they accepted it so that’s where they are now.
Yes, yes. So it was just complete...?
And it’s a very, very happy home. Obviously they, they exist, they’re stored under superb conditions.
Right. So it was just a question of ignorance on the part of, of the union and they came round?
All encompassing ignorance indeed, yes.
They came round to that. Mm, University of East Anglia?
Did, talk me through the connections that, how did they come about in the first place?
Again a personal one.
Mm, Charles Barr?
And Charles right from the start of the project. I guess probably because I don’t remember exactly but I’m sure it was research that he was doing that led him to us, and as you know he’s a gentleman through and through.
I don’t know Charles Barr.
Ah, you don’t.
So tell me, explain who he is?
Charles then was I think Professor of, of Film at The UEA. Mm, he either takes sabbaticals from time to time or now he’s left and, mm, I know he’s been in New Zealand a couple of times. Mm, but he, it’s his subject, his discipline and a very likeable man and always very, very sympathetic towards the project and, mm, it was his initiative that...
So he came to you?
That they funded, they got funding for I don’t know how many, maybe a hundred of our transcripts.
But you must have had a discussion prior to, prior to that, these things don’t just come to...
Oh over a drink, over a drink at The Intrepid Fox or somewhere, you know.
Oh so you...
I would see him when he was in town.
Oh so he’s a friend, he was a friend?
He’s a friend.
Prior, prior to, prior to this? You must have had some...
No, I met him through the project when he came to us for information.
Or research, but, mm, he became a friend.
So you, I’m just trying to put the sequence of events together. He came to the project on an unrelated matter first?
Quite, quite early on.
For his own purposes, his own research.
Ah, for his own research and...
He’s published a great deal.
Mm, and he then subsequently said ‘look I’m going to put in a funding application’ and...
I think he did it, I don’t think he asked us, I think he did it and came to us and said ‘look I’ve got this money and, and are you’, and we said ‘marvellous’, you know, ‘great’. Mm… [Pause.
Okay, right. But, and in the minutes there is a meeting between you and Charles Barr.
About the specifics of the, of the...
Right. I’m sure there was, yes.
Of the, of the, of the project?
Of the, mm, of this particular thing.
I think again Lockett was, [Laughter] was always sort of nervous about copyright and, and preserving it for the union. Mm, I mean that makes sense up to a point but again you, you don’t scream and scratch and carry on about it too much.
But we solved all that no problem.
Exactly. Because it strikes me that what happens with the interview materials that the University of East Anglia have on , on their website is altogether different from that of the, of the, of The BFI. You do have access to The University of East Anglian material.
Right, and it’s superbly and professionally transcribed.
It certainly is.
So it’s accessibility, professionalism, didn’t that worry, this whole question of accessibility, I know we’ve talked about this, but does, didn’t it worry the, the project that potentially here was the, they were losing control over some of their, over some of the materials. It would go into, on to the Internet and they would just not have control of that material any more?
Well, I can only speak for myself, I never had those worries. Ask Roy Lockett if, if he had them because Roy generally was the safe guardian of, of the copyrights, as it were, to use his phrase.
Mm, [Pause] I really don’t know, you know, I never had any worries about that. In fact I was delighted.
But it didn’t...
Check, you know, that...
It didn’t create any stir within the, within the project in 1998 about, about potential loss of con, sort of control?
Well, the time line is not clear in my mind, and there came a point and [1:40:00] maybe, [Pause] I don’t think the UEA was ever a point of contention. There comes a point which definitively saw me drop out ,and Roy was responsible because the project lost its independence which I would all, I’d always fought for and had seen as absolutely essential when it was taken exclusively and wholly under, under the union’s wing. Again it was Bolton I think primarily, mm, but aided significantly by, by Roy. And there were three people involved in a meeting of, mm, and I was one and Roy was another and who was the third? Mm.
Where did Rick Harley come in to it all?
Rick, Rick Harley?
Maybe it was Rick, I can’t remember, there was a third person. Ask Roy about this because there was a meeting with Bolton on, mm, on this one point and, and to me it was absolutely fundamental. The project was the history project and, and that was it, you know. Mm, we, we had links to the union and we were grateful to the union but we were not part of the union. Mm, Roy saw it differently and, mm, in a meeting two voted in favour of that route and I voted against. In fact I didn’t even go to the meeting because it was fore, fore, it was ordained what was going to happen. So that was the point when I thought ‘right that’s it’, you know.
What, what date are we talking, where are we now?
Oh God knows, God knows, ten years ago. I really can’t remember.
So your resignation is 1996, your resignation’s 1996?
I can’t remember.
No, my resignation...
You’re, your negotiations but you came back in, your negotiations…
I never really dropped out, I resigned as Chair.
Well, the minute does indicate you, you vacated the project too.
Did it? Oh well, there you are, you know.
But that’s not true, but that, that was the…
Well, I’m sure you’re right. If that is the record I’d go by the record not by my memory.
Yes. We’ll, we can both of us independently check that but that’s certainly... But no, what I’m trying to just, okay so your resignation was 1996, you return and were an active member and we’re dating the negotiations with the University of East Anglia as 1998. So, you know, it was, was it perhaps subsequent this change in relations with the union, the much closer connection with, with BECTU?
Well, you’ve gathered Roger Bolton bored the hell out of me, you know, and I felt I was too old to waste my time going through all that horse shit. Mm, I was the Life President and the founder of the history project so I thought I ought to have some say in how it was conducted and its future.
Rather than, mm, you know, an old control freak. So it seemed to me pointless, you know, I wasn’t going to waste my time. I enjoyed, after I resigned as Chairman I did attend I think continuously but you say I, I didn’t, mm, in, attended committee meetings but again they became talking shops, mm, Cathy Cutch. [ph 1:43:27] I mean the significant thing for me is that when I quit, you say it was Ninety-six?
We’d done 550 interviews thereabouts and ten years, fourteen years later they’re only at 600.
Well, I think that says something.
Yes. Okay let’s, let’s move on and look at relations with other film industry, TV industry history groups?
Mm, because there has been quite a considerable overlap over the years between group members.
Who have been in the BECTU History Group but also seem to be active or connected in some way with these other organisations.
The one I’m perhaps going to focus on, but you may want to talk about others, was and you’ve mentioned this one already Elstree Film and Television Heritage Group.
Which is now I believe called The Elstree Screen Heritage.
Mm, do you, do you want to talk a little bit about organisations that seemed to have overlapping briefs with, with the project? How did, how did the project view them?
I think benevolently and any assistance we could give we, we gave. I remember we went out to Elstree for, for a meeting. Mm, but I was not the principal, the leader in any of that. Again we’re back to Roy Lockett and Rick, what’s his surname?
Harley, Rick Harley.
They call him, yes.
Who was Secretary, mm.
So I need to speak to Roy and…?
And Rick, right.
And Rick, and Rick on that. It strikes me that, mm, and, and there’s mention of this in, in the minutes in, in, mm, 1998 that there may be problems attracting funding on the part of the BECTU History Project because its distinctiveness is blurred to some extent by these other organisations who are at least in part collecting, mm, memory from industry, from industry members.
But why should there be a conflict? We, we were what we were and we ploughed our furrow, if others were doing a similar thing fine, you know.
But there’s only a finite amount of funding.
Well, I mean their funding was not our problem. Funding, our problem was, was funding ourselves and, mm, it’s, it’s, that’s always been a battle.
Yes. The Elstree Film and Television Heritage Group did get Lottery funding as far as I can…
As far as I, as far as I can see.
That was specifically an educational project.
I’m not sur,e but yes, mm.
Educational and, mm, sort of quasi museum.
Yes, yes. I’m moving towards the conclusion now, mm, but I just want to particularly ask, and again we’ve, you’ve talked about it briefly, when do you start tapering off in terms of your day to day or week to week or month to month involvement in the BECTU History Project? When does that sort of occur? I just want to, you’re there obviously in 1985, when can we start sort of dating it?
Well, I couldn’t tell you.
Or do you still consider yourself an active member?
When, when I was, when I was, I’m sorry.
Or do you still consider yourself an active member?
No. Sue will tell you that I did come a couple of times and I didn’t know the people, mm, other than herself and, and Jerry and one or two, and Roy of course. Mm, Roy and I have always had a slightly adversarial attitude one to another but that stems from the fact that I was either Chair or Secretary of The Producer, Director Section and Roy was our organiser and inevitably we didn’t always see eye to eye, again the members fighting the bloody bureaucracy. But I would, I would hope and I certainly would say that we’re, we’re good friends and, you know, we enjoy each other’s company.
Okay. When was the last interview, can you remember, the last interview?
That I did?
You did? Just, you know.
Just, I’m just trying to…
For this interview purpose.
It, I’ll tell you who it was, it was, mm, at least I think it was, mm, Clive Donner.
A date on that, we can check it?
Oh Christ I don’t really, I don’t know that.
Are we talking about, we’re into the 2000 and something?
Well, it’s a matter of record but I can…
You could check it on the database.
We’ll check it.
Because the date is one of the criteria there.
It would I think be, [Pause] seven, eight years ago. I’d never met Clive before but we became very good friends over the five or six interviews that we did. Mm, and as always we said ‘right’, you know, ‘we must continue this’, but we never did.
Okay. Mm, [Pause] where do you see the project going as far as you’re concerned from, from outside, where do you think it should be going?
If you were giving advice, if you’re offering advice?
Mm, doing what it always has done, which is to record memories. Mm, it’s, I’ve always tried not very successfully I must admit to broaden the, the areas of, mm, interviewees. Mm, we’ve never done pop promos for example. We’ve only done commercials incidentally whereas commercials are, you know, a vitally important industry, they’ve kept the industry going and it’s essentially they or commercial productions, commercials production that has trained people, you know, so maybe Ridley Scott came up through commercials it wasn’t through working at Pinewood, mm, so…
So you’re saying the project should take an interest in that area of the industry?
Well, new areas.
Which it hasn’t?
Anything else it should be doing, any advice or suggestions about future trends?
Well, it’s a pity there hasn’t been publication, but I suppose print publication now is old hat isn’t it and nobody would buy it, and also they become [1:50:00] enormously expensive. The, the DG, the, mm, DGA for example I was astonished to learn that, mm, their print run is 2,000. Well, 2,000 given all the colleges in the United States that have film courses seems to be absolutely ridiculous, you know, mm, so there is no market for it and they’re very, very expensive to produce. You know I think The DGA charges about forty bucks, fifty bucks for one of their volumes. So it has to be online and somehow Roy and his like have to be placated that he’s not being robbed blind.
[End of Recording]