ROY WARD BAKER – Transcript.
COPYRIGHT ACTT HISTORY PROJECT 1989
DATE 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th, October and 6th November 1989. A further recording dated 16th October 1996 is also included towards the end of this transcript. Roy Fowler suggests this was as a result of his regular lunches with Roy Ward Baker, at which they decided that some matters covered needed further detail. [DS 2017]
Interviewer Roy Fowler [RF]. This transcript is not verbatim. SIDE 1 TAPE 1
RF: When and where were you born? RWB: London in 1916 in Hornsey.
RF: Did your family have any connection with the business you ultimately entered?
RWB: None whatsoever, no history of it in the family.
RF: Was it an ambition on your part or was it an accidental entry eventually into films? How did you come into the business?
RWB: I was fairly lucky in that I knew exactly what I wanted to do or at least I thought I did. At the age of something like fourteen I’d had rather a chequered upbringing in an educa- tional sense and lived in a lot of different places. I had been taken to see silent movies when I was a child It was obviously premature because usually I was carried out in scream- ing hysterics. There was one famous one called The Chess Player which was very dramatic and German and all that. I had no feeling for films. I had seen one or two Charlie Chaplin films which people showed at children's parties in those days on a 16mm projector. But apart from that nothing at all until the pure accident of going to the opening night of the Em- pire, Leicester Square which had been bought by Metro—Goldwyn—Mayer and was meant to be their flagship cinema in London, possibly in Europe. It was very, very grand indeed.
RF: Was it the original Empire as a music hall or was it rebuilt?
RWB: It was rebuilt. There was a tremendous architectural stir up at the time over the Em- pire being ruined. It was according to my father a great factor in London social life, particu- larly the promenade where all the birds used to hang out. There was a great hoo-ha about the Americans coming in with their films and going to ruin the whole thing.
RF: As a sideline, the cinema completely obliterated the musical theatre and the music hall in central London because the Warner stood on the Gaiety sight and the Odeon on the Al- hambra and the London Pavilion became a cinema so eventually they just took over.
RWB: Certainly MGM did their best. It was unbelievably lavish and wonderfully appointed. They must have spent a fortune on it. There I was at the first night of the opening of this
thing and Iwas fourteen and I thought it was the most wonderful thing I'd ever seen. I was bowled over completely. I declared then and there to my parents this is what I was going to do.
RF: Were they surprised and were they benevolent about it?
RWB: They were entirely benevolent. I think they realised if you had a child who knows what he wants to do it makes life very much easier.
RF: What did your father do?
RWB: He was a wholesale fish merchant. That's how we got the tickets for the first night. Because he used to hang out occasion— ally in a pub in St. Martin's Lane and the Metro office was in St Martin's Lane and he got to know some of these chaps and they were rav- ing on about how wonderful the new building was going to be and there was this and that and the other thing, a marble fountain, etc. My father said, kind of as a leg pull, oh you’ll have to have some fish in the fountain, won't you. They said what a wonderful idea, we had- n't thought about that. They said you know all about fish. He didn't know about goldfish, he knew about halibut and lobster. He said fine, I will supply the fish but I want three tickets to the first night.
RF: Do you have a clear memory of that night?
RWB: Quite clear. I can remember the symphony orchestra, complete, 90 players. There were two organists and they were both famous Reginald Foort and Sandy McPherson who were big stars. The odd thing was you’d expect the opening night to be The Broadway Mel- ody but it wasn't finished. So we saw Trelawney of the Wells which was a silent picture. I vaguely remember shots of Norma Shearer sitting in the back of a pony and trap. Then was a lot of newsreel stuff with live sound and up to that time I'd certainly been very interested in listening to music. I'd never become an executant sadly but I was always, and still am be- sotted with music of all kinds. So, I listened to the wireless a lot. I was interested in sound and I built a shortwave radio, the usual things a boy does, and so my first ambition was to become a sound engineer. So that was the intention. When I got to the age of 15 I decided to fire off some letters to studio managers and I got an interview at BIP with P.C. Stapleton who said “yes, yes, come back when you've left school” which is what they all said, quite sensibly. “That doesn't matter I said”.
I finally got an effective interview through a friend of my father. My father had an acquaint- ance there is no doubt there was some influence parental in the sense my father was al- ways very interested in the theatre and the stage. I think if he could have been George Robey or a red nosed comic he would have been in seventh heaven. It was a secret ambi- tion. He never did anything about it thank heaven.
RF: Did it make him a business success? Was he jovial with his customers?
RWB: He was very jolly and had a marvellous sense of timing. When telling a story, he would crack the joke at the right moment. He had great charm and that was why he was a wonderful salesman. He could sell almost anything to anybody and they just couldn't resist him. He was a very amusing man, an entertainer in a sense. There's a strong element of entertainment in salesmanship. This friend worked for George Black at the Palladium. He was one of his assistant production managers He had a younger brother called Ted who was the studio manager at Gainsborough. It was possible to engineer that when I sent a let- ter in, Mr Black would see me which he did. He took me onto the set, the first set I'd ever walked on, where there was Cicely Courtneidge and a huge bevy of chorus girls, a full or- chestra it was all sync[hronised] recording in those days which I was primarily interested in at that time. Mr Black couldn't have been nicer and again he laughed and said let me know when you’ve left school. In the due course of time I left school and there was nothing doing, blank.
But I got a postcard from my housemaster saying there's a post going in the mailroom of the Columbia Gramophone Company in Farringdon Road as an office boy or mail room boy. I did that and got very interested in it because it was all to do with sound, records. Par-
lophone were in the same building and they were publishing marvellous jazz records, Elling- ton and Louis Armstrong and I was taken by all this. I started doing translations for Parlo- phone catalogues. All their stuff was imported and a lot of it came from Germany. There was German translation and French translation which I could do. I was getting along quite well.
Within a few weeks I rose to be head of the department over the other boys which they did- n't like very much and I didn't blame them. Eventually came the fatal late-night telephone call, “can you start tomorrow morning at Gainsborough”. This was Thursday. I handled this extremely well. I said well I am in a job and I'm quite happy there. How much are you offer- ing. They said 25 shillings a week. I said I’m getting that now. There'd be no point in mov- ing. I got thirty bob. I put them off for a week because I had to give a week's notice. I was unbelievably grand about it. It was the first and the last successful negotiation I ever had with a film company. From that point on it’s been total disaster.
RF: How old were you then?
RWB: 17, just. The job was to be a runabout, a production runner, not in the sound depart- ment but I was in a film studio and that was all that basically mattered. I used to sit in the booth with the recordist, Bill Salter, I made friends with him.
RF: Was your ambition at the time to be a sound recordist and to specialise totally in sound? You weren’t at this time thinking of being a director?
RWB: Not till I saw what was happening. I was in the production department which I regard as a great piece of luck. If you get tucked away in a cutting room you learn all about that or if you were on the sound camera you were tucked away in another room. The only way to learn is by getting as close to the camera tripod as you can without being told to eff off and
keep your eyes and ears open and you hear everything that's going on. You hear the direc- tor muttering about the leading lady's terrible performance, etc. You pick up all this wonder- ful information.
You’re also seen to be doing [?] if you’re dead keen?
RWB: Yes, and I was as keen as mustard. I was dreadful. I was efficient. I had a good tidy mind for administration and I was dead right for the production department and I did ex- tremely well. I made a lot of friends, particularly the man who was first assistant but he was almost immediately made production manager, Fred Gunn, who became an elder brother. He took me under his wing and he was absolutely wonderful. He covered up my mistakes. He made sure that when I did something well, Ted Black knew about it. He'd come to me and say I’ve just been talking to Ted Black, I’ve been building you up no end. I don't know why. He’d served in the First World War in the tanks sector so I suppose by that time he was about 45. He would push me out. Throw me in the deep end.
We had a picture called Windbag the Sailor, a Will Hay picture, I worked on nine of them al- together, and in this he's a master of a tramp steamer and he has to come into harbour and bash into a jetty and knock it down. Somebody had to go and organise a tramp steamer in a jetty and a harbour and I was pushed into it. I discovered if you wanted to hire a ship you had to go to something called the Baltic, a shipping exchange, and I went to the Baltic and when I appeared they thought it was the biggest joke they'd ever heard. Will Hay was very famous so that was an introduction but here was this boy of 19 negotiating for the hire of steamer. They were very good, charming and I got the tramp steamer. Then I pulled a fast one on Fred. I said the only way I can see of getting the right harbour is to start at Dover and motor along the South coast till I get to Land's End. He says really, alright, off you go.
And off I went on this wonderful motor trip all paid for. The upshot was we finished up in Falmouth. We built the jetty. We negotiated with the harbour authorities. I one thing I then came unstuck on was that I then found myself trying to find accommodation for a unit of nearly 80 people including actors and they were all going to arrive on August Bank Holiday which was great timing. And because there was a scene on a South Sea Island, six of these people were black and it was very difficult to find somewhere to put them.
RF: I didn't realise a colour bar existed then.
RWB: I don't think it was a colour bar it was just that ladies who ran boarding houses tend to be a bit prim. I wouldn't say they were putting up a colour bar but I would say they were worried about other people in the house who might object. People were totally unfamiliar with black people in those days. You hardly ever saw one. A place like Cardiff or the sea ports you would see some Chinese or some Egyptians or some blacks, but very few blacks. You would tend to see more Chinese.
RF: In films, black people and yellow people were depicted as villains or idiots or servants.
RWB: It was very difficult to make such a picture. There was another Will Hay picture called Old Bones of the River a satire of Sanders of the River and that took place in native Africa where he's a district commissioner and it was very difficult to get enough black people who looked like African natives.
Have you any idea where they were found?
RWB: No, I don't. I should imagine most of them came from the docks in the East End of London. The film was made at Shepperton which had been occupied by Korda to make Sanders of the River and he left a native village there. There was a terrible accident. One of the native's grass skirt caught fire. The first assistant, Thomas McConnerty was marvellous. He grabbed hold of a blanket, threw the man on the ground and wrapped him up in it. The outcome was not very serious. He didn't get badly burned.
RF: Maybe we should talk about Gainsborough a bit. Given the reputation the British film industry had in the 30s, do you think it was an efficient operation at Islington. Did the people on the floor know their jobs?
RWB: I would say more than most. I joined in February 1934. I worked on 40 pictures. I was never out of work. It was in permanent employment. That was one reason why there was so little interest in ACTT at the time. If you worked at Gainsborough or BIP it was more or less regular employment and you took holidays when there was a gap and if there was going to be a gap of ten days you were told to lose yourself and you still got paid.
RF: Paid fairly?
RWB: I think so.
RF: It was owned by the Ostrers but very much operated by Ted Black? He didn't stand in- terference?
RWB: No, he was very much his own master. Maurice Ostrer was the boss. I think - but I was only a lad around the place — the impression was that Maurice Ostrer realised Ted Black was running a very efficient ship and there was no need for him to interfere.
RF: Did you form any opinion of the various Ostrer Brothers?
RWB: Bertie came under my wing. He was the wife's nephew. He'd come down from Ox- ford. He’d ski’d for Oxford. He was quite a playboy. He was about my age. He might have
been slightly older. But he was put with me and I was to show him how the thing worked. By that time, I was certainly doing second assistant and occasionally first, assistant production manager, stills man, location manager, which is one of the wonderful privileges which no longer works. I’m not suggesting it should be continued, be reinstituted. But it was a charac- teristic of those times which was wholly beneficial as far as I was concerned. I worked my- self to death but I knew what I was doing at the end of it. Bertie turned out to be absolutely
charming, delightful fellow. We got on like a house on fire. After about two or three days of showing him round and showing him how to make out the dope sheets, as we called the break down and showing him round the whole operation, he said how much are they paying you. I said £2-10 shillings a week. He said I'm dining with my uncle on Friday. I think, we’ll see. The following Monday I was called into the office and my salary was doubled to £5.
That was a good screw in those days. In the last couple of years it went up to £6. I went to Ted Black and protested. He said do you realise a working man can keep a wife and 3 chil- dren on your salary. I said yes but look at the work I’m doing. I got away with it. I got £6.
That lasted till I joined the army.
I think production in those days was very slap happy. When I look back we had seven or eight weeks to make a Will Hay comedy and in those days all feature films only ran about 70 minutes and if you went over 80 it was looked upon as being a great long bore which it usually was and to this day still is. Pictures are far too long. You can't expect people to sit there with their asses burning a hole in their seat. There's no opera, no play which has an act longer than about 40 minutes.
RF: We’ll come on now to the Gainsborough comedies, which really move. They're a delight to see now.
RWB: They were very funny in a classic sense because they were comedy of character. The problem with comedy, particularly on television, is that you can put a man on who can spout very funny one-liners. And that is considered apparently as comedy and apparently is accepted by the public. But that is superficial. There’s nothing behind it. The very success of Tony Hancock was that he was a character and there is a whole world around him, not just his own character. They created a substantial tangible world. Will Hay, Tom Walls, were all tomfoolery of one sort or another but it was all based on character. Certainly, the Tom Walls was. I worked on about four of them. They were a piece of cake because he just filmed them as if it was a play.
RF: From being a runner you progressed to second and then first assistant in rapid progres- sion?
RWB: Very rapid. I never officially became a first assistant but unofficially I was practically everything. I used to direct second unit in the end.
RF: This raises a question. You’re indicating there was no great demarcation of areas within the technical grades but that did not apply to the NATKE grades or ETU, they were rigor- ously organised were they not?
RWB: Yes. There were no severe lines of demarcation when you were working together. You didn't pick up a lamp to move it because it wasn't done. The electricians were always about and they moved the lamps There was never any problem with prop men. People used to move things about.
RF: Did you have to ask permission because when I came to this in the States I always had to say do you mind if I move it and invariably they said no. Others would say I’ll do it and they wouldn't let you touch a prop.
RWB: I think that arose after the War in the late 40s and early 50s and then it was rampant. There was a classic case at Denham after the War. I made my first two or three pictures at Denham and that was a class studio. They were the people who knew how to live. There was the classic story about them holding a set up for 20 minutes because they wanted to move a potted plant and they had to send for a gardener and he was on the back lot mow- ing the lawn.It may be an apocryphal story.
RF: Probably not, it sounds reasonable for the time.
RWB: Today that’s all gone thank God. Everybody mucks in together. RF: But to a certain extent there was that mucking in together in the 30s.
RWB: I thought so.
RF: Professional courtesy and consideration rather than doing other people's jobs?
RWB: Yes. I think it was just good manners. There was respect for other people's trades. RF: As the third or as the second you could just as easily take stills.
RWB: I wouldn't take stills on the floor because there was a dear old chap called Fred Carter who used to dive underneath the cloth of a Ten by Eight. He used to say to say “Sir
Cedric Hardwicke, hold your head up Sir Hardwicke”. I took a lot of stills as a location man- ager and some of them were used for other purposes, publicity purposes. I wasn't a stills man. It was all unofficial.
RF: Was the sound crew, the sound crew, and the camera crew, the camera crew?
RWB: Yes, but they would help each other with their grips and their bags and all the rest of it.
RF: Back to the question of efficiency, the competence of people working on the floor. Did they generally know their craft?
RWB: I think so. It's a little difficult to recall because I was 17 and 18 at the time and it's not the sort of thing one really assesses at the time. But as I recall it I think that progress was quite slow. As I said we were taking seven weeks to make a 70 minute picture. We worked until Saturday midday so it was a five-and-a-half -day week. I don't think if you talk of effi- ciency in terms of dispatch and speed which is the great cry nowadays, then I think there was a delinquency there but it was an easy-going atmosphere. We didn’t go over schedule. The directors were usually very efficient men like Marcel Varnel or Bill Bodeen who were
quite good directors in their own way but were also jolly efficient. There were no great hold ups for that but there were things like the cameraman would call for a fresh makeup on somebody and the girl would be trotted off to the makeup department and come back an hour and a quarter later. We’d if possible fill in with something else but quite often there was nothing to fill in with and there would be a hold up, that was the sort of thing which wouldn't happen today.
RF: Were there front office pressures, in as far as there was a front office. The front office was presumably the executive producer?
RWB: The front office was Ted Black, George Gunn, the first assistant and me. RF: Was there an accountant?
RWB: I don't remember an accountant? RF: There was a book-keeper somewhere?
RWB: There was somebody who did the cash for the wages at the end of the week, a real dragon. She kept the books.
RF: Who kept the production accounts?
RWB: I suppose they must have been kept in the same office. I don't think there was an- other one.
RF: Why did an eighty-minute picture take seven weeks to shoot? It couldn't have all been tea breaks.
RWB: I don’t remember tea breaks. It was just that the general pace was very leisurely. A director like Bill Bodeen was always decisive and ready with the next setup. He knew ex- actly what he was going to do. It became a cant phrase of his when he had the print take, he would shout out cut, print, over here with the 50. I used to use it a lot when I was first di- recting. I just inherited it from him. It was one of things one did. When I was a director I real- ise what the game was. He didn't particularly want the camera over here with a 50, as the scene ran out in the rushes the producer would sit there and hear this voice and it sounded so decisive. When he’d said that everyone could go out for a smoke. It was a leg-pull in a way. I know a number of younger directors who have stolen it from me.
I think it was just leisureliness. There was no great hurry. perfectly certain a picture like that could have been made in five weeks.
RF It probably related to British life generally? RWB: Very much so.
RF: It was the way of industry, not just the film business?
RWB: Certainly. Motorcars were practically made by hand still in this country. Beautiful workmanship.
RF: At what stage were you aware of Ted Black as a person rather than a shadowy figure or the boss?
RWB: Very soon after I started. He was always around. He didn't come onto the set very of- ten, but he was always in the studio restaurant for lunch. There was no such thing as tea- breaks then but I remember I could always find ten minutes in the morning when I hadn't
anything to do to pop up to the restaurant for a cup of coffee and a slice of anchovy toast. Nobody would say where the hell have you been.
The era of bacon sarnies hadn’t arrived?
RWB: No, we were all much slimmer. The cameramen were fairly efficient and they worked to very simple formulae. It was the era of a great deal of back lighting because they were obsessed with the problem of the flatness of the image in black and white and you had to make it as round [?] as you could and the only way you could do that was by cross lighting and back lighting and they all went in for that.
RF: Was Gainsborough well equipped technically?
RWB: I would say rather poor. The sound equipment was probably OK because it had to be modern. There was a great day when the Mitchell camera first arrived. Certainly for the first year or two we were using Cinephon which was a Czech camera which had a marvellous gadget. It had a big wooden box in which the motor was and you put that under the tripod and there was a long flexible pipe which connected the motor up a tube into the side of the camera.
But as far as I know it was a perfectly good camera. The lenses were reasonable for their day. The mechanism was pretty good. We used to get a camera jam occasionally which rarely happens now.
RF: Who were the camera men and were they permanently at Islington or did you share them with Shepherd’s Bush?
RWB: To a certain extent they were shared with Shepherd’s Bush.
They would float between the two, particularly if they were the more eminent ones. Mutz Greenbaum who later became Max Greene became one of the best. He was very good for that Hollywood style of backlighting of period pictures, he always got all the period pictures. He was very good. He was quite slow but the results were there. Then there was Bernard Knowles whose brother Cyril was an operator. There was Arthur Crabtree who was a dour Yorkshireman but very good, very quiet. Charlie Van Enger, we used to call him flat light Charlie. He was a great two-reel comedy cameraman from Hollywood. He used to put, I
think they used to call them King Cans, they were a floodlight of a sort, it looked like a wastepaper bin with a wider mouth. He put two of these either side of the camera and say “I'm ready, let's shoot”.
RF: What about Curt Courant?
RWB: He was around but I never worked with him. He was very good but as far as I can re- call he was always at Shepherd's Bush. I only went over there on loan when they were
short staffed. Otherwise I was entirely Gainsborough. We were always fiercely loyal to Is- lington.
RF: Was it entirely self-contained, say the art department?
RWB: Islington had its own art department. You went up some stairs to it and it overlooked the entrance of stage one. They had some very good art directors, [Oscar] Werndorff, [Alex] Vetchinsky was the assistant to all of them and then became an art director in his own right and I worked with him on a number of pictures later after the War. He was a very close as- sociate. I was very fond of him.
RF: Was Alfred Junge there?
RWB: Yes, but they didn't do a lot because they were too good for the Will Hay comedies which we were doing. They would build enormous and elaborate sets. Everything was built sets in those days. The wonderful thing about location in those days was that if the sun didn’t shine you didn't shoot. The cameraman would say there's no point in shooting without sun, you’ll never match it. Now we shoot in anything which I think is rather sad.
RF: Was there a lot of squeezing a quart into a pint pot in terms of the facilities of the stu- dios and the size of the stages.
SIDE 2 TAPE 1
RWB: I've always taken the view the bigger the studio the bigger the set will be because art directors love big sets. There was a lot of discussion over the size of studios. It was pointed out that one of the things which was making production very difficult for everybody was that you could never get round or through a set because it was right up against a studio wall or right up against a door. Many times in studio one, for instance, we had a big door which led out to the canal and a yard where the props came in. At the other end there were big double doors which were the main entrance to the stage and we would run horses through and camels.
It was felt production would be more efficient if the floors were bigger and the sets smaller. The art directors and everybody said what a wonderful idea. It didn't last five minutes. The moment the art directors saw the floor space they started to expand. It was in no way effi- cient as we would now look to efficiency. The equipment was minimal. There was enough
but no more than enough. You had to improvise a great deal. On location you had little transport.
RF: Yet you say on the Will Hay film you had a unit of 80 down at Falmouth.
RWB: That included the actors. Labour was pretty cheap so it didn't matter if you wanted an extra make-up man or wardrobe assistant which is what it would be on that. There was a lot of wardrobe and doubling — people had to fall in the water.
RF: Was there anything of this period which comes to mind which epitomises the kind of life you lead. Let's take a typical day.
RWB: Theoretically I had to be there at half past seven or eight o' clock to sign in the ex- tras, check that the actors had all arrived and were sitting in the make-up chairs, if some- body didn't turn up I had to trace them. Then the next question would be what are we going to do which would be on the call sheet which I made out the previous night. I’d check the set generally and then get the actors on the set as required from time to time. I would prob- ably spend the next bit of the morning working out how far we'd expect to get done today and what would be needed to be done tomorrow and start planning for that.
RF: This was operating as a second?
RWB: Yes. As a third I was just running to do what I was told — fetch Mr so and so. Or the director's forgotten his watch, go and fetch that. Mr. Sinclair Hill has forgotten his pipe again, will you find it. Things like that. Into the wardrobe department, somebody has left a scarf or handbag behind. My memory is much clearer during the last two years before the start of the war because I was doing so much more. 1938 and 1939. Taking those two years, my memory is that by that time I didn't know if I could be a director or a producer. I don't think in the end I would have made a good producer because I’m not good at bargain- ing. I was always good at organising. I would have been a tiptop production manager,
there's no doubt about that but that doesn't make you into a producer. We’ve never really had any entrepreneurial producers except two: Balcon and Korda.
RF: They were executive producers rather than a line producer working under the studio system where one had control of the money but less concerned with raising it unless one was an independent.
RWB: Yes. Let us say to be more precise what we’ve lacked is executive producers. I 've always had a feeling that the distributors have been so anxious to keep them poor because they don't want them acting like say Stanley Kubrick acts with distributors, bossing them about and telling them what to do. Destroying publicity and rewriting the whole thing which is what they need. They’ve got away with murder simply because of the duopoly. To my mind that is the key fault in the whole system, always has been. It worked well during the thirties and there was no need to disturb it but that was the era of studio production when it was the studio.
It was rather like they say about Hollywood. You go there and direct your first picture and it's a wonderful professional atmosphere, everything you could wish for. You realise ulti- mately that the studios making the picture not you. Now that's changed in Hollywood.
RF: That wasn't true here in the thirties. The studio didn't have a life of its own. It was up the individual unit making the picture, wasn’t it? Or in the case of Gainsborough it was up to Ted Black giving the impetus.
RWB: It was very much formula production. The thing ran to a pattern. It was a Will Hay pattern. There was costume picture pattern and there was a Tom Walls pattern. One or two others, Crazy Gang for instance.
RF: They were the Islington genres. Let’s talk about Will Hay and Marcel Varnel. There was a constant stream of their pictures and they are now perceived as quite good.
RWB: Oh Mr Porter was certainly a good picture and so was Windbag the Sailor
RF: But at the time they were largely looked down upon.
RWB: Yes. Vis-a-vis Gaumont-British, we at Gainsborough rather grudgingly looked at their flashy stars and big budgets and they always lost money. We were looked upon as the poor relations and we were making money. Gaumont got into trouble and there was a marvellous moment when the Ostrer brothers sold to John Maxwell who was the original Scottish ty- coon and a very hardnosed man indeed and the Ostrers managed to sell him 100,000 shares in Gaumont-British for a large sum of money. When he got them, he discovered he couldn't vote, they were non—voting shares. There was a terrible row, lawsuits and all that. They eventually settled their differences but it was a wonderful con trick. Isidore was as sharp as a tack. Maurice was nice. He was nice to me. He wasn't outstanding but he was intelligent, he had taste. Isidore I never even saw. He was too grand. He was the dynamo, he knew the market. He was a City man through and through and very good at it. It all came from a mill in Bradford. Then there was Harry Ostrer, who was in charge of the story depart- ment at Gaumont-British. He was looked upon as being an amiable duffer. He was a quiet sort of man who like reading books.
Back to Will Hay. Whenever you meet a first-class comedian, you always find a morose, paranoid individual, irascible, bad tempered and never satisfied. In many cases, inclined to drink. Will Hay was never inclined to drink. He was the opposite. He liked astronomy. He built an observatory at the back of his house. He discovered a comet which nobody else
had seen. He was a member of the Astronomical Society from the early 20s. He was con- siderably older than any of us. He flew his own aeroplane. He was very keen on yachting. He had a beautiful motor yacht built I think in Norway.
He was always very nice to me. He was a boor. He was hypochondriac. You learnt very early on don't say good morning, how are you because he would tell you exactly, in detail.
But he was very funny. He had an enormous problem because it was a three-handed act. It started as a music hall act. But the two stooges began to take over. Will Hay had a constant battle with Val Guest and George Marriott Edgar, the writing team, Val was tiptop, George was a very charming man, very quiet, Val was rather a flamboyant character. George Mar- riott Edgar wrote Albert and the Lion and all those Stanley Holloway monologues apart from the other stuff he did. He was a genuinely funny writer and had a deep sense of character. In the writing, it was inevitably Will would find he was [to] play a scene with the two stooges and he was feeding them lines. This was one of his constant nags. To a certain extent he was right but also you have to sympathise with the writers. Where the jokes are coming
from they’re going to put them down. The other two were very funny and very good. The boy, Graham Moffatt, was a page boy at Shepherd's Bush. They had six page boys in those days with brass buttons. Somebody one day said come here and say this line. He did and was riotously funny and so he became an actor. Then he became the boy in the Will Hay comedies. Moore Marriott played the old man. He was absolutely delightful, one of the nic- est men you could ever hope to meet. So modest and quiet and a very good actor. He was an actor, a genuine actor. I've discovered only recently he’d been doing it since 1902 in front of a camera.
This was now 1935. Marcel Varnel was an excitable “frog”. He was very nice. He had a great sense of humour. He was very efficient as a director. He didn't hang about. In fact he was always pressing on all the time. He seemed to drive more than the others seemed to do. I remember there was a camera jam once and the assistant cameraman struggling to open it up and Marcel was jumping up and down saying what is it, what is it? The voice of the fellow behind the camera came “if I was bloody Tom Thumb I could get inside and look couldn't I?” I learnt one very important thing from him. He used to direct sitting in the direc- tor's chair right under the camera and when he got a print take he would jump to his feet with great excitement and once or twice he hit himself on the matte box and hurt himself quite badly. I’ve never done that.
Also, I think it's a very bad policy vis- a-vis the actors because once the actors start playing the director should disappear round the back somewhere where he can see everything which is going on and not make himself a presence. You don't lose control of things, you can always do another take. But Marcel was always grumbling why don't they give me a good picture, I'm always doing these lousy comedies.
Jack Cox was a cameraman. He was very formidable figure. He made two or three of Hitch- cock's early pictures, the ones which were made at BIP, Murder he came back with Hitch when we did The Lady Vanishes which was 1938. He had a dry, sardonic sense of humour. I met him once in Piccadilly towards the end of war and by that time I was in the Army Kine- matograph Service and I was very excited and I'd become a director. I bumped into him in the street and I was delighted to see him and full of what I was doing and how marvellous it all was. He looked at me straight into the eye and said “who's teaching you then?” That ra- ther punctured my ego. He was right of course. We were teaching ourselves and falling over each other like a basket full of puppies. But we were getting somewhere. Jack was
quite a figure. He was a man of status and stature. He was the one who used to call the Will Hay comedies bloody Tiny Tim weeklies
RF: Was that just his persona or did he actively resent being tied to that kind of picture? RWB: No, I don't think he was bitter about it.
RF: If you worked in the British film industry in those days really you had to accept whatever came along, whether you were freelance or with Korda. Whatever the studio made, you made. You couldn’t be choosy. I don't think the directors could, could they? Weren't they re- ally assigned to a project?
RWB: They could choose only where they brought in a project. Bob
Stevenson was originally a writer. He wrote the original story for Windbag the Sailor but he didn't want to direct it.
RF: Do you think Varnel was talented or was he just lucky to be on those pictures at the time? Did Marcel Varnel contribute to the pictures? Did he do more than move people around?
RWB: I gather he had some reputation in France. He was originally a theatre director. He was more competent. The first two or three Will Hay films were directed by an American di- rector, William Beaudine. A tall moustachioed fellow from Hollywood who was a wiz at two- reel comedies. He had come up through the silent era and directed many of them. How or why Marcel was brought it I don't know. He just appeared. There wasn't a great deal of space for contribution because Guest and Edgar did the script with, increasingly, Ted Black. Originally, he was studio manager but he began to take an interest in the films. He then took an interest in the scripts and became a kind of associate producer under Micky Balcon. Then he became a full-blown producer at Gainsborough and produced everything. He worked with Guest and Edgar.
RF: Did they shoot the script?
RWB: Meticulously. Occasionally there were odd bits of dialogue changed but little improvi- sation. It wasn't necessary. It was all there. When it came to doing a slapstick scene Varnel was perfectly happy doing that but it wasn't a situation where a director was ever going to express himself. The characters were set in concrete and God forbid you should ever change them, there would be a riot. In many ways Varnel wished he hadn't done so many, that he'd broken away and gone and done some theatre. We all go through that. But cer- tainly he became the staple comedy director. He did three Crazy Gang [films].
RW: There was a writers’ department at Gainsborough. Did you have much contact with that?
RWB: Launder and Gilliat came in with The Lady Vanishes which was their script. They wrote it from a book and Hitchcock initiated it. Hitch even in those days had a close associ- ation with the writers and how it was going to be. They contributed to characters especially the two cricketers.
RF: They weren't long standing people?
RWB: They came in at that time and delightful they turned out to be. I liked them very much. People like Angus McPhail and Jock Orton came in to do things occasionally.
RF: Specific assignments?
RWB: There was a writer’s department at [the]Bush which is where most of these people came from. But Guest and Edgar were permanent and they had an office on the first floor.
RF: Did they have specialisation, for instance was Val the gagman?
RWB: I wouldn’t know. I’d guess probably Edgar would have been the story man and Val would have contributed to contriving situations
e.g. RF: how do we get them into a bus? Were they there during the shoot?
RWB: Hardly ever. The floor was left very much to itself. RF: The pictures weren’t made inefficiently but leisurely.
RWB: The assistant director's rest cure was a Tom Wall’s picture.
RF: Were there a lot of retakes on the Will Hays?
RWB: Not that I can recall unless it was for a negative scratch. RF: They didn't get second thoughts during rushes.
RWB: Hardly ever. Will had the talent and intellect. He was a
very bright man and he became quite rich. He created a lot of good stuff.
RF: They let him go to Ealing, do you know why?
RWB: They probably ran out of ideas.
RF: You were on Oh Mr. Porter. That was a fairly elaborate location shoot. What do you re- member about that?
RWB: I found the locations. To find a disused railway line you'd go to the Great Western Railway at Paddington Station and ask to see the managing director. That's how you start. That became a great giggle. People are usually very co-operative and very happy to join in. They were in those days. Now they want a fortune for doing it. I found recently with Minder! it became such a national name that location managers only had to knock on somebody 's door and say Minder! and it would be “come in”. You could go anywhere with that show. It was very useful.
It was an elaborate organising job which I can claim to have done. I found a disused line and got the necessary engine and the art department tarted it up and made it look funny.
RF: You built all the platforms? RWB: No, they were already there RF: The signal-box?
RWB: Yes, that’s there. RF: Where was it?
RWB: Alton in Hampshire. People stayed at the Swan in Alton, an excellent pub. The pro- prietor was a dazzler. He drove an Audi B25 and one got taken out in it. He was a great showman.
RF: What about the Crazy Gang?
RWB: That was Varnel again. They had original story lines to hang it on but they were set pieces. They were always looked upon as great fun to work on but I found some of the off- set jokes were a bit boring and tiresome, but I was very young and very priggish.
RF: Crude and cruel?
RWB: Yes. Bud Flanagan was not a nice man. He was very funny. Ches Allen was charm- ing and had very little to do with the others. He rather Looked down on them. That was the role he played. Charlie Naughton was a riot. He was a tiny tubby Glaswegian. He was a clown and a good one. Jimmy Gold, who was his partner originally had the reputation of be- ing the meanest man on earth. They were always pulling his leg about the cost of a tele- phone call. Nervo and Knox I don't remember much about them. They were always buzzing around.
They were all a bit jealous of everybody and each other. Each was jealous of the other five. Bud Flanagan was always trying to establish himself as the boss, they were always trying to top each other. It was good from the point of view of comedy. Nervo and Knox had some good ribald comedy songs which they used to sing.
There's not a great deal to say about them. Sometimes I might be working on two, even three pictures at once. I might be preparing one, doing a break down, finding locations while
this one was on the floor so as a second assistant on a particular film I was often missing for two or three days.
RF: Where there ever two pictures shooting simultaneously?
RWB: You couldn't shoot simultaneously but certainly they overlapped, particularly when one was on location, we’d then bring in the next one. There were very few long gaps in pro- duction although it was on a shoestring. The Ostrer brothers sold it virtually to 20th Century Fox in 1938.
RW: The Crazy Gang really do seem very mechanical pictures and very remote humour nowadays. Jack [Hulbert] and Cic[ely Courtneidge], were they at Gainsborough?
RWB: Yes. Everybody Dance. Jack of All Trades. That was directed by Bob Stevenson. He was allowed to be co—director with Jack Hulbert. Hulbert was a nuisance. He was a theatre man all his life. He never arrived before 12 o’clock and then would want to work on till two in the morning. We had to go with him and we got half a crown supper money. The usual.
RF: I worked with Jack quite a lot and he could never get ideas unless everybody was there. Do you remember that?
RWB: Yes, the whole thing for a dance routine. Everything had to be as it would be. He was very tiresome.
RF: Untalented I thought.
RWB: Yes, very strange. In the 1920s you had the matinee idol and all they had to do was walk onto the stage beautifully dressed and just walk about and say a few lines occasion- ally. The corollary was that was the leading man who was supposed also to be funny, a light comedian. He was that. He got a rowing blue at Oxford and never got over it. He was an appalling snob. But then everybody is to some extent. I don't regard that as a human crime, it may be a human folly.
RF: I found him quite a pleasant man other than this extraordinary misreading of his own abilities.
RWB: He really thought he was mustard. Cicely was the one who had the gusto to put over a number. She could sell a number like Ethel Merman. She had these boyfriends lined up all the time.
RF: Would their pictures have been different from the ordered script of the Will Hay pic- tures?
RWB: Very much so. The script was being altered every day. They'd come in with blurred carbon copies and blurred faces as well. It was very much an ad-hoc operation. In a limited way the pictures were reasonably successful, so who's to argue? They found an audience somewhere. But those pictures were more a waste of time than anything else I worked on at Gainsborough.
SIDE 3 TAPE 2
RWB: One of the Gainsborough directors I’ve left out is Maurice Elvey. I worked on two or three pictures with him. I didn’t realise it at the time but he was a director of considerable stature during the silent period and he made some big hit pictures with the then stars. He was rather short tempered. Fred Gunn who my mentor always used to say he didn't trust him. I gather sometime in the past Fred had had some upset with Elvey. Fred said he was the sort of director who would know perfectly well he would want a certain prop for a scene the following day and wouldn't tell anyone and then would say “where’s the whatever?” He would say “I told you I needed it” and he hadn't told them at all. Whether he forgot, whether he was untidy, Fred always felt this tended to leave the assistant director standing there looking rather silly. Be that as it may there is no doubt about it that Elvey was a good direc- tor. He was very good with actors.
This is one of the keys to the British cinema of the 1930s, the whole question of the actors. The actors were exclusively theatre actors. There were very few cinema actors. They all came from the stage. They all had theatrical habits. They had no understanding of how a film would be edited so you would often find a case where an actor would give a stunning performance in a remote longshot and then do nothing in a close up. There was a bit of a ritual you did the long shot and then you did the mid shot, then the medium close shot and then you did the single close up if it was merited or desirable. That routine persisted practi- cally up to the present day with very little movement of the camera. Almost always on a fixed tripod, which made life very easy for the cameramen because anyone can light a fixed photograph but very few people can light people when they’re moving about. That's when it gets tricky. If you take the Will Hay comedies. They were all set piece comedy scenes or action slapstick which was staged and photographed in a straightforward manner. But then it came to making dramatic pictures like Elvey did. One I remember was The Man who Changed his Mind which had Karloff in it and Claude Rains [I think RWB is mistaken here; he may be referring to The Clairvoyant, directed by Elvey with Rains in the cast but not Kar- loff. David Sharp] who was very good indeed. It was when those kind of people started ar- riving from Hollywood one could see these people were not only good actors and had a the- atre background, a lot were English ex—patriots who had gone to Hollywood and were coming back occasionally — that you had an actor who knew what to do with a camera and their performance would depend on that assembly. They knew about continuity. A lot of the stage actors who were stars in the West End, very grand, had no idea on continuity at all.
Quite often they would say afterwards “was there something wrong with my performance”. And what had probably happened was that they had made so many bad mistakes in conti- nuity that the editor had had to put the thing together in a way which did not show them to their best advantage in that scene. Elvey was a filmmaker. He wasn't a pleasant man. I never crossed swords with him. I was just a boy and if he ordered me to fetch him a cup of tea, I fetched him a cup of tea and that was that.
Robert Stevenson, after starting as co-director with Jack Hulbert became a director in his own right because he wrote a script called Tudor Rose. That was the first good picture I
ever worked on. It was magnificent. It was the story of Lady Jane Grey. It had Flora Robson and Cedric Hardwicke and all sorts of class actors. He’d done something on film technique but he was still basically a writer. He then went on and did Owd Bob and one or two others I worked on. Then somewhere around 1936 the really top-notch man arrived and that was Carol Reed. He started in the theatre as an actor. He was Basil Dean's factotum. Basil Dean was apparently a very tough cookie indeed but he was one of the biggest names in the London theatre and he was responsible for more of the good plays than you could imag- ine on the lines of H. M. Tennant became later. He was really top-notch. He was a ruthless tyrant but my god he was good. His names gone completely out of fashion. Carol Reed- came from a very good background and he knew about acting and he knew about the thea- tre. He also knew about films because into the Dean-Reed orbit around 1930 Edgar Wallace arrived and he was a man ambitious to do everything. He was a phenomenon and he started to make films and Carol was the assistant. I think Edgar dressed himself up in riding boots and shouted instructions but Carol was the assistant director. Then he got to make a picture at Ealing called Mr. Midshipman Easy and that was a big success. Out of all of them he was the top-notch man and he was the one I watched and listened to every step of the way. I thought if I could get next to him I was there. I was like a fly in his earhole all the time. There were no schools to go to in those days so I never went to any kind of film school. I think film schools are a good thing in the same way acting schools are a good thing. They are very important and essential to the structure of the art we all try to do. But they can only go so far and if there isn't one you have to steal ideas and methods from your seniors. And always steal from the best people. So I’ve stolen a great deal from Carol. He was an eccentric man in many ways. He was very tall, very good looking. Always beautifully dressed. Everybody was beautifully dressed in those days and that persisted right up to 1955, even 1960. It was David Lean who introduced the cardigan to film directing. It was a great contribution. Otherwise you wore a suit. A proper one, Saville Row, no nonsense.
RF: You're talking about the director? RWB: Yes, and the heads of department.
RF: The camera crew was also all collars and ties?
RWB: But they would wear pullovers. I always wore a tweed jacket and dark grey trousers. That was my general appearance. It was rather like bank clerks who turned up in tweed jackets on Saturdays but it was proper suits for the rest of the week. We got away with it be- cause we were considered rather racy being in films.
I don't know how to describe Carol's influence on me. He would have been extremely sur- prised if he heard me saying a lot of this. Much of the time he hardly noticed I was there.
RF: Did he lack vanity?
RWB: He was quite vain. He was very assured and very much aware of his own presence, his own capacities and his own achievements. Even early on. His father was Herbert Beer- bohm Tree. He was illegitimate. He was very grand. I don't think it was anything except the Ritz for tea or the dirty weekend. There was a Rolls Royce somewhere nearby. He was a rich, successful actor of his own period but highly talented with instinctive good taste. Sim- ple elegant good taste. Whatever you’re doing, even if it’s a Crazy Gang comedy you need that instinct. That is one of the great qualities and he had it. I had great respect for him and still have. He became a successful
commercial film director in the same say David Lean did. But Odd Man Out is a first-class film beautifully done. He took his time, he spent the money, he went over schedule but no- body interfered.
RF: Do you rate Odd Man Out higher than The Third Man?
RWB: It's a deeper picture. It's political. I would put the two on a parallel but not the same.
The Third Man was a sensation when it came out. You must remember. RF: Yes, I was at the press show.
RWB: They all said “the music's too loud” Carol. Because there was no school I modelled myself on Carol and Stevenson.
The first picture I worked on, I can’t say I worked on it, I was just a runner, was Chu Chin Chow. That was the great music hall hit of the First World War. It ran for years. Wonderful music and wonderful songs. George Robey and Anna May Wong, Pearl Argyle who was a ballet dancer, one of the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen. She went off and married a barrister and was never heard of again. It had a German actor, Fritz Kortner. I didn't know it at the time but he was one of the eminent Austro—German actors. He ran his own theatre in Vienna. He couldn't get his lips round some of the numbers because he was singing in English. That was directed by Walter Forde who was always accompanied by his wife who lived in his right-hand pocket. She was called Cully and she kept asking for endless trays of teas. She was rather a bore but he was rather delightful. He always had a grand piano on the set. Wherever the set was you had to find room for this piano somewhere because while he was waiting for a shot to be set up he would go off and play it. He became quite good because he was practising for two or three hours a day. He would juggle with oranges and things like that. He was amusing and I think he knew what he was doing
The next thing was My Old Dutch. The director was Sinclair Hill and the cameraman was Leslie Rowson. That had Gordon Harker and Betty Balfour and a lot of old music hall peo- ple, Florrie Ford and people like that. A sentimental story. Sinclair Hill was a man of consid- erable reputation and I only found out later.
Then there was The Camels are Coming. This had been on location in Egypt. It took weeks. The director was Tim Whelan. The cameraman was Glen MacWilliams who was also an
American. It was a 78-minute picture and they'd had already three weeks in Egypt. I see from this note that they were shooting in the studio from 14th June to 6th September. That was Jack Hulbert changing his mind all the time.
Then there was Oh Daddy. That was Leslie Henson and Frances Day. I didn't work on the floor. There were going to be four or five weeks when the studio was going to be dark. I wasn't going to be sacked and I said “what can I do?” Then I said “can I be put into the cut- ting room”. So, I was sent to the cutting room at Gaumont-British where Charlie Frend was editing Oh Daddy and next door was Hugh Stewart who was editing The Man who knew too Much for Hitchcock. I got on the joining machine and made a complete mess of it so when the director came to view the cut it snapped every two or three cuts and everybody went raving mad. Charlie Frend wasn't particularly pleased and I don’t blame him.
Then we did a picture which was ultimately called Heatwave. There was a dance band singer of considerable success at the time called Les Allen and this was really a vehicle for his talents which I think were quite thin. We had the experience of recording direct sound with the orchestra while he sings a song. It was a spy story. Then we did a Tom Walls pic- ture, Fighting Stock. That was absolute pie.
Ben Travers always sat on the set. He never said a word to anybody.
But if TW felt anything was needed in a scene he would stroll over to Travers who would scribble like anything and they'd shoot it straight away. He was purely a man of the theatre and he shot a stage play. He set a camera up metaphorically in the centre of the stalls.
Then he would go in for a close shot. There was always one of him. He never worked be- fore half past eleven in the morning because Tom always had to have a canter on the Downs. He was a great man with racehorses. He won the Derby one year and we were all on it. He was very grand, chauffeur, Rolls—Royce.
RF: The life style of some of these people was quite extraordinary.
RWB: He had a big house at Epsom. He didn't have a big string but certainly he had two or three race horses. He was delightful and charming to work with. He didn't arrive till about half past eleven. You did a rehearsal of a scene which was usually half an act of a play.
Then it was time for lunch. Lunch was a huge Fortnum's hamper in the dressing room. All that sort of thing. The afternoon was spent covering this and he got the itch when it came to about five o' clock. Usually there was a boxing match at the Albert Hall or some first night for which he had to change. Not much more we can do today. See you tomorrow. Delightful. A rest cure. Nothing to do.
Then we did The Clairvoyant It was a jolly good melodrama. Then we did the first Will Hay film, Boys Will Be Boys. The continuity girl was Muriel Baker, no relation, who at that time was married to Sidney Box and they were writing plays together. Lady Gardiner as is.
The Aldwych films were all made with the stock people, Tom Walls, Ralph Lynn, Robertson Hare and the other people. Muriel Brough had already retired. She was the Irene Handl
type character which went through all the Aldwych farces on the stage but she was only in one or two of the very early Tom Wall films which weren't made at Gainsborough.
RF: Did the characters they played spill over into real life.
RWB: Robertson Hare was not at all like his. Tom Walls character was like his. He wasn't acting. He was just being himself. Matinee idol- stuff himself.
RF: You see some of those pictures and he is throwing everything away. The impression is that he couldn't care less.
RWB: Very underplayed.
RF: Less underplayed, more a total lack of interest in what was going on around him. Was he more committed in the shooting then?
RWB: I always felt he scrupulous and concerned about how a thing was coming over to an audience. He would always have quite long chats most of the time he was directing himself so he would ask Ralph Lynn or the cameraman what they thought and to a certain extent the first assistant director, he was an interesting man, Robert Dunn. He had been with Walls from the year dot as a sort of gloryfied stage manager and he was very much part of the Walls team. He stood in tremendous awe of TW. He was a very good assistant director and he was very quiet — nobody made any noise on those sets. Bobby was charming and very funny and knew all the theatre jokes. He was very nice and very kind to me. He had a son who turned up in Dad's Army, Clive Dunn.
Boys Will Be Boys was directed by Bill Beaudine who was very much an eye opener. He was very brisk and to the point. Again, he was very funny. He knew all the jokes which had been in any two-reeler which had been made.
RF: Why were people like him and Glen MacWilliams over here? Were they brought over or were they no longer able to find work in the United States?
RWB: They were brought. The overriding struggle of British films, the main obsession of the whole industry was to get a showing in America, how can we get our films shown in Amer- ica. They brought in American cameramen so the girls would look like the American people like to see them. They brought in the American directors and writers. I always felt that in- stinctively if Hollywood lets anyone go they’re not particularly interested in them anymore. I don’t think they would have sacked them. They would have kept them going with general run of the mill chores.
RF: When William Beaudine went back it was to Monogram and PRC, it wasn't to Warners or MGM.
RWB: He had had his day in the silent era. Nothing phased him. He could solve any prob- lem straight away. A nice guy. He was very kind to me.
RF: Did any of the Americans pull rank, let you know they were American and so knew more?
RWB: No, certainly Bill didn’t. He was extremely well mannered. He had a side kick with him called Robert Edmonds who was really a gagman. He was an Englishman who had spent many years in Hollywood writing jokes. Marcel could get irritated at times if you were- n't quick enough for him. I remember once he had to do a scene where the three Will Hay characters had to climb up an enormous factory chimney and they had to change positions. They had to be directed to do this. He gave me the megaphone and I had to repeat every- thing he said because he thought they wouldn't understand his French accent. I don't think people pulled rank too much. Hulbert did. People like me were less than the dust. But that was alright because there was very little contact.
RF: Modes of address, was it Mr?
RWB: Yes, always or sir. None of this Christian name nonsense. It was quite a formal oper- ation. It was an ordered society. Nobody bothered about it. I just wanted to be a director or producer.
RF: It was hierarchical but there was upward mobility if you could deliver.
RWB: I had no idea how to go about it or that during the war all these other things would happen which made me into a director. How I would have gone about it if that hadn't hap- pened I really don't know. I never worked it out. But I made such rapid progress in that one little corner I thought that in due time, five or six years, I'd be nudging someone out of a di- rector’s chair and sitting in it myself.
RF: The War was a catalyst for change. It had an effect on career structures? RWB: Fundamental.
RF: Not just the renaissance of the British film industry but it released talent which had been bottled.
RWB: I’ve never believed in talent being unseen. It comes out. I think there's a lot of pseudo-talent which thinks it should get more attention than it gets.
Back to the 30s. Next was Stormy Weather another Tom Walls picture. Then Jack of All Trades with Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge. It was based on a German play and had a good idea.
Then another Tom Walls picture, Foreign Affairs
RF: A saucy title for the period, double entendre.
RWB: Ben Travers was always full of them. That was the great thing about the Aldwych farces. If you could read them right there were some very naughty things going on, very fast in its day. Travers was a damn good writer and one or two of the plays have been revived. The next was the weirdest I ever worked on. I think what happened was that someone went to Paris for a business weekend, whatever, got drunk and somebody persuaded him that he could take a French picture, dub it into English simply by retaking all the close ups with English actors wearing duplicate clothes in duplicate sections of set. Use all the long shots with the original French actors. It didn't work. It was a hopeless mess. Herbert Mason was the poor devil who got that one. It was the first thing he was going to do. It had Lilli Palmer. The first thing she did. She was quite a little madam, she was all of seventeen, beautiful.
She was the original Viennese china doll, perfect. She was quite delightful. She turned out later to be a very good scout indeed and a good number but in those days — well she was frightened out of her life, she could hardly speak a word of English, dumped here.
SIDE 4, TAPE 2
They realised a lot of it had to be retaken, the long shots as well because nothing matched. We went up to Norfolk on that. It was one of the first times I went on an extensive location. We went to Mildenhall because in Norfolk you can find long straight roads with Poplar trees along it so it looks like France. The shooting in a factory was a factory which eventually be- came W.H. Smith on Western Avenue, a derelict factory. There wasn't even a telephone in the place, no facilities of any kind.
Then we did Lady Jane Grey. That was the first real class production I worked on. RF: That was a big production for the studio?
RWB: Yes, it was.
RF: Was it entirely shot there rather than locations? RWB: Yes.
RF: Did they ever move into the Bush if they needed a larger sound stage or did they scale it down?
RWB: It was scaled. It was an Islington picture and that was it. I don't think we ever went. Just a minute, yes, we did on Chu Chin Chow There was a big set on that, a most elaborate hook up you’ve ever seen. It was meant to be a Chinese dance routine with a man who was
a musician in front and behind was a chorus line of girls all dressed in fancy Chinese cos- tumes and they were all wired up with rubber tubes and at a certain point they all turned into a fountain, water came spraying out of the tubes from their fingers, from their toes. You can imagine the mess.
We’ve covered Lady Jane Gray I worked on the script of a remake for ages and then too late discovered someone else was going to make the picture at Pinewood and that ruled me out completely.
RF: That was the Trevor Nunn film?
RWB: Yes. I couldn't bear to go and see it […Brief discussion of remake…]
RF: We've mentioned Robert Stevenson several times but never really talked about him.
RWB: This was the first film he really did on his own. He’d written the script completely and had taken it to Mick Balcon at the Bush and was allowed to go ahead and do it. He was fas- cinating man. He was very much a product of Oxford or Cambridge. He had the habit of smoking enormous cigars which didn't do much for his teeth and he always had a plume of dark brown oil at one side of his face where he had this cigar stuck in his mouth. He was a young man. He was an eccentric. He was very academic which fascinated me. One of my lost lives which never happened was to be a don at Oxford. I would have liked that very much. I would probably have hated it. He was a hi-brow and read great reams of poetry. I was just getting into that then. I never went into university, I went straight into this. I don’t regret it for one second. He fascinated me. I adored him. I used to follow him about and imi- tate him. He had a marvellous cast. It was stagey. I went to see it when it was on at the London Museum. It had been badly cut about in any case and some of the performances were inept. But some were just what you'd expect from Sybil Thorndike, Leslie Perrins, Fe- lix Aymler, etc. They couldn't give a bad performance if you asked them to. It would come out naturally as a proper statement of the character and the scene. They impressed me tre- mendously.
Then we did Pot Luck with Tom Wall, followed by Where there's a Will with Will Hay. Then Stevenson came in for The Man who changed his Mind with Boris Karloff. This was about a brain transplant. He was wonderful. It had John Loder who was the tallest, most handsome, black haired, wonderful looking man you've ever seen but that was about all. He was a mat- inee idol again. That's what people wanted to…
RF: John Loder personified the actor whose performance was somewhat wooden. RWB: Stilted.
RF: Did you keep records of the time.
RWB: Don’t remind me, it was a tragedy. I had a complete copy of every script. I had stills. I had signed photographs. All kinds of stuff. When I went into the army my parents moved from one flat to another and it all disappeared. It was either thrown away or it was down in a cellar and got bombed. I've never traced any of it since. It broke my heart when I realised it had all gone.
The next one was Everybody Dance. That was a Cicely Courtneidge picture. It had Kath- leen Harrison who was the sweetest woman you could ever imagine. I called her one day by mistake and she arrived and Fred Gunn said to me what have you done. I said it's my mistake I called her. He said you'd better go and apologise to her. I threw myself at her feet. I said I’ve made a mistake. I shouldn't have called you. The upshot of it was she took no pay, she said if somebody will pay for a taxi to take me home, that's the finish of it.
RF: Was that a serious matter?
RWB: It was a big mistake. It would have been a day's pay for
Kathleen Harrison and, in those days, she was a very well-paid actress. RF: Would you have run the risk of being fired for it?
RWB: No, it would have been brushed under the carpet. I wouldn’t have been sacked be- cause by that time I’d been there over two years and had done quite a lot. I was part of the team. I think people would have said don't ever do that sort of thing again. I wouldn't have done it again either. In those days if you were ticked off you remembered it. You didn't do it again. This was another attempt on the American market and had an American director Chuck Reisner. He was a real loud mouthed American director who used to blaspheme a great deal. Holy Christ, that sort of thing. The songs were by Max Gordon and Harry Revel. They were very big. I can remember them demonstrating the numbers. There was a piano in the rushes theatre.
I remember making it my business to have to go in there at that particular time. That’s how you got around and found out how things were done. That's about the time Bertie Ostrer ar- rived. I remember we were on location in Essex. I found the locations a huge Tudor farm- house, beautiful. There is a section of Essex called the Rodings. Bertie was terribly grand. He had a Jaguar, an SS, really smart. He used to drive me to and from the location.
Then we did All In with Ralph Lynn.
RF: Was he the silly ass he always played?
RWB: No, he was a very shrewd man. He was very reserved. He only played the one thing. Then there was Windbag the Sailor which was one of my great triumphs. It was great feather in my cap. Ted Black came down to see the location and he looked all round it and we were walking back along the key and Mr Black said you've done very well with this one boy, good show.
RF: Have you any idea how much these films cost?
RWB: I wasn't involved in the finance but I think they cost around £40,000. That would be worth around £400,000 today and probably even more. I’ve never been involved in costs and budgets.
RF: When you compare English budgets with Hollywood budgets at the time they were rea- sonably comparable because people don't realise that the dollar was five to the pound in the thirties.
RF: I suppose it's the equivalent these days into the millions. You can't make a picture these days for two or three millions. I suppose it’s the equivalent to two or three million.
When you compare the production values of Windbag the Sailor or Oh Mr Porter to a Chan- nel Four film and the 1930s picture has far more in it in terms of cast and action, studio sets, than anything now being made for two or three millions.
RWB: They all looked skimped these days. They’re short changing the public. The over- heads are overweighting the thing.
In the 1930s the money was adequate to do what we had to do and we were never terribly conscious about cost. We were naturally scrupulous about costs. You didn't walk into a shop and say we'll have half a dozen of those without asking the price.
RF: I think at that time the inefficiencies were elsewhere than the studio floor. It was the people feeding various sections of the business. It's the distributors who were getting away with it.
RWB: They're still the biggest thieves of all. You’ve got no control over them. People are banging their heads against a brick wall when they say how are we going to save the British film industry. There isn't one and there never was one. It’s an illusion. We make films when we get a chance and some of them were very good. We haven’t got the audience.
We’ve only got 50 million people and the Americans have 350 million people.
We went onto another Will Hay picture, Good Morning, Boys It had Will Hay Jnr in it. Then there was the Crazy Gang fooling around in a film studio, OK for Sound. It was run of the mill Crazy Gang stuff. Then there was Said McRiley to McNab.
RF: Where they directed at specific audiences?
RWB: I think they were general notions. I don't think anyone was bright enough to slant a picture for a particular audience. They were aiming for the biggest audience they could get and Will Fife still had a following.
In April 1937 George Arliss appeared for Doctor Syn. Margaret Lockwood was in it. She had just made a couple of pictures at ATP. She was an exact contemporary of mine. George Arliss appeared with his butler. He always turned up at 4 o’clock and said tea Mr. Arliss and that was the end of the day as far as George Arliss was concerned. He sauntered off and we polished up a few close ups and bits and pieces to finish the day.
RF: Why did Arliss turn up at Islington? Hitherto his pictures had been made at Lime Grove. Was he fading?
RWB: I think he was fading. Also, it was a small-scale picture. When he did The Iron Duke there was a lot of battle stuff. He had had a great success in the silent days. He was an Englishman who went to America and made his fortune simply by being able to speak Shakespeare and such acceptably. He was a big star of the New York theatre. A number of his successes were filmed in Hollywood as silent pictures. They were almost always histori- cal recreations such as The House of Rothchild and Disraeli. Then when sound came in, Warners with great alacrity summoned him to Hollywood to make these things as sound pictures. He was very successful for a number of years. Then he came over here and made a couple of pictures at the Bush. Then he came to us for Dr. Syn. His right-hand woman was Maud Howell who looked after the scripts and general management, she was a sort of agent. She co-directed with Roy William Neill who I thought was a bit of a whipper-snapper. He was an American director. Jack Cox was cameraman. I had another great success as location manager. It was based on a book by Russell Thorndike, Sybil's brother. It's set in Rye in Kent. There had to be a great chase through the marshes and only the smugglers knew the way through the marshes. I went down there and found the most wonderful marshes. Reeds growing up. I went down there in February and came back with photo- graphs. Everybody said terrific. We’ll go down there. So, I put them all up at the Mermaid Inn but it was now April and there hadn't been any rain and all my marshes had dried up.
The man who owned the Mermaid was a solicitor and he had a large drawing room at the back totally panelled and it was full of plan chests full of engravings and he took me round this. He could see I was intrigued. Every one of these prints was in the form of a medallion. They were of all the kings and queens, and other eminent people. There must have been
200. I’d never seen anything like that before.
George Arliss was charming to work with. He was meticulously polite. He would arrive on the set dead on 9 o’clock, fully made up, he’d know all the lines. He’d stand in front of the camera and say it.
Hollywood training, I suppose. None of this fluffing about we had with almost all the actors in those days. Going back to what I was saying about actors from the theatre, when they were playing the scene they thought they were doing the third rehearsal. Indeed there was a sickness with people like Hulbert where they would rewrite the script and rewrite the script and it got to the point where the actors didn’t bother to learn the lines because they thought it was going to be rewritten anyway and they thought if I learn it them I’m going to be mud- dled when I learn the right ones. It led to bad results.
RF: Did Arliss take direction?
RWB: Not at all. He knew when he was going to be centre stage. He had Maud Howell and Roy William Neill all directed towards that. This brings up a point about direction. A little while ago I saw a programme about RKO Studios and they interviewed Katharine Hepburn who’s a great star and a good actress. She was asked about various directors who had made her films and she fastened on George Cukor and said one of the great things about Mr. Cukor was that you always knew that you would be well presented. This is a fundamen- tal theme to film direction, particularly if you are talking about a star performance in a star part. If you’re talking about a star who is lending his presence and it's not a star part, you direct the film accordingly. But in any case, any actor, even if he's not a star must be properly presented, otherwise the effect isn't there. Once you’ve done the script and de- signed the set and chosen the locations, costumes and make-up and everything down to the last detail is already to go, the last remaining factor and the key factor is the actor.
You’ve got nothing else to tell the story with. I know this is an old-fashioned concept and a lot of people would argue with it.
There is nothing like the confidence and trust between an actor, even if he only has one line, if he knows the director is willing to place that in the editing and on the screen in an ef- fective manner then he has total confidence. He relaxes and gives his best and plays it beautifully. If you are going for photographic effects all the time you see it a lot in televi- sion, the way they play key plot lines on the backs of peoples’ heads
RF: There is a middle way. If you have George Arliss or a picture made around the same time, Jamaica Inn, both were star vehicles. Really, it's the story which should prevail. But if it’s George Arliss centre stage or everything distorted for Charles Laughton you have a problem with what ends up on the screen.
RWB: I entirely agree. But either you’re making a star vehicle in which case the story doesn't matter or you're making a story. Then they all fit in or they don’t and that's when the battle starts when they think they are being short changed. I’ve had it on a number of occa- sions when stars want to be the dominant factor in every scene. That's fine as an ambition but when you read the story you may find three or four scenes when the star has to be there because he needs the information but he's not effective in that scene and I give the scene to the other people. It's a form of being a ring master and you have to hold the ring
for all the guys, particularly the little guys because they can be overrun by big stars if they’re allowed to get away with it. It's very important that you hold the ring for everybody, abso- lutely equally without fear or favour, according to the story. The story is what you have a bound duty to respect. You have to accept it, even if it's absurd or cockeyed, you have to accept it as a real thing. That is always my argument if you have a star who gets nervous, often because he thinks he's being a stooge feeding other people lines. He has every right
to do so. I don't object to it. But my response is “look ducky, it's not your scene, it belongs to the other fellow. You’ll get your turn and it's your picture anyhow so shut up and get on with it”. Usually they agree once you explain what’s going on and they have confidence they will
be properly presented. That’s the key phrase and is fundamental to the whole exercise and you neglect that at your peril.
Then we did a picture about sheepdogs called Old Bob I had very little to do with it because it had an extensive location.
SIDE 5, TAPE 3
RF: You had ambitions to direct the second unit on that. How did that go?
RWB: I was only 19. It was a bit strong but I couldn’t see anything to stop me but they had someone else and that was the end of that. I did go out on location. It was a lovely summer and I hadn't been out much to the country before that. I was very impressed with it. Now Carol Reed appeared and did Bank Holiday. It was a Grand Hotel picture, a magazine pic- ture, four or five different stories running in parallel.
RF: Were contract players used and the story accommodated to these contract players?
RWB: No. The idea for the film came first. Then I did get a bit of B unit direction. I made out my own call sheets and signed them as first assistant. I had to do some background stuff which meant digging up roads. and stuff like that. I was fascinated by Carol Reed. He clearly had command, he was self-assured. He really knew what he was doing. He knew who he was.
RF: He worked with the actors. Did he know where he wanted the camera? RWB: Yes, surely.
RF: Was he shooting it to edit himself?
RWB: No that didn't happen till Hitchcock who had it all worked out. The picture was fin- ished before we ever started.
RF: What would Reed do, shoot a master and singles?
RWB: Yes, he would cover a thing rather more elaborately than I would do RF: Was that the studios way to give the editor that amount of material?
RWB: It was not the studios way.
RF: Did Varnel shoot like that?
RWB: It was a general, slightly slovenly way. Providing the editors with a lot of material and seeing what they could make with it which I don’t approve.
RF: It's a very dialoguey [dialogue heavy??] film. The plot is carried all with dialogue. The plot is carried all with dialogue so he was doing lots of over-the-shoulder was he?
RWB: Yes. All that.
RF: Did people imitate Hollywood pictures consciously in stylistic terms?
RWB: They were heavily influenced. And the effort always was to try and make a film in the Hollywood image so it would be shown in America.
A hopeless quest but this was the guiding keynote of the whole
operation. A waste of time in my opinion. Ealing rumbled it and they started making paro- chial pictures. They were good pictures but they were parochial pictures. There's nothing wrong if the parish is characteristic of a wider world.
RF: I agree but economically it doesn’t satisfy the quest for enormous returns. Even in our day, My Beautiful Laundrette, say, was supposed to have been a great success but only earned about 3 million dollars, lunch money for the distributors.
RWB: I agree but the art circuit can be extremely lucrative. Nowadays the art circuit com- bined with the video and cable circuit can offer a big market. Look at the success of Jean de Florette. It played on the art circuit and was never seen on a big circuit. Perhaps they're right. They want the television audience but they're never going to get that because they're staying at home.
Now we came to Alf’s Button Afloat based a script of the Daily Telegraph drama critic. It was interesting from the technical point in that we made a genie appear by Pepper's ghost. It was all done with plate glass and mirrors. You had a separate set which was a black vel- vet set at right angles to the action set. The camera was on the action set shooting through a thin sheet of glass and in the glass you can see the reflection of the black velvet set ex- cept when there are no lights on when you can’t see anything. Then when you put some- thing in the black velvet set such as the genie and dim up the lights on him he appears in the glass. the actors all have to have crosses stuck up on blackboards as to where their eyelines are. Then you can fade him up fade him out, bring him in on a trolly and bring him up closer and all that. The one thing that stuck in my mind was that there are some very fine fellows doing special effects but some of them are inclined to say “ah yes I know what you want, we're going to do this and we’re going to do that, it will be marvellous”. You won't see anything for three weeks later because it all has to be done in a laboratory and then when you get it, it doesn't work. Now you have a thing like Pepper's ghost when you say “cut” print on the take, you've either got it or you haven't and I’m much happier with practical solutions to problems. I like to see a man pulling a string.
Convict 99 was Will[Hay]again playing two parts. Then came Alfred Hitchcock. I think every- body was shaking in their shoes even before the man appeared in the studio.
RF: He had a formidable reputation by then? RWB: Yes. He was a big noise.
RF: What was his reputation, an unkind one?
RWB: Not as later emerged, later he became an absolute monster, a very nasty man. Far more than was necessary but that was him and he had to be as he was. Being as he has produced all those pictures and some of them were absolutely marvellous. He was a superb director. He bored himself to death by making the same picture over and over again and said so. He was a formidable figure. But in those days, he had made four pictures in Ger- many before anyone in this country would trust him with a picture. Mickey Balcon got the job.
RF: I think he was out there to make English versions or he was out there to do English inter-titles.
RWB: He then made a couple of pictures for BIP which were very successful. Then he went to the Bush had a series of pictures and the one picture which nobody ever mentions was Waltzes from Vienna which he absolutely hated.
RF: He was regarded by BIP as a contract director and just given assignments without any regard for his aptitude.
RWB: But Murder! and Blackmail were good pictures.
RF: But things like Waltzes from Vienna he was very naughty in that he was given pictures to make and would screw them up.
RWB: That's what you've got to do. If they don't know, they've got to be told. By this time, he was recognised as the top dog British director although Reed was coming up rapidly on the inside and in a different category in any case. Stevenson clearly had the marks [?]that he was going to make it. But Hitch was top dog and we all wondered what he was going to be like.
RF: I'd heard that The Lady Vanishes was not originally his subject but somebody else was going to direct it and for some reason they had to drop out and Hitch took it on at short no- tice. Launder and Gilliat say the script as they wrote it was the script as it was made and hence it was not one of the subjects where Hitchcock had a great input into the script.
RWB: I know nothing about it. It doesn't surprise that the Launder and Gilliat script was the script and he shot it. I don't see why he shouldn't because it was a damn good script and he’s no fool.
Perhaps later he practically dictated the scripts but certainly at this time he would have been so shrewd and so sensible that he would realise that he had a darn good script he would go ahead, shoot it and don’t argue. He was already quite dictatorial and there was no interference with what he was doing or how he was going to do it. He never looked through the camera. He just drew a little caricature for Jack Cox and gave it to him. Jack Cox had previously worked with him.
RF: Did he do the drawings at the time or was there a full story board?
RWB: No he didn't storyboard. One of my duties was to go to the art department and get them to give me the set plans for the next day or next two days. It was a railway train story and I had seen so many people fall down dead with railway train stories where they are really ropy. I've warned people you'll get yourself into such a muddle unless you're care- ful with orientation, general management. You're very restricted in any case as to how you could stage it. Then your coverage gets funny indeed with scenery going one way, tunnels, etc.
My job was to get a plain plan and put them in Hitchcock’ s office before lunch every day. After lunch I would go into his office and collect these plans and they would have on them the scene number and lens of the camera and the angle would be drawn, just a V. And the people sitting in the compartment walking through the station would be indicated on the plans as well. So, I knew exactly who had to be called for the following day. But he didn't do a storyboard, no. He kept it in his mind. He could memorise the whole thing. He could sit there and see it on the screen, cut for cut going through. That' s one thing, not to an obses- sive extent, but certainly with important scenes one has to be able to do, you have to train yourself to do that. On the set, not always, but occasionally if there was a query he would do a little drawing for Jack and he would say I’ll go away and come back when you're ready.
An example of this attitude: The cast was marvellous, all top-class people. Basil Radford and I used to be very chummy and we would go to the pub on the corner called The Brick- layers Arms and in the back room you could have lunch for 2/6d. We took Dame May Whitty [?] over one day it was a bit like taking the queen mum. We had the scene in the compart- ment of the railway carriage. It was compartmented, it wasn't an open car. Hitch set up a scene with Linden Travers and Paul Lukas. Hitch set it up. She was sitting on one side of the carriage and he was on the other. Off he went and he came back and Jack said run the plate, old fashioned back projection of course. The camera was on a rostrum because the railway carriage was on a rostrum because it had to rock, etc. He took one look at it and he put on an act. He started to grumble and worry. He could give a very good imitation of a spoilt baby. His face could crumple up as if he was about to cry. He kept saying there’s something wrong about all this. They're still sitting there but Linden Travers is on the other side of the carriage. Then eventually the dam broke and he said who put her over there.
Everyone had to confess it was Miss Travers who had said this was my wrong side, I’m
much better on left side. It won’t make any difference to the scene, and it wouldn't but Hitch- cock had said it had to be that way and that was the way it was going to be and he roasted that girl alive for 20 minutes.
RF: He'd known from the beginning what had happened?
RF: It is often said about Hitchcock that there is a streak of sadism running through every- thing he did.
RWB: He was a very cruel man. He went in for all these practical jokes but some of them were quite funny. He had a production manager called Dicky Bevill who'd been with him for years. He told me a story that Hitch used to read timetables for amusement. They were dis- cussing this and Hitch said you’re coming to lunch on Sunday. Lunch was down at Shamley Green. Bevill asked how do I get there. Hitch said there's a green line bus which passes your door. Bevil said I’ve never seen a green line bus. Hitchcock told him to be outside at five past eleven and of course a bus came along. And Hitch had laid it on just to prove it was right.
That was funny but others weren't. And he certainly could roast the actors. But he was very nice to me. I had no problems with him. I ran around like a startled rabbit. I learnt more on that ten-week picture with him than all the rest put together. He really had to direct.
RF: How did he communicate with the crew and cast?
RWB: Very laconically. Hardly anything to do with the crew, just the cameraman and to a certain extent the first assistant. He would speak to Jack Cox and that would also incorpo- rate the continuity girl and they're really the only people you need to speak to. I was the second assistant director and he rarely spoke to me. He would speak if I said excuse me Mr. Hitchcock, I’m not quite clear about such and such and then he would give it a moment. He didn't want to be bothered. There was no need really. You have to be very careful with your effort when you’re a director.
RF: Yes, but you can't expect it all to happen by osmosis.
RWB: But your cameraman is the only other man on the set. There are only two people they can never really get rid of. One is the cameraman and the other is the director. All the rest can go.
RF: Maybe they know what is going on but other people need to.
RWB: It's the cameraman's responsibility to run his crew. That's the photographic side which is the be all and end all of the operation. The first assistant is the organiser. He tells
the first assistant to tell the second assistant to tell the production manager that this is hap- pening and that isn’t happening.
RF: Did he talk to actors?
RWB: Oh yes. All he wanted to do was to ensure that the photographs were exactly in the right order exactly as he envisioned them with the actors within the photographs doing ex- actly what he envisaged. He gave them full instructions, again very laconically. I think it was a good way of handling actors. He was inclined to dictate to actors and of course some- times you have to.
RF: What did he say, would he give them moves, would he tell them how to read a scene?
RWB: I can't remember that. I don't think so. He would say things like “when you come in the room you've read the script but the one thing you must be totally unaware of is that
there's a gun in that drawer so forget that”. He would make sure they played in the scene as the scene required. But he wasn't an actor's director by any means. He wasn't sympathetic. He hated them because none of them were ever good enough. One of the things I always lay at his door is that it is noticeable that he never played any of these hoity-toity tricks with the big stars like Cary Grant. He started them on an old pal basis and it was all very jolly but he didn't try to be funny with them. It was only with the lesser fry that he indulged himself a bit and that was reprehensible. You have to be the ringmaster who has an implacably direct balanced approach to every single one of them. You don't do favours for any of them.
RF: And you don't set out to humiliate any of them.
RWB: No if you humiliate any of them you won't get anything out of them, they’ll just die. You can't afford that unless you can afford to recast.
RF: You say he roasted Linden Travers, what did he say in general terms?
RWB: The delivery was all in terms of how hurt I am. I set up the scene in the way I wanted and I believed to be the right way to do it and suddenly I came on the set it’s all different and I wonder who's supposed to be doing this. It's extraordinary to me. I think we should go back to where we started.
RF: He was playing himself even then. There must have been a lot of process work on that film. How did it go?
RWB: It was sticky. Back projection in those days was very fitted [?]where it touched kind of thing.
RF: Was there a permanent BP device at Gainsborough?
RWB: I don't remember. I should guess it was brought from Shepherd's Bush. I don't think we would have had a projector with shutter sync and a translucent screen. But that's all it was. It wasn't very elaborate. All you had to do was have interlock.
RF: Did it work reasonably well or did you lose a lot of time?
RWB: I think it worked fairly well. It was pretty crude and the quality was fairly rough but it was black and white which was much easier.
RF: Did the process confine the way he directed the film?
RWB: No, that was the thing about Hitchcock. He was such a superb technician, he never- had the slightest difficulty with technique. He knew what he could do and what were the lim- its of the technique were, and he would work to those. That's another thing to try and achieve, to be so comfortable with the run of the mill technique that you no longer think about it, you just shoot the pictures as you want to shoot them.
RF: There was a pre-title sequence/prologue which was excised from the film. Do you re- member anything about that?
RF: I think there was a more extended scene which set up the sequence in the hotel. RWB: I don't remember.
RF: Was Alma around?
RF: What function did she perform? RWB: None at all.
RF: Did she tug at his elbow or whisper in his ear?
RWB: No whatever she did she did very discreetly. But I’ll tell you a charming thing Hitch did on this film. He had a daughter about nine and one day at lunch we were shooting in the restaurant and it was all set out exactly so he commanded a great picnic lunch from Fortnums and he invited her to lunch with him. They sat there on this restaurant set. That was nice. Otherwise he was not a nice chap. But he knew how to make a picture. Nothing was out of place. It all ran on rails because he knew exactly what he wanted and said what he wanted. It was like clockwork.
RF: Was there the feeling of a classic in the making?
RWB: Yes, you knew it was a good picture. It was so professional. There was a lot of ama- teurism with this leisurely, easy going manner which was the style of the period. A picture like that stands up. So many of your old pictures have been shown on television and you think what's it going to look like? If they stand up, and one or two of mine have stood up,
that’s a true test of a picture. There are one or two wonderfully flashy pictures of the mo- ment which last four months and take a fortune at the box office and are enjoyed by millions then there's the other kind, the not fashionable picture. I prefer the long-life picture myself. I like to think of pictures being shown thirty or forty years after they've been made and still looking acceptable.
RF: It’s the difference between making a film and making a piece of merchandise.
RWB: It's partly that. The next thing was Hey! Hey! USA. Then there was another Will Hay picture, Old Bones of the River. Then Carol Reed came in with A Girl Must Live. which was about three chorus girls. Then another Will Hay.
RF: Was this the total output of Gainsborough at the time or were there other units?
RWB: No, this was the total output. They couldn't do anything without me. Then there was another Will Hay film called Where's That Fire.
RF: That was Twentieth Century Fox.
RWB: Yes, they came in in December 1938. RF: How did that affect things?
RWB: It didn't make much difference. We all carried on doing what we were doing. Then they started putting in their own pictures. The next one was one of their own pictures, a Gracie Fields picture, Aunt Sally. [Probably Shipyard Sally. DS] That was a real riot. All the men in a shipyard are being ground down by this dreadful capitalist who runs it and they're all going to go on strike. Sally is the heroine of the day. She sings a great song to them and they all go back to work. Absolutely cockeyed. It was idiotic. Monty Banks directed that and the assistant director was a very nice man, Phil Brandon who became a director later.
Then we did a picture which we had nothing to do with at all. At that period, we must have been doing two at once and it was possible because they were small pictures.
There was a radio series called Inspector Hornleigh investigates. The only ready trade[trained?] stars were the people who had made a reputation on the BBC of which this was an example. It was called Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday. Gordon Harker plays the in- spector. He wasn't very nice somehow. I never got on with him terribly well. He was a bit star conscious. He never really was a star. He was very good in one of those Edgar Wal- lace pictures, The Ringer and he played on the stage with some distinction but he was a glorified character actor. He became a star but never the kind of star who could carry a picture on his own. He was very good.
SIDE 6 TAPE 3
He was a natural Cockney. [Omits discussion about Harker, Rome Express etc.]
Then there was another picture I had nothing to do with They Came By Night. It was di- rected by Harry Lachman who was a really big figure in the silent days. He was big in his day.
RF: He was Rex Ingram's right-hand man. Later he came to BIP with his Chinese wife which was very unusual in those days. Then he was back in Hollywood in the 30s.He was around here in the late 30s.
RWB: He was back in Britain for this one little cheap picture, a four or five-week shoot. He was very eccentric, slightly daft and international. No one knew if he was a Frenchman or Jewish or German or what the hell he was but he was an interesting man. I should have taken more notice. I never even saw him.
Then we did a radio derived number called Band Waggon. We started shooting in the last week of August in 1939 and on Friday night we were all called together and told the picture was going to be continued but we were going to finish it at Shepherd's Bush. Gainsborough Studios were going to be closed down and we were all to move over on Monday morning
RF: This was 1st September and Poland has been invaded and the assumption is that it was war. Was there a role marked out for the studio?
RWB: I don't know what the reasons were. I don't know if people thought there was going to be obliteration bombing which was what we all expected at the time. Everyone thought Lon- don would be bombed flat on Monday morning. Well it could have been. We were at Shep- herd's Bush on Monday morning and finished the picture.
RF: How could that be? You had standing sets.
RWB: They were moved over the weekend. Also, Band Waggon is based on the idea that Arthur Askey has got a little flat which is on top of Broadcasting House and he lives up there with a lot of animals. If you remember, Lime Grove in those days it had exactly that. It had offices which had been built on top of the original roof and it made the absolutely perfect setting for the story.
The Bush had been dark for over two years. Then we started Night Train to Munich. The Bush re—opened with the Islington people.
RF: It's surprising in a way that they closed Lime Grove at the time of the slump. It indicates Islington was quite an efficient studio to operate.
RWB: I think it was a money maker.
RF: Had Ted Black been there all that time?
RWB: Yes, Ted Black was still there and he went with us to the Bush. Micky Balcon had left a long time ago.
RF: What do you recall about the outbreak of war?
RWB: There was nothing in it for me at all except the fact that I had been called up.
RF: That quickly?
RWB: You had to register before war broke out, you registered during the summer of 1939 if you were over 21. I was 22 in December 1938 so I qualified so I knew I was in the army. I was called up on February 15th 1940.
RF: Films were not regarded as a reserved occupation?
RWB: Not to people of my age. A lot of the people who were close friends such as Billy Partington who was in the make—up department ever since I was there. He became quite a friend. …Father had a friend who was the racing manager at White City, the dog racing, and Billy was a dog owner and that made a bomb and we all went to White City quite regularly. At that time, the department was run by a German called Herman Rosenthal who was a very good make—up man from UFA, he came from Potsdam. Anyway, he went back to Germany around 1937. Off he went and Billy became head of make—up department. He was about ten years older than me, about 32. Also, he was the only man who could cut Maurice Ostrer's hair. After him Ted Black and after him Roy Baker. I always had a very smart haircut because Billy when he was a boy became the British champion barber. He could really do you a proper haircut. He was typical of the sort of staff who stayed on. He soldiered on with them for many years.
RF: Did you work on Night Train to Munich?
RWB: Yes, it had three days to do when I went off. I almost saw it out. RF: What did they do to you when you were called up?
RWB: Not very much. I was very lucky. During the war, I was always in the wrong place. I was never where it was happening. I was always somewhere else. I got to Portland Bill in February. It was built as a prison during the Napoleonic wars. I'd never seen anything like it in my life. There's no doubt about it that — you were earlier asking what about your social life. Well there was nothing outside the four walls of the studio or if you were on location you might go chasing after some girl.
RF: You'd been living at home all this time?
RF: Did you drive a car? RWB: Yes, I had my own car.
RF: What were you on at the outbreak of war at Gainsborough? RWB: I was on £6 a week.
RF: You were being underpaid at that time.
RWB: Yes probably. About £7-10shillings. RF: Even a tenner.
RWB: Steady on.
RF: I would have thought someone who had been there that time. Proved their worth, dedi- cated.
RWB: I don't think one cared. On £6 a week you could run a car and I lived at home of course. Also, the whole of that year we were completely overshadowed by Munich. I kept saying to myself there can't be a war. In 1928, I was 12 and All Quiet on the Western Front was published in English. It was the first book - I'd read a lot of novels by that time, I was an instinctive reader, nobody told me to do it — this book came out and there was so much fuss and bother about all the dirty words in it and that launched an avalanche of books about the First World War. Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That and Journey's End. The fa- ther of a boy at school was the stage manager so I got to see that. It was very much part and parcel of that era which lasted two or three years and I must have read a couple of dozen anti—war books and I’d made up my mind that that war was completely unneces- sary, a complete act of folly, really on the part of three cousins one of whom was mad, one of whom was degenerate, the Englishman hadn't the faintest idea what was going on. So, this bloody thing happened; when it happened, nobody had the faintest solution how to get out of it. They had to continue to keep slaughtering each other. There was no rhyme or rea- son about it at all. It was a unique war. This lead me to believe it could never happen again. Well it did. What I hadn't reckoned on was Hitler. I didn't realise you could have such a phe- nomenon. Again, that won't happen again but there's always the possibility something else might happen. The 1939 war I believe was absolutely necessary or we'd all be speaking German or a lot of our children would be learning German as a second language.
RF: It was the outcome of the previous war but by 1939 it was unavoidable.
RWB: You had to do it and all those people had to be killed and I was very grateful to them. They made the sacrifice. We all have to offer a little prayer every day. I feel instinctively one knew it had to happen but you hadn't the faintest idea what it would be like. I'd been in the Cadets at my school. This put me straight into the front rank of cadets as soon as I joined the army, the sergeant in charge of my section said you'll be an officer alright. That was fine
except the other people in the hut elected me to be their representative on the messing committee. The British Army is a democracy. It was invented by Cromwell. It owes its alle- giance to the Crown but it belongs to the people and to Parliament. That's the theory. It's not like the Airforce or Navy. They owe their allegiance to the Crown, they're not interested in Parliament.
The Army is structurally democratic and they have these messing committees. I went and I spoke up. I’d only been in the Army for four weeks. I didn't realise you had to stand to atten- tion, it didn't occur to me. I'd come straight from a film studio which was a closed world. The real benefit of being slung into the Army was that I suddenly realised that there were other people in the world. I said the men were complaining about this and that, there wasn't enough sugar with the porridge, people were supposed to eat it with salt and they didn’t like that. The messing officer was a Scotsman. I swear to God he put back my advancement as a cadet. Anyway, Dunkirk happened and I became a translator. But nothing happened. I didn't even get a stripe, even a temporary acting lance jack, I was still a private soldier. This went on for months. My father was very agitated. He was dying for me to be an officer. It was a ridiculous ambition — you had a shorter life — but it was the thing to do. In the First World War if you became a subaltern officer your expectation of life was about three weeks. It was a bit like some parts of the air force such as Bomber Command. It wasn't till the end of the first year I was made a temporary acting lance jack. I’d seen several intakes come and go and I was still left there high and dry. Eventually the place was evacuated and we were all sent to Devizes.
RF: What outfit were you in originally?
RWB: You could call it the Welsh Regiment because they were nominally the regiment which was in charge there. But it was a primary training centre so anyone and everybody would be there. We went to Devizes. I was then sent on an officer training course - I was put up for a board. I went on this training course in North Wales, twelve weeks and I was an officer, absolutely crazy. I hadn't the faintest idea what I was doing.
RF: It sounds like the books Evelyn Waugh was writing at the time.
RWB: It felt like it. Then the Middle East started to get going but I wasn't sent there in the
first wave. I reported to the depot of my regiment. I’ve never forgotten this because I think a terrible mistake was made. You were asked which regiment you would like to join. Give three preferences. I chose three which were near London. I went into the Bedfordshire[?] and Hertfordshire Regiment. I reported to the Bedford depot. I saw the adjutant, “here I am what, do you want to do with me?” He looked me up as if to say “what sort of officer mate- rial is this?” I was smart but wet behind the ears, 23. I said “by the way I ought to mention but there has just been a notice sent by the War Office asking for people who have experi- ence of the film production”. “Oh yes,” he said. “I’ve just had six year’s experience”. He said “forget it”. He made a terrible mistake because I became one of the worst regimental offic- ers they ever had in the British Army. I was just no good at it. I wondered what the expres- sions on some of the men must have been when they looked at me and said “this is what is
going to lead us into battle is it?” Eventually I survived it and became an instructor but never fired a shot in anger. I was a very good instructor. I was good mechanically. That takes us well over 18 months, the beginning of 1943. We were stationed up at Cromer and never moved. I missed the second wave of the Middle East.
Then the War Office sent round another message from Thorold Dickinson and this time I went to my commanding officer and I think by that time he thought well perhaps it might be advisable.
RF: Why do you think you were blocked earlier?
RWB: They were short of subaltern officers. They wanted as many as they could get and see they sort themselves out. It was only making instruction pictures.
RF: You now were working for Thorold Dickinson?
RWB: Yes. I'd never met him but I duly reported to the War Office which turned out to be Curzon St, it was the building where MI5 and MI6 were, at the back of the Square.
RF: It had obviously been built as a pricy Mayfair apartment block which got taken over. RWB: It was commandeered at the beginning of the War and they've had it ever since. The first person I saw was Angela Martelli, one of the grand continuity girls. I knew her already but I can’t remember why.
RF: If you worked at the Bush or worked at Islington was there much intermingling or was it very much staying on your own patch?
RWB: Very little. As soon as he heard I’d done six years as an assistant he said I must have you and he did all the necessary paper work and I was transferred to his unit which was called the Army Kinematograph Service and at that time they were responsible largely for showing films in the field but they’d already become responsible for producing documen- taries, training films basically for service use. We did a lot a stuff on tank techniques. We did a lot of animated pictures. George Ashworth, the famous camera mechanic, he was head of the camera mechanic department at Denham for years, a brilliant man, he got eve- rything working. John Cox was the sound man.
It all happened at Wembley Park Studios and John Cox was the sound man for Twentieth Century Fox anyway so he put on a uniform and there he was. He knew all about the studio and virtually ran it. So, he was a kind of studio manager as well. It was another case of an absolute free for all. Everybody did what they could. Whatever they were capable of they did. I went in theoretically as a production manager and the first picture I did was directed by Jay Lewis. Other pictures started to come up and there was no one to direct then, so I volunteered. The first picture I made was an eight-reel silent picture and it was all about street fighting. What you'd now call urban guerilla tactics. I took over half of Battersea which had been bombed flat and was a terrible mess. It was a wonderful set, it was huge, acres of it. I had these soldiers running about all over, explosions, you could do what you wanted,
you were in the army and that was it. Then I did six or eight more pictures. We started mak- ing propaganda pictures for civilians and pictures about what was going to happened to you when the war was over. I did one picture which was to teach brigadiers how to sink[?], I did another three-reeler for sergeant instructors, that was done by the Army Education Corps, we did a series of army security flashes, these were two minute things which were put into the programme shown to troops, careless talk costs lives sort of thing. I did then with what I called expressionist sets and extreme tones, the glamourous spy looked like Veronica Lake. She had a cigarette holder about 18" long and Jack Warner did the commentaries. So, we had quite a range of activities.
RF: How did the business of rank work. Did you keep the rank you joined with? RWB: Yes. Indeed, I increased mine. I got promoted.
RF: What happened if you as a captain had an assistant director who was a major?
RWB: I had one as a second lieutenant but the issue never really arose, most of the assis- tants were sergeants.
RF: Who were your colleagues?
RWB: Freddy Young was there. Very good at it he was. He was by far the most experi- enced of all of us. Angela Martelli. She was in the ATS. Bryan Langley. Ray Pitt who was a very famous editor at Ealing. He was a very strange man. He became a drunkard male prostitute and he was a very bright lad. He gave me one word of advice which has got me out of so much trouble. All you have to do is give yourself a cutaway and if you carry that in your mind you'll never get into trouble. I'm eternally grateful to him for that. And he backed me when I was directing. He was supervising the editing. There was one wonderful charac- ter there who got hold of a copy of Citizen Kane. We used to watch it for hours and hours. Analyse it. Pick it to pieces. I first saw that while I was in Norwich. Phyllis Crocker was there who was charming.
SIDE 7, TAPE 4
RWB: The AKS which was based at Wembley Studios which I believe became ABC Televi- sion I seem to remember after the War. The Army wanted the films which could be made. Some were very good. But, at the same time they had to get on with a glorified rabble of joke soldiers who had been film technicians. Some had been through part of the Army but most had come straight from Civvy Street. They were put straight into the unit without fur- ther ado. The command was one or two genuine soldiers. But the rest like Thorold Dickin- son were not genuine soldiers, Eric Ambler wasn't, Carol Reed wasn’t. They put Peter Usti- nov in the ranks with absolutely disastrous results. Just occasionally there was a major there who was a very nice man. He would thrash himself into a fury and decide something should be done, something a bit more regimental should be made of the place. He called a church parade which was duly held and that was fine. When I turned up I was one of the
very few who had joined in the ranks, had been given a commission and had served with a battalion, admittedly not in battle or overseas. The major fell on my neck and greeted me with great enthusiasm. He thought at last I 've got someone who knows the form. Yes, I did but it was no interest to me. One or two people who had been brought down from the Cur- zon Street head office. That was where Thorold had his office. The rest of us were all at the studios at Wembley Park. Among the people I met was Eric Ambler. He was writing scripts at the time. Eventually he became the producer of the whole shebang. We developed a very close friendship and as the war progressed and the end became a possibility then it became a question of what would happen once the War finished. Indeed, we made a film about it to show the troops what kind of facilities would be on offer to help than to make the transition to Civvy Street and get a job and settle down, what provision would be made.
The first thing I did was to be a production manager on a film about which I can remember absolutely nothing. It was a straightforward training film directed by Jay Lewis. I saw hardly anything more of him. I was then able to volunteer to direct a film meant for the Home Guard which was an 8 reel silent movie about guerrilla fighting. [see end of previous tape)
I went on from one film to the next. By the time peace came I'd made quite a few of these pictures, a great deal of film, which is the most valuable experience you can get.
Then with the prospect of peace, the idea of going back to Gainsborough as a second as- sistant did not really appeal because six years had gone by which is a long time in a young man's life. Looking back on it, it affected me much more than I realised at the time. Eric was making his plans. He very much wanted to go on with films. He'd written six books before the War all of which were progressively more successful and he was highly regarded as a novelist and he had reinvented the spy novel, taken it away from John Buchan. He was an author of some stature. He was about thirty-five then. He was very caught up with film and he wanted to go on with it and he decided that's what he would do. He set up with Del Giu- dice Two Cities which was a subcontractor of Rank. The idea was that he should write the script of a film and produce it. First of all, he chose a novel by somebody else, Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas which I liked very much indeed which is a very good melodramatic story with lots of narrative which I rather care for. At the same time in a discussion what we were going to do when peace broke out, Eric said to me don't do anything at the moment, I’ve got some ideas. Later on, in a typically spy fashion he invited me to lunch up in London and we walked around Hyde Park so no one could overhear our conversation. He said to me would I like to direct this film he was going to make. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity and it solved all problems. But there were second thoughts at Two Cities about him doing Uncle Silas. They wanted an original story by him. He sat down and wrote The October Man and eventually we went down to Denham and made it. Uncle Silas was beautifully done by somebody else. It was produced by Lawrence Irving who had originally been an art director. He was the son of the great Henry Irving and wrote the standard biography of Irving. The October Man had Johnny Mills in it. It was a slightly strange experience for me taking off uniform and putting on a smart suit.
RF: Before you go into your career as a director can we spend a few minutes on Uncle Si- las. It's a very much underestimated film. Its superbly art-directed, beautifully shot. I'm curi- ous if Ambler would have approached it differently. Did he ever develop the script?
RWB: No, he never did. As a writer, he knew the book very well and thought it would make a good film which indeed it did. I'm rather sad we didn't do it. It would have suited me ex- tremely well from all kind of points of view. I like period pictures. I like historical pictures, the idea of trying to recreate a past world, a past society for the audience. To try and bring it to the pitch where they understand why people moved like that and spoke like that and had relationships like that and make it completely acceptable and plausible to a modern-day au- dience. It’s getting more and more difficult to do. It's got to the point where it’s practically im- possible to make period pictures anymore because the audience doesn’t want to see them.
We embarked on the project of making The October Man. Eric wrote the script a man called Phil Samuels was brought in who had been the studio manager at Shepherd’s Bush. He was brought in as associate producer since after all Eric was not a film producer. He just wanted to mastermind the project, oversee it and protect it. He wouldn't know about budg- ets or weekly cost returns. Phil Samuels did all that. We got as cameraman Erwin Hillier. He had developed a very high reputation indeed by making one or two pictures for Powell and Pressburger, one The Canterbury Tale he did very well and got well deserved kudos for it.
One of the great pleasures was that Vetchinsky was to be the art director. I'd known him for six years before the war at Gainsborough. I knew him well and we got on very well. We had Joan Greenwood as the leading lady. She wasn't at her peak yet, she had only done one or two things but she was an instinctive actress, a delightful person, I was very fond of her. We had a little walk out which didn't come to anything but it was a very pleasant relationship.
Then we had a cast of really solid performers. It was pretty much a straightforward shoot. We went wildly over schedule. I found considerable difficulty getting onto a proper level with Erwin Hillier. He was a very dominant cameraman. I’d come out of the army after six years and I'd developed rather a blithe assumption that when you issued an instruction it was car- ried out without question, someone saluted and said “very good sir” went off and did it, which doesn't apply when making films very much. I think, really we have to say we didn't get on. He photographed it beautifully. Those were the days when you got two set ups in
the morning and perhaps three in the afternoon. That was considered to be a day’s work. I wasn't used to that sort of thing at Gainsborough. It was a very easy-going sort of proce- dure but there was a certain amount of bustle about the place, it had a tempo of its own which it maintained. But this was all stop-go. I felt that it made life very difficult for the actors because they lost the rhythm of the day’s work and the rhythm of the scene. If you take too damn long over lighting or setting up, people get bored and they're doing crossword puzzles or putting money on horses which lose or drinking, or all sorts of mischief. They completely lose concentration which is the vital aspect of the actor's profession, the ability for such total concentration that if you fired a gun behind them that if it wasn't in the script they would not react.
RF: These were the fat years still for the Rank Organisation? Money was being spent like water. Where lay the faults for this slatternly[?] inefficient, disgracefully wasteful system, the famous works committee?
RWB: I’m not avoiding anything I promise you but I always kept myself severely away from all that kind of thing.
RF: So, Phil Samuels was taking care of that kind of thing as line producer?
RWB: As I mentioned earlier, there was a certain dichotomy in attitude years before about whether I could be a producer or a director. Now I’d become a director by a series of very
fortunate accidents, I’d no interest in becoming a producer and so I took no notice of that at all. If the assistant director said we've got to knock off because of x, y or z, I would sit down and do a crossword puzzle. The assistant director on The October Plan was a remarkable fellow called Mark Evans who'd got a ribald sense of humour. He was a bit of a wide boy, he was very sharp, very funny. He came to Hollywood about the time I was there, this was much later, and he got work somewhere or other, he finished off in charge of television pro- duction at Twentieth Century Fox. The fact there was never any serious questions about money, if you don’t finish this picture by Friday you're all going to be fired or you’ll never make another picture, none of those sanctions or threats were ever even thought of. Rank wanted the films and the board had sanctioned their production so those films were going to be made. This opened up the door to all kinds of perfectionist thought. We all have to be perfectionists, have to try to be, whether we achieve it or not is another question, we have to try to be. Those were the days when the lighting cameraman would wait till the scene was fully rehearsed and they knew exactly where everyone was going to be and where they were going to move until they started lighting. Then they would take about two hours to do the lighting; there were always difficulties with the boom. In those days, the equipment was nothing like as good as it is today. Then having lit it he would then run a test and the num- ber boy [?] had to go up to the dark room and develop it and produce a ten by eight-inch glossy photograph. This was brought down to the floor still wet and examined in micro- scopic detail by the cameraman and operator, everyone had a conference about that and then adjustments were made, sometimes a second test was asked for and all this was toler- ated in the sacred name of producing a quality product.
RF: Was Erwin unique in this?
RWB: No this was the standard procedure because I had it with other cameramen after that. But it was time consuming if not time wasting. It was black and white and in many ways black and white has its difficulties as colour has its difficulties, but in many ways col- our is simpler, easier. It will tolerate flat light much better. We finished the film. It was duly shown. A premier at the Odeon Leicester Square, it got very good notices.
RF: It was presumably almost entirely studio based?
RWB: Yes, it was. I can hardly remember a location on it. We were very much studio bound.
RF: Was that something you accepted because of your own background or did you have a hankering to go outside?
RWB: I've thought about this quite a lot and I'm still a bit puzzled by it. We’d been studio all my pre—war career. There was a lot of location but pictures were basically studio bound. Then when we made the Army training films 95% was exterior although later we started building sets at Wembley, lighting them. We got back into the studio way of thinking rather than going out and shooting the stuff wherever we wanted it to happen.
RF: Was there a feeling a film was not a film unless it was shot at Elstree or Denham or Shepherd's Bush with sets and lights and dollies?
RWB: Yes, that’s the way people looked at it. From the prestige point of view, shooting a picture at Denham was top whack, it was the class studio. It still had the shadow of Korda over it and whatever they said about Korda he always wanted first class. A friend of mine once visited his splendid penthouse at the top of Claridges, there were the paintings on the wall which were signed Picasso, Monet and Manet. A friend accepted a drink and said “tell me something Alex, have you always lived like this?” and he said “always, sometimes it was a little difficult to pay the bills”. That man had more charm and was a splendid fellow. We’ve never developed anyone like him since.
RF: We’ll come back to Korda later. Would you like to have gone out on location?
RWB: I regretted I never did because it was one case where I could have been pioneer coming from a lot of the exterior shooting in the Army.
RF: But it wouldn't have been easy with a vast lighting unit a BNC[?]
RWB: The success of location shooting has been brought about entirely by television equip- ment, it never seriously got going till 1960.
RF: Either television or the Ariflex.
RWB: The Ariflex was a combat camera. It had been developed for the German Army. RF: In terms of shooting it was fairly straightforward. It went slowly but surely.
RWB: It wasn't any great shakes. It wasn't one of Eric's best stories, he would agree with that. As far as I handled it. I certainly got good performances.
RF: How did you acquire that facility with actors since you'd had no acting experience of your own?
RWB: I think I decided very early on the technique of making films is really very simple. If you 're talking about fiddly things like having to stage a particular set up in which something very strange has to happen such as a man has to disappear, they're purely mechanical things which can be solved by engineers, quite properly, nothing wrong with that. To me the key to success was to get good performances because the cast were the tools of the direc- tor’s trade, not the camera. You can do all sorts of dazzling things with the camera and go ahead and do them but also make sure that you get good performances while you’re at it.
You can only get good performances by creating the atmosphere which is proper to the scene and convincing the actors it is absolutely real and all they have to do is say the lines and behave as that character would. Then you get a completely self-conscious perfor- mance. If you can give them confidence it is very important. Not to the point they become over confident, then you fall into another trap, give them self-assurance so they know what they're doing. A lot of my attitude developed instinctively, I just had the luck to be there at the time and these things developed in me and I responded.
RF: You were sympathetic towards actors, you didn't regard them as cattle.
RWB: A number of eminent actors have hated directors because they're always a disap- pointment. The disappointment, if there is one, lies in the director or the story, but not nec- essarily in the actor.
RF: But you were enthusiastic about Basil Dean and this was a director who crucified ac- tors. Not necessarily for the good of the piece but for his own self-satisfaction.
RWB: I think being a director at all is an open opportunity for people to chuck their weight about and to behave outrageously and become quite impossible. Some used to dress them- selves up in jack boots and come on the floor with a riding crop which happened at Denham with Joseph von Sternberg. Everybody burst out laughing apparently. A lot of this reflects my pre—war experience of the actor basically being a theatre actor and the problem of his adaptation to the cinema in which he had to learn a certain amount of technique. And then forget it. That still will be the only problem to solve with any movie you're going to make. To get the absolutely perfect casting. One of the great casting directors to my mind is Fellini whose films are immaculately cast even down to the last extra.
RF: For appearance, rather than performance.
RWB: Yes, but then other questions arise. But I've always admired his pictures for that as- pect which isn't the most important one but he seems to be the absolute master at finding the right faces, and dressing them perfectly, costuming them and wigs.
RF: In those days so many of the actors were West End. How did you approach style and technique? It's more than scaling down.
RWB: Yes indeed. It's not just a matter of “don't project so much dear, you don't have to make it audible at the exit doors”. I think myself where one possibly can, it’s done almost entirely by persuading the actor he’s in an absolutely real situation the fire is burning in the
grate. I always insist all props must work properly. I think it’s very important for an actor. The business of opening a box of matches, there are only two there. It confuses them hope- lessly. Largely by developing the actor’s concentration to the point where they forget there's a whole crowd of technicians watching. I don't give a lecture but I try and put it about when I start making anything I’m dead against any of the technicians, any of them, cameraman downwards, having anything to do with any of the actors other than good morning, can I take you out to dinner, all that sort of thing is fine but they must not give any instructions whatsoever. They must give them to me and then I convey them to the actor. But I don't say to them you didn’t hit your marks. That’s not the way to do it, I wrap it up in such a way that the actor doesn’t know he’s being corrected about something.
RF: Was Erwin a problem in that respect, did he regard actors as automata?
RWB: Yes, if someone was three inches off their mark, because Erwin's lighting was so crit- ical, you only had to be three inches off your mark and you were black suddenly.
RF: Two Cities did not make B pictures so The October Man was an A picture right from the start. You're in charge of it. Were there people who remembered you from Gainsborough before the War and was there any kind of hierarchical problem of acceptance. Were you im- mediately accepted as the director or were they inclined to patronise you. Or were they to- tally a new crew and new faces and that problem did not exist?
RWB: I’m really raking around trying to remember truthfully. I had several people very much on side. Vetchinsky was the art director and he was a delightful man and we were very fond of each other. But I can't remember who was the continuity girl and she may have been somebody I knew. But on the most part they were strangers. The editor, Alan Jaggs, was certainly new. He was a good editor. It seemed to me afterwards he used the opportunity of seeing the rushes in the morning with Eric, of explaining to him how much better it could be shot but that’s a common fault with editors. As far as I’m concerned, they don't do it twice but it’s an obvious temptation and I won't blame them because they all want to direct, so fair enough. One thing I didn't realise was that being a director of an A feature in a top-class film studio was going to excite a fair amount of envy, jealously, all kinds of petty emotions. I didn't realise I had to tread carefully. As I said, I'd just come out of the army and I was I think infused with a slightly regimental attitude. Erwin was not the easiest man for me to get on with on my first film. It was a most unfortunate choice from that point of view, he was a brilliant cameraman sure but for Micky Powell who by that time was a great man and one of the most eminent directors whereas I was just doing my first movie,
RF: He was a bully without meaning to be.
RWB: Oh, he couldn't help it. There's no hard feelings as far as I’m concerned.
RF: Did you ever use him again?
RWB: I’ll tell you about that later. I think there were faults on both sides. I certainly could have handled it better if I’d put things to the crew “how would it be if we do this?” or “what
do you think of that because I’m new here and I don’t really know what’s going on?” It’s the sort of attitude you can only develop and get away with when you’re very experienced and you know exactly wat you are going to do. I can now do it, and get away with it all the time.
RF: A very laid-back approach such as Hawkes did.
RWB: Yes and of course I was frightened to death, there’s no doubt about that. RF: So , you were autocratic to some extent?
RWB: I think I must have been. RF: Were there retakes?
RWB: I can’t really remember, there may have been on eor two, very much just for technical reasons.
RF: Shall we talk about Two Cities?
RWB: Yes, Del Giudice. Del as he always was, he was a marvellous man. I think he thought he was Diaghliev and he made a jolly good stab at it. He got around him all the best people. He was in position to offer the money so he got the best people which is usually what hap- pens in this sordid world. He had a flat a Grosvenor House. The first time I met him I was with Eric [Ambler]. We were invited to lunch there, we were still in the Army. He was a lav- ish host. He decided I had the talent. He used to refer to all the people as the talent. Later on, there was a luncheon party at Chilcote[?]which was a country house somewhere near Gerard’s Cross. I didn't see a great deal of him.
SIDE 8, TAPE 4
He [Del] had all the charm, that Korda had to persuade a lot of people to do a lot of things whether they wanted to or not. He could cajole or beg, borrow or steal people into movies. He never developed any capability to decide what should be made. He had no driving force, I must do this, I must do that story like Zanuck. I've been impressed since the War by peo- ple who've come to very eminent positions — one or two have become prime minister — and they knew how to get there but once they got there they hadn't the faintest idea what to do because they had no purpose or desire of their… Whatever you say about Thatcher, she had a vision right or wrong. This was the one gift which eludes so many people who get the power, the responsibility, the backing, and they don’t know what to do with it.
RF: What motivated Del, was it power, was it money?
RWB: Yes, it was all that.
RF: He was a bit of a crook I believe. RWB: He was a lawyer
RF: Meaning there's no such thing as an honest lawyer? He was a decidedly slippery char- acter. Peter Ustinov is the one because he used to do Del Giudice stories complete with the accent, telephone bells ringing. He was very funny.
RF: Where did he do these, in the canteen?
RWB: In the canteen, or parties, whatever. Peter was at Denham at the same time, School for Spies. I don't know so much about slipperiness but Peter used to tell the story of being in the outer room of Del' s office where there were always about four or five half-starved Russians or Hungarians or Italians or indeed English people. Del would walk through this office scattering handshakes and then he would stop with one of them, say we will make a great picture but not this year and then he would go into his office. He was an amusing character. I thought he was quite smashing. I still adhere to feeling that you've got to have precisely that sort of character at the top of the heap. Del had a remarkably good run for five or six years and then it collapsed, went rotten. Nevertheless you can't run an enterprise of that kind with accountants.
RF: Did you go to any of the famous parties.
RWB: Only once. It was very grand and very lavish. I enjoyed that. RF: He had no input into linking the film?
RWB: He did in a sense in the way he somehow got hold of Laurence Olivier and Olivier wanted to make Henry V it was an absolute smasher of a patriotic thing for the middle of war. So, they got it made on a shoestring under the most appallingly difficult conditions.
RF: You say a shoestring but it was half a million pounds which was a lot of loot for then.
RWB: But they never had quite enough horses. Really, I meant that. They didn’t have the whole Russian army at their disposal.
RF: But I get the impression that a Two Cities budget was a bit of a joke. It was open ended.
RWB: I think they made their intentions quite clear but [how]they carried them out was quite another.
RF: Had John Davis made an appearance yet?
RWB: No, he hadn’t yet but he was lurking at Odeon Cinemas somewhere and about to make his presence felt.
RF: This was about 1946. RWB: Yes.
RF: It was the crash of 1948 which really gave him the opportunity to seize power. Did Del come to rushes?
RWB: No, I think he only saw the final rough cut. RF: Was he based in the studio?
RWB: No, in town. There was an office in Hanover Square.
RF: Do you know what happened to him, I gather he died impoverished.
RWB: I never heard much about it. I met Guido who was his right-hand man and factotum. I met him not too long ago I was down at his studio. I asked him about Del and he just said it was very sad but he didn't give me any details. He has a son I think.
RF: Incidentally he exists on film. He plays an Italian general in First of the Few. Denham was an exciting studio. What else do you remember was shooting there when you were working on The October Man? What would Denham handle at any one time, two or three pictures?
RWB: At least. I think if you worked at it you could even get four.
They were vast stages, of course. It's curious to me that early in 1936 Denham was being built. Amalgamated Studios were being built and Pinewood was being built. It was strange considering we didn’t need them.
RF: Amalgamated was never used till after the War.
RWB: Pinewood stayed open throughout the war because I remember the RE Film Unit was there. I’m trying to think of other pictures which were shooting at Denham. There was Peter Ustinov's picture School for Spies
RF: Was the shooting day a regular one, 8.30 to 5.30 or was there a lot of overtime?
RWB: It was five and a half days. But the five-day week came in very early. It was 8.30 on the floor and I think we were supposed to finish at six and we did. There wasn't much over- time. People didn't want to do it. I ought to mention a man who came into my life quite a bit around this time, this was from during the War, and it’s William Alwyn, the composer, one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in my life and absolutely first class. He did the music for The October Man but I'd met him before because he came in to do one of our training films and he did some very good music for the film which was conducted as usual by Muir Mathieson. Mathieson did all the fixing. Muir was a very forceful Scotsman who felt his mission in life
was to come in to save this picture from a fate worse than death by putting marvellous mu- sic on it.
Every single head of department should fight his hardest for his particular corner and then if they're all brought together by the director you’ll have a very good result indeed. Everybody is putting forward his absolute utmost ruthlessly from his own corner, that’s fine. As far as cutting was concerned there wasn't that much to do. I had for some time been working on the general principal you shot on a preconceived idea of how it should be cut. In an ex- tended dialogue scene, you would cover it with a series of mid shots or close ups and then you box around between them in the cutting room. But generally speaking I always shoot to a plan. As someone once said he cuts in the camera. I think its economical. It gives the en- terprise a general sense of purpose which I think is very valuable to the attitudes not just of the cameraman but of the actors as well.
RF: It also keeps greater control over what finally is cut.
RWB: There you've put your finger on the real purpose which is to stop producers becoming what is called in Hollywood the creative producer and he is the fellow who recuts the picture after you've finished it just for the sake of redoing it.
We got to the era of The October Man and this was the first minor crisis of my subsequent career. At the same time at Pinewood, David Lean and Tony Havelock—Allen had been making their films with tremendous success. They were turning out some remarkable mov- ies which have stood up and they were also working for Rank. We were all meeting con- stantly. David and Tony very much wanted Eric Ambler to go with them as a writer-pro- ducer, which left me out in the cold. There was never any formal partnership. I never felt he was in any way obliged to me or me him. We had made a film and that was that.
RF: Had you [thought]about other films?
RWB: Vaguely but not seriously. I think Eric was a little disenchanted with films by the time he finished the first one. But certainly, he was very intrigued by the idea of writing for David and off he went. I was quite happy in the sense that I had got a first picture on the screen. I had solo screen credit. I lacked of course the most unfortunate thing which was that I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do. I did not have two or three scripts burning a hole under me which I could plonk on somebody’s desk. This was being a problem for a long time.
When I began to develop any number of ideas I usually found difficulties in finding anyone who wanted to do them, I could occasionally but not enough. So, I was rather in limbo in a sense. But I kept in contact with Two Cities and the people there and I think by this time Earl St. John had appeared. No I don't think he could.
RF: The October Man had appeared by this time and got good notices and audiences. RWB: Yes.
RF: Did you have an agent?
RWB: Bryan Linnit and Dunfie. Jack Dunfie took me on. He was an extraordinary personal- ity. I didn't really [like] him at the beginning. He was very much a character. Later on we got on and then we fell out. Then he did an evil turn but that's way into the future.
I can't remember how the next picture came up. It was Paul Soskin producing a film called The Weaker Sex. It was based on a play called No Medals a play by Esther McCragan who wrote quite a number of successful West End plays at the time. No Medals was the women on the home front during the War, what they had to put up [with], the shortages of food and clothes and worrying about the children and the bad news. Soskin himself was a well- known producer. He produced a number of pictures before the war. He was very tall and handsome, considerable dandy, He was a Russian. He was very much the Cossack cavalry officer. I don't know to this day why he decided to have me. I suppose at this time there was a shortage of directors. I don't think he ever liked me. I handled the picture perfectly satis- factorily and no complaints. It was a domestic comedy drama with Ursula Jeans and Cecil Parker. It was a very conventional play with middle class characters. Paul Soskin said to me proudly in the middle of the proceedings. We've been very lucky we have got your favourite cameraman. I said who’s that? He said Erwin Hillier. Erwin was not suited to this kind of film at all. It was a bore for him. We soldiered through it. Vetchinsky was the art director so that was alright. It went ‘round the Rank circuit and I suppose it should have got their money back. It was a good little picture but it was never going to make anybody’s name. In some ways I think my position had weakened again. But I think I was still blithely unaware that I might fall by the wayside and might have to go back to being an assistant director. Then my agent rang and he’d found a picture and there was only one condition attached to it. The pay was good and everything was fine but it had to be shot in seven weeks. It must not un- der any circumstances go over schedule. I undertook to do it. It was called Paper Orchid and it turned out to be quite a good story. It was written by Arthur la Bern who was a very
famous journalist, an extraordinary eccentric but he’d written a good book. The screenplay had been done by Val Guest. So, there was nothing wrong with any of that. It was a straight forward melodrama. It was photographed by Basil Emmott. Basil was an old-time camera- man. He’d soldiered through the silents. He was a very nice man who spent most of his tine when he could in the South of France and he was very proud of his motorcar which was a black Citroen which are now worth a mint. He adored this thing which was rebuilt every two years. The music was by Robert Farnum and quite good. The producer was Buster Collier, William Collier who had been a big star in Hollywood. I think we made it at Walton or one of the smaller studios. It was a glorified B picture. We did very efficiently and it was never shown. It was trade shown once which was a legal obligation. There was never any expla- nation at all and then they all disappeared. Columbia British was wound up and Buster Col- lier went back to Hollywood There wasn't even anyone to ask what happened. I'd now taken a long drop down and I was beginning to get worried. I was thrashing around trying to find stories which I thought could be made into films. I ran up against the biggest problem which is if you find a story and ring up a publisher and find out who the agent is they say we're
talking 10,000 dollars to Columbia or whoever, you get nowhere. I shouldn't have taken any notice. I should just have gone ahead and spoken to the author say I've written this script of your book, do you like it and can I do it. I know that now but I didn't know it then. I was de- cidedly green. But I'd only made two and a half pictures.
RF: That was the sort of guidance you should have had from a reputable agent.
RWB: They’d been very energetic on my part and got me this job, but after that they couldn’t sell me.
RF: Were you known to be difficult. Why do you think there were problems? There was a lot of work around at this time.
RWB: Yes, everybody else was busy. I really can't say. All it needed was someone to take a sharp intake of breath. I don’t think people were actively going around and saying don’t have Roy Baker. It was never like that. I was just quietly being dropped. Hitchcock was making a picture at Elstree called Under Capricorn and Kay Walsh was in it. Kay had re- mained a great chum from being in The October Man She was just going through the agony of a divorce from David Lean who was her husband for a long time. She said “you need cheering up. You come and have lunch with me at Elstree on Thursday” so I went and there was a big table with Mr Hitchcock sitting at the head of it he was very nice and greeted me and said “well done”. He didn't know who I was from Adam. He remembered me from work- ing on his film. There was Marlene Dietrich there. The best thing that can happen under those circumstances was for a waiter to come along and say Mr. Baker someone wants you on the telephone. So I went to the telephone and I always look back on this as my lucky day for at the other end of the telephone was Jay Lewis who I’d met fleetingly in the army. He was now in partnership with a man called Leslie Parkin. Leslie Parkin had been a senior of- ficial at the Ministry of Food during the war, a high flying civil servant. He got interested in films. Leslie was very much the quietly spoken, very discreet gent from Whitehall and he belonged there. He was alright in films too. Jay was the flamboyant one and the picture maker. He had two scripts. One about a submarine which crashed but another one which he wanted to do which was the life of Salvatore Giuliano, the Sicilian that is a sterling story. It turned out to be far too difficult to go to Sicily so it was decided we’d better do the subma- rine one which turned out to be Morning Departure
We had an excellent cast but for those days not a particularly grand cast, Johnny Mills, Ni- gel Patrick, Richard Attenborough, George Cole. They were all very good actors. The screenplay was by William Fairchild based on play. He became a director later himself. He was a practised screenwriter by that time. He had one big advantage with this in that he was a regular Royal Navy officer. I had Vetchinsky for the art direction and a new camera- man for me, Desmond Dickinson. Desmond turned out an absolute trump and he was so good to me I've never been able to repay him because I ran into the most shattering difficul- ties right from the beginning. There's no doubt about it Jay Lewis had taken me on because he had to take me on. For some reason, the powers that be wouldn't let him direct. It was vaguely Rank but it was a shoestring job cobbled together largely by Leslie Parkin. It was
ultimately released by Rank. It's coming back. I’ll tell you who the people who were most re- sponsible for getting it made and that was the National Film Finance Corporation. Jay Lewis wanted to direct this picture they wouldn't let him. We went on location to Weymouth where we had a mothership. We went to sea, did a dive, marvellous very interesting. We shot quite a lot of location stuff of the submarine and on the deck of the mothership the rest of the picture was to be filmed at Denham. We had a marvellous bit of luck. Vetchinsky found a mock-up submarine which had been built during the war for instructional purposes. We arrived on Monday morning and the first thing Jay Lewis did was to take me for a walk round the grounds of Denham studios and lecture me about how badly I’d made the exteri- ors and how everybody was desperately worried he was going to have to be on the floor the whole time. There was nothing I could do about it and he nearly drove me insane but I de- cided — this was where the penny dropped, I knew if I was sacked or fell down on this one I really would be finished that made me fight all the harder and I had friends at the NFFC. One of the chaps who had been in the army with me knew David very well and I was able to filter back what was happening and why I was shooting it the way I was. One of the most effective contributions I made was with the actors. Kenneth More had a reasonably nice small part. He’d served in the navy during the war. Johnny was an extremely competent ac- tor and knew what he was doing. But with the others Nigel Patrick had come straight from the theatre. He had a certain amount of experience of films. In the theatre, he's made a great reputation playing a lot of wide boys, spivs. I was absolutely instrumental in pulling him together, teaching him he was playing a first lieutenant not Joe Bloggs from Hackney.
SIDE 9, TAPE 5
Jimmy Hayter played a series of taxi drivers in B pictures and he rose to the occasion nobly and it made his career. It made a career for a whole lot of people. It was an extraordinary film in many senses. Over the continual arguments with Jay Lewis, somebody thought of a brilliant idea that there was a certain amount of exterior night shooting needed to be done for the salvage operation which is mounted from the service which is trying to raise this sub- marine which is sunk. This was to be done at Dover. The navy had all the equipment to do this. There was the question who should go down to Dover and take on this chore. Whether he volunteered or not, I don't think he did, but Jay was given the task. That got him off my back for about ten days or two weeks.
Desmond Dickinson was a tower of strength because he lit it in the most exemplary docu- mentary style and he was a great character. He started in the Stoll labs around 1905, well very early on. He practically lived on Tio Pepe, which was the strongest sherry. It's like var- nish. He always carried a pocketful of nails which he picked up off the studio floor which he said brought him luck. He was another one who had one motorcar all his life. It was DOG
05. It was an old drop head VB, a very fast car, pre-war vintage. By this time, it was on its seventh engine but he really loved it and he wouldn't part with it. He said to me when we’re in the submarine we must never put the camera outside the fourth wall and we stuck to that rigidly. So, half the picture is in close-ups but it works because you get the claustrophobia.
RF: Was this at Denham?
RWB: Yes. The submarine had been put on a lorry and brought to Denham. It provided just the basis. It had to be modernised, it had to have all kinds of new equipment put in. Eventu- ally after all these trials and tribulations I thought we’d made a really marvellous picture. I thought it should be a tremendous success. It had one thing for me which I found very stim- ulating, very exciting.
You finish up with seven or eight men facing death. They're entombed in a sunken subma- rine and nothing is going to get them out. Very moving. I thought what makes good movies.
And the performances were superb, honest and true and right. It was a dreadful strug- gle. We then waited in fear and trepidation what is going to happen when the picture is ac- tually shown. It is due release on Thursday and that Monday night there was a Royal Navy submarine came up the Thames and there were three or four men on the conning tower which was open. But coming down the other way was a heavily loaded tanker. It bumped into the tanker. Three of the men went overboard and I think they were saved but the hatch was open, it wasn't possible to save it and everybody aboard was lost, about 47 people. It was headlines all over the place and a shocking tragedy. We immediately thought that can- celled our picture. But Jay eventually said “that's all right, they want us to show it because it portrays the difficulties, the problems mariners face”. It was the most wonderful publicity out of a tragic accident. It's a horrible thing to say but it's a fact. The picture was packed out.
You couldn't get a seat for love or money and the notices were fabulous. I never forget reading the Evening Standard, not so much for the notices, but because there was an elec- tion that day and I think I was driving a car, taking old ladies to the poll. The remarkable thing about the notices was that they were nice about the actors, wonderful about the film as a whole but above all the direction by Roy Baker is outstanding. I didn’t know what had hit me. But of course, the consequences were yet to come and were not at all funny. Went to the first night and there was the usual crush of people in the entrance of the cinema and everybody's fighting to get through. My agent Jack Dunfie, who’s about six feet tall, towered above everybody else, I can see him up on a staircase, and he spotted me. Being a great showman, he shouted across all this mob “I say Roy telephone me in the morning it’s Holly- wood”. It was, it was Twentieth Century Fox. As soon as that they'd got onto him. They'd read the notices which had only been published some of them that day and they're on the phone. What I didn't realise, I didn't understand the envy and backbiting which can ensue over who was responsible for what. I learnt it much later when someone else had a success of that kind. Suddenly you find that the man who directed it didn't direct it and the man who produced it did something else.
In Hollywood they start suing each other. In those days, it never struck me this might be the case. The first person I met, I think it was at Pinewood studios, was Paul Soskin. He took one look at me and said “you're a very lucky boy, you remember that”. I didn't know what he was talking about. I suppose he was disappointed that a film I made for him was no great success. Then one or two things began to pile up. I phoned Jack Dunfie the next day and he explained Twentieth Century Fox were interested in the idea of me going to Hollywood and there was a contract. The Rank Organisation were fairly alacritous also, largely at the
instigation of Eric Ambler. He’d written a script from one of his early books called Highly Dangerous which was going to have Margaret Lockwood and it was a good spy thriller. Eric had invented a language for the people the other side of the curtain which wasn’t Russian or anything else and the poor actors had to learn this stuff. He was playing a game with that. Reg Wyer was the cameraman and Tony Darnborough the producer, a man of im- mense experience.
The first thing we had to do was to do some location work for this picture and it was decided to go to Trieste and the future of Trieste hadn’t been finally settled, politically it was very sensitive.
Anyway, we didn't take any notice we just got on with shooting. I found it very difficult to make anything of that location. I was a bit disappointed and to tell the truth I didn't do it very well. The reason I say that is that many years later, either Henry Hathaway or someone like that, one of the Fox directors had to shoot a location in Trieste and he made it look abso- lutely marvellous and I realised because I’d been trying to piece it together in a logical way, sticking to the topography of Trieste I’d done myself an injury because the audience doesn't give a damn. I do think it's going a bit far when you put Big Ben outside the door of Bucking- ham Palace which has happened in some American movies. All I can remember is constant telephone calls about this Twentieth Century Fox contract. There was going to be premiere of Morning Departure in Paris and would I go to it? I had to get on the train and go to Paris for that then come back again. Eventually we got back and finished the picture by which time the Fox contract had been agreed and signed. I was to pack my bags and off I was to go.
Earl St. John was the executive producer. I'd not worked with him before. The film was made at Pinewood. Denham was closed by that time. Pinewood took over the mantle. I al- ways believed the great difference between Pinewood and all the other studios is that at Pinewood they know how to live. They do it properly. I admire that. Earl St. John had origi- nally been the manager of the Plaza in Lower Regent St. He was a Paramount man origi- nally. Then he worked for Odeon Cinemas. Then John Davis put him in to supervise all pro- ductions at Pinewood where all production was to be concentrated. JD had to take over by this time.
RF: Did you have much dealings with him or was it always through his minions?
RWB: No, I didn't have much to do with him till much later, It would be five or six years be- fore he began to make his presence felt in person. He got interested in it.
This was the aftermath of the ‘48 crash, cutting back and the bank debt and all the prob- lems. I deeply regret the Rank Organisation went out of production. I believe it was a deep blow from which we've never really recovered. Margaret Lockwood was the star of this pic- ture and she was a very big star at this time. She has star quality. I had first met her on Dr.Syn. We have a common birthday, are exact contemporaries. We have a common sense
of humour She likes funny jokes. She became quite a friend although I haven't seen her re- cently. She was wonderfully efficient as a movie star. In the costume pictures she’d have
the most elaborate gowns and hairdos as soon as someone said cut, print, she’d disappear in what seemed about thirty seconds flat she would reappear and she would be in a neat white shirt and pair of slacks looking immaculate. I got on with her extremely well. She's a very reserved character. Whether she would have been a great actress if she’d spent more time in the theatre I don't know. She was certainly the sort of person ready to take on any challenge in a somewhat foolhardy way, she reminds me very much of Bette Davis. She got extremely irritated about one particular aspect of her life and I can sympathise, I know ex- actly how she felt. She was such a big star in this country, a film didn’t need any titles. As far as the audience is concerned if the film is not a big success or they think the story was poor, they'd blame Maggie for it. Margaret Lockwood makes another dud was the way the critics used to go about it. It was most unfair because she had no control over the scripts.
No control over who was going to direct or photograph it. She obviously expressed her wishes and to a certain extent they were listened to and everybody wanted to keep Maggie happy. But she only got what she wanted to a limited extent. At one time, she was thinking of forming her own production company doing it all. If she was going to get the blame, she might as well be responsible for it. It doesn't happen so much nowadays because the star system isn't so preponderant as it used to be.
RF: She was more than just a pretty face?
RWB: She was a very intelligent woman. Crosswords; Scrabble. We'd play Scrabble for hours and hours. Not in the studio. She loved puns and word jokes.
RF: What sort of influence did Earl St. John have on individual pictures going through?
RWB: His influence was largely in the scripting stage. He was the one who decided this film should be made and this one shouldn't.
RF: So, he was bringing his distributor's nose to it.
RWB: Yes, I know what the public will like. Then he would have to go to the next board meeting and get it agreed by them. I think in most instances they just rubber stamped it. Then his influence more or less stopped. He didn't see all rushes but he saw quite a lot of rushes. He probably had two or three pictures on the floor at once. He was only a vague presence. But I remember vividly at the Rank offices in South St, Earl had his office there and it was one of the bedrooms and the bed had been built up on a dais and he had his desk up there and he sat up there feeling I think rather silly. There was nowhere else to put the desk. He was a nice man and he tried his best for all of us. I remember some discussion about Highly Dangerous, “don’t worry about this Hollywood thing, you're going to be a great director and we've all got great faith in you. But you're not the kind of fellow they want in Hollywood Forget it, it’s not going to happen”. He was being nice I think. I absolutely knew for stone certain from that moment that I was going to get that Hollywood contract. I don't why it was some kind of perverse thing. I thought he’s wrong. I know he's absolutely wrong and it did happen.
RF: Had they offered you a long-term contract? RWB: I don't think so.
RF: Did Earl St. John get involved in the cut?
RWB: I can’t tell you because by then I'd gone. I just handed over a sort of fine cut to Tony Darnborough and when I did see the film by accident, I was very disappointed in what I saw.
RF: What were your memories of Pinewood at this stage (1950)
RWB: Memories are very vague because I only made that one picture which took six or seven weeks to shoot.
RF: Your comments about their knowing how to live was based on that experience or much later?
RWB: Much later because much later I was there for seven years. One of the big problems with Highly Dangerous was that it had to have an American co—star. We were into that again. The American co—star turned out to be a lion called Dane Clark. He was just deliver- ing a stock leading man movie performance which was virtually nothing. He wasn’t very
efficient. I think he fell in love with London. He also fell deeply in love with Jean Simmonds which was unrequited. He was a pillock I’m afraid. Marius Goring played the Belgravian heavy he was very heavy I'm afraid. I couldn't control him at all. It was a satisfactory run of the mill picture.
[They break for lunch] RF: Hollywood calls.
RWB: I suppose looking back from this distance I was totally at sea. RF: How did you get there?
RWB: By sea and then train. By that time, I had a wife and child of six weeks and this was very difficult for her. One didn't realise in those days the traumatic effect of childbirth on women. To take a new mother, first child, on this incredible joint was really quite an under- taking. I suppose it's just as well we didn't know what it would be like. I suppose one fell back on one's instincts and did what one could in a naive way. We sailed on the Queen Elizabeth and came back on the Queen Mary. It was a luxurious trip.
RF:A Cunarder, I did. Was this a culture shock at that time and coming out of austerity Britain onto a Cunarder bit was a culture shock.
RWB: A tremendous culture shock. I had a little experience of the culture shock before, be- cause after I made The October Man, I got a curious letter from a man in Switzerland who was an expert on avalanches. He wanted to make a film, he’d seen The October Man and admired it. I went to Switzerland and I’d never forgotten — this was late 1946 — we’d got into the sleeper in day time, woke up the following morning in Basle with an enormous breakfast. White bread and black cherry jam. I'd never seen anything like it but even that did not prepare me for what was going to happen when I got to America. I have to tell you there were some aspects - and I realise this with hindsight - I had a very good friend who I met in the Army, Stephen Watts. Before the War and for some time after he was the Sun- day Express theatre and cinema critic. He was a Scotsman, he came from Glasgow and I met him through a fellow who was in the AKS with me, Jack House, who became very fa- mous later on with the Round Britain quiz programme. He was a Glaswegian of the abso- lute essence. Once the war was over he went back there and has been there ever since.
He'll go ‘round Scotland but won't go anywhere else. He was in the unit making training films. He had the acquaintance of Stephen who was a fellow Glaswegian. Stephen was in MI6 which was the counter-espionage. We never talked about that ever. He turned out to be an extremely genial and knowledgeable chap. We were very close and he did me one enor- mous favour. We were both bachelors and when the war was over he got back into civilian suits and was given two tickets for every first night which he had to attend so he took me along with him. So, for two years I had a crash course in every play and musical. I was at the first night of Oklahoma which was a sizzling occasion At the end the audience stood up and cheered. Stephen was a good friend. When I was sailing for America he was doing a column for the New York Times on the London theatre or cinema or whatever he liked to write about. He did a piece entirely about me and the fact I was going to be inflicted on Hol- lywood. This was a wonderful build up for my entrance. In it there were some remarks I did- n't understand at the time about leaving austerity Britain.
It was only a few months before that that bread had been put on the ration. It hadn't been on the ration all through the war, now it was on the ration. The meat ration was cut. I was sailing away in my own particular world.. There was a certain feeling this was the rat leaving the sinking ship and I should have stayed in England. I should have devoted my talents to the good of the British cinema. Well the British cinema didn't have much to offer. As usual when people are offered a Hollywood contract they accept it and I went. It was a difficult voyage. We landed in New York where we met a lot of friends we'd made during the war and one was one of the big publicity people in the New York office. We were put in an enor- mous Cadillac, you've never seen such a car. We stopped at some traffic lights at an inter- section. There were a couple of fellows leaning against a lamp post at the other side of the road and they looked at this car and one of than shouted out how does it feel to be rich and my friend pressed the button and the electric window went down and he leaned out and shouted great and he pressed the button and the window went up. I thought that's America. We were installed in the hotel. A great chum of his man, David Golding was Gary Merrill.
He’d just made his first film in Hollywood. He’d made All About Eve. They were in New York for the opening night nothing would do but we'd have to appear for the opening night which was a sensational film. The upshot was Gary was going onto the coast by aeroplane but
Bette and her entourage was going by the one through coach which went the whole way. Normally you had to change trains in Chicago.
SIDE 10, TAPE 5
o that very day the Santa Fe Railroad and the New York Railroad were very reluctant to make any connection between themselves. You had to get out at one side of Chicago and go to the other end of Chicago to get into another train. But there was one coach which was put onto the Superchief [train] from New York where they shunted you around various sid- ings and eventually you ended up tacked onto the back end of the other train which was go- ing to take you to the West.
RF: There was a famous ad attacking the American railroads which showed pigs and it said a hog could travel across the United States without changing trains but a person could not.
RWB: It was true. They clung to their traditions just as much as anyone else did even when they were outmoded. The first thing about the superchief out of New York was the dining car which was the Harvey service, absolutely impeccable, linen and cutlery and the whole thing and the food was absolutely marvellous and any portion would have fed three per- sons. We’d got very small stomachs us. We arrived in Los Angeles. I was dressed in a full suit a tweed overcoat and a hat and all I needed was a shirt and trousers. We were met by Sam Goldwyn Junior and his wife Jennifer and Alan Campbell and his wife Dorothy Parker.
RF: Were these friends from London?
RWB: Yes, but not Dorothy Parker. I’d never met her but Alan Campbell was here during the war. We saw a lot of him. He was a rascal and did a lot of naughty things but he was in- strumental to introducing me to a vast number of acquaintances. He was an effective cata- lyst. I met him with Eric Ambler. Everything in my life really stems from Eric. An agent met me, George Chasen, a very grand fellow from MCA. He took care of all the baggage. Alan had found us a rented house to stay built on the side of the cliff you went downstairs to the bedroom. It was an upside-down house. It was on the fringe of old Hollywood.
I reported for work at Twentieth Century Fox. The first thing my agent did was to walk me round the lot which was exhausting. There was miles of it and we saw all these sheds full of the equipment they’d used for Cavalcade. They had [London][?]bus and taxi, and they'd built Trafalgar Square, they had it all still. It was stunning. I went on one or two of the stages but of course I didn't know, silly me, what I should have done is storm in there and say “I’ve got a wonderful idea fellows, let's make this film about whatever it is”. I didn't have it so I was put in a position of waiting to tell me what to do.
RF: Had they signed you for a certain number of years or a certain number of pictures? RWB: Three years. It was an optional contract.
RF: Were they paying you well?
RWB: Yes, I think so. Certainly, by British standards, they were paying me extremely well. But it was away from one's natural base and it takes a long time to settle down, get things organised on a proper economic basis. It was no more than enough. I wasn't being over- paid in that I was able to stack away a great sock of gold.
RF: Also, what went a long way in London didn't in a high living society in California.
RWB: Yes, you kept up a bigger front or had to try to do so. I always lived North of Sunset which I couldn't really afford to do. I should have lived South of the tracks and in a flat too. I always had a house. I enjoyed it and was glad I did it but it wasn't always wise or prudent. I don't know if I’ve ever been that.
RF: I'm curious if you ever had any kind of indoctrination talk from Lew Wasserman or any of the lads at LMCA?
RF: That seems extraordinary. They just took their 10% and that was it.
RWB: Perhaps I was unbiddable. I was just unreceptive if they were feeding in any infor- mation.
RF: There was no a sizeable post-war British colony by this time? Simmons is out there. RWB: No, they all followed me.
RF: Compton Bennett.
RWB: Yes, he had gone there.
RF: Were you aware of a British colony?
RWB: Yes. I went there with letters of introduction but they were all to the old guard, the raj. This introduced me to Willie Bruce for instance.
RF: Were they prepared to let you in?
RWB: Yes. They received me and were very affable. RF: You weren't regarded as an upstart newcomer?
RWB: No. Nigel Bruce was an affable duffer he played an affable duffer. There was a typi-
cal example of what we were talking about the American conception of the Englishman and what they expect. It would be much nicer if you supplied that expectation rather than be yourself. They had all read P.G Wodehouse and would say “toodle pip” and things like that. As far as the English colony was concerned, the only ones I had much contact with was Willie Bruce and his two daughters. As far as the general reception was concerned, like
when you came into any new town, you're a new face and so you’re a curiosity and every- one wants to see you, find out about you and you're something to talk about so you get a pretty good run for your money when you first arrive. They couldn't have been nicer. Alan and Dottie Parker gave the most enormous party for me at which practically everybody ap- peared so we were launched. They all took pity on these poor starving Polish refugees from this horrible England. The English colony thought it was fashionable to be left wing. They were very keen on the Labour Government and socialism.
RF: Put names to that.
RWB: Certainly Willie. That was a bit of a surprise.
RF: I'd never heard that and it’s certainly unexpected given that the House of Unamerican Activities was active at that time.
RWB: It was only just beginning.
RF: The House Committee had been operating for some time. McCarthy was just coming in.
RWB: I heard a lot more about him in 1952 and 53.
RF: Henry Hull, the actor, the old man, I was at his house in Connecticut around this time and his wife was Julia Fremont Hull. Her ancestor was General John Fremont who had opened up the West. She was very much aware of her ancestry and she was a staunch McCarthyite and made a vague protest in favour of freedom of speech and freedom of poli- tics and Julia said “you wouldn’t understand Mr Fowler, you're a foreigner”. But there was Willie Bruce flying the red flag which does take me back a bit.
RWB: It was really quite funny in a dotty sort of way.
RF: Was he really as dotty as he played?
RWB: That’s very difficult to say. He was an actor first of all which was a special category. Jokey and amusing and all he wanted to do was entertain. He certainly didn't want to get into any serious discussion about Mr Attlee or Mr.Who.
RF: There you were settling into Hollywood…
RWB: Yes, it was curious that anyone working for any of the studios seemed to run a club together and never spoke to the people at Metro or the people at Columbia or the people at Paramount or Disney. They all kept their separate enclaves. Robert Stevenson was at Dis- ney so one ran with the studio you were at so I ran with the Fox people. There was Jean Negulesco and Henry Hathaway, all those guys.
RF: Let's start at the top Darryl Zanuck ran the studio.
RWB: He wasn't ready to see me. He was too busy. I stuck around for a week or two. It turned out I was having a few people in for drinks one evening and the phone went and it was Jay Lewis. I didn't know he was in Hollywood. I said come and have a drink. So, we came to this funny place which had a balcony which overlooked the garden which was a bit like the cliffs of Dover, it was straight down. I gave him a drink. At any rate, he said “I think I should tell you I’ve had a word at Twentieth Century Fox, I’ve put them right about a
[few]things”. It didn't strike what he meant. I apologise for my naivety but there it is. I said “really”. Off he went back to England. I then found myself being quizzed about people, about the picture I’d made. Eventually there was a man called Alfred Hakim and he it was who stopped me on the lot one day and [the] curious thing about that picture, one of the things that struck Zanuck about it — they'd already got a copy even before it opened — he loved it, he said it was a great picture. In discussing the picture, he brought out the fact that the contrast between the location stuff and the studio stuff was beautifully handled. It was wonderful for a director to be able to show that contrast so beautifully. Then Jay Lewis had appeared and told them that he shot all the exteriors. The ground was cut from under my feet before I'd even started. From then on, I had to work as hard as I possibly could to prove myself and start all over again. There were all those doubts.
RF: Was Lewis that good a self-promoter that people believed him?
RWB: He was a good salesman and he was not incompetent, there were several things he could do extremely well. He turned up some wonderful stories. He did Live Now Pay Later a very much underrated film, a darn good picture with a splendid performance from Ian Hen- dry. Jay was unbelievably conceited. He was perfectly acceptable in his appearance and was well dressed. He was a little fat man and he wanted to be a tremendous womaniser.
Later on, I was able to say on the lot openly that the famous Jay Lewis is the producer of a film which is being directed by Compton Bennett in England on which things got to such a pitch that the producer was fired off his picture and that has almost never happened. But af- ter that he recovered himself and came up with another good script. I think he directed The Baby and the Battleship. Then Jay made one or two other pictures and gradually ran out of steam.
It's very difficult to prove a negative. I had quite a problem on my hands but the real prob- lem was that I didn't understand what had happened so people would ask me strange ques- tions and lead me into discussions but never say “son do you realise the realities of the situ- ation and what can we do about it?” It was finally agreed that the subject to which I was most suited being an Englishman was to do a picture back in England which they were planning which Tyrone Power was going to be in and it was going to be a remake of Berke- ley Square. Now if anyone says remake to me I go scatty because I’ve hardly ever seen a successful one. You're flogging a dead horse to start with.
Gregory Peck’s agent had discovered a little while before this the American government was very anxious to develop all their interests in the oil industry in the Middle East and they simply couldn't get enough American engineers to go there and start pumping this stuff out
of the earth. The Arabs weren't going to do this. They didn't even know what the stuff was about in those days. So, they said go over there, stay five years, all your money is paid in America and you don't pay any tax on it at all. It left a law in the statute book if an American worked abroad under certain circumstances which were very loose then everything he earned was tax free. You suddenly find Gregory Peck is interested in making a film in Eng- land. That's how it all started. Tyrone had got onto this one. There was one more picture he had to do and this was it. So, basically, nobody gave a goddam about the picture it was just an exercise which had to be gone through for legal reasons.
The subject itself was a fifth-rate carbon copy. It was all started with a short story called 'A Sense of the past' written by Henry James no less. That had been taken up by John L. Balderston and J.C. Squire had got together and made a play and then a film was made with Leslie Howard and Heather Angel. The screenplay had been written by Randle McDou- gall who was a very difficult character. I think he wanted to direct it and had been told he couldn't. I think it was intended as an intelligent device to get me back to England then I would be quietly dropped.
RF: They felt it had been a mistake.
RWB: Yes, I think so. Well I wasn't falling for that. I saw myself as being in Hollywood for three years. I didn't give it more than that. I never intended to stay. I did a lot of silly things like taking personal artefacts over there like furniture, complete folly but that might have given some people [the idea] I wanted to stay for ever but I didn't. It just wasn't me. I was too old. I was over thirty and when you're eighteen you go to America and it's wonderful and you stay there but later on I was too set in my ways and I didn't want to become a profes- sional Englishman in Hollywood. There were a number of opportunities which were open to me and I refused all of them resolutely. Anyway, I landed back in England with this turkey which is what it was. I met Tyrone who was absolutely wonderful, a smashing person, a highly competent actor. Much better actor than anyone believed just because he was so good looking. He really was a wonderful looking fellow. So, we set about doing that at Denham. I only met Zanuck once or twice, talking about the script of this.
RF: Do you have distinct memories of Zanuck?
RWB: Very distinct. He was a very forceful personality, a very striking man. I think that many years later I did a picture in which Vincent Price appeared and we were talking about these days — [how]it all was and why we had never met before — and we got onto the sub- ject of Zanuck. It quite surprised me but I thought about it after, and it was a very prescient remark, Vincent Price said he was a very common little man. Well I’m afraid that’s true but he was brilliant and the one thing you have to give-him as executive producer is that he re- ally knew how to make a film and almost none of them do. He really could do it and he was a brilliant editor of films. I suppose that's how the dreary business of the creative producer came up, because all the other producers on the lot, his $4,000 a week lackeys were all try- ing to model themselves on him and recut the picture.
RF: I think the system had been established long before this.
RWB: Probably. He used to walk around with a polo mallet vaguely making strokes. RF: How did he talk to you about the script?
RWB: There was hardly anything to say. Sol Siegel was the producer. He was a charming man and straight as a gun barrel and a first-class producer. He finished running MGM at one point. He said one day I’m going to take you to lunch so we got into the Cadillac and we rode out of back gate and about 500 feet up the road was Hillcrest Country Club which was created as a riposte to the Los Angeles Country Club which had a great claim to fame that it refused to have Douglas Fairbanks as a member because he was Jewish.
RF: It was two—fold, Jewish and show-business, but largely Jewish.
RWB: Hillcrest was founded by the Jews. We arrived there and in the entrance, was a huge round table which was for people who wanted to dine on their own or were not with a guest.
We were seated at this table. There was Danny Kaye, George Burns, Jack Benny, one of
the [?], there were about eight brilliant comedians I’ve never had such a brilliant lunch in my life. Groucho looked at me and then looked at Sol Siegel and said how long have you been here. I said ten days. He said it didn't take you long to get mixed up with the sharpest guy in town, meaning Sol. They loved me because they were going to reinvent me as the typical Englishman. I was Bertie Wooster. I played up to that, what else was I going to do? So, he was known on the lot as the elder statesman because he was very grand, very dignified, al- ways impeccably dressed, beautifully dressed, everything was immaculate and he ran his office very quietly.
I remember Nunnally Johnson too. He was a great fellow. Sol was very kind to me and he said to me after the picture was made you’re OK son, you've just got to learn to protect yourself in the clinches”. Even now I didn't know what he meant.
We landed in England. We had a backup team in England known as the Fox office which was in the old Korda office at the corner of Piccadilly. It was run by a fellow called Freddy Fox who was not related to William Fox who founded 20th Century Fox but he was the brother of Mrs. Darryl Zanuck, Virginia. He's married a wonderful girl called Myrtle and they were wonderful fun and didn't take life too seriously. But the people in the office, the emi- nence grise was Bob Dearing. It was awkward.
I take you back to my story when I visited Shepherd's Bush and Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat took me down to the pub to have a drink in the evening. This was before the middle of the war and bombs were dropping and things were going downhill rapidly. It was a very difficult, sad time. They were very nice. Bob Dearing was in the pub and I said hello and he turned his back on me. So, I’d forgotten all that really, it was six years previously. But he was a difficult character to say the least of it. Anyway, I was in the saddle and he had to be wary of me. The boot was now on the other foot but I was very busy with other matters. One
of the other matters was the most unfortunate girl I’ve ever come across called Connie Smith. She came to a bad [end].if anyone ever did.
Sometime during the peace someone made a film with Hedy Lamarr called Ecstasy in which she ran about naked and everyone thought this was scandalous and dreadful and everybody wanted to see it. To promote that or another picture in Ireland they set up a com- petition to find the girl who most resembled Hedy Lamarr, the black hair, huge violet eyes, the peaches and cream skin. Constance Smith won the price which was that she would be given at a dinner in Dublin by an eminent British film producer and she would go to England to have a film test. She was a country girl who knew nothing. The producer turned out to be John Boulting. She was met when she came to London Airport, she was given this test and got a small part in a film Jean Negulesco made all about Queen Victoria with Irene Dunne playing the part. She was a little Irish tweeny who scuttles about Buckingham Palace. She had about two lines and that was it. Suddenly Zanuck and everybody else are pressing me to have this girl to play the lead. It was impossible. There was no question whether she could do it or not. She couldn't. She had no training. She had a complete false impression given to her, the kind of idea you get from reading too many fan magazines. There are far too many girls and men around whose idea of what we do is formed entirely on what they read in the newspapers which turns out to be disastrously wrong. So, there was tremen- dous difficulty. Zanuck by this time was in Paris and we had endless conversations about this I remember. We went over to Paris, Sol and I. It was a junket as far as Sol was con- cerned. We stayed at the Ritz. There was one curious incident when the phone rang. It was Billy Wilder. They knew each other well. What are you doing, etc. Sol explained he had this English director with him, what's his name, ginger haired fellow, I know him, I’d him at Eric's house during the War. He’d been over, he was in the army and doing something for the American army. He remembered meeting me. I’d never been so flattered in all my life. He must have a photographic memory.
The upshot was that Tyrone Power was never going to play with that girl and finally we said sorry it's not on, the poor girl was heart- broken and she turned very ugly and said wait till I see Zanuck I’ll tell him. I said you do that darling but it's a mistake, it's not going to do you any good or anybody else. We did tests and we did costume fittings and everything with her but it was hopeless. The alarm bells rang and Hollywood came to the rescue and supplied Ann Blyth. She was marvellous and just slotted into it and did it beautifully for what it was worth. It was really a pretty weak story which was outdated, didn't work, so no real good was going to come of that. We made it and took it back to Hollywood with the cut.
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