Sam Williams

Family name: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
28 Nov 1963
Duration (mins): 

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Interview notes

with Bert Craik (see also #119) & Alf Cooper (#62)

Very much about Unions this interview. Plus all three foresaw a future for rented 8mm films in the 1963 interview. Nobody mentions video tape even though it was embryonic at the time. The dangers of predictions.JH


Ralph Bond  0:00  
This is a tape recording with three ACTT members who have spent all or most of their working life in film laboratories. We have Bert Craik, Sam Williams, and Alf Cooper. And we're going to discuss the many, many changes that have taken place both in technical conditions and in working conditions over the last 30 or 40 years in film laboratories. Now, Sam, I'm going to start with you because I believe you commenced in laboratories in 1919 or 19 120. And I think your first job was a Hypo boy, right right. For the benefit of some of us who don't exactly know what a Hypo boy did, perhaps you could explain what it was all about.

Sam Williams  0:51  
Well, a Hypo boy was was the boy that took the frames from the developer after he had finish developing them, he had a he had four or five tanks for any amount from four to six frames. And when they was done, he handed them to the hypo boy, the hypo boys job was to put the frames into the fixing tank. And then when when they were fixed, a pass them out through a hole in the wall, which was a tank built into the wall and the the middle of the, the wall came down into the tank, so it formed a light trap. And they just push the frames through and after  and they came out into the wash. That was the hypo boys job. Also, he assisted in generally in helping the development of make up the baths and all that sort of things.

Ralph Bond  1:49  
So you're a sort of general odd bod were you Yes. prepared to turn your hand to anything? Yes.

Sam Williams  1:57  
But I'd had previous experience with before I came there, but the rapid film company so first when I joined Kays, I went straight on being a hypoboy so I was a Hypo boy for over five years in those days one didn't get the chance they got now I've got in on jobs were jealously guarded you will always told that Oh, You're much too young to be anything else. It was

Ralph Bond  2:27  
all hand it was all handwork in those days for somebody hand developing

Sam Williams  2:31  
developing the the framer he was called a framer he had a frame that had metal pins that are top and bottom are separate strands a frame these film onto their  placed in the cradle the film places no film onto there with a drawing pin and then wound the film round to there then he would tighten up the film because if the film got slack didn't take it  out the strains will overlap and you'll get strands not developed. And but he had to be very careful in tightening overdoing it was split the film and that that was all framed up and the developer will wait till he got anything from 60 to 100 frames before he  started work when he did start the full height oh boy but after dash around and but the snag then was because was not on the film handling. Also, they got very wet in those days. Such things as rubber boots weren't thought of . It was gloves and aprons.

Ralph Bond  3:49  
un healthy wass it.

Sam Williams  3:51  
Well, I wouldn't say it was at Kays because at Kays we had a wonderful air air system at home and Red Lion square. All the air was water cleaned. It was wonderful in comparison to the place I come from, which was very well

Ralph Bond  4:11  
conditions like that with you, Bert, when you started in the labs, I believe a few years later,

Bert Craik  4:17  
 yeah, well, I actually started roundabout 1928 at the old Williamson film printing in Barnet. For the princely sum of 35 Bob a week. I was taken on to learn film printing. But for the first five or six weeks they put me on the job that Sam has been talking about the hypo boy I worked with Alec Garnet who was responsible for racking tank developing now out of the negative. He worked out With 200 foot links, which were wound on to pin frames and developed in tanks, we had to make up our own solutions. In addition to developing the negative, Alec was responsible for saving as much film as possible, which might have been lost to overdevelopment around the development as a result of which reduction and intensification was necessary at times he also have to work on toning Sepia Toning blue toning the lot. In fact, Alec and I had to handle all this work apart from the actual positive which was processed in the modern way at that time. We call it framing SAM No, no no behind

as I was saying, the positive was automatically developed, they had got to that advanced stage in that small laboratory.

Sam Williams  6:25  
 Do you remember what type of machine Bert

Bert Craik  6:30  
Was it a Lawley I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I know that the developing was done in one room. A drying came out into another room it was not in a not as restage, you know, simply a room warmed up to a certain temperature. All the film was exposed in it, and dried in that way. Anyway, to cut a long story short. After my few weeks with Alec and this department, I went on to the job for which I had been employed. In the printing room. It was a long room I suppose about what 40 feet long, by about eight feet wide with a battery of De Brie printers, all along the wall. Most of the printers were girls, I think myself and one other fellow where new learning the job. I don't know where I mentioned, I've been paid the princely sum of 35 shillings a week, and to describe the conditions. Along the other run of the wall, there were fire buckets at intervals  full of water with pieces of blanket hanging down from the roof dipped into the bucket to create the humidity necessary to try to stop static. It didn't seem to make much difference to me because we were always getting reprints for static on the film. It was also a very uncomfortable, rather high temperature. And to tell the truth, I was glad when I was able to get away from from Williamson's and start at the Pathe Laboratory which should just been built at Elstree by the British International picture Corporation 

Ralph Bond  8:20  
this question of temperature Bert there was no such thing as temperature control, I suppose at that time,

Bert Craik  8:26  
no, no control whatever, either in development, or in the printing room. It was a hit and miss arrangement as both Alf and Sam will know they can probably describe it far better than I can. What do you How did you solve this problem, Sam?

Sam Williams  8:41  
Well, before we before we had temporary control, we used to pack our baths around with ice. But ice Yes, we stopped pack baths around when you get very hot weather most difficult. But we had a very good thing there. at Kays, is we had a long thermometer in the tank that it was fitted in the corner. I don't know if you ever saw it there Alf perhaps might have been

Ralph Bond  9:09  
when you came along about this time in our minutes. What else didn't show they're working with Sam we had a

Alf Cooper  9:17  
dog with a monitor. It's headed into the corner. And it showed up fairly big you know, in light you could control but we're not like you can now but we could control within a cup within a couple of degrees or degree and a half. Which in those days. I mean you could jump to 12 degrees in no time. We could control that more or less by packing our ice round our baths because putting ice in a bath. It was fatal if you put ice in.

But in fact we did put ice in at times when you first

made a bath Oh, you would start up fresh. But we control it, but when when temperature control came in and sensometric control, it's a boon. Yes, because I've seen way back in the old days, I've seen a man that really was a good man, you know developing he'd go on perhaps forflf weeks. But the one bad day and the reprints no colossal perhaps do. You could do a half day's working. And there's all that job of intensifying afterwards intensifying and reducing, which is not done now, of course, was all done automatically. Well, it is reprinted really, I think lapstone public Bell. But those days, we used to have to buy a lot. We used to reduce with reduce with the old ermanganite process, you know, your film is dyed with a permanganite. And then it was put through a solution at bis- sulphate alive which removed the manganite and some of the shadows with it, which really was a better method than what they call the Bakers? I think it was called the Baker's ferricyanide, which took some a lot of your half tones out the ferrocyanide reducer. But the manganite reducer was much better one. There were various other methods, there was a salt one as well. umpteen of them, but I thought I think that was the best

Bert Craik  11:45  
thing I found a calling in those days when when when I came into the black and white Labs was with Kays you know with you, Sam, I didn't know at the time, we got to do everything by hand. As far as as far as the developing side of the industry was concerned. Do you mind your bars that most journal wouldn't stick to dissolve and mixture chemicals within the inner 13 gallon dolphin that invariably you found that you hadn't got the time to mess about that. So you laid on the edge of the rack with your belly and stirred the wretched baths up with your arms. The result was that you finished up at the end of the day with your clothes soaking wet. I hope that you couldn't dare fold them up when you went home. Because when you come in next day, they dried solid full of chemical and if they were folded up, they more or less break when you're trying to unfold them. And even eat everything from even putting solutions from a mixing tank into a developing tank was actually all manual even to the extent of pulling wooden bungs out the bottom of tanks, and  even valves. Yes, the whole thing was so crude. And from a working point of view, one didn't know any different or might have thought about it. But I felt that it was very, very crude in those days to what we've got today, where a man probably doesn't even have to get his hands wet in making a bath for the mechanic. So it's in use today.

Ralph Bond  13:13  
But that applied to every lab didn't it Alf not only Kays

Alf Cooper  13:17  
 I would have assumed Yes, it did apply to every laboratory I didn't come into the industry and 31 Yes, that apply to every lab. But this

Ralph Bond  13:25  
question, Sam, this question that developing all developing in those days was done by site? Yes. This must have required a very considerable degree of judgement and skill on the developers? Yes, it

Sam Williams  13:41  
did. Well, my experience was, I was in charge and developer for quite a long time before I was made supervisor. And my experience was that no two men develop the same by sight. One man would have would be apt to take everything. On the bright side, the other man would believe in the full print. So if you've got one man working on one shift and one on the other, unless you've completed the job himself, you've got nothing standard. That is the beauty of sensomatric control. Really? I think, would

Ralph Bond  14:22  
you agree with that, but that each developer was really on his own?

Bert Craik  14:25  
 Yes, I mean, when it depended on personal judgement, that was only natural, of course, and this led to an awful lot of bad feeling in laboratories, because in those days, if you made a mistake anyway, we're out on your neck. And so everybody tended to alibi and everybody else. The developers were sight developing sensometric control not having come in as simply meant looking at the film as it passed by a lighted box and judging by your  experience  how much to give it. The grader the sight  grader it was a matter of judgement there, the question of the bath because there was no temperature control, no real temperature control meant that there was a possibility of error there and all these built up and comes and therefore the quality of the material varied from day to day and week to week and there was always reprints building up and Tom was blaming Dick and Dick was blaming Harry well, you can appreciate how it was. And life was not so easy for anyone working in labs right from their manager down to the the hypo boy, things changed tremendously as both Alf and Sam know sensometric control came in. But I think they ought to describe that because that was a gradual process, and getting to work so well at the beginning.

Unknown Speaker  15:55  
But it didn't take away a lot of the skills of the other people in the trade. There's no two ways about it, the old developer, and indeed the old grader was a far higher skilled man than is called for today. Oh, yes. science of the age

Ralph Bond  16:14  
yesterday, who developed sensometric control? Was it development that arose in this country? Or was it first started in France? Do you happen to recall that?

Sam Williams  16:27  
I don't know.

Ralph Bond  16:30  
Was there any resentment when this was far more scientific method was what they did the site did the site developers feel jealous that their skills were being taken away from what I think

Bert Craik  16:42  
you had a certain amount of people that really pooh poohedit and  thought it wouldn't work? You always will. always did.

Alf Cooper  16:53  
Yeah, Sam's quite Right. No one believed it was possible to, to develop film automatically, or judge the grading of a film by a machine. And in fact, for quite a long time. The old method operated you know, yes. It was a slow introduction, obviously very, very strong resistance to it. That didn't believe it would work. But eventually it can cause and it made life a lot easier. I think more's mostly for developers. Yes.

Bert Craik  17:33  
And graders, graders had to get down to him. It took some time that they had to get down to it.

Alf Cooper  17:42  
Indeed, if one goes back really far into the past, the film printer had to do his own grading didn't judge the lighting as it was passing through the machine. So you have your events from those days, right up to

Bert Craik  17:57  
Yes, well, that takes me back to when I first started. I was first starting developing and I worked on the three to 11 shift. Jimmy Gemmel was the developer who done the early shift very old timer retired now he came from Pathe and |Lens Meston? who has been in the trade since 1911. He was working on the printing shift and he was a sight printer

Sam Williams  18:27  
he actually graded as he made it was probably a great

aperture Yes. Site trended a graded it as it went through you know you're still kind of come down and use the site. We're doing all right Sam. Made we've made a lovely job that he gave me every encouragement you know, because those days very difficult you had tinted. You had your tinted film then instead of stained it was tented celluloid?, and if you any man who whatever way works, whether he worked surface development or from the back, it was very difficult if you've got blue tinted film, many of them sight printer or tripped up over that blue blue tinted base film that when it was fixed out it was like spaceing

Ralph Bond  19:19  
here when you mentioned the the shift you're on that brings me to another point. What sort of hours did you work? Did you have regular hours or did you just have to go on until the job was finished?

Bert Craik  19:30  
No at that time I had regular hours. I went in at three perhaps I wouldn't get done till about half past twelve because you had to make your own baths up  when you finished

Ralph Bond  19:45  
you sometimes did have to work pretty long shifts.

Sam Williams  19:49  
Yes, I think they apply to every lab and

Alf Cooper  19:52  
I don't want to when I when I was with with Sam we were doing night and day shifts and two shifts man 24 hours What I can remember we used to start eight o'clock at night finish eight o'clock in the morning. And on Friday night we start eight o'clock at Friday night, I finished at 12 o'clock Saturday morning. And that was a recognised thing. Yes, a news work used to take us into Sundays as well, you'd expect to finish around about five o'clock tea time on a Sunday, somebody would create something which was out of this world for, quote, wine and cocktail of Amy Johnson or something like that fly in Atlantic  or landing. And very often you wouldn't get out until supper on a Sunday night because the news section would be pulled out, you'd have to get stuck in and put another one in. That was a you know, that was more the rule than the exception. Yeah.

Ralph Bond  20:41  
Was that your experience too Bert or

Bert Craik  20:44  
 Yes Particularly? One, you know, I moved over to the new laboratory, the Elstree, which, of course, as you know, was alongside the studios there. And so we had the constant pressure from the boys shooting the film to get it out as quickly as possible. And indeed, they did have a day and a night shift at the labs. The lab was not so new, that was not so old and, and because of this, it had a lot of teething troubles. And this made things even worse, I can still remember two or three rooms there which were piled high with film, which was absolutely useless since , you know, overdeveloped or wrongly printed? There were 1000s upon 1000s of feet of this stuff, which was absolutely wasted. I suppose you get this with a new lab, at least at those times, in those days when there was no real control. But the hours were very bad indeed. And the if there was really pressure from us from the studio, you could expect sometimes to work day and night day before you got home. Yes. 

Ralph Bond  22:08  
Did you feel or had any security of of employment in those days, Sam?

Sam Williams  22:14  
Well, there's times when it was very, you know, very insecure. I remember one occasion, we've done three days, one week, two days, another that's good many years ago. And we also on one or two occasions to a reduction in money to avoid anybody even being put off

Ralph Bond  22:38  
the now this question of full automation, which we now have in the laboratories as compared with the very early days. What are what differences has this really made apart from let us say, making differences in individual skills. With the introduction of scientific control, what internal differences has it made has it for instance, reduced the old enmity between developers and printers has it led to more security and more permanent

Sam Williams  23:12  
work? While there's more security in our labs, as you know, we're very busy, we're busy, always busy, fortunately, pleased to say and I, I think, I won't speak for around other labs, but they're all very, very happy crowd. In the old days, there was that insecure feeling, but they have got that secure feeling now under any any chap who comes in Now, a bright chap, he's got a wonderful chance of getting on. Wonderful, he's not kept waiting like the old days, the old days, you could be years and years, and you consider yourself lucky to hold even a low paying job.

Alf Cooper  23:55  
There is another aspect to it as well, you know, the work in the laboratories I feel now has become far more technical than ever it was in the old days. The result of trade union activity within the industry has removed some of the fears. Nowadays, because of the variations of procedure and method. One cannot pursue the old method that were I found in existence when I came into the laboratories. The because of the vast unemployed figures outside the firm you were working for. Everybody was so afraid that somebody else would learn what he was doing that nobody would tell anybody. Nowadays, one has got to pass on the information from the top down, otherwise nobody could cope. The various techniques which are in existence in the laboratory today, for example, the different formats a different size of the piece of a piece of picture that you're making. is so varied so many different sizes. Of the the actual size of the picture frame that you've got such a lot to remember that one has to help one another now in the in in the trade and the various types of output that they require. It has to the knowledge has to be passed on. The fact that we haven't got such vast unemployment is another reason I think, why people aren't so jealous of what they know ever getting away from them via setups that in itself has alleviated this this terrific animosity that used to be in existence, not only between the coming of, or rather, the removal of the skills sight man, to the technical or sensometric  control man. But because of the fact that there is a little more security in the world itself in the country itself with this employment business, that as as I was going to say, has removed this animosity between the printer and the developer, they are obliged to help one another far more. And there isn't this danger that if he knows how to do my job, he will get it. And I think that, you know, is a great contributing factor to the advancement of the laboratories. And to the better feeling between the between the people that are working in the lab, although I think it should be said that although there was this business in the labs when I came into them, that nobody wanted to tell anybody else anything. There was in itself a better feeling of friendship from a social point of view. People did mock in more, I think with one another. For example, I can remember it being said that we'd work so long, so many hours so long, that one chap who was single, even in those bad times, has slung  his job is to spend some money because he worked so many hours and work so much overtime, that he actually turned it in. But that was a rare, rare thing. But to get a social life outside of the lab was very difficult. So they made their fun among themselves in the lab, which doesn't go on today so much. I don't think one sees the the pranks and the larks going on.

Ralph Bond  27:07  
What sort of pranks and larks used to go on

Alf Cooper  27:11  
remember myself. Others will tell you as I can well remember myself being hauled before the then manager, because I'd wrapped up a two ounce tobacco tin in some red paper and asked another bloke to go and get me some static from somewhere. And he and he went on to the chief engineer. And he twigged  the crack and passed it on to somebody else. And some bright work actually sent him up to the manager for this tin of static And the manager asked do it wasn't said it was Alf Cooper. So I was doing and the boys did somebody's duck. But that sort of thing went on. And you'll give the last

Bert Craik  27:50  
two hours must remember when he was down at Elstree labs with me. The printed room, of course, was the room where the girls if possible, always avoided because well, one thing we used to do, especially the newer girls that came there was to tip them headfirst into the film bins and the screams that went with that, and the laughter  as well, one can quite imagine, this was a regular every new girl who joined the lab, the first she was never told about the first time she went into the film printing room  in the dark. That was her  christening into the film bin upside down.

Sam Williams  28:35  
We used to call it initiation initiation ceremony.

Alf Cooper  28:39  
That reminds me of another attitude that I met in the laboratories, you know, in the old days, and that doesn't exist now. I don't see anything I've it's difficult to appreciate it. But obviously there was girls on negative work and girlson positive work. And my my remembrance of that was that the plug girls on the negative where a cut above the girls on positive and never the two should mix. But the other thing is that the laboratories now reasonably well conditioned there. And he did that. But I can well remember in the early days, he used to get so hot  in some of the rooms that the girls were where their swimsuits and underneath a white coat we used to get great fun at that  with just these white coats on and that sort of thing. But that of course isn't necessarily ordained  now. But that

Ralph Bond  29:26  
does raise an interesting point. What with these fast technical changes over the years, what improvements has it meant in terms of say health and hygiene and also this question of the dark rooms there isn't nearly so much work has to be done in dark rooms now. In the old days. Great

Sam Williams  29:46  
improvement. The great improvement out

Bert Craik  29:50  
well why I'm saying I recall and ACTT as a trade union has done a lot to to eliminate this Is the cleaning of cinematic film with carbon tetrachloride. It happened in all the labs in the days gone by when girls or the young boys would clean this film on a bench with a bottle of this damn stuff in front of them and a sponge  just something in which the debit pad and wipe the film down where these all the fumes  going into the air. And for quite a number of years, we never realised why these people working on this where as being ill and sick and off work, and gradually it clicked, that this was the trouble. And the factory inspectors and Ministry of Labour health side helped us in this problem. And when it was fully realised the danger of carbon tetrachloride ACTT who would help to the investigations made it their business to check with authorities and I remember quite clearly, this issue been raised down at the Pathe lab ElstreeAnd a year or two later up here at Pathes in Wardour Street, where we sent We arranged for one of the doctors from the home office to go down and have a look around there, she kicked up merry hell with  management and issued orders that extraction fans and various alterations had to be made to the room in which the work was done. As you all know, since then, they've discovered a more modern solvent, which is not so dangerous to the health this has replaced  carbon tetrachloride. 

Ralph Bond  31:52  
What other improvements in that sense of Have you seen over the years? 

Alf Cooper  31:56  
Well, obviously on the on the automatic developing machines, the biggest problem apart from developing and making, and I'm trying to maintain some sort of constant level of developing values. Drying used to be a terrific problem. Every employer's ambition was to get a million feet an hour off the machines. I tried everything they knew how to speed up the machines obviously. And big problem they were drying. And I remember that the drying system used to be very crude. It always worked out. But if you're if you're able to get the stuff dry quick enough before it got to the end of the machine, they'd expect you to with the aid of a bin. And a wooden horse take a roll of film and expect you to break into the machine feed in leader so you didn't lose all your lace up and pull down the film into a bin winded up afterwards. And to hell with the handling damages or whatever might happen so that you could get stuff off the machines quicker. Mainly, it was unusual because it was a terrific urgency in getting news out  that one really had to work to get newsreels out onto the screen as quick as possible. I can well remember that although we were using nitrate base, which was a terrifically highly dangerous thing. We one time used to use a lady's hair dryer type of thing that was in existence at that time, took place on the floor and prop up with cans and so as to  to get some more hot air blowing onto the film to dry quicker. And the fact that this thing occasionally used to have to be kicked across the room because it had been on so long it start shooting at flames at one still used to use it. Now the hazards one That one was really walking around that remind me of another silly incident that happened in  labs over the bench on the wall, we had a fire extinguisher in this particular lab. And I remember taking my collar and tie off one day and add over the bracket and the manager came through and asked me what they thought that was doing this I was in there was a fire. quite stupid. There was a fire I shouldn't worry about it wasn't

Sam Williams  34:05  
Yes, but we had when I was working at the old rapid film company and we had something even worse than that. In the drum rooms and in the adjoining rooms. We had anthracite stoves and one of my jobs was to make the stoves up not having been long there. And as you flipped at the top so all sparks will fly up and miss some miracle now that we never had

Ralph Bond  34:29  
surrounded by Holly inflammable film, and yes,

Sam Williams  34:32  
in the back of the old drums that used to be this anthracite stove and and put your coat in the spouts fly out same in the  joining room.

Ralph Bond  34:43  
Do many Is there a very large proportion or a small proportion of lab workers today who had to work in conditions of darkness or semi darkness had things improved in that sense?

Sam Williams  34:57  
Well, you've still got to work Okay, your pan light, as you know, which has total darkness. But the conditions are different, aren't they? Well, it varies between various we've got a daylight machine, some some labs, some labs we've got, we've got daylight machines and the others.

Bert Craik  35:17  
I don't think there's any doubt about it that the conditions under which laboratory workers are employed now much better, much better than yes, in the olden days, it was un , unhealthy kind of employment. And it was shown in a number of people that used to be off the hill as compared with now,

but we mustn't run away from the idea we haven't reached the utopia in laboratories even then, for example, there are still people who are printing in in safe lights in lights, which are coloured and very, very dim, Pan lights, amber  lights for are still people who are having to work in near total darkness. On the other hand, of course, there are people now who are doing printing incomplete daylight or complete white light, because of magazine loading and magazine feeding of printing machines, especially optical machines, and there's a vast amount of optical machines being used. But in the colour world, of course, there is still the processing and developing going on. In very, very subdued coloured lights. In my own department, for example, we write down to very low lighting, and when asked to remember that even with safe lights, in my own particular developing room, we've got the light up as high as we dare have it. And there again, if somebody left a piece of film unwound, and although  colour film has a backing of black backing on it, if it was up the wrong way, in two minutes inside the safe light, it would record on reading on densitometer readings and give you a fog level of a particular colour that was been exposed to. So that they are again, you see, one cannot cannot have a machine stop, even in the safe lights, which we're using now, without NG results due to due to part from developing but from fogging point of view, the strains outside the solutions. And then again, one still has to put up with the obnoxious odours that can emanate from the developers that are developing solutions and the acids and what have you that are used in the various solutions. And of course, there is a greater hazard in the world now, a far greater hazard in the world now than we had in the early black and white days, namely the dermatitis from the from the solutions in use. I remember whilst I was working with Sam, I and another chap, Lukey Slooe?, he had metal poisoning on the soles of his feet, which must have maybe driven him mad and I had it on both arms. This is an interesting point one, one goes to one's doctor, and they hadn't got a clue. Although one said that when worked in films, or rather, I was told, first of all, I had a poultry rash. I said, Well, that was impossible. And they mentioned that I was working in fields with chemicals and then the penny dropped. It turned out I got metal poisoning. Well, of course nowadays, such as the activities of our association that dermatitis the thing that we all know like  our ABC and indeed the laboratories of providing equipment to take care of it. Even to decontamination centres, a lot of solutions and chemicals which will be which are designed to not cure but to prevent providing, but apart from the management supplying this equipment, that everybody will cooperate and use it, but it's still very difficult when you're intent on his job to suddenly remember that you've been diving in these solutions or you've been splashed with these solutions to go to the contamination centres and take care of yourself.

Sam Williams  39:03  
I know every precaution Alf is taken at our place everything is provided. There's plenty of gloves as far as the cream, and everything.

Ralph Bond  39:12  
Now one of the major events in laboratory history over the past few years was of course the establishment of the technicolour laboratory in 1937, the first all colour laboratory to be established in this country. Of course, this wasn't the introduction of colour films by any means many of the ordinary black and white Labs had also worked on colour and produced colour films colour prints Alf I believe you were one of the first of the black and white technicians to move over to technicolour and join them. And you've worked ever since at technicolour on, on on colour processes. I'm wondering when you first joined In technicolour what differences you found from your previous experience in black and white laboratories, was it like you're entering a new world or

Alf Cooper  40:09  
was very much so you know Ralph it's very difficult having been there so long it's very difficult to just say just like that off the cuff what the changes are. I remember when I first went there, I was really staggered size of the plant and the amount of equipment automatic equipment they got there. For example, in the solutions department there, there was a chemical mixers dream as against what I'd already seen one had barrows to shift the staff instead of using your shoulders and arms to lum lumber the chemicals about one add hoists. One a great big vats, in which they were automatic panels to dissolve the chemicals, no sticks and arms to dissolve, as I previously said, mechanical agitators for mixing up the chemicals so that all a man needed was some strength to handle the stuff and press buttons everything was mechanised. The thing I really found strange was that I was taken on there to go into the negative developing department. And there were a team of Americans a dozen or so Americans would come over to set the plant and going and indeed to teach people the jobs. This again was a great eye opener to me because henceforth my five or six years in the industry prior to going to technicolour everybody, as I previously said was so scared that the other guy would know what he knew. And he I walked into this enormously, enormously laboratory everything seemed to be mechanic mechanised wherever possible. And there was a team of men going out of their way to really to really show you how to do the job. Now one might know that that was that might say that that was to the advantage of the company to get the technician to train. But quite seriously, it was a wonderful thing to find a team of real experts who knew their job, who were leaving no stone unturned to pass that knowledge on. And although one might not like the attitude of the or the antics of the American industry towards this industry, from a production point of view, when asked do I feel be honest about it and say that those Americans as a team did a very good job, and some of the really experienced technicians that we've got here to day. Really do owe  there  start up to these to these Americans that came over and did that job. To me. That was very, very great, because henceforth, it was most difficult to to learn your job in the British film, laboratories

Ralph Bond  42:41  
, what was the first colour film you worked on?

Alf Cooper  42:44  
As far as I can remember, I believe the first colour film that went out as a complete feature was the Divorce of Lady X. And I really do believe that is so  odd and ends went out we were a very long time doing bits and pieces and tests and cleaning and I remember another thing which which astounded me was the cleanliness which that company demanded. Previously to that we used to be in developing rooms with duck boards on it clean the drains out about once a week, and by the time it's getting near time for the drains to be cleaned out, the drains were bunged up with bits of odd film and, and chemicals had furred up, the drains of stuff wouldn't run away. The slush on the floor consisted of everything from developer to hypo water matte film, and they were almost coming over the tops of the duck boards  they were paddling about. When we got when I got into this laboratory, the whole thing had changed. Except that one thing struck me as rather peculiar. Here was a highly modern laboratory, and yet it had gone back not to the frame developing. But in fact, we were actually developing our film on what would have been the old fashioned drum dryers, the drums themselves will be wrapped instead of frames with film with little metal pegs to keep the strands apart. They will put on a pinned  no one slatt of the drum which was enormous drum I suppose it's something like five foot diameter with about eight foot wide enormous things to film was wrapped round from one end to the other capable of taking just about 1000 feet. And they were held at the end with the elastic bands, paper staples and and pinned onto the slat serves to allow for shrinkage and stretch of the film. And they were manual from the from the wrapping trolley, which was a trolley which carried the drums from one position to another lifted off the trolley after being wrapped and put into troughs  and mechanically circulated in the troughs to give an even development so that was any fall off in the bath whilst a real was being developed. The whole thing whole reel really accepted that fall off so that it didn't show from one end to the other That was pretty heavy going. It was hard, heavy work because the drum naturally was pretty hefty wood and weigh quite a bit and it took two men 1x over the aid of a rod to lift these things on the centre hub. From now on, and it went back into an automatic dryerbox fed off the drum on a trolley wheeled into the into the drying room. With the aid of mechanically operated doors on light traps, even even the opening and shutting of the doors was done by electric they were roll of metal roller blinds, and you press the button with the blind you've wheeled the trolley out, put that blind down and pressed another button and lifted up the other one and then you fed it into a drying box which was a normal drying box as we know it today and mechanically operated. And the film dried in an automatic machine box.

Ralph Bond  45:47  
You must have had quite a lot of experience of working on colour to Sam. Yes

Sam Williams  45:54  
On toning we did.we did...................................................................


Ralph Bond  0:06  
You must have had quite a lot of experience of working on colour to Sam.

Bert Craik  0:10  
Yes. On toning we did, we did a wonderful job with toning before the war, we did Alibaba, which was, was more Danton dye toning  and what we call double toning . And that was that was using uranium and blue tone. And this was done on an auto by the way that went through one tone first rents, and then the other tone, and perhaps we would put a stain on it. And that was a wonderful effect of forgiving your uranium, the blue, green and your pink, you get almost all sats  as good as the colour is now. That was marvellous result. We had marvellous marvellous results we got

Ralph Bond  1:07  
if you had any colour experience, Bert

Bert Craik  1:09  
no, I left the labs just as colour wass coming in moved over to ACTT A thing which doesn't seem to have come out clearly. And I think you were trying to have it explained Ralph was how output has changed. I mean, in the old days weren't even in automatic machines. The average speed was about 24 feet per minute. Well, I

think they all knows it. Now.

Sam Williams  1:43  
The old average speed was about

30 to 34. The most.

We had

only autos. Yes, I'm told Yes, we had one

single sprocket. And we would have six machines plodding  in a way there.

Bert Craik  1:59  
Now Now what what is the speed of development?

Sam Williams  2:04  
While it can go out until we run round about 80, I suppose 70 to 80 on our positive machines. I think some labs are much faster than that.

Alf Cooper  2:18  
We're running their colour positive machines are running. So if I'm running about 80 feet a minute, roughly 85 feet a minute.

Ralph Bond  2:25  
So the output has gone up enormously. Yes, four times.

Alf Cooper  2:30  
Oh, more than that. Well, I guess I'm an automatic automatic. Yes. But if you go back to the rack and  tank development as compared with today. Oh, yes. Fantastic. Really.

Ralph Bond  2:41  
I think it would be good. I think it would be useful. Now if we had some discussion about what the union has done for the laboratory technicians was in 1935 that ACT started to organise in the lab in the laboratories. And we got about 80 members managed to form a laboratory  branch. But it wasn't until 1939 that the first laboratory agreement was signed within the Association of the employers. This agreement included rates as low as two pounds a week which nevertheless provided a wage increase to most of the technicians concerned. The real breakthrough and the real test of the solidarity of our members in the laboratoires however, came in 19 145. An overtime ban had been imposed. And as a result of this, the arbitration award number 758. came into operation which established for all Laboratories a 44 hour week over five and a half days. Overtime payment for all hours worked before eight in the morning and after seven o'clock in the evening. time and a half a night work. equal pay for equal work and wage increases ranging from 13 shillings to 50 shillings a week. I expect all of you will remember that particular overtime ban.

Sam Williams  4:18  
Yes. Oh,

Bert Craik  4:21  
I certainly do. Especially the dispute with Randolph Terreno. at Humphries laboratories. He got very awkward about the fact that everyone working there much to his surprise, operated the overtime ban and instruction from the union. And as Ralph Bond has said he threatened to sack everybody. Some other people


stuck their heels in. And 25 of them found themselves out of a job. We had numerous meeting meetings with these five members, or these sorry, with these 25 members over a period of 14 weeks, I can still see Eric Pasque, who was the shop steward at Humphreys on that occasion, smoking this pipe and leading the members in that revolt against Terreno, it was it was really a wonderful occasion because the whole of actt members, including those in the studios, and on short film production, as well as the laboratory members were solidly behind the members who had been locked out by Randolph Terreno. They were collections to help them during the period of the lockout, and of course, as everyone will remember, once the arbitration award was made known, we, George Elvin and I, together with one or two of the laboratory representatives had a meeting with Terreno  And he completely caved in reinstating all the 25 members and agreeing to pay them the back payment for the 24 or 25 weeks. They have been locked out. It was a wonderful, victory  14 weeks, 14 weeks.

Ralph Bond  7:01  
Yes, yes,

Alf Cooper  7:02  
I can remember, you know, in the course of discussions with these with this particular bloke, incident sticks in my mind was that he we were all round in one of his theatres in the Humphreys plant. And Terrenowas sitting there with his legs over the arms of the chair, going with his fingers tapping together, his elbows, also resting on the arms of the chair, tapping his fingers like this and saying, I built this lab up from the curb. And I will say now I'm prepared to sit go back to the curb, back into the curb, rather than I will submit to this that these and those. And I answered that was a member of the negotiating that quite, alright you can rest assured that's where it'll finish unless you change. But the thing that was interesting was at the end of this dispute when Randall Terreno ultimately admitted that we had won . He was very, very manly about it insofar as he said, Well, I was wrong, and you were right in future or people will be in your union. And I thought for the terrific fight that tenacity of that fight between the two side. That was a very good ending. Of course, it was an example I feel to many, many other of our members in other laboratories must have helped enormously in our subsequent fights with other recalcitrant employers.

Bert Craik  8:25  
Yes, as Ralph has been talking, it comes back to me why Terreno completely caved in. It was because of the fact that members in shorts and documentary and um studios, blacklisted the laboratory. No work from any Studio or or short film company, went to Randolph Terrenos. Once he had locked out these men, and this is the reason why he gave in in the end, not because of the goodness of their heart, because he was losing work, and would eventually have had to close down.

Alf Cooper  9:00  
This is a very important factor that all our members should know that they retire. And this in this union within the industry is something which all our members ought to think about at all times when we've got problems I applied. This This is a classic example of the way I can run and should run.

Ralph Bond  9:19  
I think the the experience of that that dispute in 19 145, as Alf has said undoubtedly led to the tremendous victory that we had and after a very great battle in 19 154, when the union was endeavouring to get a substantial wage increase for its members. The employers refused to negotiate. They wanted to send it straight to arbitration and we insisted on negotiation. We had to impose an overtime ban again, in all the laboratories, theTechnicolour management provoked an incident by trying to alter the shift working times in the developing department, and 29 members in that department went on strike. The reply of the management to this was to lock out 134 of our members. And we did succeed in getting them reinstated shortly afterwards. But meantime, the employers had been taking very tough action. And in March 19 154, for every single one of our laboratory members in all the laboratories were locked out except those required for care and maintenance work. I expect Alf in particular will remember this because technicolour was so much involved, and they had wonderful marches and mass meetings.

Alf Cooper  10:52  
Yes, this this period of our existence was a very worrying time. We found that out of that, in our particular plant, there was over 800 people were actually locked out, there was something which was a bit of a tragedy. Some of the people with responsible positions insofar as they were foreman, or assistant supervisor, or people of that nature, other than other than care and maintenance types, the management failed to give notice to which revealed that they were wanting to keep the mainstay of their plant going. When this particular problem was ultimately solved. That created quite a lot of individual individual thought among the membership. And it's very regrettable that quite a number of the members there succumbed to this piece of this particular practice on the part of the management there. And maybe it's another story, but that resulted in an enormous amount of headaches and problems after the original problem was solved. But it did one thing that the laboratories I feel in view of this terrific battle which all the members have got, which faced all the members employed under the FLA management, and indeed the the affiliated management, it had a tendency to make all men equal and put them all together in the one big fight with a result that, for the first time in the history of actt, I feel or ACT as it was then we really had to get out in the same way as many of the other major industrial unions have done in their history. And I feel this was the first time where we really rub shoulders. With some of the old traditional trade unionists, we had a terrific fight on our plate, we had an enormous number of our membership, unemployed, and at that time by unforeseen trust  or wrong trust or misplaced trust, those members were not even receiving unemployment pay, although they will locked out in  an industrial dispute, which meant that the people that were very keen for ACT and the beliefs against the actions of the management, because many of us bore in mind that this was one of the most profitable years at the laboratories and ever had this particular period, they had all made enormous profits, and will be granting us a share of them as we the people that had made those profits. It resulted in the shops creating their own strike committees a thing which was foreign to ACT generally. And without any previous experience, and these local committees in the labs, really. I don't know the right word to use, but it was fantastic was phenomenal. The results that some of them achieved in my own shop, for example, Such as  a result of our picketing of other industries, other factories in the area. Peoples were having as much as 20 pounds paid to them to clear their own personal debts and monetary worries apropos outside of any union fund contribution from ACT. We were organising factory gate meetings at the factories in the area around the within a five mile radius of the Technicolour plant, and indeed, other laboratories are doing likewise. And although I was chairman at the lab time, I believe, or at least I was very much active in the negotiating committee. Yes, I was chairman I believe that the labs at that time. The other laboratories were doing so same thing. But as I was at Technicolour obviously I know more about what was actually going on there. We got support from people like bass workers. We got support from the the gramaphone accompany the fairey aviation, all sorts of places where we thought there was a conglomeration or a mass of workers  we appealed to them for financial help it came in. And and our funds in that shop alone run into hundreds of pounds. And indeed, well after we were back at work, we were still distributing funds to pay back people to pay to assist our members to pay debts which they run into during the period in which they didn't obtain any any any monetary help from the official sources.

And that really gave that was the second impetus to point out to our membership, what their solidarity, what they're sticking together. What this fighting one believes to be right, collectively rather than individually, really means. And I think although this was a painful illness that we suffered, I think ultimately, we grew stronger out of it. And I hope the whole union has grown stronger.

Ralph Bond  15:59  
And the interesting thing about this 1954 was that the British film Producers Association, decided to come to the support of the laboratory employers and threatened to close all the studios. This created such a critical situation that the Ministry of Labour decided that they better intervene. And as a result of that, all the pressures were withdrawn. All our members were reinstated without victimisation, and negotiations without prejudice commenced. And as a result of these negotiations, we won three weeks holiday after 10 years service, and the consolidation of 30 shillings of the cost of living bonus in the basic wage. The wage claim itself and the 40 hour week were referred to arbitration. And as a result of the arbitration, we gained an increase of nine shillings a week. The hours of work at technicolour were reduced from 44 to 45. And the arbitrator is recommended the both sides consider ways and means to reduce the hours over a period without loss of output. And as a direct result of this, we can add to the record that in 1960, the normal weekly hours were reduced to 42 and a half in 1962. They were further reduced to 41 hours a week. And some agreements also provided that the normal weekly hours will be reduced to 40 hours a week at the end of 1963. Now that is a remarkable achievement all the way through. And I'm going back now I'm going to ask you, Sam when you joined the union Yes, 

Sam Williams  17:48  
Yes I remember joining  back in the early days I was about only about five of us I believe Eric pass was started. And

Ralph Bond  17:59  
what do you think of the of the great changes that have happened as a result of the Union? Oh,

Sam Williams  18:04  
OH very good. Very good. Indeed. I know I greatly benefit from it.

Ralph Bond  18:11  
And Alfie, I believe you were the the first union member of technicolour, weren't you? Yes,

Alf Cooper  18:15  
I I got kicked out of Kays in 36. And I tripped off the VIPs. And they I first met Bert Craik and it was there that they stuffed a pink form in my hand and said sign that having felt we wanted a union and they needed a union in the industry for many years. me being me, I naturally resented being told to do anything it's one of the things that may and it took quite a few weeks before I ultimately signed and I believe it cost me six pence  in those days to join a little bit different from now I duly  became a member and soon after that, I was only with Bert  a few months about six months that I please anywhere in the early part of 37 I duly  started at technicolour with specific instructions from our dear Bert Craik to take the union into technicolour and when I got there strange strange it was because the only people that had seen film to my knowledge prior to starting at technicolour was indeed the American team that had come over to teach the English people how to make colour films. Obviously the first thing to do down there was to find your way around the firm and to get to know something about your job. That was all very nice and and of course as I previously said, the place there was something out of out of another world after the laboratory conditions which one had been used to in the black and white labs. And I started in on trying to get people to join ACT as it then was and what a job it was. So many of these people had been individualists lot of them have been salesman, door to door salesman, all types of individuals, some of them are at higher education, very difficult it was in to get people to even listen. And what is even what made it even a bigger trouble was that so many of them knew nothing about our industry knew nothing about the conditions and the time and the methods of work and times and hours of work. And the way one could be pushed around, which took place in other laboratories as I knew it. And as we had a course of talking to George Elvin is in general secretary as he is today. And we organised all sorts of meetings. And I would say, all right, it's the right time now George will have a meeting. And we meet in the local pub, and the result was that he would buy me half a pint of beer, I'd buy him half a pint of beer, we say goodnight. We'll try another time that went on for a considerable time, people promising to come and nobody turning up. Suddenly, I probably the idea that if I could get hold of the most vociferous people who were in for a giggle anyway, and get them to start spouting and doing some work, we would be successful. And indeed, it did prove successful because there was a lots of popular types there who had lots to say, and we ultimately got some of them in and those type particular people are no longer with us The fact remains ultimately, we built up and we got enough people to say we'd got a shop. During all this period, I myself was unaware. So raw was I ACT, indeed had no agreements. I'm afraid I probably wouldn't have been quite so enthusiastic about things that I've known that. But I then started to attend the general council meetings and learned a bit about the union. And gradually, we built up and  started to the 10 started this business of building up a shop with a large enough membership, to be able to talk to the man even. And even in those days, it's as well to remember that about that time there was something like when we really got ourselves organised and some few people there, there was, at that time, something like 250 people working at this particular laboratory. And that in itself in those days was a large number. When one remembers when one remembers the size of the other laboratories. Now it's well over 1000, isn't it? And as the years went on, a matter of about five years ago, we were somewhere around about 1250 strong. As you know, we've had some unfortunate redundancy experiences it because the the the amount of work, the size of requirement has dropped considerably. I can remember the times when we've turned out 21 and 22 million feet of sold material a month. And as one knows, that's dropped off the amount of cinemas that have closed down. It has made life very difficult. And we are living in a capitalist world and the capitalist world  can only run and thrive on profits and without profits to pay for wages. Then, of course, one comes up against this this particular practices, new term for unemployment as redundancy.

Ralph Bond  23:15  
What do you think? We're running near the end of our tape now? We've got 100% membership in the laboratories. We have excellent shop stewards, we have excellent committees in all the laboratories. And we have a very keen laboratory Committee, which advises the executive and the general counsel of the Union. What do you think are going to be the next steps will get the 40 hour week? What do you think are going to be the next steps just your own informal opinions as to the future for the laboratory section of the Union.

Alf Cooper  23:50  
My own belief is that this this this association will carry on in much the same way it is done in the past. I really believe that because although we've enhanced our conditions, although the technical changes in the laboratories have been enormous, basically nothing has changed. Basically, I say nothing has changed. We are a crowd of people who are in an industry for the sole purpose of obtaining a living. Always one needs security. And that is what the unions will endeavour to maintain in the future or fight for this security 10 year of employment, reasonable standards inside the working of the plant, the conditions of work should be allowed to be maintained and and indeed, as life grows on it has got to be approved, and the union will go on improving and as newcomers come in, they will want improvements. But there is one other thing which I think is most important. It doesn't seem so difficult now with our schools and the way the union goes on to get people To work for the union, as it was in the old days, I think with

Ralph Bond  25:05  
what is a model, you think Bert the future, 

Bert Craik  25:08  
  the future, automation is catching up on us quicker than I very much like, but I believe laboratories will always be busy. We may use studio production because of the fact that fewer and fewer cinemas will operate as time goes on. But other means will, other things will crop up to take the place of the studio work substandard film for example, particularly in the eight millimetre field less than an hour, an enormous potential reality there, which will be of advantage to the laboratories. I can visualise in the future. Every home having its own eight millimetre cinema, hiring films, educational films, entertainment films, all types of films. And all this will of course mean  work to the laboratories. In addition to this, the 16 millimetre field, as far as industry is concerned, is bound to develop, although I'm not quite sure that that may be replaced by eight millimetre in the long run, because that can produce pretty good results on that. Anyway. There are there are my views that the laboratories don't need to worry too much. Because there is likely to be a fall off in 35 millimetre production for cinema it will be the gap will be taken up in other ways. And they'll always be a need for film processing laboratories. In the entertainment world

Ralph Bond  27:10  
And you Sam, what have you seen?

Sam Williams  27:13  
I think the same as Bert  it only seems a few years back when there was practically no 16 millimetre developed at all. Now, the regarding our lab, we are doing an enormous amount of it. And I think we, as Bert said 8 millimetre now is practically nothing but it will come along just as 16. has done. I can remember the time when we only done perhaps 1000 feet or 16. Now it's a mere nothing that's thrilling. About throw in about 20 minutes now. So 1000 feet, well, we'll revisit some retinas as a day's worth 16,milli one  time.

Alf Cooper  27:58  
But, you know, when I was speaking about previous to Sam and Bert shown starting, I would like to go on and say this, I don't think we've got to worry too much about this loss of work. It's my belief, I could well be wrong, that the production side of our industry is now beginning to realise something which we've in the Union been saying all along, that good stories well presented will bring people into the cinemas. And although the television took a lot of our work away, it's my belief that the industry carries on on the pattern it started over the last year or eight months for finding good stories, presenting them properly, the public will want their cinemas back again. And I'm hoping that they'll go on that line. So that we do get back not perhaps, to where we've got the enormous amount of cinemas that we had in Britain in comparison to the day. But where cinemas will still remain remain a necessity for many years to come.

Ralph Bond  29:03  
Well on that  most optimistic note will draw this session to an end, it's been the most valuable experience. And I've just like to, so to speak to wind it up by saying the future of the industry in your opinion or the laboratory section seems to be a healthy one. The job of the union is to assist in that development by all means that it can to watch most carefully the developing introduction of new forms of automation to make sure that our members who work in the laboratories fully benefit from the changes that are going to take place both in continuing drive for a shorter working week and for higher wages and on the strength of what the union has done in the past in the laboratories. I'm sure they'll be able to do as much again, if not more in the coming years. This tape recording was made at number two Soho square. On Thursday, November the 28th 19 163. Ralph Bond was discussing the laboratories with Alf Cooper, Sam Williams and Bert Craik........................................................................



Started in laboratory in 1919 as hypo boy at Kays Laboratories.Bert Craik started in 1928 at 35 shillings per week as hypo boy. Became printer on a De Brie printer mostly women staff. Working conditions at Williamsons very primitive. Alf Cooper also started in labs 1931 making up chemical baths.Fulminuanate process. Very crude conditions in early days. Developing film was all an individuals judgement. Early film was tinted. Work shifts sometimes more than 12 hours.Trade unions improved conditions in labs. printer and developer feuds ended. Alf Cooper tells of practical jokes played. Women were subjected to some harrassment. All film was nitrate. In some labs they had coal fires.Physical health was a problem in early labs due to chemicals.!937 Technicolour introduction. Alf Cooper joined Technicolour in 1937. Technicolour labs were very automated. Alf was taught by USA technicians. Divorce of Lady X was Alf Cooper's first film. Conditions at Technicolour were much improved as against other labs. Sam Williams on colour at Toning Ali Baba film. Bert Craik retired before colour came in labs. !935 ACTT started Lab Union work first agreement in 1939. 1945 ACTT made the Labs agreement after a big overtime ban. All three talk of the lockouts and problems at the time. March 1954 total lockout of lab workers. Alf Cooper talks on Technicolour difficulties. ACT supported by other Trades Unions. BFPA provided lots of support. Sam Williams on Trade Unions. Alf Cooper first Union member at Technicolour. George Elvin Gen. Sec. of ACT played a big part. Cinema's closing a problem for labs. All three talk of what the future will bring in film.