Sarah Erulkar (de Normanville)

Family name: 
Erulkar (de Normanville)
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
9 Mar 2000
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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Interview notes

see also #187


[from Rodney Giesler’s notes, in 2000]

SIDE ONE (45 mins)

Born 1923, Calcutta [now Kolkata] into an Indian/Jewish family. Father was a barrister, blacklisted for helping to defend Gandhi and Jinna, and got a job with a shipping company in London. Family moved to London in 1928, and suffered racial prejudice. Settled in Streatham. Sympathetic local teacher; then to Kensington and St Paul’s School; unhappy school days. Few Indians in England then. Father was anti-religion, parents ensured they became culturally ‘English’. Spoke no English until she was five. Evacuated to Wickham Abbey; Graduated from Bedford College, London in 1944. Interested in films since she was 14; introduced to [Paul] Rotha and [Alexander] Korda. Anti-female prejudice. Accepted by Edgar Anstey and Alex Wolcough. Shell in 1944. Kay Mander and Anne Walmsley there. Unit manager, Betty Learoyd. Sent to Army projectionists’ school. Became assistant to Geoffrey Bell on War Office Selection Board film, and told to edit it. Learning how not to be a woman. Returned to India in 1946. First directing job came by chance: Lord Siva Danced with Ram Gopal. How it was set up and shot. Working her way back into Indian culture. Also made a film there on coastal craft. Returned to Shell in England and directed New Detergents. New film techniques used. Then Aircraft Today and Tomorrow. Peter de Normanville her assistant, and who became her husband. They lived together in 1948 – antagonism from Peter’s family. His progress very slow, as unit was full. Charles Sylvester’s reaction. Donald Alexander’s commune.

SIDE TWO (45 mins)

Career at Shell stopped by Shell ruling against married couples in the same department. Arthur Elton very antagonistic to women directors. Anstey also prejudiced. History of the Helicopter made at this time. Elton her producer – a very difficult man. Freelanced. Film on District Nurses for Worldwide. Film Centre Film, Flying Wardrobe for BOAC. Saw Anthony Gilkison at Rayant. A film for Unilever The World of Difference. Also Balfour Films. Had two children by 1955. Gave up directing for a bit and became editor at Coal Board Film Unit. Donald Alexander’s great strengths. Karel Reisz brought her back to directing. Edited at Basic Films. A Century of Coal. Directed Birthright for Balfour Films. Sometimes felt typecast but subjects good. Something Nice to Eat for Gas Council. Wrote and directed The Hunch for Children’s Film Foundation, produced by Jack Holmes. Shot in Scotland by A. E. Jenkins. Then The Physics & Chemistry of Water for Unilever with Worldwide. Problem of trying to juggle bringing up children with their careers – but both daughters thought her a terrible mother. Work compulsion was too strong. Professional pride in each other sustained their marriage. She and Peter only worked together on two films, The Living City in Calcutta [Kolkata] and Leprosy in South India. A frustrating experience – Leprosy her last film. A long process to get it going, Finally, completed in 1984. The approach of the video age. A refreshing move to Hampstead. A retrospective view. Working with Wolfgang Suschitsky and Arthur Wooster. Always paid less than Peter but didn’t fight it. The Air My Enemy on air pollution. Series of films for Scottish Health Education; a film in Korea for Caltex: Korean Spring 1966. A terrible location.



Married to Peter de Normanville