Stephen Peet

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Interview Date(s): 
6 Nov 1990
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[00:00:02] The copyright of this recording is vested in the A C T T history project. Stephen Peet cameraman, television director, television producer, lecturer. Recorded on the 6th of November 1990. INTERVIEWER Norman Swallow with Alan Lawson. Side one.

[00:00:36] I: Stephen, when where you you born.

[00:00:41] I was born February 16, 1920. In a house that backed on to the southern entrance of the Penge Tunnel in South London, and already in the family there were two older sisters, and brother and I was born there in this house that had been bought by local Quakers, and then my parents rented it because my father was in prison for two and a half years and they virtually were on their beam-ends and so that's where I spent the first four years of my life. The background the history[?] of the family, going back a wee bit further; was my mother's side, they were missionaries. Her parents were missionaries and she was born on a one-time Cannibal Island in the Torres Straits in the 1880s, where they were missionaries, and then they were sent home, while she was only three when they came back and they were London Missionary Society Congregationalists. My father came from similar religious background, Congregationalists.

[00:02:02] They met in, my parents met in Purley about 1908 or 1910 and both broke away from the rather strict religious background of both their families and, in their way, were kind of rebels. They became Quakers, they were members of the ILP, Fabians I guess... kind of Christian Socialists.

[00:02:32] So when war started, as a pacifist and as a journalist I think he was working on the Daily Sketch. That was the kind of background against which I was, I mean, from which I came. My brother and I both went to Quaker schools.

[00:02:51] I: Which one was that you went to?

[00:02:53] I went to Sidcott, one down in Somerset when I was about 13 and my brother went to Saffron Walden in Bootham, he's four years older than me.

[00:03:08] I: I'll come back to Sidcott, carry on.

[00:03:13] So I had what you might call a fairly, a not entirely ordinary upbringing but it was a very quiet - the Quaker indoctrination I call it - is a very quiet and gentle one. And we met while we were young a great many interesting people, like as it happened. Albert Schweitzer and African leader from the Gold Coast called Doctor, Dr Aggrey, and various others of this ilk because as a freelance journalist he he got to know them and dealt with them when they came to England, particularly Schweitzer. And then my father became editor of a Quaker weekly paper, "The Friend" in the early thirties and continued until just before he died 20 years later. But, education at this Quaker School was considerably emphasised on out of school activities and interests, of which I didn't have any.

[00:04:22] But and this really is how I started. Perhaps something that led up to filmmaking, rather before that, let me think when I was about 12 my sister went on a visit to Germany. She saw advertised that, that week or that day you could get an agfa box camera if you had four marks with the registration - I suppose it was paper money - registration A G F and A at the beginning of the four mark notes, and she bought this therefore for four marks and came back to England, and later gave me as a present and I started using this box camera and that's sort of a date for that bit of chance.

[00:05:03] And then, at school, when I was about 14, the history Master John Russell, who was a keen photographer suggested I should learn developing and printing in the darkroom and I got immediately delighted with this and particularly watching photographs in the dish as they came as enlargements, and got quite hooked on this. And then, I don't remember the process, thought I would be a photographer, and then a little later while still at school. I decided I would be a cameraman. And that's where it began. And I mean the whole thing began. So I didn't want to go to university. I mean my ideas against that. I had no intention of doing so, I wanted to get out and get in to "quote" - you know- "into" films, I think it used to be called didn't it?

[00:06:04] I: So when you said camera man, you meant film camera man?

[00:06:06] Film cameraman, indeed... and various things pushed me that way. One was I had... I had been sent the vocational guidance tests and this extraordinary filling in extraordinary problems and talking to some man up in London who wrote a report which said he thought I'd be suitable as a hospital almoner for some reason, and I saw this report later - for some reason it was that wasn't shown me, but I found it in a drawer - and I read it and it said 'he wants to' (I don't know the words) 'he wants to go into films. I don't recommend it as an immoral industry'. Well, I don’t know whether that really set me on the line of wanting to go into films but that's what I made my plan to do. And I had to leave school before doing - what were they called? - a senior exam in Cambridge[?].

[00:07:15] I: Higher yes higher and higher.

[00:07:17] I can't remember anyway, because I had a bad attack of mumps that affected me all over. I mean and so I left school and was looking for a job.

[00:07:29] I: Did David Lean appear on the scene at all when you were at Sidcott, did he comeback at all?

[00:07:35] Now he didn't appear there but because there was a connection with, was he nephew, I think, of a previous headmaster or something like that... there was a man called Oscar Lean, perhaps it was his son. One of the first people I was introduced to - this is very strange you've cued me into this - was having lunch with my father and David Lean, who I don't know if[?] he was still editing. He was very impressive. Impressive to me in a great big teddy bear overcoat with a belt you put around. He looked very much the, my imagined idea of a film 'man', and we had lunch and he strongly recommended that I forgot the whole thing, but probably said something I don’t really remember. Probably he said something like 'If you really want to, no doubt you will in the end'. But he didn't, he didn't give any actual help.

[00:08:30] I: What date did you leave school?

[00:08:33] In Easter. It was Easter 1938 so I don’t know...

[00:08:39] I: David was still editing.

[00:08:40] I think he was editing still; Pygmalion, that kind of thing, wasn't it? Anyway, I don’t remember exactly... then because my parents could see that I was somewhat determined.


[00:11:43] I had been watching somebody else's...

[00:11:44] I: 35 millimetre presumably?

[00:11:46] No no, 16. On the Ensign Kinecam. 16 started in the 20s.

[00:11:53] I: I remember nine point five.

[00:11:54] Nine point five and yes, no this was this was 16 obviously 16 frames a second.

[00:12:03] So that film I made about this camp, and then one about - with my pocket money and 50 foot rolls of Kodachrome which took pocket money for several weeks - made one about a cousin that was building a boat that he set sail on the Norfolk Broads, which... original Kodachrome, sometimes, and the quality of this is still as good as it was then in... it's 1938 or 39 I can't remember.

[00:12:30] I: It hasn't deteriorated? I say!

[00:12:31] No, not that one, some Kodachrome is kept beautifully....

[00:12:38] I did one one day at some studio near the Crystal Palace, with the Religious Film Society or Religious Films Limited or something, and the camera man was a Ray Elton, who taught me a few things in that one day.

[00:12:57] I: Wasn't it... Yes it's somewhere near Ballam?

[00:13:00] It was Crystal Palace.

[00:13:02] I: Was it? The studio?

[00:13:02] Well maybe they used different studios, but I'm certain was not far from where we lived, that's where I remember that, it was a bus ride away.

[00:13:09] Anyway, these were all little... little, little snippets.

[00:13:13] I: Who was the director? Do you remember that?

[00:13:15] I don't remember of thing about it, except there was appalling backdrop, sort of black and white drawing. Why is it done that way, and some people in Palestinian dress acting some story from the Bible. I don't remember anything more than that.

[00:13:32] I: But you weren't earning any money this way?

[00:13:33] No, it was a day...

[00:13:34] I: A hobby.

[00:13:35] It was a day interest to see a studio, I guess. They might have given five-bob, I don't really remember. No this was, these were either just after leaving school or a school holiday before ...because after leaving school, once again Alwyn Vaughn[?], I think, was helpful and I got introduced to Marion Grierson, John Grierson's youngest sister ...and got a job there. This was, I don't know, mid 38 I suppose, and she ran something called the "Travel and Industrial Development Association Film Unit", "TIDA", and making films about Britain for sending abroad. You can go by its title, and.

[00:14:30] I: It's kind of a forerunner of the British Council?

[00:14:33] Yes indeed. And on the staff there working was Alan Izod as editor. Margaret Thompson as editor, Frank Bundy as occasional cameraman (he wasn't on the staff). And my job was office boy, and making the coffee and carrying cans around to different places -I found I could carry 13, I think it, was full 35 millimetre cans between my outstretched arms and under my chin. So I met a lot of people and learned how to work the 35 millimetre foot pedal machine.

[00:15:19] I: What, the joiner?

[00:15:20] Joiner I meant, yes. And in fact whilst there, as some point, Marion Grierson gave me two of the films that she'd made. I think they were 20 minutes or 10 minutes - I only remember the name of one of them: "Around the Village Green" - to make a silent version for sending overseas for places that still hadn't got sound machines.

[00:15:46] And so this was a marvellous job. I had to write the - not the subtitles - the captions, and insert them and re-edit a bit... "Life in an English village" which had just had commentary and I suppose some music... must have been music and commentary... and made it into another film similar, but with captions. Which nearly fell flat on my face because a caption was made and wasn't caught before the first print was made. It was something to the effect of "a nurse attends an antenatal clinic every month", and "ante" was spelt A N T E by mistake, sorry I beg your pardon, it was spelt A N T I, that was the thing.

[00:16:30] I: Not A U N T I E?

[00:16:31] No, it was spelt A N T I, and this was very shocking and it had to be redone.

[00:16:38] I: So this was - from what you're saying - this was a government sponsored or whatever organisation?

[00:16:41] No no, it's, I...

[00:16:42] I: When you said it's a British Council.

[00:16:45] Do you know I don’t know the background to it...

[00:16:47] I: Who paid for it?

[00:16:49] I just don't know. I was the office boy there and got fifteen shillings a week, when I started, if that

[00:16:53] And, no I think I got fifteen shillings, it went up to 20, and then to 25. But who paid for it, whether they were made commercially. I really can't tell you.

[00:17:13] Therefore I got to know Allan and Margaret and the other people that came to work there, and met Ruby Grierson, who drowned later, and Reg Groves, the journalist who she did things with, was it Documentary Newsletter? I'm a bit vague here... There were two magazines, there was World Film News and Documentary Newsletter, that he was editor of one... anyway, these are half memories.

[00:17:43] So this was one year leading up to the war. I remember various other things like my brother had been in the International Brigade. They arrived back at Victoria Station. I didn't see them, it was a day that I knew or heard they were coming back and I understand he carried the banner at the front of the march through London from Victoria, of volunteers coming from Spain, that would be sometime late in '38, I think.

[00:18:10] Then when war... either when it broke out, or just before... September 39, TIDA, I mean you know there's this little unit, I think without Marion Greirson and I'm vague here, we moved in and became the nucleus of what was then became the British Council Department, the beginning of it run by a strange old man called A F Primrose who didn't really know anything about film, as far as I recall, and he was an administrator of the old sort.

[00:18:49] And then we went, and I moved in there with them and Allan Izod and Frank Bundy, I know was there. I don't think Margaret Thompson, we where preparing films for sending overseas, there was a British Council publicity, I think acquiring films, that's the thing.

[00:19:12] Acquiring and I suppose special versions of them were sent, my job was still various kind of assistant office jobs.

[00:19:23] One interesting young chap who was there was Richard Mason, who was writing the, helping write the catalogue of all these films. Who very soon afterwards wrote "The Wind Cannot Read", that best seller or rather, at the end of the war, and went on to bigger and better things... so he was there. And it was in Saville Row, I think 25, it's next door to where the police station is now, a big new building. And the whole floor there I remember, and an enormous cutting room with very good equipment for those days.

[00:19:59] And my job for quite a while was inspecting for blemishes and scratches and things, prints of lots and lots of British documentaries if only I'd known at time, I would have taken more notice... on one of those vertical... not a Steenbeck... what were those machines... Acmade? I can't remember which sort they were, anyway.

[00:20:23] I: Well there's there was a Moviola with a big screen.

[00:20:24] Moviola, I think, which... screen about six inches that's right. So I viewed them on this, I think, and then wound through to see they were okay.

[00:20:38] I: Editola?

[00:20:39] Editola, maybe yes...

[00:20:40] I: It was the Editola.

[00:20:41] ...With quite a good sound.

[00:20:42] I: Yes, with a small screen

[00:20:43] Yes. And anyway I was inspecting prints for a...

[00:20:48] I: Used to have a handle[?], that's it, Editola.

[00:20:48] ... for a committee, that was headed by Philip Guedalla, a committee that was choosing British documentaries to go to the World's Fair in New York. I think that was going to be held in 1940, I'm a bit vague. But anyway, my job was seeing many many of these films. And then, when they had chosen the films that were to be sent, you know to go in the British Pavilion, I suppose it was, to inspect even more rigorously the specially printed beautiful show-prints that were to go to New York... and... found that they weren't choosing some of the ones that had most interested me, like... housing problems, like spare time, they were in those days considered bad publicity for Britain, showing slums and so forth and housing problems, and I always assumed so they didn't go to the fair but only a few years ago...

[00:21:56] I said this to Basil Wright. And he said "Ah, yes they did go to the fair. Some of us got together, and went and exhibited them separately from the British Pavilion at that fair, we took them". So they did get there but in a different way.

[00:22:12] I: Fringe.

[00:22:13] On the fringe, yes indeed.

[00:22:15] I: This was what sort of 1940?

[00:22:17] No, well it's the end of 39.

[00:22:19] I: Yeah, ok.

[00:22:19] As I said, I think the World Fair was in 40 .

[00:22:25] Now when, at some point in the first few days of war breaking out, and everything was in a state of confusion; a whole pile of -you know- the young turks of documentary, who I had met already...

[00:22:43] One thing I'd forgotten, it was marvellous... When I was in Oxford Street, where this Marion Greirson's unit was, was every Thursday evening GPO unit had a film evening open to various people that were working round there, where we saw the latest documentaries and the latest Mickey Mouses and all the rest of it...

[00:23:06] And so I met a lot of the, the the GPO film people then... and then for reasons I can't, I'm not quite aware, maybe this was an empty unused, largely unused cutting room. People like Harry Watt and Cavalcanti, I remember them... and Jack Lee and Laurie Lee, who slept on a pile of newspapers under the editing machine because he'd got nowhere to live for a while. And Pat Jackson, I think, they came flooding in to view and I presume edit some of the stuff they were shooting in the first days of the war, which I think were done sort of getting the cameras out and the film stock out and getting permission later, I rather get the idea. So that was fascinating meeting all them.

[00:23:55] Len Lye had a commission from the British Council to make a three minute film, you know, painted straight onto film which I saw called "Swinging the Lambeth Walk". He used... he used seven or eight different recordings of the Lambeth Walk because he mixed into a track and that was interesting to see.

[00:24:21] And but the most interesting person I met there, by far, was George Pearson. One morning I went in and there was this elderly gentleman - to me, very old gentleman, about 65 then - at a winder, going through looking at something. I don’t know what he was doing. I vaguely remember it was doing a re-cut, or something of Industrial Britain for the British Council...

[00:24:55] ...Smoking away at his pipe under an enormous notice... stipulated six inches high "no smoking", this appealed to me, puffing away at his pipe. And I sat and talked to him and I went back to somebody in one of the offices and I said "who is the old man there?". And they said "that's George Pearson". And I said "Who is he?". And I was told, and I went back and here he was, right down his bean-ends. He was getting five pounds a week as cutting room assistant, because having been as, you know, one time as well known as Hitchcock...

[00:25:29] ..He had been hit by the coming of talkies and 'quota quickies'. And being an honest man and he'd just... he'd been pushed out and pushed out. A little later, he went back in to teaching filmmaking. He'd been a teacher first 30 years, up to the age of 30 or so... the beginnings of the Colonial Film Unit, which started off 'round the corner in the GPO people - well they were there later. Anyway, he was back into into a proper job again and he went on working until he was 86, unbelievably.

[00:26:09] But I mention him because I used to have a marvellous time, he loved stopping and putting his pipe down or whatever, and telling me stories of the early days of film making. So I heard all about the making of his films with Betty Balfour. His times with the old man Samuelson who was his producer, and working at Lime Grove and... so I took all these on board, these stories, and when - this is going ahead many many years - started Yesterdays Witness, he was number two, his stories and a half film with these stories, and some of the film clips we found, in the series, as a result of meeting... I kept in touch with him from then on.

[00:26:52] So there we are. That was the British Council and... Oh yeah I helped some woman, who I can't remember who she was, some enthusiastic amateur who had persuaded this Mr. Primrose that she could make documentaries and she wanted to make one about the London Underground, and one about a market town with her, I think she had a Bolex camera, and he had second thoughts about sending her out like that and he sent me with her, with another camera I suppose.... I think we had two cameras, to shoot these two films... or maybe I went and shot them. I don't know, but it was all very extraordinary because I got a marvellous lot of experience shooting on the London Underground. I can't remember her name. And they became two little silent films for sending overseas from the British Council.

[00:27:46] I don't really remember.. I think the war must have intervened, and I don't remember if they were edited and made or not. But there was a useful thing that came out of that, because it was war time, and had to be issued with a permit for filming.... And that became useful a little later, I tell you about...

[00:28:05] ...Because early in 40, I got my call up papers and registered as a conscientious objector. And in... before I had, or got near having a tribunal...

[00:28:32] ...I joined. I'd already applied to join, I suppose, the Friends Ambulance Unit, which was, had been re-formed in early, early in beginning of the war, as a kind of continuation of something that had been formed in the First World War, where a whole lot of conscientious objectors had run ambulances, mainly in the Western Front, in France and Belgium.

[00:29:02] So it was re-formed with the possibility of maybe doing the same thing.

[00:29:10] And I went to what was the fourth training camp. They were held in Birmingham, in the grounds of Cadbury's Grounds and Paul Cadbury was the, who'd been in the First World War FAU...

[00:29:30] ...He was the man in charge of all this, and while I was at the training camp I had a tribunal in Birmingham and it was more or less an automatic thing, that shouldn't have been, I didn't really have to argue. I went with Paul Cadbury or he came with some of us and I was told officially, you know, as long as you stay in this Ambulance Unit, you are exempted from combatant service. So I was in this, in the FAU until 1946, and worked in air-raid shelters in the East End, and in hospitals and on an ambulance train that was stationed at Stevenage, which evacuated... it was one of many trains that went to evacuate hospitals on the East Coast on the day of expected invasion. And in 1941, whilst waiting to go overseas with a whole group, I asked if I could have a few a few pennies, and with my Ensign Kinecam, make a film about the activities of the unit and this was agreed to, as long as it was done sort of weekends and spare time, and I hitchhiked around...

[00:30:52] They gave me 20 quid for film stock and processing, and.. filmed various activities in hospitals and in the air raid shelters, including a scene in what was a kind of model air raid shelter first aid post, one of the many things that we manned, which Patrick Barr was on duty that night. Probably the only time he's acted, he acted in an unpaid scene in a film. And this business of permit that I'd got at British Council, it said at the end of three months, return it. And I used to return it, because I had send it in because I was no longer working, and they kept sending it back to me, stamped another three months and it was immensely useful making this film for the unit. Because I was arrested, or stopped by the police at least three times, once by military police when I was filming over a bridge about this ambulance train, and once in the East End, bomb damage. It was marvellous, this permit, I just went on sending it back and.

[00:31:58] I: You could get obviously get film stock, could do easily? During the war, I mean for that kind of thing. Well obviously you did...

[00:32:04] I2: He did. Short answer.

[00:32:05] I suppose I must have got... no no, it was it was 100 foot rolls a few hundred-foot rolls. I don't remember, tell you the truth, wether it was negative or... I think it was negative. Yeah. ... No it was an neg. That's right because a member making two copies, we edited it. Yeah... I think... anyway it was probably difficult, but I don't think I had to get special permission, it was amateur film stock supplied in small quantities I suppose ...

[00:32:33] So I kept my hand in making films, and at one point I was out in North Africa with a mobile hospital and then got sent with a new unit of.... What was it, a field experimental, or field surgical unit that could go anywhere...

[00:32:54] And whilst they were in some camp in Egypt, I'm told, this is a very strange thing, because I got taken prisoner later and the that man rolled up my belongings when I was missing and went through them and extracted things that were not necessary, and sent the rest back or put them in store, or sent them back to England. Said he came across a draft letter, scribbled, which I don't remember writing, applying or finding the right words for applying to the Army Film Unit, because I was so anxious to be in film work ...

[00:33:31] So maybe, if I'd gone ahead and done that, I vaguely remember thinking about it, I would have been and the Army Film Unit if they'd accepted me, sort of out in the Middle East.

[00:33:41] But instead as chance had it, we went to... a small group of us, to Island, Kos in the Dodecanese. And a few days later - this was in Autumn 43 - a few days later, a German invasion fleet of a very large size came, took over the hospital where we were working in a matter of hours, and I was a prisoner for the rest of the War. So... back in '45...

[00:34:14] I: Where were you held?

[00:34:16] In Austria and Germany. Germany was an interesting time. It was a special camp where, it was a hospital where badly wounded and badly sick English and Americans were collected and then exchanged with German prisoners four times[?] in the last year of the war. And we were on the start of that, some of us. But... So when I got back.

[00:34:43] I: When did you get back? 45?

[00:34:45] Middle of 45 yes, because the Russians arrived where were where. We... it was not far, about 20 miles to the east of Torgau where the Russians and Americans met... but we didn't know about it for weeks. But that's where the where and eventually got back in the middle of 45. And I went back to the FAU and did various things, they were writing a huge book and I re-edited the film, and made another version adding stuff that we got donated from the Army Film Unit, of relief work going on in Europe and particularly the rebuilding of one village in Avintino Valley in Italy, which, so I edited this into a film as well, 16mil reduction and, started getting back the thingI'd wanted to do all the time all the time, was film work.

[00:35:41] And then somewhere... I don't know...forty six, Spring of '46 was offered a job by one of the people from the FAU who was working in an organisation called International Student Service, wanting some cheaply made film or films about what was happening to students in Europe for showing in British universities, to help raise funds for various schemes of helping rebuild places and rebuild libraries and all the rest of it. And I undertook to do this. It was the beginning of doing various things for charity and undertook to work for three pounds ten shillings a week, I think it was, and be looked after by the organisation as I went around and it was marvellous chance, still with this little 6 found camera, my goodness, and tripod and I was going to go off to their headquarters in Geneva to get information of all the places to film. At some point it was suggested maybe two of us should do this. The other chap taking photographs for exhibitions. A friend of mine, also from the same unit, Maurice Broomfield, father of Nick Broomfield who's well known, and Maurice himself became one of the best known industrial photographers in the country. He started, the two of us together, this is what set us off professionally really. We managed to get him a little second hand still camera a 25 quid I remember, which was a huge outlay of what money we had, and we set off and we went together to Czechoslovakia about what students were doing there, to it TB sanatorium in Switzerland and a student sanatorium in France, French Alps... not far from Geneva, and into Italy, and we made three films.

[00:37:54] I made three films, chopped them, edited them, and they were shown around and... I remember the amount of money I was told they made: one thousand seven hundred quid which was, which was fine for the outlay of very little and got marvellous experience of shooting and editing... and Morris had, with the help I don't know Kodak or somebody, some marvellous big blow-ups of his very good pictures which went on exhibition for this organisation. And he never looked back. And then he went surging ahead as a, as a professional still photographer... so that... we helped the International Student Service and very much ourselves. I... however went off on a won-...,myself, a wonder around Europe.

[00:38:50] I: When was...

[00:38:50] I remember I went....

[00:38:51] I: 46?

[00:38:53] It was New.... New Year's Eve '46.

[00:38:56] I went off to Prague, not unconnected with the fact of a rather beautiful Czech girl I'd met whilst filming these student films at all, and finished up, for six months, teaching English in Brno.

[00:39:15] And it was a kind of... many things, a kind of wanderlust, and I just had to get out of my system I wanted to go everywhere. And I don't know... avoid starting a regular job. I don't know what the reason was entirely. And again managed to borrow a little camera there and do some shooting.

[00:39:39] Then came back towards England through Switzerland where I joined up with another Friend's Ambulance Unit man who'd started a little film unit with the wonderful name he had of Marcus Rumpus, he was half Swiss. And I help him make a film about a farmer in the Swiss Alps, and then to Paris where I got jobs teaching English and worked as an announcer twice a week on short wave service to England, helping read the news.

[00:40:14] I: Sorry[?] you're teaching English in Czechoslovakia and Paris must speak their languages as well?

[00:40:19] No.

[00:40:20] I: No?

[00:40:20] In Czechoslovakia it was a... an institute which had classes alternating Czech teachers about the grammar and English teachers, who were at a premium, very much this Brno institute. There were one or two wives of Czech airman who had gone back there taken them with them, where we spoke English only and... so it started from scratch like, you know, "here is a book. I'm putting the book on the table. I'm lifting the book off the table". This kind of thing. Anyway, I spent five months in Paris doing some radio work. One of the other people who was down and out and getting a bit of money doing radio work was... Ian...Ian ...oh lord... Ian Mc-something, who became one of the BBC's chief overseas people... the name's gone. [**NB: Might be Ian McDougall**] And anyway... Easter 1948... Eventually I came back to England, wanderings over, looking for a job. [I] went first to a Sidcott School reunion - now one of the advantages of Sidcott School was that it was a coeducational school -

[00:41:40] And in fact I went straight from Southampton to this Easter reunion and there met a girl five years younger than myself who I'd remembered as a little girl at school... who not many weeks later I married. So life began and suddenly took on a new kind of...

[00:42:04] I: Again in 1948.

[00:42:05] Again in 1948, Yeah.

[00:42:08] I: Life number two.

[00:42:10] I was looking for a job everywhere and it was hopeless 1948 finding any kind of film work. I'd got no background except these sort of semi-amateurish films. And one of the many people I went to see, who I found was working at the Central Office of Information was Allan Izod, film editor from before the war, who I knew. So I phoned him and I went to see him, and he said well I really can't help you. I showed him actually I had with me one of these little films, and I showed him a bit, and he said 'very nice'. He said 'I really can't help you because I'm going off to Southern Rhodesia'. He had just applied and got a job producer to start a film unit, what became called the Central African Film Unit in Southern Rhodesia, and he had been empowered to employ a script writer, who's name was Dennis Brown, and a director-cameraman, this being the nucleus of a little unit. I don't know the man's name. He worked at Dartington. And so we had a pleasant talk and I went on my way, you know, didn't even leave an address because he was going off in a few days time.

[00:43:39] I: We're going to turn over


[00:00:03] Stephen the side 2, right.

[00:00:07] Well just to reiterate a wee bit, I called in to see Allan Izod and we had a pleasant time and he said I can't help you. And I went away, not leaving an address even, because he was about to go off to Africa. And in fact I didn't really have an address, I was on a wander round England, I think I was staying with sister in Richmond at the time and... What happened was, just after I had left on the same day anyway; this is the beginning of a few days that really changed my life. I mean there was a real sort of... a few things happen then. The man he had signed on as a director cameraman sent a telegram or phone and said: "Sorry for various reasons he's going to have to break his contract". So there was Allan Izod suddenly faced with, having arranged to take somebody like that out there, and suddenly having to find somebody else. And no time, almost no time to do it.

[00:01:16] And he thought he'd get hold of me and offer me the job. You know the real, a real ...out of the blue thing, but he didn't know where to find me. However in this office and a man I had stopped to have a chat to as well - it was quite a big office of people - was a certain Douglas Terry, who was working there as a clerk who had also been in the friends ambulance unit ...This is the old boy network of friends... I'd stopped to pass the time of day with him. And ??? knew that I... that he was somebody I knew. know Now, hearing what was happening, as Douglas Terry said "Oh I know his cousin" or something like this, "I know the family a bit, I think I can help you find him". And by that evening with the help of Douglas Terry, who later became a producer at Granada, as it happens.

[00:02:07] He was Armenian?

[00:02:09] I think, yes, and trained as an orchestra conductor But he was out of work working as a clerk at the COI... They found me. And I got a phone call at my sister's to come the next day and discus the idea of going to Africa. And I said oh my god I don't want to go out to Africa, particularly southern Rhodesia. I'd just met another old friend and nurse who had come back very ill from there, and this put me off the idea. She looked awful. So I went to see him and he showed me the contract, a three year contract as director cameraman with this unit.

[00:02:51] You know I forget whether it had the briefing on it what the unit was going to do, but the official thing was to make films to assist in African development in the three territories of Southern Rhodesia Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland. That was the briefing. And a thing struck me on the contract was "free passage for officer (I think it was called), and wife, and half a ton of furniture or luggage". So...damn me... I had to give him an answer by the Monday, it was a Whit Monday. That's right, it was very a few weeks after I'd got to England. It was Whit Monday, he gave me his address, wherever he lived, Putney or somewhere, and said you know come and see me or phone me, or whatever on Monday and give me your answer. And it was -I don't know- Thursday or a Friday. So I went off to Olive, and I said, do you want go to Africa. And one way or another, that day we decided to get married. The cheapest way was three weeks, because it only cost seven shillings and seven-pence, seven and six for the marriage certificate, and a penny stamp. We arranged to get married and to say yes to Allan Izod. So you see, a really rather sudden change of life suddenly took place there. Went off to see him, we went together. Found his wife's name was Olive too, which rather confused things and agreed to go, and various details that be following, I don't know, you know I had to do all sorts of arrangements. In... it turned out to be I think about two and a half months later but pretty soon later. And he went off.

[00:04:51] We got married - the same Douglas Terry - lent us his flat while he and his wife went on holiday. Which was right bang next to the Olympic Games where they were holding the 1948 Olympic Games at Wembley. And I had in fact picked up a job, temporary job, that was about to start which I gave to Douglas Terry, and my, and my 16ml camera. Yes, that was another gift to him; getting me this job, or being instrumental. And, so the job that I'd picked up, believe it or not, was a kind of courier for some of the athletes at the Olympic Games, at 8 quid a week, which was enormous, for so many weeks. A couple of months I think, leading up to the games and after. He took over that job, and he moved out of the COI and then he moved on into film and television work.

[00:05:53] So lots of lives got changed by that one little meeting. And in September I think, August or September '48, we set sail in a P+O liner for Cape Town and a... very nice voyage I know the beginning of the voyage while we were still in dock sitting down to a meal of enormous length menu, and asking the waiter which we could have, and he looked surprised and said "anything", because you remember in War Time you had to, you could use two things out of the menu.

[00:06:33] However we got out to Cape Town, and then went by train. I think it was two and a half days, by rail, up to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia.

[00:06:49] It was two nights on the train, and an interesting journey and a sort of introduction into Africa, and such things as avocado pears and pawpaws, and other marvellous things... got introduced to. Probably much more aware of all the culinary delights and things because of heavy rationing was still going on in England.

[00:07:14] So we arrived and were met by the kind of business manager of the unit; Rhodesian, White Rhodesian, Brian Asher. ...Put into a hotel, and then we moved in with Allan Izod, who had a house in the outskirts of Salisbury, the capital. And his wife and family hadn't arrived, and we moved in with him for quite a while.

[00:07:39] And so the unit consisted of, or rather, it had been set up by the, a thing called the Central African Council, just to get the record straight which was ...members of the Southern Rhodesian, Northern Rhodesian and Nyasaland government - it wasn't in any way connected with Britain - who dealt with matters relating to the Zambezi basin and migration of labour, and flooding and things that dealt with the whole are; that was later to become the Central African Federation for a while...that area. And they decided, I don't know I don't know all history of this, in 1946 or so to set up a film unit for assisting in adult development of local natives it probably called it the original briefing, and the idea was that they... then they forgot it I think... But then they appointed, that's right, they pointed Alan Izod, and we got on with it. And there was a certain amount of money - I didn't know the business side of it- allocated first, and so we had to Cine-Kodak Specials, two tripods, some homemade reflectors with silver paper and cardboard/plywood, and two one-tonne trucks. The two of everything was because there was another director camera man appointed who lived, who was local, or rather he lived in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia, working for the Information Department there, called Louis Nell. And so there was this small group of people.. he was in Lusaka, he was the nucleus of a unit with a white assistant, I think then, and one or two African assistants untrained assistants helping him, and the same in Salisbury. I was allocated a interpreter. I think he was an ex schoolmaster, the first one, and an untrained assistant and myself as director cameraman, and that was the unit travelling in this truck. Wherever we went with this equipment, and that equipment was only very tiny, that went on the seat at the front of the truck... two 44 gallon drums of petrol, a huge tent, you know, supplies for several weeks of food and this kind of thing, it was, that was the reason for the large truck. And it had been decided that we would be shooting 16 millimetre, Kodachrome, at 24 frames a second.

[00:10:36] But we'd be making silent films. The reason for 24 frames a second because it could have, it could be a sound film, with a commentary, obviously at some future time. But to be made silent, I don't know who decided all this, because they would be shown to village audiences, that was the idea, with mobile vans and generators... in a region where there were dozens of different languages, and dialects so that they'd be shown, and a live commentary given by a man - this is what used to happen; a man with a microphone, giving the commentary of these films. They'd be about all sorts of subjects, but done as stories, acted. Not documentaries, not instructional films, but stories, in which the instruction became part of the story. Like, for instance, if I describe the first three that fell to me to make very quickly. In fact the first one was a long production that I kept coming back to, was a story of a chief, true story of a chief, who lived in a very cut off part of Southern Rhodesia and there was a river that flooded every year, and it meant it was even worse cut off, and he asked the government if he could have a bridge across. And the government or the authorities said no... they'd have an engineer and the equipment to help build it, if he would volunteer a large quantities of his people to work on the building of a bridge you see, as community work.. and this was the first film I made. It was ...the work had already started or just beginning to start with some blasting, and it was made in a reconstructed story of the meetings of the chief with his ?? discussing it, and the white engineer coming to discuss the matter and then decisions and then volunteers, including the chief's son, he became the main character in the film, fictionally as it were. It is reenacted all this, and then on the on the job of the actual construction with real work of things like...closeups of the blasting and all the rest of it, all specially arranged. And this chief's son became the chief actor and little, little adventures happen to him and, this became a vastly over-length film being shot over several months and off on other jobs.

[00:13:19] The second film made, I scripted myself which became kind of a style of many of the others... It was called "The two farmers" and I'm sure you can guess ... one who was a lazy old sod, and one who was extremely hardworking and got help and advice from the local African agricultural adviser on how to plant his crops and how to get them 10 feet high. Mealies maize crops, and the other one spent time in beer drinking and got nothing and they had to go cap in hand to get help at the end of the year from the other. But amongst all this sort of, rather naive story was the actual instruction given to the man who did it right. And you saw the results and ... oh right while I remember this; this became shown widely with all the others and I heard from, I think it was the European Agricultural Officer, after one of these films shows, the chief came up to him and said "Now I see what you've been trying to tell us all these years. I've seen it with my own eyes" ... This was marvellous, I mean it was incredible. You could see and hear the results of films, them having an effect. There was another we made, a much more sophisticated one which included the business of ploughing methods along the - what's it called - line of the hill, along the contour, rather than up and down and causing erosion. You know a good thing to be able to show visually... and whole methods changed over whole areas because of this one film. This was very encouraging it's a kind of morale boosting that few film makers can manage.

[00:15:30] Okay. So there we were... they were making [for] people, most of whom had never seen films before. So that was another thing we had to try out and see, by by going out to some of these shows. It was government run film vans that went out with the films,but we had tryouts of shows and when we'd made one or two, we would show in the District of a place we would go to make a film, several films, so people would understand what we were on about and learned a great deal. I learnt to direct, in effect, with my hands in my pockets because working through an interpreter I found; in fact it was on the first film, in fact it was on that film about the chief's son leaving home and going to work on the bridge.

[00:16:19] I inadvertently or didn't realise - I soon learned - explained that this was the scene with him leaving his call{?} and his mother saying goodbye, very likely without intending, I sort of said: "she'll goodbye to you, and you go off into the distance carrying your bundle", waving my hand - as it were - in my instructions and that's what was filmed. That's what they did, and it was shown and people said 'that's funny you know people don't do that' or that 'maybe that's what's done in that village'. So from then on I learned to direct, because I had to do it through interpreter, who in effect became the director... saying what was to happen, but it had to be the correct custom and the correct behaviour. So I learned that quick, and they were very successful films and they weren't/went[?] sold to other countries.

[00:17:26] After a while some began being given commentaries, one which we made which is entirely music track of a guitar playing, about road safety; which is at one of the town audiences, that was shown at the Edinburgh Festival in early Fifties, to great great acclaim. I think it was a very plain understandable film that, at time when there were a lot of rather obscure films around it must have gone down well.

[00:17:55] I : You talk about (sorry to interrupt) music on this occasion, on other occasions there were presumably mute or did you actually have sort of sound actual effects?

[00:18:02] No.

[00:18:02] I : Never?

[00:18:02] No there were made...

[00:18:03] I : It would have been quite useful for world sales, wouldn't it?

[00:18:05] Yes indeed. They were made mute, and then they... a great many had straight English commentary put on so that when they went to other countries - they went poor as well, believe it or not, the Australian government bought some - at least they explain themselves. And they were bought by Belgian Congo for showing and that kind of thing. There were huge technical difficulties. For instance all this Kodachrome, that's right, it was shot on Kodachrome.

[00:18:37] It had to go to Johannesburg for processing and there was a minimum of six weeks turnaround, so that you often two weeks, you were two films later [when it came to it?], before the rushes came back. They came back with a "dupe" copy so there was almost as good quality Kodachrome, was[?] reversal for editing. And then the original Kodachrome was matched like [...?...]. But in order to make the matching easier, you had a very strict business of number boarding the beginning and ends of each shot. It didn't have to go on and continuous shooting afterwards, because it wasn't a cover board, and the front number was just a big bold number, and information about the film, and the end number board had a red, half of it was bright red. So when the editing was done and all the front and end cuts - it was usually just a front end in cut - were hung in the bin[?]. Then it was easier to, or fairly easy to match the original, you see. You took the one that had this black beginning with the uncoloured board and for the end match was the one with the with the red stripe down at the end of it, and it was fairly easy to match.

[00:20:01] I: Were the films themselves in black and white?

[00:20:03] No there were colour. They were Kodachrome.

[00:20:04] I: They all were? They all were? All your African films?

[00:20:08] Yes, all in colour and... a lot of them still exist. I was out, we were out in Zimbabwe a couple of years ago, and they held a great many of them in the National Archives in Harare and in very good condition.

[00:20:28] And then I went and spent three days going through, viewing, seeing these old films, the ones I've made and telling them the stories about the making of them, and it was amazing. Good condition a lot of them, a lot of [were] them heavily scratched from showing. So they're being well looked after, I'm glad to say.

[00:20:47] I: When you cut the regional, did they did they make another reversal print from that?

[00:20:56] Oh yes, and then we made many. Then the original cut became, in effect, the negative... cement joins, and the cutting copy often had a great many two-frame black bits, where we've had, you know, build-ups. And then it went, and copies were made throughout the whole thing there was no grading possible. It was straight, and that was another technical thing, you had to be within a quarter of a stop correct in shooting. And occasionally when ... I got used to ordinary bright sunlight was six point three ... That was fine, didn't even have to look on the exposure meter. But dubious shots that could be retaken, I used to do twice, two different exposures to make sure... particularly when it was grey weather and, or mock interiors of which, like the interior of a house. We didn't have a generator for a long time - did quite a number of interiors of people meeting at home or whatever - I used to, either wait for grey weather or late evening when there are long shadows against the exterior of a house wall, and put the furniture outside and do it in shadow. Those were rather dubious exposures, and I to do them all twice, to make sure.

[00:22:24] I: You were obviously having to work much more strictly with the meter then.

[00:22:27] Oh yes every shot. Except except I knew the ordinary sunlight was 6. 3.

[00:22:32] I: What meter were you using then? Was it a Western?

[00:22:37] Yes, yes yes indeed it was. We had a series of Westerns mark 1 2 3 and 4 they all got better I remember as it went along. I used to take the reading off the back of my hand. It seemed to be about, sort of, average amount of light. I got very used to that. So, but working as a director-cameraman, we were, we were very strict in the techniques that, you know, we'd do...

[00:23:04] We didn't have zoom's you see. We had no zoom, we had to move the camera each time.

[00:23:12] I: How many lenses did you have?

[00:23:13] I beg your pardon. There were three on the Kodak Special, so that we had a wide angle... what was it 18, 25 and 50, I think we're on the turret[?] So we could do that, I beg your pardon. But we did most scenes in long shot, medium shot, close shot, going straight in rather than coming at an angle and then matching on action... and people going out of, you know imagery geography, going out of shot in one direction, and entering the next shot in the same direction, all very carefully done. Since it was all amateur actors, except for a couple of comedies we did for fun. It's was very difficult. You had to go through, you know, a rather strong promise that people would continue to be there through the making of a film. We got people who would be in a film for a bit and then a complete stranger would turn up and said "My brother had to go somewhere for a funeral. So I'm doing it today", this kind of thing, which made it a bit difficult.

[00:24:25] One... another different kind of trouble I ran into once was a complicated film about a huge irrigation scheme, beautiful place. But there was some domestic scenes of a father who came to visit, with the possibility of joining this big cooperative, and was shown around by the African supervisor who then took him home for a meal to his very nice little house and so forth. And we did that.

[00:24:58] We're halfway through the sequence, we had the stop that day to continue the next. Went back, the sequence in which this man's wife had come with food for them, had been cooking the food, come with food, you know put it down and sat outside I think to eat, you know all the correct customs. And then next day, we came and there was a real old harridan there who was going to continue the scene. And I said but, you know, "yesterday... what's happened?". And he took me to one side, or he told me through the interpreter that it was his third wife that acted, a rather pretty young one, had acted the previous day, and in the night his first wife had got so angry, had beaten up and now insisted upon being in the film herself. So we had start right from, the whole sequence right from the beginning, with this domestic quarrel.

[00:25:59] I: are we in 1948, or we move to 1949? 1950 perhaps?

[00:26:03] No, I'll tell you where we are... we're going... the whole time in the unit was 48 to 56. It was a three year contract, and another one offered, and we came back to England for five months I think, and then back for another three and a half years and... I found, I found yesterday... again another scribbled unfinished thing that I wrote at the time I'll read a little bit here. It must have been for an article about 1951. Then it's, to me I find it strange using words I wouldn't use now. But anyway, it's a change of attitude, somewhere in the middle of this article that wasn't finished. I don't know what paper it was for, but it says "it's inevitable that Africans should change from quote "primitive" to civilised in a very short period of time, when various aspects of that civilisation are brought to their very doorstep and displayed there in a non-stop performance. A danger lies in the fact that they're the most easily copied aspects are assimilated, resulting at times in grotesque caricature. No one can hold the copying. No one could stop the copying of the bad, but the good can be taught and must be taught first; not only in the schools to children, but to adults and not least to women. What better method than by films. It was for this reason, to educate Africans by films, that the Central African Film Unit were set up in 1948 to provide Africans of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland with films that would help them along the road of advancement. And at the same time hold their interest as strongly as the normal commercial film which is often most unsuitable for audiences of this type". I say in this article... "and the method used is that putting the vital points in story form. The large range of subjects that have been tackled so far include various aspects of Agriculture, Health, Enterprise, Crime Doesn't Pay, Self-help, Road Safety. Traditional Crafts; and a series of films about various notable Africans, and to sugar the pill a few simple comedies and film versions of old legends. Also specifically for overseas audiences are one or two tourist films.

[00:28:30] It's a strange hearing my attitudes of that time put down. But this actually sums up the things were doing. I made, I counted up over 40 films in those, in those years varying from about 10 minutes to over an hour long, which is... which is to me extraordinary and the last... The unit got bigger and bigger. And, eventually, long after I left I think there were about 50 people with their own laboratories in Salisbury, and it packed up about 1963 and we left in 56. But for the last two years of the time, it was decided to have three sectors for this unit in Salisbury, Lusaka and in Blantyre in Nyasaland. And I'd filmed one or two things in Nyasaland. We like the country so much, I asked if I could be... run the Nyasaland one, and somewhat reluctantly I think, Allan Izod agreed, and for two years I had the glorious title of "Films Officer - Nyasaland", with almost complete independence.

[00:29:46] Even even the main unit in Salisbury, inventing my own stories and working for some agricultural things. I made did make some instructional films there about tobacco growing, African tobacco growing, a series of six. And I know, yeah, supplying items for newsreel, that...for showing in cinemas mostly to whites, throughout the federation. Because by now it had become a Federal Government Film Unit. A Federation of these three countries had come in. And there was a newsreel, called Rhodesian spotlight, that we send items - this was 35 mm ARRI by now, and we had 16 ARRIs and 35 mm ARRIs -so, black and white 35 shooting... They went straight to Johannesburg, where these Rhodesian spotlights were edited and commentated with information. And straight back, first showing to Prime Minister Welensky and his cabinet, you know, the latest thing to go on the cinema screens of the country. And I got great pleasure in the bit of subverting from within, by sending items, perfectly true items from Nyasaland, about things that were going to be a bit surprising down in Salisbury.

[00:31:24] One...I had great pleasure doing. I came across - right up in the north of Nyasaland - I saw some oxen pulling a canoe on dry land, and this was really extraordinary shot, I mean, sight. They were on their way taking some rice to a rice co-operative place, which I found was entirely black run, big well organised rice co-operative right on the north end of Lake Nyasa.

[00:31:56] So I made a news item about he whole thing which included a shot of this canoe, because it was such an extraordinary sight, and their other methods of bringing rice to the co-operative, and how it ran and, how it was very good. I used to write out... well as far as I could - a shot list with a lot of details. This came back, with this very complimentary commentary about, you know : 'a marvellous thing, African-run rice co-operative in Nyasaland', by the South African commentator. I believe they did it for free, this newsreel, but had free use of any items in South Africa, I think that was the arrangement, and sending stuff abroad. This caused a rumpus down by Welensky and Company I believe, saying you know "Nonsense nonsense! Nowhere in the Federation, anything like this! This is all lies!" And I managed to do two or three items like that which stirred it up, that gave me a certain amount of pleasure.

[00:32:58] Yes sorry. I got one one more thing, perhaps about this Central African Film Unit. When I left in 56, firstly I was heavily encouraged or we were heavily encouraged to stay on, particularly by various Africans in Nyasaland. We reluctantly decided to come back to England and not go on the Federal Government Staff. I'm glad we didn't, but we we reluctantly came back. But I wrote out a whole thing which it got printed, later in 16 mm film-using which really were a kind of informal instructions to my successor - whoever it was going to be - of all the things I learnt making these kind of films, and I found it boiled down really to one one sentence, apart from being patient, because it's necessary working in this way, being adaptable because of circumstances. But the thing that I boiled it down to was: When filming, know each script thoroughly and when shooting a scene always be fully aware of the contents of the shots that will precede and follow it, when it's edited. And you know pages of writing I found really boiled down to that, and it was something I in believed strongly then because we always were working off script, and I passed it on. But it fell on stony ground, I'm sorry to say apparently.

[00:34:38] I: Can we ask you who follow you on?

[00:34:40] Do you know I don't know his name. He... all I know, [?] certain recordings with, I think, Allan Izod's interview I did with you, because I never met him.

[00:34:55] He came, I think, on a three year contract. And they very gladly stopped it after not very long, because things didn't go right including complete -you know- 'I don't want to know about that kind of thing', when he saw this and thought he knew...and he got thrown out. So I don't know who he was.

[00:35:19] I: Wasn't Tony Issacs out there around that time?

[00:35:21] No, not not that part of Africa, he was in West Africa.

[00:35:26] I had a ... an assistant, I had a series of assistants, a marvellous African assistant colleague called Gideon Naminesuh for five years, and a series of white assistants learning the trade, of whom one was a schoolboy straight from school called Mike Hay who is now - and when I taught him all camerawork any everything - he is now ahead of Survival International, I think, or the Business Manager of it at Anglia... and very much connected with sort of the Wildlife films all around the world and stuff.

[00:36:15] And in fact I trained a number of people... it wasn't really until after I left that they began training Africans, this is another sore point with me. But it was appalling financial differential... I know when we went away on jobs, I can't remember the exact amount, but it... as an overnight allowance for staying, I would get as a white, fifteen shillings; Gideon, my assistant who I travelling with and working with all the time, got one and sixpence. It was one tenth the amount, and the pay was about the same. I used to subsidize them as much as I could, but with that amount of pay being offered it... would... I was talking about it to Allan Izod, they weren't able to employ people who'd had the schooling backgrounds... have to train up. I don't quite agree, but in anyway that's what happened.

[00:37:18] And...

[00:37:22] I: So we reach the age of 36?

[00:37:24] So now I'm 36, yes I'm 36 and we have four children all born out in Africa, the last two being twins and... We set off, we went down through Salisbury and Durban and in fact got on a ship at Durban, with four children, the youngest under two when we left - just about two, and the oldest seven for a three week trip by ship.

[00:37:56] I don't recommend it to anybody, but we got back to England eventually and... Back to England, and no job. No likely job, no house to live in, no schools, and a lot of optimism to find there were rather a large number of people unemployed in the film industry and it was going to be quite difficult, and very swollen-headed I think I was. I went, I soon learned by encounter you know. "Well I've got a lot of experience. I've been last two years Films Officer - Nyasaland", "you what?", "Films Officer in Nyasaland!", "Iceland, where's that?", "Nyasaland!" "Where's that?" .... and this soon put me in my place, this kind of thing.

[00:38:49] So I really felt I had start at the bottom again rather, and decided not to try and be a director-cameraman, you know, sort of put myself forward as one. I wasn't sure. Firstly I didn't have a card, and secondly I wasn't sure of the union grade then as a director cameraman, and I decided to be a 'director', call myself a 'director', or 'documentary director'. That's what I would and try look for, rather hopefully. We managed to get a house, where we still are. Previous owner was a certain Dennis Healey as it happened and then found local schools and...

[00:39:47] Chris Brunel I got to know. I'd written to the union to see about getting a ticket and was told to apply in the usual way and so forth. Chris Brunel took me under his wing and helped sponsor me into the union which the business [in some ways[?]]... Get a job somehow somewhere and then apply that somehow somewhere, I think, if I remember right, was temporary or short term with Bob Angel, Anglo- Scottish... Sent to Aberdeen to write a documentary script about, a film about Aberdeen called "The Silver City". I'd never written a script before. Well anyway that was my first job after several months.

[00:40:30] I: I'm sorry I thought you said you wrote your scripts in Africa.

[00:40:33] Ah-ha! Rather different. I wrote scripts for these little stories Now I hadn't written a script for a documentary of this sort about... no it is a totally different, it is indeed, a totally different kind of thing. That's right.

[00:40:49] Anyhow that, doing that and getting in the union to place somewhere in the middle of '56... wasn't many months I think.

[00:41:00] But then started a long period of what felt like two weeks on somewhere, and then three months off and I think five months off was the longest time, which wasn't easy. I don't know what order I did these various jobs but amongst things I did with was working for a 'data mining review'. Can't remember the man running it. He was married to Mary Beale's...

[00:41:27] But anyway... and I was sent to direct three items for mining review which showed, it was in for the National Coal Board, and it showed in mining towns, about 70 around the country, I seem to remember that number. And there were two...

[00:41:46] I: Not Kitty Marshal?

[00:41:46] No. It was a man... There were two items. I don't remember, something to do with a coal mine in Scotland. And then the odd item that I was briefed to do was: you're going up by night train, get off at Newcastle - that's right- [...?...] let me off at Newcastle at six or something in the morning. Find your way to a village just north of Newcastle, because it says that the Guinness Book of Records - this is about the most absurd briefing I've ever had - It says in the Guinness Book of Records that the world's champion potato crisp eater lives in this little town. That's right. An i he is a coal miner, let's see if you can persuade him to do an item for mining review. Fair enough.

[00:42:38] Shooting silent, I mean there was no... I'd done no sync shooting at all. But anyway, shooting silent. This is 1956. So I went there. I went to this village. It was about seven in the morning or something like that, and I went to the local cop shop, and went in there with a bit of a joke. Told one of the policemen he said "Oh I know that man, yeah, I know him quite well. He's on night duty he'll be coming off soon if we go down...". He gave me his address and I went and saw him, coming, at home - you know - real traditional, black face, straight out of the mine.


[00:00:02] Stephen Peet. Side 3.

[00:00:06] Well to continue the saga of the World's Potato Crisp Champion: this man came back from the mines. It's probably a completely false memory of him with a black face, coming to sit in a hip-bath and be, have his back washed by his wife... probably they had showers in the mines, but that's what my memory tells me.. I've seen too many old documentaries... of him with a black face. Maybe he had. But anyway he came back and he was quite a small little chap and I forget what it was that he had done and what it said in the Guinness Book of Records of thirty six packets in 20 minutes or whatever it may have been. He agreed to be filmed. He said he did it for charity and - you know - occasionally, and to raise money for charities he's guarantee to meet so many, or people betted on him or something in the local pub, and I went round to the pub and they agreed too, that on our way back from Scotland, we could film this little item.

[00:01:11] So that's what we did, and we filmed in the pub, silent 35 mil, little item; we didn't go through the entire process of enormous numbers of packets, we filmed the beginning and lots of cut aways... what in effect was the beginning and then the final one going down, followed by drinking an entire yard of beer, you know, those enormously long yards. Which he did, and then he took us home to tea and had an enormous meal. Oh.. well of course he hadn't eaten it all this time. And that was that was a light-hearted item that went down well.

[00:01:53] I got offered by Harold Baim to make one of his little travel films for which he said he would give me a car, a driver, a camera and twelve hundred feet of film to make an 800 foot film and he didn't want any number of boards on, or any wastage, and the whole thing seemed highly dubious, and since I had only just joined the union I turned it down. I suppose my correct procedure should have been otherwise of accepting it and then going and complaining but I was nervous about things.

[00:02:35] I remember turning down this offer that was highly immoral.

[00:02:43] Another strange job was for a woman called Theodora Ollumbare[?] who has only recently died.

[00:02:50] A a strange eccentric lady who produced two or three documentaries and this was one about the life of Chopin, and Mary Orum[?], Michael Orum's[?] wife, I was editing it and I was completely out of work and I want to be an assistant editor for a couple of weeks on this, 11 pounds a week, minimum rate, which was all that Theodora Ollumbare[?] was willing to pay. And learnt very conveniently how to join and deal with the brand new 35 mil magnetic film, and meet the charming Mary Orum. So that was a very pleasant time for very little money.

[00:03:35] Then another job was with Max Munden, who ran Film Workshop and this was quite a long job. Must have been a three month contract or so.. directing a documentary for Leyland Motors... a dreadful title: "Wheels of the World" and it consisted of, rather a lot because that's what Leyland Motors wanted, enormous shots of their, of their workshops of different sorts and inspection as they're making these huge trucks, which meant an incredible amount of lighting, you know, with three sparks and everything just for a shot of no real interest, but showed how big the place was.... and collecting together quite a lot of filming from other countries of Leyland trucks at work... and one pleasant trip to Dublin and Glasgow.

[00:04:33] Glasgow buses, a lot of them where Leyland, and Dublin there was a great firm of huge trucks that... all bright yellow... that did various things and I orchestrated... I just remembered this, what really made me very happy, on a Saturday afternoon with all these trucks or many of them and drivers in a great yard. We were up high. A long, a lengthy shot at which truck number three drove out and another one came in and the other one backed in. It was all like a piece of ballet.

[00:05:09] It was quite fun, anyway. That's where, that trip to Ireland with appalling weather, we had to stay an extra day. Brian Probyn, who was assistant cameraman met his wife there as a result of that extra day... so be that as it may.

[00:05:32] Film Workshop also did a strange thing that I scripted, and it was for the post office about the importance of correct addressing of letters. And Richard Goolden did the commentary and appeared in it as a... it was called, dreadful title I thought of "Writing Wrongs" (W w). And he appeared as a - completely like a like he was in real life - man in a muddle and a great desk full of things and getting everything wrong. It was a bit of a comedy little film for the Post-Office and it was it was great fun meeting Richard Golden.

[00:06:15] I: Goolden?

[00:06:16] Goolden, I said Golden I apologise... Goolden. So that was a bit different.

[00:06:22] Film Producers Guild; some film about steel. Geoff Busby[?] was producing. Btu encouraging the use of beer cans, rather than bottles. There were just coming in, so we were able to do a nice sequence of somebody on a bicycle and falling off, and all the bottles got broken, and a similar scene with the cans get... fall off, fall off and not damaged. That's all I remember of that.

[00:06:48] The first Aldermaston March film. Now this was at 57, I think wasn't it? If I remember right. Which was this business of suddenly, over a matter of two or three days, a whole group of people got together -[apart from over two or three days]?].. the people went marching into Aldermaston that year were gathered together.

[00:07:13] But Lindsay Anderson and Derek Knight together were the two main people organising the filming of the march, where we didn't know what was going to happen. And a lot of people, very few technicians, and very many directors it was all... it was one soundman who volunteered, and one or two camera people and a lot of directors. Karel Reisz was one. I offered to, or managed to get from Maurice Broomfield a minibus. He wasn't even there. I went and just kind of commandeered it from his wife... a minibus in which we carried all the sound, or the sync unit as it were, and we were on this march for... were not on the march...travelling and doing interviews out of the back of the van and for four days. I did do a half day shooting with Karel Reisz directing me.

[00:08:12] It was the only time in my life, that I worked as a cameraman being directed by somebody, so that was... And really I found I wanted to argue about every shot and I don't think I could have managed to done this professionally.

[00:08:33] But there we are, and all the viewing and the editing. Were you connected with it at all Alan?. It was a marvellous sort of spirit about it. Granada gave us the...the film, the apparatus the film stock was, as it were, obtained by various means and the cameras were borrowed, legally or otherwise, and then Granada gave us their theatre, and I think editing...certainly a theatre to view all the rushes and various other places.

[00:09:01] It was all done, all done for little or nothing and it is a remarkable film I think. I think it was called "March to Aldermaston". I'm not sure of the title.

[00:09:17] Let me think .. .oh another job now about the beginning of 58. Yes.

[00:09:23] Frank Bundy, one time cameraman, was producer for place called "Wallace Productions" and I was asked to direct - when I say I was asked to direct, I'd been around seeing all these people two or three times and they're always told nothing now but maybe later. So here was a "later" - a scripted film for United Dairies with the script, with a title of "Milkman's Progress". And I had to cast this: a milk man, and a farmer, and a farmer's wife, because it was going to be... believe it or not... I remember the opening sequence was... it was done... it was done with a guide track. And then it was it was recorded lip synced in the theatre, I think. No I don't think it can be. Yeah I think was... anyway. I can't really remember, I don't remember having sort of sync unit, except a guide track one on location. But the opening sequence was a United Dairies milk float arriving, and the milkman - acted by somebody I found in spotlight who looked the part. So I cast them from looks rather than their...

[00:10:49] I: Abilities.

[00:10:49] Well the ability, they had to be the cheapest people for this programme. And the milkman is there saying "well Mrs So and So, I shan't be seeing you for a week, because I'm going to visit my grandfather who runs a dairy farm"... and mix walking up to the dairy farm... "Well grandson, so nice to see you. You are just in time to come with me to milking sheds. You'll see where all this milk comes from that you deliver every day". Oh god it was a dreadful film! And one day in a studio, the only time I've been filming sync in a studio.

[00:11:31] And I met from time to time the actor who was the milkman and we agreed never to mention this film again because we both thought it was the worst thing we'd ever done. And United dairies thought it was wonderful. They really, they wrote about it in their magazine and... oh dear, it quite upset me because it really was a dreadful film, I thought.

[00:11:56] Somewhere here - again and I did this on sort of table upstairs - made a English version of a Japanese film about Hiroshima, which we called the shadow of Hiroshima. It was being made by a volunteer group in Japan with some of the victims, some of the survivors of Hiroshima, of how they were living now and it was something not known about much in this country. And it was done in a very simple way. This is so and so, and there they are at home - I forget[?] certain scenes - of managing with great difficulty to eat, or one who went on a trip around the harbour and saw places where it happened because somebody took them for a ride in a car and it was just very simple.

[00:12:45] Six people. Who they there. What happened to them. Their prospects. And... which was a voluntary job I did with somebody else, I forget. And Charlie Cooper I think still has a copy. I must try and see it someday. But this was in, I suppose probably 57 or 58 that I did.

[00:13:08] I: You say you made it here?

[00:13:10] Well I had a winder and a viewer and I made a copy and then we put a ...

[00:13:18] I: Is this [?] ...

[00:13:19] ...We put a simple english commentary, somebody I think Max Anderson helped me. He was working at Wallace Productions, a place where we could do the commentary. It was a simple propaganda film about...

[00:13:33] I: Were materials supplied by Japan?

[00:13:36] Yeah it was a film that one copy had got to the country. I can't remember this very well I haven't got the paperwork about it.

[00:13:48] But the reason for saying this is because the next film I made, a little bit of the style of that film, I adapted for it. And the next film is something that you know very well because you two gentleman in 1958 - and I am referring for the purpose of whoever is listening to this recording to Norman Swallow and Alan Lawson - used to have an office at Ealing and I don't know what, to tell you the truth, you must tell me, your actual official titles were in '58. You shared an office and sat either side of big table or maybe that's my wrong memory.

[00:14:30] What was, Norman what was your ...?

[00:14:32] N: I was called Assistant Head of Films.

[00:14:35] Assistant Head of Films, and Alan was assistant assistant head of films.

[00:14:39] A: No, I was sequence manager or something.

[00:14:41] Anyway.

[00:14:41] N: Sequence, the word sequence appeared in the title.

[00:14:45] But anyway. This is how it happened. Due to a series of things, a girl journalist who'd been in Nyasaland was now working at Save the Children Fund... the PRO at Save the Children Fund let it be known or he told her that they were looking for someone to make a fundraising film for nothing, or almost nothing, for them in Korea about their work there.

[00:15:12] And she suggested, because she'd seen my films in Africa. He got in touch, which I did and I learnt what it was and that they had, I think, 1000 pounds - which half of which would go a fare there apart from anything else - to make a film for raising funds for Save the Children Fund. Now here comes all these things begin to come together. I think it was Michael Orrum[?] who I knew then because of working with his wife, I think it was he who suggested I went to see you Norman. I can't remember exactly.

[00:15:52] Anyway I came out to that room at Ealing and there it was all magic took place because, barely knowing me, if memory is correct, without showing you any film I think, you were able in those days - something couldn't be done at The BBC now - to wave a magic wand and say that we'll give you film stock, or The BBC will give you film stock and laboratory processing, and a cutting room or hire a cutting room, and an assistant, in return for transmission of the film that you make, if it's any good ...I mean it's incredible. I think it was something like that I don't even think it was anything on paper. Maybe that was, with the Save the Children Fund, there must have been something.

[00:16:38] I: I would imagine something.

[00:16:39] There must have been, but this is what it felt like.

[00:16:44] I: I want to go back a bit, because I have a feeling that we met before that.

[00:16:48] It's possible yes.

[00:16:50] I: You came to see me at Lime Grove.

[00:16:51] It's possible.

[00:16:54] I: When I had an office in Lime Grove.

[00:16:57] Well this is how my memory.

[00:16:58] I2: I don't think I had seen you before then actually. I don't think so.

[00:17:04] I'd been to Ealing certainly. I had for instance met John Reid there. He's one of the people I'd shown him films I'd met David Attenborough there I think and shown him films from Africa. So I was a bit known, but not much more than that, I think.

[00:17:21] Anyway this is what it felt like, it felt like suddenly a marvellous help and the possibility, even this is what it must have been better than that to arrange. But it felt like "if it's any good it'll get shown on television", in return for this material help but that is what happened, so that a few weeks later or whenever... October...

[00:17:49] I: 58.

[00:17:49] 58, Yeah. I set off by plane to Hong Kong to get another plane from Hong Kong to Seoul which I think was being a free one organized by the Save The Children Fund.

[00:18:03] I travelled with Bolex. I didn't have a tripod. I travelled with the Bolex and the film stock, and literally a spare shirt or something like that, because that didn't come to more than the weight of allowed luggage and I bought tripod in Hong Kong, and one or two bits more, bit more clothing, because I was going to travel free on the next plane, and somewhat foolishly, looking back, undertook to do the whole job at about half the minimum rate. I think I was a bit foolish, I was contributing money as well as making the film. But anyway I undertook to do it. And it was worth it.

[00:18:50] I got a A C T [Association of Cinematograph Technicians] permission for a working single handed, and I've got a letter somewhere - I was looking for it - which said some phrase written by George, or signed by George Elvin saying in this case, for this cause, you may work in this way, which was very nice and I took 60 hundred-foot rolls, black and white negative, and shot in actual fact material for two films.

[00:19:24] One was the one that was shown on the air, and another one which included a lot of other things about Salvation Army looking after crippled children who needed artificial limbs and all sorts of things.

[00:19:38] So I was working out the actual ratio. One film was 40 minutes and the other film was 20 minutes was only two and a half to one which is quite remarkable I think.

[00:19:51] Now the film I made was called "A Far Cry".

[00:19:57] A title that came to me as I drove around, and I still remember the place it flashed into my head on the North Circular somewhere near the turning off to Golders Green. It's very strange, it suddenly popped into my head, and I thought that's the title, and it was it was.

[00:20:14] It was real hell to shoot because I'd never made a film like it really at all and I decided to, not to - when I got to Korea I was looked after by Save the Children Fund people. I mean you know all this because I kept sending rushes back to you Alan to view and get reports and things. I spent quite a while just going around seeing all the work of the Save the Children Fund and all the other aid units in Pusan [Busan] in the port right at the South, it was quite appalling about two million people living in paper shacks and it was really, really quite appalling. And I was very angry with everything I saw and I wrote a script an outline of the film that I was going to do. And didn't actually go into action shooting until, been a a while...

[00:21:15] And there was a distribution of clothing. know... Beggar boys collected off the streets home and I filmed it as it happened and from then on I went into the shooting because this was something I couldn't organise specially. But most of the shooting was specially organised, shot by shot to tell the story... like so many children, it was said by the police, five or six a day were abandoned on the streets because their parents couldn't look after them and with the help of a kind mum known to the Save The Children Fund and a small child. We filmed the shots for that without harming the child more than a few seconds, like leaving it alone on the street corner while I got a quick close up and then run... and then everybody running up and giving it a hug so it was all right. And this kind of thing. But nearly everything was under control, the shooting because it had to be the beggar boys in the street before they were collected, was ones who had been collected but hadn't been shaved and deloused, taken out in a jeep and then I filmed through a little hole in the canvas of a jeep as they went on being beggar boys and got shoved to one side by the passers-by... doing it hidden, and they knew they were going to be back to a hot meal in a minute afterwards, or a little while later, did it hidden so that wouldn't be crowds around clamouring and shouting and getting in the way. So they knew we were there filming them, but nobody else did.

[00:22:56] And so the film was sort of in a succession of 'these are the conditions, but you haven't heard half of it yet. This is worse, this is worse'. You know it went, got, it was deliberately an emotional film to get to people and turn the knife in their guts.

[00:23:18] And it was made for this purpose.

[00:23:22] And as you remember... well you didn't know what happened when I was there. By the end of making it I was two days in bed and one day up, I got so, got so morose and ill being in that place, and got away, came back across the States, stopping off as a matter of fact in Hawaii for Christmas Day.

[00:23:46] That was the one thing I found, that the trip, the return trip, out to Korea... was the same price to get a trip right the world, so I came back from Tokyo and that was a nice relief after being there and then went straight into editing it with that very kind lady who was heavily pregnant at the time, who was a BBC editing assistant. I can't remember her name. Anyway she was marvellous.

[00:24:13] I: Erm, she was [?] wasn't she?.

[00:24:17] I2: She was Assistant Film Editor.

[00:24:19] Yes. And she came to help me out.

[00:24:22] I had a cutting room at Film Partnership, Bob Angel's film partnership [?] anyway... rough cut it. No, not rough cut it... yeah...I thought we were rough cut... more or less finished, about 40 minutes long... and I came and we showed it to Kenneth Adam and I spoke a rough commentary - that's what I mean - to it. And it was 40 minutes long, I think or 41, and he was Director of Programs, wasn't he?

[00:24:56] I: Yes. Controller, or Head.

[00:24:59] Amazingly at the end. He said something to the effect of "don't change a thing. We'll you're the best writer for commentary, and narrator, and composer for some music" and I really didn't realise that they were really getting me the red carpet treatment there, without realising what all this entailed.

[00:25:18] I: This is about, what, nineteen-fif...

[00:25:19] 1959 in the Spring.

[00:25:23] I: 59 by then, sorry.

[00:25:23] Yes. And it got shown on Easter Sunday, 59 in prime time right after the news I think, which was a big effect. And so it was... who was it? Alan. Alan Burgess, author... he worked for BBC Radio.

[00:25:41] I: Yeah, he was radio features. Very famous.

[00:25:44] who wrote 'The Small Woman', he'd written just before that, I think. He wrote the commentary and I learned a great deal from him, because I sat with him while he was writing some of it and he said "You don't want all this stuff here". I had a long long beginning about the background to it all, and he read it through and he said "No, you don't want that". And he wrote one line, I think it was something like South... no... 'Korea. We fought over it. Then we forgot it'... full stop and a pause. I learned, that moment, I learned a lot about commentary writing, particularly pauses after something like that.

[00:26:26] And he knew Peter Finch.. and - I think - and persuaded him, or he came to see it, and he agreed to do the narration, which he did in effect for nothing because he gave his fee to the Save The Children Fund.

[00:26:42] Max Saunders I think, was the composer. He wrote some music for it, and I included also some Korean music. I'd never laid a soundtrack before, which [?] in the rush of getting the thing ready.

[00:26:58] Someone - I think - who was working at Film Partnership came for a few days to help me. Brenda... Brenda something then. But she became Brenda Roden, John Roden's wife.

[00:27:08] She helped me with laying the tracks of this out at the dub and it was subsequently chosen as... Well firstly, The Save the Children Fund they didn't, it wasn't, didn't go out as a fundraiser it just went on the end 'made for Save The Children Fund and Oxford Committee of Famine Relief' - it wasn't even called Oxfam then... because they had put some money into it. I understand the Save The Children Fund had 10,000 pounds by the end of the week. That came in as a result of the, beginnings of an enormous amount. It was the BBC entry to Cannes that year, as well as the next one I made. And there were German and Swiss versions made and I heard from Kays where it was processed that they had a a hundred and ten copies in the end, and they had to make a dupe-neg somewhere along the line because it was getting damaged making so many copies. So, that film was a great success, I know. And I feel it's the best thing that I did. And my God it was sort of right from the guts.

[00:28:32] However I wasn't offered a job at the BBC as a result. But but I'm not quite sure. I did hear later that Grace Wyndham Goldie or somebody was trying to get me there, whether the fact that I heard nothing, or nothing happened was early rumblings of this blacklist business which got a bit louder later, I really don’t know.

[00:28:56] I: In the film department of course we didn't actually, we were mainly facilities department, now entirely facilities. We didn't have producers or directors as such. There were other people like yourself who were hired ad hoc, or people like Jeffrey Baines for example who was a film editor, who also could direct and produce but he was there because he was a film editor. On the other hand, while we're talking about the BBC at that time, the advantage we had was direct access to Kenneth Adam and above him Cecil McGivern, whereas most of the documentaries were made by the so-called Talks Department under Grace Wyndham Goldie whom you've just mentioned, and that was much more hierarchical and traditional and, and I you know I think less adventurous and less free really. I mean we had that enormous advantage: direct access to the top.

[00:29:48] I2: Coming coming back to your point Stephen. That's why I said to you I was sure we met earlier. Because I had a feeling that I wanted to take you on, but I think it was when I had an office in Lime Grove. I was told you couldn't be taken onto the permanent staff. When did John happen?

[00:30:15] My brother? Oh he went to East Germany in 1950.

[00:30:20] I2: I think it was somewhere around about nineteen fifty two, three?

[00:30:24] No I wasn't in England. No I merely, in much later years, I began to hear little things, like like you're saying. Yes. Which I didn't believe, you know.

[00:30:37] I: Well I didn't know about that, because of course you didn't apply for a job in a department in which I was assistant head.

[00:30:41] No no no no... I'd applied for jobs previously, but not very much ...Anyway, back to, back to the, back to the Save the Children Fund and "Far Cry". So I went on dealing with various foreign versions and all sorts of things of that, for quite a while. And then I think it was Derek Knight, possibly had been asked himself, and he passed me on instead, to do a two week fill-in that Transport House - Labour Party headquarters because - I forget the man's name - a man who dealt with film things there was off sick and they wanted somebody to fill in for him.

[00:31:27] So I went to Transport House and found out what they were doing there and filled in. I dont remember what those two weeks, tell you the truth. There must have been some, some things going on and then that two weeks came on end and it didn’t seem, I didn't fit there exactly. And then they offered a carrot of staying on, because this man and I think had left, he must've been really quite ill.

[00:31:54] But anyway he wasn't coming back. The carrot of the fact that very shortly Attlee[?] and I think Bevin[?] and one or two others were going to Moscow on a visit. And they'd like a camera man to go for the Labour party to cover the visit, and would I do this.

[00:32:12] I thought well that's marvellous - you know- a chance to go to Moscow with these people, so that carrot was held out, I agreed. And then, almost overnight, the 1959 election was announced. The trip to Moscow was, naturally, didn't come off. I mean these people didn't go. And I was there having agreed to stay on, and willy-nilly within a few days, I suddenly found myself - I suppose I was called Film Officer or something - attending daily committee meetings with Attlee and Crossman and Christopher Mayhew there was a sort of small committee of about six people... Woodrow Wyatt, believe it or not, Crossland, [...] and bright young Anthony Wedgwood Benn and the reason for those meetings where they... [...] The two big parties had been offered, for the next election, for whenever the next election was going to be, five evening programs on the air, 20 or 30 minutes I can't remember, where if they applied an advance as Transport House had, they could have help to produce the programs and help the consisted of, in this case, the 'Tonight' program staff.

[00:33:43] I think it was called 'Tonight' at that time with Alistair Milne as producer, believe it or not, and various other people Leonard Miall was somewhere in the offing I remember meeting him there. And so they could have a studio with a front man, the 'Tonight' style which was going to be Tony Benn. And it was my job, to with the instructions of this committee, to do all the film inserts. So suddenly there was... it's something very different. And I was joined by Louis Wolfers director-camera man, so the two of us were there to film, one or two things we did with me directing and him shooting, we did something in the East End I remember with Crossland and I went shooting - the only time I think as a director cameraman - shooting sync with the camera [I had years before][?], in Coventry I think it was, with Christopher Mayhew, some little 10 minute, no five minute film but comprehensive schools.

[00:34:53] I think there were film editors, BBC film editors to help us out on the spot. You know suddenly getting things the right length. Mike Tuckner was one, I'm not sure Jack Gold[?] but I remember Mike Tuckner.

[00:35:07] [Interviewer clarify name pronunciation]

[00:35:17] And so what did we do, we did some things in a studio at Transport House. We did a lot of little tiny snippets of 'why I'm going to vote Labour'. Tiny things in the street, in Transporter House with various people and they appeared in each of these programs, a little piece of that. But the most extraordinary thing was, looking back, was that I used about half the budget that we were allocated to commission five 30 second animated films by Richard Williams, it is Williams isn't it? Yes of course it is. He and a colleague of his turned these out.

[00:36:02] And they can't be found, I mean, four where used... one Crossman took exception to, and decided you know literally as we went on the air that it shouldn't be shown, there was some doubt about it. There were amazing, little bits, little - naturally black and white -animated films with a little 30 second political animated film that, I should imagine, the first that were made and I'm sorry they appear to be lost, I tried to find them.

[00:36:32] So that was an exciting week or two, few weeks, including filming Nye Bevan, a special thing with Nye Bevan... directed by, oh dear me...

[00:36:53] is it Michael Foot's wife, Jill... She said she must do that.

[00:37:00] I: Jill Tweedy[?].

[00:37:00] Not Jill Tweedy[?], no. No is it... Do you know, well she film, she was film connected. No she wasn't was she...

[00:37:10] No it wasn't Michael Foot's Wife, scrub that. I mean I got it wrong [Jill Craig did interview Nye Bevan, dated 1960. May or may not be relevant].

[00:37:15] Anyway it was interesting meeting him, we'll have to forget that one... and it was interesting seeing the most appalling rivalry between Nye Bevan - not rivalry... difficulty between Attlee and Nye Bevan. If there was anything, they had to come in separate entrances and be kept apart and all this kind of thing. And in fact this Committee - arranging all the film things we should do, it was a daily meeting if I remember - treated Attlee the same way. They said you know 'he's going to be, he has to go away in the middle of the meeting, so let's arrange so and so after he's left, and Woodrow Wyatt would sit in the corner saying ...

[00:38:02] "Now, I think what we must have is me meeting some of these sheikhs that I know well, you know, and talking to them about them" and they'd say "oh shut up Woodrow" and he'd say "yes I am rather shit, aren't I?", an then proceeded to go on the same way. He was an impossible man. However I mustn't get to a personal.

[00:38:23] That went down well with me those few weeks, they were all rather strange and Attlee, I met him later and he said 'Thanks thanks for it, they would have lost the election worse if it hadn't been for the films' you see, which was a nice sort of backhanded compliment.

[00:38:46] So somewhere after that. I don't know where we are, fifty nine aren't we?

[00:38:53] A suggestion came from Sasha Moorsom - bright young (then) bright young BBC radio producer who had been in Sicily and done a radio programme about Danilo Dolci - and she was suggesting that I should go and make a film for the, I think, it was called the Dolci Trust about conditions in Sicily and about this remarkable social reformer Danilo Dolci, an Italian who was working in Sicily... and so I came back (I think) to you two gentlemen in your room in Ealing and said here's this story what about it. And we came to a similar agreement that in return for [...] facilities, yes stock and cutting room and whatever, you would show it if it was any good. So that's what we did.

[00:40:01] And I went out to Sicily with a young - I think she was only 19 - Gaia Servadio -since much better known, particularly as a journalist about the Mafia and so forth - and made this film out in Sicily about the conditions in Sicily and about the work of Danilo Dolci, shooting again, and as had always done, silent with a Bolex and... it it was difficult because we were working and had to do everything secretly and not get caught, and get into difficulties with the Mafia or the police or whoever. So most of it had to be 'reconstructed truth', let's call it that. In other words there really were the conditions that existed, it was done through personal stories of certain people who sometimes weren't the real people, but doing what the real people did and things like: the fact that they dearn't, some of the people in Western Sicliy didn't leave their cattle out or they'd get stolen.

[00:41:16] So they went out and collected fodder for the cattle and had to bring it miles back and feed them in stores... to do that sequence: did it about half past five, six in the morning with people, so they wouldn't, it wouldn't be known we were filming them, and all this kind of thing, to protect them. It was, and also because we felt we were being suspected all the time. Gaia Servadio was sending little parcels from the Post Office to her parents in northern Italy of the film, which we collected there and then she came back with it saying that Italians didn't have their luggage searched leaving but I might. [...] we didn't want to send it back to England for processing, we brought it all back with us. But there, I wrote a script and got it approved by Danilo Dolci, of all the things I'd written, the kind of things we wanted to film and do... was again... I thought of a phrase roundabout then, a style of film making.... Educating by emotion or shock, or something like this because I was shocked by what I saw and then I'd sit down and try and work out how to recreate the same emotion in the audience by filming a certain sequence. Like I was shocked seeing an enormous new, brand new marble palace of justice that had been built in Palermo right on the edge of a stinking, stinking slums. So that in a sequence that was a true reconstruction of a boy looking for his father who had been arrested for selling nicknacks in the street without a licence....he comes face to face with this, with this monstrous building with all the money going into it and nothing going in to help the poor from the look of it, as a point.

[00:43:22] But that came from the time when we were shown it by our guide who was showing us around on the first day there. So I built the film up that way....and erm...

[00:43:33] I : It was very short? Sorry Stephen, was it?

[00:43:38] 30 minute film. It was it a 30 minute film that... Brian Probyn, he keeps popping up in this story. He'd worked as assistant cameraman, and he worked as assistant editor and helped me to gain experience in a cutting room. And Patrick Barr and Olive Gregg, a radio actress, the two of them they, I think they gave their services for doing the commentary, two voices.

[00:44:08] I: I'm going to change over.


Producer/director Stephen Peet was  one of the key figures in the development of post-war British documentary. He is best known as the creator of the award-winning Yesterday's Witness, presented by the BBC from 1969 to 1980. Yesterday's Witness was the world's first oral history television films series. 

Peet began his filmmaking career in the 1930s as an assistant in a documentary unit run by Marian Grierson the sister of John Grierson, who is regarded as the father of British documentary film. Peet later worked for seven years as a director and cameraman with the Central Africa Film Unit, making narrative educational films for village audiences. During the 1950s and 60s, he made many documentaries as a lone director and cameraman in Europe, Asia and Africa. He also directed many films for British television current affairs programmes including "World In Action" for Granda Television and produced more than 80 editions of "Yesterday's Witness" for the BBC.