Colleagues: Bunny Hutchins – Movietone
John “Bunny” Hutchins was born in London, 28th October 1878. At the age of eighteen he started work in the film industry. He was a pioneer. He worked as a cameraman, projectionist and as a laboratory assistant.
After working with a number of companies, he became one of the early newsreel cameramen when he joined Barker Motion Photography. He covered the Coronation of King George V and the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911. Soon after he left Barker and joined Williamson’s Animated News upon its launch in May 1913. He was to become “Chief Camera Operator to Éclair Journal”.
Hutchins left to join the Army at the outbreak of The First World War serving as a driver. However in May of 1917, William Jeapes, later to become Editor of Universal Talking News, applied for Hutchins to be released to work with Topical Budget. Hutchins was placed in charge of the laboratory but continued camera work from time to time. After the war, he became a full-time cameraman for Topical Budget. In 1919, he filmed the Victory Parade in Paris.
In 1937, Hutchins wrote an article:
The outbreak of the Great War caused many changes in the film trade, as elsewhere. Several of my fellow-cameramen were lucky enough to be appointed as official cinematographers with the Forces. I was not so fortunate, and in true army fashion, being a photographer, I was put in the Army Service Corps as a driver in the Horse Transport, and knowing nothing whatever about horses or mules, they made me an instructor within five weeks of joining up !
After discharge from the army, I returned to Wardour Street, and one of my earliest assignments was to be sent to Paris during the Peace Conference, when I came into personal contact with many leading men in the world at that time, including Earl Balfour, President Wilson, M. Clemenceau and Mr. Lloyd George. The Victory March through Paris in July, 1919, provided a thrilling spectacle as I viewed and filmed it from the roof of the Hotel Astoria, overlooking the Arc de Triomphe. With the aid of a fast aeroplane, mine was the only film to be shown in the West End of London the same night. Nowadays such a thing is an everyday occurrence — but it was a scoop in 1919. I travelled frequently with Mr. Lloyd George, when he was Prime Minister, to France, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere.
Bunny Hutchins worked for a while for Gaumont before becoming chief cameraman for British Screen News in 1928. Four years later, this company went out of business and Hutchins had spells of unemployment between the occasional freelance work.
From Bunny Hutchin’s article of 1937:
In 1933 I was commissioned by Norman’s Film Library to take a scenic film of French Morocco, and it was certainly one of my most interesting foreign tours. A long train journey through France and Spain brought me to Tangiers, from there I went inland for some weeks, visiting what must surely be some of the oldest cities in the world — Fez, Tetuan, Meknes and Rabat — a glorious country and a very mixed race of people — Moors, Arabs, Negroes, and, of course, French officials, and the much advertised Foreign Legion, who are certainly a very cosmopolitan crowd. I had one or two nasty scraps with the Moslems, who have a horror of photography, and I was threatened with all sorts of weird and wonderful deaths — but I’m still here !
Among a variety of subject covered by Bunny Hutchings, he recalls the R101 disaster:
I have photographed many aerial disasters, and perhaps the saddest sight of all was the wreck of that great airship, the R.101. I was called out of my bed early one Sunday morning, and within a few minutes I was on my way to Beauvais in France, by boat and train to Amiens, and then a dare-devil 50-mile drive in a racing car to the scene of the catastrophe. It took me a bare ten minutes to secure my pictures, and then about-turn and straight back to London.
Shipwrecks and railway disasters have figured largely in my experiences. Railway smashes are always awkward jobs to tackle, mainly because the railway officials do not want any pictures taken, and your editor does want pictures, but if you can tell a good tale and have a bit of luck you can generally get all that is wanted.
To cover all these events entails a tremendous amount of travelling, and I have arrived at my destination in all sorts and conditions of transport, from royal trains to hoppers’ trains, luxury air liners to costers’ barrows, from battleships to dinghies, but so long as you get there and get back, that is the main thing.
He joined British Movietone News in September 1937.
Hutchins worked as a cameraman with Movietone throughout the Second World War working on home front stories in the south of England.
Here is an extract from my forthcoming book “Movietone at War”.
11th May 1940 – Movietone decided to have an ARP exercise. The Warden, within 22 Soho Square was Bunny Hutchins. Bunny – John Hutchins – was sixty two and had been in the industry since 1896. He was an experienced newsreel cameraman. At this time, he was working in the News Room where he would scour the newspapers for stories and cut out individual items and offer them to Frank Chisnell, the News Editor.
Apparently, he was a fully trained Air Raid Warden in his own locality of Hornsey. Gerald Sanger, Editor of Movietone, tells the story :
At eleven o’clock, whistles blew up and down the building and Bunny Hutchins, the old gentleman who clips the newspapers for Frank Chisnell, assumed the important role of Chief Warden.
With tin hat, civilian duty respirator and armlet he ushered everybody down to the basement. Then he entered the lift to descend himself. This was the moment when Joe Furness chose to shut off the power and Bunny Hutchins – armlet, tin hat and all – was stuck in the lift between floors. I never saw a man laugh as much as Ernie Stimpson (Kay Laboratory Manager). He fell down stairs shrieking at the enraged Chief Warden, who remained imprisoned until after the staff began to issue from the shelter. The shelter, incidentally, is only the basement floor of the laboratory, reinforced here and there ,and we shall take refuge among the drying cabinets and developing plant and printing machinery, if an alarm is sounded.
Gerald Sanger called Hutchins ” the old gentleman who clips the newspapers for Frank Chisnell…”. No reference to his camera work. Did he not know what he had done and what he was doing with a news camera ?
In June of 1940, Hutchins appeared in a story for Movietone’s General Release entitled “Are we Doing Everything We Can” in which he played the part of an A.R.P. Warden.
He was a War Correspondent, with the rank of Captain and covered a number of armed service stories. He filmed “Boys for R.A.F. Join Training Corps” in January 1941. He was well occupied during the Blitz and later bombing raids on London filming the aftermath.
His last credit as a cameraman was for a story “The Many Salute the Few” in September 1945, more than fifty years after he started. A week later, I joined British Movietone News.
From then on, he was confined to the News Room scouring the newspapers for Frank Chisnell, the News Editor.
In Bunny’s own words:
SUCCESS as a cinematographer demands a good sound knowledge of photography and the apparatus, a considerable amount of tact and diplomacy, power to adapt oneself to all manner of circumstances at short notice, a cool temperament in emergencies, a willingness to travel anywhere at any time, by land, sea or air, and, above all, one who never forgets that “it only happens once” — they won’t run the Derby again for the photographer’s benefit.
In conclusion, may I remind the younger generation that we pioneers did not have the advantage of your up-to-date apparatus. Our equipment was generally a wooden camera, two lenses, and a fixed tripod. The trail has been blazed. It’s now up to you to carry on the good work !
Sources: ‘John Hutchins’: Cine Technician, August-September 1937 and The Svenhonger Diary Volume II: 1941, 1942, 1943 by Gerald Sanger.
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