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Movietone and the Ministry of Information 1945

The Ministry Of Information building.

From October 1st, 1945 I was employed as the Office Boy operating out of the General Office of British Movietonews.  That office was responsible for the creation and filing of all written records, by way of make-up sheets, commentaries and dope sheets.

Another of my jobs was to deliver and pick up letters and packages from around London.

One of my pick ups was from the Ministry of Information, Senate House, Malet Street, where I would collect our negatives, and dupe negatives, as they were released by the Censor.

Movietonews was still operating on a wartime regime during 1945 and 1946. Twice a week, and sometimes by special invitation, the news editors of the five newsreels would gather at the Ministry of Information in Gower Street, Bloomsbury. The building had been the University of London building and, later, it, once again, returned to its original purpose.

On one of my many visits there, one of the porters asked me if I would like to got to the top of the tower in the lift.  I said that I would be very happy to do so.  We got in the lift and ascended.  Around about the sixth floor, the surrounding walls of the lift shaft disappeared revealing a vast open space bounded by the exterior walls of the tower.  All that was left was the metalwork of the lift-shafts and the floor girders.  Workmen had cleared away all the debris to leave a shell. All this damage had been caused by a small bomb which entered the tower and exploded inside

In the MOI, there was a theatre in which films were shown to the news editors after they had been censored.  Even in late 1945, there was still a requirement for censorship and pooling of stories.  During the War most of the cameramen of all the newsreels were likely to be made War Correspondents. Among the wartime news stories attributed to newsreel cameramen we the sinking of H.M.S. Barham, the Lofoten Island raid, the Libyan desert, with the 8th Army and Belsen Concentration Camp.

Inside the Senate House. Photo by Steve Cadman. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Apart from Movietone, there was Pathe, Gaumont (and later Universal re-started), all based in Wardour Street, Soho, and Paramount who were housed in School Road, Acton.

The cameramen’s material would be developed in one of the London laboratories and sent directly to the MOI for censorship.  After extracting any offending scenes it would be shown to the news editors who would select which items they wanted.  They would order a Fine Grain Duping Positive or a Lavender or (as Paramount used to say) a Blue.  This was because of the distinctive colour of the monochrome print from which the individual newsreel could make a Dupe Negative to cut in with the rest of their material. A further source of material was the Army Photographic and Film Unit whose cameramen were all Sergeants and who, sometimes, went into action with the troops.  It was they who filmed the D-Day landings.

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The man in charge at the MOI was Mr. E.T. Adams, he had been seconded from Movietone during the war and eventually returned to Movietone as first News Editor and later General Manager until his death in the mid-sixties.  Ted Adams was a well spoken and well-educated man who had been a projectionist at Movietonews.  This occupation was regarded by him (alone) as a lowly position and he could never overcome the thought that he was the boss having started in the projection box.  This view was not shared by anyone else who thought of him as one who had done well.  It was to sour his life.  He died before his time.

A number of the cameramen still wore their War Correspondents’ uniforms which were of officer quality with peaked caps.  A number of them had been through the war on almost every front.  Shooting in the front line and then trying to find some way of sending their exposed film home.  All film from the war fronts came back in military aircraft or Royal Navy ships.

Movietone News London had always exchanged stories with other Movietone or Fox Movietone offices around the world.  For the most part this had stopped during the war, but they were able to send off material to the United States for our New York office.  Ken Hanshaw had organised a regular method of shipping news stories there.

Twice a week, I would collect the transit case of film and go off to Old Quebec Street, which is near Marble Arch off Oxford Street.  On an upper floor of a building near to the junction of Oxford Street was American Air Command.  Here, I handed over the box of film which was then taken to the nearest U.S.A.A.F. air base for shipment to the States.

I believe that insufficient praise has been directed towards the Newsreel cameramen.  They were all alone in terms of their job, no reporters to tell them what to do, that would come later when reporters were to gain star status working behind modern cameramen who also get little of the praise due to them.

There are numerous stories concerning the exploits of these cameramen which have been recorded elsewhere, but Paul Wyand, who many years later became my direct boss, covered many of the important events of the Second World War.  He, with soundman Martin Gray, were the first newsreel cameramen to enter Belsen.  It was Paul and Martin who recorded the famous signing of the German surrender on Luneberg Heath.  Paul had a hernia due to the lifting of their equipment, a huge Wall camera with its sound equipment and batteries.  Most newsreel sound cameramen had a hernia. Later, Paul was to write a book about his experiences it was called “Useless if Delayed” (1959), the message printed on the film cans in transit.

Alec Tozer spent a lot of the war with the Eighth Army in the Libyan Desert.  Alec was swarthy with jet black curly hair.  It is said that he was captured by the Australians who thought he was Italian.  I would have thought that his London accent would have been a dead give away.

Movietonews used large saloon cars to carry their sound crews and their equipment.  These cars were converted to take the extra weight by inserting additional springs in the suspension as well as a reinforced roof with a rubber cover including fitted eyelets to allow the heavy Wall camera to be secured to the top for travel shots.

In 1939, they secured three Sunbeam Talbot cars which were converted and two of them were taken to France.  Their registration numbers were FLD 5, FLD 6 and FLD 7.  Only FLD 7 survived in England, the other two were abandoned in June 1940.  One wonders what happened to them.

The Ministry of Information was disbanded in March 1946 and became The Central Office of Information.

The newsreels were just getting back into their old routine into what might be described as their heyday.  This to be followed by their inevitable demise.

Acknowledgements: Photo of Ministry of Information building © Copyright Stephen McKay and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Photo of Inside Senate House by Steve Cadman. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about Movietone click here.

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