From guest contributor Derek Evans: Movietone – making the news
Terence Gallacher: Derek Evans is one of my oldest friends and colleagues, we first met at Movietone in 1949. I’m delighted Derek has contributed and will contribute his own recollections of his time in the film and television business. Here’s Derek’s first article:
The Cinema Newsreel
The newsreel consisted of a ten-minute pot-pourri of news stories informing the cinema audience of events from around the world. One of these was British Movietone News, and in 1949 I joined the company as an office junior and for the next seventeen years, apart from three years national service, I took every opportunity to learn about the workings of a news company.
British Movietone News was founded in 1928 and was part of 20th Century Fox-Movietone News which was founded by William Fox in 1919 in the United States of America. Fox had extensive overseas operations including Great Britain, France, Germany and Australia. It was one of five newsreel companies the others being Gaumont British News, Paramount News, Pathe News and Universal News.
The heyday of the newsreel came between 1939 and 1955, with a drop in cinema attendance the newsreels started on a decline.
In 1979 British Movietonews ceased production, the last of the newsreel companies to close unable to compete with television. Originally, Movietonews was located at 22, Soho Square, London and shared premises with Kay Film Laboratories, it was later in the 60’s when Movietone moved to Denham.
Many personalities crossed the threshold including Freddie Mills the boxer, Prince “I gotta horse” Monolulu, King Constantine of Greece, as well as Movietone commentators such as Leslie Mitchell, Lionel Gamlin, who were the mainstay and David Jacobs, Peter Haig, Geoffrey Sumner and MacDonald Hobley.
Movietone produced two newsreels a week under the management of Sir Gordon Craig and editor Tommy Scales. The chief scriptwriter being Cecil Burge ably assisted by Jeff Shearley. The camera crews were under the supervision of Jack Ramsden with Paul Wyand as chief cameraman and Derek Stiles as senior sound recordist, other camera crew members, as far as I can remember, were Norman Fisher, Ken Hanshaw, Alec Tozer, brothers David and Michael Samuelson, Jimmy Humphries, Nick Lera, Ron Collins, Terry O’Brien, George Richardson, John Davies and Malcolm Furness .
The Film Cutting Room was under the supervision of Sid Wiggins, a gentleman of sartorial attire, who always wore a bow tie. I mention this, because later on, Mr Wiggins informed me that my attire was too casual and that should I have to go on an errand I should consider myself as a representative of the company and should wear a suit. Throughout my career I have always remembered this, as on many occasion it stood me in good stead. It was a challenge by my colleagues at that time, that if I was to wear a suit then I should wear a bow tie. The day came, I wore a bow tie and was confronted by Sid Wiggins who pulled it undone. I stood there and retied it. An appreciative “hump” an understanding was noted, I digress, this was one of the many humourous instances that took place and all who were involved in future events took them in the spirit intended.
Over a period of time shortly after joining Movietone I gradually began to understand the machinations of the “makeup” of a newsreel under the tutelage of Terry Gallacher, the office manager, as well as learning to use a typewriter. As office boy/ runner I had the opportunity in going out with the camera crews. It was during the Festival of Britain in 1951 that David Samuelson of Samuelson fame, was assigned to go to the South Bank to cover the Smith brothers who were about to sail across the Atlantic in a small boat. “If you want to be a cameraman then come with me and you will learn something.” Off we went with me carrying a 35mm Newman Sinclair camera and a Vinten tripod, which compared to the equipment of today, seemed to weigh a ton. Never again, the weight of the equipment for someone of my slim stature, at that time, was too much. I thought that film editing would be more to my liking.
Many months later the opportunity for a trainee in the Film Cutting Room arose. My first role as cutting room assistant was to ensure the cutting room was kept clean and tidy and that there was an ample supply of empty film cans, labels, spacing, film cement, white cotton gloves and bloops. Yes, bloops, as many a story has been told about young assistants being caught to go out a purchase bloops and sprocket holes. Fortunately I had my wits about me !
Over a period of time I gradually learnt the art of editing news pictures which were at that time edited on the 35mm Editolas and Hollywood Moviola machines to the laying of sound effects and music tracks to the dubbing and sound mixing to the final mixed master optical track which would be married to the negative for printing. The newsreel, which was produced twice a week, usually consisted of five to six items an ran for approximately ten minutes duration unless it was of special interest. Events such as the FA Cup, the Grand National, the Derby or the Boat Race, Movietone staff would work late afternoon to early evening to ensure that edited highlights of the event were available for screening in London’s west end cinemas. Coverage came from UK assigned cameramen and from Fox Movie tone offices from around the world and in some instances the coverage would take up four days to arrive.
“Make up” day consisted in the viewing of rushes and selecting which stories should be used. This was overseen by Editor in Chief Tommy Scales and Sid Wiggins who would assign film editors Ray Perrin, Alan Haythorne, Peter Whale and Greville Kent to edit the coverage. The following day, any new rushes that had arrived overnight would be screened along with the now edited stories from the previous day. Once final approval had been made the dubbing editors Stan Wicken and Bob Frost would then select the appropriate sound effects and music to go with each edited item. In the meantime Cecil Burge and Jeff Shearley would be writing scripts to accompany the story. The newsreel commentator would have a run through or rehearsal to ensure the script matched the story. The sound recording room was overseen by Pat Sunderland with George Evans as sound engineer along with the protectionist. The commentary, music and sound effects were then mixed into a final optical track until the introduction of the magnetic film stripe, all rather different compared to today’s technology.
Once the final mix had been made the sound track was handed over to Kays negative cutters for matching and assembling prior to bulk printing. In the meantime posters were being printed by 20th Century Fox lithographic department and a summary of the newsreel contents posted to cinema managers around the country to enable them to make any locally advertising to encourage more people to visit the cinema.
On completion of the recording it became necessary to make a shotlist or scene description of each story so that the Movietonews library could store the item for future use either for the year-end review or for commercial clients who required archival material. The library was situated in D’Arblay Street some ten minutes from Soho Square and all edited stories along with the off cuts were sent there for storage. To this day, Movietonews receives credits on many television productions and without the foresight of William Fox there would not now have a visual historic record of world events.
23rd October 2010
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