Book review: Useless if Delayed – by Paul Wyand (1907-1968)
Christmas 2010 I received one of the best Christmas presents that I could have imagined. My son Ian procured for me a copy of “Useless if Delayed”, the book published in 1959 and long since out of print. It was written by my colleague, friend and associate Paul Wyand.
I had known Paul as the Chief cameraman at Movietone when I arrived there in 1945. When he gave up camerawork in the late fifties, he became Assignments Manager working under J.L. (Jack) Ramsden who was Production Manager.
In 1961, Jack Ramsden became unwell and, temporarily, retired from the job. Paul Wyand became Production Manager and I took over his job as Assignments Manager. We worked together for the next four years.
Paul Wyand has been described as the finest newsreel cameraman of all time, an accolade that he, himself, would have called “an exaggeration”.
While reading his book, it was as if he was sitting across from me at a table in “The Swan” in Denham village telling me his story. It is that sort of book.
Most days of the week, during the early sixties, we would take lunch together. I never remember him recalling his exploits of earlier years. Much of my knowledge of Paul Wyand came from other people. Because of this, I knew, roughly, where he had been at various times, but the book told me in vivid detail. He must have kept a diary. He could recall the names of people he only met on one day of his life. He would also recall the first meeting he ever had with people who became his lifelong friends, of these there were many.
The book tells of his assignments around the world, the people he met at close range, that is people in high places who recognised him and spoke with him. These included Winston Churchill and, later, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the present Queen.
He went to America and Canada with Churchill in the winter of 1941, he was posted to Italy in 1943 during the Italian campaign where he shot the famous scenes of the bombing of Monte Cassino. He filmed the grand entry into Rome.
He went with a camera car, a large 1935 Humber Imperial. On loading it up, he wrote: “By the time Martin Gray (his sound man) and I had packed aboard my big camera which weighed a hundredweight), my silent combat camera, 20,000 feet of film, five hundredweight of sound equipment, batteries, and our personal baggage, the car topped the scales at two tons”.
After the invasion of the south of France, he was landed there and, with Martin Gray, they drove all the way to the channel port to get home.
He was assigned to the British Forces in Northern Germany in 1944 where he was the first newsreel cameraman to enter Belsen. He describes in detail what he saw and how it affected his life. He filmed the signing of the surrender on Luneberg Heath, supervised by Field Marshal Montgomery. He followed that with the crossing of the Rhineand the link up with the Russian forces coming from the east.
For much of the time, the crew of Wyand and Gray had to sleep rough, sometimes cadge food, keep their ageing camera car roadworthy and find their own way around. There was not a journalist in sight to tell them what to do. They were the journalists, as were all the newsreel cameramen. They made their own arrangements.
There were times both in Italy and Germany when it was quite likely that he and Martin Gray were closer to the enemy lines than the allied infantry. How did the honours system pass him by ?
After the war, he was principal cameraman on the Royal Visit to South Africa in 1947 and, in late 1953, the Royal Tour of the Commonwealth by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip about which, Movietone made a ninety-minute documentary called “The Flight of The White Heron”. This was shot in CinemaScope, the first full length documentary ever made in that medium.
Although, as I have said, I knew about the headlines of his career, I had never been told the detail until I read the book. Paul never referred to the past except to recall an old anecdote that had a bearing on a new problem.
It is a great pity that “Useless if Delayed” is no longer available to all who would wish to read it.
© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2011. 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.
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