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Book review: Useless if Delayed – by Paul Wyand (1907-1968)

Useless If Delayed by Paul Wyand

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.

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) English: Winst...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

British General Bernard Law Montgomery, victor...

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, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sadly, there are a great many old books written by the newsreel men that sadly are no longer in print in addition to Mr. Wyand memoirs. There is many a cameramen I know whom I wish could read the words of the past and realize that sometimes what is “new” today really is not.

    January 11, 2011
  2. Hi Amanda,
    How right you are. I am hoping that my recollections might fill a small hole in the missing information. I joined British Movietonews in 1945 when the newsreels were at their peak. At that time and for many more years, the newsreel cameraman WAS the journalist, having to make all the arrangements to get to a location, find accommodation, make sure there was enough rawstock, shoot the story and then get it back to base. Incredibly, during the war, they were getting film from a battlefield to base within two or three days.

    There was no journalist/presenter to stand in front of the camera and take ALL the credit for the pictures.

    Terry Gallacher

    January 12, 2011
  3. P@ #

    This/was a brilliant book. I remember discovering it in my parents bookcase in the early 60’s when I was ummm… 10/11 and being fascinated. I think I read it 3 or 4 times over the following 10 years, and was bitterly disappointed when it just got chucked when the house was sold. Bravery, courage, hard work and a sense of humour – and a wonderful flavour of the real history of the 30’s and 40’s, and the early 50’s.

    I’ve seen it s/h on Amazon recently at a not outrageous 15 quid or so.


    May 7, 2012
    • Get that copy while you can. I am holding on to mine. It is amazing how one is able to recall the book long after reading it. I have found that difficult with some other books. He should have done a follow-up to cover the time he was behind a desk assigning the cameramen.

      I hope you get to read it again.


      May 8, 2012
  4. vinay kumar #

    Hello. My Dad was a Cameraman with the Films Division, Government of India. His Bible was “Useless If Delayed”. I have his copy of the book. It has been wonderful reading for me and I still look at the fabulous photographs.
    The book is in a bad shape. Iam unable to get it restored as we don’t have such facilities in India.
    Anyone interested in discussing this book can contact me at or on face book vinaykumar….cheers

    May 12, 2012

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