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Coventry Cathedral May 1962

Early in May ’62 as Assignments Manager for Movietone, I drove off to Coventry to the new cathedral, to arrange for camera positions for the forthcoming consecration.

I met the dean who showed me around.

I was amazed to see that, apart from tidying up, the old cathedral had been left as it was after the German bombs destroyed it in November 1940. The new cathedral had been built a short distance away and one could walk up the nave of the old cathedral and then face the entrance of the new.

I was shown all the main features.  The cathedral itself had been designed by Sir Basil Spence after he won the design competition.

It was a somewhat squat building with a pillared entrance connecting it to the old cathedral.  It had taken six years and cost £1,350,000 to build.

Baptistry Window, Coventry Cathedral

Image by stevecadman via Flickr

The baptistery window was stunning, made of richly coloured stained glass designed by John Piper.  At the end there was the great tapestry, seventy feet high, which went from ceiling almost to the floor, designed by Graham Sutherland and featuring Christ enthroned among the four Beasts of the Revelation.  Outside on the wall is a Jacob Epstein sculpture depicting St. Michael treading the Devil underfoot.

There was a cross which had been made up from burnt timbers from the original cathedral and it had been preserved and became a talisman for the new church.  It was very impressive and I knew immediately what shots I wanted to bring this to the public.

Coventry cathedral burnt cross

Image via Wikipedia

I had a scaffold built to the left of the entrance, so that we would have a close up of the Queen going in for the ceremony.  She would be seen coming from the old cathedral, where I had placed another cameraman.  Inside, we had another rostrum built on which we had a sound camera, with a B.B.C. sound feed, showing much of the nave and the tapestry. We were unable to get a position which looked down the centre of the cathedral along the nave.  We built a third rostrum to the left of , and forward of, the High Altar.  This held another sound camera.   We had a camera, mounted on a tripod, to the right of the altar giving a front shot of the royal party seated.  Finally, we had a roving cameraman, hand holding, among the congregation who could pick up anything missed by our other cameras.

A few days before, Norman Fisher went up to Coventry to record scenes in the city and in the Cathedral, shots that would not be possible on dedication day. He was able to get our close ups of various features like the Sutherland Tapestry, the Screen, the stained-glass windows and the Epstein sculpture of St. Michael..

Chancel and Sutherland's tapestry, Coventry

Image by mberry via Flickr

As with any Royal event, everything happened exactly as it was organised at exactly the same moment that it was intended it should happen.  We had no trouble filming the dedication.  There was one oddity.  Some pop group sang “Morning has broken”.  This was to show that the new cathedral was going to be used for events other than purely religious occasions.

The coverage on May 25th and final story was first class and it is still in the Movietonews library for anyone to see. The story is called “Phoenix from the fire“.

After the end of the ceremony, all the rushes were handed to Ken Hanshaw who, in his newly acquired A99, two-tone cream and red, Wolseley Westminster, drove down the recently opened M1 to get the film into the laboratory fast. At that time, the Motorway was de-restricted, he could do whatever speed the road, and the car, would bear.  It was a Friday and the story had to be on the screens by Sunday.

It was a late night for Movietone production staff as they edited, scripted and recorded commentary before handing it over to the Laboratory to accompany the rest of the current edition.

This story was unique in my experience at Movietone in that the library material concerning the destruction of the old cathedral  and the fires in Coventry were in black and white while the ceremony of the dedication was in colour.

Here is an audio interview I gave in 2012 to the BBC about the event:

© 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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