Motorsport: Monte Carlo Rally 1967 Part One
Towards the end of 1966, we got a message from Ken Watanabe in Tokyo. Ken was the UPI commercial representative and a photographer of some note within Compix, the commercial picture division of UPI.
He said that Nissan Motors of Japan had commissioned UPIN (Comfilm) to film the forthcoming Monte Carlo Rally. The Monte is always held in January. Depending on the outcome, we might also be commissioned to cover the East African Safari Rally which is always held at Easter.
I had a lot of arrangements to make before we could do the job. We were being paid a comparatively small amount of money, less than $15,000.
I contacted Henri Brzoska, our man in Pairs, to ask him to advise the Rally authorities of our intentions and to make arrangements for me to pick up appropriate passes.
The situation with cameramen at UPIN at that time was that some were top class documentary and newsreel cameramen that they had inherited from Movietone. Other freelance cameramen were unreliable and were barely capable of shooting a news story. In time, they would improve, but these were early days.
I chose Paul Badin from the Paris office. I knew him from our “guard” duty in Hyde Park Gate while Sir Winston Churchill was dying. He had been a quality cameraman for some time, having worked for some years with Fox Movietonews in Paris. He was the favoured cameraman in the UPIN Paris office.
Henri Brzoska suggested that I used Jacques Hubinet from Marseilles as another cameraman. Jacques father had recently died and left the young Hubinet to run a small film company. Jacques had recently completed his national service and was already an accomplished cameraman. He was in his early twenties. Jacques would provide a camera car which would become necessary for the duration of the rally.
(By 2010, Jacques had become President of his own very successful company, which is one of the largest television studio complexes in France, Les Films Du Soleil)
Brzoska booked us into a small hotel in Beausoleil, just on the border of Monaco, it was The Forum.
In those days, France, as well as the rest of the world, was foreign in the sense that there was full customs and passport control.
I was unable to get a flight directly to Nice on the day I wished to travel. I had to go via Paris Orly. I was carrying all the rawstock for the cameras and had to pass through Customs with it. There was a mix up in Paris where I was to transfer flights. First my flight was late and I had little enough time for the transfer as it was. I went to customs where I was only able to produce one of my bags. Brzoska had sent an agent to help me through customs. He went off looking for the other bag saying that he would put it on the aircraft when he had found it.
Customs let me go saying that I would have to declare the goods to Nice Customs. Upon arriving in Nice, I found that the Customs were closed for the night and gone home.
On arrival at The Forum, I was met by one Pierre Deus. I wondered how he got the name of Deus, but I was soon to find out that it was quite an apt name for one who seemed to know everyone and seemed to be able to arrange almost anything. Pierre lived with his wife and children in an apartment also in Beausoleil.
The following day, Badin arrived from Paris and Jacques Hubinet, after a twenty-four hour delay due to car trouble, with his soundman Monsieur Corsi, drove up in their new Mercedes which was to serve as a camera car.
Pierre Deus and I went down to the press office to get our passes. The passes were mainly intended for use at the Press Centre itself where there was a huge scoreboard and where we could check the passage of all the cars through the special stages. However, they were still handy for access to control points on the route.
We had trouble getting a pass for the car and the organisers required a letter from us formally asking for permission to place the car in various car parks. However, it was Jacques Hubinet who came up with the car rally plates.
The following day we made contact with the Japanese rally team. There was not one of them who could speak either French or English. At that time, we had not met the drivers. We gathered that, later in the day, there would be an interpreter. The interpreter was Madame Hazama who we thought, with a name like that, would be Japanese, but she was French having married a Japanese. She also spoke English and several other languages. She said that, at the age of 67, she was learning Mandarin.
I intended to film other scenes in and around Monaco, that is, other than the cars. The most attractive scene was Les Jardins Exotiques which is located near the French border on the western approach road. Paul Badin and I went along to see the Director. He was very pleased that we were going to film his garden, after all it would be publicity. The gardens are very large and were the pride of Prince Rainier. It specialised in Cacti from all over the world. The normal seasonal temperatures of the Mediterranean are ideal for such a collection, however, this particular morning was quite chilly and I asked the Director if he ever had any trouble with snow and ice.
I cannot recall verbatim what he said, but it was something like this: “Oh yes! 1943, 1952 we had a heavy frost and in 1956 we had snow. I was called during the night to be told that the whole garden was covered in snow and that if it was not removed by the morning, we would lose everything. I rang the Chief of the Fire Brigade and asked him to come with his hoses and hose off the snow. He refused, saying that only the Prince could give permission for him to do that. The Prince, at that time, was in New York, so I called him there and he immediately gave permission for us to use the Fire Brigade. They came along and spent most of the night hosing down the plants and by morning everything was clear and we saved the gardens”.
The Japanese team seemed to be distrustful of us because I wished to know where they were intending to service their cars during the rally. I said that if we did not know where they were, we could not film the proceedings.
We were getting information from them “on the drip” which made it difficult to make arrangements.
I discussed with Badin our plan to use a helicopter to cover the more remote areas that were still quite close to Monaco. We went together to Nice airport where there was a helicopter company. They had an Alouette II which was quite large and the same type used as a French military helicopter.
The problem was that the helicopter had quite a high minimum flying altitude, dictated by the aviation authorities, and that meant that it would be difficult to identify the Datsun cars. There were two ways of overcoming the problem of identifying the cars and the filming of them. The first was to find a way of identifying the cars from a helicopter 9090 feet above and the second was to follow them with a camera car. This, however, was not a practical proposition in view of the fact that we had three cars to film and, on some days, they would be too far apart. The Datsun cars of Nissan Motors were red, like most of the others, and I suggested that a white disc should be painted on the roof of each car. Well, what an uproar that caused !
First, I had to convince the Japanese Rally Team. They could not make a decision without the agreement of their head office, so I asked them to enquire. Fortunately, head office came back quickly with approval.
Next I had to speak with the Rally officials. This is what they thought their mission in life was, that is to accept such requests and then find every possible objection to them. The discussion went on into the night. We got approval the next morning and the white disc was placed on the top of the cars. It was to become part of the livery of Nissan’s Rally Cars for some time to come.
The camera car was a large Mercedes. It had had an extra spring put into the suspension to be able to carry the weight of equipment. In addition, the car had a set of “spiked” tyres which were to be used in the snow and ice. Special headlamps were fitted to give a very bright light, so that the cameraman located in the passenger seat was able to get well lit pictures of any car that he might follow. There was even a tripod head fitted behind the windscreen to take the camera.
This Mercedes was a replacement car for Hubinet’s other new Mercedes that had broken down several times and had been whisked off back to Germany for repairs.
We always had a “belt and braces” attitude to this sort of work so we hired a Citroen DS21, with driver, to follow the Mercedes in case it broke down. Mercedes cars never break down, we all knew that, but we had to be sure. The fitting out of the Mercedes and the spare car came out of the budget for the film and came to more than $1,500 dollars.
The Rally started from points all over Europe, Warsaw, Glasgow, Athens, Madrid, Frankfurt and many others. The distances to Monaco, from all the start points, were always more or less the same and the routes were planned to make them so. Monte Carlo itself was a start point and the cars would travel to the North of France and back to make up the distance that all the other entrants would have to travel.
We decided that, as the Japanese entries of Datsuns were starting from Monte Carlo, we would have no need to cover any other, however, we did get a freelance cameramen to film the departures from Glasgow and Bordeaux, just to make sure that the Japanese would be satisfied.
Our arrangement was that Badin and I would remain in Monte Carlo and film the first two starts and finishes and the immediate surroundings. After the departure, Badin would go off to Nice Airport to board his helicopter and Hubinet would be on the road following the cars.
The organisers had detailed written documents that showed where any given car should be at any given time, but it was not very accurate and, once the cars were on the road, it had to be kept up-to-date for it to have any real meaning. Using this, I was able to calculate when each car would arrive at an intersection. I had to calculate to within three minutes when one of our cars would arrive. This was all I could allow for the helicopter to hover before it had to move on and, eventually, get back to Nice airport within our hiring period. It was quite expensive to hire.
The other function of the helicopter was to follow the cars into the mountains. This is where we were able to “cheat” in terms of the helicopters operational altitude. The helicopter would fly along the valleys and quite often would be level with the road to one side which enabled Badin to get very good close travel shots. While doing this, the helicopter itself was able to maintain its legal height above the valley floor.
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