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Churchill’s funeral – 1965

On January 9th, 1965, Sir Winston Churchill, at the age of ninety, had a stroke and went into a coma. He was living in his London home at Hyde Park Gate.

At his age and with a stroke, he was not expected to survive and Hyde Park Gate became crowded with the world’s press. This included UPIN and Movietonews crews. It was necessary to have a camera crew outside the house for twenty-four hours a day.

Journalists were ask to accompany the cameramen in the vigil. Eventually, due to exhaustion and the frequency of the shifts, the crews became unable to continue. It was decided to bring cameramen in from Paris. Paul Badin turned up and it was I that was elected to accompany him.

We stayed there, on and off, for several days doing six hour shifts with others. On the morning of January 24th, there was a great deal of activity. Lady Churchill and the eldest daughter Mary Soames were already living in the house, but in the early morning other members of the family started to arrive, his son Randolph Churchill with grandson Winston Churchill, followed by Lady Sarah Audley, Churchill’s actress daughter, who had performed as Sarah Churchill, who was accompanied by her daughter.

Soon afterwards, a spokesman for the family doctor, Lord Moran, came out and announced Churchill’s death.

This event was filmed and, soon, despatched around the world.

Now we had to complete plans for his funeral. We had had some time to start getting ready because we knew the route and the method of transport of Churchill’s body through London.

I told Dick Clark that I needed a minimum of nine cameramen to do the job properly. He agreed so I had to bring in six freelance cameramen to make up the numbers. These would be in addition to Tony Chapman, Jim Godfrey and Peter West, the staff cameramen at the time. The BBC had forty cameras employed that day January 30th 1965.

Each of the nine camera positions had to be arranged, either with private owners of the buildings that offered a good camera position or from Westminster or City of London councils. Several of the cameramen were located on specially constructed platforms that we shared with other news organisations.

The body of Churchill had lain in State in Westminster Hall where 300,000 people had filed past the coffin paying their respects.

I deployed the crews along the route which went from Westminster Hall, along Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, into the Strand and on to Fleet Street and finally Ludgate Hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral where the funeral service was held.

From St. Paul’s, the cortege moved to Tower Pier where the coffin was placed on a the launch Havengore which took it up river. I had placed myself, with cameraman John Abbott, at the top of the Shell building on the South Bank. It was a magnificent position, offering a wonderful shot of the launch with its attending escort. The launch approached us from our right as it made its way through King’s Reach to Waterloo.


Image by CARLOS62 via Flickr

At Waterloo, the coffin was transferred to a train drawn by a Battle of Britain Class locomotive, the “Winston Churchill”.

Crowds lined the railway route to Blaydon where Sir Winston Churchill was buried in a private ceremony.

Out at Heathrow, Victor Mardon, Movietone’s mechanical boffin, had rigged a telerecording camera and as the BBC coverage unfolded, he recorded from a TV screen. In the camera, he used 100 foot and 200 foot spools as take-up spools, so that these, when required, could be unloaded without fogging the film and without the necessity of a changing bag. The spools provided a light shield to the wound film and only the outermost foot or so would be fogged.

At various intervals, he would break off the exposed film and “can” it ready for shipment around the world by the next available aircraft. Victor had been given a whole series of stopping times to co-incide with the scheduled air services that would take the undeveloped film around the world.

Our shipping agents, Shand Air Cargo, stood by with prepared waybills to collect the film and get it to the plane. In one or two cases, the film was handed to the pilot, in UPI parlance a « Pigeon » because the formalities in some cases would have taken too long. By this means, a number of clients, especially those in the Far East, at least got a part of the whole unfolding story within 24 hours.

Our nine camera crews had captured the whole procession from Westminster Hall to Waterloo Station. An edited version of this coverage was being flown out to all clients later that night and first thing the next morning.

This was another of those hand delivered stories that, today, would be broadcast around the world by satellite.

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© 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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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. My name is Christopher Ryland and I own the Havengore, which was used to carry Churchill’s coffin from Tower Pier to Festival Pier as described here.

    This is a great account of the funeral from a filming and broadcasting perspective.

    It is especially relevant this week as Havengore will be taking part in the Queens Diamond Jubilee River Pageant carrying members of the Royal family on June 3rd 2012.

    Many members of the press have been asking about the funeral and I could direct them to this blog.

    It is my understanding that there was some satellite coverage over the North Atlantic so the live audience was estimated at 350 million – the Diamond Jubilee river pageant will go out to between 3 and 4 billion!

    May 27, 2012
    • Dear Mr. Ryland,

      Many thanks for your comments. I am glad to know that the, now, famous vessel is still afloat and will be used on such an auspicious occasion. I will be watching. The use of the satellite at that time was one of the earliest examples of satellite broadcasting. I believe I am right in saying that the satellite used was in orbit as opposed to those in use today which are in what they call Geostationary orbit.

      Best wishes for the big day. Bon Voyage !

      Kindest regards,

      Terry Gallacher

      May 27, 2012

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