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Flight of the White Heron 1954

In December 1952, Spyros P. Skouras, President of 20th Century Fox, and Earl Sponable, Fox’s head of development were in Nice, France, where they witnessed a demonstration of an anamorphic lenses put on by its inventor Professor Henry Chrétien.  They were impressed.

Chrétien had invented and produced the lens in 1929 and Skouras made an immediate agreement with him for the lens of the shipped to the United States to enable production of other lenses to be made.

In January 1953, Skouras made a decision to produce “The Robe” in CinemaScope, the name he had given to the new system.  In September, it was released at the Roxy Cinema in New York.

The vaginal image of the rear element seen fro...

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The CinemaScope picture would, eventually, provide an aspect ratio of 2.55 : 1 as opposed to the original “Academy” aspect ratio of 1.37 : 1.

With this new wide screen presentation would come stereophonic sound.  This was to be achieved by placing thin magnetic stripes on each side of the sprockets on the 35mm print of the final film.  These strips were 1.6mm wide and would be fed into speaks deployed to the left, right and centre of the screen.

Recognising the advantage that the system would give to news and documentary films, Sir Gordon Craig, Managing Director of British Movietonews, a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox, decided that Movietone should embark on a production of a two-reel (20 minute) film on The Queen’s tour of the Commonwealth.

It is obvious that the potential crews for the production would have no knowledge of the requirement of work with an anamorphic lens or, indeed, stereophonic sound.

Screenshot from the film The High and the Mighty.

Image via Wikipedia

Paul Wyand was selected to be principal sound cameraman.   In September 1953, Paul Wyand set off, with Jack Ramsden, for Los Angeles where he would receive instruction in the use of the anamorphic lens.

Paul Wyand said “We arrived in Los Angeles on September 18th and were met by Movietone’s chef representative out there, Arthur de Titta.  We drove straight to the studio and were rushed into conference with Sol Halprin, 20th Century Fox’s chief camera engineer, who lectured me on the technicalities of the new lens…. After three days…. It was decided that I knew how to use the anamorphic lens, and it was handed over to me with great ceremony”.

In London, Victor Mardon, Movietone’s brilliant engineer, working out of Conway Street, in Fitzrovia, had the task of mounting the lens on Wyand’s sound camera, a Wall, with its eight orthodox lenses and on his silent Newman Sinclair camera which carried four lenses.  This task required accuracy of one thousandth of an inch

Reg Sutton was to be Paul’s sound man on the tour.  A former B.B.C. sound engineer, he was highly regarded by Paul Wyand.

Paul Wyand made a test shoot in black and white and they were found to be of excellent quality.

Because it had been intended only to produce a twenty-minute film, the beginning of the tour was not to be covered.  This part of the tour was to Newfoundland, Bermuda and Jamaica.  Paul and Reg set off for Perth Australia in the S.S. Maloja out of Tilbury.

In an interview recorded by the film union A.C.T.T. in 1987, Reg Sutton was asked if the crew took all the consumables required for the tour.

Reg Sutton: Everything. Yes.

Roy Fowler: Do you remember how much tape you had and how much stock Paul

RS: Well I mean I, let’s see now, a seven-inch reel runs for fifteen minutes, I think. Yes. Fifteen inches, seven inches at fifteen minutes. Film stock.

Taffy Haynes :  (Sound recordist) Twenty minutes ….

Reg Sutton: And I took something like 100 rolls of seven inch tape and we had about 50,000 ft of Eastman Color film.

The first port of call for the Royal Tour was Suva and on December 17th 1954 , Paul was set up to film the arrival.

Paul Wyand wrote: “The morning of December 17th was scorching hot.  Accompanied by the New Zealand Cruiser “Black Prince”, the Gothic steamed into Suva escorted by hundred of tiny outriggers their brightly coloured sails a mosaic of gay, bobbing colour.  With the mountains in the background, the scene was ideal for “CinemaScope”.

There were other colourful events on Fiji from where they all moved on to Tonga.

Paul Wyand was aware that he was not there to shoot everything that happened.  He had to prepare a feature film with a beginning a middle and an end.  There were no be much room for the shaking of hands with local VIPs. There were plenty of other cameramen to provide newsreel material to the rest of the world.

Queen Salote in London

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After the meeting between the Queen and Queen Salote, the larger than life sovereign of Tonga, there was an enormous feast was held.  The entire population of Tonga had been commanded to help prepare to feast.  The menu included crayfish, fruit, vegetables and 4,000 sucking pigs.

Paul wrote: “Beautiful young women tore off choice morsels of pork, which they offered to us on leaves and which we at with our fingers, while little girls stood behind us, whisking away the flies”.

The Gothic sailed into Auckland in December 1954 in heavy rain.  Her Majesty the Queen was hailed as “te kotuko reremga tahi” (“the white heron of a single flight”).

Rare in New Zealand, with a population of just 100–120 birds, the white heron is more common in other parts of Asia and the Pacific, the elegant white heron or kōtuku (Egretta alba modesta) with a long, slender neck, yellow bill and thin legs, they grow to 92 centimetres in length and 900 grams in weight. In flight their long neck is held kinked. During breeding their bill darkens and a veil of fine feathers extends beyond the folded wings and tail, accentuating their graceful profile.

Kōtuku had mythical status for Māori because of their rarity and beauty. The epithet, ‘te kōtuku rerenga tahi’ (the white heron of a single flight) was given to distinguished guests who seldom visited.

The tour moved on to Rotorua where the Queen and the Duke were welcomed by 10,000 maoris.  A loyal address was presented to them.

It began:


ARISE! ARISE! Arise! ye chiefs and warriors who lie in the darkness of Eternal Night! Come forth and hearken, ye who sleep the long last sleep! Stand forth and give welcome for the First-born of the Line draws near!

WELCOME O stranger from beyond the horizon! the rare White Heron of single flight. You bring to us precious memories of your revered and illustrious father, our late beloved King. In you we see him again: the song bird singing at dawn, bringing joy and happiness into the hearts of all. Alas! he is gone. Farewell O Sire! Depart to the Great Beyond — to your ancestors! Tread the worn path that leads to the Courtyard of Eternal Life! Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!

Lo — a new dawn breaks!

All was faithfully filmed by Paul Wyand for the documentary, for the first time in CinemaScope.

It was Lady Craig, who picked up on this name accorded to the Queen and she suggested that it should be adapted to form the title of the film.  Thus, the film was to be known as “The Flight of The White Heron”.

After extensive coverage in New Zealand which included wonderful material from South Island, the Tour moved on to Australia.  Paul Wyand flew ahead.

He was set up at Farm Cove, overlooking Sydney Bridge, when the Gothic sailed through the sunshine on February 3rd,1955.

Paul wrote:

The cheers of welcome that greeted the Royal pair were more than warmly enthusiastic: they welded into one mighty, uninhibited roar that I can liken in its fervour only to a much magnified version of the yell that echoes round Wembley Stadium when the winning goal is scored”.

The Queen and the Duke went to Canberra where the Queen was to unveil an 250 foot high memorial that had been built by the Americans.  This was an important event for Paul to cover to assist in the acceptance of the film in the United States.

Paul Wyand found that there was no acceptable camera position and he instructed a local builder to make a sizeable rostrum to take his camera and that of the Movietonews cameramen.   Paul was not convinced of its safety and asked for additional scaffolding to be used. It was ten feet high and, he was told, that it would take fifty of his weight.

Paul wrote:

Everything was now ready for the Queen’s appearance.  But a few minutes before she was due to arrive, the stand suddenly trembled beneath me.  A second later there was a splintering crash, and I felt myself fall.  I hit the ground with a thud that took the breath from my body, and was buried beneath the smashed framework of the stand as it tumbled on top of me.  I could not move my legs, and as excruciating pain shot through my right wrist when helpful hands dragged me from the wreckage”.

Paul was immediately attended by Sir Earl Page who was the Australian Minister of Health.  He saw his camera being rescued by Reg Sutton with the assistance of Australian Prime Minister Bob Menzies.

By now, the film from Fiji and Tonga had long since reached London.

The coverage in Fiji and Tonga was so good that Sir Gordon Craig cabled Paul to say “Film Fiji and Tonga so successful decided make ninety-minute full-length film”.

It should be recalled that, when the rushed were screened at 22 Soho Square, we were not able to view the film as CinemaScope.  I imagine, at that time, the nearest anamorphic projector lens would have been in New York.  We had to use our imagination, but this was comparatively easy.  When we saw the breadth of picture, not by its aspect ratio, but by its content.  It was stunning.  In addition, were looking at Eastman Color Negative with its odd colour couplers of Cyan, Magenta and yellow.

The broad vistas captured by Paul Wyand were immediately obvious as wonderful pictures even with the constraints we all had viewing the rushes.

Raymond Perrin had been assigned as film editor.  He had handled most of the previous documentaries made by Movietonews.   No equipment in the cutting room had been modified to show CinemaScope and Perrin was obliged from the outset to edit the film as he saw it, an anamorphic picture.

As Raymond Perrin completed each location, he would screen the edited version in the little theatre.  This was mainly for the benefit of Mr. Gerald Sanger, the Editor of Movietonews , who was to write the commentary for the film.  However, it allowed us all to see progress and to anticipate what was to be a wonderful scenic and event experience.

The making of four stereophonic tracks for the release of the film required specialist knowledge that no one at Movietonews possessed at that time.

Duncan Carse, the actor, who also traded as a sound recording/mixer under the name of Vorke Scarlett was engaged to offer his expertise in the field of stereophonic sound recording.

The sound engineers at Movietonews were C.P. (Pat) Sunderland and Pat Wyand, Paul’s younger brother.  Stan Wicken was the music editor.  To them, like most of the film industry, even using magnetic tape was in its infancy.

For each sequence of the film, between them, they were obliged to produce four magnetic tracks.  These were position one each side of the perforations on the 35mm film.

There were three stereo tracks which represented left, right and centre.  There was a sort of neutral track which probably carried the music.

In addition they were obliged to provide a fully scored optical track for those cinemas unable to screen stereophonic sound.

Unfortunately, the sound mixing desk at Movietone would have been primitive by today’s standards and they were forced to do the re-recording elsewhere, they completed the job and they did it well.  They used the Dubbing Suite of Vorke Scarlett at R.C.A..

Back in Australia, Paul Wyand was out of action as a camera operator.  Australian Movietonews sent Mark McDonald to operate for him.  Mark was then 21 years of age, but an experienced newsreel cameraman.  He would be the first Australian to operate in “Cinemascope”.

Paul wrote: “The thought came to me that my wife might first learn of my accident from the British newspapers, so I promptly cabled her ‘Have broken my wrist.  Am well plastered’.  Win replied ‘You’re telling me’.

In his hotel nursing a plastered arm, Paul received a phone call from The Queen’s Lady in Waiting who said: “Her Majesty wants to know how you are, and asks me to tell you how sorry she is about your accident”.

With this boost to his morale, Paul and his crew went on to cover the rest of the tour in Australia.   Within a week or so, Paul was able to operate a camera again.

The Royal party on board Gothic, set sail for Ceylon, as it was then ,

Paul and Reg Sutton, now joined by Norman Fisher, shot the events in Ceylon. Norman took over the camera.

The Royal tour continued in East Africa and Paul Wyand, with Reg Sutton flew to Uganda where they were to record a memorable sequence with the Queen at Owen Falls Dam.

Norman Fisher moved on to Malta where he filmed memorable pictures of Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke, meeting their children.  He went on to Gibraltar where he filmed the Royal children with the Barbary Apes.

On May 2nd Paul Wyand and Reg Sutton flew back to London where they were met by Paul’s wife, Win, and Jack Ramsden.

Paul was welcomed everywhere as a hero, appearing on “In Town Tonight” on the B.B.C. and being wined and dined where he said “Never before (or since) have I known such flattering praise…. And, if my head was not turned it was because, as I told Reg Sutton ‘ You’re only as good as your last picture’.

In Reg Suttons 1987 interview he said: “We were home in time to film her arrival back in this country. So we were away six months altogether and we went 26,757 miles in eighteen flights on eleven different airlines, 11,624 miles by sea, 6,000 miles by road and 16,019 miles by rail. Paul shot 40,000 ft of Eastman colour and I recorded ten miles of quarter inch magnetic tape.

And the material was not used for a newsreel at all.  The Flight of the White Heron, which had worldwide distribution and it ran for twelve weeks at the Carlton Cinema, Haymarket. So that was an assignment of a lifetime.

By now, Movietone had taken possession of another anamorphic lens and David Samuelson was able to take aerial shots of the progress of Gothic into the Solent where it was welcomed by large numbers of the Home Fleet.  Paul Wyand filmed the scene from on board H.M.S Boxer.

Flight Of The White Heron

Within a few days after the beginning of June 1954, “The Flight of The White Heron” had been released in the U.S.A., the U.K., France, Spain and Portugal.

On June 7th, it was released at the Essoldo cinema in Barnet.

When the première audience saw, for the first time, that famous scene in Suva, a great gasp went up from the auditorium.  There would be a number of scenes like that for them to react to.

It was a remarkable film, conceived, in terms of its content by one man, Paul Wyand.  It was he who decided what should go into the film and what should not.  He did not make a mistake.  He worked without a production manager or administrative assistant.

It would be impossible today to re-produce the reaction that the film generated with its first audiences.

© 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.

For other articles about Movietone click here.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. have just watched the film on the website in low resolution. i was completely intrigued by the behind production that went into it. especially given HRH has just been here in Australia again.

    November 19, 2011
  2. thank you for this informative background

    November 19, 2011
    • Thank you for your comment and congratulations on the acquisition of the Movietone Library. For a few years I contributed to its contents when I was Assignments Manager. Altogether, I was employed by Movietone for fifteen years finally transferring to United Press International Newsfilm as head of production.

      I have written the articles about Movietone because there seemed to be little information available from any other source, apart from the bufvc.

      The London Premiere of Flight of The White Heron was held at The Carlton cinema in the Haymarket. Members of the staff of Movietone were invited to see the film that had been the centre of activity within the company for some time. However familiar we were with the film, it was still a shock when it first hit the screen. It was quite an experience.

      November 20, 2011

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