A return to civvy street April 1949
Home again, home again jiggedy jig.
It took a while to get used to life outside the Army (as a Corporal at the Royal Army Ordinance Corps), not that there had been any strict discipline or hard work, it’s just that, however reasonable was life in the Army, after two and a half years I was now free to do what I wanted, to plan the future. It was a much anticipated turning point in my life and I was going to make the most of it.
I turned up at Movietonews at 22 Soho Square, wondering what they had in store for me. I was asked to go to the General Manager’s Office, Mr. Robert Gibbon. He said “How would you like to be the General Office Manager”. I said, “I would like that very much”. He said “Off you go then and good luck”. I did not receive a single word of instruction. I was twenty years of age and did not expect to receive the offer.
Life back at British Movietone News became more interesting. I ran the General Office where I was responsible for all the records, most of which were compiled in my office, by me. I had an office boy at all times, a younger version of myself. They had to learn to type, some of them did, some of them did not. A few passed through the office after a short time, others stayed a while.
We typed the contents sheets, the “comparative statement” which showed the contents of all the other newsreels alongside our own. This was to show if we had missed any big stories. The other companies at that time were Pathe, Paramount, Gaumont British News and Universal News.
We typed and filed all the commentaries and provided contents list to anyone who wanted them. We typed the Music Cue Sheets. These were documents which listed all the music used in each newsreel and documentary for submission to the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) who would then send us a bill and pass over some of their receipts to the authors or arrangers of the music we used.
We handled all the incoming and outgoing mail.
The good bit about the job was that I was invited to go with the camera crews on certain assignments. The highlight of the year was the Cup Final at Wembley, Leicester City against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
On April 30th, a couple of weeks after leaving the Army, I was at the great stadium. We had several crews there. Paul Wyand and Derek Stiles were operating a Wall camera up in the Eaves. In those days, the west stand was like an old-fashioned stadium stand. It was a huge roof of corrugated iron, the rim of which was about a hundred feet above the terracing. The problem of getting up there, and down, was that you needed a very long ladder. I went up there to have a look.
The view was magnificent, but the climbing of the ladder was something of an ordeal. How the combined thirty-three stone of Messrs Wyand and Stiles did it, I don’t know. The bottom of the ladder was placed on the terracing, before the gates were opened, and it leant forward towards the playing area. The terracing went downwards quite sharply so that with every step up the ladder, the ground became two steps further away.
I was not a witness to the time when Mr. Ted Adams, later General Manager, got half way up before freezing and had to be hauled down. I can quite imagine his horror, it was quite frightening.
The other requirement for the crew “in the Eaves” was that they needed a bucket in which to relieve themselves during the match. It is said that at one Cup Final on a bright sunny day, someone kicked the full bucket over and the contents rained down on the terracing below.
We had a camera mounted over two entrances to the lower terracing. These entrances were roughly level with the outer boundary of the penalty area.
Behind the goal, we had a camera, usually operated by Bill Carrington of Vickers Armstrong who occasionally worked as a freelance for Movietone. This was a slow-motion camera which ran at 120 frames a second, against the standard 24.
Another cameraman, with a hand held camera roamed the stadium shooting the presentation on the pitch, crowd shots and finally the Royal Box and the presentation of the trophy.
Today, people make jokes about the newsreels not filming all the goals, or sometimes none. It is a poor joke and one wonders what people would do if their main camera was used only for recording and they had two ten minute cassettes to last ninety minutes and possibly extra time.
The other cameras were armed with even less film. It is not surprising that they sometimes missed something. What is amazing is what they got.
In later years, the slow motion camera would be a Debrie which had belonged to Paramount and was commissioned from the makers by them. There were only two ever built. The beauty of this camera was that it could run at normal speed and then be jacked up to slow motion speed. Normally this would require a considerable adjustment of the aperture, however, with this camera, it had a flying shutter which opened more and more according to the speed of the camera. It was a masterpiece of engineering that has never been bettered. Many years later, there were variable speed cameras introduced, but they could not pass from one speed to another without adjusting the aperture which made the change of speed obvious.
I chose a location at Wembley from which to watch the match. This was laying down by the wire fence, which separated the pitch from the greyhound track, about five yards forward of the northern penalty area on the opposite side from the Royal Box.
For many years, I was in that spot.
My Father managed to get a ticket for the final and he told me roughly where he would be. I said that I would watch out for him. Almost immediately I got onto the playing area I spotted him. His silver hair shone like a beacon, so I walked toward him and waved. It seems impossible that I should be able to see him in such a huge crowd.
We used to have a few of our people come in without passes. This was done by borrowing a pass from someone already inside and then going out and bringing in another. This passed unnoticed because we were always going backwards and forwards with items of equipment. This would be impossible today.
It was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. From that position, I saw and heard everything. First, after the crowd came in, the little man in his white suit would come to his rostrum and conduct one of the Guards Regimental bands. We would sing, among other things, “Abide with me”. What was so unusual about my location was that I was not in the crowd. Most of the crowd had good voices. The bad ones were drowned out. I was in a unique position to hear the hymn with none of the sounds of poor singing or those who got behind. I have never heard a recording of the singing that compared with the way I heard it from the touchline.
Mr. Arthur Caiger was the “Man in the White suit” and he conducted the Community Singing at the FA Cup final from approx 1947 until 1962. He also did the Rugby, School Boys and Women’s Hockey Finals all held at Wembley. It was him who first introduced “Abide With Me” to the Cup Final .
Incidentally, Wolves beat Leicester 3-1.
© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2012. 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.
For other articles about Movietone click here.
Main photo of Paul Wyand’s Wall camera courtesy of the Tyneside Cinema.