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Colleagues: Dick Davies – Movietone

During this period at Movietonews, the late forties, there was a great deal of change.  All those who had been called up during the war were returning to take up their careers again.

One of these was C. F. W. Davies, known as Dick Davies.  Dick had worked in the accounts department before the war and he now returned to accounts. This was his legal right.

Dick was unlike the others who worked in Accounts.  He was older than most of them and I should think he was approaching forty when he returned to the company.  He dressed well, as did all the others in accounts, however, he cut a sort of dash.  His hair was slicked down with Brylcream and he had a thin moustache and a cheeky grin. He was something like Douglas Fairbanks Senior.

There was not really a job for him to do in accounts and Mr. Abrams, the accountant, gave him a lot of calculating work to do.  There were no calculators in the department, so Dick added the columns in his head and recorded the result in his immaculate handwriting at bottom of the page.  Being an accomplished mathematician, Dick finished the work before lunch and then spent the rest of the day reading the paper.  Soon, Mr. Abrams gave him twice as much work to do and he still finished before lunch.  However much he was given, he always finished the work early.  Mr. Abrams did not like him very much.

At this time, Movietonews had need to import and export newsfilm in exchange with Movietone offices overseas.  These were in Munich, Paris, New York, Rome and Sydney.  There were also special versions of the newsreel which were sent to Spain and South Africa.

Unloading air freight from a plane, Queensland...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loose arrangements like the one they had had with American Air Command from Old Quebec Street would not go on forever.

In order to handle their imports and exports, they employed the services of two shipping agencies.  One was called Cattermole, the other Mueller.

They were very efficient shipping agencies, but they were quite unused to handling airfreight which had only recently been introduced as a means of regular cargo transport. Their reputation had been built up by sea and road/rail transport. Unfortunately, too, they did not have the sense of urgency required to act for a newsreel.

Their principal problem was that they never made any specific runs to or from the airports on behalf of Movietonews.  We had to wait until they had a truck going as part of their routine.  By this means incoming flights were missed, on the one hand, and export shipments sat at the airports for a couple of days on the other.

This situation prompted British Movietone News to consider opening their own shipping department.  They started to look for a likely candidate to manage the department.  Mr. Abrams recommended that Dick Davies should be transferred to take over the new department. He had to get rid of him somehow. Dick was interviewed by The General Manager, Robert Gibbon, who asked him if he would be willing.  Dick said he would be interested, but he wanted some time to investigate the situation and then consider his response.  After a few weeks, during which he made many enquiries, Dick came back to Robert Gibbon and said he agreed to take the job on, but he asked that if he got the department fully up and running, he would wish to be paid the going rate for middle management viz., £20 a week.  This was an enormous sum at the time, but Robert Gibbon agreed. After all, the News Editor, The Production Manager and the Chief Sound Engineer would have been on such a salary.

Dick set about his task with enormous energy.  He went out to Northolt Airport and the fledgling Heathrow where he met the airlines and customs and excise.  He found out how the whole system worked, what forms to fill in,  what permanent arrangements had to be made and who was important at the airports.

He even got special dispensations from customs concerning the early retrieval of incoming shipments.  Most of these arrangements were to remain for almost forty years.

He also found airport agents, Shand Air Cargo, who could go “airside” which enabled them to collect cans of film carried by pilots.  These “safe-hand” delivery shipments were to become known as “pigeons”, after the carrier.  Sometimes, aircrew were asked to carry cans of film back because there was no time to go through the normal shipping arrangements or, in some cases, there were no formal shipping services.

Roy Houghton

After a few months, he was ready.  He had taken on two shipping clerks. Roy Houghton and Eric Spong.  Roy was about twenty-two while Eric was almost thirty.  Both, like Dick, had been in the R.A.F.

In turn, they would drive to and from the airports in the company car to deliver or collect shipments. All three, Dick, Roy and Eric all prepared their own Air Waybills for the film they took out to the airports. This meant that, in terms of exports, all they had to do was hand over the shipment to the appropriate airline. Because of Dick’s arrangements, there was seldom a delay and, suddenly, Movietone were receiving their material up to two days sooner than under the previous arrangement.  Soon Roy and Eric knew the customs men and the agents at the airports very well.  All this helped to smooth the way for the shipments in and out.

What made the movement smoother was that Dick would go to the airports every Christmas armed with a bunch of the readies, and other goodies, which he handed out to the said customs officers and airline representatives.

Within a short time, the department Dick set up was running at full capacity; it was running efficiently and providing a huge economy to the company.  The cost of the department was a fraction of that which had been paid out to Messrs Cattermoul and Mueller.  Movietone were well able to pay Dick his required salary.  But, they didn’t.

Dick had another side to his life, he was a musician.  When Dick was fourteen years of age, he ran his own trio.  He played saxophone and violin, while his drummer was a man in his fifties and his pianist was a woman in her sixties.  They used to attend small dances and got paid £3 a time.  Dick arranged all the gigs and divvied up the money as he thought fit.

Dick was sharp and knew how to provide his clients with what they wanted.  Later, he ran a dance orchestra with some success.  When the war came, he was called into the Royal Air Force and soon found that his musicianship would place him in an Air Force Band.  Later, when the Allies occupied a good deal of Southern Italy, it was he who formed a dance orchestra which broadcast from Radio Bari to the allied forces in Italy.  It was a great success.

As soon as he came out of the Air Force, he started up his own orchestra again.  It was common knowledge within the company that Dick spent an amount of his time on the phone arranging gigs and hiring musicians, but this never affected his work in the Shipping Department. He had that running like a Singer sewing machine.

Dick used to fulfil some big dates, especially at week-ends.  In those days, there was a complete circuit of “Big Bands” that toured the country.  These bands were the successors to Glenn Miller or Artie Shaw in the U.S. and Joe Loss, Geraldo and Ambrose in England.  One of the top bands of the day was a former Royal Air Force Band called  “The Squadronaires”. They were fulfilling a date in London and, as was usual in those days, they needed a second band to give them a break during the evening.  Dick’s Band was hired.  They played so well, that people on the dance floor asked which of the two bands was “The Squadronaires”.  He was that good.

We used to ask him why he did not chuck in his job and run the band full time.  He said he liked working, but I suspect that he thought that the era of the big bands was nearing its end.

Dick used to live in Hedge Lane, Edmonton and he drove a Triumph Gloria.  It was a pre-war model, about 1936, like almost every other car on the road. It was a beautiful car with an overdrive.  Dick often used to give me a lift home to Tottenham.  We spoke about everything, and it was while driving home in his car that I learned the fine detail of his experiences.

With the success of The Shipping Department, Dick was ready to collect his reward.  He went to Robert Gibbon to ask for his raise to bring him up to the £20 per week which was the minimum for a member of the management team.

Robert Gibbon said that he could not do it.  Dick was astonished to find that the company had reneged on a promise.

Gibbon made a suggestion that if Dick had any “expenses”, he, Gibbon, would pass them without question.  Dick took this to mean that he could recoup some, or all, of his reward through his expense sheet, after all, he thought, “everyone else seemed to have been at it”.

The chief cameraman, Paul Wyand, often said (at that time) that when a cameraman had done a good job, he could milk the expenses.  If he knew he had done a bad job, he should not bother to do expenses at all. However, no one would have held to the latter extreme.

At Christmas, Dick would enhance his expense sheet to cover his gifts to the airport people, so that he collected as much as they did.

He would claim mileage for trips to the airport that he did not make.  He claimed for lunches with airport staff that he didn’t have.  All his expenses were passed without question.

After two or three years of this, Dick’s pre-occupation with his band and his claims for trips to the airport started to get to Eric Spong and Roy Houghton.  Roy was not too worried about it, taking into consideration what had happened to Dick.  However, Eric found it harder and harder to put up with, principally because if Dick was claiming a run to the airport, Eric could not.

Eric decided to report Dick to the Management.  He went to Sir Gordon Craig, rather than Robert Gibbon, and told him what Dick had been doing.

Sir Gordon sent for Dick and confronted him.  Dick explained what agreement he had with Robert Gibbon.  Robert Gibbon flatly denied it.  Sir Gordon told Dick that he must either resign or Sir Gordon would report the matter to the police.

Dick left the company.  Eric became a pariah.

That was not the end of the story.

Some time later, Dick was seeking employment as a wages clerk and he needed a reference from Movietone.  It was a special reference, because Dick needed a bond as he was to be handling money.

In fact it was the bond company that approached Movietone for the reference.  Robert Gibbon returned the letter with the message “No comment”.  They tried several times and always received the same answer.

The Bond company called Dick for an interview and confronted him with the result of their enquiries.  Dick told them the whole story about how he was promised a salary of £20 per week if he successfully set up The Shipping Department to run efficiently and save the company money. He told them of how he was actually encouraged to use the expense sheet as recompense.

They gave him his bond.

The Shipping Department that was started by Dick Davies in 1949 continued, virtually unchanged in terms of method of operation, until 1967 when it became the Traffic Department of Independent Television News.  The department was only dissolved when news material was being exchanged exclusively via satellite and land-line.

© 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 more articles in the Colleagues series click here.

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