Colleagues: Ian Grant – Movietone
Ian Grant came to British Movietone News in 1962, he was my colleague until I left the company in 1964. We remained friends until he died in 1981. Ian James Grant was born in Edinburgh in 1917 and was called up for military service in 1940, initially spending two and a half years with the Royal Scots as a Lance-Corporal. He saw action in Northern France shortly after his conscription and was at Dunkirk in June 1940.
Ian Grant’s father was a reconnaissance photographer with the Royal Flying Corps in The Great War. Perhaps he used an early Vinten camera. Back in civilian life, he opened a photographic studio and Ian Grant joined him in the business after leaving school.
During the Second World War, after two years with the Royal Scots, Ian answered an Army call which asked for volunteers to attend an Army Film and Photographic Unit (A.F.P.U.) training course at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. The initial attraction being better accommodation and freedom from daily drills.
After a two year course, he graduated as a cameraman with the rank of Sergeant. Thus, in 1944, he and his colleagues were ready for the Normandy landings on D-Day.
Prior to the Invasion, Ian’s first assignment was to capture, on film, a selection of top secret armoured vehicles based on the Isle of Wight, vehicles that became known in the invasion as “Hobart’s Funnies”, after Major-General Percy Hobart.
The work of the A.F.P.U. was already well-known prior to the Normandy landings, feature films such as Desert Victory already having been shown on Britain’s cinemas. The first AFPU group was raised in the North African Campaign. But the operational assignment given Ian Grant and other members of No. 5 AFPU, for D-Day (and hopefully beyond), was, arguably, one of the most challenging, and dangerous, up to that point in the war: armed only with a hand-held camera, sometimes a revolver, they were expected to penetrate the much-vaunted defences of the Atlantic Wall, hot on the heels of various Commando Units, and to find the action where it was most fierce.
For his own part, Grant was assigned to Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade, comprising 3, 4 and 6 Commandos, and 45 Royal Marine Commando.
He landed on the beaches at Ouistreham with those units at H. + 90 (that is to say 90 minutes after the first landing), now discarding his Glengarry and wearing his famous green beret – Lovat had insisted that Grant wear it for the occasion: “No helmets on the day Sergeant, as you don’t want to get shot up the arse.”
Here is a quotation from an official report:
The run-in to the beaches was far from unopposed, Major (afterwards Brigadier) Peter Young, D.S.O., M.C., an officer in No. 3 Commando, who landed with Grant, describing a hot reception in his memoir Storm From The Sea – three of the five landing craft conveying his unit were hit. Notwithstanding this ongoing opposition, Grant’s camera was quickly in action, or at least until the point when Lovat yelled at him to “Move it!” off the beach. He subsequently accompanied Lovat’s men to Pegasus Bridge, where he captured footage of Bill Millin piping the Commandos into battle with “The Blue Bonnets Over the Border”. It was a momentous moment, later described by Grant in his memoir “Cameramen at War”.
As one who spent many years in the newsreel industry, I am convinced that large quantities of the film taken by AFPU have never reached the public screens, either cinema or television. Even the material that did reach the screen was not always credited to them.
Feature films have used library material to show troops disembarking on to the beach. The shot from behind the troops with the coastal defences in the background. If my memory serves me correctly, the Americans had no such shot until they found one in the late fifties*. Prior to that there was one shot used by everyone and that was of British steel-helmeted troops jumping off into the sea and a hail of gunfire.
* During recent research, I have found that the bulk of the material shot on D-Day by the Americans was sent to a ship departing for Britain. The ship was sunk on the way with the loss of all the film.
A day or so after the landings, Ian Grant wandered through a village where he was showered with water from an upstairs window. He thought that the locals were far from welcoming. He then found a Tabac, full of British troops, where the only drink on offer was Calvados, a potent spirit made from apples.
It was within a few days of the landing that Ian Grant’s colleague and close friend Norman Clague, who had been at Pinewood with him, was killed. He had taken refuge in a barn with a unit of Commandos. The barn received a direct hit from a mortar shell and Clague was killed instantly. The death of his friend had a profound effect on Ian Grant.
Here is another official quote:
“As verified by the recommendation for his M.M., (Military Medal) Grant subsequently accompanied 11 Armoured Division throughout its advance into North West Europe, initially in the fighting around Caen (a.k.a. “Operation Goodwood”) and in the bloody battles for the Falaise Gap, and thereafter through Belgium and Holland to the crossing of the Rhine and Elbe, the latter operations while in the company of No. 1 Commando Brigade. For most of this period Grant was given a jeep and a free rein and, as with like-minded cameramen, sometimes ventured behind enemy lines, once being credited with taking the surrender of a crack Waffen S.S. unit. Yet the most traumatic moment of his wartime career was probably when he arrived at Belsen, his cine footage being the first ever taken of this grim monument to Nazi barbarism:”
On his journey across France, Belgium, Holland and North Germany, Ian was able to sample fine wines and brandies as well as the odd bottle of whisky. On one occasion, he and his colleagues discovered a cache of French wine which they carried off in their Jeep. He always liked a drink.
A quotation from Ian Grant’s book “Cameramen at War” (click on the link to read my review):
‘We were still unaware of what it was all about. Through the wire I could see groups of figures and, as we observed that Roberts (The C.O. of No. 5 APFU) was still waiting at the gate, we went over to the wire mesh and peered through. There was something odd about those figures and I rammed a telescopic view-finder on to my camera and stuck it through the wire. What now came into clearer focus made the hair on the back of my neck do the most frightening things. If they were human, these groups were skeletons held together with rags. As if to prove they were alive, two of them pushed up into a standing position and began a slow shuffle in our direction. I pulled focus as they moved, and the gruesome sight of their emaciated faces made me pull away from the wire … ’
Ian Grant arrived at the gates of Bergen-Belsen with the advanced party of the British Army. On arrival the main gate was padlocked. Behind the gate was Irma Grese and Joseph Kramer, the “Beast of Belsen”. It was from here that Ian took the very first shot of the scenes inside the camp on the 15th April, 1945.
Conditions inside the camp were such that after a few hours of shooting, Grant and his stills photographer partner Peter Norris were ordered out by their C.O.
Roberts then rotated his cameramen and photographers every two days.
Ian Grant was awarded the Military Medal for his work over the previous ten months. Ian ended the war in Denmark where he filmed the liberation, such as it was.
His recommendation for the Military Medal recorded:
3059999 War substantive Sergeant Ian James GRANT, 5 ARMY FILM & PHOTO SEC. (PR)
This NCO has throughout the campaign proved that he has always been ready to go far beyond the normal call of duty to obtain films of British troops in action.
Apart from courage and military bearing, he has maintained a consistently high level of photographic quality. He landed on D-Day at H+90 with 45 RM Comdo.
After the ensuing ops which involved the death of his partner he was transferred to 11 ARMD DIV and remained with them almost exclusively for the campaign. He secured remarkable pictures which attracted great attention, of tanks in action in all the “Beach-head” battles till the FALAISE gap period. After the adv to ANTWERP, he photographed the fighting at the ALBERT CANAL, HELMOND, DEURNE, OVERLOON and VENRAIJ. he was with 1 COMDO BDE in their crossings of the RHINE and the ELBE. Otherwise he was with 11 ARMD DIV till the end of hostilities.
The result of his work is that some very fine operational pictures have been taken all through the campaign of BRITISH tanks in action, so that through the newsreels and such films as “LEFT OF THE LINE” world wide recognition and publicity have been given to the BRITISH soldier.
Once in “civvy street”, he joined the Rank Organisation where he worked as an assistant cameraman on “This Modern Age”. Rank produced 41 episodes from September 1946 until 1951, concentrating on politics, international relations and current affairs.
Initially, Ian Grant would have been obliged to work as an assistant because the producers had always insisted that the camera operators on the production came from the feature film business, so, in spite of his experience he would have to wait to become a professional cine-cameraman.
Although I cannot confirm it, I have been told that he then joined Granada Television in Manchester. Granada did not begin broadcasting until May of 1956. There is, therefore, a gap between 1951 and 1956 which I cannot account for.
Immediately before joining Movietone, he had been a cameraman with Independent Television News (ITN). He was fired by ITN and he joined Movietonews as a cameraman in February 1962. He told me why he had been fired. I assume he had also been obliged to tell Ted Adams, Managing Director of Movietone, before he got the job.
He had been on overseas location with an ITN Journalist and a sound man. The journalist said he wanted to fiddle some expenses and needed Grant and the soundman to do the same. At first they refused knowing that it was a serious breach of company rules.
Eventually, they gave in and the three submitted their expenses. They expenses were queried and found to be false. Ian Grant was fired, the soundman and the journalist were not. Strange that.
Ian Grant was a first class cameraman, but he had problems. He drank too much. This is not surprising after what he had been through and he had been fired from a well paid job and he had been divorced. People have taken to drink for less.
He was one of our large crew that travelled to Scotland to cover the State Visit of King Olav of Norway in 1963. We were booked into the Hotel adjacent to Central Railway Station. Our local cameraman, David Lowe of Templar Films, invited us all to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We all went with him except Ian Grant who, brandishing a bottle of single malt, elected to spend the evening in his room with only the bottle as company.
The following morning, he was up with the rest of us and ready for work.
In the late morning of February 21st, 1963, a story came over the wire. It stated that a sizeable earthquake had occurred in Libya, the location was el Marje Barce in the north of Cyrenaica. The nearest large town was Benghazi. Ian Grant was sent, by me, to Libya where he filmed the disaster and returned to London the following day. There was not a journalist in sight. Click here for a full article on the event.
As time went on, Ian took to drinking more until, finally, it affected his work. He left the company in September 1964.
I understand that, later, he joined Tyne Tees Television in the north-east. We corresponded for some years during which he wrote a number of proposals for documentary films and even feature films. The only idea taken up was the BBCs “Images Of War” series broadcast in 1981.
Ian also wrote a the book “Cameramen at War” which was published at the same time as the television series was broadcast. He also wrote a book about ITN, which was accepted by publishers Patrick Stephens, but, subsequently, not published.
July 2nd 1979, he wrote to me.
//, Marine Avenue,
Tyne and Wear,
2 – 7 – 79
Dear Terry –
Where the hell do I start ? Suppose I could say sorry about the paper*, but it’s all I use these days – except when I want to write posh, then I dig out the Basildon Bond. Some jerks said start at the beginning, but where’s that ? Can’t remember when we had a heart to heart, so I’ll take a stab and go back a year.
I was either still struggling to get the AFPU book published, or thought it was in good hands and I was home and dry. Anyhow, I am sure I told you I’d left it with Ron Startup (late of the Picture Post) and he was handling it for me. Sure he was handling it – first it was on and then it was off – and I got fed up waiting and wrote a second book on ITN – finished it, got it typed and yelled “Hey Ron, what the hell gives ?” Well,. The answer to that was – dear Ron, who had a publicity job with Amoco in Saudi Arabia – so “it’s been nice knowing you Ian, here’s your MSS and photos back – you can see by the letters – both of them! – what a tough job I had with the publishers, but somehow it just didn’t click – bye now, Ian, I’ll send you a camel “.
Je-e-e-e-esus ! no wonder he wasn’t getting anywhere – the mess that poor bloody manuscript was in – I wont go into details, but no publisher would touch it wearing surgical gloves. I nearly wept – in fact, I think I did when I thought back to the years of work I had put into it. Anyway, I got down to it – re-wrote a whole lot of new material and got it typed again. I got four copies made of it, then said bugger proper procedure, and sent all four copies out to different publishers – no, I tell a lie – three to publishers and one to Desmond Wilcox at the Beeb. So, to jump a lot of ground – Patrick Stephens of Cambridge has accepted both the AFPU and ITN – and Wilcox has persuaded the Deputy-General to make an eight-part series called “Cameramen at War”, based on the outline of the book, and wants me to come in as technical adviser – wait for it – with production starting next year and transmission in 1981! So, right now, a lot of hoo-hah is going on between Patrick Stephens and the B.B.C, and I’m busy doing some re-writes and extractions of libellous passages before I can get that contract. I was invited down to Cambridge to met Stephens and the board of directors, where the mysteries of publication was explain to me, and of course, the advantage of making the publication date tie in with the B.B.C’s transmission period – so, although it is all in the future, when I get all the corrections made to their approval, they will issue me with a contract and an advance of royalties on the first printing. I realise, Terry, that I am in a position to push for the contract now. As a member of the Writer’s Guild I did consult them on this point, and I’ve been advised, due to the unusual circumstances involving the Beeb’s transmission date and, more important, because this is my first acceptance, I’d be advised not to make waves, but keep the Guild informed what happens when I return my corrected copy – which will be next week. So that’s that for the moment – and, of course, Stephens wants to use the ITN book as a follow-up. I know it will all come out O.K. in the end – but oh boy, this waiting period was getting me down, so I thought I’d start writing a third book, and I’ve opted for fiction. But I guess I’ve got a thing for the war theme, so I am having a go at WW3 !
Now, I’ve already done a lot of research and writing on it, and I’m fascinated by all the new technology on the military side and I’m up to my ears in AWACS, FEBA, DSCS, SAMS, REDEYES and Super Blowpipes ! and it’s occurred to me to include a news information service. In other words, how would, for example, UPITN report a world war ? As I’ve dropped right out of the picture on TV news coverage, I am not familiar with the modern system of using satellites etc. What does a cameraman do today to get his pictures back fast ? If in a foreign city, where does he go ? And what happens this end ? Don’t laugh Terry, but I’m perfectly serious, and I would welcome any information.
By the way, before I wind up , I must tell you I’ve been doing some work with Southern TV, on their “Invasion Road” series, and for a couple of days work of research and choosing film I got paid £200, and I’ve got a short bit in programme 7, the D-Day invasion. STV have been very good to me – they got me on to the Film and Television Pension Scheme – something Tyne-Tees should have done and now, I get a small, but regular monthly pension. They are now about to give us a free colour T.V. set, and the licence, and I’m expecting that this week.
I was going to write more, but my wife wants me to do something for her – so I must go. I’m dead serious about this WW3 thing and I’d really appreciate anything on the TV news angle.
All the best,
* He used perforated, lined paper.
The following letter I received in February 1980.
//, Marine Avenue,
Tyne – Wear,
9 – 2 – 80
And one helluva happy new year to you – I’m a real crap-out when it comes to keeping in touch !
Still playing a waiting game – ,Patrick Stephens wont publish the AFPU Book until BBC TV announce the programme “Cameramen at War”, and that’s either late this year, or early next. Only consolation it get is, Desmond Wilcox said I’d be working on the research, and, although that’s gotta be some time this year, he didn’t say, and I don’t know how the Beeb schedule these things.
Meanwhile, I’m frigging around with a fiction thingy, based on the opening of Channel Four in two years time. I’m pretty near the end of the first draft – keep changing stuff when anything new crops up, like the January issue of the IBA magazine gives me fresh detail.
Now he writes about his other book concerning World War Three:
However by chasing the story around, I’ve managed to get my characters into Berlin and, although, I’ve had lots of stuff from various German sources ,I’ve come stuck on getting details of that East Berlin TV station down the far end of Karl Marx Allee – the tower dominates the whole of Berlin, but I want to know what it’s like inside. Any ideas ? I’ve got a bit on the SFB station, but not as much as I’d like. Again, Terry, any ideas ? But I really need as much information as is possible about the Tower – oh, I know it’s 360 metres high and is, at present, Berlin’s tallest building. .Also, the Funkturm is mostly just a landmark, and a centre for exhibitions, and they brag about their European Centre , and the delights of the Ku-Dam. I just don’t seem to get the right kind of information I require. Which is, to shove it in a nut-shell, the world of television on both West and East Berlin. I must say, though, I did get some very good maps of West Berlin, and a little on the East – as well as some handsomely illustrated literature, which really knocked me out when I remember Berlin as I last saw it. There’s no doubt about it, the Germans are a very industrious bunch, and, getting off TV for a moment, and just because it comes into the story – militarily, they appear to have done quite a job in boosting NATO strength.
I’ve been comparing their tanks to those of the British, and the Chieftain might be a very fine tank, but it’s far too large. Whereas the Germans, with their Leopards, Gepards and the JPZ 4-5, plus the mighty RJPZ- 2 with its anti-tank missile, have the right idea in keeping the structure in a low profile.
The best thing the British have is this Wavell armoured computer information job, loaded with micro-chips and bubble-memory chips. A very handy data base in the field.
There I go – give me a pen, and I waffle on for ever. If you can help out on the TV side, I’d be very grateful Terry – as, for example, do the East TV stations use ENG? For the moment, I’m working on the assumption they’re still using film – but would that be relevant two years from now?
Never mind – it keeps me occupied, as I’d go daffy living here in Whitley Bay – and the whole ruddy North East. It should be sliced off and shoved out into the North Sea, along with their Newcastle Brown – racing pigeons and giant marrows!!!
Ho-hum – cheers Terry – all the best.
Ian (any jobs in London?)
In 1980, I was helping him with research for one of his other projects, he wrote to me:
//, Marine Avenue,
Tyne and Weir,
‘scuse using my scratch jottings for this letter – right now I’m surrounded by them – one pile full of notes & accumulated junk, I know I’m going to use at some time or another – and another pile which is the stuff I’m actually writing.
Thanks a lot for the Berlin material which arrived this morning – I’ll need it when I start the rewrite. I’ve only a few pages of the first draft to do – a different one – a TV eye-ball confrontation between Brezhnev, Andropov and the Supreme Commander of NATO.
But I’m thinking of taking some time out in between. Even before the article in TV Times about paperbacks, I’ve been conning (sic) the stuff that sells on the bookshelves, then getting copies of ‘em at the local library.
God help me – the stuff that sells – say, in the War Series is a lot of hokum. Written by English writers using German names, they’re taking – no, lifting battles like Cassino & Alamein, chucking in a femme fatale, and the end result is 60,000 words of stuff I could write with my eyes shut. Anyway, I’m having a bash, and I’ve contacted people like Futura, Fontana and Sphere with enough ideas – not only war stuff, but what they laughingly call High Adventure. Honest to god, I’m sure I could do it, for the stuff I’ve read bears no relation to creative writing. May not be much money in it – but that’s all I need at the moment – enough money to pay a few bills. Anyhow thanks a lot Terry, and as always – my best wishes – Ian
I cannot imagine what he intended to write about concerning Brezhnev, Andropov and the Supreme commander of NATO. I only know that it concerned the much discussed Oder-Neisse Line which divides Poland and German. But I bet it would have been very interesting.
Ian Grand died in 1981, unable to fulfil all of his ambitions.
Would the likes of ITN and, even, Movietonews have acted differently had they known what he had been through ? I wonder.
But, what a life.
I’m hoping to return to this article in the future with additional information as Ian recorded a long interview with the Imperial War Museum, documenting the whole of his career.
Click to listen to my podcast: Movietone cameraman Ian Grant
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