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Colleagues: John Davies – Movietone

John Davies was a British Movietone News cameraman from 1955 to 1960.  He was born in Deri, South Wales in 1915.

His family later moved to London. His first job, in 1930, was with the G.P.O. as a telegram delivery boy. He later joined Kay Film Laboratories in the negative developing and film drying room. In those days, Kays shared the building at 22, Soho Square with British Movietone News.

John volunteered for the RAF in 1940 and was called to active service in 1941.  In the R.A.F., he was trained as a fitter / armourer. He was attached to the British 8th Army in North Africa and in Italy. After his demob in 1946, he returned to his pre-war job at Kays as a negative developer, this at a time when television was re-starting in Britain after its closure during the War.

John was, for some years, the chief grader at Kay’s, responsible for the grading (timing in the U.S.) of negatives and intermediary materials for the newsreel and other productions.

This was one of the most important jobs in the laboratory.  Every foot of negative or Fine Grain Duping Positive that was submitted for printing by Kay’s, passed through his hands.  He worked by sight as he passed the film over a light box.  He would notch the film where appropriate to enable the printer to produce the correct printing light at the right time.  John Davies was doing this decades before the introduction of a Video Colour Analyser (VCA).  However, there was nothing that could replace his experience.

This experience would hold him in good stead when it came time for him to take up a camera.

In 1955, Movietonews began losing its staff, including their cameramen, to the commercial TV station Independent Television News. John approached Jack Ramsden, Movietone’s Production Manager, and asked if he could join them as a trainee cameraman. Ramsden agreed and John was given a Newman Sinclair camera to work with, and soon after his training was completed, he was filming stories on his own.  His first assignment was in September 1955.  In April 1956 Movietone sent him to Cyprus, where he filmed stories beginning with ‘Cyprus Bulletin‘. He continued to send back regular reports until his coverage of the preparations for the Suez invasion – ”The First Landings” in November 1956.
The Movietone story card records: ‘Flying in a British transport aircraft, one of Movietone’s cameramen filmed exclusive pictures of paratroops about to make the first landings.’

The exclusive coverage was sent to Movietonews on an evening flight and was shown in London cinemas the next day.  John was based in Cyprus for seven months. Movietone recognised the quality of John’s work and raised his wage from £12.10 a week to £21.

In 1960 John saw an advertisement in a film trade journal which sought experienced cameramen for the recently established Australian Broadcasting Commission television station in Perth, Western Australia, ABW2.  He made a successful application for the job.

During the year that I returned to England, I met up with John again when I became his Assignments Manager at Movietone in March 1961.  However, in September of that year, he migrated with his family to Perth, Western Australia.

Upon leaving Movietone, he was given a gift of a Newman Sinclair camera, a model which was now becoming obsolete with the introduction of the latest Cameflex camera for news work. The camera was the one used by legendary British Movietone wartime cameraman Paul Wyand. This camera now resides in the Australian Museum of Motion Picture and Television (inc). collection.

John started with ABW2 as one of two news cameramen along with Fred Combs.  Both John and Fred were founder members of the Western Australian branch of the Australian Cinematographers Society in 1968.

John retired from the ABC in 1978.

John Davies died at a retirement village in Mandurah on February 9th 2011 at the age of ninety-five.

© Terence Gallacher and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles in the Colleagues series click here.

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