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Movietones’ adaptable staff

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The staff at Movietone were always expected to use other talents where possible, that is apart from their particular job within the company.

During my time with the company, I recall an event in 1946, when the Common Cold Research Unit (CCRU), was set up by the Medical Research Council (MRC)  at Harnham Down near Salisbury in Wiltshire.  Its intention was to seek a cure for the common cold or, at least, treatment to alleviate the symptoms.

Up to thirty volunteers were gathered every couple of weeks at the centre.  They were deliberately infected with a variety of cold viruses and then observed.

Movietone sent a cameraman to cover the story of the first weeks of the centre’s opening.   They shot the film silent.

Stan Wicken, Movietone sound editor want the sound of sneezing.  He put the word out that he would be recording sneezes in the recording theatre from 11am on a particular day and members of the staff were asked to volunteer to sneeze in the recording booth.


BRITISH MOVIETONE NEWS (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Almost the whole staff turned out with a queue forming along the corridor.  The turn-round was swift.  In the booth each member of the staff would give their version of a sneeze, Stan, outside, would point his finger to signal when to start and then he would indicate for the volunteer to leave the booth.

Not all the recordings were successful, but Stan got enough to do the job.  To this day, one can track down that story and hear the staff members performing their sneezes.

A more normal requirement was to turn out as actors in set-up news stories.  Usually these stories were meant to be amusing, but also, sometimes, with a serious message.

Paul Wyand, being overweight for the whole period of his employment was frequently called upon to play the fool.   He can be seen gardening with Raymond Perrin, Senior Film Editor at Movietone, during a story about “Digging for Victory”.

Over twenty years later, he appears with me in a story about the opening of the first betting shops.  He represented the old order when illegal betting took place on the streets.
Paul is seen “doing a runner”.

The hands of the ladies of Movietone were sometimes seen in close-up to make a point in a story or to illustrate finger jewellery.

From time to time, “Runners” were needed for big occasions, those events when it was required that the negative was returned to the laboratory quickly.

The Funeral of King George VI and the Coronation of June 1953, were such events.  A number of members of the staff would turn out as runners.  We would stay with the cameraman until he unloaded his camera, when we would carry the film back to Soho Square.  You could not run on those occasions because the streets were crowded with people, but a swift walk was sufficient to get the film back to Soho Square promptly.

Montague Benson at the Epsom Derby 1954

One of my favourite jobs as a runner was at the Epsom Derby.  I was an active athlete in the mid forties when I first was asked to do the job.   I would be based at the start with “Ben”, Montague Benson, who was covering the start.  He would hand me his magazine, from the Newman Sinclair camera and I would take off across country.   Only a year before, I had broken the school mile record, and I could move along with some speed.   What was different for me was the terrain, it was mostly rough open ground, but, nevertheless, I would reach the finish line shortly after the horses, then cross the track and hand over my film to a despatch rider waiting behind the main grandstand.

I did this run for a number of years until I was no longer able to negotiate the rough ground.

Whatever one did that was extra to normal duties was thoroughly appreciated.

The Common Cold Research Unit was disbanded in 1989 having discovered during the previous forty years or so that there were so many varieties of the common cold that it was impossible to find a single cure.  They did find out a lot about the common cold during their time, and that’s not to be sneezed at.

© 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.

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