Cameraman tales: The Downing Street Scoop
Sometimes the occurrence of a news story is known in advance. These stories include a doorstep statement by the Prime Minister or the appearance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer outside No. 11 on Budget Day. For such events, the Media turn up in force.
So it was in the late thirties.
When the British Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, was expected to say a few words on the doorstep of No. 10, the five newsreels (British Movietone News, British Pathé, Gaumont British News, Paramount News and Universal) would all go along with their sound cameras and camera cars to set up for the event.
Opposite No. 10, the five sound cars would park in line abreast, all facing No. 10 Downing Street. On arrival, the cameraman and the soundman would set up their gear so that, at the push of a button, the camera would roll and the sound would be recorded when required.
I don’t know whether the following story is believable, but it was told to me by Paul Wyand who had a great sense of humour. I am inclined to believe it on the grounds that “You couldn’t make it up”.
The newsreels all preferred large limousines to be converted into sound camera cars. They were large, sturdy and powerful. Movietonews had three very large Sunbeam Talbots. They had been fitted with an extra spring in the suspension to cope with the great weight they were to bear. The roof was reinforced to provide a rubber camera platform and to take anchor points for the tripod. The roof was also required to take the weight of the cameraman as well as the camera. Paul Wyand wound have weighed close on eighteen stone at the time. There were even built-in steps to provide an easy way to climb on to the roof. These “steps” folded away when not in use.
The preferred camera was the Wall sound camera.
So five vehicles all faced No. 10 and the film crews waited. After a while, they were informed that the PM would be some time before he came out.
The crews all decided that they would go to the nearest Pub or coffee house while they had the chance.
After a while, one of the cameramen decided that he would take a slow walk back to Downing Street.
As he got into the street, he could see that the PM was already coming out. He ran as fast as he could, climbed up onto the roof and switched on the camera. He shot the whole statement and then turned round and did a small triumphal dance as his fellow cameramen arrived on the scene. They ran to their respective cars.
He shouted down to his opponents “I’ve got a scoop”. One of the cameramen replied: “You haven’t, that’s my camera you’ve used, not yours”.
How this matter was settled I never heard, but it certainly comes under the heading of: ”You could not make it up”.
As Paul Wyand wrote in his autobiography Useless If Delayed, concerning the thirties “Moments of near-lunacy as well as occasions of high drama are both prominent in my memory – well-remembered landmarks on an undulating, mist-shrouded landscape….”
© 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 more articles in the Cameraman tales series click here.