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Cameraman tales: Disaster at Tattenham Corner


Newsreel cameras were very sturdy machines.  Remember Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick ?  Here’s a reminder from Wikipedia:

A unique special effect technique was used when Alex jumps out of the window in an attempt to commit suicide and the viewer sees the ground approaching the camera until collision, i.e., as if from Alex’s point of view. This effect was achieved by dropping a Newman Sinclair clockwork camera in a box, lens-first, from the third story of the Corus Hotel. To Kubrick’s surprise, the camera survived six takes.

So the Newman Sinclair camera which had been the preferred Movietonews silent camera from the thirties to the early fifties, and in some cases much longer, proved it sturdiness.  Ken Hanshaw was still using a Newman Sinclair in the seventies.


Cameflex By beatak

However, in the mid fifties, Movietonews was switching over to the French Cameflex.  For the newsreels it had a lot going for it.  It had viewing through the camera lens, the magazine could be changed in seconds, it had a four hundred foot magazine and it had a three lens turret.

One of the principal positions at the Epsom Derby was at Tattenham Corner.  Here Movietone constructed a thirty-foot tower from which an excellent shot was obtained of the horses approaching and then rounding the famous corner.

On one fine day, Movietone’s cameraman on top of the shooting platform was Terry O’Brien.

Somehow, the Cameflex camera he was issued with dropped from the platform to the ground.  It was smashed.  Fortunately, there was no-one standing underneath when it fell.

The camera was, of course, covered by insurance and the company was paid by the insurers to purchase a replacement.  Movietone offered the damaged camera to the insurers, but they declined and told Movietone that they could keep it.

The camera was handed to Victor Mardon, Movietone’s long-serving camera maintenance engineer.

For years, Victor had maintained all the Movietone cameras and accessory equipment.  He was a brilliant mechanic.  At one time, I would pass by the end of Percy Street on my way home and Victor would ring me at Soho Square to go into Beardmore’s in Percy Street, to buy some piece of hardware.  I would then drop it off at his workshop in Conway Street. Beardmore’s, at that time, was a hardware store selling every conceivable item of hardware.  They had screws and nuts, in all sizes, in steel and brass, hinges, some of them very ornate made of brass and fittings of all sorts.  It was a mechanic’s dream shop.

For two years, Victor, whenever he had a bit of spare time, would work on the damaged Cameflex.  He would re-shape the bent body, weld any cracks and fit new parts where needed.  It had to be a precision re-assembly.  A number of the new parts came from Beardmore’s.

After two years, he believed that he had successfully re-built the camera.  He took it out and shot some scenes in Fitzrovia.  He screened the film in the theatre at Soho Square top convince the management that he had succeeded.  They agreed.

The re-built Cameflex was then accepted back into the stock of Movietonews.

Main photo of Epsom Derby by Monkeywing.

© 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 Cameraman tales series click here.

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