Cameraman tales: “Only one eye, but what an eye !”
In early 1955, Independent Television News was created. They were looking for staff, especially cameramen and sound men, as well as film editors.
They raided the newsreels. Our Editor, Gerald Sanger, who was employed by the Daily Mail, was seconded to Rediffusion, who got the franchise for London programmes from Monday to Friday. Raymond Perrin was appointed as Senior Film Editor at ITN, he was joined by Greville Kent and Alan Haythorne, these latter pair were editors who usually only worked on provincial “specials”, stories that were done from time to time for provincial cities.
Cameramen Martin Gray, George Richardson, Peter Brown and soundmen George Collins (who actually went as a cameraman) and Derek Stiles all joined ITN. There were others who left, leaving Movietone short of crew.
Some months earlier, I was told that Movietone were going to take on new cameraman. Having been involved in photography for some time, I thought that I would have a go. I had purchased a Finetta still camera and turned out large numbers of photographs from wherever I went, including photos of the Coronation and Trooping The Colour in 1953. I used to use Movietonews camera stock which was developed in our own labs and printed onto 35mm strip. Whenever I wanted paper prints, these would be done by Mr. Percy Dennis, and old gentleman in his seventies who had been producing stills from Movietone movie film for years.
I went to see Gordon Craig and I said, I would like to be considered as a trainee for the post of cameraman. He said “I don’t see why not“ and he said he would talk to Jack Ramsden, the Production Manager and former cameraman.
Jack Ramsden sent for me a few days later. He told me that he had been informed of my request by Sir Gordon. He asked if I thought my blindness in one eye would make a difference. I said “No it would not. Most cameramen close their ‘other’ eye anyway”.
He agreed with me and then said that he would provide me with a Newman Sinclair camera and some film. This had been common practice with widely varying results.
In fact the reason they wanted another cameraman was that the previous “trainee”, Terry O’Brien (a former soundman) had not quite made it. Years later he was to become Head of Public Relations for the British Tourist Board.
I waited for a few weeks and, having heard nothing, I went to see him again.
He said, ”I don’t think it would be a good idea with your one eye, after all, cameramen need to use their other eye to see what’s going on outside the view in the lens”.
I said, “But they can’t look at two things at the same time”.
He was adamant and I was furious.
He said “Who would we replace you with if you got the job”.
I retorted “The same person you would get if I resign”.
I told Paul Wyand, our senior cameraman, who told me that he could see nothing out of his left eye and he had been a cameraman (of the highest order) for over twenty years.
He also told me why there had been a change of heart. According to Paul Wyand, Movietone cameraman David Samuelson had gone to Jack Ramsden when he heard about me being trained and he said to Ramsden “We can’t have a one-eyed cameraman”.
Of course, he must have said more than that, but he ended by saying that he had a friend, who was already a trainee cameraman. The friend got the job.
Having trained to some sort of efficiency, he was one of the first to apply for, and get, a job at ITN no more than a year later.
When the ITN exodus came about, Movietone recruited still photographers from Fleet Street and 8mm enthusiasts from the amateur world. They then converted them into proficient cine-cameramen and editors.
Three years later, upon arrival at the Australian Broadcasting Commission TV Station in Melbourne, the Head of Films, Kip Porteous, who had recruited me as Senior Film Editor from rivals GTV9, famously misquoted Cezanne while describing me by saying “Only one eye, but what an eye !”
Additional articles: Thoughts about moving on – 1955.
The Movietone Years Podcast: Episode sixteen – “Only one eye, but what an eye”
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