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Colleagues: Len Burrell

Dick Clark, Head of  UPIN,  offered me a job as head of production and he offered me £30 a week. That is what, by now, I was getting at Movietone and, they were giving me an extra £2 a week in a few weeks.  I had to turn him down.  I told Paul Wyand, my boss at Movietone, who said it was a pity, because he forecast the end of the newsreels and I should start to look out for my future.

Instead, Dick took on Len Burrell, a man in his early fifties who had previously been picture editor of the “Daily Sketch”.  He had no film experience and, in fairness to Dick, he did not use him in the function of a producer.  What he did get Len in for was to vet all the film material that came in and for him to write critiques for the cameramen around the world.  It was hoped that this would improve the quality of their work.  Len was an odd chap who always wore light brown tweed suits with huge bottoms to the legs.  He always said he had eighteen-inch bottoms.  He was extremely opinionated and sometimes he would criticise a cameraman where there was no justification for doing so.

He had a few phrases which brought back memories of my boss at GTV in Melbourne, like “That’s what I was thinking” and even “I’m ahead of you there”.  I think he was an expert in his own field, but there was too much for him to know about movie film for him to be able to lecture cameramen, even though some of them needed basic instruction.

Len Burrell was Dick Clark’s second choice, and I often wondered if he was aware of that and that I had been Dick’s first choice.   If he did, it would explain his attitude towards me.

Sometimes, when there was a complex problem with a foreign cameraman’s work, I would be invited to see the film and give my opinion as to the cause of the problem.   This was always a tense situation because Len did not like me encroaching on his territory.

He would always wait until I had pronounced on my opinion when he would issue one of his regular phrases indicating that he was either thinking the same as me or he had thought of it first.

On one occasion a story came in which consisted of four 100-foot reels.  The problem was clearly with the camera. It affected each of the four rolls of film.  Len Burrell had decided that the cameraman had loaded the camera incorrectly – four times ?  The problem showed itself by the image “slipping” which indicated that the shutter was still open while the film was being pulled down.  This meant that the exposure mechanism was out of synchronisation.  I said so.  Len disagreed, so he sent the cameraman a message saying that he had wrongly loaded the camera, so I sent a message asking him to get his shutter mechanism checked.

His shutter was found to be out of sync.  I was not Len Burrell’s favourite person.

In 1967, Len had, by then, gained a lot of knowledge of newsfilm and was able to give cameramen an accurate assessment of their work.  As a result of several years of his assessments, the standard of the UPIN cameramen was raised considerably.  It should be remembered that UPIN had also got access to many experienced and high class camera crews.  Some of these would have been ex-Movietone crews.  Paul Badin and Vitorrio Della Valle had both been Fox Movietone cameramen.  Other crews like Mohinder Dhillon in Nairobi had had several years of experience in shooting newsfilm.

At a time when Len Burrell was using his old and new knowledge to the highest degree, the new boss of what was now called UPITN, Kenneth Coyte, fired him as being redundant.

Len, now in his late fifties had to look for a job.  He made contact with a buildings trades governing body who were about to embark on the production of an encyclopaedia concerning every aspect of the industry.

Len was invited to be the editor.  His first task was to find some expert to write the first chapter which would act as a sort of template for all the other experts to follow.

He could not find anyone to do this, so he decided to do it himself.  He started to investigate the methods of erecting scaffolding to buildings, he found the regulations governing the construction of scaffolding and the law concerning liability.

In six weeks, he had completed his investigation and had written the first chapter.  All the others now had something to follow.

He was a clever man, perhaps too clever for Kenneth Coyte.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2013.  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 Colleagues series click here.

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