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Colleagues: Jack Ramsden

Jack Ramsden was born in Blackpool around 1902.  He became involved in camerawork at an early age.  I was once told that he was one of the people who would film local events, process and edit the film and show it to the locals the same night.  This type of film making had been developed by the pioneers, before the first World War, especially in the north of England.

He represented Movietone in the north of England for some years based in his native Blackpool.

In February 1938, he became a member of Movietone’s permanent staff based in London.  There, apart from continuing to operate as a cameraman, he also took on duties as Production Manager as well as a contact man.  One can only assume that he had been obliged to carry out these functions while working alone in Blackpool and that he had long experience in them.

While he was working as a freelance in the north of England, he was also assigned to stories occurring in Ireland.

Once in London, he worked regularly as a cameraman, but at Christmas 1938, when Movietone issued a story “Christmas Number“, Jack Ramsden was credited with having directed it.

In October 1939, he filmed the story, “Movietone’s War Correspondent” showing Movietone’s Chief Cameraman Jack Cotter preparing to leave for northern France to work alongside the British Expeditionary Force, Ramsden is shown seeing Jack Cotter off at the train station, see main photo top left.

In 1940, he was in London to film the blitz where he braved the falling masonry and the speeding fire engines for the Movietone story “Battle Of London”.

In May 1941 Jack Ramsden went to sea in a convoy bound for Gibraltar.   While based in Gibraltar, Ramsden sent back a number of stories concerning the war in the Mediterranean.  These stories would have been used by all the newsreel companies on a rota system.

In December 1941, Jack Ramsden was one of the cameramen that went on the Vaagso Raid.  This was part of the larger operation on the Lofoten Islands. He was working among a distinguished company, members of The Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) which included Len Puttnam, Roy Boulting, Captain Harry Rignold, Harry Watt and Lieutenant Edward Malindine. The use of several war correspondents was a reaction to complaints from the international press of the lack of images of British troops in action.


Jack Ramsden leaving a landing craft during the Vaagso Raid.

Harry Rignold recalled:

“After wading ashore and getting some stuff of the troops landing. Headquarters was set up in a house near the beach and we set off with the advance parties. Roy, Harry and I kept together pretty well all the time, and later on Jack Ramsden joined us from Maaloy.

It was a bit strange at first, as we couldn’t see the enemy and didn’t know what everybody was up to, but we soon got used to it and happily carried on shooting till we re-embarked about 2:30.

There was a good deal of noise all the time, shells from the naval escort, mortars, dynamiting and gunfire, and a fair amount of bullets flying about — enough to make you run pretty hard when crossing any open space.”

The film cameramen of the AFPU were using two Eymo Cameras.  They took 100-foot daylight loading pools. Running time barely more than one minute.  Jack Ramsden was using a Newman Sinclair which took 200-foot magazines.  He thought it too heavy for a one-man job.  Of course, only one man could hold the camera, but an assistant could have held the magazines.

In 1943, Jack Ramsden was attached to the United States Army Air Force where he received special instruction before he could film from the Fortresses, he was among fellow newsreel cameraman and journalists including Walter Kronkite.  Ramsden designed a camera mount which fitted to the aircraft door which enabled him to get better shots of bombs going down.  One of the number or raids he went on was to the City of Rouen in northern France which was featured in Movietone’s General Release in April 1943.  His pictures were the first to feature daylight bombing over enemy territory.

Here’s text from one of Jack’s dope sheets from 28th March 1943 about filming over Rouen:

Operational flight over Rouen

My previous mission having been cancelled, I decided to take the next one irrespective of the objective. This turned out to be the railway marshaling yards at Rouen. The formation was not as I would have wished and at the last minute I had to chance the whole of my equipment to another machine with a different crew, which is no picnic.

On reaching the target the bombardier was unable to give me warning until the bombs were actually released, and I had to find them on the way down, which is like looking for young Albert on August Bank Holiday.

After this I got one or two shots of part of the formation, in which some of the machines may be seen actually firing, but the whole of the fighter attacks were behind and out of range of the camera. On leaving the French coast a machine can be seen on fire in the sea with parachute nearby. I am unable to obtain confirmation as to wether this was a fortress or a fighter.

His exploits with the USAF feature in the wartime film, Cameramen at War:

In November 1943, Ramsden accompanied Churchill to the Cairo Conference which Movietone issued as “Downfall of Japan Conference“.

In December that year, he filmed Churchill at the Tehran Conference, with Roosevelt and Stalin.

D-Day June 6th 1944 and Jack Ramsden is assigned to the destroyer H.M.S. Scorpion.

He was in amongst the largest naval fleet ever assembled.   They crossed the channel where the destroyer was to protect minesweepers and other small vessels as they approached the French coast.  Then they were to shell German coastal batteries.

Ramsden himself tells the story:

We were now close in to the French coast and the fun had started. There was no doubt about our air support this time. Overhead the Allies were in complete mastery of the skies. Below them, as far as the eye could see, assault craft after assault craft was going in. Every ship in the British Navy seemed to be firing. Fifteen and sixteen-inch bricks from the big battle-wagons behind us and the smaller six and eight-inchers from the

Cruisers went screaming over our bridge like machine-gun bullets. 2,000 tons of naval shells hit those beaches in ten minutes. The noise was incredible. Our own guns were also going full blast and only the footage indicator on my camera told me it was still running. It was quite impossible to hear it.

A day or so later he went ashore with the advanced Navy Reconnaissance party in Normandy and Brittany.   He wrote:

I was very satisfied with the pictures I got on this trip, those especially of the Airborne Division going over in the late evening, which I think are some of the finest I have ever had the good fortune to make.  However, a cameraman must always have his moan, and it was heartbreaking to have so much material censored, particularly some of my later stuff taken in Cherbourg.

In August 1945, Jack Ramsden was outside Buckingham Palace to film the VE-Day celebrations.

In February 1946, he went on a tour of occupied Germany and sent back several stories on the condition in the country at that time.

In July 1946, He was off to Paris where he filmed the Paris Peace Conference.  In the November of that year Jack Ramsden was in India where he filmed a story “Gandhi Visits Riot-stricken Calcutta“.

In 1948 Ramsden took over full time from Jack Cotter as Movietone’s Production manager, retiring from filming.

Towards the end of 1953, Jack Ramsden, accompanied by Paul Wyand went to the 20th Century Fox head office in Los Angeles to familiarize themselves with the anamorphic lens – CinemaScope.   It was to be used for the forthcoming Commonwealth Tour by the Queen.  Eventually Movietone made a full length documentary of the 1954 tour, called Flight of the White Heron using one anamorphic lens.   Jack Ramsden was the Production Manager on the making of the film.

Jack Ramsden remained as Production Manager until 1961 when he fell ill.  Paul Wyand at that time was Assignments Manager and he took over the job of Production Manager.  I had just returned from a stint in Australia and I was offered the job of Assignments Manager which I took.

Jack Ramsden wrote me a letter from his sick bed.

Little Copthall



12th March 1961

My dear Terry,

I am sorry I am not able to give you a personal welcome on your return to Movietone on Monday.

Having always held you in high esteem, I can only say how delighted I am, and hope you will remain with us for many years to come.

You will be working with my greatest friend Paul, and undoubtedly one of the greatest men in the business.

Keep your feet on the ground, whilst always remembering you can move ‘em fast when need demands – as in the old days at Wembley* !

Good Luck,

Yours sincerely,

J.L. Ramsden

 *As a lad at Movietone in the forties and again in the early fifties, I used to act as a runner carrying film from the camera position back to a despatch rider or to the lab.  I was quick.

Once recovered. Jack Ramsden returned to Movietonews, now at Denham, where he took up the vacant post of Editor.  He worked at Denham as Editor until his retirement in the mid sixties.

He was affectionately known as “t’old lad”.  He was one of the greats of the newsreel business.

© Terence Gallacher and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles in the Colleagues series click here.

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