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Movietone at War: Movietone and the Christmas break

At the end of each year Movietone would produce a review of the year’s main stories.  This served two purposes.  The first was to provide its audiences with a reminder of the main events of the year and the second the pre-production of the issue allowed the staff to take extra leave at Christmas.

For at least a month before, the make-up staff would prepare the review.   First there would be a meeting of the leading make-up staff, that is Tommy Scales, Sid Wiggins and Cecil Burge with Gerald Sanger.   They would discuss what items were to be included and what emphasis was to be given to each one.   They would have with them the full list of Make-up Sheets for the year. Cecil Burge would read out the main stories and a list would be made.   The list would then be shortened until it reached a manageable number of stories.

The next phase was to secure all the required stories from the Library.  Sid Wiggins would arrange that the stories were printed to a Fine Grain Duping Print which he would edit.  The process of completing the production of The Review of The Year would take over a month because the Make-up department could only devote their time to it on a Wednesday between the production of the routine General Release issues.

When the picture had been cut and approved, Stan Wicken, the sound and music Editor, would take over to produce a full sound track.   Cecil Burge would write his commentary and the final recording would be made on the last Wednesday before the end of the Year.

So by December 24th 1943, Christmas Eve, the make-up staff had completed the General Release for December 27th.  The Review of the Year, which was now called “Nearer Victory”, would be released on December 30th.   On that day, the staff would have to resume production by working on the release for January 3rd.  This arrangement allowed, this year, for the staff to have five days off.   That was a considerable Christmas Holiday in those days.

Unfortunately, an event took place that would cut short their holiday break.

Battleship Scharnhorst, 1939

Battleship Scharnhorst, 1939 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst came out from its base in Alten Fjord, Norway to attack a convoy bound for Murmansk. The convoy was escorted by fifteen destroyers and three cruisers.  Scharnhorst made two attempts to attack the convoy but was beaten back by the cruisers and she turned away and was lost to the escorting fleet.   One of the cruisers, H.M.S Belfast, found her on her Radar and moved in.  When Belfast was at 11,000 yards, she opened fire.  Once again Scharnhorst broke away.   Later, she was picked up by the Radar of the battleship H.M.S. Duke of York. She followed Scharnhorst until she was within range and then with a mixture of torpedoes fired from her destroyer escort and her own 14″ guns, The Duke of York opened fire and within five minutes had damaged the Scharnhorst.   Further direct hits sank the battle-cruiser.

The news of The Battle of North Cape was broadcast on Boxing Day.

Gerald Sanger wrote:

Battleship sinks a holiday:  Tommy Scales and Co., having last week compiled their “Review of the Year” (or its equivalent – they called it “Nearer Victory”) and put it to bed for issue next Thursday, there was a not unnatural expectation that the Movietone building would be untenanted until Thursday.  Therefore the news of the sinking of the Scharnhorst on Boxing Day threw the proverbial spanner into the works.  Tommy Scales, after desperate efforts to gather his aids and assistants for renewed operations today, called me late last night with bitter vituperation for the library staff, which had gone to earth in the country somewhere and declined to emerge.  The upshot was that I agreed to reconnoitre the picture vaults at Walton-on Thames in search of the launching of the late, unlamented battleship.

In the event, he did not have to go to Walton.   Tommy Scales found one of his assistants who went to the vaults to retrieve the required film.

The Movietone At War articles are based on extracts and research for my forthcoming book: “Movietone At War”.

© 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.

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