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Colleagues: Gerald F. Sanger

Gerald Fountaine Sanger was a co-founder of British Movietone News.  He was Executive Editor from 1929 to 1954 and on the board of directors until his retirement in 1964.

He was born in 1898 and was educated first at a preparatory school then to Shrewsbury School, a public school, and finally to Oxford University.

He came from a well-known family.  One branch built up a thriving chemist business while the other founded Sanger’s Circus. His cousin Fred Sanger was awarded two Nobel Prizes. The first in 1958 for work on amino-acids and in 1980, a shared Nobel Price for determining the chemical structure of elements in DNA.

Towards the end of the First World War, he served in the Royal Marines Artillery as a subaltern.   He shared accommodation with another subaltern, Esmond Harmsworth, who would later become Lord Rothermere.   When the war ended, Gerald Sanger became private secretary to Esmond Harmsworth.  His father, Lord Rothermere, owned The Daily Mail

600full-my-profileIn 1929, The Daily Mail went into partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Film Company to form British Movietone News.  20th Century Fox was the majority shareholder.  The Daily Mail chose Gerald Sanger to be Editor of British Movietone News.

He married in 1922, his wife was named Hope (nee Munroe) and they had three children: Mella, Clyde and James.

For most of his active period with Movietone he supervised the production of a large number of short films especially during the Second World War.  From time to time, he wrote commentaries for he newsreel stories and supervised the production of General Release editions of the newsreel.   Generally this work was done by Thomas Scales, the Make-up Editor, with the commentaries written by Cecil Burge.

Gerald Sanger attended almost every meeting of The Newsreel Association of Great Britain and Ireland which had been set up to provide a common approach to the actions of The Association of Cinematographic Technicians.  The NRA was to become more involved with The Ministry of Information on the outbreak of war.   The newsreels were faced with what they thought to be bureaucracy and incompetence in their dealings with The Ministry.

Before the Second World War he applied to join the Territorial Army. He was accepted and took the rank of Captain with the Second 6th Queens Regiment.  However, before his rank became substantive, he realised that his experience and position with Movietone was more important to the War effort.

He did join the Home Guard when they were first formed and remained until they were disbanded.

Photo of Paul Wyand’s Wall camera courtesy of the Tyneside Cinema.

Photo of Paul Wyand’s Wall camera courtesy of the Tyneside Cinema.

While working at Movietone during the war, he took his turn at fire-watching at 22 Soho Square.

Before Operation Overlord, D-Day, Gerald Sanger was approached by members of the staff of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) who sought his advice concerning the film coverage of the invasion.  For the most part, his advice was followed.

He was a poet and, for several years, he composed a poem which acted as commentary for the Armistice Day story issued by Movietone.

He recalls a meal taken at the Bequinot Restaurant Old Compton Street in March 1939 – it was a five course meal for 2/- Bottle of Pommard 7 /-.

At a time when the average wage was little more than £5 per week, he was earning £60.

He had little experience of rationing as he was able to take all his lunches and some dinners at a Soho restaurant.

At home at his “cottage” in Send, Surrey, the family kept chickens which supplied them with eggs and the occasional roast.

His favourite restaurant was Joseph’s which was at the north end of Greek Street close to Soho Square.  But, he did the rounds of all the top restaurants such as The Ivy and Les Jardins des Gourmets.

In April 1941 he recalled a meal at Les Jardins des Gourmets – Having had lunch with Esmond Harmsworth (Later Lord Rothermere), he wrote  :

It was three o’clock, I called for the bill;  £1.10.0d.   In such a trance was I, that I omitted to study its details. Afterwards, I wondered how we had consumed so much in money value.  I remembered smoke salmon, calf’s Head and peas, and raspberries a carafe of vin rose and one cocktail, which milord had imbibed before my arrival. And coffee.  All for £1.10.0 ! and when you come to think of it, I had had fully that amount of privileged entertainment.

Gerald Sanger was an accomplished sportsman excelling at cricket and tennis.

Gerald Fountaine Sanger was a toff.  He conversed with the Royal Family while making the Movietone short film “Heir to the Throne”.

He wrote:

Well, it was a most interesting experience and in a way, it’s a dream come true – because we are all of us snobs and I inherit a childlike sentimentality from my mother, and I have dreamed of getting to know the Royal Family and proving that they are all our imagination paints.  And that’s precisely what, in a small degree, has happened to me; and by all the tests I know how to apply, The King and Queen and Princesses are the kind of people I would like them to be.

Gerald Sanger, throughout the Second World War met Government Ministers concerning the output of the newsreels. Together with the Newsreel Association, he was often involved in heated discussions concerning the treatment of the newsreels by the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Information.

He wrote:

As a parting shot, let me say that I doubt the ability of a Government department to produce a newsreel twice a week. Somehow or other, men of all talents seem to find their faculties blunted and their initiative shackled  when they get into a Government department.  I shudder at the fantasy of conferences and committees poring over the bi-weekly gestation of a news-reel.

Gerald Sanger was a diarist.  He kept a detailed diary from 1930 to 1970.   Often he would stay up into the small hours completing his writings for the previous few days.

His eldest son Clyde compiled and published a heavily illustrated set of three volumes, called The Svenhonger Diary, covering the years 1938 to 1946.

In these volumes are day-to-day accounts of life at home, his family, his relations, his friends and his neighbours;  how they reacted to the changes the War brought about.  He creates in detail a picture of life working as a producer of a newsreel and  of short films, of his run-ins with the Ministry.   He wrote of life in London during the blitz.

I understand that the balance of his diaries were held by his younger son James who resided in England.  I regard his diaries among the greatest diaries of modern times and I believe they should all be published.  This is what he would have wanted.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2014.  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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