Colleagues: Vittorio Della Valle
Vittorio Della Valle was a colleague of mine from 1961 to 1972.
He was born in 1917 in Rome. His father was a cinematographer who had accompanied one of the Italian Airship Expeditions to the North Pole.
It is likely that Vittorio was already working as a cameraman or, at least, a trainee cameraman in 1938.
In 1968 while filming the Monte Carlo Rally, the crew and I had dinner at Le Golfe De Naples Restaurant in Menton. We had had a wonderful meal and a delightful evening.
One of our party was Paul Badin, one of our cameramen based in Paris and a great friend of Della Valle.
When we left the restaurant, we walked past the open kitchen where, if one went to the right, it would lead to the seafront, La Promenade du Soleil, whereas a turn to the left would lead to the parallel internal road, Avenue Felix Faure. We turned left and found ourselves out in the street where Della Valle and I had first got into a taxi to find the restaurant.
I stood with Badin and Della Valle on the kerb looking up and down the street when Della Valle said “I’ve been here before”. Badin said “So have I” I said “When was that?” Della Valle said “June 1940” Badin said “June 1940”.
Della Valle pointed to a building about two hundred yards to the east and on the north side of the road and said that from there he was filming the Italian invasion of France. This was only a short distance from the Italian border. Badin pointed to a building on the other side of the road and said that he was there shooting at the advancing Italians. What a coincidence. It was clearly the first time they had realised that they were shooting at each other.
Italy had declared war on France on June 14th 1940. The Italian forces were ill equipped, hardly battle-trained and unprepared for war. There were 32 Divisions in 2 Armies, a total of 700,000 men, that invaded France from the Swiss border down to the Mediterranean. The depleted French were outnumbered two to one. The Italian forces made heavy weather of it and 2,000 of them suffered from frostbite in the Alps.
Historians tell us that they made little progress on the coast where they were stopped at Menton by an NCO and seven men. Surely Badin must have been one of them. In the whole invasion, the Italians lost 641 men killed while the French only lost 40.
On 20th June, the Italians offered an armistice. The French surrendered on June 22nd.
Della Valle spent some time in Libya between 1941 and 1943. He was still attached to the Italian Army and covered their Libyan campaign. He suffered eye damage in continuous sand storms and was obliged to use eye-drops several times a day for the rest of his life. He also contracted a liver disease which would plague him for the rest of his life.
When Rome was liberated in June 1944, Della Valle was able to return to Fox Movietone. Eventually, the Italian newsreel re-started production. During the war all newsreel material in Italy was the subject of censorship. Vittorio Della Valle contributed to the Italian newsreels of the Second World War.
In 1955 when 20th Century Fox and British Movietonews formed the UPMT television news service, Della Valle became their cameraman and bureau manager in Rome.
When Movietone left the partnership in 1963, Della Valle continued as bureau manager and chief cameraman for United Press International Newsfilm (UPIN). He covered news stories throughout Italy. His speciality was filming Italian fashions.
He would be approached by the fashion houses of Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice before their annual fashion shows. He would be invited to film their collections. They knew that there would be two guaranteed results.
The first, that the coverage would provide exquisite studio-quality pictures and second, those pictures would be distributed throughout the world within a few days.
For winter collections, he would find a suitable mansion or palace; he would get permission to film inside and he would light the scene to show off the fashions at their best. In the summer, he would choose the gardens of the great houses as the setting for his filming of the collections.
Della Valle had accreditation at the Vatican. He was well-known to Pope John XXIII. At one time, Pope John sent him a message via a number of his attendants to tell Vittorio that he had not shaved that morning.
On June 3rd, 1963, as Pope John lay dying, Vittorio was stationed outside his bedroom. At the moment that he died, Vittorio was allowed in to film the dead Pope. After that, the Vatican changed the rules to prevent it happening again.
Della Valle told us the story of his first encounter with Gernot Anderle who was the UPIN bureau manager in Frankfurt.
On February 6th, 1964, Pope Paul VI was due to pay a visit to the Holy Land, that is, Jerusalem and its environs. Kenneth Coyte, UPIN Foreign Editor, had sent Gernot Anderle from the Frankfurt office to Jerusalem to arrange the UPIN coverage and to despatch the film to London. Vittorio Della Valle, well-known in the Vatican, was to go as cameraman. Anderle arrived a few days earlier than Della Valle. He had flown into Amman and hired a car to take him to East Jerusalem which, at that time, was part of Jordan. Because the Pope was due to start his tour in Jordan, he, too, would arrive in Amman where he was to be greeted by King Hussein.
Della Valle met up with Anderle in East Jerusalem and they walked through the locations where Vittorio would be shooting the activities of the Pope.
They finished up in front of the great Damascus Gate, the most impressive of all the gates of Jerusalem. Vittorio said “Let’s walk through and see the other side”. Anderle said ” That’s not allowed, you need special permission to go there”. Della Valle said “Do you mean that you haven’t surveyed the other side”.
“Oh yes” said, Anderle, “but I had to go back to Amman, then I flew to Cyprus and from there, I flew back to Tel Aviv and got a car to take me to West Jerusalem. There I went round every location”.
Della Valle said to Anderle “Come with me”. He took him by the arm and walked him through the gate. “There, we are in West Jerusalem and no-one even asked who we were”.
I guess that story shows the different attitudes of the Germans and the Italians.
Della Valle turned in a magnificent coverage, virtually alone, while RAI, Radiotelevisione Italiana, sent in a crew of over a hundred to cover the event.
In 1967 UPIN had joined with Independent Television News in London to form UPITN.
In January 1968 we filmed the Monte Carlo Rally for Nissan Motors of Japan. This was the second of five rallies that we would film for them. Della Valle was brought in from Rome. He and I worked within a few miles of Monte Carlo during the course of the Rally. Like the rest of the crew, he was a master at following fast-moving cars. We spent several mornings, before sun-up, filming in the hills behind Monte Carlo. It was bitterly cold and we wore overcoats and warmed our hands around hot cups of coffee. A this time, our news service was being filmed in black and white. We, who were making documentaries, always used colour film. Della Valle was always able to produce exceptional quality pictures.
The following year we started a series of assignments for Honda Racing of Japan. They had a car entered in the European Championship driven by John Surtees. We started off with the French Grand Prix held at Rouen – Les Essarts in France.
Della Valle came in from Rome early and met up with me in Rouen. We stayed at the Hotel Quebec, a modest hotel where we did not intend to eat. Della Valle was a gourmet.
Della Valle and I went to lunch in a splendid hotel overlooking the River Seine. Della Valle was an expert on wine, especially French wine, and he told me about a white wine he had recently discovered. It is called “Sancerre’ which comes from the eastern part of the Loire Valley south-east of Orleans.
We decided to have some with our meal.
It was one of the greatest wine drinking experiences of my life. It was wonderful and we talked about it for days.
Some years later, while lunching with my colleague Norman Dickson at La Belle Meuniere in Charlotte Street, I noticed that they had Sancerre in the wine list. I told Norman about my experience and although, once again, it was quite expensive, we had a bottle. What a disaster, what a let-down. I have never tried it again.
Later that month we had the Belgian Grand Prix at Francorchamps near Verviers.
I met up with Vittorio Della Valle and we stayed at Le Roannay. The food was the sort of quality one might expect from a top class hotel. The region is famous for its strawberries and they were on the menu in various forms. We had a morning with nothing to do, so we went for a walk into town. As we walked along the streets, it seemed that every shop, whatever their normal business was, were selling strawberries. There was even boxes of strawberries outside a shoe shop.
They were those wonderful strawberries that are small and almost black with a wonderful taste.
We went back to the hotel for lunch and after our main course, we came to the great treat of strawberries. We ordered. The response ? “Sorry Gentlemen, we do not have any strawberries”. We told the waiter about the shops in town and he said “Yes, but our deliveries have not arrived”. What a swizz !
At the Francorchamps circuit, I went to pick up the cameramen’s passes. Della Valle said “I hope you have better luck than I did; I worked on the first CinemaScope documentary and I came here for the Grand Prix. I wanted to follow the Grand Prix cars on a warm-up lap with my camera mounted on the camera car“.
They organisers refused permission. It would have been a wonderful shot.
In September 1968, we went to Milan for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Once again, I arrived early with Della Valle. We stayed at Hotel Duca near the railway station.
Della Valle knew a restaurant down the Via Luigi Galvani. Inside the front door of this corner site, the restaurant seemed quite small. The kitchen, like the Golfe de Naples, was sited in the middle of the restaurant so that anyone could see what was happening. However, when one walked past the kitchen, one entered the garden of the restaurant which was the size of a Badminton Court. There was a large pergola from which grapes were hanging down and the vine leaves made an almost complete sun shade. We sat out there for a meal and I was asked by the waiter what sort of food I would like. I said “Fish”. I was introduced to a Marinara al cartaccio, a mixture of fish cooked in white wine wrapped in parchment. First class. Della Valle had Orata al Cartoccio which looked to me like raw beef. I kept looking the other way while he was eating.
The next day, we dined on the pavement outside the restaurant when I had Fettine di Maiale all Sorrentina, Sorrento-style Pork slices.
Vittorio ordered Half a Pig’s Head, I cannot remember the name of it in Italian. His pig’s head was staring at me throughout my lunch. I could hardly bear to watch him eat and yet I was fascinated as to how he was going to go about it. He was obviously well practiced at it.
How lucky I was working with our cameramen around the world. They always knew the finest restaurants, restaurants that the average tourist would never find.
In September 1970, I went back to Milan with Della Valle to shoot a short film for Caravans International. The had two caravans that were going to be towed round the race circuit for 24 hours by Ford cars. I always thought that the kudos belonged to the cars rather than the caravans, but they seemed to know what they were doing and, in any case, they were paying.
It was a long and arduous day and night for us. We left the circuit at three in the morning and returned at six. The rest of the time, we were there and Della Valle filmed the progress of the caravans. He never complained about working in this fashion, he was used to it and had been for many years.
When the Rally of 1972 was over, I collected my Carnations with the help of local cameraman Pierre Deus, then Della Valle and I went, together, to Nice Airport for our flights home. We were very early, we checked in and went in to the departure lounge.
There we spread ourselves out in the seats. There were few other people around.
Gradually people started to come in. Unnoticed by me, as I was dozing, two gentlemen walked past my chair where I had my legs stretched out before me. The first man tripped over my foot, I woke up with a start to be confronted by the smiling face of Denis Eugene Hurley, Most Reverend Archbishop of Durban. His travelling companion was Mangosuthu Buthelezi, chief of the Buthelezi tribe in South Africa, a position to which he was appointed in 1953.
The Archbishop and the Chief were on their way, as was Vittorio, to Rome to meet the Pope. Della Valle told them about his work at the Vatican. They were most interested. They sat with us and we chatted until my flight was called about half and hour later. I told the Archbishop that I had recently bumped into the Papal Nuncio in Nairobi and that I did not make a habit of colliding with the higher ranks of the Roman Catholic Church.
That was the last time I saw Vittorio Della Valle. Later that year he became very ill and the following year, he died. He was sorely missed by all his colleague who respected him as one of the finest documentary cameramen in the world.
I remember him being asked by another cameraman in Monaco how he obtained such perfect exposure. Vittorio said “I look at my exposure meter and interpret what it tells me and then……” Here he made a gesture. His hand, with his palm facing his left side, level with his right breast. He then described an arc with his hand so that the gesture finished with his hand level with his left breast and, now, facing the floor.
He said nothing more, but his small audience knew that he was illustrating a part of his photographic calculation that he could not quantify or even describe with any clarity. It was just Vittorio.