The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP): Its history, content, and a call for volunteers

Sue Malden (Secretary, BEHP)

28 March 2024


I am the Secretary of the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP). It was a pleasure to attend the IAMHIST symposium, ‘Hidden Archives: Marginalised and Alternative Collections and Practices’, in Dublin at the end of January, and to have the opportunity to address the Council and post graduate student attendees. I told the assembled academics that the BEHP is a small group of volunteers who record interviews with people who have worked in cinema, television, radio and theatre. This is because many careers overlap from one industry to another.

How it Began

The History Project began back in 1987 when a small group of members of the film and broadcasting union ACTT (Association of Cinema and Television Technicians) – now part of BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) – decided to record the individual histories of men and women who had made their working lives in the industry. They decided to do something immediate and practical to rectify that cumulative loss of memory and achievement and to bring to the project their wide personal knowledge of the industry and its history. They were led by Roy Fowler our Honorary President, and distinguished film maker. To quote from the Bill Douglas Centre:

Roy was something of a cinematic prodigy; in a typically entertaining piece on his career in our collections (EXE BD 78556) he describes his adventures as a ‘film barmy’ teenager. Obsessed with the film industry he visited sets and met filmmakers, determined that this would be the life he would lead. After service at the end of the war he then published two beautiful books in the Pendulum Popular Film series on ‘The Film in France’ and the first ever book biography of his great hero Orson Welles. He was just 19 at the time!

Faced with austerity and an industry in crisis at the end of its 1940s golden period in Britain, Roy then moved to the USA and worked as a producer in film and television. He returned to Britain in the 1970s and became closely involved with the film industry’s trade union, the ACTT. This proved to be one of his greatest achievements and hundreds of former industry personnel from household names to vital but little-known workers on set were encouraged to tell their stories and the recordings were made available to researchers. Now, the BEHP continues to go from strength to strength and Roy was involved right up to his death in August 2019. Without his passion and energy this testimony would never have been captured for posterity. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Roy’ Fowler’s biography of Orson Welles, published in 1946. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Roy Fowler’s study on Film in France, published in 1946. (https://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/roy-fowler-a-tribute/)

Supported by the Union which gave the group the autonomy to get on with the work in hand, they began to create an archive of oral history recordings by interviewing staff from across the sector, from processing workers and producers to sound assistants and directors, including writers and performers.

Vision and Achievement

The vision of those pioneers has resulted in a unique and internationally recognised archive of more than 800 recordings which provide an extraordinary insight into the economic, technical, aesthetic and personal histories of the key cultural industry of the 20th and 21st Century. Some of them are more than 20 hours long and are social documents of our time.

As our industry has grown, we have extended our recordings to new occupations and new media.  We are determined to remain relevant to our time and to future generations.  We welcome the active engagement of all those with the ability and enthusiasm to assist us in our work.

What is it?

The BEHP is organised and operated entirely by volunteers who select interviewees and undertake the interviews. Interviews were originally recorded on audio tape but are now recorded audiovisually.

Our archive is unique and the majority of those whose working lives are recorded within it cannot be heard in any other place.

We have over 800 interviews on audio (in the early days) and video since 2000. Since 1987 a substantial database and website have been developed of fascinating interviews covering careers in the industry as well as many social history issues. We continue to record interviews – recently Bruce Robinson, writer/director of Withnail and I (1987), and Ronald Grant, the founder of the Cinema Museum. We welcome suggestions – Tobias Hochscherf has suggested Jodi Routh, grandson of Hein Hechroth, set designer who won an Oscar in 1949 for his visionary work on The Red Shoes (1948).

A wonderful example of real experience being brought to life in a film is the cimematographer for Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Christopher Challis, talking about his WWII experience:

They said the Hague had fallen and Amsterdam. So I set out to go to the Hague in the Oyster because we were dropping food to the Dutch. They were in a terrible state, they suffered more than anyone else, they were all starving and we were dropping food. We got about half way and we realised, the pilot and myself that there were no sign of any of our troops and there were still German sentries on the bridges across the canals and things. And although they didn’t attempt to fire on us we hadn’t got enough fuel to go back so we had to carry on and we flew right at N and got to the suburbs of the the Hague. And there was a football field and some cows and a little house all around. We decided we could land there. And we landed with these cows going in every direction. Hundreds of Dutch people swarmed out of these houses and said what at you doing. They spoke English. We said we’ve come to film you. They said the Germans are still here and they surrounded us and took us to a house and a German half track appeared at the edge of the crowd which numbered several hundred people and they just stood and watched, they did nothing and went away. The Dutch resistance people turned up by then and said you’ve got to get out of here because although the war is virtually over for us it’s not and the Germans are still here. (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/christopher-challis)

Some of this chaotic experience must be visualised in the movie!

Now that many of the interviews are accessible we welcome anyone who would like to curate elements of the collection by identifying themes, technology, film titles, TV productions, personalities for academic projects. For example we have done work on Dr Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2005 -) , a BBC TV classic to mark the centenary of the BBC. We embarked on  research into this iconic BBC series to establish if we hold recordings with  any interviewees who worked on the production over its 60 years, as the winner of 118 Awards and 215 nominations from among others – BAFTA – Scotland, Wales and England, Broadcasting Press Guild, and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (USA). There have been thirteen actors portraying the Doctor and many more behind the scenes contributing to its success.The 50th anniversary was broadcast In 94 countries and screened to more than half a million people in cinemas across Australia, Latin America, North America and Europe. The scope of the broadcast was a world record, according to Guinness World Records. Truly a major BBC production! So, in alphabetical order, here you go:

  • Robert Beatty no 50 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/robert-beatty, in ‘The Tenth Planet’. He played General Cutler;
  • Bill Cotton, Controller of BBC1, no 153 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/bill-cotton was involved in the 1985 postponement of Doctor Who. His precise impact on the production was that he hired John Nathan Turner and is likely to have signed off on Peter Davidson’s casting as the fifth Doctor. His biggest contribution (according to https://tardis.fandom.com/wiki/Bill_Cotton) is that he was the bridge by which Michael Grade joined the BBC and when Cotton moved up the management structure, he became Grade’s boss  and on 28 Feb 1985 announced the BBC had to live within its income, but a year later he told the DR Who Appreciation Society that Dr Who would be returning!! I’m sure he talks of other very significant BBC issues in his time as a senior manager!
  • A. Englander no 22 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/tubby-englander – Camera operator on two serials, the season 7 adventure ‘The Ambassadors of Death and the season 8 ‘The Claws of Axos’.
  • Waris Hussein no 655 https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/waris-hussein –  director of the very first Dr Who serial. In fact he directed the pilot episode of Doctor Who in September 1963 plus all of ‘An Unearthly Child’;but he only directed 6 of the 7 episodes of the ‘Marco Polo’ serial.

All these interviews have been transcribed and are readily accessible on the above links. The following have been digitised, but we do not have a transcript for them. These interviews can be put through OTTER ( an automatic speech to text recognition software, but they will still need to be proofread and corrected). WE NEED VOLUNTEERS!

We asked people to name the most significant people who we do not hold an interview with and should be interviewed. They nominated

  • Philip Hinchcliffe, producer – being recorded by Paul Vanesis
  • Mat Irvine, – Visual Effects –  now done, but needs transcribing
  • Ken Westbury – He started at Ealing, working on films such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (*) as a clapper loader, focus puller and camera assistant and when the BBC took over the studio, he came with it. He worked of the Patrick Troughton serial ‘Fury from the Deep’. – this has now done by Steve Brook Smith,  but needs transcribing
  • Marcia Wheeler, production manager – this has also been recorded, but needs transcribing

We have curated themes on Powell & Pressburger, Alexandra Palace, the starting place for Television to name a few, but there are so many more!

How to Join us

We welcome all offers of practical assistance in undertaking the interviews themselves or in providing the camera and sound skills needed for the recordings.  Members of the project do not have to be or have been members of the Union, although many are.  We are a broad church, and we want to reflect the gender, ethnic, geographical and sectoral range of our industry in our interviews.

There are many, many more productions, personalities or themes than can be researched, however, there is still work to do. All this involves a lot of work digitising and transcribing the interviews. As I told everyone at the IAMHIST event, we welcome assistance managing the project such as transcribing interviews and proof-reading transcripts we have produce using automatic speech to text transcribing. For example, Llewella Chapman will be studying interviews we hold with costume designers and wardrobe personnel as well as assisting in possible recording interviews for the BEHP.

The challenges to free up this valuable collection for access and research have been considerable – we needed  clearance from all interviewees to digitise and make their contribution accessible. Jill Balcon (daughter of Sir Michael Balcon and mother of actor Daniel Day Lewis) had not given her consent so we had to find some one in her family to give us permission to digitise – her son did!

So this is an appeal to scholars and practitioners  to be in contact with me to explore academic project ideas making use of the BEHP collection of interviews and of course help us with funding to sustain the collection. Please get in touch with me at: Sue.Malden@btinternet.com.


Sue Malden is the recipient of the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries (FOCALInt) in 2023, Formerly Head of BBC Broadcast Archives, conference planner for FIAT/IFTA; member of RTS Archive group. Currently chair if the Board of Trustees for MACE (Media Archive of Central England) and Secretary of the BEHP (British Entertainment History Project) (formerly BECTU History Project).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Working in and with German Archives on German-German Media History

Mandy Tröger, University of Munich (LMU)

27 March 2020

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This blog post addresses international media scholars whose research focus is Germany and German-German media history. The term ‘German-German’ refers to the history of cross-border media relations between both German states, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), until German unification in 1990. This research leads you to working in German archives. I want to share my experience of doing archival research for my doctoral thesis on the transition of the press in the GDR 1989/1990. The focus of my thesis lay on structural conditions and shifts; I was particularly interested in the political and economic influences of different interest groups from the FRG. I tried to access archival material showing the dealings of West German political and economic players, however this became a problem and I want to show you the different ways I used to get around it.

In the end, the findings of my dissertation were entirely based on primary and semi-primary sources; I used secondary literature only if primary sources left gaps in the overall narrative. I worked in eleven public and non-public (publishers, association etc.) archives, and seven private collections. In addition, I held seventeen non-biographical interviews. This blog post summarizes what I have learned from this process.

The “Politics of Memory” in Germany

In various ways, archives are places of institutionalized “politics of memory” (Brown and Davis-Brown, 1998). In Germany, the policy of national archives is such that all files classified as “GDR” are generally open to the public (even if they contain material from after 1990). The National Archive in Berlin (BArch) holds the majority of “GDR” records. Files of the same time period labeled “FRG” are closed for at least thirty years to protect individual rights and potentially sensitive information of economic and political interest groups. The consequences of this imbalance for historical research are serious and well-known among archivists and historians in Germany. They relate to a broader political agenda to the writing and construction of German-German history. They also partly explain the often one-sided and GDR-centric approaches in current German-German history writing.

The holdings of the Wendemuseum in Los Angeles

Three ways to access archives

However, the transition period in the GDR in 1989/1990 cannot be thought of without the political, economic and social relations, pressures and affiliations to the Federal Republic. Not having had access to these files, made it necessary to adopt different strategies.

First, the filing of “requests to shorten the term of file protection” (Antrag auf Schutzfristenverkürzung) to be granted access to classified federal documents in the National Archives in Koblenz and Berlin. The archive in Koblenz holds the files of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Inneren, BMI) responsible for media related issues. Berlin holds, for instance, those of the trust agency Treuhandanstalt. These requests are generally complicated and can take years. I was granted access to files of the BMI at the National Archive in Koblenz; two requests for the trust agency Treuhandanstalt in Berlin have been in process for four years and were just recently granted.

Second, the issue of classified access made the archives of political foundations affiliated with individual parties (Stiftungsarchive) more important. These archives are in general dispute with the national archive over new acquisitions. At times, they hold files of politicians who worked on a federal level. For instance, the Archive of Liberalism of the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation for Freedom, affiliated with the liberal Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP), holds the record of several members of the FDP’s federal media commission. The Green Memory Archive (Archiv Grünes Gedächtnis) of the Böll Foundation and the Green Party in Berlin holds the estate of Gerhard Bächer, former representative of the Green Party at the Media Control Council (Medienkontrollrat, MKR) founded in 1990 (see Becker-Schaum, 2009). The Archive of Democratic Socialism (Demokratischer Sozialismus, ADS) of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the leftist party DIE LINKE in Berlin holds the estate of interim prime minister and later member of the German Bundestag, Hans Modrow (see ADS, n.d.). These archives have individually negotiated classified periods, and are generally easier to access.

The third way around the issue of access lay in the “GDR” files themselves. Since classification matters, not content, detailed communication between various East and West German interest groups can, if traced thoroughly, be found in these files. The part of my thesis telling the complicated story of early West German market interests in the building of a monopoly-like press distribution in East Germany was based on the files of the East German Ministry of Postal and Telecommunication (Ministerium für Post- und Fernmeldewesen, MPF). Labeled “GDR,” these files are open for research, even though several still-existing German interest groups might have good reasons for wanting to keep this communication off record.

Other relevant archives

Another important archive for GDR-media in 1990 was the ID-Archive at the International Institute for Social History (IISH/ID-Archive MKR) in Amsterdam. It holds an extensive collection (forty-two boxes) of the East German Media Control Council (MKR). This collection was transferred to the IISH/ID-Archive MKR in 1997. It contains minutes of the MKR-meetings, correspondence and documents regarding the reshaping of the media landscape (radio, television, newspapers and publishing houses) in the GDR in 1990, and an extensive collection of press clippings 1989-1990.

Also, the extensive library on media (policy) books in the corporate archive library of Axel Springer Publishers and the collection of the Wendemuseum in Los Angeles were valuable. Both allowed access to a variety of media-related sources.

The holdings of the Wendemuseum include the estate of the former General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), Erich Honeker, including his library

In particular the private (personal) collections took a central role in the original research. During the transition period, with fast institutional changes, it was common for those working at ministries, newspapers, publishers or in civic groups to take files home once the job was done and no archive was in charge of storing documents.

Expert interviews

Expert interviews further contributed greatly to my thesis. The communication with over twenty interview partners was, at times, extensive. The interviews were non-biographical, my questions related to a specific subject matter at hand, such as the dealings of a ministry, a newspaper or media policy institution. My goal was to fill gaps that could not have been filled based on archival material alone. This is important, especially for the transition period. During this fast-paced period, much of the communication happened verbally and/or was not documented systematically but noted by hand on pieces of paper. This was partly due to the grassroots like character of reform institutions (such as the Round Table or the MKR) and the often non-professional background of their members, as well as to institutional shifts more generally. Thus, archival holdings often contain numerous pieces of hand-written notes and papers that require context to make sense of them, and this context can often only be provided by those who were directly involved. This is an encouragement to step out of the archive and reach out to them.


Bibliography

ADS, n.d., ‘Bestände/Findbücher, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’, https://www.rosalux.de/stiftung/historisches-zentrum/archiv/bestaende-findbuecher/ (accessed: January 10, 2018).

Becker-Schaum, Christoph, 2009, ‘Der Archivbestand Gerhard Bächer und die Grüne Partei in der DDR’, Grünes Gedächtnis, pp. 71-76, http://www.boell.de/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/06/jb_2009_-_cbs_archivbestand_gerhard_baecher.pdf (accessed: May 25, 2016).

Brown, Richard Harvey, and Beth Davis-Brown, 1998, ‘The making of memory: the politics of archives, libraries and museums in the construction of national consciousness’, in History of the Human Sciences, 11/2, pp. 17-32.


Mandy Tröger, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, Germany. Dr Tröger received her doctorate from the Institute of Communications Research (ICR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2018. From 2015 until 2017, she was a PhD-Fellow of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, Germany. Parts of her dissertation, ‘On Unregulated Markets and the Freedom of Media: The Transition of the East German Press after 1989’, have been translated into German, and have been published in a German-language book, Pressefrühling und Profit, in 2019.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Views on Colour: finding the filmmakers, technicians and archivists

Sarah Street (University of Bristol), Liz Watkins (University of Leeds), Paul Frith (University of East Anglia), and Carolyn Rickards (University of Bristol)

14 January 2020

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Professor Sarah Street:

Since the 1970s oral history has become increasingly accepted as a valuable, even essential methodology in understanding the recent past. Interviewing people who remember events, represent particular communities or who were experts in their particular fields can offer unique insights rarely found in conventional historical documentation. When devising two AHRC-funded research projects on the history of colour filmmaking – The Negotiation of Innovation: Colour Films in Britain, 1900-55 and The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-85 – interviewing practitioners was incorporated into their methodologies as an integral element of the research process. The first project (conducted 2007-2010) covered a period following the arrival of sound cinema in which colour films were the exception to the rule, consisting of a relatively small but highly respected corpus of Technicolor films. The second project (conducted 2016-19) dealt with the mass adoption of colour in British filmmaking by the end of the 1960s, made possible by cheaper Eastmancolor stocks that did not require the special cameras that had been essential to maintaining Technicolor’s monopoly over colour production in previous decades. Both projects provided opportunities to expand the available record of information about colour filmmaking, investigating and interrogating notions of expertise as it pertained to the many people involved, from cinematographers to costume designers and lab technicians, in producing colour films.

The idea to interview surviving practitioners was in part influenced by the availability of an existing archive of interviews conducted for the BECTU Oral History Project (now absorbed and available via the British Entertainment History Project website: https://historyproject.org.uk). For the Technicolor years we found interviews had been conducted with cinematographers such as Oswald Morris and Chris Challis. Jack Cardiff, perhaps the most famous British Technicolor cinematographer, had been interviewed numerous times, while Duncan Petrie interviewed a number of key figures for his book The British Cinematographer (BFI, 1996). Yet we knew that a greater range of opinion could be recovered, in addition to creating a comparative set of interviews in which recollections obtained nearer the events in question could be compared with longer-term memories as practitioners became older, sometimes offering different, even conflicting reflections on the films they helped to create. While technical manuals describe how colour processes work they did not always record practical problems or how inventive practitioners often had to improvise during a shoot in order to deliver a desired effect or look. The interviews were transcribed and published as offering a unique focus on ‘the creative decision-making which goes into the life cycle of a colour film’ (Brown, Street and Watkins, British Colour Cinema: Practices and Theories, BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2013: 2). We aimed to provide an informed sense of the collaborative contexts of colour filmmaking, recording the ingenuity behind working with now obsolete technologies while accessing memories that often ranged beyond technological issues such as studio cultures, gender and class.

Figures 1 – 3: Stills taken from interviews conducted as part of the Eastmancolor Revolution project (Peter Suschitzky, Evangeline Harrison, Alan Masson)

Since The Eastmancolor Revolution project covered later years of colour filmmaking the potential list of participants was more extensive. The issues were however familiar: tracking down individuals who had not previously been interviewed, but also those who were used to repeating well-honed recollections about particular films and technologies. The preparation for each interview had to take into account previous documentation so that as much new information could be gleaned as possible. Being responsive to interviewees’ interests was also important to allow for ‘off-script’ impressions which might not have been anticipated by the interviewer. Awareness of ethical issues involved in conducting interviews was also of paramount importance in setting up the structures and obtaining the necessary documentation. We also sought to make the record more inclusive, when possible interviewing those with expertise in skills less documented than cinematography such as costume, production design and laboratory work.


Dr Liz Watkins:

The interviews discussed in this section were carried out by Liz Watkins with Sarah Street as Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project: ‘The Negotiation of Innovation: Colour Films in Britain 1900-55’ at the University of Bristol.

Identifying the interviewees (questions, research, context): behind the film images and texts lay a history of materials, technologies and practices: Technicolor’s dye imbibition process (c.1935-55) combined technical innovation with western aesthetics to produce the first full-length feature films in ‘natural colour’. The Technicolor Colour Advisory Service advocated the use of colour design to highlight aspects of the image (costume, make-up), establish a network of connections between characters and locations, and to emphasise the dramatic tone of a scene: the concept of a ‘natural colour’ image was embedded in the ideologically complicit narrative form of classic cinema. Published accounts of the dye imbibition process – from Natalie Kalmus’ ‘Color Consciousness’ to press book essays by Technicolor cinematographers such as Guy Green – attest to the commercial imperative of Technicolor design in the promotion of their colour process through marketing tie-ins (lip-color, dress patterns) and as integral to film narratives, interests which coalesced in the star image.[1] Technical handbooks and industry publications can tell us how the dye imbibition process was intended to work. However, the project interviews with industry personnel were to offer another perspective. The interviews addressed the practicalities and quirks of the process, its materials and technologies, alongside the stylistic and pragmatic interpretation of Advisory Service directives as made by the filmmakers that they worked with. This reminds us that there is of course another dimension to film production behind the spectacle of new technologies. For example, the work of the film laboratory was vital to grading, printing and maintaining control over the Technicolor dye imbibition process. The Technicolor system used a specialist camera to record three ‘colour’ records on reels of black and white filmstock from which matrices were produced and combined – printed in layers – to form a ‘natural colour’ image. The rushes seen by the director and cinematographer were screened in black and white prior to the printing of the colour image in Technicolor’s film laboratory. This history of labour in film production has too often been sublimated in the study of film image and text.[2]

What emerged as we researched and scheduled the interviews was the material history particular to each film, from production to laboratory, cinema screening and archive. The research methodology was to identify connections and overlaps in the production notes, trade papers, scripts, essays and reviews specific to British films that had been made using Technicolor’s three-strip process. This approach allowed us to cross reference information and to understand the theories, technologies and practices that formed a Technicolor movie.

Resources: research for the interviews included working through several decades of Kinematograph Weekly, the British Journal of Photography and American Cinematographer for the international circulation of British films and on Technicolor as a US company. This approach identified essays published in trade papers, such as the Journal of the Association of Cine-Technicians (1935-1956) and the British Guild of Camera Technicians’ Eyepiece Magazine, including some written by the people we were to interview. [3] Publications such as the Monthly Film Bulletin, Picturegoer and newspapers offered reviews contemporary to the initial release of the films. The National Film Theatre Programmes and Journal of Film Preservation indicated information on the conservation and restoration of the three-strip Technicolor productions. The list of potential resources was extensive, thus important to maintain focus on colour films made in Britain between 1900-1955.

The archive of BECTU History Project interviews, were (c.2007-10) accessed via audiotape cassettes and transcribed at the BFI Library when it was still based at Stephen Street. It was a time consuming, yet worthwhile process.[4] Interviews with union members – Syd Wilson, Jack Houshold, Bernard Happé who had worked with black-and-white film, Technicolor and Eastmancolor – detailed the nuances of processing dye-imbibition prints, from the use of registration keys to align the three colour matrices with a grey record to increase contrast to the practicalities of maintaining and cleaning the machines to ensure that a clear image would be projected on screen. The BECTU archive interviews with Directors of Photography, although broad in their scope, assisted in shaping the interviews that Sarah Street and I conducted with Oswald Morris OBE, BSC and Christopher Challis OBE, FRPS: interviews that were dedicated to the question of colour. Oswald Morris was Director of Photography on Technicolor films including Moby Dick (John Huston, 1956) and Moulin Rouge (Huston, 1952) as well as Eastmancolor – The Man Who Never Was (Roger Neame, 1955) and The Odessa File (Sidney Lumet, 1974). Christopher Challis was DoP on Tales of Hoffmann (Michael Powell, 1952), Footsteps in the Fog (Arthur Lubin, 1955), Raising a Riot (Wendy Toye, 1955), and worked as an assistant on Technicolor’s World Windows travelogues (1937-40) and as DoP for Eastmancolor films including The Boy Who Turned Yellow (Michael Powell, 1972).

Interviews and transcription: The interviews offered a sense of each film as it was in its making, from the connections and negotiations between the Studios, film directors and the Technicolor company and lab that occurred at every stage through to the unexpected and experimental aspects of working with new technologies. Morris, for example, recalled his encounters with Eliot Elisofon, who was stills photographer and Special Colour Consultant on Moulin Rouge (John Huston, 1952) and as a second photographer on set with a stated interest in colour and light. Elisofon’s practice was directed toward publicity outside of the film, yet he assisted in ‘securing the filters’ that Morris needed ‘to capture Toulouse Lautrec’s colours on screen’.[5] Both Morris and Challis emphasised the environments they had worked in – such as the management of fog and smoke as it responded to the movement of workers on set, the effects of extreme temperatures on the filmstock used for the World Windows travelogues, and the interpretation of Advisory Service recommendations regarding the reflection of light from mirrors and white textiles – ‘Tech dipped 1, Tech dipped 2’ – adapted to the making and promotion of a colour image using the dye imbibition process. The interviews included the occasional anecdote – tales of filmmaking 50 years ago – and it was in watching a section of film with Morris that new details of technique or happenstance in photographic practice were recalled. The Directors of Photography themselves were brilliant, astute, humorous and as it turned out knew each other.

The transcription of our project interviews was an intriguing process: finding a balance between perhaps too close an attention to the details of the audio recordings – laughter, hesitations and intonation that nuance conversation – and the process of evolving in to a text for publication. The information is sound – the names, film titles and dates have been cross-referenced with trade and technical papers, but peripheral noises mattered too – Challis’ dog “Swinger” barking and hunting for biscuits in the background and the church bells ringing near Morris’ house and that I could recall from the BECTU tape recording that I’d listened to in the BFI Reading Room.[6] Our aim was to record their notes on film production, which we did, yet there’s a substantial amount of information that remains outside the transcript. Permissions were sought and agreed with each person – with very few amendments requested – for the printed publication of the interviews.

Toward the later stages of the project we found that the interviews with film curators and conservationists took us back to the laboratories and the programming of the Technicolor and Eastmancolor films that now formed part of the BFI National Archive. The insights offered by Paul de Burgh[7], Keiron Webb (BFI), Giovanna Fossati (EYE Filmmuseum) and Paolo Cherchi Usai (at Haghefilm Conservation BV in 2010) on materials and methods, described film conservation and restoration as the continual work of the archive in which the specific characteristics of each process – the nuance of colour in materials images and texts made using Kinemacolor, Dufaycolour, three strip Technicolor, Eastmancolor – affect the ways that analogue and digital forms intersect.

Practicalities: Some questions recurred in each interview (e.g. how would you describe the role of DoP/ Archivist/ curator etc) offering a framework for those lines of enquiry that were tailored to that interviewee (specific films, techniques): a practice that assisted in structuring the meeting. I would recommend sending the questions in advance. It was useful, I found, that the interview scenario was familiar to some of the people that we spoke to. The transcripts were, with the agreement of the interviewees, included in the project publication British Colour Cinema: Theories and Practices (BFI/ Palgrave Macmillan: London 2013) https://www.bloomsbury.com/au/british-colour-cinema-9781844574131/ .

Figure 4: Autobiographies by Challis and Morris with British Colour Cinemas


Dr Paul Frith and Dr Carolyn Rickards:

This section refers to interviews undertaken as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council- funded project ‘The Eastmancolor Revolution and British Cinema, 1955-8’ which was led by Professor Sarah Street with co-investigator Professor Keith Johnston (University of East Anglia).

Interview questions and publication: To begin the task of formulating interview questions, we initially decided to refer back to the main aims and objectives of our project. In tracking the introduction and development of Eastmancolor across a thirty-year period, what could – or should – the interviews reveal about the issues, challenges and outcomes generated by this colour process during this time? What insights could our interviewees bring to pre-established histories of British cinema? And how could we formulate questions that would evoke memories and invite responses that would resonate with our project themes?

Figures 5-7: Stills taken from interviews conducted as part of the Eastmancolor Revolution project (Brian Pritchard, Chris Menges, Colin Flight)

It required extensive preparation and organisation. We decided to send the interview structure and questions in advance to enable interviewees time to think about their answers beforehand. This also meant that some people were able to prepare collected materials and documents which proved an added bonus when discussing their work. However, what we found was that our well-planned structures did not always follow through on the day! The interviews often drifted on to other topics which although interesting were not always relevant and occasionally films we thought provided exciting examples of colour filmmaking were either skipped over or mentioned in passing. This was no fault of either the interviewee or interviewer, but rather down to the natural process of conversation and our role was to maintain a congenial environment in which to elicit good responses. Adopting a more semi-structured approach encouraged some great insights however, although we factored in plenty of time, it would have been fascinating to ask the interviewees what films they considered to be exemplary in terms of colour production, and particularly within a British cinema context.

In addition to more standard methods of research dissemination such as print or online publication we also considered alternative approaches which included the creation of several video essays. One of these essays takes the form of a short documentary focusing on key issues relating to the history and legacy of Eastmancolor in British cinema, combining new interview footage with stills and clips of relevant films. Given that the total duration of our recorded interviews runs at over fourteen hours, the documentary format presented the opportunity to focus on the most significant themes concurrent throughout the responses from our interviewees. While excerpts from each of the interviews have contributed significantly to other project outputs, the documentary format provided a concise narrative from the perspective of the industry personnel themselves. With the understanding that the project interviews would be incorporated into a number of audio-visual outputs, it therefore became essential to maintain broadcast quality recording throughout; a factor not typically a pre-requisite of interviews conducted as part of a larger research project. This decision was also significant in determining the legacy of these interviews beyond the lifetime of our project. The relationship established between the Eastmancolor Revolution project and the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) ensured that each of these in-depth interviews would remain available to future researchers via the BEHP website (historyproject.org.uk). As a record of key personnel discussing one of the most significant developments within the British film industry, these interviews provide unique insights into a technology previously neglected within accounts of British cinema.


[1] Natalie Kalmus, ‘Color Consciousness’, Journal of the Society for Motion Picture Engineers 25:2 (August 1935) pp.139-147. Guy Green, ‘Colour heightens splendours of Blanche Fury’, Blanche Fury (Marc Allegret, 1948) press book, 1948.

[2] Peter Wollen, ‘Cinema and Technology: A Historical Overview’, eds. Teresa de Lauretis and Stephen Heath, The Cinematic Apparatus (Macmillan: New York, 1980), pp.18-19.

[3] For context see Bernard Knowles, ‘COLOUR- The New Technique’ Cine-Technician Nov-Dec 1938, vol.4, no.18, pp.110-111. For interviewees see Paul de Burgh ‘Optical Printing: a talk given by Paul de Burgh of Denlabs on A.C.T’s own Lecture Course’ in A.E. Jenkins (ed.) Cine-Technician vol.18, no. 96 (1952), pp.66-68.

[4] Many of the BECTU interviews have been transcribed by other people and are now available online. See BECTU History Project https://www.uea.ac.uk/film-television-media/research/research-themes/british-film-and-tv-studies/british-cinema/oral-history-project and the British Entertainment History Project https://historyproject.org.uk/content/about-collection both accessed 22nd November 2019.

[5] Oswald Morris, Huston, We Have a Problem, A Kaleidoscope of Filmmaking Memories (The Scarecrow Press, Inc: Oxford 2006), p.69. Elisofon ‘Reflections on Color’, The New York Times, 17 November 1957, p.x7. Elisofon’s photographs were published in LIFE Magazine. The connection between Morris and Elisofon and the concepts of colour harmony and control inform my research fellowship at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

[6] Oswald Morris, interviewed by Alan Lawson, BECTU Tape 9 recorded 1987. Oswald Morris, interviewed by Liz Watkins and Sarah Street recorded 6th August 2008. Both interviews were at the same address. The tenure and duration of Morris’ career can be read from his filmography and autobiography, but that sense of time past – born in 1915 working in the film industry for 55 years – is something that I realised most acutely in the peripheral sound of the church bells ringing 20 years apart.

[7] Paul de Burgh worked on the BFI National Film Archive conservation and restoration of three-strip Technicolor films in the 1980s-90s. This interview (18th February 2009) was conducted by Liz Watkins and Dr Simon Brown (Kingston University). I also interviewed de Burgh for the BECTU History Project with Kieron Webb (BFI).


Biographies:

Sarah Street is Professor of Film at the University of Bristol. Her publications on colour films include Colour Films in Britain: The Negotiation of Innovation, 1900-55 (2012) and two co-edited (with Simon Brown and Liz Watkins) collections, Color and the Moving Image: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive (2012) and British Colour Cinema: Practices and Theories (2013). Her latest books are Deborah Kerr (2018) and Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s (2019, co-authored with Joshua Yumibe). Her latest project is as Principal Investigator on STUDIOTEC: Film Studios: Infrastructure, Culture, Innovation in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, 1930-60, a European Research Council-funded Advanced Grant.

Dr Liz Watkins, University of Leeds. Her research interests include colour – its theories, technologies, and materiality – in cinema; the history and ethics of colourisation; gender and representation; the imbrication of fiction/nonfiction in early 1900s polar expedition films, photography and their exhibition. Liz has published essays on Eastmancolor, Technicolor, early colour photography, film and archives in Screen, Journal for Cultural Research and Parallax. Her co-edited collections include Gesture and Film (2017) with Nicholas Chare and British Colour Cinema (2013) and Color and the Moving Image: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Archive (2013) with Simon Brown and Sarah Street. Her book project, with Routledge, is on colour and cinema, analysing the converse effects and counterpoints of colour design that track the gendered and social structures of narrative cinemas (gothic, melodrama, horror and experimental film forms).

Dr Paul Frith is an Associate Tutor at the University of East Anglia. His research specialism is in British cinema with an emphasis upon colour, censorship and horror. His work on these subjects has appeared in a number of publications including the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and the Journal of British Cinema and Television and he is also the co-author of Colour Films in Britain: The Eastmancolor Revolution to be published by Bloomsbury in 2021.

Dr Carolyn Rickards is a researcher based at the University of Bristol. She has published in the Journal of British Cinema and Television, Screen, Fantasy / Animation: Connections Between Media, Mediums and Genres (Routledge, 2018) and is also the co-author of Colour Films in Britain: The Eastmancolor Revolution to be published by Bloomsbury in 2021.


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