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Memories of a Film-Maker
Michael Klaw on The Queen's Guards (1961)
I was more than interested to read all your comments & remarks about this film & perhaps I can help to make clear & answer certain questions about this, as I was both 3rd & for quite a few weeks, 2nd assistant director for virtually all the length of the filming of this!
The film was a mess for the simple reason that the script was virtually re-written EVERY DAY!! It started off as normal script - albeit much thicker (about 1 inch) than the film scripts I was used to working with.
Then as the days went by the script changes & amendments started to appear - each one colour coded - pink, blue, green etc & at the end my script had more than over doubled in size!
Each morning there was a meeting on the stage at Shepperton to decide what we were shooing that day - bits of the original, bits of the pink pages, ditto for the other colours - often we had no idea what the hell we were shooting!!! And that is why, in the film there are lots of loose ends etc!
Now as to the filming itself;
It was filmed in a new Technicolor Process - Super Technirama 35mm (although a 70mm version did exist) - basically the film magazines were situated side by side, but the film went through the gate horizontally & in addition the lens was a Panavision type which also squeezed the image to give an exceptionally fine quality image.
The cameras were hand-made machined jewels, very expensive (55,000 pounds each at that time) & weighed a ton - of course finished in the traditional Technicolor green metallic paint - and lovingly looked after by a certain George Pink - the Technicolor Technician that any Technicolor film was obliged to have.
The Lighting Cameraman was at the beginning, I seem to recall John Wilcox (brother of the famous Herbert Wilcox) but he went ill & Old Friend, Gerry Turpin who was the camera operator replaced him.
The sets where incredible. The Technirama process distorted all the interior perspectives so the sets had to be constructed to take this into account & thus when you looked at a set of, for example a quite large room, to our naked eyes it seemed to be huge, but in reality it was only about 15 feet deep - everything was tricked & to work on sets like this was a new experience & took a bit of getting used to!
A lot of the film was shot on Location in around London, itself a real challenge - I remember on special days shooting in Trafalgar Square - It was cordoned off for the whole of a Sunday by our friends of the Metropolitan Police - just as well as I had over 400 crowd artists to control & direct!!
We also shot in the Tower of London, Wellington Barracks & the Horse Guards Parade (I remember a unforgettable row there breaking out before everybody between the Wardrobe Mistress - Brigitt Sellars & one of the main actors - Duncan Lamont. What this was about time has erased this from my memory, but it certainly was unforgettable!)
It was during the filming at Wellington Barracks (never having done National Service) that I witnessed what 'At the double son' (but in the Guards fashion) really meant - Fascinating!
We had 2 Guards Captains plus one Tough Guards RSM with us during all the filming (it was thanks to the latter that I learnt how to spit & polish boots!)
The trooping of the colour was real, shot by a second unit in Horse Guards Parade, but for all the stuff with Daniel Massey & Rob Stevens etc, this was 'rebuilt' & recreated in the Studio Car park at Shepperton Studios.
Again with over 400 crowd artists who had to be moved from one lot of 'stands' to another to make it look as if it was real so as to match in with stuff already filmed (The troops however were REAL, the same ones who had part in the trooping of the colour & few weeks before.)
And so the filming went on very slowly throughout the summer & because of all the rewrites started to go way over not only the shooting schedule but very seriously over budget!
Thus a 2nd unit was formed to do a lot of the action scenes (directed I believe by a former film editor, Peter Bezencenet)
This was filmed on the back lot of Shepperton & in its gardens over a period of 5/6 weeks & was supposed to be Sandhurst! (I recall that the script & call sheets asked for Young English type trainee guards officer types)
After all the 2nd unit filming was finished, some of us technicians, plus Michael Powell went into one of the preview cinemas to vision the results - and shock horror, the 'Young Guards Officer types' were men in their late 40s & 50s, Cypriots with dogs teeth round their necks & even a one legged man, etc etc!!!! I had never seen anyone so angry as Powell when the screening stopped & the lights went up-the rest of us were speechless!
The 2nd unit was fired & we, the main crew, were obliged to pick up the pieces & re-film it, delaying the main shoot & of course going even more over budget.
One of the biggest 'set pieces' & high spots of this opus was set in Kenya; This was supposed to be at the height of the Mau Mau rebellion & the story line was as follows; A peaceful village was attacked by a horde of heavily armed Mau Mau & most of the inhabitants killed & then the village set on fire with lots of dead bodies lying around, then. A huge tropical rainstorm starts & then the Guards to the rescue, arrive lead by Daniel Massey. Most of the Mau Mau are killed or put to flight & Daniel dashes into a burning hut & manages to save the only survivor, a young child & the camera on a crane swoops in to a close-up of the two of them as Daniel hugs her to him - all very exciting stuff what?
The outside set took weeks to build in the gardens of the studio, with part of it for the interiors on one of the sound stages.
The day of the exterior filming arrived; Several cameras were set up & the action rehearsed over & over again - my job (with the help of a transistor loud hailer) was to direct & control the Mau Mau stunt artists & extras:
It was decided to film several sequences as one continuous take, with the various crowd artists, at my prompting, suddenly taking up different positions according to the take etc & all the while the cameras were running for as the village was really set on fire & could not ever be rebuilt as it was a one off shoot!
Most went according to plan, although one of the stunt men actually got shot in the thigh by a blank shot! The village was burnt to the ground & everything was in the can!
Then for a further few days pick-ups on the stage with again the huts being built & then burnt to the ground - this whole sequence cost a fortune, but was never ever in the final cut! WHY? Simple, THE GUARDS NEVER EVER SERVED IN KENYA!! But none of Guards 'Technical Advisors' ever told us this!
Autumn was now with us & still key sequences set in Lybia, to match in with all what had already been shot, with all the main stars was not yet done & money was fast running out!
We were all due to go Lybia to film all the rest, but 20th Century Fox who was financially backing the film started to panic & sent over a couple of their top brass for some emergency action. The result was that the Lybia shooting was cancelled & it was decided to make drastic economies& to film all the rest in Kent & in East Sussex (Camber Sands & Camber castle)!!!
What folly - to try to match Lybia in the SUMMER!! at the end of Britain's October & November, all in Glorious Technicolor.
So there we were, 100 or more crew, 100s of real parachute brigades guards on the dunes in pouring rain, howling gales, with dozens of Arc lights trying to recreate the desert in the summer!!!
We hung around for several days without anything in the can - not very good for the morale! (I remember Michael Powell & I standing on top of one of the dunes just looking at this desolate scene & one of the stars, Jack Watson coming up to us & trying to look on the bright side saying to us "Look I think its brightening up". Michael just turned & looked at him long & hard & then just walking away!
There was no other choice but to call it a day!
The whole crew then the moved to the old ruined Camber castle (near Rye) to try do other key scenes.
This had been dressed with acres of sand a scrub to TRY to look like Lybia.
Just as the whole lot of us arrived the heavens opened & the track became a mud bath!!
Then the generators for the arc lamps arrived & the first, then the 2nd got stuck in the mud up to their axles, so a breakdown truck was sent for to try to pull it out, but this in its turn also got stuck, so a bigger stronger one was sent for, only to suffer the same fate!!
This farce lasted for two days & eventually some cables were able to be run to power one or two arc lights but that was all!
All of us were cold, wet & very miserable & then as I had already signed a contact with Anglo Amalgamated to do a Film at Shepperton, directed by John Paddy Carstairs - 'A Weekend with LuLu', Starring Bob Monkhouse, Shirley Eaton etc, and by then the, as Queens Guards was weeks over schedule, I had to leave, not without lots of joy (I remember taking the train from Rye to Hastings, in the rain & seeing for the last time Camber Castle lit up by the arc lights.)
I believe they carried on as best as they could & the filming finished in Late November!
The punch line to all this is; I've never seen the bloody film!!! Does it exist in VHS or DVD - I would love to see it!
I hope the above will amuse & help you:
PS.Please excuse the spelling errors, I have been living in the South of France for 28 years & my English spelling is a little rusty!!
See also More Memories of a Film-Maker