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More Memories of a Film-Maker

Michael Klaw on The Queen's Guards (1961)

See also Memories of a Film-Maker

Most important-the film was entirely shot in Super Technirama but using 35mm stock.-THAT IS A FACT-I was there!

How it was projected in the Cinemas, on this I can't comment!

Two types of Cameras were used; All the main shooting was done with a huge, 'Technicolor green coloured' camera (all Technicolor cameras where thus - I once worked on one film using the 3, side by side 3 film roll magazines that the Technicolor process required & that Camera was the same colour also). The Super Technirama Cameras magazines were twin-side by side ones mounted on the rear of the camera-the film ran vertically down one side, in the camera & then through the widescreen gate HORIZONTALLY, where the image was squeezed, before following a similar path back to the receiving magazine-for the interior shooting on Shepperton's sound stages the camera was always encased in a huge grey sound proofed 'blimp'-the motor made a lot of noise!-& was only taken out of this for 'wild' shooting on exteriors-the camera in its 'blimp' was always mounted on a Mole Richardson medium sized grey metallic camera crane which never the less was not too recoverable - together the whole lot weighed a ton (I once had a narrow escape when it ran over my foot-I was wearing very strong shoes that day - not the usual suede soft soled desert boots that most of the technicians wore at that time so we could move around the set silently during a take - I only had a very nasty bruise to show for it!!)

The 2nd unit/units used a lightweight Technirama camera called 'a butterfly'-the film on this left the magazine & travelled all the way through the camera passed the gate to the receiving magazine HORIZONTALLY!-in spite of its size it was on very rare occasions hand held.

As I say - I have never seen the film - I have no idea why thus it was released in CinemaScope, but as all the experts say it was so this remains a mystery!

Now once all the main Studio shooting was over the whole crew (more than 100) moved off to the shoot the exteriors in 'Sunny' November East Sussex.

The key ACTT technicians & the Stars & other actors where based in Rye - I & the Production Staff in 'The George Hotel in the High Street (also where the production office & HQ was situated). Michael Powell, Gerry Turpin, Sydney Streeter etc etc, plus all the stars where installed in the 'Mermaid' in the cobbled Mermaid Street, & the rest of the crew all over the place, sometimes in B&Bs in the surrounding area villages & a lot of the NATKE & ETU technicians were even as far away as Hastings-a logistical nightmare (don't forget, no portable phones, texts or internet e-mails in those days!)

The first full days shooting was supposed to be the Guards base & depot in the middle of the Desert - Manston Aerodrome in a far flung part of Kent was chosen for this!!! - in view of the distance, only one days shooting only was allocated for this.

I was up at 4.30am, had to awake all the crew in the George - then go down to The Mermaid to do the same for the others & then back to the George for breakfast - but not just any breakfast, but a full English one. At that time, the British Film Industry was run by the very powerful trade unions (a closed shop) & it was they - not the producers etc who decided what would happen & in reality, ruled the roost, so as a result there were quite a few 'quaint Spanish Customs' around that had become the norm, thus in spite of this Full Breakfast, as the unit call on location was before 8.00am, the rules stated a full English Breakfast had to be provided, plus 1hrs overtime (a 'no breakfast break' compensation), PLUS a 2/6 payment, non taxable, 'NO BREAKFAST ALLOWANCE' to pay for the Free breakfast we had had!!!!.Absurd!

Then once this was done, off to the meeting point for all the various technicians, stars, etc etc which was in a car park at the bottom of the town where there were assembled the coaches for us - then crew from Hastings & the outlying areas arrived, the cars for the stars - mini buses, camera car, prop lorries etc etc, & when all were present & correct, the OK was given off we went in a convoy at about 6.00 am in a very heavy mist, at a snails pace through the Romney Marsh to Manston Aerodrome for a call at 7.30 am - due to this mist this voyage seemed to go on for ever & we eventually arrived well after 8.00 am.

Straight away on arrival the whole lot of us where ushered into a large hall to where, to our surprise, this had been laid out with tables & chairs etc & we were treated to YET ANOTHER FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST! Why? Because the Union rules said that if the call on location to the place of the filming was before 8.00am a full Breakfast had to be provided - PLUS, as before the 1.00hrs over time as a 'no breakfast break' compensation & again the 2/6 'NO BREAKFAST ALLOWANCE'!! Even more absurd, but that was the Union Rules!!

This over & done with with, the whole crew etc then set off to a far flung part of Manston Aerodrome where Art Dept & Construction crews etc had constructed the Guards Base camp which was supposed to match in with what had been shot in Libya months earlier in the height of the Spring & Summer with doubles, by the 2nd Unit - this in the a wan, pale sun of a Kent Autumn!

There were tents & Marquees pitched amongst artificial plaster rocks & 1000's of square yards of sand & scrub had been spread around with a few false palms etc to recreate as it was supposed to be. The mist was starting to clear slowly so the lights, camera equipment etc were unloaded etc & the set up was decided & prepared.

As it turned out, we in fact had come all the way to Manston just to turn ONE KEY SCENE - nothing else!

This scene was planned to be as follows:The shot started on a large Blackburn Beverley, Royal Air Force transport plane coming in to land - as it did so the camera panned with it to the 'base' with all the tents etc where the Actors, (Robert Stephens, Daniel Massey, Jack Watson) etc etc, plus all the soldiers, all in combat gear, came out of the tents & moved to where about 12 armoured camouflaged ferret cars were lined up, got in to them & then the camera thus panned as they set off & as they drove past an Army Helicopter took off & the camera panned with this as it flew over the departing convoy as it disappeared into the distant 'desert' - all of this in one large pan shot!

The co-ordination for all this was to say the least was very very difficult & a lot of dry run rehearsals were necessary to perfect this.

Eventually aided by a weak sun caused this mist to start to go. But as per the Union rules a Tea Break was organised of 15 mins, & then once this was over it was decided to go for a Full rehearsal with the Aircraft & Helicopter actually landing & taking off (up to then we had just pretended that this had happened with only the 12 Ferret armoured cars actually moving off etc)

Every thing was set up, then Michael Powell called 'Action' - The RAF officer with us radioed the Blackburn Beverly to land (it had taken off a few minutes before & was doing circuits around the Aerodrome) - all went as planned, the Aircraft landed exactly where it was supposed to, the camera panned with it, the Actors etc came out of the tents, into the Ferrets Cars, they set off & the Helicopter took off & that's where it went wrong - the set & sand etc had been 'dressed' AFTER the helicopter had landed & thus when it took off for real, disaster struck! - the down draft of the rotors literally sent everything flying - Sand, Rocks, Palms & the Tents & Marquees etc & the whole crew were covered with a miniature sandstorm - no one had foreseen this!!!

Consternation! The whole setting had to be replaced. The Helicopter was still to going to be in the scene but had now moved to a safe distance away-after an hour or so, we were ready for a full dress rehearsal again.

The Blackburn Beverly took off - everything thus was ready & the 'Action' was given & off we went again - this time everything went as planned & the rehearsal was perfect even with the Helicopter taking off, this time with the sand still flying (as it should), but not near us.

The mist by then had gone, the sun shining brightly, all was well. "Ok" said Michael, "Lets go for a take" & at that very moment disaster struck for the 2nd time! The Guards Major in charge of the Ferret cars came over & announced that his cars needed to be refuelled before the take. "OK", Michael said, "how long do you need?" The reply left us all dumbstruck. "3 to 4 hours" said the Major! Utter disbelief. "Why Why Why "? cried Michael & the Major then explained that the Ferret cars ran on a very special fuel that was only obtainable at their base at Chatham Barracks & due to the extra rehearsals etc they were fast running out of fuel & he had calculated they they had just enough to get back to their base & that we would just have to wait to their return to continue! Thus off they set, the Major was begged to be as quick as possible but in view of their max speed, about 40 mph, their distance from Chatam, plus a much needed lunch break etc for his men, he said that this would be difficult but he would do his best-it was then about 11.30am & so there was nothing for it but call the Lunch break.

After lunch was over there was nothing any off us could do-we just idled around, chatting, playing cards, then at last, towards 3.00pm the Ferret cars came back & took up their positions.

After such a long break & the crew by then a little 'rusty' & full dress rehearsal was called for & this went off without a hitch.

We were ready again for the take;The "Action" was given & everything went like clockwork, but in spite of this, Michael Powell being a perfectionist decided on a 2nd take & thus off we all went again & everything yet again went as it should. "Perfect. Print it" said Michael. And then we could see he was thinking, "I've got an idea. Look, if we move the camera here" he said indicating a spot about 6 feet from the original position. "The shot will be even better & we will do it for the last time & then we can wrap it up"

Now the Technirama camera, as we were shooting 'wild' was not in its 'blimp', but mounted on a 'Moy' head & this on a very very heavy & sturdy wooden tripod, the feet of which were placed in a spider (This was a wooden 3 spoked device, on wheels, with about 3 to 4 holes in each part in to which the tripods feet were engaged to make it stable).

The 'grip' thus took this whole mass & dragged it to where Michael was standing & then disaster stuck - yet again - for the 3rd time! THE GRIP HAD FAILED TO NOTICE THAT ONE OF THE TRIPODS FEET WAS NOT ENGAGED IN ONE OF THE 'SPIDERS' HOLES. The grip let go & the huge Technirama camera heeled over & crashed on to the tarmac & in so doing the cover of the magazine containing the two takes burst open & the the film spewed out on to the concrete!!!! With lightning reaction the clapper boy flung his body over it to try to protect it but to no avail - all our work was ruined!!

A hell of a row then took place as by now with all our nerves on edge caused by all the problems we had had, this was not surprising.

There was no solution but to retake it all - a new fully loaded magazine was prepared after some delay, mounted on the Camera (after a thorough check that it was not too damaged by the fall & was still working OK) - and then disaster struck yet again for the 4th time!! The Sun disappeared behind low clouds & in a few minutes we were in the middle of a thick swirling mist!

So that was that for the day-after a very long conflab.with all parties concerned it was decided that the shooting planned for the next day at Camber Sands would be postponed & that there was no choice but to come back the next day to Manston & start all over again.

Back we went to the Rye base at snails pace through thick mist, in the dark - we were all 'clapped' out - after the dinner most went to bed as the call was yet again for the crack of dawn. I how ever had to go backwards & forwards from the 2 base hotels to make sure everything was OK for the next day & I finally collapsed to bed at about 11.30pm.

The next morning was an exact carbon copy of the day before-the breakfast with its 'allowances'-the long trip back, through of course heavy mist, to Manston, the 2nd breakfast-also with its 'allowances-then out to the site of the shooting-the long setting up-the 'dry' rehearsal & then, as the mist was still thick, awaiting around with the whole crew plus all the real guardsmen troops 'crowd artists' with nothing to do but to just twiddle our thumbs.

The day before the mist had gone reasonably early, but today was it not so kind to us so at last, towards midday at the mist seemed to be starting to lift, albeit, very slowly, a quick lunch break was decided on.(this was subject also to the Union 'Old Spanish Custom' rules)-thus a full 3 to 4 course lunch was provided free, with a large choice of dishes etc, but as the lunch was less than 1 extra hours overtime as compensation was given as 'A no lunch break' PLUS a tax free 'no lunch allowance' of 5 shillings for everyone-Even more absurd!!!

Then back out to the site of the shooting-Then a full dress rehearsal, with the Aircraft, Ferret cars etc & then as the 'Bright'? Sun was finally out, we did 2 perfect takes & that was that-"Print them both" said Michael", The camera operator called out-"Check the gate"(The 'gate' of the camera-this was always done after each sequence of printable takes to insure that due to static electricity caused by the movement of the film through this gate no hairs were trapped in its opening')-& then disaster struck YET AGAIN for the 4th time!-on opening the Camera to check this a cry went up from the Focus Puller-"There's no bloody film there"-incredible but true-THERE WAS NO FILM!!

The magazine was taken off & the clapper boy took it into the dark room in the camera truck to see what had happened-eventually he came back with the bad news-THE FILM HAD BROKEN OFF JUST AS THE CAMERA HAD STARTED FOR THE FIRST TAKE AND THUS WE HAD NOTHING IN THE CAN TO SHOW FOR ALL OUR EFFORTS!

There was nothing for it to do but to retake it all!-which we so did-all of it over again! When this was done-"Print it"-then "Check the gate"-"All OK", & then Michael wanted yet one more take, just to be sure-This was done, all of this went as planned-"Print it"-"Check the gate"-"All OK"! All right, said the 1st ast director-"Its a wrap-thank you all"-and that was that-back to Rye. Then the next Morning the call at Camber sands was as I have already told the story of before-100's of the mixed guards parachute brigade troops in a howling gale on the Sands Dunes, with ever menacing clouds, trying to deploy their open parachutes (they were supposed to have just landed )& literally taking off & sailing up over us all-AND THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO MATCH LIBYA WITH THE 2ND UNIT SUMMER SHOTS ALL READY IN THE CAN!! What folly!

So there you are Steve, that's it, please feel free to use any of this and please, please, DO CORRECT ANY SPELLING MISTAKES etc (after 30 years 'lost' in the South of France, what do you expect!)

Please keep me up to date to have with your meetings with anyone to do with this film that you might have.(I was a production runner at Pinewood during the filming of 'A Miracle in Soho' & often on the set off this!) but that's another story!

On a personal note, in spite of Michael Powell being a perfect gentleman at all times-the Queens Guards was NOT a happy film to work on, with lots of stress due to the constant rewrites & the terrible problems caused by the over running of the shooting & the budget etc.

My next film at Shepperton (for which I had to leave the 'Queens Guards' crew for)was such a contrast-A comedy directed by John Paddy Carstairs -'A Weekend with Lulu' with Bob Monkhouse, Shirley Eaton, Alfred Marks, Sid James, Iren&eacite; Handl, Graham Stark etc etc, was such a happy film! & a great welcome change!

Best Wishes Steve & keep up your good work!


PS.I still would love to see the film for the first time-if ever........

Michael said:
"As I say - I have never seen the film - I have no idea why thus it was released in CinemaScope, but as all the experts say it was so this remains a mystery!"

Martin Hart of the American WideScreen Museum explains:
Let me remove the mystery. The film was photographed in Technicolor's extremely high quality Technirama system but it was distributed by 20th Century-Fox, the developer of the CinemaScope system. Both result in 35mm anamorphic prints with identical specifications, though when processed and printed by Technicolor the image quality would always exceed a standard CinemaScope product, especially if Fox's DeLuxe labs handled the film. The same CinemaScope labelling was done by Fox when they handled the U.S. distribution of "The Leopard".

So it was a Technirama production but Fox merely labelled it as CinemaScope. There also seems to be some confustion about Super Technirama. This was the same photogaphic negative as standard Technirama but was slightly blown up to produce a 70mm print. Technirama and Super Technirama are the same except for the gauge of the theatrical prints.

Best regards,
Martin Hart The American WideScreen Museum

I asked Martin about the different cameras used and if they could have used a Technirama camera for the aerial scenes filmed in Tunisia when they flew over the army base there.

He replied:
There were three types of cameras used to photograph Technirama films. The first was the big blue cameras that had been converted from the obsolete three-strip Technicolor rigs. Without the soundproof blimp this camera could be used in a large helicopter, but it was still a mighty hefty piece of gear. The second camera was what had originally been designed as the VistaVision "butterfly" camera, which was light enough to be hand held, but not for really long times. When you bolt a Delrama anamorphic system to go from VistaVision to Technirama you've pretty much killed the idea of hand holding the rig but it's certainly small and light enough to be used on a helicopter mount. I own one of the Delramas and they're ungodly heavy beasts made of steel and glass, lots of steel and glass! The third Technirama camera was the original Mitchell VistaVision elephant ear studio camera. These were put into use after Paramount abandoned the VistaVision format around 1961. Again, you could put one in a helicopter but the best option was the "butterfly".

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