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Doris Martin: BECTU Interview Part 1 (1988)

Memories of a career in the film business

Main image of Doris Martin: BECTU Interview Part 1 (1988)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Doris Martin was interviewed by Sid Cole on 16 August 1988.

1. Getting started in film

SC: Your parents didn't have any connection or did they with the film business?

DM: No connection at all. My father had a small printing business and my mother had been a civil service in the post office, but she had a cousin who had a connection and that's how I got in. She was the secretary to the Head of Paramount all over Europe. You know that big building in Wardour Street well she worked there. It was a kind of PA job but they just called it secretary and it was a very good job. And I started working as a kind of secretary to, you remember Earl St John? Well, before he went to Paramount, before the theatre was built, he was the exploitation manager then, and he used to travel round a bit but there was also a very nice woman Lilian Brind [?] who was on the - not exactly the script department - she had to read all the new books that came out.

SC: What we called a literary editor.

DM: And made a precis of them, she did very well and I used to type them for her and they went to America, to someone over there who vetted them, Paramount of course. So I had the two because Earl wasn't there a lot. When Lilian left, for a time I was with a department, it was to do with the London branch and it was vetting contracts for films. I was the senior of the girls and the woman who was in charge she left and I should have been in line for the job and he put somebody else in. We always thought he was a nasty type. Well I left and I... there wasn't much around. I did temping and I got a job and then I got a call. You know the theatre department had offices in Oxford Street and it was working for a talent scout. America had appointed a talent scout, Donovan Pedelty,

SC: Oh yes, he's very well known.

DM: Well I worked with him and we got on so well. He wrote scripts and I used to type them in my spare time. He used to give me about £5 for typing a script and that was a fortune then on top of it all. He had a house at Hampstead Garden suburb and I used to go out there sometimes and stay the weekend and type them and we did very well. Then he wanted to direct. By this time I'd heard about continuity work in the studio and I thought that's a job I'd like. [Laughter] I didn't know anything about it, I'd never been in a studio then but anyhow I mentioned it to him, and I must say he was very good I owe my start to him. He said well if I get a chance I will. Well he got a chance to direct one of his films but we still had this talent scouting and I had to hold the fort for him, and he didn't want to give up the job then because it was hit and miss. He said I'll get you down as often as I can and I went down and I stood by and there was a very nice woman doing continuity then, she was married to one of the Keys brothers [?], her name was Ann something and she was so helpful, it was some time before I got a chance of course, because I had to dash back to the office. We had offices above Paramount, above the Plaza theatre.

SC: What was the film, can you remember?

DM: Yes, they went up to Scotland... it was called The Fiery Cross and it was about the highland custom of running around with the burning cross. And the first day I ever had in a studio on my own I will never forget. I had a class full of children, and you can imagine. [Laughter] And I went round religiously taking their names and just before we were going to shoot Donovan said I shall want a close-up of that child, now move him there, move them there, he moved them all around didn't give me a chance. Of course being more experienced I would have said wait a minute. [Laughter]

SC: Tell me about the continuity sheets in those days, did you have to do many copies?

DM: Oh yes, about 6. 1 don't know if you did when you started but when I came back after the war it was more organised.

SC: In those days when you started I suppose a lot of people had to invent their own method of dealing with things.

DM: Well they did sheets. No I can remember when I went to the studio, passing the table and there was a sheet in there. I remember trying to linger to see what it was like and somebody pushing us. No we did but they were more stylised, organised after the war.

2. Vernon Sewell and Ghost Ship

DM: I did several things for Vernon Sewell, you know he had a yacht. The first one I think was called Ghost Ship and we went out the Nor [?] Lighthouse, that was interesting. Four nights I had to sleep on the lighthouse because it was to rough for them to take us off, at least four nights. It was quite an experience but it was bigger than most lighthouses because they built these mystery towers for the first world war and nobody really knows what they were going to do with them because the war ended. But they towed them out and the Nor was being towed out to some spot when it broke away so they cemented it down and it's a lighthouse now.

SC: Ah, those platform things you mean?

DM: I think it's called the Nor. Well it was very much bigger than ordinary lighthouses. The lower part belonged to the navy and they used to store stuff there. We had the top part which of course was Trinity House, that was very interesting. We had some canaries out there for this scene and the old head lighthouse keeper fell for these canaries so we donated the canaries to him at the end. He was so pleased. They had a platform, I remember once all the big liners used to go right past us, and I was wearing a bright green frock and we went out for a breath of air and we didn't think about it! [Laughter] We saw this liner going by and we were looking at the liner and they were all looking at us, what's a girl doing out there. [Laughter] There was another actress and myself and they gave us rooms to stay but we couldn't sleep because the radio was going all night, so we took out mattresses, well we got someone to carry them up and we went to sleep right under the light there.

SC: Well I was going to ask you about whether the light didn't disturb you if you were sleeping in a lighthouse.

DM: No we were right under it. Oh that was another thing. When we had... we used to give them a big extra when they were shooting, and of course if it was foggy they couldn't because of the blooming noise you see. If it was foggy we couldn't shoot when they had this thing on. It got when we were on deck one of them would come up and say to the other I think there's a bit of fog coming up don't you? Yeah alright, put the light on. And it was as clear as mud, we'd have to slip them something not to sound the foghorns [Laughter]. So they were on a good thing while we were there. But they loved us going there because we brought out fresh milk every morning and newspapers which they didn't get.

Then after that it did get rough, we had about six weeks there. Then I got a message to meet Vernon in Wardour St and when I got up there he walked across and he said Doris I promise you this one won't be as rough as the last! And it wasn't, we just went out from the shore, I did 2 or 3 with him. He was a nice man.

DM: Then I went to Shepperton, that was when ITV was starting and the year before they wanted to stockpile some stuff, do you remember?

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Martin, Doris (1906-1993)