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Lionel Banes: BECTU Interview Part 1 (1988)

Memories of working at Ealing on 'Next of Kin' and 'Passport to Pimlico'

Main image of Lionel Banes: BECTU Interview Part 1 (1988)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Lionel Banes was interviewed by Peter Sargent on 28 July 1988.

1. Ealing war films

LB: I was approached by Ealing who were going to start the film for the War Office called Next of Kin and Ernie Palmer was going to be the cameraman and I was asked would I would go to Ealing and come on that. And I operated at first with, it was all on location in Cornwall, working with the first commando troops. They were doing an invasion of France and landed from flat bottom boats, ran across the beach and then were climbing up I should think 300 foot high cliffs there. They asked me if I could try with a Newman Sinclair to shoot some of the stuff of them climbing up, and I remember climbing up and suddenly finding I looked down and my knees were knocking and I couldn't get up or down. [Laughter]

PS: And with the Newman the spring always ran down just at the wrong time.

LB: Yes. So I worked on that film. Then we had to do a very big battle scene on Bodmin Moor. We all went back to the studio to do interiors and it was arranged we would go back to do this big battle and for some reason Ernie couldn't go and he said let Lionel do it so I went back and did the whole of it.

PS: Were they day exteriors or night.

LB: Day.

PS: Well you couldn't have lit at night because of the black out.

LB: No you couldn't. Although I did during the war work, I remember being borrowed from Ealing by the Czechs, the Czech airforce. They wanted to do a raid they'd done somewhere, probably Hamburg, they wanted to re-photograph that and somebody from the Czech film Unit, an English person, asked Michael Balcon if I could go and do it and I did. I worked at night on a great big airfield that was near the New Forest then during the war. PS: Herne [?] was it?

LB: Yes, that's right. And they had a terrific mess of a Czech kitchen, American and English. And when I used to go in to get my dinner in the middle of the night the WRAF used to serve the same soup to everyone, and she used to tip me off which was the best meal. And if she wanted to say Czech she'd give me my soup and say 'Czech', or 'American', And I had lights on at light then to do that. The planes of course never went up but I had to simulate as though there were searchlights coming up from the ground and nearly blinding the pilots and that.

PS: But also generators in those days were nothing like the ones today.

LB: They were terribly noisy, they used to smell too.

PS: Because some of the generators on films you and I worked on were First World War searchlight generators.

LB: Well, during the war, in Germany, at the end of the war, I went out to Germany for Ealing and the prisoner of war camps. And I used those searchlights for lighting.

PS: But in those earlier days of night shooting what was the biggest single light source you could have?

B: I think the 150 amp arc.

B: Because the brutes, nothing like that had come in had they?

2. Ealing comedy

LB: The brutes never came in to England until 1948. I was working for Ealing on great location at Pimlico, Passport To Pimlico. I was working on a terrific bombsite there and we had a summer just like this year. I remember wearing an overcoat and they called me back to the studio and said you're very behind schedule because of the bad weather, is there anything you can do to manage to shoot. And I knew that Jack Cardiff, who I had spoken to at a BSC [British Society of Cinematographers] meeting he'd got some brutes over from Hollywood. I phoned him and said is there any possibility of borrowing any. He said I've got four I'll lend you one and one came over. It was marvellous. I could get weak sunlight on the full length figures without the background being black.

PS: At Ealing you also did a lot of model work.

LB: Yes, I was doing model work all the time and was taken off to go onto a film. [...]

Well, I will say Ealing their scripts on the whole were of a particular kind that made very good comedies. They weren't of a childish silly type.

PS: Who wrote them, do you remember?

LB: The best ones I'd say were written by T. E. B. Clarke who we called Tibby. Passport to Pimlico was written by him and quite a number

PS: Lavender Hill Mob?

LB: That was written by him, yes.

PS: And there were some very good operators, do you remember?

LB: Yes, Geoff Seaholme, Gordon Dines, and afterwards Chick Waterson became a very good operator. But the first picture he was my operator on, he had no confidence in himself. At the end of the take and the director would say can we print it poor Chick used to say, well, well. I knew him and I'd been watching him all the while he was operating and saw all his camera movements, and I often used to shout out it's all right Chick you can print it.

PS: Because in those days you were using the Mitchells in the blimps with the outside finder, and all the problems with parallex and everything else which really it was murder wasn't it.

LB: You got used to it.

PS: But you were so dependent on artists holding their positions at the end while you got the blimp off.

LB: Yes, but I must say I preferred using that type of camera with the outside finder than the Debrie on that which I had to work on with Gunther Krampf.

Click titles to see or read more

Audio & Video Clips
Banes, Lionel (1904-1996)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing Comedy
Ealing at War