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Roy Parkinson: BECTU Interview Part 3 (1987)

MGM-UK in the late 1940s where he was a second assistant director

Main image of Roy Parkinson: BECTU Interview Part 3 (1987)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Roy Parkinson was interviewed by Sid Cole in 1987.

1. MGM Boreham Wood

RP: And then after that I was offered a job at MGM at Boreham Wood, which was just getting themselves organised.

SC: That was a new studio wasn't it?

RP: Brand new studio, yes. I can't remember what it was called before it became MGM.

SC: Amalgamated, I think.

RP: Dora Wright was the production manager and Donald Wilson was first assistant, and I'd worked with Don before the war. There was three of us second assistants, John Street, Dennis Peteer [?] and myself. Freddy Young [Frederick A. Young] was on the payroll.

SC: Was Young the cameraman?

RP: The cameraman, yes. Alfred Junge the art director, they were already there but it was right at the beginning because I remember my first job was going onto stage 7 with a couple of prop men and it was full of office furniture. I had to allocate that was a desk for that office and that was a producer's desk and so on and the prop man was then putting all the furniture into the various offices.

SC: I think on the history of that studio if I can add to your memories of it, I think it was built before the war, but it got bomb damaged during the war, and I'm not sure if it was ever used until MGM took it over immediately after the war.

RP: It certainly wasn't used as a film studio. I know on one of the stages, 5, 1 was told they used to be, have aero-engines or making aeroplane parts. I think they were also making mock up planes for putting onto fields to make it look like an air drill to delude the Germans, so I was told.

SC: That's very likely because a little way away, The Thatched Farm, do you remember Thatched Farm?

RP: Mmhm.

SC: That was the place which was used in the war for manufacturing all sorts of things, that were dropped in France, funny things like explosive horse dung. I remember some art directors worked there so it seemed natural that Amalgamated, MGM studios might have been used during the war for similar purposes.

RP: Yes, there certainly weren't any films made there and the first one in there was Brighton Rock, with Dicky Attenborough [Richard Attenborough] playing the lead and the Boulting film.

SC: Now who did what of the two Boultings [Identical twins Roy and John] on that?

RP: That I don't know because I had nothing to do with the film. They only built one set there, why I don't know, but I remember that was the actual first set built on the stage at MGM.

SC: What did you actually first work on at MGM?

RP: Well, Donald Wilson left to go to Pinewood and got involved in Independent Frame which was then just coming in at Pinewood with David Rawnsley who was in charge of Independent Frame, so he went to join them. The first film coming in was an Eddie Dryhurst [Edward Dryhurst] film called While I Live with Tom Walls. Freddy Young lit it and Dora made me up to first assistant on that.

2. MGM in the forties

SC: Can you say something about Dora Wright because it was unusual in those days, well I suppose it still is, to have a woman as a PM [Production Manager].

RP: I think there was one other who's name I can't remember. I think Dora was with the Crown Film Unit and I think she worked for Victor Saville either during the war or before the war and that was how she became associated with MGM. It was right at the beginning and they were taking on staff and Ben Getz was in charge of operations.

SC: Oh yes Ben Getz [?], from Hollywood. Quite a character.

RP: Yes, he was there for many years until eventually he left and Matthew Lehman [?] took over. While I Live was the first film to be shot on the stages.

SC: Can you remember what you got as first assistant?

RP: When I went there I got £11 a week. Incidentally on Corridor of Mirrors for some unknown reason I got £15 a week. When I went to MGM I got £11 a week, then they made me up to £17 a week, then as first assistant up to £25 a week.

SC: That was quite a good wage in those days.

RP: I'm sure it was, yes. At that time I was living in Kenton, which was quite a handy journey, come in on the bus in the morning, I didn't have a car then. After that MGM loaned Freddy Young and myself out to Twentieth Century Fox for a film called Escape with Rex Harrison at Denham. Freddy Young used to give me a life down to the studio every day.

SC: That must have been nice. He was a nice man. Did he tell you any stories about his own experiences?

RP: Who?

SC: Freddy.

RP: I suppose I got to know him at MGM being on While I Live because I didn't know him before that. Escape was directed by Joe Mankiewicz [Joseph L. Mankiewicz] and this was really his first film as director.

SC: Mm because he had been purely a writer.

RP: He and Freddy worked out a system where Freddy would suggest the set-ups and Joe concentrated on the directing the artists. Freddy would say we'll shoot from here an I think we want a close up on there, etc. So that was really Joe's first film and he probably learnt quite a lot from Freddy.

SC: So who was he directing in that?

RP: Rex Harrison was the lead, I've forgotten who the girl was in it [Peggy Cummins]. We had a location down in Devon, the Moors. Frank Bevis was the production manager, Freddie Fox was the American representative.

SC: This from the John Galsworthy play, Escape was it?

RP: I suppose it was, it was a prisoner story.

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Parkinson, Roy (1916-)