Cover image for Seventy light years : an autobiography as told to Peter Busby
Seventy light years : an autobiography as told to Peter Busby
Young, Freddie.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
London : Faber, 1999.
Physical Description:
xi, 164 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
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Material Type
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Central Library PN1998.3.Y65 Y68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The veteran film cameraman Freddie Young, who won Academy Awards for Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan's Daughter, takes readers on a journey through cinema history, from his early days processing celluloid by hand in the studios at Shepherds Bush to his experiences with David Lean in locations around the world. This autobiography includes anecdotes about the directors and actors with whom Young worked, and offers a guide to how cinematography evolved from a craft into an art.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

A palpable enthusiasm for the technical aspects of film animates this amiable but slight autobiography by the late cinematographer. Young's distinguished, long and varied career included a can-do apprenticeship at Gaumont Film Studios in WWI-era England; helping Hitchcock on a montage sequence for the 1929 thriller Blackmail, one of Britain's first sound pictures; and working on a wide array of films under such directors as Carol Reed, Richard Brooks, Vincente Minnelli and John Huston. Apart from its sharp snapshots of famous directors, the book is lean in anecdotes about actors, although Young worked with some of the best. Aside from bemusement over Elisabeth Bergner's prima donna behavior and Elizabeth Taylor's freezer full of Mexican food on the Russian set of The Blue Bird, the focus throughout is on the mechanics of filmmaking. For example, Young tells of developing a mechanism to keep a camera lens clear while filming in a driving rainÄan invention he devised while shooting Ryan's Daughter on the tempestuous Irish coast. In discussing his work on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, movies that dazzled in large part because of their cinematography, Young typically does not mention Peter O'Toole's star-making turn as T.E. Lawrence and says of Zhivago's Julie Christie only that, although she is "not terribly striking" in person, she "comes alive" on screen. Instead, Young delivers low-key but amusing reminiscences about the technical challenges he overcame. For example, Dr. Zhivago was shot in Spain, so icicles fashioned of candle wax, whitewashed trees and tarps strewn with snow-like marble dust were pressed into service to evoke the long winters of Russia. As sketchy and anecdotal as this memoir may be, Young's excitement about his craft proves infectious. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Young (1902-98), best known for outstanding lens work on the arduous shoots of Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and Ryan's Daughter, enjoyed a long and distinguished career as cinematographer on many major British and international films. This slim book is more a series of conversations with Busby than a full-length autobiography. Young describes a life of globe trotting and location shooting, his role supporting the director's vision, and the diplomacy necessary when working with producers, temperamental stars, and international film crews. Young also evaluates the working methods of directing greats like David Lean, John Ford, John Huston, and George Cukor, who partnered with Young on several projects. Too modest to dish much dirt, he does allow that he considered Cukor an "old ham." There is relatively little available to the general public on this all-important element of movie making, and despite the British references the book is recommended for large film collections.ÄStephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One A Huge Greenhouse I was always mad on films. My brother Bill and I used to go to the local cinema a couple of times a week. There were two features, a cartoon, newsreel and a short documentary known as an `interest' film. For an afternoon show both of us could get in for three ha'pence. Sometimes we'd stay and see the whole lot through twice, if we didn't get caught. Cinemas in town, like the Empire, Leicester Square, had a full orchestra to accompany silent films, but at our west London local there was just one man thumping a piano. It was there that I first saw Chaplin, the Keystone Cops, Tom Mix the cowboy, D. W. Griffith pictures like Birth of a Nation , and my own favourite actress, Mary Pickford.     Near my home in Shepherd's Bush there was this curious building. Large and ugly, with the upper storey made entirely of glass, it reminded me of a huge greenhouse. Bill and I would go swimming in Lime Grove Baths directly opposite, and I always wondered what this place was. Then someone told me it was the Gaumont Film Studio. This set me thinking. How marvellous it would be to work in a film studio. Well, I said to myself, why not try? So one day in 1917 I went down there and knocked on the door.     A man answered, wearing a white coat with mauve edges round the collar. The conversation that followed was like the scene in an old movie when the shy but intrepid hero gets his big break in the world. `What can I do for you, young man?' he asked. I told him I wanted a job in the film industry. He questioned me, and found out I liked to take photographs with my Kodak Box Brownie. `Right,' he said, `you start work tomorrow.'     This wasn't my first job. With my two eldest brothers fighting in the trenches, I'd left school as soon as I could, to help support the family. At fourteen I was too young to join up, so instead I worked in a munitions factory, drilling the tops of hand grenades. I hated the noise and the general atmosphere there, and I only stuck it for a week or two. Various other jobs followed: tinning copper tubes for the radiators of Napier cars, a short stint at the White City splicing ropes for army tents, then a more interesting job at an artificer's guild. An old lady had died, leaving her silver and jewellery to be made up into a chalice. I helped the craftsman to beat the silver into a thin plate and hammer it into shape around a wooden ball, before setting the gold leaf and the rubies and emeralds into the cup. The combination of craft and artistry appealed to me, but not when I had the chance to work in a film studio.     Lime Grove later became the home of BBC Television Current Affairs, but in 1917 it was the British end of Frenchman Leon Gaumont's empire, and one of the most modern studios in the country. In a separate works next door they processed all the Gaumont release prints from America and the rest of the world, as well as the newsreel films from Gaumont Graphic. The main building, where I worked, had two floors. Downstairs was the scene dock, properties and other departments, and the laboratory, and above this, with its walls and roof of glass, the studio.     I now found out the purpose of this greenhouse. It was so they could shoot using natural light. This was a good idea in theory, but in practice it didn't work out so well. If it was a foggy day, which it often was, the studio became a pea-souper. On a cloudy day the cameraman would turn on a few lamps to provide sufficient exposure, then the sun would come out, bathe the set in light, and ruin the shot. The management tried various things to remedy this. They painted the glass green to kill the sunshine, they installed roller blinds, finally they painted the studio black and used only artificial light. And in 1928, after my time, the Ostrer brothers, Isidore and Maurice, bought the company, pulled the studio down and rebuilt it.     The crew on a picture was much smaller then. There was the director, his assistant, the art director (or `scenic artist', as he was called), a few electricians and stage-hands, the property man, and the cameraman and his assistant. The extraordinary thing was they all wore white coats. They looked like a lot of doctors. I suppose it was thought to be something to do with cleanliness, since we were working with film. Different-coloured stripes around the collar indicated the wearer's position: red for the cameraman, blue for the chief electrician, mauve for the director. Some coats were more elaborate, in expensive silk, with pearls and bits of ribbon -- anything to make the man distinctive. I realized I'd been lucky when I first knocked on the door. The man who answered was Jack Leigh, one of the top people at Gaumont.     All this I was to find out later, because my first job was not in the studio as such, but in the laboratory.     For a cameraman there is no better experience than to have worked in a lab. The normal practice in film-making is for the laboratory to assign a contact man to liaise with the cameraman. The cameraman will tell him beforehand that a particular scene is low-key, for example, or supposed to be taking place in moonlight. After viewing the rushes, he'll let the contact man know if they've been printed too light or too dark, or too red or yellow or blue, then the error can be corrected. If the cameraman has himself had lab experience, he's in a position to pinpoint any problem, and he can talk to the laboratory on equal terms.     When things go wrong they can go drastically wrong. There was once a film that was shot in Ireland, where the pillar-boxes are painted green. When the lab technicians saw the rushes they'd just printed, and noticed this green pillar-box, they panicked, thinking, oh my God, we've made a mess of this. So they did their damnedest to make it red. The best they could do was a shade of brown. Good communications between cameraman and lab would have avoided that.     When I was shooting Lawrence of Arabia in 1960 we travelled hundreds of miles to certain spots that David Lean liked because the sand of the desert was all red, or the rocks were white with streaks of black, or there was an interesting colour of mudflats. Left to their own devices, the lab people back in England might have reduced all these colour tones to an orthodox yellow.     In 1917 Gaumont had its own laboratory, so this kind of bad liaison didn't occur. Working there can best be described as like amateur still photography but on a grand scale.     The laboratory consisted of a series of interconnecting rooms, one for each stage of the process. First you did the negative, using red light for developing and yellow for printing. The negative-developing tank was made of teak and could accommodate up to three wooden frames, each holding 180 feet of film. You wound the film onto the frame until you came to a notch, which marked the end of the take, pinned each end of that section of film and placed it in the tank, shaking it gently to displace any air bubbles. After a few minutes you held it up and examined it by the red light. The image would gradually develop, and if you judged it wasn't ready you put it back in the chemicals for another moment or so. On average this would take five or six minutes. The next stage was the fixing tank, which contained hypo, for fifteen minutes, then the film was left for half an hour in a larger slate tank under running water. Finally it was taken into the drumming room, wound onto a large drum and left to dry. Later you carried out the same process to develop the print.     Nowadays each stage of processing is precisely timed, but in 1917 it was all a question of judgement. The same was true on the studio floor. There were no light meters then. The cameraman would look through the Debrie camera and see the image on the film, and think, I'll shoot this at f8. A bit later the sun would go behind a cloud -- the studio was all glass, remember -- and he'd open up the lens to f5.6. A good laboratory man could save the cameraman because if the film was shot under- or overexposed, allowance could be made in the developing.     The earliest light meters were like a watch with a roll of emulsion inside, which you held to the light. It would turn a shade of grey, and that would give you a rough idea. These were popular with still photographers but most cameramen preferred to rely on experience. Later, in the 1920s, more efficient light meters became available, and laboratory work became a more exact science.     We also had to mix our own chemicals. There was a forty-gallon tank, and you'd put in so many ounces of concentrated developer, adding warm water to make the required amount. To heat the water we had a huge copper geyser, about three feet high and over a foot wide. Every week I used to polish this till it shone. I would wash the walls, hose down the concrete floor and polish the floor in the office. I took a delight in keeping the place absolutely spick and span. It's important in a laboratory to have everything spotless otherwise you can get sparkle on the film. In the drumming room we had muslin over the windows to keep dust out. And when you wound the film onto the drum you'd rub the celluloid with a soft, damp, leather cloth to take off excess moisture -- being careful not to touch the emulsion side and scratch it.     Another of my tasks was developing and printing the stills. These were taken on half-plate-glass slides on a wooden Sanderson camera with bellows. The slide was blown up in an enlarger to ten by twelve inches, the favourite size, or even bigger. The exposure might be two minutes, depending on the density of the negative. Sometimes I would first do a test, exposing a small piece of paper to see if I'd got the time correct. You could also make certain corrections. If the sky was rather blank I would try and produce a cloud effect by shading the lower part of the picture and giving the top more exposure. Or you could change the composition by using only a section of the picture and enlarging that.     When I'd been at Gaumont twelve months, the cameraman was called up and my boss, Harvey Harrison, went out on the studio floor to take his place. I was left in charge of the laboratory, completely on my own. This gave me the opportunity to experiment.     In those days various chemicals could be used to give the print a bit of colour. The unexposed (white) parts were tinted blue, say, for a night scene, yellow for sunshine, red for fire, and so on. Another series of chemicals affected the exposed areas, toning them sepia or copper, for example, as can be seen in old photographs. Before I started Gaumont weren't doing any of this. I read books on photography, wrote off for Kodak's formulae for tinting and toning, and added those chemicals to the laboratory stock.     First Men on the Moon , from the H. G. Wells story, was Gaumont's first big production at the end of the war. When I processed this I tried out a combination of tinting and toning. There was a dawn sequence which I tinted blue and toned pink, so that all the whites came out pink and the greys blue. The contrast of roseate sky against the bluish land was striking. In another sequence a character is in a workshop sharpening a piece of metal on an emery wheel, with sparks flying off. I used a fine camel-hair brush to touch up the sparks with yellow, red and amber dyes on two or three frames. These were little effects I would add to a print to be shown on a special occasion, such as a première.     After two years in the laboratory, first as assistant then as manager, I felt I had mastered the job. It was time to move on to something new. In 1919 the chance came. Gaumont closed its laboratory down, transferring all the processing to the works next door. I was sent to the studio to work as assistant cameraman. Chapter Two Everybody's Assistant The assistant cameraman, I learned, did all the jobs nobody else felt like doing. I took the stills, and developed, printed and glazed them. On location I drove the studio car, a `Model T' Ford, and carried the camera. At the end of each day I projected the rushes. When the picture was finished, I cut the film. The director was supposed to do it, but in fact he just supervised, and I did the major part of the work, the same as an editor does today, although now it's more complicated because of sound. After the editing I cut the negative to match.     And of course I assisted the cameraman. The cameraman operated, while his assistant pulled focus. When necessary I would operate the second camera. The first thing I learned was how to turn it. At sixteen frames per second you made two turns every second. To keep to the exact beat you followed a rhythm in your head: one, tick, two, tick, three, tick, four, tick ... It became second nature. Even now I can count the seconds of a minute pretty accurately. Sometimes you would turn the camera faster, for slow motion, or slower for a speeded up comedy chase sequence. The camera was on a tripod, with another couple of handles for panning. It was quite an art to be able to turn the camera and pan at the same time.     We worked all hours with no overtime, six days a week and often on Sundays too. Sometimes as a gesture they'd give us half a crown in the evening so you could go out and get some dinner. I didn't mind this at all. It was such a fascinating life I hardly noticed the time. Nowadays it would be impossible for a young man entering the industry to have this range of experience. Later on, the union insisted on one man, one job, but in the old days everyone used to muck in and do a bit of everything.     Anyone wanting to change this system had to contend with Colonel Bromhead, the managing director and, after 1922, owner of Gaumont. During the First World War he had been Director of Army Kinematography, and this showed in his style of management. One lunch-time there were a couple of chaps standing on a box in the studio yard urging us to form a union. Next day a notice appeared from Colonel Bromhead calling a meeting of all members of staff. At the appointed hour we assembled and presently the Colonel entered.     `Now I understand there was a meeting held in the yard yesterday,' he said. `A union meeting, and you were addressed by two shop stewards. I should like these men to take two paces forward.'     The men in question stepped forth, and Bromhead said, `Right, you're sacked. Go to the office and get your money.' Then he turned to the rest of us and said, `Now, is anyone else interested in this ... union? If so, please show yourselves.'     Nobody moved. So that was the end of that. After a long struggle the union was formed in 1933 and called the ACT (Association of Cinematograph Technicians). Incidents like this may explain why it tended to be bossy. `An electrician is an electrician' became the rule; he wouldn't be allowed to pick up a prop. In later years if I were to grab a hammer and bang a nail in, the boys would laugh and joke because I was so bloody old, but just let anyone else try doing it.     I was willing to have a go in front of camera too. On Saved from the Sea (1922), directed by Bill Kellino, there was a scene in a quarry where an escaped convict leaps from a crane, landing (out of shot) on a blanket held taut by half a dozen people. The stunt man was the assistant cameraman: me.     Bill Kellino was one of Gaumont's top directors. From his circus background Bill brought a native wit and ingenuity, valuable qualities in that infant period of special effects. I was often assigned to him, and he became a kind of second father to me. He lived at East Sheen, just a mile or two from my present home, and I have vivid memories of spending weekends there, playing with his children in the garden. A couple of years later my eagerness to volunteer for anything could have cost me my life.     We were filming Rob Roy on location near Aberfoyle. High in the Trossachs a huge edifice of wood and plaster was built to represent Montrose's castle, besieged by Rob Roy's clan. On the day of shooting the battle we were expecting a man from Glasgow to do the stunts.     But this chap didn't show up. After a time I said to Bill, `I'll do it, Mr Kellino. I'll do the fall.'     We climbed up the scaffolding and ladders at the back of the set, and looked down. At the bottom was a sheet with rope handles, held by sixteen men, four on each side, and underneath that a load of hay. From fifty feet up it looked like a pocket handkerchief.     Bill said, `No, no, it's much too dangerous.' I insisted, and finally he agreed. I dressed up as a MacGregor soldier, and we rehearsed the scene.     The cameras rolled. The Montrose soldier went for me with a dagger and I was sent flying over the battlements. I did a couple of somersaults in mid-air, felt something scrape against my tam-o'-shanter, and landed. Unhurt. I discovered I had come down right at the edge of the sheet, glancing the arm of one of the men en route . The director gave me ten shillings.     It was a big thrill to go on location, especially abroad. In 1926 I went to Paris on Triumph of the Rat , directed by Graham Cutts, one of the top directors of silent days, and starring Ivor Novello and Isabel Jeans. I remember climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, lugging, as usual, the camera and tripod, a case of spare magazines over my shoulder. As I was setting off, the director thrust his script under my arm -- just to add insult to injury. In one scene Ivor Novello was to dash across the Champs Elysées. Then they thought better of risking such a valuable property, so they dressed me up in the star's top hat and morning coat, and sent me out to dodge through the traffic.     Another interesting trip was to Egypt for Fires of Fate , an adaptation of Conan Doyle's The Tragedy of the Korosko , directed by Tom Terriss and starring two American stars, Wanda Hawley and Nigel Barrie.     The sea cruise, then the sight of Port Said under the pink dawn sky made a big impression on me, but the best thing of all was Tutankhamen. He was discovered during our visit, and we were among the first to see him. He was lying there, with his brown, shiny face, his whiskers, his gorgeous clothes, all in pristine condition. Around him were the gold objects -- jewellery, cups, vases -- that were found in his tomb. A few days later they noticed a deterioration had taken place as a result of his exposure to the air after thousands of years in an underground tomb, and he was put in a glass case. But we saw him in all his original splendour.     Between films I was sent to Denman Street, the headquarters of Gaumont Pictorials and the newsreel company Gaumont Graphic. I made several `interest' films, short documentaries used as a filler in the cinema programme. One such was a film I shot on a cable-laying ship.     At Southampton I was greeted by the captain and shown to a beautifully appointed cabin complete with bottles of gin and whisky and a bowl of fruit. Fifty miles off The Lizard, where their instruments told them there was a break in the cable, the crew let down hooks. Both ends were brought abroad, welded together, and let go carefully so the cable didn't twist. All this time I was filming with my Debrie camera and one of its three lenses, from every conceivable angle including the crow's-nest. I made notes from what the officers told me, and the editor used these on the titles.     I did these jobs completely on my own. One had the same independence and flexibility as a reporter with his notebook. Apart from the Debrie, there were two other cameras suitable for newsreel work. The Eyemo was small and powered by clockwork, which made it handy in confined spaces. Several times I took it up in a plane and shot from the open cockpit, leaning out over the side. Holding only 100 feet of film (one minute), the Eyemo could be used only in short bursts. The other was the gyroscope camera, which had a 400-feet magazine. The principle behind it was that air pressure from a bicycle pump circulated through tubes inside, revolving a gyroscope. This kept the camera steady when you panned, so it could be hand held.     I covered the big sporting events, like the Grand National and the Cup Final. At the first Wembley Cup Final, in 1923, 150,000 spectators crammed in, spilling over onto the pitch. A newsreel film that has often been seen on TV shows a policeman on a white horse having a miraculously calming effect on the crowd. If that piece of film came from the Gaumont archives then I shot it.     I remember one Derby Day at Epsom. The organizers had set up a large packing case, about six feet off the ground, for me and my camera, and from there I filmed the crowds arriving, bookmakers signalling to one another, finally the race itself. I was stuck on my box and it started to rain. I only had a light raincoat, and soon I felt the raindrops trickling down the back of my neck. I thought, this is no good, I could catch my death of cold, so I sent a little boy to the refreshments tent to fetch me a drink. During the day I had a couple more. At the end of the week I presented my expenses book to the Gaumont accountant, Mr Stapleton, known as Sharky on account of his legendary strictness. He looked through it, and when he got to Derby Day, where I had written `three double brandies to prevent double pneumonia', I saw his pencil stop. He fixed me with his gaze for what seemed like five minutes. I stared back. Then without any change in expression he signed it. I thought to myself, he's not such a bad chap. I was more than ready to stick up for my rights.     Fifteen years later this same Mr Stapleton worked at Alexander Korda's Denham studio. When Prudential Assurance, Korda's backers, realized how much money they were losing, they brought in Sharky to attempt some financial control. One of the first things he did was to replace toilet rolls with strips of newspaper. There he was, saving pennies while Korda frittered away thousands.     One of my newsreels was mentioned in the national press, under the headline `Remarkable Endurance of Film Cameraman'. Two men on one-and-three-quarter-horsepower Francis Barnett motor bikes were attempting an ascent of Ben Nevis in the middle of winter. It was hell. There were blizzards, quagmires of mud, boulders all over the path. Four hundred feet from the summit, the snow came right up to their petrol tanks and they gave up. I thought, I'm not coming all this way without getting a shot from the top, so I carried on alone with my Eyemo. I dragged myself through waist-deep drifts to the summit, and got some beautiful shots at sunset.     Gaumont's great rival was Pathé News. The rights to photograph big occasions were bought by one of the newsreel companies, but then the chaps from the other organization would come in with cameras hidden under their coats or wrapped in parcels, and they'd take clandestine pictures. Each team would hire thugs to protect their own lot and harass the opposition. They would remove your film and expose it, giving you a roughing-up if you protested. I quite enjoyed these incidents.     This rivalry with Pathé extended to the sporting field. Gaumont had a sports ground for football, cricket, athletics, and so on. One day the assistant director Cyril Smith said to me, `I want to put you down for boxing in the Charity Cup. What's your weight?'     `Me? I've never boxed in my life.'     `It doesn't matter,' he said. `We'll get you a few lessons.'     He wouldn't take no for an answer, and they got an old pro named Pedlar Palmer to come down to the studio and teach me.     Came the fateful night we went down to the National Sporting Club. There was an exhibition bout by a current champion, a few other fights, then it was my turn. I was up against the man from Pathé for three three-minute rounds -- which for a raw amateur is a hell of a long time. The first thing I discovered was this man was obviously a good boxer. Before I knew where I was he had hit me on the chin and I almost passed out. I pulled myself to my feet and went at him like a tiger. At the end I won on points and was presented with a silver cup. Outside I went straight to the toilet and was violently sick.     I was combative at football too. In a semi-final against a rough bunch of boys from the Harrow Mission, I was playing outside right. Every time I made a run down the wing their left back would trip me and I'd go sprawling in the mud. The third time he did it I lashed out, immediately getting a blow in return from one of his mates. The next minute all twenty-two players were fighting, and the referee stopped the match. A few weeks later we both appeared before the judges of the London Football Association in an old house in King's Cross. As we waited for our hearing I noticed the place seemed to be full of policemen. After being told I was disqualified, I found out why. Their offence was the same as mine: hooliganism on the field.     In 1918 the cameraman at Gaumont was Arthur Brown. He was followed by Billy Shenton, who despite having only one eye was considered pretty good. Another was Basil Emmott, the son of a wealthy man who owned the Manchester Guardian . Basil used to come down to the studio and hang around, observing, until they gave him a job as my assistant in the laboratory. He came up on the stage when I did, as second assistant cameraman. He bought himself a camera, a Pathé Willard, so if they needed a second camera they would use Basil. This camera fascinated me because I had until then only used the Debrie and the Eyemo. The handle was at the back instead of the side, and Basil had put chromium bits and pieces all over it. He was a great enthusiast, Basil. Later he worked at Warner's making quota quickies (cheap films made by American companies to comply with protectionist British legislation), where he gained the nickname `Burn 'em to a frazzle Basil', because he used so much light. Unfortunately, this association with trashy films ruined Basil's reputation, and in the last years of his life he got hardly any work.     Desmond Dickinson was an old friend of mine from this period. He was the cameraman at Stoll Studios in Cricklewood. I was once lent out to be an assistant cameraman there on a Scarlet Pimpernel film starring Nelson Keys. Four films were being shot simultaneously with four sets, four cameras, four crews, all in the same huge, long studio. It looked like a factory. Over the years Desmond and I often came across each other when we were lighting on adjoining stages in the same studio. Desmond was famous for eating cold potatoes. He told us it was his ambition that when he was too old to be a cameraman he would get a job as the doorman outside a studio. Then one day someone would ring the bell and there would be no answer, they'd look in the doorman's cubicle and find Desmond there, dead.     Most of the cameramen were older men who had come into the industry through God knows where. As a young man watching them I thought they were pretty crude. I would look at paintings by the masters and compare them with photography, and I began to think there must be a better way of doing it. There was a new generation that started about the same time as myself: Desmond, George Pearson's cameraman Percy Strong, and my great friend Bernard Knowles, who went on to film Hitchcock's The Thirty-nine Steps . We were getting better lamps and faster lenses and stock, so it was becoming possible to light a film with finesse. All I needed was the opportunity.     In 1927 I had been with Gaumont ten years and was earning £5 a week, which wasn't bad money, but I was still only an assistant. I'd had two screen credits -- for The Flag Lieutenant , directed by Maurice Elvey, and The Somme -- but only as second cameraman. One day the director of The Somme , M. A. Wetherell, said to me, `I'm making a film soon for another studio. It's a big battle picture, set in the Great War, and I'd like you to be my cameraman.'     I went to see Colonel Bromhead to give him a week's notice. He was amazed. `You're a fool, Freddie. This is the best company in England. We've got our eye on you. Stay with us and there'll be great possibilities for you here.'     `Yes, but I've got possibilities right now.'     He tried to dissuade me, pointing out the offer was for one film only and I would then be without a definite job. He promised me seven pounds ten shillings a week, which didn't cut much ice because Wetherell had offered twenty pounds. Finally we shook hands and he wished me the best of luck.     My break couldn't have come at a better moment. I was twenty-five years old, and planning to marry. Copyright © 1999 Freddie Young. All rights reserved.

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