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Filming The Elizabethan Express for British Transport Films


Working for British Transport Films
Billy Williams Film-maker
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So when I came out of the RAF I... I felt that it was time perhaps for me to become independent of my father and look for a job on my own, and so with my friend John Jochimson, that I'd been in the RAF with, we both went looking for a job and applied to a place in Petite France in London, a film company called British Transport Films. Now the trai... the railways had recently been nationalised and the British Transport Commission had been set up, and the British Transport Commission formed a film company under the leadership of Edgar Anstey, who was an early documentary filmmaker, and British Transport Films made films about the railways, the docks, the inland waterways, road transport, and so I applied there for a job you see and... but nothing happened; they didn't have a job. So I went away and a couple of weeks later I got a phone call inviting me to go up to Hull where they were making a film about the... about Hull docks and the turnaround of a cargo ship.

So I initially went up for a couple of weeks and that became longer and eventually I... I became a regular member of the staff as an assistant cameraman, and with an office in Petite France initially and then they moved to Saville Row, and this went on for about five years. And so we were shooting, you know, training films in black and white, 35mm black and white, training films on the railways, and there was a film we did in Southampton called Berth 24, which was about the great ocean liners, and I remember going on to board the... the old Queen Mary and seeing all this wonderful art deco interior; beautiful ship, and then we went on the Queen Elizabeth and sailed as far as Cherbourg to get scenes on board ship. And then we went on a tugboat called the Calshot and this tugboat was a very prominent feature of this film because... and then the captain was a leading character, and we went on board the Calshot and did shots of the Queen Elizabeth as she was leaving, you see, under... under steam and we had two or three cameras shooting, in fact I was operating one of the cameras and we were shooting various angles of... of the Queen Elizabeth leaving England. It was a lovely day and we kept on shooting and shooting and eventually we got a radio message from the captain of the Queen Elizabeth to say: ’If you've finished your filming may we please proceed to America?’ And so that was a marvellous experience going on board these lovely ocean liners.

Billy Williams, London-born cinematographer Billy Williams gained his first two Oscar nominations for the acclaimed “Women in Love” and “On Golden Pond”. His third nomination, which was successful, was for the epic “Gandhi”. He was President of the British Society of Cinematographers, and was awarded the Camera Image Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Listeners: Neil Binney

Neil Binney began working as a 'clapper boy' in 1946 on spin-off films from steam radio such as "Dick Barton". Between 1948-1950 he served as a Royal Air Force photographer. From 1950 he was a Technicolor assistant technician working on films such as John Ford's "Mogambo" (photographed by Freddie Young), Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Bob Burke), and Visconti's "Senso" (G.R. Aldo/B. Cracker). As a camera assistant he worked on "Mind Benders", "Billy Liar" and "This Sporting Life". Niel Binney became a camera operator in 1963 and worked with, among others, Jack Cardiff, Fred Tammes and Billy Williams. He was elected associate member of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1981 and his most recent credits include "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Fierce Creatures".

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008