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My father's mistake as a freelance cameraman


Father filmed the German surrender at Scapa Flow
Billy Williams Film-maker
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I was born on the third of June 1929 in Walthamstow, it's just north of London. My mother was the fifth of eight children. Her father was a... a tailor and she was well educated, a very loving and caring person and she provided a very secure emotional background during my childhood; it was a very happy childhood. My father was the youngest of 13 children and his father was a blacksmith and groom, a cab driver and also a bare-knuckle fighter. And... my father, when he was 15 in 1910, went to work in a film studio in Walthamstow, owned by some brothers: Gobbett; I think it was Walter and either James or Thomas Gobbett, and he started as a... an apprentice to these two brothers who were cinematographers, and the studio in those days had glass walls and they used a... a day light, which was softened by silk curtains and supplemented by arc lights of various kinds. And so he served an apprenticeship with these brothers where you — as a young cameraman — you... you had to learn how to do everything, which was perforating the film stock, loading the camera, exposing a film on the set, shooting the scene, developing the picture on site and then running the projector in the evenings perhaps at the local cinema, so that one learnt a great deal of different jobs in this apprenticeship. Then in the First World War he went into the navy as a... initially as an electrical wireman and he was on a ship called The Repulse; he was never in battle but in 1919 he filmed the surrender of the German fleet at Scapa Flow, which was a great historic occasion, and I remember watching a programme on television, it was one of those monitor programmes some years ago. It was called Scapa Flow, it was the history of the naval base, and there were all these enormous German ships coming in — in formation — to surrender to the British and I got a tremendous thrill to think that my father had shot that material, because there weren't very many cine... cinematographers about in those days. And, of course, the German surrendered at Scapa Flow and then, whilst at anchor, they all scuttled, but, of course, that wasn't filmed because nobody knew it was going to happen.

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, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008