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Learning on the job


I want to be a camerman
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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So I left school in 1943, the war was still on, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life at that age, at the age of 16. I knew exactly that I wanted to be... not only that I wanted to work in the film industry, but that I wanted to be a cameraman, quite specifically. It wasn't until many years later that I discovered that not everybody is quite so certain at that kind of age, so early on. That came as a surprise to me. I thought everybody was like that. So, quite consciously I started to prepare myself, from that last year in school. During the war... during the entire war the cinemas, as you know, kept going they didn't close down or anything. In fact the Windmill Theatre had this slogan: 'We never clothed', because it was a theatre with nudes.

Anyway, the cinemas didn't close, so I have many happy memories of going to the cinema... Odeon and Premier cinemas in Richmond. There were three cinemas in Richmond at that time. And, I went once or twice a week every week. I remember, while the war was still on, we had... they used to flash a thing up on the screen, which said, air raid warning, which you could hear anyway. If the sirens wailed, they were so loud you could hear them anyway, but just in case, they flashed a thing onto the screen, with the slide projector, which they all had in those days, to say 'Air raid', the air raid warning has sounded, and then people could leave if they felt like it, but very few people left, because the daytime raids in 1942-1943 weren't very serious or very severe, so people knew that it probably was almost like a false alarm, that there wasn't any real danger. That came later with the V1's and V2's where you couldn't have any warning. Anyway, so, once or twice, I remember, there were amusing incidents when the 'All Clear' sounded. Because, again, they'd flash the sign onto the screen, which said, 'All Clear', you see. And once or twice that sort of coincided with the action in the movie. There's a film starring Phyllis Calvert, which is a period film, I don't remember the title, where she's bathing in some sort of pool in the nude, and she comes out, just sort of up to here. She comes out up to here and looks around whether there's anybody about, I suppose, before she gets out, and it said, 'All Clear'. Then she got out of the pool. There were a couple of instances like that. That's the only one I can remember, but there were a couple of instances like that.

Anyway I, as soon as I left school, I started to write letters to the various film studios to see if I could get a job as clapper boy, or any other kind of job, but basically I wanted to start at the bottom of the camera department ladder, which was being a clapper boy. But I didn't have any luck because, as soon as the war finished, all the studios had to reserve places for those coming back from the war. So I didn't have any luck until quite a bit later when, through the intervention of Terry Turtle, whom my father had met and Terry admired my father's... I remember he admired my father's punctiliousness, when he was given a camera, you know, how he examined it and prepared it, and so on. So that impressed Terry Turtle, so he wanted to do what he could for me. So, he finally gave me a job as clapper boy at Riverside Studios in... I think it was 1945, December 1945, something like that.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: Terry Turtle

Duration: 4 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008