LIFE OF A CAMERA OPERATOR
In a quiet road in Chalfont St Giles is a house which contains a treasure trove of mementos from the past 60 years of the film industry. JACK ABELL spoke to Sheila Hume, widow of respected cinematographer, Alan, about her husband’s career and a lifetime r
WHEN talking to Sheila Hume, you have to pay attention. So little emphasis does she put on the subject of her stories, that if you’re not careful, you’ll miss the fact that she’s talking about some of the most famous actors of all time or visits to some of the most glamorous locations in the world.
Sir Roger Moore for example, star of seven iconic James Bond films, is described simply as “a good friend, who I hear from every now then,” while Shirley Bassey, one of the biggest singing stars of the past 50 years, and Mrs Hume’s one time sister-in-law, is spoken of as being “very nice. She sends a Christmas card. I always got on with her very well.”
Mrs Hume’s links to the world of film come through her husband Alan, a cinematographer, who died in 2010.
During his long career, he was based at Pinewood Studios where he worked on 18 Carry On films, but also travelled around the world where he shot some of the most famous films of all time.
Among the titles on his bulging filmography are Return of the Jedi, A Fish Called Wanda, The Spy Who Loved Me, the television series of The Avengers, and David Lean’s classic adaptation of Oliver Twist.
He worked with stars including Michael Caine, Christopher Walken, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Christopher Lee and Richard Attenborough.
Sheila, now 89, would often accompany him on his filming trips, and in her time travelled around the world to places including India and Australia.
Her home in Chalfont St Giles is packed with mementos and pictures from her husband’s career. When I went along to interview her, I was let through to her living room, where the walls are filled with pictures.
Assuming they were photographs of family and friends, I initially didn’t take much notice of them, and sat down to chat to Mrs Hume.
It wasn’t until she invited me to look at the pictures on her staircase that I realised that they were very different to the ones on most family walls.
In among snaps of Mrs Hume and Alan, are photographs of, to name but a few, Anthony Hopkins, Liza Minnelli and Jamie Lee-Curtis, all signed with heartfelt messages to the couple about the time spent with them.
“Everyone loved working with George so much,” says Sheila. “His first name was George, but he used Alan when he was working because there were so many Georges working in the industry at the time. But I always called him George.”
Surely, I say, it must have been a stressful job for him at times? Working with so many big stars over such a long time, he must have seen some almighty egos on display and been forced to deal with some very temperamental people.
“Never,” says Mrs Hume emphatically. “It never happened. He was very, very popular with everyone he worked with. The people he worked with, the very famous actors, were lovely people, and very kind and friendly whenever I would visit.
“They loved working with him and he got on with all of them.”
Mr Hume’s career began in the 1940s when he got jobs as a focus puller on films such as Oliver Twist, before becoming a camera operator and working on his first Carry On picture, Carry On Sergeant, in 1958.
In the 1960s, he got his first job as a cinematographer, and established himself as one of the best in the business, working on a host of Carry On films at Pinewood, as well as several television shows.
His reputation grew in the 1970s with his work on Roger Moore’s Bond films, before he got two of his biggest films in the 1980s in Return of the Jedi and A Fish Called Wanda.
“It was such an interesting time,” says Mrs Hume. “People wanted to work with him because they knew how good he was.
“He was always working, people always wanted him. I got used to going along to Pinewood Studios all the time.
“I knew Cubby Brocolli [legendary producer of the James Bond films], and his daughter Barbara from when she was about eight.
“Now she’s running the Bond films herself! I still go to Pinewood sometimes, and if she’s there I see her and she always comes over and says hello and gives me a hug. She’s lovely.”
I ask if she misses this glamorous film industry life.
“Sometimes,” she says. “But lots of the people I knew are still around, and I still hear from them all the time. My children have all gone into the business as well so I always hear about what they’re up to, so I still feel a connection to it all.”
“It’s been a really interesting life,” she adds. “I’ve loved it, and I couldn’t have asked for anything else really.
“I’m very privileged that I was included in George’s career so much. I met such a lot people because of it, and I often think back to that time.”
WALLOF FAME: Above, pictures of Mr Hume’s career line the walls of his home. Top, Charles Hawtrey as Special Constable Timothy Gorse in Carry On Constable. Left, a signed photo of Sir Anthony Hopkins
MEMORIES: Sheila Hume Hume, at her home in Chalfont St Giles,Giles Below, her husband Cinematographer Alan Hume. Right, Amanda Barrie as Cleopatra in Carry on Cleo