Hitchcock’s admirer was a master himself
GOOD local contacts can lead to all sorts of things but I did pinch myself to the point of bruising when I found myself, in 1993, dining at Pinewood, the studios which opened officially 80 years ago this month.
I had missed Tom Cruise by a few days, but was compensated by film director David Putnam, famous for classics like Chariots of Fire, sitting at the next table.
My visit was thanks to Audrey Skinner, well known in amateur dramatic circles in the borough, but whose day job was at the famous studios where she spent more than 20 years. At the time of my visit Audrey had worked for Peter Rogers, producer of 31 Carry On films for at least a decade.
At the Gazette we were lucky that Pinewood studios was only ten minutes away, and we often found extraordinary people in unexpected places.
One of my favourites was Hugh Stewart, who had worked as an editor and producer with directors like Alexandra Korda and Robert Boulting. Then in his eighties, he was teaching at Uxbridge College.
Hugh, who had a degree in English literature from Cambridge, had seen real drama, filming scenes from World War Two for the war office with “just a couple of photographers, cameras which were not very good, still men (usually from newspapers) and cine men”.
Long shots were needed to establish where they were, then close-ups, followed by the main shots in the heat of the action.
He said: “In battle you can’t say ‘take two’. It’s easy, of course, to fake something, but I took the view you couldn’t. You had to get the real stuff to make sense.”
Hugh was in the war office for a while, then at Pinewood studios in the RAF film unit. The scenes on stamps to commemorate the Normandy Landings were taken by Mr Stewart’s crew.
His film career was soon established, working for MGM, then Rank at Pinewood, where he stayed until 1967 and he got many jobs after working as an editor for Alfred Hitchcock, who he said he was “the master – wonderful to work with”.
I suspect that even the James Bond films, which are still shot at Pinewood, could not rival Hugh’s real experiences of shooting those war scenes. Matter of factly he told me: “You could not think of your own safety: you were certainly not protected by a camera.”