Hitch­cock’s ad­mirer was a mas­ter him­self

Harefield Gazette - - OPINION - Every week BAR­BARA FISHER looks at is­sues that af­fect us all – the is­sues that get you talk­ing. You can join in by email­ing bmail­bar­bara@gmail.com

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.”

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