British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

David Samuelson (1924-2015)

david samuelsonDavid Samuelson, one of the few surviving British newsreel cameramen, passed away on 28th October at the age of 91. He joined British Movietone News as a projectionist in 1941 progressing through the cutting room to rejoin Movietone as a cameraman, after service with the RAF in 1947. One of his first assignments was as part of the camera crew filming the Royal Wedding in November 1947, shooting alongside one of his mentors, Paul Wyand. In July 1949 Samuelson was one of the Movietone cameramen sent to cover the dock strike, and his footage appeared in British Movietone News No.1049A as ‘Dock Strike – Serious Developments.’ According to the shot list this story begins with shots of ‘newspaper boys shouting out Royal Proclamation – Emergency proclamation, etc. various shots.’ However, the magazine Impact (P. Sheridan ‘British Movietone Choose,’ Impact, Summer 1949, p.15) denounced this as a ‘highly dangerous distortion of news,’ revealing that when Movietone discovered that the newsboys were not shouting about the crisis, ‘cameraman Samuelson manned the breach, grabbed a stack of papers and yelled full into the conveniently placed Movietone camera, ‘Proclamation signed…read all about it!” Samuelson’s expenses form shows that this fake cost 2s 6d in ‘Tip to news boy for loan of papers and pitch.’

David remained with Movietone until 1960 during which time he developed a specialisation in filming sporting fixtures, knowledge he shared in a series of articles for Amateur Cine World on the Derby and the Cup Final. He referred to these sporting events as the ‘hardy annuals’ and the experience honed over these years stood him in good stead when he left the company in 1960 to join his brother Sydney at Samuelson Film Service Ltd, established in 1955. This eventually became the largest film equipment servicing company in the world. Credited with television work for World in Action and Seven Up, it was the BAFTA award-winning documentary, Goal! The World Cup, that displays his superlative camerawork to full effect. He continued to work for the company whilst doing occasional freelance work for Movietone, mainly on Royal events until 1981.

David donated his Movietone assignment sheets (1947-1960) together with his dope sheets and expense claim forms to the BUFVC, along with articles and production manuals, forming part of our special collections.

His colleague, Ron Collins, has written the following tribute to his life and work.

DAVID SAMUELSON by Ron E. Collins (Ex Cameraman, British Movietonews 1960 – 1969)

David Samuelson was given the name Baroch by his parents, this could not have been a more appropriate name as translated from the Hebrew means Blessed. Despite a difficult up-bringing, David was determined to succeed in his chosen career. He was the eldest of four brothers whose Jewish Grand Parents had emigrated from Poland to England in 1840, having changed their name along the way from Metzenberg to Samuelson. His film-producing father born in Southport, England, in 1889, played an important role in his son’s life and, at the age of nine, taught him to develop and print roll film; on his thirteenth birthday he was given a 9.5mm movie camera. His father also taught him how to string together a series of shots to give some sort of continuity to the story. There was absolutely no doubt in David’s mind what he wanted in his chosen career.

Then, as now, the best way to get into the film industry in the UK was to know someone who was in a position to help you get started, with this in mind, David’s father wrote to his ex-partner Sir Gordon Craig, who was then Managing Director of British Movietonews. Sir Gordon promptly wrote back to David’s father suggesting that his son should write back on reaching he age of sixteen. Early in 1945, David applied for a job at Movietone and was accepted, starting off as a re-wind boy in the projection room.  This lasted for six months before he was moved onto another department. In those day, cinema newsreels were a constituent of every cinema in the UK. Newsreels ran for ten minutes and changed twice weekly. The Movietone production offices, situated in Soho Square, London, meant that David had to commute sixty miles each way, every day from the south coast. The cost of commuting was, at least, as much as he was earning, but he felt, with his career in mind, that it was well worth it. Six months after his time in the projection box, he was transferred to the editing room, winding up the short lengths of film left over from the cameramen’s negative after the editors had cut and assembled it into a story that was going into the next edition of the newsreel. Having served in the Royal Air Force during World War II as a flight engineer, he returned to Movietonews after he was demobilised in 1947.  This time as a newsreel cameraman.

Paul Wyant (image © BUFVC)

Paul Wyand (image © BUFVC)

He could not have been in better company working alongside some of the greatest cameramen of the time, these included David’s mentor Paul Wyand. Paul Wyand went on to become Assignments Manager, and then Production Manager, at Movietonews having previously served as  a war correspondent / cameraman during WWII.  He was involved in filming many assignments alongside his soundman Martin Gray.  Much of Paul’s material has since become historic footage, such as the bombing of the Monastery at Monte Cassino, The Liberation of Rome, The German surrender at Luneberg Heath and the horrific footage he film at Belsen Concentration Camp which, incidentally, was used as evidence during the trial of the Nazi thugs. David recalled that working as a newsreel cameraman was unlike a feature-film cameraman, where there is a  recognised structure of progress; you start at the bottom. Loading film magazines, holding in the clapper board, progressing to the job of keeping the lens clean and in focus, to operating the camera, to become DOP/lighting cameraman who is responsible for the look of the image. Unlike a feature film cameraman, a cinema newsreels cameramen work on their own, do their own research, directs, organises their own transport, moving the camera around and set up and position the lights.

In the newsreel world, unless you are filming a major event, where there area number of assigned position, immediately you go out of the office door you are on your own. You make your way out to the location suss out what¹s it all about, decide how you are going to cover the event, set up your camera, shoot how and when and where you decide, get your exposed negative back to the laboratories, make your way back to the office to write a report (dope sheet) on what you have shot, and then wait and prepare for your next assignment. The staple die of cinema newsreel cameramen was sporting events as well as royal occasions, disasters, fashion shows, beauty contests and many more subjects. David had the opportunity in meeting a  varied  bunch of people from all walks of life as well as royalty, covered many state occasions,, including: Princess Elizabeth’s Wedding and Coronation, The Marriages of Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra, Princess Anne and Charles to Diana. One of the more vivid memories as his coverage of the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. It was like no other he had covered before, it was more like a state Funeral.

David had the knack of being in the right place at the right time when it came to disasters, he would modestly put it down to common sense associated with a little luck.  One such disaster was the sinking of  The Flying Enterprise of the UK Cornish Coast. Captain Carlson refused to abandon his ship, carrying a cargo of pig iron, until the very last moment. This was a big story at the time with the media hailing Carlson as a hero. David was the only cameraman to have captured the sinking of the Enterprise with the 90 foot of film left in his Newman and Sinclair camera. His competitors failed to bring home the story.  Their cameras had either jammed or had run out of film at the crucial moment. Several decades later it was revealed in a documentary film mad about ‘The Flying Enterprise’, that Captain Carlson was, in fact, carrying a cargo on nuclear weapon part destined for the U.S.A. Other disasters included the John Derry air crash at the Farnborough Air Show where his exploding aircraft killed more than 40 people. David was on the scene by accident, having filmed sequences earlier that week.  The editor decided to send David back to capture more crowd scenes. He returned to Farnborough on the public’s admission day. He heard the crowd gasp, which prompted him to swing his camera skywards to capture the aircraft exploding. Another memorable aeronautical occasion was when David talked his way into flying with the Red Arrows Aerobatic Team.  He was to fly in the last aircraft referred to as ‘Tail End Charlie’. From this position, he would be able to capture, in close up, the after burners of the aircraft ahead of him and tight formation shots, while operating a heavy 35mm camera .  This was not easy, mainly due to the size of the camera and the problems of gravitational pull. Pulling some 7G, David overcame this problem and came home with spectacular footage.

(image © BUFVC)

(image © BUFVC)

Other events covered by David Samuelson were known as Hardy Annuals, they included: The Grand National, FA Football Cup Finals, Trooping the Colour, The Derby, Henley Royal Regatta, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon Tennis and the University Boat Race. The period of David’s life at British Movietone was, I believe, the most enjoyable time of his life. He would always reflect, when socialising, whilst in the company of his colleagues, friends and family, how much he enjoyed his Cinema Newsreel Days, he was never short of a story.

During the early sixties, David’s brother Sydney invited him to join his newly formed company Samuelson’s Film Services as Technical Director. There he contributed to many innovations and designs of equipment, winning many awards. Samuelsons Film Services eventually became the world’s largest motion picture camera and lighting rental company. The rest, as they say, is history.

One of David’s last ambitions had yet to come, having missed his Bar mitzvah (Jewish Confirmation) at the age of thirteen, he eventually achieved his goal at the age of eighty at a ceremony at the West London Synagogue on 10th July 2004. David got a great sense of joy and achievement in being a member of the Jewish faith which prepared him for the next stage of destiny.

Ron E. Collins
(Ex Cameraman, British Movietonews 1960 – 1969)

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