British Universities Film & Video Council

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Leonard Castleton Knight ("C. K.")

Profile

Born
1894
Death
1970
Dates
1913-1958
Role
Producer
Newsreels / Cinemagazines
Gaumont British News
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Photo credit
BUFVC/John Turner Collection

Career

Castleton Knight joined the cinema industry in 1913 as an office boy. He became notorious, when manager of the Clapham Majestic cinema, for ‘kidnapping’ Charlie Chaplin on the latter’s visit to Britain in 1921, for a cinema publicity stunt. He was a cinema manager in 1928 when he made three feature films including ‘The Flying Scotsman’ for British International Pictures. Castleton Knight joined Gaumont British in 1931, managing their prestigious Kit-Kat Club, before being put in charge of the revamped Gaumont newsreel,Gaumont British News, in 1934. A great rivalry developed between Castleton Knight and Tommy Cummins [qv], editor of Paramount News. Cummins was described as ‘humourless,' but Castleton Knight was said to be ‘a likeable buccaneer’ - ‘short and immensely dapper and compelled to wear a leg brace [in fact a back brace].'

Their greatest confrontation came in 1934, when Gaumont British and Movietone held joint rights to film the Test Series. At Nottingham in June 1934 Cummins’ cameraman Henry Hawkins [qv] built a camera platform on the roof of a house near the ground, to pirate the match. Castleton Knight had anticipated this, and arranged for ‘a big captive balloon’ to be hoisted in front of the camera, until Jack Rogerson [qv] of Paramount managed to cut it loose. The next day Castleton Knight employed more balloons to interrupt the pirates’ view of the game, and followed with a smoke screen, which was protested against by the owners of the ground. The footage ran as ‘THE FIRST TEST MATCH’ in Gaumont British News No.47 of June 1934. The same conflict continued at the Third Test in Manchester in July 1934, when cameramen from both Paramount and Pathe tried to take photographs. As Castleton Knight remembered, ‘we played searchlights on their lenses’: ‘The police objected to this so we got a dozen heliographs and trained them on the cameras instead. One of the heliographs slipped and we were accused of being responsible for the dismissal of an Australian batsman.' The resulting footage appeared as ‘THIRD TEST MATCH AT OLD TRAFFORD’ in Gaumont British News No.55 in July 1934.

In August 1934 the battle over the Fifth Test at the Oval was so severe that it was afterwards decided to pool the newsreel rights. In October 1934 Castleton Knight organised another coup, by having film of the winners of the London to Melbourne air race transmitted back to London frame by frame. The reconstituted film was shown in ‘FIRST WIRELESS FILM’ in Gaumont British News No.87. In May 1936 Gaumont British News No.251 ran the story ‘GB NEWS TIPS ‘MAHMOUD’ FOR THE DERBY,' and Castleton Knight remembered that ‘it romped home - brought us wonderful publicity and brought me a £163;1,000 in winnings.' In June 1946 Castleton Knight produced a colour film of the Victory Parade, and Gaumont British made 300 copies for domestic distribution. In September 1946 Castleton Knight believed that ‘Airborne’ would win the St. Leger, and issued a story in advance using film of it winning the Derby. There was an embargo on the film, but one cinema became notorious for running it even before the race.

Shortly after the war Gaumont British bought the rights to the Grand National, and Castleton Knight remembered that ‘we heard the other newsreels would try to get pictures and so we employed 350 ex-Service men with walking sticks which could be opened out to display banners announcing ‘See the race on GB News’.' In November 1947 Castleton Knight was in charge of producing the pooled newsreel report of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding, and in 1948 he produced and directed the Technicolor film of the 1948 Olympic games. In September 1950, to celebrate the ending of wartime restrictions on the newsreels, Castleton Knight produced an item on the making of the Gaumont British News, which appeared in No.1747 of October 1950 as ‘FREEDOM OF THE NEWSREELS.' In 1953 Castleton Knight produced a colour film of the Coronation entitled ‘A Queen is Crowned.' Howard Thomas of Pathe recalled that Castleton Knight ‘had the edge on the rest of us’: ‘Because of the Rank contracts with Technicolor for making feature films he had secured first option on all the Technicolor cameras, and thereby the only colour film process in the industry at that time.' Castleton Knight’s film received a special award from the British Film Academy, as did the Pathe film shot on Kodak colour film. Castleton Knight retired in 1958.

Sources

Times, 11/6/1934, p.6, ‘The First Test Match’: Kinematograph Weekly, 28/3/1935, Supplement, p.22, ‘The Grand National’: [London] Evening News, 21/6/1946 : Daily Express, 9/9/1946, ‘Airborne ‘wins’ too soon’: Empire News, 16/11/1947, ‘News reel rush’:[London] Evening News, 28/5/1953, p.4, ‘A hundred cameras will be turning’: News Chronicle, 28/2/1959: P. Wyand ‘Useless if Delayed’ (London, 1959), pp.55-57: R. Noble ‘Shoot First’ (London, 1955), pp.112-114: P. Norman ‘The Newsreel Boys,' Sunday Times Magazine, 10/1/1971, p.13: H. Thomas ‘With an Independent Air’ (London, 1977), pp.131, 143: Information from John Turner, October 1999; Information from K. Angus Robertson, April 2000.

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