British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

John Campbell Gemmell ("Jock")

Profile

Born
16 August 1894
Dates
1909-1962
Role
Cameraman
Newsreels / Cinemagazines
Warwick Bioscope Chronicle; Pathé's Animated Gazette; Topical Budget; PatheGazette; Pathe News
Search
Search for all stories where John Campbell Gemmell is credited
Notes
Jock Gemmell was the brother of Jimmy Gemmell [qv]. There are photographs of Jock Gemmell in Cine Technician, Dec. 1936/Jan. 1937, p.113, September-October 1944, p.86, and July-August 1949, p.111, and in Kinematograph Weekly, 14/1/1943, p.44. There is a cartoon in Cine Technician, January-February 1952, p.2. An image of Jock Gemmell is used as the icon for the British Universities Newsreel Database.
Photo credit
BUFVC/John Turner Collection

Career

Born in Edinburgh, Jock Gemmell joined the Warwick Trading Company in London in 1909, while Will Barker [qv] was still its general manager. In 1910 he worked as a printer on the newly-created Warwick Bioscope Chronicle, but soon afterwards he left Warwick and followed Barker to his new company, Barker Motion Photography, later recalling that from 1910 to 1912 he ‘gained experience in darkrooms and laboratory’ with both companies. In April 1912 he was recruited by Pathe’s Animated Gazette, apparently to work in the laboratories, for in June 1912 he developed their film of the Derby - recalling that at 5.30pm ‘the ‘Pathe Gazette’ picture of the Derby from start to finish was shown at the London Coliseum at the end of the matinée performance.' Gemmell subsequently opened and managed the Pathe laboratory in Liverpool, and in 1913, as he later recalled, ‘I produced, with the help of a boy, the first Northern edition of the Pathe Gazette from Liverpool.'

After the outbreak of war in 1914 Gemmell volunteered for service, and became a photographic officer in the Royal Flying Corps, later the Royal Air Force. On his discharge in May 1919 he joined the Topical Budget as a cameraman, and his first credited material is ‘FLYING TO AUSTRALIA’ in Topical Budget No.430-2 of November 1919. His last credited material was ‘THE KING OPENS IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM AT CRYSTAL PALACE’ in Topical Budget No.459-1 of June 1920, and in that month he left the company to rejoin Pathe. Gemmell was promptly sent to Ireland, where he worked with Harry Starmer [qv] and was joined by Ken Gordon [qv] later in the year. In Ireland Gemmell is known to have filmed staged shots of the British army taking prisoners, although these may not have been used in the reel. Gemmell’s first recorded assignment was in August 1925 for Pathe Gazette G1214, and he was soon their principal cameraman, often working on two or even three stories in a single reel - as in Pathe Gazette No.1647 of October 1929.

Jock Gemmell remained with Pathe until the Second World War, when he filmed for the Pathe Gazette in France, North Africa, the Channel Islands, and London during the Blitz. Gemmell provided the story ‘DOUGHBOYS’ for Pathe Pictorial No.345 in November 1942, and in March 1944 he worked with Pathe cameraman Frank Bassill [qv] to film ‘GENERAL EISENHOWER AT SANDHURST’ for Pathe Gazette No.44/23. In June 1944 Gemmell was one of the six newsreel cameramen assigned to cover D-Day, along with Jack Ramsden [qv] of Movietone, John Turner [qv] of Gaumont, R. Colwyn Wood [qv] of Universal, Jimmy Gemmell [qv] of Paramount, and Alec Tozer [qv] of Movietone. He was on board a warship and filmed the waves of gliders passing overhead, and houses ashore on fire, but decided not to film a landing craft of wounded as it was ‘too gruesome.' On the fourth day Gemmell filmed a German aerial attack on a beach ammunition dump - ‘good pictures, but to us all a very depressing sight.' In November 1944 Gemmell was in Paris to film ‘FRANCE ACCLAIMS MR CHURCHILL’ for Pathe Gazette No.44/92. In April 1945 Gemmell was in the Pathe camera team with Ben Vettrano [qv], Frank Bassill [qv], George Stevens [qv], and Gene Werner [qv], which filmed the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury for ‘1945 PILGRIMAGE TO CANTERBURY’ in Pathe Gazette No.45/34.

After the war Gemmell continued to be featured both behind and in front of the camera, appearing in ‘THE CAMERA WAS THERE’ in Pathe News 47/78 of September 1947. In December 1947 Pathe News No.47/100 also included a close-up of Gemmell with his camera, as did No.47/102. In February 1952 Gemmell was in the camera team that filmed ‘THE LAST JOURNEY’ - George VI’s funeral - for Pathe News No.52-15, and in March 1953 he helped to film ‘THE GRAND NATIONAL’ in Gaumont British News No.2007. In June 1953 Gemmell was in the team which filmed ‘THE CORONATION OF H.M. QUEEN ELIZABETH’ for Pathe News 53/41. Gemmell continued working for Pathe until ‘HENLEY ROYAL REGATTA’ in Pathe News No.62/56 of July 1962.

Sources

Kine Year Book 1921, p.591, ‘J. C. Gemmell’: Cine Technician, April-May 1940, p.25; September-October 1944, pp.86-7; March-April 1947, p.42; July-August 1949, p.111; January-February 1952, pp.2-5: M. A. A. Sinkins ‘A Salute to the Newsreel Cameramen,' Kinematograph Weekly, 14/1/1943, p.44: BUFVC, British Paramount News files, Issue Number 1362 (rota dopesheet, 11/3/1944), Number 1431 (Gemmell’s rota dopesheet, 11/11/1944), Number 1477 (Pathé rota dopesheets 19/4/1945), Number 2304 ('Continuity and Cutting Sequence for Grand National, 1953’ by H.W. Bishop, March 1953): Kine Weekly, 14/12/1950, p.57, ‘Newsreels - by Jock C. Gemmell’: NFTVA, Luke McKernan’s biographical index of Topical Budget staff.

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