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British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Phil John Turner ("John")

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Profile

Born
1915
Death
2007
Dates
1936-1970
Role
Cameraman; Production manager; News editor
Newsreels / Cinemagazines
Gaumont British News; Pathe News
Search
Search for all stories where Phil John Turner is credited
Notes
There are photographs of Turner in Cine Technician, September-October 1944, p.89, and Cinema, 20/9/1950, p.15, ‘Newsreel Camera Aces.' He appears in the documentary film ‘Cameramen at War’ (1943). Turner was interviewed for the IWM Dept. of Sound Records - Access number 5438/4. There is a BECTU History Project audio recording of him, recording no. 421 (1997). Turner also gave the date of his joining Gaumont-British as 1937. The ‘H. Turner’ who worked in the sales department of Gaumont-British News was John Turner’s brother. He became an RAF pilot and was killed in 1943. Turner’s memoirs, ‘Filming History: The Memoirs of John Turner, Newsreel Cameraman’, were published by the BUFVC in December 2001. Two chapters have been made freely available in the Resources section of this site.
Photo credit
BUFVC/John Turner Collection

Career

After leaving school at sixteen, John Turner started in the film business with the reluctant support of his uncle Jeffrey Bernerd, the managing director of Gaumont British. His first job was in the publicity department of Ideal Films in Wardour Street, but Ideal was taken over by Wolf and Fox, which then became part of the Gaumont group, and he ended up in the publicity department of Gaumont British. Here he saw an advertisement for an assistant cameraman on the Gaumont British News, and applied, joining them in 1936. Turner knew nothing about cameras, later admitting that ‘in my early days I was a lousy cameraman in a technical sense.' However, he was saved by his ability to spot a story, noting that ‘you had to have a story mind, that was more important than technical knowledge’: ‘I knew one or two cameramen who were excellent technically - their stuff was beautiful photographically - but they didn’t have the story.' Turner came to specialise in hand-camera work, either on his own or supporting a sound camera, and after the outbreak of war in 1939 he became a war correspondent with the Royal Navy, using a Newman and Sinclair camera with 200ft capacity. Turner later recalled that ‘originally with the Home Fleet working from Scapa Flow, I was subsequently transferred to the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet based at Alexandria in Egypt, reaching there through a series of bizarre happenings which took me via Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, and finally to Suez.'

From Alexandria Turner filmed the Malta convoys, and in November 1941 he filmed the blowing up of HMS Barham in the Mediterranean, after it had been torpedoed. The film was eventually released and ran in all the newsreels, including as ‘THE TRAGEDY OF THE BARHAM’ in Gaumont British News No.1201 of July 1945. In June 1944 Turner was one of the six newsreel cameramen assigned to cover D-Day, along with Jack Ramsden [qv] and Alec Tozer [qv] of Movietone, Jock Gemmell [qv] of Pathe, R. Colwyn Wood [qv] of Universal, and Jimmy Gemmell [qv] of Paramount. Turner was stationed on a destroyer, but did not film much action. Some days later he filmed General de Gaulle’s arrival in France, and also ‘BEYOND THE BEACHES - THE KING VISITS NORMANDY WHILE TROOPS PRESS ON’ for Gaumont British News No.1092 of June 1944. In June 1945 Turner was in India, filming Gandhi for ‘CONFERENCE AT SIMLA’ in Gaumont British News No.1206 of July 1945. Turner was afterwards accredited to the British Navy, and was stationed on board HMS Sussex off Singapore when the Japanese surrendered to Lord Louis Mountbatten. Turner obtained exclusive pictures, which appeared in the newsreels - including ‘RETURN TO SINGAPORE’ in Gaumont British News No.1223, both of September 1945, and ‘JAPS CAPITULATE TO LORD LOUIS’ in British Movietone News No.851.

In August 1947 Turner was accredited as official cameraman to Lord Mountbatten, who was then Viceroy of India, as representative of all the cinema newsreels. His assignment was to stay in India until Mountbatten left, and, as he recalled, ‘I was despatched to Delhi to cover the ceremonies and the handing over of power when India became an independent nation and the new state of Pakistan was formed.' His dopesheet for independence day in August 1947 reveals that he arranged the newsreel coverage, directing both the Movietone and Paramount cameramen (the brothers Mohan and Ved Parkash [qv]), and also that he tried to film the procession but ‘was swept along with the mob.' Turner also filmed ‘NEW DELHI - SCENE OF RIOTS AND DEVASTATION’ in Gaumont British News No.1431 of September 1947, and covered Gandhi’s funeral in January 1948. In October 1951 Turner was the only British newsreel cameraman assigned to cover Princess Elizabeth’s tour of Canada and the United States, taking a special lightweight Leblay camera which had 100ft magazines and was silent so as not to interrupt Royal events. His footage appeared in Gaumont British News, starting with ‘THE ROYAL TOUR OF CANADA’ in No.1854.

Turner remained with Gaumont British, but later recalled that in 1952 ‘I was appointed to Buckingham Palace as the Royal Rota Cameraman for the newsreels and television, the former with the Newsreel Association and the latter until the BBC made its own reels’: ‘I stayed in this capacity for ten years and in 1962 became the first cameraman to be made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order.' Turner replaced Graham Thompson [qv] as Royal Rota cameraman. Howard Thomas, who in 1953 was Chairman of the Newsreel Association, recalled that the Royal Rota appointment was designed ‘to avoid tactless competition,' and involved a long-term posting ‘so that there could be tacit agreement as to when to film and when not.' In order that no one newsreel could lay claim to his services, Turner was employed by the Newsreel Association and a subsidiary company was formed, of which he remained the sole employee, British Newsreel Association Services. In June 1953 Turner filmed the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, working from the courtyard at Buckingham Palace. Turner’s last Royal assignment was the Duke of Edinburgh’s tour of South America in 1962, where he worked in the early stages with Pat Whitaker [qv], but completed the tour alone. In 1962 Turner was appointed production manager at Pathe News under Grace Field, and then news editor following her departure, a post he held until the newsreel closed in 1970.

Sources

BUFVC, British Paramount News files, Number 1389 (Turner’s rota dopesheet, 14/6/1944), Number 1503 (Turner’s rota dopesheet, 25/6/1945), Number 1520 (Turner’s rota dopesheet, 12/9/1945), Number 1719 (Turner’s rota dopesheets, 14/15 August 1947), Number 1728 ([Turner’s] rota dopesheet, c.September 1947), Number 2323 (Turner’s rota dopesheet, June 1953): J. Turner ‘D-Day as the Newsreel Boys Saw It,' Cine Technician, September-October 1944, pp.89-90: Daily Telegraph, 4/9/1951, ‘Cameras to film the King’: R. Whitley ‘Making Royal Tour newsreels into one big film,' Daily Mirror, 9/11/1951, p.4: J. Turner ‘Filming Conflict’ in J. Ballantyne (ed) ‘Researcher’s Guide to British Newsreels: Vol.III’ (1993), pp.50-54: Information from John Turner, October 1999.

Production Doc

Here is an example of one of John Turner’s dopesheets.
Source: http://bufvc.ac.uk/newsonscreen/search/index.php/document/040711_dope

Record Stats

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