A brief and partial biography of Bernard King, a friend and an interesting character.
I am sure Bernard would not mind my saying that he is a very talented individual, an accomplished photographer and modeller, his abiding passion in life is film, and everything connected with it. He is very knowledgable and quite well known in this area, and has contributed a great deal to journals and museums within the film industry.
Bernard's luck then took a turn for the better, as he avoided being posted without option into the newly-formed RAF Regiment, the usual fate of failed wireless operators. Bernard was instead successful in requesting a re-muster to photographer. Perhaps the RAF took pity as they were parting twin brothers, something they were apparently loth to do. Bernard then spent an interesting nine months training on air camera and photographic work at 41OTU (Operational Training Unit) based at Old Sarum near Salisbury, and later at Harwarden near Chester.
Passing the course, Bernard was posted back to RAF Harwarden, and it was here that his "cinematic senses" quickly directed his attention towards the Gymnasium, which had miraculously been converted into a cinema during his absence. In Bernard's estimation , this was a wonderful opportunity, a fair sized palace of pictures which he simply had to get involved in. The job of chief projectionist had quite properly been given to an experienced peace time camera operator, one Corporal Bob Rowley. It wasn't long however, before Bob had fallen prey to Bernard's persuasive line in projection room chat, resulting in Bernard's spending long spells in the "box".
Here Bernard learned about projection room work under trying war time conditions. Damaged film prints on nitrate stock and poor quality carbons in the arc lamps were some of the problems faced, all of which required a high degree of skill and an adaptable approach from the operators, something to which Bernard was, and remains, very well suited.
The near daily routine then became 9am to 6pm working as a photographer, followed by work from 6.15pm to around 11pm as a "moonlighting" projectionist. This carried on for well over a year, five nights per week showing two films every night - in Bernard's own words, "All wonderful experience".
Bernard and Reg's particular skills were in the area of model making, and it was with the idea of making publicity models that Bernard and Reg planned to get invited to Ealing. After writing a letter to Ealing in the Spring of 1949 agreement was reached in principle, and Bernard and Reg in company with Pete Sherington (the chief operator at the Kingston Odeon) together with a colleague from work visited the set of "The Lavender Hill Mob". Bernard received his reply from Baynham Honri, the technical supervisor at Ealing, and at the studios they met Jim Morahan, one of Ealing's Art Directors. They were surprised to discover that Jim lived in Kingston, and that the Odeon was a cinema he visited frequently. Apparently, Ealing used to show just one preview of any new film at the studios, and if you missed it for any reason, then you had to pay to see the film at the cinema with the public - even if you were the Art Director! No doubt several useful connections were made on that day. On later visits to the studios, Bernard met with Len Wills, who acted as assistant art director to C.P. Norman on the "Titfield Thunderbolt", and it was Len who subsequently helped in providing useful material and photographs for building the publicity models
The studios sent dyelines and photographs to Bernard and Reg, and the Passport to Pimlico model was successfully made and used for publicity at the Odeon in Kingston. This model still exists, and in the spring of 1997, Bernard donated it to the Lambeth Heritage Archive, seeking to find an appropriate home for this interesting part of British film history.
Bernard and Reg then missed out Ealing's next production, "Mandy", despite being sent the dyelines from Ealing, as this was to be shown at the Granada cinema in Kingston. In general, film releases from Ealing went alternately to two distributors, Gaumont and Odeon, (the Granada was used in Kingston, as there was no Gaumont cinema in the town), and Bernard and Reg tried to pick model making for those films which would be shown on release at the Odeon, because of their links there.
If you examine Ealing's output over this period, then you will see that there were more potentially appropriate film releases than there were model making projects from Bernard and Reg. However, they both got married over this period, Bernard to Jean in 1948 and Reg to Alice in 1949, and this coupled with the essential setting up of homes inevitably took attention away from what was only ever a hobby activity. In any event, the next model they made was for "Secret People", a relatively minor Ealing production before they embarked upon their final collaboration with Ealing, "The Titfield Thunderbolt".
Bernard's Sister and her husband lived near Bath, and Bernard and Jean were quite frequent visitors to their cottage in Batheaston, having even visited during their honeymoon in 1948. On these visits they used to explore the area, and this was how in the summer of 1951 Bernard found himself in Monkton Combe, a picturesque village just south of Bath. As the party walked down a hill towards the village mill, they came across a disused station, complete with all its fittings, but completely deserted. Whilst Bernard was not a railway enthusiast he was quite taken with the scene, and being interested in unusual camera angles took a single photograph through the mesh of the level crossing gates. Thinking of the captured scene as nothing more than a "nice picture", he carried on with the walk.
Some months later Bernard was reading his copy of "Cinema News and Property Gazette", a film industry trade magazine, when he was surprised to read that Monkton Combe Station was to be used by Ealing Studios for a forthcoming production, a coincidence which Bernard would use to visit the set the following summer.
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© Simon Castens 1999
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