John Davies passed away at a retirement village in Mandurah on February 9th 2011. Although never a member of AMMPT he was a major benefactor, donating $1000 to our cause and his complete Neuman Sinclair 35mm cine camera and accessories to our collection. John was very much aware how the industry has changed during his long career and was passionate about preserving some of its magic for coming generations to savour.
Davies was born in Deri, South Wales on 23rd December 1915. He was the sixth of a family with eight children. In 1928, when John was 13, the family moved to London. His first job was that of a telegram boy in 1930, after other jobs he later found work at Kays Film Labs in the negative developing and film drying room. At that time, Kays shared the building in Soho Square with British Movietone News. Migrating with his family the following year, John started with ABW2 as one of a two man team on their news crew. The other ABC cameraman was Fred Combs who had started at their Sydney TV station a couple of years earlier. When the Western Australian branch of the ACS was started in 1968, John and Fred were among its foundation members. In 1940, John volunteered and joined the Royal Air Force and was called to active service the following year as a fitter/armourer, He spent 3 years in the Middle East, attached to the 8th Army at El Alamein, Trobruk,and Naples. Demobilised in 1946, he returned to Kays employed as a negative developer, this at a time when television was beginning in Britain.
Some of the 35mm motion picture cameras used during these times apart from the Newman Sinclair was the Cameflex, the Mitchell and the Wall optical sound recording camera with 1200ft magazines. Film stocks included Plus X, Tri X, and Super XX. Some others in the Movietone crew at that time were Norman Fischer (Chief cameraman), Ken Taylor, Len Waldorf and brothers David and Michael Samuelson. Reg Sutton was the sound engineer. With the BBC TV service expanding, John was hired out by Movietone to them for special sporting events and assignments throughout the U.K.
In 1960 John noticed an advertisement in a trade journal seeking experienced cameramen for the recently established Australian Broadcasting Commission television station in Perth, Western Australia, ABW2. He applied for and was given the job. Resigning from Movietone, he was given a gift of a Newman Sinclair camera, a model which was now becoming obsolete with the introduction of the more modern Arriflex camera for news work. The camera was the one used by legendary European wartime cameraman Paul Wyand. This camera is now in the AMMPT collection. One of Paul’s more notable feats was to film the signing of the armistice agreement when all the press were refused permission. The images now recorded of the historic event were taken by Paul by focusing a camera through a hole in the side of the army tent.
John’s early film assignments included filming the 1962 Empire Games, the opening up of the north-west for the mineral boom, the start of the Ord river diversion dam and irrigation scheme, iron ore port developments at Dampier and other locations. The neighbouring Movietone Company began losing its cameramen to the newly established commercial TV station ITN. John asked its production manager, Jack Ramsden if he could join them, and Ramsden agreed. John was provided with a Newman Sinclair camera, and immediately despatched overseas to cover international stories of the time. From Cyprus he filmed events during the Suez crisis including the dropping of paratroopers into the war zone. He was the only member of the press able to persuade the authorities to accompany the soldiers on the flight to the drop zone in Egypt. The coverage was sent to Kays on the evening flight and was shown in London cinemas the next day. The Cyprus assignment kept John away from home for 7 months. Movietone appreciated the value of John’s stories and raised his wage from £12.10 a week to the high union rate of £21 p/w.
John retired from the ABC in 1978, building a home for Lillian, himself and his family near Mandurah, on the coast and south of the Perth metropolitan area. He returned to Britain on several occasions since retirement to visit his slowly diminishing group of relatives and friends