Forget the A-listers – Leicester factory workers have already won their Oscar

Midlands company has had several famous visitors, including Stanley Kubrick, during more than a century of lens making

While Hollywood’s biggest stars face an anxious wait to see who will be honoured at the Academy Awards in a fortnight, a group of factory workers from Leicester can feel rather smug.

The 90-strong workforce at lens maker Cooke Optics already know that their handiwork will be bringing the coveted Oscar statuette back to the UK, to honour their contribution to “defining the look of motion pictures over the last century”.

Their employer is among nine recipients of honours at today’s Scientific and Technical Awards in Los Angeles, which are run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to acknowledge behind-camera achievements. Cooke Optics is the only firm to secure an Academy Award of Merit, which comes with an Oscar statuette.

Managers Paul Prendergast and Keith Wykes, who started on the factory floor, will be among those welcoming the Oscar to their Leicester HQ. Mr Prendergast, who is 48 and started as a glass polishing apprentice, said: “What a fantastic achievement the Oscar is. We’re all so proud.”

Mr Wykes, 46, joined straight from school at the age of 15. During the early years he learnt how to polish, edge and grind the glass and is now the line manager for the miniS4 range of lenses. He described the company as “more of a Leicester secret than Richard III’s bones”.

Cooke has been around as long as the film industry and its lenses have shot everything from the Keystone Cops and Laurel and Hardy to this year’s best film contender Zero Dark Thirty. “To sit and watch a film where you’ve played a part in making those lenses… it’s a great feeling,” Mr Prendergast, now the glass production manager, said.

Cooke’s first photographic lens was created in 1894 and has been used on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole, Royal Weddings and pretty much every Hollywood film in the 1920s including the first Oscar winner, Wings, in 1927.

“We’ve been there since the beginning, we’re older than Kodak,” Les Zellan, the owner of the company, said. “And it’s been in Leicester since then.”

Their lenses are still used by the biggest studios today on films from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which won best cinematography last year, to A Good Day to Die Hard. Even Downton Abbey has benefitted from the so-called “Cooke Look”. Mr Zellan said: “That’s our secret sauce. It is a very flattering look for skin tones. It really brings extra definition to two dimensional images.”

The Academy said: “These lenses have often been the lens of choice for creative cinematographers worldwide.” There have been a few high-profile visitors to the factory over the years, including Stanley Kubrick who picked up the lenses used to film A Clockwork Orange. Lord Attenborough opened Cooke’s new factory.

A set of lenses cost anything from $55,000 to over $200,000 at the high end. “The lenses take about a week to make from start to finish. We need to get the glass right, it needs to be of good cosmetic quality,” Mr Prendergast said, and added that while modern procedures and technology has moved on, “the physical fitting the glass to the metalwork hasn’t actually changed.” Some of the equipment still in use, is over a century old.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week