Obituary: Osmond Borradaile

ACCORDING TO Raymond Massey, Osmond Borradaile, who has died at the age of 100, was "the greatest exterior camera artist in the world" for his work on such British classics as The Four Feathers, Scott of the Antarctic and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Born in 1898 in Winnipeg, he saw his first film in 1905 in a Chinese restaurant - the nitrate film caught fire and the gas illumination exploded. It was some time before he saw another. Surprisingly, one of his first jobs was as an apprentice projectionist. He cranked the film, fed the carbons to the arc lamp, sold the tickets and hired the piano player. In 1915 he graduated from floor mopper to lab technician at the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co in Hollywood.

He enlisted in 1916 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and served in France. In 1920, he worked as assistant cameraman on such films as Peck's Bad Boy (1921) with Jackie Coogan and Beyond the Rocks (1922) with Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. He attached much of his later success to the variety of his experiences in Hollywood.

I became known as the crazy Canuck because I preferred to work out in the open. It seemed much more exciting than working on a stage. My stuff was always straightforward. I never wanted people to say "Gosh, how did he do that?" I just wanted it to be natural.

Fascinated with aviation, Borradaile got to know Charles Lindbergh, before his Atlantic flight, and worked with Howard Hughes - whose enthusiasm and manner impressed him. In 1928, he helped to shoot the aerial scenes on Hughes's aviation epic Hell's Angels (1930). These are still among the finest ever shot.

In 1929, he worked on The Love Parade, an Ernst Lubitsch musical with Maurice Chevalier. "Working in the sweat boxes drove me to conclude that I would leave movie-making if I could not work outdoors." He was then sent on a one-year contract to the Paramount studios in Joinville, near Paris, as director of photography - a new job created for talkies, which required multiple cameras and someone to control them. He did not relish the endless interiors but he had a mortgage to pay.

In France he met and married a continuity girl called Christiane Lippens. He also met Alexander Korda, who had just directed Marius (1931), and moved with him to England when Joinville closed. He was with Korda when their hired limousine crashed; Korda was stunned and Borradaile sustained a fractured skull. He then went down with scarlet fever.

When he had recovered, Korda invited him to join his new company, London Films. "I always enjoyed working with Alex, for he had an excellent understanding of all aspects of film-making." He had a fruitful relationship with Korda's French cameraman Georges Perinal, working on the 2nd unit and the exteriors of such films as The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), the first British film to win an Oscar, and operating on The Private Life of Don Juan (1934), with Douglas Fairbanks senior.

Borradaile was an adventurer and happily went to the inhospitable Belgian Congo and Uganda for exteriors for Sanders of the River (1935). He was made director of the African camera unit, photographing all the scenes that would be used as back projection in the studio.

In 1934, he shot Julian Huxley's documentary The Private Life of the Gannets at Grassholm Island, Wales. For one scene, he used a Stranraer flying boat, power-diving the rookery to simulate the effect of a gannet returning to its nest. The film won an Oscar for short subject.

Late in 1934, Korda introduced Borradaile to a Mr Shaw, not the bearded playwright he expected, but Aircraftsman Shaw, the nom de paix of Lawrence of Arabia. He turned up on his motorcycle to discuss a possible film of his Revolt in the Desert. "An intensely private and unhappy man," thought Borradaile. Lawrence was killed in 1935, and, despite many attempts, the film was never made.

Borradaile admired Robert Flaherty, and the vivid realism of his films like Nanook of the North (1922), and he threatened to leave London Films when the company wouldn't let him work with him on Elephant Boy. Korda gave in.

In India, Borradaile was impressed by Flaherty's respect for all those he worked with, but felt he lacked a certain technical knowledge. And Flaherty had no time for producers. He spent almost a year in India, refusing to send any footage back to London. Korda recalled the company and some of the picture had to be restaged at Denham. It was Borradaile who discovered in the stables of the Maharajah of Mysore the boy who became internationally famous as Sabu. He persuaded Flaherty to give him the lead and he and Sabu remained close friends.

In 1937, Borradaile returned to England to film the Coronation. "I broke all the rules by telling the King where to move and physically placing him in certain shots. But he was very co-operative." The same year, he travelled to northern India to photograph exteriors for The Drum (1938), a tale of revolt in the Himalayas to be shot in Technicolor. Location trips could be hazardous - the company came under fire from hostile tribesmen. The heat was severe and at one point a pack-mule carrying the exposed film hurtled over a precipice. Miraculously it survived, and the film was undamaged. Borradaile lost 26 pounds during the trip.

For The Four Feathers (1939) he filmed in the Sudan with thousands of extras and a camel brigade, enduring heat and even a locust plague. The company found a Sudanese veteran of Omdurman who agreed to charge the guns, but refused to fall off his horse. He explained he had charged the guns without perishing in 1898 and he'd be damned if he'd be killed for a film of it!

When Borradaile had finished these exteriors, Perinal completed the interiors at Denham. The picture was nominated for an Academy Award for best colour cinematography in 1939. The following year The Thief of Baghdad, on which he worked as associate photographer, won the Oscar. The award went to Georges Perinal. After his death, Perinal's family gave it to Borradaile.

In 1939, Borradaile worked on Korda's The Lion Has Wings, a hastily concocted propaganda film, and in May 1940, went to Holland to shoot exteriors for Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent. It was just before the Nazi invasion and German fifth columnists made the experience eerily close to the film's theme, mysterious black vehicles interfered with car chases, windmills refused to operate . . .

Borradaile was eventually arrested and flown back to England, where he was debriefed by British intelligence. He joined the Home Guard and then went to Canada with his family to do 2nd unit work on 49th Parallel (1941), shot by Freddie Young. He got back to Britain on the first of the lease- lend destroyers.

Commissioned as a captain in the Army, he went to Ethiopia to film The Lion of Judah, a propaganda film about Haile Selassie. A contributor to the script was Colonel Orde Wingate. Anxious to cover the siege of Tobruk, Borradaile sailed aboard an Australian destroyer which was dive-bombed. He got the camera gear out and secured excellent coverage of the siege. Aboard a minelayer he again came under attack - he grabbed his camera and saw through the viewfinder the sort of action shots he had dreamed of. Unfortunately, one bomb struck too close and he was knocked unconscious. Two officers saved his life and the ship exploded minutes later with the loss of 38 lives.

He returned to England with a mass of injuries, but his camera had saved his face. He learned that three of his assistants had been killed in action in various theatres of war. He went to Canada to work with the National Film Board, a period he felt was disappointingly unproductive - the major obstacle being his lack of rapport with the Commissioner, John Grierson. To his relief, the Rank Organisation asked him to return to make a picture about the RAF - Signed with their Honour - a difficult production which, even though the aerial material had been shot, was never completed.

He resumed his hazardous wartime travelling with a trip to Australia to work on Harry Watt's The Overlanders, about the epic 1942 cattle drive from the Northern Territories to Queensland to prevent the herds falling into the hands of the Japanese. During production, the unit heard of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

He had no sooner returned to England than Korda sent him to Africa for a Hemingway story, The Macomber Affair (1947), directed by Zoltan Korda, with Gregory Peck. Borradaile was delighted when Hemingway called his footage first class. He went to Antarctica in 1946-47 to shoot 2nd unit exteriors for Scott of the Antarctic (1948), travelling 30,000 miles in six months. Borradaile also shot the locations in Switzerland and Norway. "I have yet to see anything in the cinema," wrote the critic Paul Dehn, "approaching the almost unearthly loveliness of some of Osmond Borradaile's exterior photography."

He worked on the English scenes for Howard Hawks's comedy I Was a Male War Bride, in 1949, with Cary Grant. Two years later, he was chief cameraman for the National Film Board's documentary, Royal Journey, about the tour of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh to Canada - which won a British Academy Award.

In 1952, he retired from the film industry and moved with his family to the 80-acre Cheam Farm at Chilliwack, British Columbia, where he became a dairy farmer. In the 1960s he devoted himself to the growth of British Columbia's fledgling film industry. In 1966, Robert Krasker, who had trained with Borradaile in London and gone on to win an Oscar for The Third Man, asked him to come out of retirement to shoot 2nd unit on The Trap, with Oliver Reed and Rita Tushingham.

In 1982, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1999, he received the Legion of Honour from the French government for his service in the First World War. With his daughter Anita Hadley, he wrote the story of his adventurous career, Life Through a Lens, which has yet to find a publisher.

Kevin Brownlow

Osmond Hudson Borradaile, cinematographer: born Winnipeg, Manitoba 17 July 1898; CC 1982; married 1931 Christiane Lippens (died 1995; one son, two daughters); died West Vancouver, British Columbia 24 March 1999.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

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.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor