Alan Hume: Cinematographer who switched between James Bond and the Carry On films
Wednesday 13 October 2010
In 1976, Alan Hume was standing on a snow-covered, 3,000ft-high rock on Baffin Island, north of Canada. As the second-unit director of photography on the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), he had to capture the breathtaking, pre-title, ski-jump sequence.
For three weeks, Hume and the crew lived in tents on this freezing, far-flung peninsula while they waited for the cloud to lift. When it finally did, they sprang into action, capturing the spectacular sight of 007's stunt double, Rick Sylvester, skiing over the edge and, finally, opening his Union Jack parachute. Being a one-take sequence, there were three cameras shooting the action, one of them with Hume in a helicopter.
It was an example of the dedication that this veteran of more than 100 feature films gave to his job, and it led to his becoming the fully fledged director of photography on the Bond pictures For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985). This signalled a change of gear for Hume, although he had already been earning his living as a director of photography – establishing the look of films and lighting them appropriately – for almost 20 years.
He took that role on many of the Carry On productions, whose low budgets and tight schedules – in contrast to the resources he enjoyed with the 007 pictures – taught him to work quickly. Carry On Cabby (1963) presented particular challenges. "There were a lot of close-ups in taxi cabs," recalled Hume. "When they were travelling along, I was often hanging outside the cab with the camera or fixing cameras on the front bonnet or inside looking forward. It was difficult lining the shot up and getting the actors to look as if they were driving the taxi. While driving one of the cabs, Charlie Hawtrey banged into my car in the car park and made a dent. Not only did he do that, but he knocked my scooter down as well, making a few dents in that, too."
George Alan Hume was born in Putney, south London, in 1924. His father worked on track maintenance for London Underground and found him a job in its stores on leaving school. The teenager then moved to Olympic Film Laboratories, in Acton, often picking up the daily "rushes" of film footage from Denham Studios.
When Hume heard of a vacancy for a clapper loader there, he left Olympic and found himself working on the wartime picture The First of the Few (1942), the story of the real-life Spitfire designer RJ Mitchell, directed by and starring Leslie Howard. Because there were several other people at the studios called George, he became known by his middle name, Alan.
His next film was In Which We Serve (1942), directed by David Lean and its screenwriter, Noël Coward, who also played the ship's captain in the patriotic tale of a British Second World War destroyer and its crew. Within a year, Hume had been promoted to focus puller on The Yellow Canary (1943), featuring Anna Neagle as a British wartime spy. In this capacity, he also worked on Lean's definitive version of Oliver Twist (1948).
His career was briefly interrupted when, in 1944, he was called up and joined the Fleet Air Arm, working as a photographer. On his return to Denham Studios two years later, Hume continued as a focus puller but had his first opportunity as a camera operator with the second unit working on Lean's Great Expectations (1946), notable for its stark, atmospheric, black-and-white photography.
It was another seven years before he became a fully fledged camera operator, on the comedy Our Girl Friday (1953), starring Joan Collins as a woman stuck on a Pacific island with three love-hungry men. He was soon much in demand in his new role, working on several films a year, including the black comedy The Green Man (1956), starring Alastair Sim and George Cole.
Then, in 1958, came the call from the producer-director team of Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas to shoot Carry On Sergeant, the first of the long-running comedy series featuring stars such as Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey and, from Carry On Constable (1960, the fourth in the series), Sid James.
Hume was camera operator on all of the first four, then graduated to director of photography on Carry On Regardless (1961) and another 15 of the 30 films, including the final one, Carry On Columbus (1992).
In between, he was director of photography on many other films, such as Return of the Jedi (1983, later retitled Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi), A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Shirley Valentine (1989), as well as 26 episodes of the television fantasy series The Avengers (1965-68).
Before his retirement in 1998, Hume spent the last few years of his career working in television, on programmes such as the Gerry Anderson-produced, live-action drama Space Precinct (1994-95), Tales from the Crypt (1996), and a feature-length version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997).
Hume, whose autobiography, A Life Through the Lens: memoirs of a film cameraman, was published in 2004, was president of the British Society of Cinematographers from 1969 to 1971. In retirement, he continued to attend Carry On and James Bond conventions and other events.
All four of his children followed him into the film industry: Lindsey, who died in a car crash in 1967, aged 21, was an assistant editor; Martin is a camera operator; Pauline is a titles designer; and Simon is a focus puller. Simon's son Lewis is a camera assistant.
George Alan Hume, cinematographer: born London 16 October 1924; married 1946 Sheila Nevard (two sons, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire 13 July 2010.
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