Peter Sargent

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The Independent Online

Peter Arthur Sargent, cameraman: born Southend-on-Sea, Essex 5 April 1916; married 1936 Kathleen Larrad (died 2000; three sons); died London 1 June 2001.

The film cameraman Peter Sargent was one of the gifted but unsung technical artists who gave distinction to the British pre-war film and post-war television industries.

He began his career in 1934, aged 18, as a clapper-boy at Lime Grove studios, Shepherd's Bush, in London. Two of his earliest films were Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935); later Sargent would recall Hitchcock's precise methods of work on the Swiss locations for The Secret Agent (1936), drawing on the ground the focal length of the lens to use. Following the closure of Lime Grove as a film studio, Sargent moved to Ealing Studios and later Gainsborough in Islington as a camera operator before the Second World War intervened.

During the war he served as a photographer in the RAF, and his first post-war assignment was with the Colonial Film Unit, working for six months on location in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). After a year as a freelance camera operator he moved to the BBC, and for the remainder of his career was a television cameraman. The shows on which he worked are a roll-call of British television's first golden age, including documentary and current affairs programmes such as Monitor and the early Panorama with Richard Dimbleby; children's programmes such as The Flowerpot Men; series including Z-Cars and Doctor Who; serials including Kidnapped, Huntingtower, The Railway Children and the ground-breaking Jesus of Nazareth (1956); natural history programmes (though his comedy Chimpantics would be frowned on by wildlife purists now); and comedy including the 1976 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. This was Sargent's last major assignment before his retirement from the BBC at the age of 60. Two years later he joined the National Film and Television School at Beaconsfield Studios as Head of Camera, from which position he finally retired in 1986.

Sargent's repertoire of celebrity stories was as inexhaustible as it was free from malice, whether of playing tennis with Vivien Leigh, comforting a tearful Fay Wray after directorial bullying, doubling in long shot for the water-challenged Jessie Matthews on the Riviera, or persuading an irascible Churchill that, if he was not adequately lit, an election address would go unrecorded for posterity.

His love of the medium of film was total, and he was also a fine stills photographer. Without ambition to direct, he was a passionate perfectionist.

David J. Brown

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