16.11.1921 – 19.7.2001
PAUL BEESON BSC
His passion for films and photography started way back in his teenage years, as a keen amateur enthusiast. Whilst having a quiet drink in the Queen Victoria pub in Ealing, West London, his father overheard a group chatting from Ealing Studios - Beeson senior involved himself in their conversation and asked how his son could get a job. Coincidentally a film was about to start the following week, and they were still looking for a trainee. Paul was still at school and a decision had to be made as to whether he should continue his education at Cranleigh, Surrey, or grasp this opportunity. There was no real decision to be made and the following Monday Paul walked through the gates of Ealing Studios [known then (1933-38) as Associated Talking Pictures].
His initial responsibilities were to clean windows and sweep up in the machine room. His first feature film was in 1937 was “number boy” on a George Formby comedy I See Ice! (1938) directed by Anthony Kimmins and photographed by Gordon Dines BSC and Ronald Neame BSC. He learned his trade as loader, progressing to focus puller and camera operator.
Photography was important to Paul even during the war years. He was drafted into the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in 1941 and later requested a transfer to the naval film unit with Gordon Dines BSC and [director] John Paddy Carstairs. After his commission, he became one of the official naval photographers under Captain Anthony Kimmins.
On D-Day he was sent to land on the Normandy beaches with BBC correspondent Howard Percival Marshall. In addition to covering the relief of Formosa, he sailed victoriously on one of the first British ships into Shanghai. It was during World War II that he met his wife Olga who was seconded to the photographic division of the Women's Royal Naval Service [WRNS/Wrens].
Paul returned to Ealing Studios to see if he could continue as first camera assistant [focus puller] and was soon promoted to camera operator on Against the Wind in 1947 directed by Charles Crichton and photographed by Lionel Banes BSC. The following year, Geoffrey Unsworth BSC asked him to be his operator on Scott of the Antarctic shot on the Hardanger glacier in Norway and directed by Charles Frend, main unit photography Jack Cardiff BSC. As one of Sir Michael Balcon's 'Bright Young Men', Paul was respected by many leading directors. Whilst shooting Under Capricorn, (1949 photographed by Jack Cardiff BSC) Alfred Hitchcock slipped out of the set floor while a scene was being run - when he was asked how he felt it had gone he replied "Don't ask me, ask Paul [Beeson], he's looking through the camera" - such was the trust Hitchcock had in Paul.
In 1953, West of Zanzibar, a sequel to Where No Vultures Fly'(1954) directed by Harry Watt, gave Paul his first opportunity as director of photography. When offered Swiss Family Robinson Paul learned that he would be away from his home and family for five months in the West Indies, so he asked for his fee to be £150.00 - a substantial sum in 1960. The production office was horrified and did not feel they could go to this amount. On hearing that Paul might not be doing the film, Walt Disney insisted that if that was Paul's fee then he was be paid as "I want Paul to do it". [However, Harry Waxman BSC is credited with shooting the film and Paul is credited with second unit photography]
He gained a reputation as a second unit/additional cameraman with such credits as Santa Claus (1985) director Jeannot Szwarc and photographed by Arthur Ibbetson BSC, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) directed by Robert Zemeckis and photographed by Dean Cundey ASC, Willow, (1988) directed by Ron Howard and photographed by Adrian Biddle BSC and on several James Bond movies working on car crashes and races and other explosive scenes. He was also on the Action Unit for the Indiana Jones trilogy, director Steve Spielberg, one of the few crew members Spielberg selected to work on all three films. One of his most memorable shots is the opening scene of The Sound of Music (1965) directed by Robert Wise and photographed by Ted McCord ASC, shooting from a helicopter as Julie Andrews sings the opening number, “The Hills are Alive …” in 65mm Todd-AO.
The film industry was his life and the thought of retirement never entered his head until a stroke prevented him from continuing with the long and arduous hours necessary in the studios and he finally had to hang up his light meter. He was a loving husband to Olga and an adoring father to his four daughters Carolyn [Carrie], Jane, Denise and Sarah and nothing made him more proud than to have all his family around him including his grandchildren, Victoria, Oliver, Giles and Jack.' [From obituary by Carrie Beeson.]
He was a member of the BSC since 1954 and past president [1971-73] and was chairman and company secretary of the Guild of British Camera Technicians [GBCT] and a founder member of IMAGO.