15.5.1925 – 3.7.2012
Photo caption. John Harris sits on the camera crane next to the huge Ultra Panavision 70 camera while producer, Samuel Bronston looks at the shot (The Fall of the Roman Empire 1964).
JOHN HARRIS BSC
Born in Wimbledon, southwest London, the second son of a solicitor, John was educated at King's College school, Wimbledon. From an early age he was fascinated by cameras and he asked for a Zeiss Ikon for his 14th birthday. He then graduated to owning an enlarger and handling his own developing and printing. That was the beginning of his great interest in photography.
In 1941, he started work in the camera department at Gainsborough Pictures at "the Bush", their studio in Lime Grove, west London, as a clapper boy. The first film he worked on was Young Mr. Pitt (1942 directed by Carol Reed and photographed by Freddie Young OBE BSC). Later, he was moved to their other studio in Islington and upgraded, “with trepidation”, to the role of focus puller. He was there for a year when halfway through the sixth film he was called up to the Navy during WWII and was an official naval photographer at the Japanese surrender in Hong Kong in 1945.
After the war, he returned to focus pulling at the Bush until it closed in 1949. Now freelance, and 26, he pulled focus on three films with Bob Krasker BSC and later was asked by Bob if he would like to operate for him on Another Man’s Poison (1951 Director Irvin Rapper). Bette Davis was the Star and he didn’t find it easy as Krasker was a hard taskmaster and critic of his work. But he must have impressed, as he went on to operate on some 19 films with Bob over the next 16 years including: Romeo and Juliet (1954) directed by Renato Castellani; Alexander the Great (1956) directed by Robert Rossen; Trapeze (1956) directed by Carol Reed; The Story of Esther Costello (1957) directed by David Miller; The Quiet American (1958) directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; The Doctor’s Dilemma (1958) directed by Anthony Asquith; Romanoff and Juliet (1961) directed by Peter Ustinov; El Cid (1961) directed by Anthony Mann; The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) directed by Anthony Mann; The Collector (1965) directed by William Wyler; The Heroes of Telemark (1965) directed by Anthony Mann, etc.
John also worked with Freddie Young OBE BSC, Geoff Unsworth BSC, Denys Coop BSC, Chris Challis BSC, Ken Higgins BSC, Bob Huke BSC, Arthur Ibbetson BSC, Claude Renoir, and Dick Bush BSC. Interspersed between these films, John photographed numerous 2nd units. He did 15 altogether and on 90% of them, including two of the Bond films, was Director/Cameraman. He became involved with a lot of ‘Front Projection’ work, starting on Superman and Superman 2 and on Superman 3 became the DoP on the ‘flying unit’. On Return to Oz he was the DoP on Models Unit and ‘FP (Front Projection)’, on Gunbus lots of ‘FP’ and more models. He seemed to have found his niche doing 2nd units and ‘FP’ work.
In 1976 he was elected an associate member of the British Society of Cinematographers, becoming a full member in 1985. In 1988 he moved to Vancouver, Canada, and undertook a lot of work there, mainly 2nd Units, some 2nd camera, and lighting Commercials. He retired on his return from Canada in 1996, aged 71, having worked on 107 films and lived, with his wife Ursula, whom he married in 1954, in West Wittering, West Sussex, where he regularly assisted the local amateur dramatics society with their lighting and the construction of their sets.
Timothy Harris/Frances Russell/Phil Méheux
ROBIN BROWNE BSC writes: “A long period on location, six months or more in Madrid and Rome on "The Fall of the Roman Empire" gave me the insight as to how great John Harris was on the handles. The combination of Bob Krasker, John and Johnny Jordan allowed me to witness three masters of their craft in unison, a great experience for me, their loader.
"Roman Empire” was shot in Ultra Panavision, (65mm with 1.5 anamorphic lenses). John did a remarkable job considering the challenges of the system. I shall always remember his politeness in Aristocratic Circles. Bob Krasker was invited to direct a charity film about boar hunting for the ageing ex-crown royals of Europe at a remarkable hunting lodge in Bavaria. Sandwiched between a grand Duchess and a formidable Countess, John was asked by our host if he liked the wild boar we had been served. John went over the top with his compliments and enthusiasm for the dried up meat, this resulted in our having wild boar at every meal for a WEEK.”