29.08.1918 - 14.10.2008
LUIGI UMBERTO (LES) OSTINELLI - Humphries - Rank Labs - Technicolor
20 years service on the board of Governors of the British Society of Cinematographers, he served between 1973 and 1993.
LES (Luigi Umberto) OSTINELLI BSC, FBKSTS, AIC (Hon) was born in London on 29th August 1918. Luigi, or Les as he preferred, had a tough upbringing after the First World War but spoke happily of his time at St. Martin-in-the Fields School and life as a choirboy! He loved football and soon started to support his beloved Arsenal. After school in 1935 he started work as a Camera and Labs Trainee at Denham Studios and it was during this time that he met his wife-to-be, Alice, at the Apple Tree Restaurant in Gerrards Cross, where she resided. Alice later went to work at the lab with her sister, Judy.
In 1937, Les became a technician at Technicolor but was called up to WW2 in July 1939 and was immensely proud to be serving his country. Anyone calling him Luigi instead of Les was always reminded very forcibly that he was English!
He started in the Royal Army Medical Corps, married Alice on 20th January 1940 and after a short ceremony in the Chequers Hotel in Uxbridge, returned to barracks. In December 1941 he joined the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) stationed at Lime Grove Studios for 2 weeks where George Hill instructed him in Camera Maintenance on the DeVry, Eymo and Newman Sinclair Cameras. As an AFPU cameraman with the 8th Army he was stationed in Cairo and later Italy.
After the war he became a freelance camera operator prior to joining MGM Studios in 1947 as a Matte, Model and Optical Cameraman. In 1954 he moved to Olympic Labs as Colour Supervisor Consultant and in 1958 to Humphries and subsequently to Rank Labs, Denham as Production Consultant in 1970.
In 1974 he was headhunted by Technicolor and became their Technical Director until his retirement in 1984; following that, he worked as a consultant back at Rank Labs. His wife Alice had never enjoyed robust health and Les was devastated when she died in June 1996.
Les became the cameraman’s friend, ever happy and enthusiastic to experiment at the laboratory to achieve their desired effects. He did many of these. Frances Russell, his assistant at Rank Labs and Technicolor, who later become the BSC Company Secretary , remembered one particular experiment with David Watkin (Hon BSC), which involved the removal of the anti halation backing.
See below an extract from an interview with Watkin about the shooting of Yentl, which appeared in the American Cinematographer Magazine of March 1984. It makes it sound quite simple which it wasn’t!
“A few years ago, during a conversation with Gerry Fisher, he mentioned an idea that had occurred to him which I thought was absolutely fascinating - and suited to ‘Yentl’. It had to do with removing the anti-halation backing from Eastmancolor stock. Up until about the time I was in documentaries, the backing was in fact translucent, and if you had a lamp or a candle in a shot you’d get this halo around it.
“Then, Kodak came up with the anti-halation backing, which prevented the nimbus effect. At the same time they got rid of something rather lovely, because a certain amount of light would pass through the film and then pass back again, be reflected back, to give you this luminosity in the faces - think back to those old Garbo pictures.
“To find out if it was feasible to use the stock without the backing on Yentl, Les Ostinelli at Technicolor (in London) washed a roll of stock (the backing is water-soluble) and I shot some straight comparison tests. The results were lovely, and of course the neatness of the thing was that when the particular quality was not wanted one would simply use ordinary stock. It would match perfectly because the emulsion side was unaltered — unlike pre-flashing and similar techniques. All that remained was to persuade Kodak to leave the backing off. They were strongly opposed to this and brought forward many excuses, including one that was to a large extent - though not entirely - valid. That was that the anti-halation served another purpose — it’s anti-static. The things that cause static are rapid changes of temperature, dryness, extreme cold, and rapidly unwinding the film.
Now the scenes where I would have used this [backing less stock] on Yentl were all inside Wembley Park Studios. The darkroom would be kept the same temperature as the stage, and inside would be a humidifier and the best loader in the business. I felt that I could rely on Les Ostinelli and that the only danger was during manufacture.
Finally Kodak agreed, but stipulated a one and only run of a large amount with no replacement for any fault in manufacture. This was too much to ask any production to take on and I decided to abandon the whole thing. The irony is that it is the only occasion in my life when I have tried to carry out an idea of somebody else’s.”
Feted in the industry for his tremendous input, Les received the GBCT Lenham Award in 1981, the BSC ARRI John Alcott Memorial Award in 1987, the BSC Bert Easey Technical Award (for his outstanding contribution to the development of the Motion Picture Image) in 1990 and the BFI ‘Career in Industry’ Award in 1996. He belonged to numerous societies over his years in the business and served on many of their boards. First and foremost, he was elected to the BSC in 1968 and served on the board from 1973 for a total of 20 years; acting as Vice President for 18 of these. In 1976 he became a fellow of the BKSTS, he was also a member of BAFTA, the GBCT and was an honorary member of the Italian cinematographers society, the AIC.
He worked tirelessly for the BSC and edited the Newsletter for many years. Since his retirement he continued his association by managing the display cabinet in the clubhouse and the renovation and restoration of the Technicolor 3 Strip Camera, which his friend Paul Tortalani painstakingly took apart piece by piece, returning it to full working order and its former glory. Les ensured that the entire renovation was faithful to the original and spent a lot of time researching and obtaining the original paint used on the cameras. An authority on the Technicolor 3 strip process, he appeared in a BBC Scotland documentary entitled ‘The Technicolor Story’ and more recently, representing the AFPU, had the honour of being presented to H.M. The Queen during the Pinewood new entrance Opening Ceremony.
A further more personal tribute from his son John.
Luigi Umberto Ostinelli (Les) BSC, FBKSTS, AIC (Hon)
Born in London, 29th August 1918. Parents were Ethel and Umberto Ostinelli (married the previous year), his Italian Father (born in Como) who came to England a few years earlier and worked as a waiter by trade where he met his Wife, Ethel who was born in Grimsby. She was a waitress and that is how they met.
Les had a tough upbringing as life wasn’t easy after the First World War but he talked happily of his time at St Martin-in-the Fields School and life as a choirboy singing in the Church.
He loved football and soon started to support his beloved Arsenal and used his paper round money to visit Highbury as often as he could and saw the great team of the 30’s that won the League Championship three years on the trot.
His first job on leaving school was at Denham Studios and in 1936 met his Alice, his future Wife, who worked with her sisters in the Apple Tree Corner Restaurant in Gerrards Cross, then managed by Alice’s’ parents. In 1938, Alice and her Sister Judy and Brother Vere started work at Denham Laboratories and the relationship between Alice and Les continued to grow and they spent much of their courtship at the Apple Tree.
Life was never easy and the onset of War saw Les called up to serve his Country in 1939, something of which he was staunchly proud. Anyone calling him Luigi instead of Les was always reminded very forcibly that he was English and fought for his Country and was very proud of that fact.
As people of that time found War took such a big chunk out of their lives. Alice and Les were separated for the nearly seven years, only seeing each other on the occasional leave. At the outset of War they were married on 19th January 1940 during four days leave, in Uxbridge and had a small reception before Les had to return to Barracks, then departure to France soon after.
During his Service he travelled to several different countries including Egypt, France and Italy and in particular as part of the Army Film Unit which he joined in 1941 where he became a cameraman with Monty’s Eight Army. This time included four years in Africa and then into the Italian campaign. He never really spoke much about the atrocities of the war, but did have many stories about his life in the Film Unit recording many of the events that took place. It was during this period that he first visited his Father’s homeland and tells of particular memories of the Allied march into Rome.
After the War life wasn’t any easier for several years, but Les’s experiences and interest in the film world had been cemented and in 1947 he joined MGM studios as a Matte, Model & Optical Cameraman and never looked back.
He was a very kind, generous man who touched the hearts of everyone he came in contact with and always had time for people. He lived life to the full and was always cheery and loved having a joke with people, even with the nurses and doctors in his last few days in hospital.
He was a family man and gave great support to Son John and his Wife Gaynor and loved spending time with his Grand-Children Nicola and John and was so happy to see both of them making the most of their talents and securing good jobs for themselves.
His love for Italy, the home of his Father, never ceased and he spent many times there both with work and Alice when she was alive. They had many special holidays by the Lake in Como and particularly loved Bellagio were many friends were made with the locals, several of whom shared the same surname. During the trips to Como, Les tried to trace his Father’s background, but uncovered little apart from finding the house and street where he was born and lived. The love of Italian food, wines and the odd ‘sambuca’ never left him and has since passed down to his son and grandchildren
Apart from his Family, his other great loves away from work, were football as a devout follower of Arsenal since a boy as mentioned earlier. When his Son John took an early interest in Fulham at the age of 9, Les started to take him to watch them and that rekindled the interest to go and watch Arsenal something unaffordable during the years following he war. He managed to obtain a season ticket for Highbury for several years through the 60’s and early 70’s and his Son often accompanied him when home matches didn’t clash. This love of football has passed down to Nicola and John, both Fulham fanatics and Nicola still plays for her Ladies Team, and he whole family used to enjoy the banter brought about by the rivalry. One of the best moments enjoyed in recent times is when Les was joined by the two John’s at a Variety Club Charity Dinner at the Savoy for Arsene Wenger the Arsenal Manager.
His other great passion was for cars and particularly again showing his Italian blood, for Italian cars. After a dalliance with Renaults, Les then had several Fiats and joined the Fiat Car Club, becoming first Secretary and then Chairman for a few years. He then moved on to Lancias and Alfa’s, and his pride and joy was his Alfa he still owned at his death ‘TOO 3’. He was well known for keeping his cars spotless, always cleaning them and the engines were also kept clean enough to eat dinner from. If it rained he would never put the car away without a quick wipe over even till recent.
Latterly, he had become ill when Skin Cancer was detected, a probable effect of spending so much time in the desert during the War. He had treatment on and off for the past two years and it worsened a few months ago. He was a very proud man, self sufficient and very independent who liked doing things for himself. He hated being fussed over.
He was devoted to Alice and never recovered from her sad loss in June 1996. He has kept her memory close to his heart and always remembered and celebrated the special occasions they shared together. Now they are reunited together.
Les Ostinelli - Wartime History
Called up in July 1939, conscription age. Royal Artillery Order cancelled, reported 1st November 1939 R.A.M.C. Cookham for basic training.
Posted to France January 1940. Army Medical Stores. Evacuated via Calais May 1940.
Returned to Cookham - N.C.O's course not completed as unit posted to Leeds.
Joined 141 Field Ambulance in Dunblane, Scotland 1940 as part of 5th Division, training in 'Touch Tactics'.
Posted to London, Millbank Medical College to wait for Radiography Course, worked in college darkroom, etc.
1941 – posted to M.I. Room, Tower of London.
Dec 1941 Called for interview for Army Film and Photo Unit at Grand Central Hotel, Marylebone. Accepted and sent to GB Lime Grove Studios for 2 weeks Camera Maintenance instruction by George Hill, on Devry, Eymo, Newman and Sinclair Cameras.
7 days embarkation leave, left Bristol on 'Highland Princess' bound for Durban in convoy, changed ship to 'SS. Ile de France' to continue up to Suez. Train to Cairo HQ at British Embassy, where darkrooms, workshop and projection facilities were set up. Unit became AFPU No. 1.
For security reasons was to supervise processing of all service and some newsreel footage at Kodak laboratory and the Studios Misr Laboratory. Eventually was part of a unit sent into Syria and the Lebanon.
Assigned to photograph a film of the 'Arab Legion' in Palestine.
Returned to Cairo, operated on studio interior film 'Minefield Gapping'.
Returned to Cairo – Misr Studios to make briefing film 'Husky' about the plans to invade Sicily.
Supervised processing of coverage of Churchill's Visit to Turkey etc, went to screening at Embassy at which he was present.
Was detailed to go on parachute course, which was cancelled at the last moment, the drop was to be at Tito's HQ in occupied Yugoslavia. Unfortunately Max Slade who went, got captured and became a P.O.W.
To no. 2 AFPU
Posted to Italy, landed at Taranto, crossed to Naples for a night, then up to Angio beachhead, joining Alan Whicker's Unit with American Fifth Army. Took over dug out with Fred Marshall.
Eventually teamed up with Ricciadi until we entered Rome in June 1944.
Stayed in Rome for a week, was given list of Film Studios and laboratories to requisition on behalf of Allied Military Government.
Cincecitta Studio had been a German POW and then an Allied one. Scalera Studios was taken over as HQ for the RAF Film Unit. Projectors and developing machines had been hidden under the stage floors, to prevent them being taken by the Germans.
After this rest period, went forward with Unit 2 up Italy until early 1945, Transferred to 8th Army on East side, making way up to Ferrara and eventually to Mestre-Venice for 'V' Day..
Had assignment to photograph 10 a.m. parade in St. Mark's Square, with Pipe Bands and General Mark Clark using motorised Eymo.
Eventually moved to Udine, did 'stills' coverage for Eighth Army News and Sports events with Pete Wilson, celebrated War Correspondent from Fleet Street. Photographed boxing event, Primo Camera one of the contestants.
30th June 1945 - Had leave home by road. Went to Pinewood to see David Macdonald o/c A.F.P.U. He offered a commission to go to Far East unit but politely refused, having been away four years already!
Returned to Udine after leave, and unit moved up to Trieste; covered various stories, some of German atrocities.
Eventually returned to Rome and on to Bari for flight home in a Lancaster bomber, Checked in at Donnington R.A.O.C, then down to R.A.O.C depot at Arncott Camp, Bicester. Spent time awaiting demob, making up papers for demobees. Finally my own time came and I was demobbed at Taunton, meeting Bill Jordon again, and we caught the night mail train back to Paddington 7/8th June 1946.