Bob (H.A.R.) Thomson BSC
3.9.1910 – 3.7.2003
Picture caption: HAR (Bob) Thomson hand holding a Vistavision Butterfly camera with John Morgan as 1st AC and Director, Ralph Thomas, below shooting background plates for CHECKPOINT (1956)
At the age of 15, he started in the Neg Development Dept at Gaumont British Lab in Shepherds Bush, in 1930 he became a camera assistant and moved over to Beaconsfield as a focus assistant and in 1935 he was already operating. In 1939 at the beginning of the war he joined the Fleet Air Arm as an Aerial Photographer and was then transferred to the Naval Film Unit with the rank of Lieutenant (with green between his rings, if you’ll pardon the expression, whatever that denotes). After being around to photograph the Japanese capitulating he went straight from the Navy to Denham Studios (1946) where I first had the honour to meet him, he was operating for Robert Krasker BSC on Carol Reed’s ‘Odd Man Out’. I subsequently did [clapper loader] for Bob and focus assistant Reg Morris on eight pictures until Denham closed and Bob moved over to Pinewood (being under contract to the Rank Organisation).
As so often happens when one is extremely good at [operating], Bob didn’t start to photograph things until fairly late in his career and most of that was on other people’s second units such as ‘Reach for the Sky‘ (1956) which I think was probably the first one, although he did go on to be 1st unit DOP on seven or eight films including The Naked Prey (1965 Directed by and starring Cornel Wilde).
Bob had the reputation of being a staunch disciplinarian and could be a bit crusty at times as David Harcourt said when I spoke to him, “he didn’t mind calling a spade a spade, sometimes with a sharp edge to it but what a lovely man”.
I know people tend to eulogise at moments [at funerals] and I have been fairly critical of it in the past but this time I must say I found nothing but help and kindness when a very green assistant under his aegis, no one could have helped or taught me more than he did.
If I had to say something bad about Bob it would be that he quite often questioned how many cheese rolls he had had from the tea boat in any given week which meant the difference between my having enough for my bus fare from Uxbridge Station; although once the amount was agreed he always paid promptly unlike a few others and if when I go that’s the worst thing they can find to say about me, I’ll be very happy.
Alex Thomson BSC (no relation)