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Tony Williams Interviewed by Andrew Spicer
London, 18th March 2011

Interview conducted in person
duration : 1:13:11

Tony Williams Interviewed by Andrew Spicer 18th March 2011

AS Right, so this is an interview with Tony Williams, in Fulham, London on 18th March 2011. And I wondered, Tony, if you could begin by saying what your role was for the Rank Organization in the 1970s and 1980s?

TW Well, as you’re interested in the production/distribution side, I’ll pick it up in the mid seventies, when I was sent - seconded - from Rank Leisure Services, or by Rank Leisure Services, which was the umbrella division for various activities under a gentleman called Ed Chilton, who was the chairman of a group of Rank divisions which covered hotels, marinas, motorway services areas, the studios, laboratories, production, distribution, production such as it was, and was also responsible for the group’s overseas film companies. I was seconded to the Dutch Company, Rank Tzuchinsky [check spelling], and in 1977 I was brought back to restart the in-house, if I call it in-house, production based at Pinewood Studios, where I was appointed Head of Production or Head of Production Worldwide Theatrical Films. The background to that was that the Rank Organization had pulled out of active production which had originally been in - totally interlinked with Pinewood Studios itself. Pinewood had become purely a service establishment and Rank Film Distributors was the funding vehicle for any films that Rank did finance. The problem that the group had got was that the cost of production was going up, the income from the UK, which was its core business, was dropping because of the way cinemas were closing and cinema income was dropping. And whereas the very low budget films that Rank was making in the early seventies, or even mid-seventies, were at one time able to cover their production costs in the UK or with a touch of Commonwealth income in, by that time they weren’t. And Rank was choiced - sorry, faced with a choice of either get out of film production completely, shut the whole thing down or become more serious about it again. The big change that had happened which was being taken into account in that, was that video - whereas for many, many years, film income came initially through cinemas only. Then films got a second life through television sales, but, again, limited. However, when video and particularly VHS appeared on the scene, there was an increased demand for library material. But the problem with library material is it has to be renewed. And unless you keep feeding in new titles, the library becomes very stale and it’s difficult to sell the old titles, or certainly the old titles at the right price - at a good price. So Rank made the decision to - they would increase their investment considerably, divorce it from distribution, so obviously production worked very, very closely with distribution. But Rank Film Productions was then set up as a limited company inside the group and I ran that business, reporting to Ed Chilton as, sort of, if you like, the group chairman for that part of Rank.

AS Well, there’s - I think, I think you’ve covered my second question, which is the role of Chilton, which is the Head of Leisure Services - chairman. Was he particularly - well, I suppose what I could ask you was was he particularly a film person?

TW No, no. His background was, I would say, sales and hardware, The - the other part of the company was, if you like, the non-entertainment side, if you like, such things as Rank-Toshiba, Rank-Akai, televisions, Rank-Bush, Bush-Murphy, all that sort of stuff. And he had come from that side of the business and was, in many respects, a salesman. His role in a lot of it was sales and negotiation with the suppliers with whom Rank had agencies. A lot of them were - Rank had the agency, like for Japanese audio equipment, hi-fi it was called then. And, in the ways of Rank, he was then - he came into actually at one point the Rank Leisure Services division itself because there was a dispute inside there, and the gentleman who was running Rank Leisure Services, a man called Brian Quilter, who was running it extremely well, but had a falling out with John Davis. The - at that time the Rank hierarchy was: Rank, Davis and Graham Dowson, and Brian Quilter was certainly brighter than Graham Dowson. And he was a very good manager; he was a marketeer as well but he’d learnt the - that side of the business. When he left, Ed Chilton was parachuted in to run the Rank Leisure Services division and than in a reorganization when, if I get this right, at some point when Russell Evans who was the company secretary became the Chief Executive under him were two divisional chairmen, Ed Chilton one on the film and leisure side and Brian Smith was on they - what they called the hardware side.

AS Right, yes, I’ve seen Brian Smith’s name.

TW Yes, that’s right. And they were both based in 38, Saville Street.

AS Ah. And then there was this very public row, wasn’t there, between John Davis and Dowson?

TW Yes [laughs].

AS Essentially a power struggle?

TW Erm… [hesitates].AS Or was there differences in where the organization should go?

TW It was less, I think, of a power struggle than, I think, probably John Davies not terribly happy with the way Graham Dowson was running the company, or would have run the company. Graham Dowson, like Ed Chilton, was very much a rotund, hail-fellow-well-met and let’s-go-off-to-lunch. And even though John Davis did have his shenanigans and a reputation for it, in business he was very, very determined, very straight, very disciplined, And I think he did not like the way Graham Dowson was running things. They were, they were - their styles were completely different.

AS There is one further figure I would like you to shed light on if you can, he crops up in correspondence, F. S., I think it’s Frank, Poole.

TW Oh yes, dear old Frank Poole.

AS What was his role?

TW He was the managing director of Rank Film Distributors.

AS Right.

TW The - Rank had always sold its pictures worldwide. And the - in some cases, there were at one time Rank-owned subsidiary companies or associated companies around the world. It owned a circuit in Canada, part ownership in Malaya, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Port - Malaysia, there were bits all over the place, Singapore. And the vehicle that distributed the films both in Britain and either directly, not directly but either through local distributors or sold on to local distributors was Rank Film Distributors. Frank Poole was the man running that division. He was retiring, he did a grand, believe it or not, because of his age, he did a grand farewell world tour. Those were the days! And he did, I think - in all fairness to him I never worked closely to him - in all fairness to him he did know the world market, because he’d been at it for so long. When he retired, he was replaced by a man who had no overseas experience whatsoever. What was his name? Ex-United Artists, Maurice Young? Not Maurice Young? Yes, Maurice Young.

AS Do you know when he retired?

TW Oh, it was ... no, I can’t give a date, he didn’t last all that long, then Fred Turner took over.

AS Sorry, I meant Frank Poole.

TW Ah, Frank Poole. Oh, he must have retired, I think, Frank Poole, somewhere around ’76, ’77, somewhere around that.

AS That would fit in with the correspondence.

TW I’m trying to remember who it was entered the first Cannes Film Festival when the whole new venture was launched - I can’t remember, I cannot remember whether it was Frank Poole or Maurice Young. But the focus was not on distribution at that time, the focus was very much on we’re making films again.

AS I’ll come - come back to that.

TW Yes.

AS These are some general questions before we get into the...

TW To make things clearer, yes.

AS So how would you describe Rank’s policy in general towards film production in the 1970s?

TW Cautious, I suppose one would say. All Rank’s financial activities were cautious, that was down to John Davis.

AS Would it - would it be too much to say it was inconsistent? They kept putting their toe into the water then ...?

TW Oh, if you go, if you go right through to 1980 the answer is yes. It started, if you like, at the beginning of the seventies. It was tepid investment in very small budget pictures. Really, you know, the one - as I said, the two main streams that they were down to was Carry On pictures and horror films made by Kevin Francis. That was broadly it. Right. Then, yes, there was this recognition that they’d got to get more deeply in it and the money flowed. Modest by current standards, very modest but the money certainly flowed. But then, after a time, because - because film production is always a gamble and you’ve got - until you’ve got a major slate and thing and they’d actually pulled - they then pulled back. OK, changing hierarchy in Rank, they’d pulled back; they stopped it. And then, that was probably about 1980, then lo and behold, after a time Rank Film Distributors was in trouble because they hadn’t got any new product. So Rank Film Distributors was then given chunks of money to go and buy into pictures because they made a blunder. And they carried on, on that basis, not directly making them and they had no direct control over what they made at all, no influence. They just bought into pictures. They did an output deal with Orion and that carried on until - until they sold the shooting match. Then the decision was made to get out of film, so RFD was closed down, Rank Film Advertising was sold off, eventually the laboratories went. Cinemas was the last one to go.

AS Right. I’ll come back to aspects of that if I may. So you describe Sir John Davis as cautious in his policy. Davis has got a very poor reputation. Some of the things I was reading yesterday in the press describe him as autocratic. Graham Dowson is described as calling him, ‘the executioner’. Some people regard him as narrow-minded, an accountant, again not really a film person. Are they- are those criticisms justified?

TW To an extent, to an extent. Yes, he was an accountant. But he saved Rank. If you go on this, if you dug on this, you probably know the broad story. He was an accountant inside Odeon. And, after Lord Rank, essentially, supported the government at the time when there was the Board of Trade row with Harold Wilson - you know the story. Rank ramped up production, because there’s always a lead time. By the time the films were coming out the floodgates from America opened. Rank in huge, massive trouble, by all accounts, huge. John Davis got the company out of trouble. But he - he’d come up through cinemas, he was actually very supportive of film making as was Lord Rank particularly, of the whole film business. And certainly he supported - the people that Rank had under contract he supported. I got to know Betty Box and Ralph Thomas well, who were his sort of in-house team at Rank for years, and yes, the man was difficult, yes the man [inaudible]. But he was utterly, (a), he was utterly supportive. And if they wanted to do something they got the word and they did it. You know, so he was in that sense in the Rank - the Lord Rank mould. Yes, he supported what went on and it was only really when cinemas, the cinema business went into - that - that he got very despondent about the whole thing, he saw doom and gloom. Which was actually understandable - and that then made him increasingly cautious. But the whole of the Rank - conglomerate you’d call it now - was run with very tight financial controls and disciplines. Extremely tight. he was very strong in the boardroom. He could make mincemeat of people. But if they knew their ground, then, yes, he respected them. I had some dealings with him and I never had a problem at all. But, you know, you had to know where you were, you had to be prepared for the questions being shot at you. And, you know, if business was, if the figures were down or up he wanted to know why. But the corollary of that one in terms of while you might criticise some of his personal standards, in business terms he was absolutely straightforward. The company - within Rank at that time, your word was your bond, that was it. If anybody down the chain made a commitment on behalf of Rank, even it if turned out to be wrong or not liked, John Davis said, ‘You gave your word, we’ll stick with it.’ And he was very fair, even though Rank had the power, he never overshot - overrode the little person, He was always absolutely scrupulously fair to the minority shareholder or whatever. So, yes, he had a lot of very bad qualities, yes, but equally he had a lot of very good qualities. Which aren’t always recognised.

AS That’s very helpful as that doesn’t always come across. But he is criticized, I hope I’m not straying too far, he is criticized in some of the Financial Times and elsewhere for going into the property speculation and some ventures like that which they felt were maybe ill-advised. Or was that hindsight?

TW Oh, I think that was hindsight. What one has to remember is that he - he tried a lot of things. He was a very adventurous businessman in some ways. And very often Rank got in too early. And they went wrong or they didn’t work out. He tried Rank - Top Rank Records did actually work, he was way ahead with Top Rank Suites in terms of what they were trying to do, but unfortunately some of them were structurally not worth - they couldn’t stand up to it. But what people tend to forget is the Xerox. That somebody brought him this invention that nobody else was showing faith in and he did. He stuck with it for quite a number of years and that one came spectacularly right, And, you know, people tend to overlook that and concentrate on some of the things that went wrong. But, you know, he got that completely right. I don’t think property was a disaster, by any means, Rank City was - he bought City Wall. Rank City Wall therefore was being run by people who knew property. And there was a rationale to it, in that he saw the cinema business collapsing but he had a huge real estate in the cinemas. Some were leasehold, you know, but quite a chunk were freehold, so if you’d got a cinema that was dying on its feet, what do you want to do, redevelop it. So let’s redevelop ourselves rather...

AS ...rather than just sell it off.

TW Yes, rather than sell it off. Let us have the profit from redevelopment. So it wasn’t just - there was a rationale behind.

AS Again, that’s very helpful. OK, I think, yes, I think we’ll move on to Klinger now.

TW Shall we stop while I feed - fill up the coffee? If you’d like another one...

AS OK, so now we’re moving into the more specific area of Michael Klinger’s involvement with Rank. But what - to preface that with a slightly more general question about Klinger and that is, before ’76, I’ll come onto the chronology in a second, he’d never seemed to have had any dealings with Rank. I think you’ve probably answered this, that Rank’s interest was tepid. But for Gold or Shout At the Devil, he goes to South African sources. So why would he not approach Rank at that point?

TW Because, I think, predominantly, I would say because Rank wasn’t investing in pictures the amount of money he would need. No, they were not - they couldn’t do it, I think that’s probably the reason. If the money’s not there or there - and if Rank was - Rank Film Distributors was also an extremely difficult [hesitates] thing to deal with, that sort of thing. Because when - I think actually one of the things they did invest in was Bugsy Malone and, you know, again, because it was a very small, cheap picture and it was made at Pinewood and whatever so on. It wasn’t just horror pictures and Carry On, but almost. This was Alan Parker in his dealings with Rank Film Distributors, almost picked some people - one person up by the collar - jacket and shook him saying, ‘You’re the problem with the British Film Industry’. They were actually unbelievably difficult because... So, you know, they - and if places have a reputation of being difficult then people will tend to avoid getting to them, particularly if there’s not really any money there. You know, they would get approached, I’m sure, by some, but I would think that’s, that’s the main reason. Rank weren’t - were not seen as being in film production as such. You know, there was, there was no film production entity you went to. If, if you want to sell, there are two - at that time the ideal way of financing a picture was you went primarily to one shop and got all the money or at least two shops and got all the money. And if you had to go round stitching it together it got incredibly difficult. Which is why, if you can get to somewhere, that was, if you like, at the umbrella and then go around and get the money, it was much easier. But everybody was always hunting money. You know, were there tax breaks at that time? Were there co-productions? Whatever. So - producers - like Michael Klinger, and some others, he wasn’t alone in this, would sniff out where there was money available and go rushing off to try to get hold of it. You know, there...

AS He rushes off to Argentina at one point.

TW Oh, there was a certain breed that operated like that; he wasn’t alone. There were others who didn’t, you know. John Brabourne, for example, never did that sort of thing. You know, he was - there were those who were the traditional sort of ones and those who rushed around everywhere, yes.

AS Right. I possibly need to preface this question. Are you aware of that sort of package of four films that Michael Klinger approached Rank with? Shall I run through them?

TW Now, if you run through them, because it was, because this was happening, or started happening [inaudible] while I was in Holland. And therefore I was only picking some of this up, if you like, when it got messy, Yes, run through the four films.

AS There were four, sometimes five, the reason being they never quite made up their mind, I don’t think, which of the Wilbur Smith novels they were going to push ahead with, either Eagle In the Sky or Eye of the Tiger, that was one entity, though technically two projects; The Limey, which was an original script, a comedy thriller, Michael Caine and Bill Cosby at one point, so it was this kind of odd pairing of two cops, two investigators; Green Beach which was a war film based - Klinger was very keen on because it was the memoirs - based on the memoirs of a Jewish war hero, Jack Nissenthal; and the one that got furthest and I think very close to production, actually in the archive we’ve got some artwork for the opening sequence was The Chilian Club.

TW Right, yes, that rings a bell, rings a bell.

AS One of George Shipway’s novels, a satirical comedy about four army officers trying to prevent a left-wing takeover...

TW Right...

AS …in the mid seventies. So the first record we’ve got in the archive of his dealing with Rank is a letter from Frank Poole, saying he didn’t think that the script The Chilian Club was that interesting, not as good as The League of Gentlemen. That’s in May ’73. But in August ’76, which I’ve got a copy of here, Klinger writes again to Poole with his five-picture package and gets a rather warmer reception. So is the shift to Rank getting more involved in film production. Is that around the time it started to develop?

TW [Hesitates] It probably would be, yes. I’m guessing, because in August ’76 I was in Holland. But Ed Chilton was - yes, I think [pauses]. Yes, I think you’ll find that at this point [mumbles as reads letters] the directors ... Oh, no, it’s still marked as John Davis, Frank Poole, Russell Evans and ... right.

AS So Ed Chilton’s not quite on the scene?

TW No, Ed Chilton’s not on the scene yet, is he? No. Let me think. But there must have been some softening, possibly to do with video. But I’ll tell you who’ll tell you more, Bill Gilbert. Have you got hold of him yet?

AS No.

TW Oh, he’s still around. He’s still - he’s still selling stuff to television.

AS Have you got an address for him?

TW I will find it for you. I’ll have to get on to him first. Yes.

AS Sure.

TW No, he will know more because he bridged this period and the time I was doing production, so he - yes, he knows. He’s got a lot of knowledge. So, I think this - this, judging by this, this was before the reorganisation and Ed Chilton became chairman of that particular division.

AS So, you think the change of attitude was probably to do with video, essentially?

TW Yes.

AS So this - in the next letter [hands copy of letter to TW] - don’t worry, there’s not too many of these ...

TW Sorry.

AS On the 10 March, where things obviously had got quite a long way down the line and Klinger as you see there is looking for quite an urgent decision from ...

TW Yes! [Laughs]

AS I think, I think perhaps characteristically Klinger had - had done his usual brinksmanship and was, ‘I’m ready to go’. I think that’s true, I think he had spent quite a lot of money on preparatory work by then.

TW He probably had. Yes, you know, everybody - the whole production scene is to a degree bluster, bluff, con and brinksmanship. It’s a - you know. You go round saying, ‘I’ve got a director’ or ‘I’ve got that star’, so the director says yes, and you tell the director or the other way round, ‘I’ve got that director,’ so they say yes. It’s a right old game. Much, originally, it was often done quite genuinely on understandings, without any legal behind them. People would agree to do it. But then it got very difficult. Can I just read this for a second?

AS Grunts in assent.

TW [Pause as reads] I don’t actually doubt that he was spending money because if it got to the stage of, as this indicates, lawyers and pre-production, everybody would be being paid, everybody was being paid. [Mutters as reads letter.] No, I don’t - I don’t doubt that, because an independent producer like Michael Klinger would put either his own money or money he’d secured from somewhere else for development. You know - you know the stages? There’s a development stage, pre-production, production and post-production, same as distribution. And the development can be comparatively small, an option on a book and pay the writer, maybe a bit of recceing. When it - you may well get into the role of having to get a budget done, Because nobody will commit without that, but then having - but unless you can go with a budget then nobody’s going to give you any money anyway. So you then - it does ramp up and there are some producers who will actually fund all that themselves or they will have a fund to fund it. So I’ve no doubt on that stage, that he was going along in probably good faith. Certainly George Anticoni, that was the lawyer, that would have been his lawyer, Klinger’s lawyer, if George was - George Anticoni was involved I’m sure the legals were going through.

AS So, there’s - not sure you need to read this one, but it’s - it’s more of the same, a little bit later, 16 March, “even more urgent ...

TW [Laughs]

AS commit to us”.

TW Yeah, you know about film completion guarantees presumably, do you?

AS Yes.

TW No, this is, I think, I suspect, but I don’t know, because I wasn’t party to the meeting, my suspicion is that it had been all bonhomie and, “Oh, yes, oh, Michael, how nice to see you and doesn’t it sound exciting!” and whatever, because bear in mind Chilton was in the romance of film making as well. He was all excited. Michael Klinger thought, you know, probably thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got one here,’ and - but lovely words from Ed Chilton actually translating into cast-iron agreements in cash are another word. You know, you’ve got Rank being protected by lawyers. He would have - Ed Chilton would have had to have gone off to the parent board to get the money and that - you know, it wouldn’t have necessarily been nodded off. He would have - there would have been obstacles. He didn’t have - I don’t think at that stage he had the power. He had more later on. Well, technically, he still had to go to the Board, but if Ed Chilton asked for money to make a film they would give it to him. But, probably, and also - this is probably that interim stage. Again, Rank Film Productions was not in existence with that specific brief of making pictures for which the Board had said, ‘Yes, we’ll make a commitment, a financial commitment’. So, you know, that would still be, I think, a hangover from Rank Film Distributors, where they were cautious because that’s not, you know, - they only put bits of money into bits of pictures, you know, that’s my surmise.

AS So the other factor, I think, I haven’t brought the correspondence because it’s quite extensive, was that the National Film Finance Corporation was going to put money into at least The Chilian Club, that they seemed quite keen on.

TW That’s right.

AS And then they withdraw that money. [Interruption]. So the National film Finance Corporation were to be involved at least with The Chilian Club and then they, much to Klinger’s horror, stick on another clause which was that he had to have negotiated American distribution before they would give him the money. To which his response was, ‘I wouldn’t be asking you for money if I had an American distribution’. So I can’t see why you’re asking me for that unless you simply don’t want to invest in my films. Then he goes to America to try and get a distribution deal and denounces the NFFC in the trade press, picked up by Screen International. Now what’s interesting about that article is that he doesn’t mention Rank. He doesn’t say, ‘Oh, Rank were going to invest in this film and they’ve let me down’. So really I’m trying to sort of sort out the sequence of events, Do you think that if the NFFC had got cold feet then Rank would not have had such a strong case or Ed Chilton wouldn’t have had so strong a case, or is it the other way round that the NFFC picked up that Rank was a little bit lukewarm about probably a possible [inaudible]?

TW [Laughs] Ah, You’ll probably need the NFFC archives if they exist. I would give another twist. Another possible twist is that the Rank deal collapsed, that’s one - one possibility. You see, it all depends, it would depend on the budget. One possibility would be that the Rank deal collapsed...

AS I think it’s - it’s fairly significant that for The Chilian Club I think it’s about 1.2 million or something like that.

TW Which was quite a lot at the time. It could be... Did the archives indicate how much money Rank was going to put into the picture?

AS About £400,000.

TW Yes, you see, which is about what they would put into a low budget picture. So it could well be that then there’s a gap. Does it say how much the Film Finance was going to put in? They were normally quite small amounts.

AS Quite small, yes.

TW It could well be that they - let’s assume the Rank money was nominally there and the NFFC money was there. It could well be that they took the line, ‘Hang on, where is the rest of the budget coming from? We are not going to go down the road of letting you start this picture when it’s not fully financed. Which Film Finances would not have done either. You won’t get - you - Film Finances would never give a completion guarantee without all the financing being in place. They just won’t do it. Because otherwise they’re on the hook. So, it is possible, and this is mere speculation, that there was - part of the deal with NFFC, if not with Rank, Rank might have taken the view that, ‘This is the money, this is the territories we’re getting, deliver us the picture, fine’. Again, he was - the implications from Michael Klinger is that he was expecting cash up front, which I suppose is possible. Yes, there would be - distributors would pay money in advance, but only a proportion and the balance coming when they actually got the film, because they’d got caught before. That was the usual one, they’d put down like a deposit. All I can think was that - the missing - the rest of the finance which would probably be around half of it, let’s say, let’s say for the sake of argument, Rank was putting in 400, NFFC 200 (which was quite large), that’s only half the budget. So where was Michael getting the rest of it from? Hopefully, I suppose, a guarantee or an advance off an American distributor. Because if he was - the only other way of getting it - getting it was from a sales agent - who’d pick up the bits around the world. underwritten by a bank. Which is the way a lot of them were done. But that was still around, but it was time-consuming and very expensive, so if you can pick it up in large chunks, you’re much better off.

AS I’ll put something else to you, which is a gloss on this, that Tony Klinger has told me. And that is that his father was very friendly with Ed Chilton - that they were on the point of clinching the deal, at least for The Chilian Club and John Davis then intervened. Tony Klinger took it to be a kind of slapdown. That - that Ed Chilton perhaps had exceeded his authority or was not going to have the final say and that John Davis was kind of pulling rank, ‘You might have’, excuse the pun, ‘You might have concluded this deal, Ed, but I’m vetoing it’.

TW It’s possible, that is entirely possible. You know, ultimately John Davis controlled the purse strings of everything in Rank, the whole Rank organization, everybody ultimately had to go to him. He was the bank, he regarded himself as the bank, and he had a thing, ‘Unless you can make me more money than I can get myself by plonking it in a building society, you aint getting the money’. That was his thing. So, you know, going back, with that particular film, with once bitten twice shy to a degree, it is quite possible that Rank had his wings clipped.

AS Ed Chilton?

TW Ed Chilton. He was prone to get into things. ‘I am the big man. I can do deals.’ There was very much a touch of him about that. So it is quite possible - it is entirely possible he’d exceeded the authority, or he thought he had more authority than he genuinely had, which could have been a misunderstanding. But it’s - it is quite possible that John Davis did come in and say, ‘No, I’m not happy with this. We’re not doing it.’ And if John Davis was ultimately up there and he had to go to the Board to get it, yes, it is quite possible. When it actually got to the stage when it had to have what in theory was a rubber stamp from the parent board, or at least John Davis, because the parent board essentially was John Davis, you know. I wouldn’t dispute that one, it would - it would fit.

AS And would you think that John Davis had any particular attitude towards Michael Klinger?

TW No idea, no idea. I really don’t, I wouldn’t like to say, I really wouldn’t.

AS So, I think, I think I’ve described that Klinger goes off to America in high dudgeon saying, ‘This is dreadful, this is all dreadful. I’m a British independent film producer and I can’t get any money from Britain. And then the final letter I’ve got for you is that he’s back - he’s back talking to Ed Chilton on 28 February 1978, specifically about The Chilian Club.

TW Right, be extremely thick-skinned. Just because you got turned down once it doesn’t stop you coming back again banging on the door. Bearing in mind, that in the intervening period, because it was - was in the Cannes Festival in ’77, in May, where Rank announced investment back in film production. So in theory, the climate had changed. [Mumbles as reads letter to himself.] Yes, so that quite consistent with the business. There’s nothing ... there.AS I think - so my next question is, is there a relationship, I suppose in this case if only a negative one, between the separate organization you headed up to produce films and Rank cooling, if you like, towards Klinger? You don’t need those films now, you see it as a separate thing?

TW No, did you come across the record of a meeting I had with Michael Klinger and lawyers as far as I can remember. I thought it was over a picture called Tomorrow Never Comes, but it might not have been, I can’t remember, it might have been The Chilian Club. I can’t remember.

AS No, I think - I think it, yes, it probably was Tomorrow Never Comes.

TW In that case, I wasn’t involved with The Chilian Club then, I think my meeting must have been over Tomorrow Never Comes, so, no. There were some pictures even when Rank Film Productions was brought into existence, there were some pictures which were going through the system, which if you like, Ed Chilton had green-lighted if you can call it, with which I only had peripheral involvement, The two - the two - there were three, actually, one was The Shout, one was Wombling Free and the other one was Tarka The Otter. They’d all started under the Rank Film Distributors’ auspices but all green-lighted by Ed. All, if you know, low budget pictures. But I remember after I was in the role, yes, I was - I was - I went to see Lionel Jefferies on the first day of shooting Wombling Free. I visited The Shout location and I was in on the music of Tarka The Otter. So, in other words, I’d actually come in, that by the time I was in behind my desk at Pinewood, you know, they were underway, they were in - they were in production rather than at any other stage, so it was just a minor watching brief on that one. So The Chilian Clubwas not in that package, there was no Chilian Club around when I arrived.

AS No, no, no. But I ... but the fact that you were given a budget for your - it was five films wasn’t it initially, wasn’t it?

TW Um...

AS ...that didn’t mean, did it, or did it, that the organization would then be cooler towards any independent producers approaching them?

TW Oh no, I - because I worked totally through independent producers. I was not making films directly. The role I had was effectively as Executive Producer in - which is now a totally altered term. Everybody and their boy gets on to an Executive Producer credit. You get fourteen producers. The more producers, usually the worse the film. No, in - in those days you had a producer and in some cases you had an executive, The - I - if you go back to what you call the Studio System, the Studio System Production Head was effectively...

AS The Thalberg figure.

TW The Thalberg figure, he was the exectuive producer on the films that MGM made. In their case all the producers were under, by and large, were under contract but they were the ones who got their name on the credits, not Thalberg, he never took a credit. And the - in the Rank one - I never took a credit for that same reason, although that’s effectively the function I performed. The policy we had was 50% investment, that was our broad policy, which was how to make the money go round. It also, if there was a co-investor, gave a degree of reassurance. So, I could - I would only work through a producer who brought me a project. So the door was open to Michael Klinger as much as anybody else.

AS Right. So you - you oversaw the entity, the five picture entity, but you were not credited as the specific producer for any of those five films?

TW No, because from beginning to end, they were made under Rank Film Productions’ deal. The deals before that a producer would have with Rank Distribution by and large, would have been a distribution agreement. The stuff that came through me had a production and distribution agreement, referred to usually the shorthand the P & D agreement. And I would go from somebody who presented me with an idea, a book, a script. And, which - they were at various stages. In some cases they came complete with - with a complete package, ready to, you know. But I would be buying into and supporting and agreeing, yes, they wouldn’t go ahead unless I had agreed the director, the stars, the key people all had to be agreed in the production part of the P & D agreement. I had my own production accountant watching things, I had my own business affairs manager dealing with the contracts. What they did - supervising the contracts, they didn’t deal with - they didn’t prepare the individual artists’ contracts. The producer did that through the lawyers but I - it was - they were responsible for the legal agreement between Rank Film Productions and the production company, because all the films were put through a production company of one sort or another, usually one-off companies. So, I would be taking it right from sort of - initially I was getting films which had already gone, been through a development stage. Latterly, when the whole thing was shut down, I was actually at the stage of - I was dveloping stuff as well. So we were taking it right, right from the very beginning again, but it - but all - never to directly make, always to be made via an external independent producer. So Michael Klinger - Michael Klinger was in that category.

AS So he could have - could have been a partner?

TW Oh, he could have done, yes.

AS Yes, would he have been, would he not have been, well, I’ll rephrase it, did he not approach you perhaps because the budgets he was talking about were bigger than the ones you would have supported at that point, do you think?

TW Well, we wouldn’t have fully financed, but at that point - but the annual budget was 4 million pounds so, you know, if I’d put half in of that it would have been one million quid which would have been very chunky money. I think, probably, because he had that - this relationship with Ed Chilton, he probably thought he would deal with Ed Chilton. I remember, I - I remember having a meeting in Ed Chilton’s office. I also remember Michael Klinger had a restaurant in Clifford Street and I remember going there for lunch one day with Ed Chilton. So it was all very film-business cosy. You know, and Ed Chilton liked that side of it, as did Graham Dowson, that was the problem. So we enjoyed it - so I daresay Klinger was dealing with Ed and I only came into it on the one where I had to sit down and try and do a deal with Michael. [inaudible comment]

AS On Tomorrow Never Comes.

TW Yes.

AS By that time he’d gone largely to Canadian sources.

TW [Laughs]

AS Because the American studies were cooling towards Michael by then. So, are you OK for longer?

TW Yes, I’m OK, yes.

AS Because I - I just got very interested in the sort of subsequent side of events, that is that you’re on record as talking about it - George Pinches being unsupportive about screening the films you’d produced. Was he an example of the kind of old guard of Rank ultra-cautious? Or...

TW Oh no, just a man who carried out vendettas.

AS Oh.

TW [Laughs] Oh, he had, oh, he had personal vendettas against various film makers at times. I think he probably resented the fact that he was not involved in the production side. But he was in a very, very powerful position as Rank’s booking director. You know, that was the days of the duopoly, you know, if you didn’t go here with George, or the other side, then you were in - you wouldn’t get the release. As I said, he blocked people, he was famous for his antagonisms. The...

AS So, based on personal animosity rather than business?

TW Oh, no, no, they weren’t business decisions. Good heavens, no, no, they weren’t business decisions. He was, he was an astute, quite clever, but a lonely man, and he - I think he didn’t - he didn’t like the idea of another bit of Rank doing well. That was you know, his territory and, as you saw in there, the sadness is that, as a company, they didn’t say to him, ‘Look, you’ve got to give favouritism to this, but, they didn’t say, ‘Come on, son [?], you’ve got to stop blocking it’. He used the argument that under various legal things at the time Rank had to a degree be at arm’s length at what it did. And he was actually quite right about that one. But there’s being arm’s length and being positively obstructive. The - Rank Distributors got a - for The Lady Vanishes, they did a deal for a Royal Charity premiere which had to be at the Odeon, Leicester Square, you’re familiar with - it was of that calibre. And the only way they could get the film in was buy the theatre, he wouldn’t even give them the theatre. They had to buy the run of the film at the theatre; he wouldn’t book it in. Oh, it was unbelievable. He actually, he - it all started he - I think what, if you’ve read this, where it rubbed his nose in it, the first picture which came out under my thing was The 39 Steps. So it went in to the - what was then the Leicester Square theatre, in what was at that time a bad date. Oh yes, he gave it - he gave it the Leicester Square but he amde very careful it was on a day, on a date which was historically bad. Unfortunately for him, the picture worked and that was it. he wasn’t having any - he wasn’t having the picture escape again, was he? So, you know, every other one he worked against it. And, you know, the attitude was, you just saw in there, the others said, ‘Hang on, if Rank won’t book their own pictures, what’s wrong with them?’ Which was the problem in the UK and overseas, again, if you were sitting in a film, ‘Why aren’t they showing their own pictures?’ You know, so he handicapped the whole operation, unfortunately, which was a great shame.

AS I was wondering about the decision for the remakes. The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps.

TW They were brought - they were projects that were brought to me. The - in both cases it secured the copyright in the old films.

AS For video - video sales.

TW Yes, that’s right. Because, bearing in mind when they were made, in the copyright period, by redoing that, it kept Rank’s copyright in the Hitchcock pictures going. The rationale for The 39 Steps was that it is a thunderingly good story. And it was the first one that had actually gone back to the Buchan book. The - Hitchcock’s had strayed away from things. The Kenneth More one was a carbon copy of the Hitchcock’s, they hadn’t got time to do anything else. That went into production in eight weeks using the original script virtually. The - this one was a completely new script. The Lady Vanishes was, again, it was a good story, the Hitchcock film was a good story, and the package was good. You know, Hammer, experienced producers, George Axelrod, you know, high quality scriptwriter from Hollywood, American stars. It’s actually a highly entertaining picture, as it happens. But that was - there was - as a financier you are utterly dependent on what walks through the front door at that stage, because we, you know, we owned the rights. We owned the rights. So there was, I think there was probably a nominal fee in the budget for them.

AS So I think in those articles, perhaps the other one, you say that Rank should have invested more in production, got more international pictures. And they seemed to be doing this, as you’ve already touched on this, they announced at Cannes a major...

TW Yes, yes...

AS And then, in June...

TW Oh, yes, yes. This was Russell Evans, this was Russell Evans. Never have a company secretary run a company. You know, by that time, John Davis had gone, Graham Dowson had gone and they’d got rid of Graham Dowson and Russell Evans was booted up into the Chief Executive’s job. Charming man, but, you know, the last sort of person that you ever want to run a public company. The irony of the whole thing was that, the, at the time, the reason we announced it was because we’d actually got a whole series of pictures in development. Some very, some very good stuff. One of them was about an aero - fighter plane, I’ve forgotten the title of it now. Which actually, was about two years later, was - Clint Eastwood did it - not that script, but exactly the same story.

AS Wonderful. Firefox?

TW Firefox, I think - wasn’t Firefox the one ...? Whatever, I can’t remember. Anyway, the person who was going to make it and was developing the script, wanted - the option was about to run out and we said, ‘Shall we do it?’ and we had a meeting with Russell Evans and he approved £150,000 to extend the option, keep it going. Then, flip!, within weeks the whole - the rug was pulled. So, that’s just Rank, that’s just Rank [laughs]. Yeah, I know, we’re in it, because what had come out was that, you know, at the time the - there were only six pictures that had come out at the time this decision was made. One had worked very well, which was The 39 Steps, the others to a far less degree. But they were all - all of them could be sold around the world and were sold around the world. They were all, if you like, international quality, because of the calibre of the people working on them and it was a case of, you know, you either plunged on in, or you didn’t. And, as I say, the decision was made to plunge on in and then it was pulled back.

AS So Ed Chilton doesn’t leave the company till 1981, but he is not involved in those kind of decisions?

TW Erm, I think...

AS And Russell Evans overruled him, or...?

TW Yes, because I think, Ed was fired, wasn’t he? Yeah. So it was probably a reaction, or as much it was probably part of the same process: ‘We don’t like what’s happening. Ed - fire Ed Chilton, close down production,’ and so on and so forth.

AS And I think you mentioned earlier there was another...

TW Yes, it was a few years after that, that’s right, there was - this was in Fred Turner’s time. Maurice Young retired - died - he retired, I think, and Fred Turner, who had in fact been the Deputy Managing Director of RFD was also, I think, he had an accountancy background. He was a solid, very decent sort of chap. Fred Turner was able to point out to the Board that he was having an increasing job selling the library if he didn’t have new pictures. So, again, at that time, you think video was getting even stronger. So, yes, they then...

AS Sorry, this would have been mid-eighties?

TW I suspect it was mid-eighties, I suppose. I’m doing that from memory.

AS So in a way to, I’ve got two questions really to round it off. One was when does your involvement with Rank cease? Does it cease at this point in the early eighties?

TW Yes, I think the - the decision I think was taken somewhere in 1980, June 1980, I think that’s right. But I pointed out to them that they couldn’t just stop the thing, that we had to wind it down. You know, we’d got all these agreements with film makers which had to be terminated or put in to turnaround and I’d also - I’d pointed out to them they had a massive - by that time they had realised the library had a value and which - and they were not looking after their asset and I was able to convince them that they needed to do that, so as part of, I had an extended closing down process in which I dealt with the various projects which were in development so that they were neatly handed over. I established something called the Rank Film Archive, which was set up to catalogue and preserve the master material of Rank’s entire feature film library. And which didn’t - they hadn’t got - they had not got such a thing, they had got no policy. Just to show you how bad it was, if you think of one of the historically important pictures in this country, the Laurence Olivier Hamlet and Henry V, if somebody ordered a new print they went to the master negative, the camera negative, which, you probably know, is usually it’s absolutely verboten, but they were doing it. And the - all the stuff was being stored in Denham in unheated, untemperature-controlled sheds. It was an absolute scandal. But then that was the attitude towards film. Film had a two year life, then you just left it. So I was successful in establishing a Rank Film Archive, depositing the Eastmancolour pictures in Berkhamsted in the National Film Archive. And had started a process whereby all the nitrate stock which hadn’t been preserved was being preserved. So that took a time, Then I left in 1981, when that was all sort of underway. My one regret is I - they were going to - I’d almost persuaded them to build a proper film vault at Pinewood for two million quid which - but it never happened. They should have done when they were - because the value of the library was massive and that would have preserved it. But we carried on with it, it was designed, it was designed and costed, oh yes, but, you know, the time when it should have been built, that’s when I left.

AS And you left to take up independent production?

TW Yes, that’s what everybody does. You know, has a bash at independent production. Which didn’t work out, you know, you get a long way but at that particular time - the - can’t remember what I said there - the - of the three megas in Britain, which was Rank, ABC and Lew Grade, ATV, you know, Rank had gone, so I couldn’t go to Rank, could I, they hadn’t any money. ABC had given up, Bryan Forbes had tried it and gone, Lew...

AS That had become Spikings and Deeley, hadn’t it?

TW Yes, that’s right. Yes, that’s right. They were a different thing.

AS They were kind of American - went for American pictures.

TW They wanted American pictures, that’s right. Er ... and there was Lew Grade. Yeah, I had a deal with Lew Grade which got - got a bit like Klinger. We’d got to the point of the start, we got the script, we got the space booked at Pinewood, we’d got the star standing by to come over to Britain and it collapsed. That’s what happens with films. So, yes, I had a deal with the Mirisch company, but that didn’t get off the ... you know, they knocked some stuff out. I’d got various things going, I’d got some stuff with Freddie Raphael, all sorts of things. But to get to that point where a film actually goes into production is very difficult. You know, the number of films which are developed versus the number that get into production is massive, I don’t know what the proportion is, one in a thousand or something, a very small number. Then I got back into exhibition. Then I joined Rank again, but the Odeon bit, You know, I had a second period with cinemas.

AS So, my final question really, is to ask for your judgement. Should, could, should Rank have done more for the British film industry during this period, by which I mean the 1970s and early 1980s? Do you think they ...?

TW Yes, they should have done. Of course they should. Rank was the - Rank was the only company, I think, in a position to have done it. It had historical roots, it had -it was vertically integrated, in the sense that it still had all the bits. You know, it had the cinemas, it had the laboratories, it had the studios, screen advertising and the cinemas. Yes, it could have done. It could have been - what Rank, at that time, the concept that we had was that Rank would act, if you like, as the umbrella for independent producers, providing finance, so the producers could concentrate on the quality of the picture rather than the quality of the money. Also, at that time. it had sufficient capital to gamble in film. Bear in mind every film is a gamble. But everything at that time was effectively underwritten by the Xerox money. Given the fact that film is - film is a risk anyway, Rank had the resources to take that risk without anybody getting hurt. And, yes, I think they - if they’d have stuck with it, then, yes, it would have, you never know, I think they’d have got their money back, I think they’d have got their money back. You know, most pictures over a period of time do get their money back - even if it doesn’t appear to the producer that they do - they get money usually. It keeps flowing in, bearing in mind that, until a picture has recouped, a 100% of the income is going to the financiers, in Rank’s case, to Rank, given the fact that it was distributing its own pictures even if they were via subdistributors. All the money flowing in came into Rank, so that, you know, until they’d taken off the interest charge and the, you know, the notional interest charge by that time, because usually the investment was written - always written off very fast, that’s how you do it. You had to write the investment off, you didn’t amortize the film over forty years, you would amortize the income - the investment very, very fast. So that, yes, in terms of your cash, by and large, it’s sunk. In terms of the sheets which were produced to say what was happening on the film, the interest charge keeps racking up. So it’s a bone of contention, as you know.

AS Tony Klinger was very loud on that, well, I think Michael was in his correspondence as well.