(Biography in progress.)
British feature film production company.
In 1902, Will (William George) Barker bought the Lodge in Ealing Green, London. Barker had been making films on a hand-cranked Lumiere camera since 1901, but didn't bring the Ealing property into use until 1909, when he wanted a space in which to film on set stages, to counteract any inclement weather. Both the Lodge and an adjacent property (called the West Lodge, and purchased in 1904) were fitted with stages and tall windows, to provide as much light as possible. According to A History of the County of Middlesex, the studios were 'said to be the largest in England'.
Ealing Studios moved through various owners between their beginning and the 1930s. They were acquired from Barker's Barker Motion Picture Photography Ltd by General Film Renters in 1920, and leased to various production companies. In 1929, Union Studios purchased them, but promptly failed. (see A History of the County of Middlesex.) In the same year, they were purchased by Associated Talking Pictures, which built a sound-stage in 1931.
In 1938, Michael Balcon became head of production at what was now called Ealing Studios, beginning the studio's most successful period: Ealing comedies began in the 1930s, but the best known (including Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Ladykillers) were produced in the post-war period, and before the studios were sold to the BBC in 1955. Among the films produced during this peak period were Saraband for Dead Lovers, based on the novel of the same name by Helen Simpson and Australian epic The Overlanders.
Between 1946 and 1950, Ealing Studios filmed three films in Australia, all three from original screenplays. (Ealing Studios also adapted the work of Australian writers, including a 1957 adaptation of The Shiralee.) The first of these, The Overlanders, was an adventure story set in the very recently ended war: at the beginning of World War II, Australian cattlemen, fearing a Japanese invasion but resisting the urge destroy their cattle, undertake an epic cattle drive halfway across the continent.
Harry Watt, the English film director responsible for The Overlanders (and later Ealing productions Eureka Stockade and The Siege of Pinchgut), began negotiations with Commonwealth officials on the film deal in January 1945 ('Mr Harry Watt'). By mid-January, he had announced his male star, Chips Rafferty (fresh off significant roles in Charles Chauvel films Forty Thousand Horsemen and The Rats of Tobruk, but otherwise early in his career), and planned early shoots in Kempsey (standing in for Wyndham) in March 1945 ('"Chips" Rafferty as Boss Drover'). Technicians were sent out from England to 'remedy what is customarily the weakest spot in Australian production' ('News about Movies'): they included producer Jack Rix, cameraman Osmond Borrodaile, and editor E.M. Inman-Hunter, who supplemented an otherwise Australian crew ('Great Cattle Trek Filmed').
Newspapers settled down for a regular stream of news about the production. In mid-March, the news was that valuable horses were being nursemaided from Sydney to Alice Springs for a role in the production ('Valuable Sydney Horses'). The horses were later the subject of some controversy when, on the return journey, they were said to have dropped cattle ticks in Orange, in contravention of the Tick Act: production manager Archie Spears was fined £10 for transporting infected stock ('Cattle Ticks').
In late March, the primary female role was cast: twenty-year-old Daphne Campbell, lately a lance-corporal in the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) and, according to the papers, ambitious to become a professional pilot ('AAMWS in Film Role'). Campbell never made another film: she met her future husband (himself a pilot) during filming, and had her first child just before the film premiered.
Newspapers also pointed out the casting of Aboriginal actors Clyde Combo and Henry Murdoch ('Great Cattle Trek Filmed'): both went on to uncredited roles in Kangaroo and Clyde Combo to a role in Bush Christmas, while Henry Murdoch also appeared in Bitter Springs, The Phantom Stockman, The Shiralee, Dust in the Sun, and a four-episode run on Whiplash. Both Combo and Murdoch had come from Palm Island ('Cast for "Overlanders"').
By June 1945, plans were in place for filming cattle across 2000 miles (3200 kilometres) of stock route, from Wyndham, Western Australia, to the Barkly Tablelands in Queensland, to get footage of cattle in all stretches of the country. Film crews followed the cattle in trucks, while specially equipped RAAF planes took overhead footage ('Filming Great Cattle Trek'). Attached to the unit was Dora Birtles: having done most of the original research for the film, she was also tasked with writing up an account of the trek for publicity purposes ('Around the Town'). Birtles spent five months on location with the crew and later wrote the novelisation of the film.
The film presented a number of logistical challenges, including simulating a plane landing near the cattle, which required a skilled RAAF pilot to mimic landing by skimming six inches above the ground ('Unusual Sequence'), and a spectacular crossing of the Roper River, filmed in one take, with 600 head of cattle that had not been handled since their branding ('Crossing the Roper'). The crossing was managed with the assistance of Harold Giles, manager of Elsey Station (made famous by Mrs Aeneas Gunn in We of the Never-Never, and his Aboriginal drovers, with camera crew camouflaged to avoid spooking the cattle. Watt also later said that the film suffered 'from production under wartime conditions', and regretted that it could not have been filmed in colour: 'The vivid colours of the Macdonnel Ranges [sic], with their blood red rock, bright yellow grasses, white trunks of trees, excelled anything he had seen in America' ('Australian Actors').
Harry Watt, who had been in Australia since 1944, departed for England in December 1945, after the rough cut of the film had been flown to the London studios under the stewardship of the chief sound engineer, Eric Williams ('Australian Film'). Already the film, which would not be released until the following year, was being heralded as 'a new era of successful film production in Australia', and J. Arthur Rank of Ealing's parent company, the Rank Organisation, was discussing making Australian films: the Rank Organisation went on to make A Town Like Alice and Robbery Under Arms in the mid-1950s ('"Overlanders" Heralds New Era in Australian Films').
The final shots of the film were taken in Leeton in January 1946: Australian cameraman Axel Poignant, who had worked as assistant to Osmond Borrodaile, was sent to take photographs of galahs in flight ('Last Shot of "The Overlanders"'). In total, the film was said to have cost £100,000 and took two years to produce ('The Overlanders', April 1946). The 1946 Federal budget showed that the Commonwealth's contribution, which came from the Department of Commerce, was £4369 ('The Overlanders', Nov. 1946).
The film, originally slated for an April 1946 release, premiered at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney on 27 September 1946, in the absence of both Chips Rafferty (in London under contract to Ealing Studios) and Daphne Campbell (who had become engaged during the film shoot, and had a newborn daughter at the time of the premiere) ('Stars of "The Overlanders"'). The premiere – outside which a crowd estimated at 5000 waited for guests to arrive – was filmed by newsreel cameramen and broadcast on the ABC shortwave program ('Gay Scenes'). Ealing Studios released a colour booklet to accompany the film's release, including portraits of the stars and shots of the locations ('Booklet').
At least 350,000 people attended screenings of The Overlanders between its premiere and mid-February 1947: newspapers in Perth reported that three-year-old David Williamson, the 350,000th attendee, received a 5lb. box of chocolates as a prize ('Outlaw'). The figure was an all-time attendance record, and probably due in part to the regular stream of news articles and illustrated supplements that had come out of Australian newspapers and magazines since the announcement of the film. Already, plans were in place for the next Ealing production in Australia.
Before The Overlanders premiered, Chips Rafferty was already under exclusive contract to Ealing Studios: he had already made The Loves of Joanna Godden opposite fellow ex-pat John McCallum and soon-to-be Australian stage stalwart Googie Withers when newspapers began confidently predicting not only that he would be the star of the next Ealing production in Australia, but also that he would be playing Peter Lalor in a dramatisation of the Eureka Stockade ('Britain Beats U.S. on Films').
The film's topic was confirmed by Harry Watt when he arrived back in Australia on 1 November 1946 ('Harry Watt'). The choice of topic was not without controversy: within days of the announcement, Leslie Haylen MP declared his intention of also making a film on the subject: 'Mr. Haylen claims that he wrote a play three years ago and that it was offered to Messrs. Rank and Watt, who are to produce the new film' ('Rivals'). Haylen's play was published in 1948 with the title Blood on the Wattle : A Play of the Eureka Stockade, but no film of it was ever made, and Haylen's initial statement was the last word on the subject.
The success of The Overlanders may have created an undue sense of expectation about the coming production, because Watt sounded a note of caution in the newspapers:
Speaking from Sydney last night Mr. Watt said: "The aim of studios here should, be to produce a few high class pictures, and it is foolish to assume that every film made in Australia will be a financial success.' Mr. Watt said that Ealing's policy would be to make a picture here next year based on the Eureka Stockade. If that were successful another film would be made in 1948. ('Not Every Aust. Film a Success').
Watt was planning to be in Australia for three months to set up necessary local requirements for filming, before returning to England to assemble a crew (ibid).
By late November, when Watt had been back in Australia for less than three weeks, a problem arose, when the Actors' Equity Council placed a black ban on film contracts issues by Ealing Studios (and by Columbia Pictures and Charles Chauvel) ('Actors' Equity'). Actors' Equity maintained that they were seeking a fair increase in actors' wages, but Watt's immediate response was to threaten to cancel the production of Eureka Stockade, a position which was supported by Ealing's Australian agent S.Y. Gresham and echoed by Columbia Pictures.
The discussion became heated enough that Michael Balcon, head of Ealing Studios, felt he had to weigh in from London: gently but publicly chastising Gresham ('Mr. Gresham must have been misquoted because he had no authority to say, as reported, that Ealing would drop plans for producing in Australia'), he nevertheless made it clear that Ealing would not be held hostage:
Mr. Balcon said that Ealing would not be concerned in any strike in Australia because it was not operating there at present. "The Overlanders" film had been completed for 12 months. Mr. Harry Watt at present was in Australia considering the possibility of another production. ('Pay for Film Actors').
Although newspapers lost interest in the 'black ban' by December 1946, issues of fair payment continued to swirl around the production: for example, a particularly bitter article in Smith's Weekly questioned the use of army troops as extras and labourers on the Eureka Stockade ('Australia Will Be There!'). (An even more problematic issue would arise with the production of Bitter Springs, outlined below.)
Meanwhile, Rex Rienits was undertaking serious research, much as Dora Birketts had done for The Overlanders, including visiting Ballarat 'to obtain human interest stories, examine relics in Ballarat Historical Society's museum and look for a possible location for the making of the film' ('Location'). Watt, with supreme indifference for the ongoing dispute with Actors' Equity, also announced his intention to hire an American film-maker, because Rienits' 'work was far too long to be used as a film script':
'I find Australian writers too slow, and far too discursive,' he said. 'The accent is on dialogue probably because they have concentrated too much on radio script writing.' ('Film Director')
(In the end, the film was credited to British script-writer Walter Greenwood and Ralph Smart, the British-born and British-trained son of Australian parents.)
The flurry of excitement when Chips Rafferty returned to Australia in December 1946 was followed by an active debate about where the film would be made: Ballarat was reportedly 'shocked and indignant' that it wouldn't be filmed there, although newspapers noted that the 'Whole of the area concerned in the story—Soldier's Hill, Camp Hill, Eureka Hill—is thickly housed', while the area of the stockade itself was marked 'with a fine bluestone monument, guarded by absurd cannon' ('No Slight to Ballarat').
By April 1947, plans were set for filming outside Sydney, and both the assistant director (Leslie Norman) and script-writer (Walter Greenwood) had been announced. Significant roles remained uncast, including that of Peter Lalor's fiancee, which, it was hoped, would go to an Australian actor. Daphne Campbell, star of The Overlanders, was even mentioned in connection with the part, but she was disinclined for further film work ('Actress Says Goodbye to Films'). Sydney-based designer Dahl Collins, who had worked on The Overlanders, was hired to make the film's costumes, the months ticked down to the beginning of production in August, and a female lead had still not been cast.
It wasn't until late July that English actor Jane Barrett was announced in the lead role. Harry Watt reported that she had been selected from a shortlist of twelve British and Australian actors, but the dispute with Actors' Equity may have rankled:
'Now that we have started production in Australia we must continue to make films which will be acceptable to world audiences,' he said. 'We must get the best actors and actresses so that our films will be good enough to compete with productions in other countries.' ('English Star').
The news was not greeted with complete enthusiasm by Australian newspapers: The Sun, for example, emphasised that Barrett had only one West End play to her credit ('which flopped'), described her as 'at present ... making a cheap "quickie" ... at a small studio in England with an unknown cast', and finally pondered:
It is possible she may be an outstanding success in the role, but, if a girl inexperienced in films was to be chosen, surely an experienced radio or repertory artist in Australia could have been found to fill the role in this historical Australian film. ('Heartburning')
Nevertheless, the newspapers continued to report on the production, even amid the news in August that Great Britain was imposing a 300% increase in taxes against imported films, generating concern for the Australian-made production. In mid-August, the producers were seeking to cast twelve Chinese characters ('Chinese Needed'); two weeks later, they were seeking enough 1850s muskets and carbine rifles to arm 400 actors for the climactic scenes ('Want to Have a Shot At This?). In keeping with this push for authenticity, a bullock driver from Maitland was cast as a bullock driver ('Maitland Resident') and a sixty-year-old gold prospector was hired to teach plausible gold-panning techniques ('Bearded Miner'). Nearly 1500 people were working on the production, including a number of army recruits, and the cost of the equipment imported from England was said to be £20,000 ('1500 to Work').
By February 1948, the film was an estimated eight weeks behind schedule, due to inclement weather conditions ('Local Plans'), and although early rushes were complete by March, it was not until mid-July 1948 that filming finished on the set at Singleton ('"Eureka Stockade" Finished To-Day'). After nearly two years, Harry Watt left Australia in mid-August 1948 ('"Eureka Stockade" Ready by Christmas'), promising that Ealing would make more Australian films.
Eureka Stockade premiered in London's West End on 26 January 1949, and was a qualified success: the scale of such set pieces as the final pitched battle and the burning of the pub by a mob were praised, but Chips Rafferty's performance (and his beard) was not ('Praise and Criticism'). In all, the film was deemed less 'superb' than The Overlanders, with the Evening News critic averring that 'The way of the pioneer is hard. Only when the explorer becomes the settler does he learn how hard' ('Praise and Criticism').
Nevertheless, Ealing was sufficiently satisfied to announce the making of their next Australian film, Bitter Springs, before Eureka Stockade had even aired in Australia.
After a short flurry of speculation that Ealing would be making a modern comedy, Bitter Springs was announced in February 1949 ('New Australian Film'). As early as May 1949, Ealing had sent out what papers called 'an SOS' for Clyde Combo, the Aboriginal actor who had appeared in The Overlanders, saying that a part was available for him in the new film ('Film Company'). (Newspapers would later print portraits of Clyde Combo with co-star Tommy Trinder ['English Comedian'] and entertaining children on set with card tricks ['film Unit Brings Excitement'].) By June, Henry Murdock, another Aboriginal actor from The Overlanders, had also been cast in the film ('Native Actor').
In April 1950, two months before the film's release, newspapers would report that Ealing Studios had been unable to pay Henry Murdock his full wage: wanting to pay him the same rate as the white actors, they had been told by the Australian Department of Native Affairs that he could only be paid £6: 'the situation', said the newspaper, 'is interesting film people in Britain' ('Aborigine Actor's Bad Deal').
'1500 to Work in "Eureka Stockade",' Singleton Argus, 3 November 1947, p.2.
'AAMWS in Film Role', Sydney Morning Herald, 22 March 1945, p.5.
'Aborigine Actor's Bad Deal', Argus, 15 April 1950, p.6.
'Actors' Equity Seeks Higher Rates', Argus, 18 November 1946, p.24.
'Actress Says Goodbye to Films', Advertiser, 17 April 1947, p.1.
'Around the Town', Sun, 24 June 1945, p.12.
'Australian Actors "Poor", Says Director', Newcastle Morning Herald, 22 December 1945, p.4.
'Australian Film Nears Completion', News, 3 December 1945, p.5.
'Australia Will Be There', Smith's Weekly, 6 December 1947, p.1.
'Bearded Miner to Teach Actors to Pan Gold', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, 17 September 1947, p.2.
'Britain Beats U.S. on Films but Loses on Salesmanship', Sun, 27 October 1946, p.19.
'Booklet Describes Story of Big Australian Film', Australian Women's Weekly, 28 September 1946, p.32.
'Cast for "Overlanders" Passes through B.Hill', Barrier Miner, 11 April 1945, p.1.
'Cattle Ticks at Orange', Forbes Advocate, 27 November 1945, p.2.
'Chinese Needed for Eureka Stockade Film', Advocate, 19 August 1947, p.3.
'"Chips" Rafferty as Boss Drover'. Sun, 13 January 1945, p.3.
'Crossing the Roper', West Australian, 31 August 1945, p.5.
'Ealing and Brentford: Economic History', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7. London: Victoria County History, 1982. (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol7/pp131-144) (Sighted: 14/06/2017)
'English Comedian', News, 7 June 1949, p.1.
'English Star to Lead in Eureka Stockade', Daily News, 26 July 1947, p.11.
'"Eureka Stockade" Finished To-day', Singleton Argus, 12 July 1948, p.2.
'"Eureka Stockade" Ready by Xmas', Singleton Argus, 13 August 1948, p.4.
'Film Company Search for Aboriginal Actor', Advertiser, 11 May 1949, p.1.
'Film Director to Use U.S. Script Writer', Sydney Morning Herald 25 November 1946, p.3.
'Filming Great Cattle Trek for "The Overlanders"'. Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1945, p.5.
'Film Unit Brings Excitement, Extra Trade to S.A. Town', Australian Women's Weekly, 23 July 1949, p.24.
'Gay Scenes at Premiere of Aust. Film', News, 28 September 1946, p.6.
'Great Cattle Trek Filmed', Newcastle Sun, 10 April 1945, p.4.
'Harry Watt Plans Eureka Film', Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 1946, p.3.
'Heartburning Over "Eureka" Selection', The Sun, 31 July 1947, p.16.
'Last Shot of "The Overlanders"', Murrumbidgee Irrigator, 22 January 1946, p.4.
'Local Plans for Eureka Stockade Extend Another Seven Weeks', Singleton Argus, 18 February 1948, p.2.
'Location Sought For Eureka Film', Age, 13 December 1946, p.3.
'Maitland Resident Gets Film Role', Singleton Argus, 20 August 1947, p.1.
'Mr Harry Watt to Address Film Centre', Canberra Times, 9 January 1945, p.2.
'Native Actor Plays Football at Quorn', Quorn Mercury, 23 June 1949, p.1.
'New Australian Film of Sheep Pioneers', Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 1949, p.4.
'News about Movies', Mail, 27 January 1945, p.8.
'No Slight to Ballarat', Smith's Weekly, 11 January 1947, p.26.
'Not Every Aust. Film a Success', Courier-Mail, 6 November 1946, p.2.
'"Outlaw" Gets Past Censor', Daily News, 15 February 1947, p.14.
'The Overlanders', Lithgow Mercury, 26 April 1946, p.6.
'The Overlanders', Morning Bulletin, 15 November 1946, p.1.
'"Overlanders" Heralds New Era in Australian Film', Mercury, 29 September 1945, p.9.
'Pay for Film Actors', Warwick Daily News, 20 November 1946, p.3.
'Praise and Criticism for "Eureka Stockade"', West Australian, 28 January 1949, p.6.
'Rivals May Film "Stockade"', Sun, 6 November 1946, p.5.
'Stars of "The Overlanders" Had to Miss the Premiere', Sydney Morning Herald, 28 September 1946, p.1.
'Stockade Film Costumes Due This Week', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, 13 October 1947, p.2.
'Unusual Sequence by Plane in Filming of "The Overlanders"', Army News, 14 August 1945, p.4.
'Want to Have a Shot at This?', Northern Times, 5 September 1947, p.1.