It was in early 2009 that Arthur Wooster, former second unit director on a host of James Bond movies, revealed to his son that in 1953, while in his 20s, he had shot footage of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. Not only that, the veteran filmmaker went on, but the 17-minute newsreel was in 3D, in colour and had never been screened in public.
Fifty-six years – that’s how long Arthur Wooster and Bob Angell’s footage lay untouched in an increasingly rusting canister deep within the BFI archives in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Truth is, the by-then 80-year-old former documentary maker had mostly forgotten about this historic piece of film that captured the Royal Family like never before.
Initially commissioned by Pathé News to lens the great day in the then-revolutionary 3D format, their footage was then cruelly mothballed. With royal fatigue setting in soon after the live TV coverage and too few cinemas being equipped with the cutting-edge tech needed to screen 3D films, Pathé decided to pull the plug. As a result, this unique footage would remain unseen for over half a century.
When Wooster and Angell’s film was eventually screened on Channel 4 in 2009, the channel’s commissioning editor, David Glover, described it as “a window on the past”.
“The film is amazing,” he enthused. “It is decades ahead of their time. It is the nearest thing to time travel that I will ever experience. It is one of the film finds of the century.”
Three-dimensional photography was, in the first half of the 1950s, a cinematic fad that had been excitedly taken up by Hollywood, eager to offer jaded cinema-goers something fresh, as television exploded in popularity. Across the pond, Angell was busy setting up Film Partnership, the first company in the UK specialising in 3D film production. So when Pathé, Britain’s leading newsreel company, decided to record the Queen’s coronation in 3D, there was only one place to go.
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So, packing their twin £600 Newman Sinclair cameras into the back of their Humber, Angell, then 31, and his 24-year-old cameraman, Wooster, set about filming the 27-year-old monarch, positioning their cameras outside Buckingham Palace to record Elizabeth's journey to Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953.
The pair achieved the 3D effect by shooting on two different cameras with the two reels of film later being merged together.
As well as being gifted access to the procession, Angell and Wooster were also permitted to follow the newly-crowned Queen over the next three weeks, as she visited the Derby and London's Guildhall.
With filming complete, the pair pruned their footage down to 17 minutes. It was only then that they discovered that Pathé had lost interest. Disappointed, Angel and Wooster brushed themselves down and moved onto other projects.
Fast-forward 56 years and Wooster found himself reflecting on his career with his son, David. “He asked if I'd ever shot anything in 3D,” Arthur recalled to The Daily Mail. “I said I had, and that's when I remembered the film about the Queen. I had no idea what had happened to it, or where to start looking for it.”
The footage was eventually tracked down to the vaults of the BFI inside a tin marked “Royal Review 1953”. Soon, David Wooster arranged a screening — with Angell in attendance — for his father’s 80th birthday in May 2009.
“We were overcome,” Angell told the Mail about clocking eyes on their film after 56 years. “It brought a lump to our throats. Suddenly, it was like reaching back through all those years. I could remember being a young man, standing there filming her. It was an incredibly moving moment.”
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David Wooster then got in touch with Channel Four who arranged to screen the newsreel as part of a themed week of 3D programming in November 2009, alongside reflections from the now-octogenarian filmmakers.
Twenty-seven million viewers across Britain watched the Queen’s coronation on television in 1953, with the number of licence fee holders doubling from one and a half to three million. But however impressive the BBC’s coverage of that momentous ceremony was, the British public were, in the summer of ‘53, denied something far more innovative and far more immersive.
“It was an extraordinary day,” Angell told The British Society Of Cinematographers. “There was a wonderful atmosphere. It never occurred to us, as we operated the only equipment of its kind in the world, that we would become part of history.”
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