The Yangtse Incident

Discussion in 'Films, Music, TV & All Things Artsy' started by SJRM_RN, Aug 5, 2011.

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  1. On Channel 4 at 1305

    enjoy! :D
  2. sgtpepperband

    sgtpepperband War Hero Moderator Book Reviewer

    Is that the one about a bomb on a bus, and if it's speed drops below 50mph, the bomb will explode?

    Oh, hang on - that was "The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down".

    Sorry... :oops:
  3. Good movie ..... the British matelot defies the Communist horde, with the Orficers with stiff upper lips :thumbright:

    Incidentally, my old man (bless his cotton sox, passed away 2008 and was an ex-crusher) I believe was at the GSpot at the time, or close to, and said that they used staff and trainees from there ... don't know how true, but I did hear the same when in the mob myself, so might be some substance to the dit ?

  4. LSA Dirty remembers seeing her return from the Fez, following the incident. Remember seeing her being broken up on the river Plym.
    Sad end for a noble ship.
  5. True: they sent all us kids from St Mary and Joseph's school on to the pier at Mutton Cove to cheer and wave as she passed by. An iconic photo of us went around the world, but never managed to keep a copy of it. Leslie Frank, the PO who accompanied the Skipper to the conferences lived up the road from us in Ker Street. I think it was Willoughbys who broke her up. If ever a ship was worthy of being preserved, it was AMETHYST, but it was too early for the idea of preservation to occur to anyone.
  6. And it might be worth mentioning Simon the Cat and his Dickins medal, I believe that they are planning to give another to the doggie that was wounded in Afghan recently.
  7. Cracking film , sat and watched it yesterday with a few tinnies .
  8. From the Naval Review, Vol. XLV No. I, January 1957, page 56:

    Technical Adviser to a Film Company


    By the end of April 1956, the Board of Admiralty had given their approval to the making of a film concerning H.M.S. Amethyst in the Yangtse in 1949. The producer was Herbert Wilcox, C.B.E., and the company Everest Pictures Limited. Naval facilities were granted; I was appointed as technical adviser to the company by the Admiralty. This article describes the planning involved, the shooting of the film on location and in the studio and gives some idea of the organisation in the film industry.

    The Script

    For some weeks I worked with the script-writer in London, Mr. Eric Ambler, the author, who wrote the script for 'The Cruel Sea'. This was based on official Admiralty records made available, much 'recapping' by myself and, in part, on a book written in 1950. Perhaps I should mention that, before the script, a 'treatment' is put out in order to sell the idea. The 'treatment' in this case, however, bore little or no resemblance to any known facts. The script, as finalised, added up to 455 scenes or shots; this was later reduced as the film was running over length and some two dozen amendment sheets were necessary.


    As soon as the script is finalised it is broken down by the First Assistant Director into (a) what must be shot on location, (b) what can be shot in a studio, and (c) what is available from stock items. A cross-plot is also worked out from which can be judged the number of days that certain scenes will take (e.g. Bridge, 4 1/2 days) and, following this, the number of days an artist will be needed. Further still, the dress or wardrobe requirements are planned and the 'props' needed for each scene enumerated. The Art Director, too, can now plan ahead and produce his drawings of all sets that must be made and purchase or hire the necessary outside equipment.


    Whilst all the above was going on I and others were much concerned in finding a suitable location to shoot the film. Early in May, arising from a lunch in town with the producer and F.O.C.R.F. the idea was born of using the actual frigate Amethyst for shooting part of the film. The ship was in Extended Reserve at Plymouth and already the Export Package Company had begun to strip her for the breaker's yard. She was found to be a practicable proposition from the point of view of the Director and the photographers and Admiralty approval was sought for the loan of Amethyst as a 'dead ship'. T h e staff requirements for a location were (a) to be in the United Kingdom and (b) if possible near to Plymouth or other naval base in order to reduce the cost of towage, (c) sufficient depth and width of water to operate at the same time, a frigate, a destroyer and a Sunderland flying boat, (d) fairly low banks and a sparse population.


    Shooting was planned to start about mid-July but, i n the event, did not start until the 20th August. Poole and Falmouth proved impracticable, Londonderry seemed hopeful, but the background was useless. An area some 28 miles down river from Limerick on the Shannon bore a fair resemblance, photographically, to the appropriate part of the Yangtse, was eminently suitable navigationally but needed political clearance for the presence of H.M. ships; this was sought and became a long drawn-out paper battle. Our Ambassador in Dublin was not enamoured of the prospect of a naval film being shot in the Shannon and, with preparations continuing apace to meet Nasser's threats - with time running on and contracts to fulfil, all hope of accommodation from this quarter was rapidly running out. As a result we had to look elsewhere, and speedily. T h e Clyde, photographically and the Severn, navigationally, were found to be useless. Finally, I said we must try the lower reaches of the River Orwell, an idea which I had previously suggested but which had been turned down on the score of distance and the yachting traffic. After a visit by Mr. Wilcox and myself, this became the location.


    By the end of July, Admiralty approval having been given, Amethyst was taken in hand by Messrs. Willoughby's at Millbay Docks, Plymouth, for de-cocooning and reshaping of appearance to resemble her former self. The diesel dynamo, firemain and heads were partially put in working order and one galley, the bridge, wheelhouse and mess decks were prepared for shooting; much damage above the waterline was simulated. A number of stores had to be found, an air compressor to work cable, a £5 whaler for eventual destruction and a host of other items. This was completed by mid-August at a cost of some £3,500.

    Whilst at Plymouth I had to recruit a number of ship watchkeepers, motor-boat's crew, diesel watchkeepers and an electrician. This was done through the Ministry of Labour and was successful except for one alleged Commander (E) who, after some three weeks, was arrested at Harwich and found, amongst other things, to be a complete fraud. A clever impersonator, he got three months; however, it cannot be denied that he had a fair knowledge of marine engineering and was a hard worker who kept the diesel going in spite of many breakdowns.

    Plymouth to Harwich

    As soon as I had arranged for a tug from Hull to tow Amethyst dumb to Harwich, the weather blew a gale for three days. As a result, the film unit were at Harwich with nothing to shoot and the press reception held in H.M.S. Ganges was bereft of the main attraction. Amethyst's first location necessitated simulating the ship at single anchor heading upstream; this had to be achieved by two anchors with seven shackles on each ahead and 60 fathoms of Trinity House mooring chain and a mushroom anchor. The scouring effect with a strong ebb tide made holding difficult. Spring ebbs and gales from each quarter resulted in much additional tug work and delays in shooting. At this stage some idea of the personalities involved and their functions may be useful :-

    The Producer can best be described as the 'C.-in-C.' of the outfit, the financial backer who is responsible for the end product to the Industry and the Distributors.

    The Director is responsible to the producer for the actual shooting of the entire film, for the way the script is interpreted and, generally speaking, for getting the best out of the actors. In this instance he was Mr. Michael Anderson, who successfully directed 'The Dam Busters' and 'Round the World in 80 days'. Perhaps best described as the executive officer.

    The Technical Adviser works mainly with the Producer and Director and is responsible for correctly interpreting the Service meaning, whether dialogue or play. Links with C.N.I. on operational reqhirements and equipment after application has been made by the Company. I s intimately concerned with dress and is constantly called upon by all and sundry for the answer to an infinite variety of questions. I n this case was added the bringing f o r w a r d of a frigate, towage, damage repairs and return to Plymouth, plus a host of administrative detail.

    The First Assistant. T h e 'First Lieutenant'; on the set all the time. Advises the director on day-to-day shooting requirements, ensures that artists are present and made up on time and is the link between the director and all the unions involved. He is never off the set and ensures that all work progresses without delay; a most difficult job which requires considerable tact and patience. He has a number of assistants to help him out. Production Manager. T h e 'First Lieutenant behind the scenes'; is responsible for the budget, costing and hiring of all artists, equipment and labour. On location is responsible for the provision of all accommodation, boats, cars and other domestic requirements. In this case was Mr. John Wilcox, son of the producer.

    The Art Director runs a large department which incorporates the draughtsmen, scenic artists and the construction manager and his team.

    The Others. In addition there is the Associate Producer (hardly definable except as a General Assistant), the Editor, Cameraman, Still Cameraman, Continuity (a female who, not surprisingly, found herself quite out of her depth), Wardrobe, Props, Electricians, Grips (who manhandle camera equipment), Sound, Make-up, Casting Director, Riggers, Carpenters, Plasterers, Special Effects (a menace at all times) and last, but by no means least, Publicity and the Caterers. At a later stage there is the Dubbing Editor, who ties up the sound-track, music and special effects in one. This list is not, of course, complete.

    Filming at Harwich

    Due to the summer season (ambiguous words for 1956) the film unit and actors were dispersed between Felixstowe, Harwich, Dovercourt and Ipswich. Boatwork was not easy and some 40 minutes each way were wasted daily in getting onboard. T h e hiring of an L.C.A. from the Amphibious Warfare ,School at Poole and Amethyst's own motorboat helped to relieve the situation. To my horror I discovered that the film company wished to feed onboard, about 167 daily, including hot meals. This was managed by means of Calor gas cookers and a very creditable menu was always provided; in addition, there were numerous tea-breaks with sandwiches, as stipulated by the unions.

    The wardrobe originally provided struck me as poor but fortunately Messrs. Bernards of Harwich and H.M.S. Ganges came to the rescue. Being outside a radius of 50 miles from London the film company were allowed to take on 'extras' locally and, mercifully, as it happened to be Ganges' leave period, a large number of Chief a n d Petty Officer instructors and other ratings volunteered, in many cases using their own uniform, suitably modified for action scenes. A Master-at-Arms, playing the part of a very 'chokker' three-badge A.B., was perfect: he required no rehearsing; neither did a coxswain at the wheel, who had his eyebrows singed by the 'special effects'. A number of ex-naval cutters were bought and converted into junks; these were all sailed by naval ratings who did an excellent job i n spite of frequent instructions to 'turn round and go the other way' from the assistant directors, whose knowledge of winds and tides was nil.

    Hours on location were long; normally the boat left the quay at 0700 and shooting continued until dark. and sometimes till as late as 2200. For manv of us there were innumerable conferences, especially after the day's work, when 'rushes' were shown in the local cinema at 2215; 'rushes' are films of the previous day's work, which are processed overnight in the laboratories i n London. After some weeks the ship had to shift berth to a second location down river, where she was supposed to be aground. This meant laying head and stern buoys since, being athwart the river, nothing else would hold in that current; these buoys were camouflaged and will not show in the final film.

    Our Sunderland aircraft flew over from Pembroke Dock and put up an excellent performance; among her crew was a signaller who had actually taken part in t h e real 'incident'. H.M.S. Teazer arrived on the 11th September and spent three days simulating H.M.S. Consort under fire. Shell splashes were made by 26-lb. charges, laid by a team from H.M.S. Vernon, under a Canadian lieutenant. They were all fired from a panel inboard, or near the camera when ashore. Timing was important to ensure that Teazer, and later Magpie, passed the area of detonation at slack water, a bare 20 minutes, when the floats would be watching and the charge would give an exaggerated splash suitable for the camera. I found it necessary, therefore, to issue detailed operation orders to ensure safety of shipping and personnel.

    It was during the filming of a scene at 'X' gun mounting that an unfortunate incident occurred. A charge, with its float, was borne in by the flood towards the ship's side and caught under the lip of a carley float i n the water, and when the charge was fired the ships side was penetrated and an oil fuel tank flooded, resulting in a 15 degree list. Filming had to be stopped and counter-flooding was resorted to. Temporary repairs with Service resources were carried out, but were unsuccessful and, after all shooting had been completed, a salvage company at Felixstowe put on a cement box for the return tow to Plymouth (£500). A dummy motorboat was blown up and a whaler destroyed in the water astern. There were no further incidents except for an actor's sprained ankle.

    After about ten days in the studio a reduced film unit had to return to Harwich on the 5th October to film the Magpie sequences which simulated the Amethyst underway. These included the Trinity House vessel Triton, which was rigged by the Art Department to look like a Chinese river steamer; this was shot at dusk to simulate night. Her ship's company had to be dressed as coolies, complete with hats; the sight of this fairly aged company without a smile among them was amusing; the Art Director, a retired Commander, R.N., was similarly attired.

    Triton was set on fire in one scene by the skilful use of magnesium. This was so realistic that the Producer and his team ashore were convinced that the worst had happened and that the ship, which was uninsured, was doomed. T o make matters worse she failed to answer on R/T, the Ganges' operator having succumbed to the general excitement, and her syren sounded continuously, which I thought would add to the realism.

    Magpie had recently returned from the South Atlantic and, after giving leave, was retained for the film; she has now paid off into reserve. She fired 187 rounds of blank ammunition during this period - a first-class training exercise for her young ratings. Herbert Wilcox and his charming wife, Anna Neagle, were onboard during Magpie's main runs in which the special effects team let themselves go to no mean tune. After shooting a few excellent scenes in Magpie's boiler room, a difficult task due to lack of space, the unit returned to Elstree for the final scenes of the film. Already scenes in the D.C.T., engineroom and galley, originally planned to be shot in the studio, had been successfully shot i n Amethyst.


    The main naval scenes were on the Bridge, in the WIT office, C.O.'s cabin, Chart House and an Admiral's Day and Dining cabin. T h e bridge scenes were shot using back projection plates; these are short reels of film of the banks of the river Orwell, taken from various angles, which give the impression that the ship is underway. It requires almost the whole length of the stage and is a tricky operation to line up. T h e W/T room was equipped with material ex H.M.S. Bicester (scrapped) and the Chart House gear, mainly an Echo Sounder, was loaned by U.D.E. at Portland and was made to work by a member of the R.N.S.S. T h e Pelorus and magnetic compass were loaned by the Admiralty Compass Observatory, but much of the other equipment of the Bridge and of the C.O.'s cabin were ex Amethyst.

    A certain amount of work had to be done with a model in a tank and for this I loaned my three-foot model of the ship, from which a nine-foot model was made at Teddington (£400). A nacelle of a Sunderland was purchased (£250) from Wigtown for a shot with a sampan alongside; this also had to be shot in the tank for fear of damaging the real Sunderland in a tideway. Finally, a back projection scene with Chinese women and a baby i n a sampan was made in the studio; an earlier attempt to do this at Harwich had been marred by the baby throwing a fit. A second unit had to return to Harwich to film the communist batteries firing, simulated by Ganges' field guns, since the local Elstree authorities objected to the firing of guns, which were to have come from Whale Island, on the open ground behind the studio.

    It will be apparent that a great deal of assistance was asked for and obtained from the Navy. I n addition to what has already been mentioned, Ganges allowed her 27-year-old pinnace to be suitably overpainted in Chinese characters. Her Captain's P.O. Cook lent his cat to the company; unfortunately, it was run over by a car and subsequently died. Ther e were the naval guns' crews from Excellent, who, except for the odd actor, manned the armament, and who, when they were not being filmed, worked willingly at other chores. C.-in-C. Nore and Vernon together provided the highly efficient explosives operators. And, finally, there was the Chief o f Naval Information and his staff, who provided the link between the Technical Adviser and the many Admiralty departments which so ably complied with the film company's thousand and one requests and requirements.


    Shooting of this film was completed in eleven weeks, including time lost due to damage and shifting berth on location. After this there was much to be done by the 'backroom boys'; for example, 'post-synchronising', which entails respeaking certain portions of the sound track by an actor, and special effects, sound and music. For this, a 'dubbing' editor is appointed to work with the editor, who is responsible for the cutting and piecing together of the final film under the supervision of the Producer and Director. T o make things more authentic I was able to produce my own unclassified signal logs of 1949, also an original Chinese communist document dealing with the negotiations, the original charts and Yangtse Pilot and, last but not least, a photograph of my wife and child for one scene. T h e making of a film, from its conception to its premiere, is a long process and finance is a vital factor; much money can be saved by planning and giving thought in advance to the many complex administrative problems involved; some of these concern the large number of Trade Unions with which the industry has dealings; most of their members appear to be grossly overpaid for the jobs they do, but their work, of course, is often intermittent. There are also legal problems concerning the use of names of living characters and the concurrence of the Admiralty, Foreign Office and Air Ministry in the script. This film was done in black and white, and the cameraman, an ex-N.O., had a specially important task to ensure correct lighting balance in all the scenes. 'Continuity' is also an important job; this means ensuring that the appearance of actors, or ships, remains the same in scenes that may follow one another in the story but whose shooting may be separated by a period of weeks. A film depends for success on good co-operation and team work; the non-arrival of an actor because he has not been told, has no boat, is in the wrong rig or doesn't
    know the script has been altered, can wreck a whole day's work and waste a lot of money.

    This has been a most instructive and interesting assignment for me and the result has, I hope and believe, done credit to the Royal Navy.

    J. S. KERANS
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2011
    • Like Like x 2
  9. Soleil - A fascinating find. Thank you. Poor cat.

    The Naval Review archives are a wonderful source of informative (and often entertaining) contemporary accounts and opinions dating back to the early 1900s. The author had quite a life and career.
    Any chance of merging this thread with HMS Amethyst?
  10. News Reel.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2011
  11. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    Heads Up! Showing on Film4 1315 Friday.

    Now go back up this thread and read Kerans' Naval Review account of the filming which Soleil lifted for us in 2011. Fascinating (and amusing) reading I thought).
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2013
    • Like Like x 1
  12. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    Sorry Sorry Sorry it's 1315 rpt 1315!

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