Francis David Watkin
23 March 1925 - 19 February 2008
David as a camera assistant at British Transport Films, working for his mentor James Ritchie
Born into a famous railway family, his father was solicitor to the Southern Railway and his great, great uncle had built railways in Britain, Ireland, India and Canada, it was hardly surprising that after his war service spent as a quartemaster's clerk, he joined British Railways Southern Region at Waterloo station on 1 January 1948 the first day of the newly nationalised railway. David joined the publicity department's small film unit. Here Tom Heritage the unit's projectionist taught David the art of photography. In the following year the film unit joined the newly created British Transport Films. Here David learned his craft as a cinematographer, inspired by one of BTF's cameramen James Ritchie. James also introduced David to left wing politics. In 1962 David left BTF to try his skills in the world of features films an commercials. His first feature film was The Knack directed by Richard Lester. From there on David was to work on many films for directors as diverse as Tony Richardson, Peter Sellars and Sidney Lumet. David's confidence in his crew lead him into the habit of taking naps on set while shooting was taking place.
David had a lifelong passion for books and classical music. He loved working with musicians from John Lennon to Daniel Baremboim. Pride of place in his Brighton home was a photograph of Willem Mengelberg the first conductor of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw orchestra. At the age of 65 David decided to learn to play the piano. His extensive library reflected David's interests in music, the arts, literature, left wing politics and railways. On the occasion of his 72nd birthday David rode the footplate of a South East and Chatham H class steam locomotive and recounted his very first train trip at the age of three with his uncle behind such a locomotive. His knowledge of locomotive construction and the engineers who designed them was as extensive as his knowledge of music.
David with his golden frog award (from Cameraimage Festival in Lodz) , the only one of his many awards he truly treasured.
Always fit, his first illness at the age of 82 came as a shock to David, but he managed to complete his second autobiograhical book Was Clara Schumann a Fag Hag? and autograph copies for friends who had subscribed to its publication. At the end of the book David writes:
I am surrounded by love and its little brother laughter, and I am happy. I don't even have a problem with death. Pain is at an end, and we, who love, and are loved are always part of each other's lives.
David shooting Blue Pullman in 1960. Shooting from a helicopetr in those days was a somewhat cumbersome business Chris Mullen in his e-mail notifying David's friends of his passing wrote:
His spirit, wicked humour, and relish for life were with him to the end, undiminished as he lost control of his body. Everything above the neck is wonderful, he would say, everything beneath, a nightmare. The hearing is the last of the senses to be surrendered, and he listened at the last to Mozart piano sonatas and Richard Strauss.
Order your copy of Was Clara Schumann a Fag Hag? direct from David Watkin's website but hurry, very few are now left.
David and Peter
In 1985 both David and sound recordist Peter Handford (1919-2007) won Oscars and Baftas for their work on Sidney Pollack's Out of Africa. Peter also worked alongside David on Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and Oh! What a Lovely War (1969). During the war Peter was part of the British Expeditionary Force evacuated when the Germans overran France. He returned as a cameraman on the D-Day landings. Handford was a modest man who did not care for the fuss and glamour of the film industry. In his spare time he used film recording techniques to capture the vanishing world of steam railways. He established the renowned record label Transacord which is dedicated to steam railway recordings. His collection of steam recordings is now lodged with the National Railway Museum in York.David visited his old friend on October 1st 2002. Click on the picture below to hear them talk of life, films, trains and war.