FRED HAMILTON (1934 - 2015)
(Note: I updated a text written for the Fantom Films monthly magazine because it says everything there is to say.)
Fred Hamilton and I were a somewhat unlikely partnership. The hard man and the hippie, as it were.
When Fred was sitting in his famously cluttered office on a quiet day in 2002, out of a whim he put his own name through a search engine. He subsequently came across a site where someone had meticulously listed all his "Film Cameraman" credits for "Paul Temple" and "Target". It doesn't sound too special now, but that was some years before all those credits appeared on IMDb.
Filming in France, 1975
Moved by the fact that someone had mentioned not just actors and directors but also "technicians", Fred sent me a "thank you" note, and I, relatively new to the miracles of the internet, was excited to hear from a crew member who had actually worked on two of my favourite television programmes! Fred was quick to invite me to his lovely house in Cyprus, where we spent a lot of time talking about his days at the BBC and looking at his "snaps", either taken by him or by his friends/colleagues on the set. We discovered that we had more in common, being very passionate about things as diverse as ... football and politics!
Fred was then interviewed about his work on "Z Cars", and volunteering to transcribe the interview and looking at the long messages he had sent over the years I started putting two and two together. Here was someone who had had a rich professional life (look at that long list of "Doctor Who" credits!) and a great memory of people and events. Then there was this incredible photographic archive: Director Gilchrist Calder at work; Tubby Englander operating his camera; Douglas Camfield using a viewfinder; Brian Farnham giving instructions; Mike Ferguson laughing his head off, trying to direct George Sewell; Robert Wagner and David McCallum enjoying a "Colditz" filming break; Fred airborne in a helicopter. There were numerous celebrities from in- and outside the industry and, not least, all those lovely close-ups of various vintage film cameras.
Eventually, Fred warmed up to my idea to try our hands at something really definitive and go into print. But how could we retain Fred's typical modesty and at the same time be appealing? We decided to include as much detail as possible about filming assignments from "Doomwatch" and "Doctor Who" to "Target", put a lot of humour into it and keep "tech talk" within reasonable boundaries. Two of Fred's mates, Joe Shearer (gaffer) and Ian Punter (cameraman colleague), were asked to contribute because they were able to "deliver the goods", as their sense of humour matches his.
Filming Target in 1977
We worked together for a good four years, constantly exchanging ideas and editing each other's bits and pieces. There were times when we thought we would never be able to finish the whole thing. Fred was in and out of hospital and seemed to spend more time on the operating table than sitting at his desk, churning out more paragraphs. But, thankfully, he always came back like a boomerang.
The original title I suggested was "Watch out ... or I'll wind you up!" Fred has done it with everyone, naturally including me. He then came up with "Zoom in When You See the Tears!", a reference to an incident described in detail in the book. It became clear that there were too many images for just one volume but we did offer a sizeable selection (more than 200) of the best.
As well as telling his own story in a warm-hearted manner, Fred managed to deliver a fascinating and exhilarating history of the BBC 'from below'. His inside view is not one where DGs, OBEs and Smith-Smythes abound, but that of an honest working man, of a "team player" completely devoted to his job.
Fred and Marianna (1979)
When the book was published by Fantom Films in 2011, our work was not finished. Promotion, complimentary copies, setting up a Kindle edition (finally released in 2015), discovering more archival gems in his mysterious boxes ... we were never bored. There were more visits to Cyprus, more lunches and dinners, more fitness exercises (= running up the hill to the Napa house in the sweltering heat), more "what's this ******* world coming to" discussions.
Fred was particularly good at hiding his emotions. Only once I caught him off-guard (which hadn't been my intention), having sent him a number of images which showed his friend Douglas Camfield at work. In response, he wrote:
"Werner, you naughty bugger. You have just made me feel very sad and actually cry a few tears. The reason, the lovely Douggie Camfield pictures of course. THE BRING BACK SUCH MEMORIES OF A REALLY GREAT MAN. Wish he had lived longer. He would have been recognised more for the fantastic, wonderful talent he had."
But that really was an exception. Usually, the "I'm not afraid of anything" attitude ruled supreme. After the book release, local reporter Theo Panayides visited Fred at home. The portrait he submitted was, I thought, spot on if not brilliant.
For years, drinking to his health was a daily ritual in this household. It seemed to do the trick, and he appreciated it.
Fred phoned on Tuesday, 17 November, to make sure I was all right. Was he?, I asked. An upbeat voice replied, "Yeah, I think it's not bad for 81." A few days later, he followed this up with a written message containing a South African anti-flu recipe.
While I was fighting the flu, Fred was taken to Famagusta District Hospital. No doubt he thought of it as another hospital visit after which life would continue as before. No doubt he believed Chelsea and Mourinho would get their act together and eventually climb up from the bottom of the table ...
Fred in his office, 2010
After being indestructible for decades, he didn't make it this time. Fred died on 28 November, with his wife Marianna at his bedside.
I have lost a good friend. I'll have to soldier on without him from now on. It will be tough.