The BSC Celebrates 70 Years

“The legacy of the early BSC masters lives on in the newer generations of British directors of photography.” 

Iain Marcks

“The legacy of the early BSC masters lives on in the newer generations of British directors of photography.” 

BSC Awards and BSC Expo photos by Richard Blanshard. All images courtesy of the BSC except where noted.

At top, members of the British Society of Cinematographers pose in a film studio in July of 1999, celebrating the BSC’s 50th anniversary. Among the members here are John de Borman, Douglas Slocombe, Jack Cardiff, Gil Taylor, Alex Thomson, Billy Williams and Freddie Francis. View this image larger here. (Photo by Richard Blanshard/Getty Images)

The British Society of Cinematographers was founded in 1949. It was an event two years in the making — the result of a seed that took root in the imagination of Bert Easey, head of the camera departments at Denham and Pinewood Studios. The notion was to form a non-political guild comprising the U.K.’s best motion-picture cinematographers, and Easey had put the idea forward to a roomful of likeminded camera professionals gathered at the Orchard Hotel in Ruislip for an industry dinner in 1947. It caught on.

The idea for a British Society of Cinematographers was put forward — and enthusiastically embraced — at an industry dinner. 

Freddie Young, BSC (right) — seen here with director David Lean — served as the Society’s first president.

With Freddie Young — then resident director of photography at MGM Borehamwood — as BSC president, Easey was elected secretary and treasurer, and Guy Green vice president. Jack Cardiff, Lovat Cave-Chinn, Desmond Dickinson and Derick Williams were elected to the board.

A news item in the March 1949 issue of AC notes that the American Society of Cinematographers sent the BSC a congratulatory cablegram on the occasion of their first meeting:

Decades later, ASC President Kees van Oostrum has continued this longstanding legacy of support with a letter to the BSC in honor of the organization’s 70th anniversary: 

“On behalf of all of the members of the American Society of Cinematographers, I congratulate you, the BSC, on this accomplishment, staying at the forefront of our cinematic artistry for 70 years,” van Oostrum writes. “We look forward to continuing our relationship long into the future. Our friendship and camaraderie will always transcend borders.”

The BSC Expo presents seminars and discussion panels, along with a show-floor where manufacturers demonstrate the latest equipment.

The BSC Award.

Integral to its enduring mission to preserve and advance the art and craft of cinematography, current BSC activities include the annual Operators Night, when members gather to pay homage to their camera-operator colleagues; the annual BSC Awards, where honors are bestowed in a number of categories, including features, television, and visual effects, as well as technical, special, and lifetime achievements; and the BSC Expo, a dedicated feature- and television-production show that includes two full days of seminars and discussion panels with cinematographers, technicians and equipment manufacturers.

Attendees at this year’s BSC Awards dinner.

Current BSC President Mike Eley notes, “I grew up watching movies [shot by BSC members] on television. Those three letters after the cinematographer’s name in the credits may not have landed immediately with me, but they embedded an inkling that work of some distinction had been applied to the making of this motion picture, and that it represented something: excellence, craft, artistry and professionalism.”

Current BSC President Mike Eley.

Michael McDonough, ASC, BSC recalls, “Cinematographers such as Barry Ackroyd, BSC and Dick Pope, BSC have always been kind and supportive. I remember cold-calling the BSC in the late ’90s, asking for Ossie Morris, BSC’s contact information. I said I was a senior grad film student with questions, and they obliged. Ossie was fantastically open and thorough with his answers about using front and back nets for Fiddler on the Roof — how he used tan nets to add an earthy color to a scene, reflecting the closeness of the characters to their work and living environment, because they ‘were part of the earth, the soil itself.’ I went on to use nets, front and back, on every shot of Winter’s Bone.” 

Director John Huston standing by, here’s Oswald Morris, BSC on the set of Moby Dick (1956).

As the BSC celebrates this milestone year, Eley views his fellow cinematographers — past and present — as part of a larger community. “The creation of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1949 represents a sharing of the responsibilities originally held solely by the ASC,” he remarks. “And the historical, cultural, and linguistic connections between the U.S. and Britain were always going to ensure close ties between the two societies. The ‘cross-fertilization’ of cinematographic talent that has occurred over the decades has been a measure of that. 

“The phrase ‘Preserving the Vision’ is the BSC’s motto,” Eley says. “It’s one that could describe any of the cinematography societies across the world, and today we have a global network of collaborative and independent societies that are all doing their part.”

Congrats from the ASC

About 45 years ago, as a young film student, I was made aware of the British Society of Cinematographers. Its members then — some of whom had even been among the prestigious organization’s founders — represented a number of the best cinematographers in the world. Their work spoke for itself. 

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit one of their gatherings at Pinewood Studio’s impressive wood-paneled dining room, where I was treated to a firsthand taste of Ossie Morris’ military irony, Alan Hume’s jokes, Freddie Young’s dark humor, and Geoff Unsworth’s smile. It was also at that time that I met the cinematographer who would become my mentor, Gerry Fisher.

Although those iconic BSC members are now all gone, they left us with a legacy of magnificent and inspiring work. My thoughts go to Lawrence of Arabia, The Go-Between, Moby Dick, The Servant, The Man Who Would Be King, Murder on the Orient Express, Great Expectations, The Elephant Man, and many more.

Now the BSC is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Its history has indeed been a glorious one, and the legacy of the early masters lives on in the newer generations of British directors of photography, who continue to rule with exceptional quality and styled cinematography. The work of today’s BSC members remains energetic and inspiring, and it gives me both great pleasure and confidence in the future. 
                                                               — ASC President Kees van Oostrum

You'll find much more about the history of the BSC here.

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