29.06.1920 - 19.06.2009
Peter was unique; he had an extraordinary zest for life. At the age of fourteen he stepped on to the merry-go-round of film. He became a messenger boy at Warner Bros, Teddington Studios. Peter progressed to the camera department then to Ealing Studios as clappers to focus. Then came the Second World War and the Army Kinematograph Service, filming in practically every quarter of the world. He became attached to the American Navy on a secret mission from Washington to the Pacific, Burma, New Guinea, India and finally Japan. The resultant film earned him his Second Lieutenant stripes. He even had time to form a jazz band, his second love. He played the vibes and led his merry group [The Alan Lansley Sextet] until they went their separate ways. Relinquishing his second lieutenant’s uniform for civvies he married dear Dawn Baird in 1940 and resumed his career as focus puller at Ealing Studios. He was focus puller on It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) directed by Robert Hamer and photographed by Douglas Slocombe BSC; but in 1948 he went freelance and worked with the directors Charles Crichton, on Against the Wind (1948) photographed by Lionel Banes BSC, and Charles Frend, on Scott of the Antarctic (both 1948) photographed by Osmond Borradille BSC, Jack Cardiff OBE BSC and Geoff Unsworth BSC. In 1950 Newbrook made Changing Face of Europe, a series of five documentaries shot in Technicolor to show the Americans how money from the Marshall Plan was being spent. Back home he started a jazz record label called Esquire Records. It is still referred to today as one of the top companies in its genre. The label introduced artists such as John Dankworth, Cleo Laine, Ronnie Scott and Charlie Parker, and reflected Newbrook's lifelong passion for jazz; he had bought his first vibraphone as a teenager and had joined the Alan Lansley Sextet. Back to the movies, a contract as operator at Korda’s Shepperton Studios beckoned. The first film was The Sound Barrier (1952) with David Lean photographed by Jack Hildyard BSC, followed by a second with the great director – Hobson’s Choice (1954) again photographed by Jack Hildyard BSC, on which we first met. I was the clapper boy. The year was 1954. Peter then went on to David Lean’s Summertime (1954), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) both photographed by Jack Hldyard BSC and was one of the three ‘second units’ on Lawrence of Arabia photographed by Freddie Young OBE BSC.
Daily Telegraph: “During the filming of Lawrence in the Jordanian desert, Newbrook, as second unit photographer, was behind one of the two cameras Lean deployed to shoot the gripping, and seemingly endless, "mirage" shot, in which the mystery figure Ali (played by Omar Sharif) trots on a camel out of the shimmering haze.
Lean's other camera operator Ernie Day took the long shot with a wide-angle lens, in which Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) and Tafas (Zia Mohyeddin) are in the foreground; Newbrook had the close-up camera which shot Ali emerging from nothing, "just a funny little wobbly black figure", as he recalled. Newbrook explained that the huge dust storm swirling behind the mirage to give the shot depth was generated by having two Land-Rovers drive round in circles. With Day, Newbrook and his long, 450mm Panavision lens shot the entire sequence in one take, Sharif emerging through the sandstorm from a mere speck in the distance to a big head and shoulders at the end of the shot.
"It was all done by guesswork, unrehearsed," said Newbrook. "Years later, David [Lean] told me that he lost his nerve on that shot. He said that he should have held it for longer, another 10 seconds, and it would have been even better." During this time, being a passionate sports car enthusiast, Peter designed his very own sleek and stylish ‘Fiamma’, which was admired by all. As camera operator he began working with top American directors namely [Anatole] Litvak Anastasia (1956) photographed by Jack Hildyard BSC and the legendary Raoul Walsh. He then decided to take it easy and bought a brand new Ford Mustang and with the indomitable Dawn beside him he set off on a five thousand mile drive around America. Returning home, he became bored with inactivity and started working in television.
Peter became fully fledged Director of Photography in 1963 with In The Cool of The Day, directed by Robert Stevens and starring Peter Finch and a 26-year-old Jane Fonda. This brought him membership of the British Society of Cinematographers. That same year, he became a board member of the British Film Producers Association and in 1965 formed Titan Films with Robert Hartford-Davies producing their first film The Sandwich Man, which he also photographed. Several features as Director of Photography followed, a number of which he also wrote and produced culminating in Crucible of Teror in 1971. Peter went on to direct The Asphyx in 1972 with Robert Stephens, Robert Powell and Jane Lapotaire.
Disillusioned with feature films, Peter started as a freelance Lighting Director for Thames Television, HTV and on shows such as Granada TV’s CORONATION STREET and EMMERDALE FARM. In 1977 Peter formally joined Anglia Television eventually becoming Senior Lighting Director. Peter retired from Anglia Television in 1986 but went on to light 36 more episodes of EMMERDALE FARM before finally hanging up his panglass in 1990. In the meantime, he became a board member of the BSC in 1980 and was its President between 1984 and 1986. He continued to serve the BSC until 1995 producing the early BSC Portrait Series and worked tirelessly for the Society. Regarding his sports car, “Fiamma”, I am told that only one was made. He sold it to a hairdresser who promptly wrote it off after owning it for only a few weeks!
Sources: Denis Lewiston, The Daily Telegraph, Phil Méheux BSC