On this page, Raymond Austin (AKA Ray Austin), one-time driver to film actor Cary Grant, stunt performer and later director, recalls working at Elstree Studios and how the studios changed his life and career:
The film Indiscreet was made at ABPC (now Elstree Film Studios) in 1957. I loved APBC. At 9.30am on the stage sausage rolls would be brought around on a tea trolley. This would never happen in Hollywood! Anyway, I used to sit on the set and watch Freddy Young light the sets. I wanted to get inside his head and find out what it was all about. At this point I was at a disadvantage, I worked for the actor Cary Grant as his driver, and he was not paying me to drive the cameraman mad! I always rememember Freddy lighting the billiard room set, boy, it was a super set, very rich, with the actors in dinner suits. Well, what I would do was to see if I could guess where Freddy would put his first light. Jimmy Devis, the cameraman, told me he used to do this when he was a camera operator. Well, I was never right. But it made me aware of everything that was going on around that camera.
Shortly after this I went back to Los Angeles, and Cary started work on the film North by Northwest. The cameraman was Robert Burks. Again, Cary was paying my salary. So I had to take a back seat. Then my luck changed. I got onto the stunt team of he film, thanks to Paul Stader. I got to talk to Robert Burks, not in a big way, like, 'I'm Ray Austin, tell me all you can, because I am going to be a director.' No, more like, 'Can I get you a coffee Bob?' The most important thing at that moment in my life was that I had started to learn. Towards the end of the film we were shooting in the Plaza Hotel, in New York, and I was sitting on the steps next to Alfred Hitchcock. We had talked a few times about London, and had some laughs about the Cockney rhyming slang. Cary, Hitch and I would talk to each other in rhyming slang every so often and the American crew loved it! Then, James Mason would join in, so this gave me a bit of a in with Hitchcock, and I started to ask him questions about directing. Anyway on this particular day he said to me, 'What do you want to do Raymond? Are you going to stay with Cary, or keep doing stunts?' I looked up at him and said, 'I want my name on a chair like that,' and I pointed at the back of his chair, 'and above it I want the word director'. Hitch smiled and said, 'Good, if you want it bad enough, you'll get it'. Then he got up and went back to the set. That was the first time I noticed that on his chair it only said Alfred Hitchcock. Everyone knew he was the director. I had a long way to go!
I have learned a lot since the days of Indiscreet, when first watching Freddy Young at work. I think Alan Hume, Robin Brown, Jack Hildyard and Brian West helped me along the road to where I am now. Gerry Crampton and Romo Gorrara became my stunt co-ordinators through the years, At one time, I was one of Gerry's stunt team. The stunt men were always tops for me.
During my years at Borehamwood, I spent time at both at ABPC (now Elstree Film Studios) and nearby on location. I remember the times when Neil Binney, the camera operator, and I stood around at cold locations at 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning, stamping our feet and talking about the first or next shot. That's when I was stealing his ideas! Thanks Neil! And I did the same to Derek Brown and Mike Frift. I also stole every idea Malcolm Vinson ever had, he was a good camera operator. Tony White was a font of knowledge, he taught me one hell of a lot about lenses when we were together at ABPC. Nice man. David Worley was another good camera operator too. I could go on forever! As you can guess I love the camera department. If I had not made it as a director, I know I would have opted for being a camera operator. I like directing through the lens.
Roger Moore (now Sir Roger Moore) gave me a big break way back at Elstree. I first met Roger when I was performing stunts on Ivanhoe (made at MGM-Borehamwood), the television series. Later I worked with him as stunt-actor on his television series, The Saint, at ABPC. Very soon after this I became the second unit director, thanks to Brian Clemens, on The Avengers. Some weeks later I went to Roger's partner, Robert Baker, and asked him for the chance to direct The Saint. He said he would have to talk to Roger as it was his name up there on the small screen. Well, what can I tell you. Roger said yes and I got to direct my first show as a main unit director! It, and he, were a joy. Roger, as always, made it a pleasure. Any nerves I had disappeared from the moment I did my first shot with him in front of the camera and me behind it. Brian Clemens had always made me 2nd unit director on The Avengers, but, after The Saint, he gave me an episode of The Avengers as the main unit director. The rest is history!
There are so many others, from both in front and behind of the camera, who have helped me over the years. I'm sure it would take pages to talk about them and to thank them all, but they know who they are. Thanks everyone!
My wife and I now live in Virginia. We have satellite television and can get around 80 channels! But what do we watch? Arts and Entertainment and BBC America. All the good English shows!
My name IS now on the directors chair, and it all started at Elstree. I'm very happy with my lot, even though I had to go to Hawaii instead of Scotland. And I would swap a Magnum for an All Creatures Great and Small or a Frost anyday!
© Raymond Austin/Paul Burton 2008
For more information on Raymond Austin, please visit his official website by clicking onto the following link: An Introduction to Raymond Austin
Please do not use any part of this interview without the prior permission of Paul Burton.
© Paul Burton 2008