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U3A Writing: Smile Please

Derek McQueen definitely was not smiling when things started to go wrong during his second commission as a wedding photographer.

The wedding party and guests were now in church – the church of St Cuthbert’s, Chesterfield. Now I could relax. I had thirty minutes or so to prepare myself for the next phase of my first professional engagement as a wedding film-maker.

The four minutes per side, 8 millimetre, cine film needed to be reversed in the Eumig camera and shooting could re-commence.

I breathed deeply and began to relax a little in a corner of the huge St Cuthbert’s porch. Shade was needed to open the camera and re-spool the precious reel of movie film.

We had been fortunate so far. The Happy Couple had been praying for sunny weather and so had I. Colour is so much enhanced by strong light and the ladies’ dresses in particular dazzled the eye in the bright autumn sunshine.

My cine images would be stunning.

*

Gordon Bradshaw was a very young inside sales engineer in the
branch office of Hamilton Controls Ltd., at 119 Petre Street in Sheffield. I had joined the company as a junior trainee salesman in 1956 in the Company’s newly formed Heating and Air-conditioning Division. I liked Gordon from the start.

When he announced he was to marry his delightful fiancée, Maureen, I offered to make a film for them of the wedding as a wedding present. I had become a cine camera buff, recording the daily lives and holidays of my own young family.

The four-minute, Kodak 8 mm, films were expensive. Every session had to be carefully planned, so as not to waste the precious film.

The cine of Gordon and Maureen’s wedding was a great success with all the Bradshaw family, who were enthralled to see themselves on the screen for the first time. So much so, that when Gordon’s brother Peter married, eighteen months later, I was asked ‘could I possibly film the wedding for them.’ Naturally, they would pay me £5 and buy the Kodak film from Boots as well.

The request and attendant praise went to my head. I said yes.

*

After reversing the film, there was about ten minutes to wait before everyone came out for the photographs. Peter and his new bride would now be signing the register.

Tension began to build again and I checked that all was well with the camera. I stiffened in alarm. Why was the protective cap still covering the Eumig lens?

My God! In my anxiety I had forgotten to take off the protective cover.

Four precious and unrepeatable minutes of ‘cars arriving, bridesmaids, children’s bouquets and horseshoes, the bride, the dress adjustments, the cheering and smiles - all gone forever. The disappearing into church was not recorded. Four minutes of nothing. Four minutes of unexposed Kodak 8 mm film.

I was going to be sick. What could I do? Run away was a distinct possibility.

Young ushers opened the St Cuthbert’s main doors and Mr and Mrs Peter Bradshaw squinted into the bright sunlight. The bride looked radiant. I yanked at the lens cover and frantically started the camera. ‘At least let’s have half a wedding film’, was all I could think of.

Handshakes and confetti, shouts of congratulation and a sea of smiling faces. I filmed them being endlessly photographed, setting off for the reception, mothers crying, until the precious half film finally ran out.

“I missed one or two things before the service’, I jabbered.
“Would you mind just walking back up the path again please?”

It was pathetic. My first and last professional film making assignment – the nightmare was over. I staggered into the company Ford Prefect and threw the camera bag in the back.

*
In one of life’s rare ironies, a real disaster befell Gordon and Maureen, a few years later. Gordon left Hamilton Controls and moved to a newly built house in Bramhall, Cheshire. On the second night there, it burned to the ground as they watched from the street. All they had left of their possessions was my film of their wedding.

It just happened to be in the car.

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