Cat no. 226519

British Cinema History Research Project Oral Histories: Fred Tomlin (boom operator)


Fred Tomlin (1908 - ?)

Fred Tomlin was born in 1908 in Hoxton, London, just around the corner from what became the Gainsborough Film Studios (Islington) in Poole Street. He first visited the studio as a child during the filming of 'Woman to Woman' (1923). He entered the film industry as an electrician, working in a variety of studios including Wembley, Cricklewood and Islington. At Shepherd’s Bush studio he got his first experience as a boom operator, on 'I Was A Spy' (1933). Tomlin claims that from that point until his retirement he was never out of work, but also that he was never under permanent contract to any studio, working instead on a freelance basis. During the 1930s he worked largely for Gaumont and Gainsborough on films such as 'The Constant Nymph' (1933), 'Jew Suss' (1934), 'My Old Dutch' (1934), and on the Will Hay comedies, including 'Oh, Mr Porter' (1937) and 'Windbag the Sailor' (1936). During the war, Tomlin served in the army, and on his return continued to work as a boom operator on films and television (often alongside Leslie Hammond) until the mid 1970s. His credits include several films for Joseph Losey (on 'Boom' (1968) and 'Secret Ceremony' (1968)) and 'The Sea Gull' (1968) for Sidney Lumet, as well as TV series such as 'Robin Hood' and 'The Buccaneers' and a documentary made in Cuba for Granada TV.

In this interview from 1990, Tomlin talks to Bob Allen about his career, concentrating mainly on the pre-war period. He tells some very entertaining and illuminating stories, particularly about working for Basil Dean on 'The Constant Nymph', with Will Hay on 'Windbag the Sailor' and for Paul Stein on 'Poison Pen' (1940). He discusses various technological issues affecting the boom operator, particularly difficulties to do with movement during the mid 1930s. Tomlin was active as a Union Shop Steward, and he remembers details of the early relationship between ETU and NATKE, as well as of working practices and disputes over overtime. Tomlin has vivid memories of various colleagues in the industry, including Paul Stein, Conrad Veidt, Will Hay, Basil Dean, Bob (Hugh) Attwooll, Ted Black, Bill Slater, H.C. ‘Pip’ Pearson and Leslie Hammond. A natural raconteur, Tomlin’s interview is spiced with several amusing anecdotes, as well as being rich in informative detail.