DOUGLAS SLOCOMBE, who has died aged 103, was one of Britain’s greatest film cameramen.

His career started with amazing newsreel footage of the nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and his ultimate film was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for Steven Spielberg half a century later in 1989.

Slocombe, whose parents were left-wing bohemians, spent his childhood in the French capital.

His father was Paris correspondent for the Labour paper the Daily Herald and the likes of James Joyce, Jean Paul Sartre and Ernest Hemingway were welcomed into the family home.

At the age of seven, his parents gave Slocombe a camera and it would launch a lifetime fascination with photography, first with stills and then moving pictures.

By the age of 20, he was working as a journalist as well as selling photographs to magazines such as Picture Post, Life and Paris Match and writing articles and short stories to go with them.

In 1939 he persuaded Life to send him to Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland. He returned with some remarkable pictures of nazi thugs terrorising the city.

Documentary-maker Herbert Kline was so impressed with Slocombe’s pictures that he asked him to return to Danzig to shoot a documentary.

After only a day’s cine camera training, Slocombe returned to the crisis-torn city, where he captured extraordinary images, including a rally of SS stormtroopers being addressed by Joseph Goebbels.

Neither Goebbels nor his nazi admirers were too keen to be caught on film and Slocombe was chased from the rally.

Film of it, and the burning of a synagogue, exposed the rabid anti-semitism of the nazis but also led to his imprisonment and questioning by the Gestapo.

In 1940 he filmed the nazi invasion of Poland and his footage was used in Kline’s documentary Lights Out in Europe.

He managed to escape Poland by joining a refugee train for Romania, thence by horse and cart to Riga in Latvia and home via Sweden.

For the rest of the war he worked as an official newsreel cameraman, with Ealing Studios paying his wages and in return the British forces let the studio use his footage in their own films.

In May 1940 he filmed the German invasion of Amsterdam and, for the next three years, Slocombe was on board destroyers, aircraft carriers in Atlantic convoys and with the Fleet Air Arm and RAF.


After the war, he became the house cinematographer for Ealing Studios, working on many of its classic comedies such as Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob.

He worked with the Children’s Film Foundation on the iconic Hue and Cry and captured romantic images of rural England in films like Painted Boats and The Titchfield Thunderbolt.

Slocombe was entirely self-taught yet many of his films were nominated for Oscars, Travels With My Aunt (1972), Julia (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) among them.

Bafta awards came for The Servant (1963), The Great Gatsby (1974) and Julia and his work was nominated for Guns at Batasi (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). A Bafta lifetime achievement award followed in 1993.

Slocombe was indefatigable and at the age of 70, when many are thinking of taking life easy, he was asked by Spielberg to shoot his three Indiana Jones films.


This obituary first appeared in the Morning Star 3 March 2016.


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