Story 96

A man with a vision

I can only say that one of the most iconic journeys of my life was sharing a two berth, standard class compartment on a sleeper train to Penzance with Leonard Cheshire.

Sydney Samuelson

We talked nearly all night — we probably only decided to go to sleep at about 4am. I can’t even recall exactly what we talked about, but I soon realised this was the most self-effacing and good man I had ever met. I do know his view was that he wanted to help anyone who needed a home and he was shocked at how disabled people were ignored or abandoned. I remember too when he got into his pyjamas, I saw his battle scars, but we never talked about them or anything to do with the war.

How I came to be on a train, talking through the night, was because this gentle heroic man rang me a few weeks before, quite out of the blue, to ask if I could help him put together a promotional film about his work and his aims for the future. Someone must have told him about our company and the publicity filming we were doing, and he decided that maybe we could help him. I agreed, and our firm offered to supply personnel, cameras, cutting room facilities and lighting equipment. The first (and urgent) filming was to take place near to St Teresa’s in Cornwall, where there was a wartime ‘observer hut’ as he called it, which he wanted to save and turn into a lasting symbol of his first care home.

I knew who he was of course, because of his RAF aircrew record, but I had never met him. So I asked him to come to our office at Cricklewood Broadway, and I showed him our 16mm cameras and ancillary items. He was fascinated. We had lengthy discussions about filming, and we showed him our state-of-the-art recording equipment. We also explained the sound dubbing process as we had our own dubbing theatre (with crew) should he need it. He was very focused about what he wanted to do. We spoke a lot about how we could achieve the best impact, and how to overcome technical difficulties, such as over exposing the close-up lighting on people’s faces. It was a great afternoon, and we fixed the date to go down to Cornwall, where he wanted to film the very next week.

When we got to Cornwall, there was terrible weather. We were both concerned we might not be able to film at all. But we did, and we managed to get some aerial shots of the landmark he was trying to preserve. Somehow, in typical Leonard Cheshire fashion, he had persuaded the Royal Navy Air Station, Yelverton, to lend us a helicopter. The camera crew (me) climbed on board and hung out of the side door of the chopper getting our shots. Astonishingly, we achieved pretty well everything we needed. Later, we put together a short (sixteen minute) film.  One of our staff sound men, Jim Horne, even went on to work full-time with the foundation, so I always teased Leonard that he had nicked one of our best techies.

Through Leonard, I met extraordinary people, I experienced extraordinary courage, and above all, I came to know a man with a vision. It was an honour to work with Leonard, to witness his dedication. More than that, it was a privilege just to be allowed to be part of what he was creating and to be able to be of service to such a great and remarkable man.

Through Leonard, I met extraordinary people, I experienced extraordinary courage, and above all, I came to know a man with a vision.