Film ID:
NEFA 21416



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This amateur documentary, with commentary and music sound track, records location shoots taking place in July 1963 at Bamburgh beach for the Paramount Pictures film production of ‘Becket’, directed by Peter Glenville. In the early years of their much-publicised love affair, the famous Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor visits Richard Burton on set. The film was produced by a Newcastle and District Amateur Cinematographers Association (ACA) film unit, with surprisingly close access to Taylor, film production crew including British cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, and actors Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Edward Woodward and Wilfrid Lawson.

Credit: A Winchmore Production

Title: Becket at Bamburgh

July 1963


Sound: Geoff. Richardson

Camera: Ian Davidson

Credit: Commentator Peter Fryer

Credit: Produced by Ian Davidson

The film opens with general views of Bamburgh Castle on the Northumbrian coast. Armed Norman knights and sentries on horseback appear on the high sand dunes at Bamburgh beach, actors in 12th century costume shooting a scene on location for the Paramount Pictures film production of ‘Becket’.

General view of the film unit from Shepperton Studios, cast and crew, marquees and production truck, located amongst the dunes at Bamburgh. Group shot of actors taking a break near film unit trucks. A young man is trying to control the horse he is riding, assisted by two actors in soldier’s costume. The production crew ride on the back of a truck carrying a mechanical horse to the location shoot. The horse is driven down a track through the dunes towards the film set.

A mobile production truck backs up on the sands carrying a Cinemascope camera on an open platform at the back. The director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth and the camera operator Ernest Day (?) ride along with the camera, directing its positioning for the first take of the film. A clapperboard rests on the sand. A large arc light is set up on the beach.

A Tyne Tees Television Film Unit car is parked near the shoot. The commentary states that a news interview with Phil McDonnell is lined up. The television crew, with young presenter Phil McDonnell, set up in preparation for the interview. The Tyne Tees Chief Announcer Adrian Cairns walks across the sand with a colleague to join the TV crew.

Overhead shot towards a Rolls Royce parked on a track in the dunes. Elizabeth Taylor, dressed casually in white jeans and cardigan, and carrying her tiny Yorkshire terrier (named Thomas), hurries quickly down a path through the dunes, escorted by a male assistant.

Richard Burton rides away from camera down a sandy track amongst the dunes towards the filming area on the beach. He is dressed in a monk’s habit, in character for his role as Becket. Actor Peter O’Toole, dressed for his role as King Henry II, rides his horse past camera in the dunes. General view of a line of actors, some on horseback, making their way through the dunes towards the beach. Actor Edward Woodward (as character Clement) rides by on horseback on his way to the set.

General view from the dunes of the spectators and film crew, lined up across the beach to film Becket’s meeting scene, Bamburgh beach standing in for Normandy in the film. The camera truck is set up, the director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth, and camera operator, Ernest Day (?), standing with the director Peter Glenville amongst other film crew. Close-ups follow of the camera operator setting up the enormous Cinemascope lens and adjusting the complicated camera set up. Distant (over-exposed) shots follow of the actors riding across the sand towards each other for the scene of the meeting of Becket with Henry II. These are intercut with close-ups of the camera. The actors pause and wait on the beach in the distance, as technicians work to set up the shot.

General views of the many local people seated on the Bamburgh sand dunes, watching the filming. On horseback, Richard Burton (as Becket) and Peter O’Toole (as Henry II) stand together on the beach, Becket’s entourage nearby, waiting patiently for the take.

General views of the spectators and film crew milling around. Geoffrey Unsworth continues to set up the shot on the back of the camera truck, surrounded by film crew. Geoffrey Unsworth (back to camera) looks out towards the actors. One of the crew saws up a piece of wood on the camera truck, a last minute adjustment.

The famous movie star Elizabeth Taylor is led to the film set on horseback, wearing an upturned straw hat. Close-up of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton together on horseback, Burton in his monk’s costume. The production hairdresser, Joan Smallwood, adjusts Richard Burton’s hair on set. Elizabeth Taylor rides casually across the sand and smiles broadly at the camera close by. Another shot of Taylor is filmed through a line of crew and actors. A small puppy scampers across the sand and is scooped up by its owner. Local people are watching from the dunes, enthralled, one policeman amongst the crowd.

Low angle shot of Richard Burton seated on his horse, making animated conversation with someone, Elizabeth Taylor staring over at him, smiling. Various shots follow of Elizabeth Taylor on horseback, her tiny Yorkshire terrier pet over her shoulder, looking every inch the glamorous movie star. Men and women watch from the dunes, some with cameras. Out on the sands a man is filming her with a Bolex motion picture camera. She carries her dog on the horse. The film unit crew are still assembled on the beach. During a lull in filming, Elizabeth Taylor hands her dog to an assistant. She and Richard Burton trot off along the beach, the man with the Bolex still filming the couple. However, Burton is called back as the next scene is almost ready to shoot. A light is adjusted. Children also hang around the set with other spectators. The clapperboard announces the take. Richard Burton rides out along the beach to meet Peter O’Toole, both riding from opposite directions across the expansive Bamburgh sands at low tide.

Off set, onlookers lounge around in the sand dunes, including toddlers playing.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor head back up the sand dunes on horseback, as the film crew down on the beach begin to regroup for another scene. Director Peter Glenville chats to actor Edward Woodward as Joan Smallwood attends to the actor’s hair. Director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth checks one of the lenses, and works out a camera position. Actors are seated on chairs in the dunes waiting for the next shoot: veteran actor Wilfrid Lawson talks to Peter O’Toole (out of his costume). Two tall film lights stand ready on the beach despite the sunshine.

The camera crew erect a wooden cradle for the camera in the dunes. They then struggle to carry the huge sound camera uphill through the dunes to its new position, aided by Geoffrey Unsworth. A toddler in shorts wades uphill through the sand dunes. The heavy camera arrives at the cradle set up without mishap. It takes the whole group of camera crew to mount it once there. The complicated sound recording equipment is already set up in the dunes. Camera crew continue to finalise their set up. A wardrobe assistant makes last minute adjustments to one soldier’s costume, as the actors take up their positions. A man saws off wood from part of the camera cradle. Final adjustments are made with the actors, film crew in position. Peter Glenville sits on the camera platform. The director gives a few final instructions. Light meter readings are taken. The recording unit wave a rag indicating they are ready for the shot to commence. The scene takes place between the two soldiers, standing with armour amid the dunes. General view of the action and film unit.

A group of spectators watch the action. The crew prepare for a retake of the shot. Wilfrid Lawson is twirling his moustache in full costume, waiting to act in the second take. Peter O’Toole is standing with another actor in costume, wearing his glasses, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, leaning on a spear. O’Toole signs autographs for a young woman and other fans. Production continues.

General view of Bamburgh Castle at dusk.

Credit: The End Produced by a Newcastle ACA Film Unit