Mr Reliable

Clapperboard / John Rendall

Mr Reliable

Clapperboard / John Rendall

John Rendall worked non-stop for 45 years in the world of film, TV and commercials production, earning great respect around the industry along the way. During this lengthy career, Rendall’s polite, calm and easy manner made him the perfect contact man for leading production service companies.

Although now retired, he still keeps himself busy in vital areas of the production business, as the unpaid chairman of the Association of Studio and Production Equipment Companies (ASPEC), part of the Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA). Rendall’s mission through ASPEC is, among other things, to maintain and enhance technical standards and qualifications within the industry and to ensure that the highest standards of health and safety are adhered to, as well as dealing with issues such as training, fraud and theft.

Rendall was born in Pinner, Middlesex on 24th August 1939. As a child he was interested in photography and did his own developing and printing. After leaving school in 1957 he managed to get a job with Random Film Productions, starting on a wage of £4 per week. He began as a camera assistant, working his way up to cameraman.

“We shot mainly documentaries on 35mm, which were reduced to 16mm. We went all over the UK and shot the first National Trust film,” recalls Rendall.

He says he did a lot of shooting on the Forth Road Bridge and was present when it was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke Of Edinburgh on September 4th 1964.

“I would fly up there nearly every week with a camera, tripod and a couple of rolls of film to shoot matching shots of the structure being extended. I would remain there for a couple of days, and it was really exciting,” he remembers, noting that on most locations he shot mute and only occasionally had a soundman with him.

After ten years working for Random Films he decided it was time for a change and moved to a rental company, Cine Rentals, based in London W14.

“The range of equipment was interesting and the name of the guy running it was Dick Bayley, a cameraman. I organised the rental side, taking orders, talking to customers and making sure the freelance boys turned up,” he says.

Cine Rentals eventually moved to Kensal Rise in Lee Lighting’s facility and Rendall decided it was time for another change. He joined Samuelson Film Service in Cricklewood in 1971, starting in their Sam Freight section. This job meant he would often have to travel abroad at short notice.

He says, “You got to know people that way because it’s so much a ‘knowing people’ business and most people in the business are lovely. The Samuelson brothers were into everything. Michael Samuelson ran the lighting side. David Samuelson operated the engineering section and Tony was the accountant. Tony also opened the Production Village nearby, which had studios, offices and also housed a pub called The Magic Hour. Sydney Samuelson was the highly-respected CEO. It was he who had achieved an amazing coup in obtaining a Panavision agency in the UK. So I gained valuable experience in the rental of both spherical and Anamorphic formats and visited their HQ in Los Angeles. Later, when there were company changes, I was fortunate to be appointed a director of Samuelson Film Service London Ltd.”

Recalling Rendall’s time at the company, Sir Sydney Samuelson, said, “The camera rental side of our company was complex, hugely varied and carried unbelievable responsibility as far as getting the customers’ requirements exactly right. The gear for a one-day commercial was absolutely as important as the gear on a twelve-week major feature on-location somewhere abroad. The operation was like the bridge of a battleship and John Rendall was our captain. I think I would say that my personal name for him, and the way he accepted his responsibility was, Mr Reliable.”

One of Rendall’s dear friends, cinematographer Robin Vidgeon BSC said, “I would spend two weeks prepping camera gear hired from Sammy’s and would receive amazing help from their top engineer Karl Kelly and John, in putting together the very best equipment. I remember John was like a quiet headmaster, totally unflappable, with a dry sense of humour.”

"The operation was like the bridge of a battleship and John Rendall was our captain. I think I would say that my personal name for him, and the way he accepted his responsibility was, Mr Reliable."

- Sir Sydney Samuelson CBE

Rendall himself recalls, “Eventually SFS London Ltd moved to a new building in Greenford and after a while Panavision, who had set up their UK facility took over Samuelsons. I worked for them as a client contact, under the lovely Hugh Whittaker, getting reacquainted with all the latest Panavision equipment and trends and also enjoying meeting some great new colleagues. The introduction of High Definition was a very interesting period for both productions and us. I retired in 2002.”

Mark Furssedonn, group operations director of Panavision Europe said, “I have known John for over thirty years. He had many roles including feature film liaison. He is a thoroughly nice gentleman who is well respected and has a huge knowledge of the film industry.”

Asked if he had visited many film sets, Rendall says, “I went if someone invited me, or maybe to deliver an urgent piece of equipment. Productions are very conscious of any information being given out before it should be, for example, on movies such as Bond and Star Wars. I used to go on set a great deal and have loads of stories about whom I have met over the years. My crowning glory was meeting the famous Kiwi actor Russell Crowe, who was filming Proof Of Life (2001, Slawomir Idziak) at Pinewood Studios. I was obviously someone Russell didn’t recognise, but he came up to me and was very chatty.”

On one occasion when he was working for Samuelson’s, cinematographer Freddie Young BSC walked in clutching one of his Oscars and jokingly said, “Don’t break it.”

Rendall goes on to speak highly of others he knew and knows, including cinematographers Ossie Morris BSC, Alex Thompson BSC, Keith Goddard BSC, Wit Dabal PSC and Billy Williams OBE BSC. Goddard said, “John was at Cine Rentals and I was a clapper loader at Ocelot Productions. After a shoot I dropped the gear back off and told John that on this particular shoot on-location somewhere in Devon we were shooting in a meadow, when the cameraman picked a flower, put it between his teeth and said ‘Hello Fairyland’. I remember John saying “Don’t worry Keith, you are in the right business.”

Rendall at Sammy's in Cricklewood having achieved the dizzying heights of Head of Client Liaison
Rendall at Sammy's in Cricklewood having achieved the dizzying heights of Head of Client Liaison

Cinematographer Wit Dabal PSC said, “John played an important role in my feature and commercial career. I was using Sammy’s equipment at the time. I felt like I was taken care of and in the right place.”

After his retirement Rendall took up voluntary work driving for the local hospice in Esher. He then went on to organising the transport for them. That was something he enjoyed, which involved meeting a lot of people.

However, the production business always seems to draw prople back in. As chairman of ASPEC, Rendall regularly attends meetings, which are hosted by the Health & Safety Executive. He also co-chairs, with Peter Jaques of the Production Guild, the Film Broadcast Health & Safety Group. This group consists of representatives from the major television broadcasters, the unions and the Health & Safety Executive. Rendall first took on the unpaid role of secretary. ASPEC holds meetings every other month and often have guest speakers. “Though companies compete with each other outside, at ASPEC meetings everyone comes together on a friendly basis,” he remarks.

Regarding ASPEC’s campaign to prevent fraud and theft, Rendall says, “These have, sadly, been on the increase and steps are vigorously being taken here to reduce them. By working closely with colleagues in the USA, and now globally, rental equipment and the lives of those involved in that sector can be closely controlled and safeguarded under the Rental Guard banner.”

When asked what he does to unwind he says, “I used to enjoy golf, but I have a shoulder problem, so I don’t do that at the moment. I take the dog out everyday, I enjoy our beautiful local parks and the river and we are members of the Royal Palaces, so we can go to the various buildings. The grandchildren also keep us busy, which is lovely. I also enjoy reading and going to the local gym, mainly to use the swimming pool where I try to keep fit by walking in the water.”

Rendall says he is quite gregarious and really enjoys talking to people, adding, “If you don’t talk to people, you don’t find out about life,” and reminds us of the fact that, “we are not on this planet for very long.”