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Daily Telegraph (UK)
Issue 1289 Saturday 5 December 1998

Freddie Young

Freddie Young Cinematographer who won three Oscars and provided David Lean with grand panoramas for Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago

Each was remarkable for the beauty of its images, and for each Young won an Oscar.

Although Young was thought of as having a preference for film on the grand scale and was always happiest shooting outdoors, in truth his photography had no marked style and was free of mannerisms. If his films had a common characteristic it was his professionalism, which ensured he reflected only the director's vision.

The director with whom he was most closely associated was David Lean, in partnership with whom Young won all his Oscars. Their relationship was fruitful but complex. "I got on very well with David," recalled Young recently, "but he was inclined to take the credit for everything. Oh, he'd pat me on the back, give me a hug, but he seldom divulged my contributions to the world."

Nevertheless, Young's artistry was apparent to anyone who saw his work, perhaps most notably in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which contains one of the greatest shots in cinema, that in which Peter O'Toole and his guide gaze at a figure slowly emerging from the heat haze of the desert. The shot lasts for three minutes. Young got it in one take.

Frederick Archibald Young was born in London in October 1902. As a boy he was a useful footballer and boxer and adored the silent films of the day. He experimented with a Box Brownie and at 15 got a job as a teaboy at Gaumont Studios in Shepherd's Bush. He was soon promoted to laboratory assistant.

Before the Great War, film-making was still a primitive art. "The studios were in a glasshouse to get the light," recalled Young. "If a cloud came over the sun, the set would go very dark. It was very crude. We had a few arc lights, but it was what I'd call illumination, not lighting." In 1918 Young developed and hand-printed all 6,000 ft of The Man in the Moon, the first British science fiction film.

By the time sound came to the cinema in 1927, Young had already become an outstanding lighting cameraman and had photographed his first film, The Flag Lieutenant (1926). Impressed by this, in 1929 the producer Herbert Wilcox took him under contract to MGM, where his jobs included everything from editing to driving the studio car.

In 1932, Wilcox gave him The Blue Danube to shoot and, after it proved a success, Young photographed a number of the costume dramas in which Anna Neagle - Wilcox's wife - provided impersonations of celebrated women, among them Nell Gwynn (1934) and Victoria the Great (1937). Young was also chief cameraman on No?l Coward's Bitter Sweet (1933) and Goodbye Mr Chips (1939), with Robert Donat.

When, at the start of the Second World War, RKO invited Wilcox and Anna Neagle to Hollywood to make Nurse Edith Cavell, Young went with them. Being accustomed to organising every detail of the cinematography himself, he found the American way of working - where gaffers and focus-pullers expected a measure of independence - not to his liking, and he soon returned to England to work for the Army Film Unit.

There he made numerous Army training films, and for Michael Powell photographed 49th Parallel (1941) and for Carol Reed the patriotic The Young Mr Pitt (1942).

After the war, Young was able to slip the shackles of MGM and realised his ambition of becoming a freelance director of photography. Colour had arrived and many of the films he now worked on were the large Anglo-American co-productions which characterised the Age of Cinemascope. Among his credits was Caesar and Cleopatra (1949), written by Bernard Shaw and at the time the most expensive British film.

Its director, Gabriel Pascal, imported sand to Egypt, where the film was shot, because he did not like the colour of the local stuff. The film itself was dull, but there was ample compensation in Young's lush photography.

Other films of the time were The Winslow Boy (1948), Ivanhoe (1952) for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and Knights of the Round Table (1954). He also devised the vivid palette for the Van Gogh biopic Lust for Life (1956), with Kirk Douglas, and photographed The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958).

Young continued to work throughout the 1960s and 1970s on such films as the James Bond picture You Only Live Twice (1967) and the story of the last Tsar, Nicholas and Alexandra (1970), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He won an Emmy for a television version of Macbeth.

Young was a perfectionist and his example is largely responsible for the high technical standards in British film-making. Among those he encouraged and trained were the cinematographers Freddie Francis, Jack Cardiff and Nic Roeg.

His skill as a director of photography probably deprived him of the chance to direct films himself, although at the age of 82 he did make a television film, Arthur's Hallowed Ground. He himself had mixed feelings about directors: "Those limelight hogs think they're God. Vincente Minelli interfered with everything. George Cukor talked for hours to the actors. But nice chaps. Gentlemen."

Freddie Young was appointed OBE in 1970.

He married first, in 1927, Marjorie Gaffney; they had a son and a daughter. She died in 1963. The next year he married Joan Morduch, who survives him; they had a son.

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