BOOK REVIEW Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes - Wayne Kinsey


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Backroom boys take centre stage

Hammer expert Wayne Kinsey's fourth book on the British studio is an oral history which profiles everyone involved behind the scenes, department by department, from sound recordists to stuntmen, inviting them to the front of the stage to take a bow.

Thing is, heartwarming though it is to see Hammer's receptionist or caretaker interviewed, they don't necessarily have much of significance to impart. And some areas of the filmmaking process make for dry reading - the book nearly shoots itself in the foot (or should that be bites itself in the neck?) by kicking off with a history of Hammer’s distribution deals. It's generally at its best - like more conventional books on the subject - when focussing on writers and directors.

Kinsey draws on 12 years’ worth of his own interviews, as well as quoting from other sources. Some anecdotes will be familiar to Hammer fans; others are brand new. Production designer Bernard Robinson’s wife reveals that he decorated their house with the same wallpaper used for a Victorian prostitute’s boudoir. She wasn't best pleased...

There are hundreds of rare photos. Some provide fascinating on-set glimpses, but many are the sort of snaps usually reserved for family albums and company newsletters - work-related parties, and so on. Still, this does help to create a strong sense of the unique working atmosphere that was key to Hammer’s initial success. With home-cooked food in the canteen and crew taking a shared coach to work, Hammer really was a family. If you’re hoping for juicy gossip, you’ll be disappointed – although a consensus does emerge that director John Gilling ( The Plague Of The Zombies ) was something of a bully.

As scores of interviewees tell similar tales, it can inevitably become a tad repetitious, so it’s a book best consumed in small portions at many sittings. But you have to applaud the astonishing amount of painstaking scholarship that's gone into it, and the admirably egalitarian approach.

Ian Berriman

Deputy Editor, SFX

Ian Berriman has been working for SFX – the world's leading sci-fi, fantasy and horror magazine – since March 2002. He also writes for Total Film, Electronic Sound and Retro Pop; other publications he's contributed to include Horrorville, When Saturday Comes and What DVD. A life-long Doctor Who fan, he's also a supporter of Hull City, and live-tweets along to BBC Four's Top Of The Pops repeats from his @TOTPFacts account.