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  1 December 2005
Oscar-Winning Sound Editor Norman Wanstall remembers
his friend and colleague John Mitchell (1917-2005)
NORMAN WANSTALL - Oscar Winner for Goldfinger 1964

Norman Wanstall holding the Oscar he was awarded for his sound effects work on Goldfinger (1964)

From Russia With Love (1963)

James Bond (Sean Connery) evades the SPECTRE helicopter in From Russia With Love (1963) - with sounds provided by John Mitchell and edited by Norman Wanstall

From Russia With Love (1963)
From Russia With Love (1963) boat chase

Whenever I look back over my film career, one of the first thoughts that come into my mind is how lucky it was for me that John Mitchell was the sound-recordist on From Russia With Love. I’d had my first break as sound-effects editor on Dr. No, which was a huge challenge for someone with limited previous experience, but I could tell from the script of From Russia With Love that it was going to be a far steeper hill to climb and I would have to rely heavily on the expertise of the recordist.

For those who are unfamiliar with the post-production procedures carried out in the editing room, I should explain that the job of the sound editor is to reject and replace any of the original soundtrack which, for technical or artistic reasons, is considered unusable for the final movie. In the case of location pictures with a high number of action sequences this could amount to as much as fifty or sixty per cent, with scenes involving boats, trains, planes, battles and gun fights etc. and scenes where dialogue is drowned by heavy background being instant candidates for replacement. Building the track back again from scratch can be a long and intricate procedure, with all the various elements having to be produced or recorded separately in readiness to be mixed together to create the final track.

Fortunately as I’ve said, John Mitchell was assigned to From Russia With Love, and apart from being a brilliant technical recordist he understood all the problems facing the sound editor and was always prepared to go the extra mile. Every spare moment on location was spent making clean recordings of backgrounds, atmospheres, machines, vehicles and any props that might be useful at a later date. He wouldn’t hesitate to forego a lunch break or an evening in the bar if an opportunity for a precious recording showed itself. He knew only too well that these clean, authentic tracks would be invaluable to the sound editor back home, and save hours of research when the time came for the original track to be discarded. Also, whenever he knew that certain lines of dialogue had been obscured, he would seek the first opportunity to take the actor aside to record a wildtrack in the hope that it could be fitted in sync at a later date. It was typical of him that when the time came to shoot the Fairey Marine boat chase in From Russia With Love, he persuaded the producers to dress him up as one of the chasing villains, so that out of view of the audience he could manipulate the controls of his recorder. He was a truly professional and dedicated technician and I valued his experience immensely. I sometimes think the session we shared together recording helicopter tracks for the chase sequence in From Russia With Love was the most successful of all the sessions I took part in throughout six Bond Movies. When we teamed up again on Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, I knew my problems would be over. True to form, we would steal onto the set of Fort Knox and the volcano in the lunch break, eager to record the echoes and anything else that moved.

I’m relieved to say that after an absence of many years, John and I met again recently at a remembrance event for Peter Hunt, the editor of the first five Bond films. I feel it was meant to be. It was a chance to talk about old times. Little did we realise then that it was also a chance to say goodbye. I shall remember him with great admiration and affection. If you’re listening John, ... “thanks a million Mate!”

Bell Helicopter Bell Helicopter Boom Operator
Bell Helicopter Boom operator

John Mitchell, Pilot & Boom Operator

John William Mitchell was born in Wakefield in 1917, he began his career in the film industry at Ealing Studios while still in his teens. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Navy and his experience with submarines was put to good use on Morning Departure (1950) and Above Us the Waves (1955).

He and his microphone found themselves two miles down a South African mine in Gold (1974), on top of a pyramid in Death On The Nile (1978) and between the breasts of a troublesome Marilyn Monroe on The Prince And The Showgirl (1957), in an attempt to make sure she did not have to re-record lines later.

He was nominated for Oscars for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and A Passage To India. Other films include Great Expectations (1946), Reach For The Sky (1956), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and The Bounty (1984). His memoirs, Flickering Shadows, were published in 1997 and he was appointed MBE in 2001.

John Mitchell (right) with helicopter pilot and Boom Operator


From Russia With Love FACT FILE