Film chief and son of Oscar winner attend screening of David Lean classic at Wolterton Hall

Norman Spencer, 99, will be the guest at Itteringham Pop-Up Cinema's showing of Great Expectations.

Norman Spencer, 99, will be the guest at Itteringham Pop-Up Cinema's showing of Great Expectations. Norman worked on the Oscar winning production alongside John Bryan who won one of the Oscars for his production design. Norman pictured with John's son Richard at Wolterton Hall.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A chance conversation in a north Norfolk village shop led to the screening at a stately home of a post-war British film classic in the presence of its production manager and the son of its Oscar-winning production designer.

John Mills (left) and Alec Guinness in David Lean's 1946 version of Great Expectations.

John Mills (left) and Alec Guinness in David Lean's 1946 version of Great Expectations.

Film fans filled a salon at Wolterton Hall last night to enjoy director David Lean's 1946 version of the Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations.

Actress Jean Simmons pictured in 1951

Actress Jean Simmons pictured in 1951 - Credit: Archant

Jean Simmons as the young Estella, John Mills as Pip, and Alec Guinness, as Herbert Pocket, were among the movie's stars.

John Bryan who won an Oscar for his production design for Great Expectations. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

John Bryan who won an Oscar for his production design for Great Expectations. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The screening was a nostalgic event for audience member 99-year-old Norman Spencer, a close friend of director David Lean, who was production manager on the film and worked with Lean on several other box-office smashes.

And it was also a chance for Richard Bryan to enjoy again the skills of his late father John whose set designs earned him an Oscar which Richard took along for the audience to admire.


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The evening was organised as one of the community-run Itteringham Village Shop's pop-up cinema events and included a question and answer session afterwards with Mr Spencer, who had previously worked with David Lean on Noel Coward's In Which We Serve and Blithe Spirit, and later, as associate producer, on the acclaimed Bridge On the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia.

Mike Hemsley, one of the shop's managers, explained that Mr Spencer, who lives near Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, had dropped into the shop with his nephew Chris Spencer, who has a home in Itteringham Common.

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Norman's past career was mentioned in the conversation and Mr Hemsley, a film buff, realised the Great Expectations connection between him and another shop customer, Richard Bryan, who lives in Oulton Street, near Aylsham, and used to own Itteringham's Walpole Arms pub.

'It seemed like a good opportunity to screen the film. It might have appeared a bit ambitious but once we said we were doing it, it had to happen,' said Mr Hemsley.

Another of the shop's managers, Elliot Savage, created a decaying wedding cake, on show at the screening, in homage to the film which features a Dickens gothic monster, Miss Havisham, who stopped the clocks on her wedding day when she was abandoned by her groom and lived out her life in her rotting bridal robes, surrounded by the moldering wedding feast in her cobweb-strewn mansion.

Mr Spencer clearly remembers that there had been plans to audition three young actresses for the role of the young Estella but the first, a teenage Jean Simmons, was so perfect that they cancelled the other two.

His working relationship with David Lean was cemented by a close friendship between the pair and their wives.

'David had an innate sense of the dramatic,' he said. 'He always started with the simple, because he knew that it would be much more powerful and effective.'

Mr Bryan said he was only six when his father was awarded the Oscar for Great Expectations and did not really understand his achievement at the time.

The original Oscar was stolen in a burglary during his father's funeral in 1969 but was later replaced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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