Norman Wanstall is one of the great unsung heroes of the Bond series. When the series hit the ground running with the first film, DR. NO, in 1962, it was down to a large team of talented and dedicated people across various departments. One of these people was Wanstall, who headed the sound effects editing department, and was responsible for some of the most iconic sounds in cinema, including Oddjob's hat flying through the air in GOLDFINGER (1964). Wanstall worked on the first five films (and also the 'rogue' Bond film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, 1983), and has had a fascinating life and career, which he was kind enough to share some of the highlights of, with me.


Part I concentrates on Norman's early career and his time with James Bond 007.  

How did you get started in the business?
Life is luck, Paul, and my whole career was based on good luck. I went to a co-educational Grammar School, and became friends with a girl whose mother (Lana Stevens) worked at Pinewood Studios as the assistant to the production controller. During one of our school holidays, Lana invited a few of us to visit the studio, and it was a day I would never forget. Walking along the various corridors we passed famous actors such as Dirk Bogarde and John Gregson, and the highlight of the day was visiting the set of HELL BELOW ZERO (1954, co-produced by future Bond producer Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli), and watching our hero Alan Ladd rehearsing his lines. To see a perfect replica of the interior of a ship’s cabin, and then look behind to see it was all held together by scaffold poles and plaster was an amazing experience for a schoolboy, and from then on I dreamt of being part of that magical world. On completion of my National Service as an Artillery officer, I contacted Lana and to my surprise she invited me to visit her at Pinewood. The end result was that in 1965, I was taken on as a trainee film editor and put under contract for three years.

Who were your mentors and influences when starting out?
To be honest I was rather shocked to be placed in an editing room when I imagined I’d be working on the set or behind a camera. Obviously anyone moving into a movie studio for the first time wouldn’t have a clue how the system works, and I certainly had no idea what editing involved. All I knew was that the guy in charge was rattling film through a machine all day, and my duties were mainly paperwork and taking cans of film up to the projection box. I was a bit disillusioned to be honest, but as I was allowed to see the rushes every day I began to appreciate that scenes are shot from various angles so there are numerous ways in which a scene can be cut together. Slowly it dawned on me that what the editor was doing was deciding which angle to use for each line of dialogue or action, and the whole technique of editing became clear to me.

At the time I’m talking about here, film studios were like factories in which the majority of staff worked on a permanent basis. All the facilities and departments necessary to make movies were available under one roof – camera, sound, make-up, props, wardrobe, editing, special effects etc. – plus the huge ‘stages’ on which they built the sets. There was also a large area at the rear for building exterior sets. Even directors, producers and actors were employed under contract. There were technicians within the industry who worked freelance, but I rarely came across them during my three years at Pinewood.

The editing block contained numerous cutting rooms on two levels, fairly equally divided between rooms for film editing, and those for sound-track editing. The film editor had a first assistant and a second assistant, whilst sound editors (known as dubbing editors) had only one. Everyone learned from the person senior to them. The people in the front office kept an eye on how technicians were progressing, and through general feedback, people who showed promise were promoted. Work was virtually continuous, because as one finished on a movie it was only a short time before one started on another.

I must just clarify something here, Paul, because people outside the business find it difficult to understand, that throughout the making of a film, the sound and the picture are totally separate. If you went onto a set to watch the shooting of a scene, you would notice that the camera crew and the sound recordist were working quite a way apart. At the end of the day’s shooting, the negative from the camera would go off to the laboratory to be processed, and the tapes from the sound mixer would go to the sound department to be transferred to 35mm film stock. The following day the 35mm positive film would arrive back from the labs, and the 35mm sound track would arrive from the sound department. The editor’s editing machine (moviola) had a sound head and a picture viewer (see attached photo), and the sound and picture were run side-by-side all through the editing process. Only when the film was completed were the sound and picture ‘married,’ ready for the cinema. You must forgive me if you knew all this already, Paul, but I always explain this to people so that they understand how the sound (dubbing) editor can take the soundtrack away, and set aside all that is considered not good enough for the final film. He then spends many weeks slowly replacing the discarded sound, re-recording actor’s voices and sound effects, and even going out with a sound crew to record cars, planes, motorcycles etc.

So to answer your question, Paul, I learned my trade from the people I worked under. Sometimes I learned from just watching, or sometimes the boss would show me something he’d done, and we’d talk it through for my education. I’m very sorry if I’ve told you loads of stuff that you already knew.

What was your ambition when starting out?
I think at the beginning I just wanted to be involved in the world of filmmaking, and I had no real idea of what I might achieve. My instinct told me that the director was the pinnacle of the profession, and that would be one’s target, but how one could achieve it I had no idea. It’s interesting to think that I could have been placed in any one of many different departments, in which case my career would have taken a totally different path. At the beginning of course I had hoped to be working on the set with the actors and camera crew etc, and it was big disappointment to find myself in an editing room, but as time went on I came to appreciate the significance of the department, and I was very relieved to have ended up there.

How did you end up working on DR. NO (1962)?

Throughout my three-year term I was moved around the block quite a bit, but generally I seemed to end up assisting dubbing editors. This was ironic as I’d slowly come to appreciate the importance of the film editor in the picture-making process, and my ambition was to one day become one. Nevertheless I learned a lot from being involved in the various processes of the soundtrack, and by the end of my contract I was assisting the great Harry Miller, the most senior dubbing editor in Pinewood at that time.Typical of the films I worked on during my three-year term were ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT (1957), A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) and CARVE HER NAME WITH PRIDE (1958, directed by future three-time Bond helmer Lewis Gilbert).

For reasons I have never quite understood, as my 3-year contract was coming to an end I was summoned for a chat by a group of senior colleagues. They explained to me that the legendary freelance dubbing editor, Win Ryder, was looking for an assistant, and they thought I would be ideal for the job. (Win’s credits included David Lean's THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI,1957 and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, 1962.) They pointed out that Win was not an easy guy to work with, but it would be an opportunity for me to assist on really major movies, including expensive American productions. Being young and ambitious, I turned down the offer of another contract with Rank, and joined Wyn on the American naval epic JOHN PAUL JONES (1959). This was followed by SOLOMON AND SHEBA (1959) and soon after that, SINK THE BISMARCK!, edited by the up-and-coming Peter Hunt (and directed by Lewis Gilbert). (I had of course given up the security of working for Rank now, and I was working freelance like Win and Peter.)

In spite of enjoying my time with Win, I longed to move away from sound, and get involved with film editing, so when I heard that Peter’s assistant was moving on, I asked if I could replace him. Peter was happy to take me on, and so started a long and happy partnership that lasted for many years.

I initially assisted Peter on four movies: THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN (1960), THE GREENGAGE SUMMER (aka THE LOSS OF INNOCENCE) (1961, directed by Lewis Gilbert), ON THE FIDDLE (aka OPERATION SNAFU) (1961, starring Sean Connery), and H.M.S. DEFIANT (1962, directed by Lewis Gilbert). During the making of H.M.S. DEFIANT, the producers asked if we could put some sound effects on some of the naval battle scenes, as they had to show the film to some very important people. Knowing that I had a lot of experience working with top sound editors, Peter left the job to me, and when the producers said how pleased they were with the result, he gave me all the credit. So to answer your question, Paul, the next film Peter was offered was DR. NO.

What do you remember about seeing DR. NO for the first time?
As Peter and I were on the film from the very first day, we saw the film steadily growing in our editing room, but I don’t believe any of the crew were certain if we had a success or a failure. We knew we had a very cool character in Sean Connery, and his memorable close-up line saying, “Bond, James Bond.” We knew we had some great sequences such as the titles with the blind assassins, the amazing tarantula scene, Ursula emerging from the sea in her bikini, the car chase, Bond killing a man in cold blood and the scene in Dr No’s tunnel etc., but how would the audience react to the character of Dr. No? It was one of those films that could go either way, and it was just luck really that it turned out to be such a success. Peter decided that the film should move along at a fairly rapid pace, and he deserves great credit for that. Ken Adam's sets of course were quite outstanding, especially as the budget was so tight. I feel a lot of the film’s success rested on his shoulders.

As you probably know, the budget was so tight that the production office said they could not afford the usual two dubbing editors (one for the dialogue and one to handle the sound effects.) As a result Peter made the decision to promote me to sound effects editor, based on the work I did on H.M.S. DEFIANT, and the fact that I’d worked in sound editing for so long. It was a massive promotion for a first-timer, and virtually unheard of at that time. Peter assured me that I had the backing of Terence Young.

How important do you think was sound to the success of the early Bond films?
Without a doubt, when everyone in the sound department at Pinewood saw DR. NO, they realised that here was a film on which sound could make a real contribution. 

As you probably know, the final phase of any film production is when all the various soundtracks that have been recorded and prepared over many weeks are carefully blended together (including the music) by the sound mixers. The chief mixer at Pinewood was Gordon McCullum, a man famous for his volatility, but brilliant at his job, and I had never seen him so enthusiastic about getting his hands on a movie. The whole sound department were right behind me, and we worked together as a team. I searched everywhere unsuccessfully for the sound of a silenced pistol, so in the end Gordon and I created our own. We both knew we could go a bit ‘over-the-top’, so we went to town creating sounds like the metal idol being crushed in Dr No’s claws. We really enjoyed ourselves.

To answer your question, I think the sound and music were very important to the early Bonds, because the films were not only full of action, but also moving into a slightly futuristic genre which gave us a chance to come up with some very original effects. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) was more conventional and realistic, but still gave us plenty of scope for the exciting sounds of boats and trains and planes. I think the fight in the train carriage played with just the rattle of the train noise is one of my favourite scenes. Likewise the car-crushing machine in GOLDFINGER (1964).

Let’s not forget the Bond theme and the contribution the score made. Its value was inestimable.

What was your biggest challenge on the Bonds and your other work at the time?
The biggest challenge for a sound editor is to create a sound that no-one has ever heard before. It means that you’re breaking new ground, so you have to use your imagination and hope that others will accept your sound as being appropriate. On the early Bonds, sound technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today, so they were indeed a challenge. Totally original sounds that had to be created included the silenced pistol, the electronic doors and lift in Dr No’s apartment, the warble tone in the tunnel, the electronic atmosphere in Dr No’s laboratory, the nuclear reactor, Oddjob’s flying hat, the laser beam, the bomb in Fort Knox and the sound of the rocket in the volcano in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967).

As it turned out, the most difficult sound I ever had to produce was in DR. NO. For the laboratory scene at the end of the film, I needed a machine that could not only give me a suitable sound for the nuclear reactor, but one that could also vary in pitch for when the wheel on the gantry was turned. After weeks of searching, I could find nothing remotely suitable and I knew I was in serious trouble, so I pleaded with the Pinewood maintenance engineer to come up with some ideas. Initially he said it couldn’t be done, but eventually by some miracle, he managed to design a machine that did the job perfectly, which was a huge achievement, and one that demonstrated the enthusiasm that the film stirred up in the sound department.

I was particularly proud when the electronic warble sound I selected from a sound library was used over the tunnel sequence, in preference to the music that was shot for it. It gave the scene a very eerie atmosphere.

Which relationships do you treasure from this period?
Peter Hunt and I had a very special relationship, and I can never thank him enough for the faith he placed in me. He repaid my dedication and loyalty a hundred fold. Following DR. NO, we developed a unique way of working, inasmuch as I stayed as his assistant until the film was first assembled, after which I left him in the safe hands of our other assistant, whilst I concentrated on the sound editing. In total, Peter and I worked on nine projects together.

Without a doubt too, my relationship with Gordon McCullum was very special. He could be a very difficult and demanding man, and DR. NO was a huge challenge for a first-timer like me, but he took me under his wing and treated me with respect, and I couldn’t have wished for a better colleague. All the early Bonds involved a lot of hard work, and it was great to know that Gordon was always there when I needed him.

There was also a Recording Theatre 5 at Pinewood in which we recorded countless sound effects for the Bonds, and the crew that ran it were dedicated to the series. I remember them with great affection for their dedication to the cause and the professionalism they applied to all my sessions.
What are your strongest memories of 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman?
My memory of Cubby and Harry is that Cubby was a warm, genuine ‘father figure’, whilst Harry was rather stern and distant. I obviously didn’t have as much contact with them as Peter did, but I was always aware of their presence. There’s a famous story isn’t there of how Cubby took over the catering on one of the location shoots, and everybody loved him for it. I couldn’t imagine Harry doing anything like that. Cubby also showed respect for my Oscar whereas Harry never mentioned it. There’s little doubt that Cubby was much loved and highly respected, and this was demonstrated brilliantly at his memorial celebration held at the Odeon Leicester Square in 1996. The place was packed to the gills with every seat taken, and one former colleague after another (including three James Bonds) took to the stage to sing his praises and pay their respects. I cannot imagine the life of any other producer’s being celebrated in such a way. I was always slightly nervous of Harry, and he’s the only producer I ever worked with who I would address as ‘Mr.’ I did respect him, however, for buying the rights to THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), which is the film I loved working on the most.

What was your impression of Sean Connery?
Unfortunately, as my main responsibility was sound effects, I had virtually no contact with Sean. Sound editors only work closely with actors when their responsibility is the dialogue, and on some other productions that was my job. I probably came closer to Sean when I returned to work on NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983). I believe to some extent he was involved in the production of that movie, and I sat in on viewings when he was present in that capacity. I didn’t feel he was particularly well-equipped for that role, but there’s little doubt he was an excellent Bond, and no actor has really equalled him since.

How was your experience returning to Bond with NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN?

I obviously haven’t time to tell you all about my time on this movie, but I must say it was a terrible experience. It certainly was as chaotic and disorganised as you’ve been led to believe. For a start the production had committed the cardinal sin of not making sure the script was watertight before they started shooting. As a result we were putting lines on the back of peoples’ heads to explain the plot, and it was never explained how Bond worked out he should go to the Bahamas. In the final scene the Marines arrive in the nick of time to save our heroes, but there was no way they could have known where Bond was.

From my point of view, important people I usually work with on a production had already left the picture. I had no production manager to turn to for arranging recording sessions, and the guy I urgently needed to discuss the sound of the motorbike had long gone.

A bloke arrived from the States who was supposed to be the ‘money man’, and he turned out to be a very nasty piece of work indeed. He somehow set people against one another, and rumour had it that on his first day in the studio he threw an ashtray through a window.

The final dubbing session was a nightmare. Instead of having just the director to please there seemed to be a committee giving their opinion all the time, so whenever a sound came up for discussion invariably someone wasn’t happy with it. It was like carrying my sounds over an obstacle course.

I sat in on one or two viewings when the ‘committee’ were discussing the edit, and I could hear them talking about relatively minor problems when more seriously flawed areas were being completely overlooked. I don’t know how I kept my mouth shut.

The other crazy thing was that all of us guys working on the film treated it as a serious Bond movie, whereas in the middle of dubbing, we were told it was a spoof. I couldn’t believe it.

Sean did come into my room one day which was the first time we’d ever had a chance to chat. All-in-all though, it was a bad experience, and the film has been disowned by the Bond aficionados.

You won an Oscar for GOLDFINGER. That must have been an amazing experience...
As you can imagine, unlike actors, technicians never think in terms of awards, so when the initial telegram arrived from the States it was hard to take it seriously. What’s more, none of us had ever heard of a Sound Effects Oscar, so that made it even more bizarre. Mind you, the award for ‘Sound’ had always been a bit of an enigma, because so many technicians are involved in the sound process that it was never clear who should receive the award. Eventually of course it became apparent that an award for Sound Effects Editing had now been created, and I was being invited to go to the States as a nominee.

When my wife and I arrived in L.A., we were treated like royalty, and I soon became aware that there were only two nominees for the Sound Effects award. For the very first time, I realised that I had a 50-50 chance of winning, and I became pretty nervous. I suddenly had to take on board the fact that I might actually be going up on stage to be seen by millions of people across America. Fortunately I met a guy in the hotel who gave me a pill that he said would keep me calm, and I must admit that for the rest of the evening I had no nerves at all. By the time that gorgeous actress Angie Dickinson called out my name, I was ready for my big moment, and as soon as I looked out at the audience from the stage I could see why no-one ever appears nervous. The lighting is such that one is looking out at one massive GLARE, so you aren’t aware of hundreds of faces looking up at you and making you feel self-conscious. I said my ''thank yous'' and walked off with Angie to meet the press, and after a lot of questions and answers I was allowed to rejoin my wife. Apparently I missed Judy Garland performing on stage which my wife said left her spellbound.

To be honest Paul, I think my most vivid memory of the whole Oscar experience was the ball afterwards. We sat at a table with various bigwigs from United Artists, plus actor Edmond O’Brien, who looked pissed out of his brains, and we were asked if there was anyone we’d particularly like to meet. We said we’d be privileged to meet Charlton Heston, and he promptly came over and we had a very relaxing chat. After the meal, we found it totally surreal that we were dancing and smooching amongst some of the most famous faces in the world. We thought it hilarious that whenever we bumped into another couple it turned out to be someone of the likes of Gregory Peck and his lady. I had of course worked with famous actors so I wasn’t in any way starstruck, but to see virtually the whole of Hollywood under one roof and to be part of it really was an experience.

Why do you think the Bond series has lasted fifty years?
I think it was the format that was integral to the success of the series. Film-goers knew that if they paid to see a Bond movie they would get wonderful locations, beautiful girls, nasty villains, action and stunts, expensive special effects, amazing sets and of course a wonderful cool hero in James Bond. I think Sean Connery, Ursula as Honey Ryder and Ken Adam’s sets got the series off to an amazing start. From that time on the company could afford to splash out, and people couldn’t wait to see what each new production had to offer. Without doubt Sean was a master-stroke of casting, which is why I’ve always been amazed that Bond fans accepted Roger Moore in the part. I’m sure Roger is a great guy, but he took much of the threat out of the character of Bond, and at times trivialised the role. In some ways I blame the directors for that because they should have reined him in. Generally speaking I think it was the formats rather than figures that were integral to the Bond success, but huge credit must go the set designers and the special effects department.

How do you feel about the Bond series after you left?

Everyone has their own views about the Bonds, and the only common ground that everybody shares is that QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) was a complete disaster (even if it did make serious money.) For my part, I can’t watch any of Roger Moore’s efforts and I thought THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) was the worst of all the Bonds. It’s difficult for me to be totally objective because to be honest with you, Bond movies aren’t really my cup of tea. They’re great escapist entertainment and the fans love them but I prefer realism which is why THE DEBT (2011) was by far the best film I’ve seen since THE HURT LOCKER (2008). Having said that, I think the other actors that have taken over the Bond role have done very well, and I also think that CASINO ROYALE (2006) came along just at the right time. The series definitely needed to move into a new era and CASINO achieved that brilliantly with Daniel Craig.

What are your favourite sound effects from your work on the first five Bond films?
Without doubt my favourite sound has to be Oddjob’s flying hat. Everybody remembers it and everybody associates me with it. When I had the privilege of meeting Ben Burtt (Oscar winner for STAR WARS, 1977) we joked that he would be famous for his ‘lightsaber’ sound and I would be remembered for Oddjob’s hat. I was once invited to appear on The Esther Rantzen Show, and when she played a scene where Oddjob hurls the hat the applause was spontaneous. I knew when creating the sound that I would need to mix a variety of tracks together, and I remembered a couple of toys we’d had when we were kids that I thought would make good ‘ingredients’. Fortunately my assistant was able to find a shop that still sold those toys and they became two important elements in the final sound.

Another sound of which I’m proud is the sound of Dr No crushing the metal idol in his metal claws. Many tracks were mixed together for that and I love hearing it played.

Without doubt my favourite overall sound sequence is the car crusher in GOLDFINGER. Most of the sound that came back from the States with that scene wasn’t good enough, so I virtually had to start from scratch. Again, very many tracks were mixed together and I love all the crunching metal and breaking glass. I had a terrible job finding a sound for the heaving jaws of the machine, and it was only by chance that some workmen came to do a job on the studio car park and used a type of compressor. The sound was perfect for my needs so I rushed out and recorded it on a toy recorder that was the only machine my sound recordist could loan me at the time.

Then of course there was that escalating sound of the nuclear reactor in Dr No’s laboratory. As I’ve already said, it was without doubt my biggest ever challenge, and had the Pinewood maintenance man not invented that machine I would have been in very serious trouble. The problem was that we not only had to produce an appropriate electronic tone, but we had to be able to control it and synchronise it to the movement of the wheel. It was one of those occasions when the sound technology wasn’t up to the visuals.

I think it’s fair to say that the sounds that my colleagues were most keen to hear were the laser beam in GOLDFINGER and the rocket in the volcano in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. I was very fortunate on both these occasions because I was tipped off about a company called ''The BBC Radiophonic Workshop.'' There was no technology around in those days to create either of these sounds, but the workshop had been set up to research electronic music, and they were pioneers in their field. I told them what I wanted, and somehow they came up with the goods. I’m proud of both those sounds, and very much in the debt of the Workshop.

The reason these are my favourite sound-effects is because they all made a huge contribution to the drama of their scene. So often a sound is just a sound, but in the Bonds there were chances to make the sound add drama and impact, and I think all the above tracks achieved that.

What can you say about the re-voicing of certain actors on the Bond films?

As I’ve already pointed out, my job on six Bond movies was strictly sound effects so I wasn’t involved in post-synchronising any of the actors. Without doubt the re-voicing was carried out to a very high standard, and film-goers are amazed when the truth is explained to them. 

You could do worse than contact Monica van der Zyl, who you probably know re-voiced both Ursula Andress in DR. NO and Claudine Auger in THUNDERBALL (1965). She did confide in me once that she also re-voiced Eunice Gayson in DR. NO and Shirley Eaton in GOLDFINGER, which I think has been kept under wraps. 

I did try hard  to coach the Japanese actress in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (Akiko Wakabayashi), and I spent an hour teaching her to say the words, ''Highway One!'' Finally I said, ”OK, you’ve got it, say it to me one more time,'' and she said '' Highvay Vone.'' I gave up after that, and she too was re-voiced.

Are you still involved with Bond in any way?
I’m only involved with the world of Bond inasmuch as I usually attend the annual Fan Club event run by Gareth Owen at Pinewood. I enjoy meeting the fans and signing autographs, and seeing guests I’ve grown to know over the years such as Eunice Gayson, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Lewis Gilbert and various fellow technicians. As this is the 50th anniversary year, the chances are I’ll be invited to an event or two but I haven’t been given any dates yet.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. 

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