Brian Blake remembers Sidney Bernstein and his film about the Belsen concentration camp

I had just finished the ‘History of Television’ and Steve Morrison rang me up and said “Sidney wants this film made.” I said “Oh yes” In the Second World War Sidney was one of the first people to go into Belsen concentration camp. He was a major in the army and he decided when he came out of the army he wanted to make a film on Belsen. It’s an interesting story in itself because he got people like Hitchcock involved and all sorts of things like that. So they collected all these newsreels but the film was never made, never transmitted. All the rolls of film were kept in the British War Museum in London. People had heard of them, knew of them, but they’d never been seen. He wanted someone to do this film of Belsen using this Hitchcock inspired material. So I did that.

I built up four interviewees, one of the first soldiers to go into Belsen and then three Jewish survivors in London who had been at Belsen. We had a grand showing of this film in London. He sent me an invitation to this film, ‘Mr Lake’ it said. So that was it and then a week later I got a letter from him, again saying: ‘Dear Mr Lake, thank you for all your efforts on this film. I didn’t quite like all the interviews you put in but otherwise thank you very much.’ So that was my immediate experience of dealing with Bernstein, being called by the wrong name.

But he was a presence of course, he was always sweeping up and down corridors. We interviewed him in the making of this Belsen film and I had done all the interviews up until then but of course no, he had to have Mike Scott to interview him. He obviously trusted Mike Scott, he didn’t quite know who I was. He was more of a presence, people just didn’t meet him like that, he might pop into somebody’s office in the evening and see what they’re up to type of thing.


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