Peter A West MIET, Television News Cameraman / Film expert and Technical Writer
Obituary provided by Alex West
Peter was born in Prague in 1928 and his early childhood was marked by the adverse circumstances of being an evacuee, in a country where he had no close family. He continued his education at a boarding school in Kent for evacuees, and later completed it at a school in North Wales.
On leaving, Peter became interested in photography and started his career as a projectionist, before going on to work at Ilford in the film processing laboratories. He joined the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), the precursor organisation of the IET, in early 1955.
Later, Peter worked at the BBC in Cardiff as a film cameraman, followed by Anglia Television in Norwich. From Anglia he went on to join the ITN as a cameraman, initially using film as a medium. During this time, he married his late wife Sandra, a marriage which lasted until her passing away in 2007.
Peter was at ITN for over 27 years and rose to become one of the company’s most skilled cameramen. He was the first to use video for Electronic News Gathering (E.N.G.) in the UK. He went on to train other cameramen in its use and practice, and also trained ITN’s first female location sound recordist. Throughout this time, he helped develop the workflow techniques and pioneered the use of equipment that is still used in modern television news gathering today.
Peter’s nightly reports documented the history of the time and went on to shape national opinion, particularly his coverage of the situation on the ground in Northern Ireland. His courage and dedication accomplishing a job in conflict zones, whilst under fire, was noted.
In 1977 Peter was ITN’s choice of cameraman to accompany and document H.M. the Queen's Silver Jubilee world tour, celebrating 25 years of the Queen’s reign. Further trips on international stories of note both preceded and followed. Suez, Israel, Czechoslovakia for the Velvet Revolution, Iran / Iraq, and Romania were amongst them.
Peter was an elected official of ACTT, which today is better known as BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union). As an official, he acquired a reputation as being a tough but fair negotiator with management, on behalf of the members who had elected him. A commemorative certificate that testifies to 50 years of continuous membership of the Union was amongst the awards that he was most proud of.
Outside of ITN, Peter was employed as Technical Consultant at the British Journal of Photography. He wrote for journals such as Cinema Technology and Movie Maker, gaining a considerable reputation in the cine film field. He also served as a member of several committees, which designed and specified film industry related standards on behalf of the British Standards Institute.
Peter had a strong interest in mathematics, as well as a mastery of electronics, which had developed in the valve era and continued throughout the solid state era to linear integrated circuitry. With his expertise, he was ideally placed to recognise and participate in the home computing revolution of the early and mid-1980s. He attained a level of competence and proficiency which many found enviable and very few others, apart from professionals, achieve. Rudimentary programming and editing machine code and hexadecimal came relatively easily to him.
Peter maintained a level of understanding and expertise in film and video, even after retirement. His insights, not only in regards to cameras, but also in regard to general equipment and technique used in the industry, were remarkable. In addition to being a member of the IEE, he was a member of SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture And Television Engineers), BKSTS (British Kinematic Sound and Television Society) and RTS (The Royal Television Society). For a considerable period of time, he was also a member of the AES (Audio Engineering Society).
Beyond his work, Peter was an ardent opera aficionado. He was devoted to his wife and their menagerie of animals, primarily cats. Peter’s knowledge and understanding of film and related industries is, most certainly, a great loss. He leaves a bequest which stipulates that his archive of cinematography literature be offered to the Museum of Photography Film and Television in Bradford. He is survived by his son Alex, who no longer works with film, but in television production in a closely related field.
A memorial/thanksgiving service will be held next year. Colleagues who knew him can get further information by contacting Member News.