Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.
“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in town) I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these four paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”
So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad:
I knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking and at lovecamping.co.za I found this:
A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.
The film ZULU starring Stanley Baker, Michael Caine and Jack Hawkins was one of the biggest box-office hits of all time in England. It ‘premiered’ in 1964 and for the next twelve years it remained in constant cinema circulation before making its first appearance on television. It has since become a Bank holiday television perennial, and remains beloved by the British public. Some pommies watch it every Christmas, year after year. Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lie-ies.
The film premiered on 22 January 1964, 85 years to the day after the event it commemorates – the battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879. Very few people know though, that it had its REAL WORLD PREMIERE in our lounge in 95 Stuart Street, Harrismith. In late 1963.
Count yourself as one of a very tiny privileged minority who’s “in the know”!
Back in late 1963 my old man showed us an 8mm movie he had filmed with his state-of-the-art Eumig camera.
Whirr whirrr whirr – those of you who watched them will remember the noise of the projector. Also maybe Thuk! Oh shit! Eina! as the film broke and had to be re-threaded in the projector with its super-hot bulb.
Super 8 Sound Projector Eumig Mark S810
He and Mom had been to Royal Natal National Park down Oliviershoek Pass to film the filming of the film ZULU.
What I remember seeing was a lot of dust and a lot of be-feathered Zulu warriors charging at some umLungus in funny red coats, falling down in a cloud of dust and then getting up laughing, walking back and doing it all over again. Mom and Dad remember being asked to stop filming, and then once they saw it was a tiny 8mm camera, just to move out of the way as they continued filming.
Thanks to the huge success of the film – which was longer than the two minutes we saw – the Battle of Rorke’s Drift has entered British folklore. A New Film is being shot this year (2019/2020) which might just include some of Dad’s 8mm footage! See all about that here.
Remember, though, to take their version of the battle with a large pinch of cerebos.
The background story of the film Zulu, 54 years on
The Real History – lesson: always take ‘official’ histories with a pinch of salt:
On 22 January 1879, at a remote mission station in Natal, South Africa, 157 men, mainly British soldiers (the number is usually downplayed, sometimes “under 100”) held off wave after wave of attacks by some 3,000 Zulu warriors (the number is certainly exaggerated – your son’s rugby opposition was always MUCH bigger than your boys, right?). Remember who wrote about the battle – jingoist reporters for jingoist newspapers.
Although the Zulus had some old-fashioned muskets and a few modern rifles, most of their warriors were only armed with shields and spears. The Battle of Rorke’s Drift lasted 10 hours (often stated as ‘over 12’), from late afternoon till just before dawn the following morning. By the end of the fighting, around 365 men lay dead, 15 (or 17) British inside the barricaded buildings they had defended, and around 350 Zulu outside them. Plus many wounded men, most of whom were murdered after the battle!!
The defences are most always characterised as ‘biscuit boxes and bags’ and paintings show the British defenders hugely exposed and vulnerable. A photo taken soon after the battle looks very different to the descriptions and the paintings: I haven’t seen a painting showing soldiers firing through holes in a stone wall.
Historically the battle was a minor incident which had little influence on the course of the Anglo-Zulu War. It might have remained a footnote in the history books or an anecdote told at regimental dinners had it not been for:
It being hailed as a victory – and then an EPIC victory, although it was actually simply a NON-DEFEAT after the truly epic defeat at Isandlwana the same day;
The number of Victoria Crosses and other awards that were dished out for the battle – probably because of the prior defeat? Not all the true heroes got VC’s and some who should not have, did. In fact the truth of the battle was probably FAR more sordid than the glorious accounts a desperate British government wanted to portray. The image of valour and nobility in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 turned to shame when documents were uncovered which show that Rorke’s Drift was the scene of an atrocity – a war crime, in today’s language – which Britain covered up. In the hours after the battle senior officers and enlisted men of a force sent to relieve the garrison are said to have killed hundreds of wounded Zulu prisoners. Some were bayoneted, some hanged and others buried alive in mass graves. More Zulus are estimated to have died in this way than in combat, but the executions were hushed up to preserve Rorke’s Drift’s image as a bloody but clean fight between two forces which saluted the other’s courage. The Zulu salute in the film was FAKE;
AND then, and especially, for a film – ZULU – which dramatised the story and has kept it in the public mind ever since.
For a better depiction of why Rorkes Drift was exaggerated is told here:
The story behind the film’s making is almost as remarkable as the battle it depicts(most of this account taken from talks by Sheldon Hall, Sr Lecturer, Stage and Screen Studies Sheffield Hallam University)
The principal artists responsible for Zulu were hardly Establishment figures. Screenwriter John Prebble was a former Communist Party member who had volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. His co-writer, the American director Cy Endfield, had fled Hollywood in the early 1950s after he was named as a Communist during the McCarthyite witch-hunts. Endfield’s production partner and the film’s main star was Stanley Baker, a life-long supporter of the Labour Party.
All three were committed to progressive causes, but their motives in making Zulu were not political. It is not an anti-imperial diatribe any more than it is a celebration of colonial conquest. Its main purpose was frankly commercial, but Baker also saw the story as an chance to pay tribute to his Welsh homeland. This certainly explains the strong emphasis on the Welshness of the private soldiers – one of the many fictionalised elements of Zulu that have created a myth around the battle.
Filming under Apartheid
The producers had to keep their political views in check when they made the decision to shoot the film in South Africa, then in the grip of Apartheid. There were strict, legally enforced guidelines regarding the degree of freedom permitted to the cast and crew. It was impressed upon the 60-odd British visitors that sexual relations with people of other races would result in possible imprisonment, deportation or worse. Warned that miscegenation was a flogging offence, Baker is reported to have asked – in glorious Pom tradition – if he could have the lashes while ‘doing it’. The authorities were not amused.
The main filming location was in the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains in the Royal Natal National Park, a popular tourist spot distant from any large township. But a number of incidents brought home the realities of the oppressive regime. Chatting to John Marcus, one of several professional black stuntmen employed on the film, assistant editor Jennifer Bates invited him for a drink in the bar/canteen that had been built on site for the crew. Marcus pointed out that he was forbidden by law to mix socially with whites and could not enter.
In his autobiography, Michael Caine recalls an incident in which a black labourer was reprimanded by an Afrikaans foreman with a punch in the face. Baker sacked the foreman on the spot and made clear that such behaviour would not be tolerated. Caine swore never to make another film in South Africa while Apartheid was in force, and kept to his word.
Introducing Michael Caine
Keeping watch over the tightly budgeted film was production supervisor Colin Lesslie. “I am very glad to be able to tell you,” he wrote at one point to the Embassy Pictures’ chief in London, “that in my opinion and from the little he has done so far, Michael Caine as ‘Bromhead’ is very good indeed. When he was cast for the part I couldn’t see it but I think (and hope) I was wrong.” This must have been a common reaction.
Not quite an unknown, the 30-year-old Caine was already making a name for himself on television but was becoming type-cast in working-class Cockney parts. Casting him as a blue-blooded officer in his first major film role represented a considerable risk, but it was one that paid off.
Thousands of ’em?
The soldiers were played by real soldiers – eighty national servicemen borrowed from the South African National Defence Force. And most of the Zulus were real Zulus. A mere 240 Zulu extras were employed for the battle scenes, bussed in from their tribal homes over 100 miles away. Around 1,000 additional tribesmen were filmed by the second unit in Zululand, but most of these scenes hit the cutting-room floor.
Living in remote rural areas, few if any Zulus had visited a cinema and television had not reached Natal. The crew rigged up a projector and outdoor screen, and the Zulus’ first sight of a motion picture was a Western. From then on, the “warriors” had a better idea of what they were being asked to do. Responsible for training and rehearsing them were stunt arrangers John Sullivan and Joe Powell. “The Zulus were initially suspicious of us in case we were taking the mickey,” says Powell, now 91. “After a couple of days they realised we weren’t and got into it. After that you couldn’t hold them back.”
Contrary to stories the Zulus were not paid with gifts of cattle or wristwatches but received wages in Rand. The main corps was paid the equivalent of nine shillings per day each, additional extras eight shillings, and the female dancers slightly less again. Associate producer Basil Keys remarked: “There is no equality of pay for women in the Zulu nation!”
For the opening sequence depicting a mass Zulu wedding, 600 additional background artists were brought in, including nightclub performers from Johannesburg, to play the principal dancers. During breaks in filming, they twisted and jived to modern pop records played over Tannoys, with director Cy Endfield among the crew members joining them.
The small but key role of King Cetshwayo was given to his direct descendant, the present-day Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The wedding dance was choreographed by Buthelezi’s mother, a tribal historian, and supervised by stuntman Simon Sabela, who later became South Africa’s first black film director.
History and politics
Like all films, Zulu is of its time and captures the mood of its time more profoundly than is often realised. A conservative view would see it as a hymn to gung-ho heroism, to flag-waving patriotism and the glory days of the British Empire. In fact, by 1964 the sun was already setting on the empire and undoubtedly Zulu stirred a lot of nostalgia for it. For some, that explains its appeal.
But look again. The knowledge that colonialism was in its dying fall is there in the film. The script is filled with a sense that the soldiers are in a place they don’t belong and don’t want to be. The indigenous people are not disorganised savages but a disciplined army. And the young lieutenant, played by Caine, who had earlier dismissed the enemy as “fuzzies” and the levies on his own side as “cowardly blacks”, now declares himself ashamed at the “butcher’s yard” he has brought about.
A modern awareness of racial representation means that Zulu has undoubtedly “dated”. If the film were to be remade today, as internet rumours continually suggest, it would certainly be done differently. But the absence of individuated black characters doesn’t make it racist. Though told from the British point of view, it shows that viewpoint change from dismissive contempt and naked fear to respect and even admiration. The famous (and entirely fictional) salute the departing Zulu army pays to the garrison survivors is returned with their – and our – gaze of awe and wonder.
Adapted from an article in Cinema Retro No 28 (c) Sheldon Hall 2014
Sheldon Hall is a Senior Lecturer in Stage and Screen Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. See an expanded second edition of his book ‘Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It – The Making of the Epic Movie’ – Tomahawk Press.
Cy Endfield’s epic military marathon about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift was actually shot 90 miles south-west of Rorke’s Drift in the Royal Natal National Park in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. It had the far more mountainous and picturesque Drakensberg Amphitheatre as backdrop, rather than the low hills like the Oscarberg at the real site of the battle.
Below see the movie backdrop, the Drakensberg Amphitheatre (left) – and the real backdrop, the Oscarberg (right):
2.Many of the Zulu extras had never seen a motion picture
Many of the Zulus who were hired as extras for the film had never seen a motion picture prior to filming and were unsure what to expect. With this in mind, director Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker, who played Lieutenant John Chard, set up a projector in order for them to watch a western, starring Gene Autry. Then the Zulus probably said “Ah, so its all bulldust?” and acted accordingly.
3. The real Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead was extremely deaf…
Played expertly by Michael Caine, this snobbish character was described by Lieutenant Henry Curling, who fought alongside Bromhead at Rorke’s Drift, as “a stupid old fellow, as deaf as a post.” Major Francis Clery, who spent time with Bromhead after Rorke’s Drift, described him as “a capital fellow at everything except soldiering”, while his commanding officer said in private that Bromhead was “hopeless”. Still, political face-saving at the time saw Bromhead awarded the Victoria Cross.
4. Michael Caine initially auditioned for the role of Private Henry Hook
This was Michael Caine’s first major film role and, although he eventually put in an exceptional performance as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, he was crippled by nerves and beaten to the role he initially auditioned for, that of Private Henry Hook, by James Booth. Interestingly, Caine was also unable to ride a horse so a member of the filming crew took his place in the scene where he crosses the stream on horseback at the beginning of the film. This explains why the camera pans down on to the horse.
5. Private Henry Hook was badly portrayed in the film
In the film, Private Henry Hook (James Booth) is placed under arrest for insubordination. He is seen lounging around in the shade and trying to pilfer free booze as his comrades prepare for battle in the stifling heat. In reality, Private Hook was an exemplary soldier and teetotal, who was also awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Hook’s daughter walked out of the film’s premiere in disgust at this inaccurate portrayal.
6. Eleven British soldiers were given a Victoria Cross; Twelve had been nominated
Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne (played by Nigel Green in the film), requested a commission rather than the Victoria Cross. He was duly granted this wish and went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel. When he died in 1945, he was the last surviving British soldier from the battle.
7. Mangosuthu Buthelezi played his great grandfather Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande in the movie
Mangosuthu Buthelezi was the chieftain of the Buthelezi tribe when he played the role of Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande in 1964. Buthelezi went on to found the Inkatha Freedom Party and was the leader of the former KwaZulu bantustan. He has also held positions in the new, legitimate SA government and parliament.
EUMIG was an Austrian company producing audio and video equipment that existed from 1919. The name is an acronym for Elektrizitäts und Metallwaren Industrie Gesellschaft – “Electricity and Metalware Industry Company” – In 1982 EUMIG went bankrupt – punishment for choosing such a boring name? Its patent for the macro system in lenses was sold to the Japanese company Canon.
Thuk! Oh shit! Eina! – gosh;
umLungus – paleface; speak with forked tongue; in Africa as well as America;
I’ll add a link to the 8mm movie footage the old man took on the film set in the ‘berg as soon as I can. A new movie about the making of the film is in the offing and we have offered this seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage to Henry Coleman the film-maker. As we have undertaken not to use the footage till after his premiere, we have forfeited a chance to repeat our 1963 scoop!! Darn!
We used to borrow our parents cars on the without-permission system and drive around at night with the ultimate destination being the Royal Natal National Park Hotel down Oliviershoek Pass. That was a triumphant destination I only achieved once, other times we went to Little Switzerland, halfway down the pass. Or Kestell.
Once Steph de Witt decided to raise the bar and we headed off to Durban with the goal of putting our toes in the warm surf of the Indian Ocean and getting back to Harrismith before sunrise but we ‘changed our minds’ soon after Ladysmith and turned back.
I knew this habit could not be genetic as Mom would never have done such things, but recently I found out something which may throw new light on the possible causes of such fun behaviour.
Mom’s older sister Pat matriculated at Girls High in Pietermaritzburg while Mom matriculated at Harrismith se Hoer. I suddenly wondered why, so I asked.
Oh, she was getting into boys so Dad sent her off to boarding school, said Mom. She must have been in standard eight and about fifteen or sixteen years old.
Apparently some boys had borrowed a car from Kemp’s Garage in Warden Street and headed off to Royal Natal National Park Hotel back before it was Royal. It only became Royal after the Breetish Royal visit in 1947 and this must have been about 1941. Mom thinks Pat’s fellow felons may have included Michael Hastings and Donald Taylor. Pat, being the fun-loving person she always was, was right there! FOMO (fear of missing out) was a thing then too, even if it didn’t yet have an acronym! I know I had it big as a teenager.
The hotel looks like this now, but not because of us, swear!
Potted history of the Royal Natal National Park area:
In 1836, while exploring Basutoland, two French missionaries, Mons. Arbrousset and Daumas first discovered Mont-Aux-Sources, the source of three rivers. In 1908 the idea of establishing a National Park in this area was conceived, and the territory was explored by Senator Frank Churchill, General Wylie, Colonel Dick and Mr. W.O. Coventry. Recommendations were put forward, but it was not until 1916 that the Secretary of Lands authorised the reservation of five farms, and certain Crown Lands totalling approximately 8160 acres and entrusted it to the Executive Committee of the Natal Province.
On the 16 September 1916 the National Park came into being. An advisory committee was appointed to control the Park. Shortly afterwards the Natal Provincial Administration purchased the farm ‘Goodoo’, upon which a hostel for hikers had already been opened in 1913 by W.O.Coventry, and incorporated a small portion of the Upper Tugela Native Trust Land, thus swelling the National Park to its present 20 000 acres. The Advisory Committee was abolished in January 1942, and the Park was administered by the Provincial Council until the formation of the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board on the 22 December 1947.
Mr. F. O. Williams held the first hostel lease rights on the farm Goodoo which he obtained from Mr. W.O. Coventry, the original owner. Mr. Coventry became Lessee of the whole park in 1919, and took over the post of Park Superintendent in August 1924 at the grand salary of five pounds per month. In 1926 he was succeeded by Otto and Walter Zunkel, who each added their share of buildings and improvements. Mr. Alan Short was the next Superintendent.
Short was in charge when the Royal Family visited the Park in May 1947. Prime Minister Jan Smuts wanted King George VI, the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to take a break from their two-month tour of southern Africa and see the splendour of the Drakensberg. It was Elizabeth’s first overseas trip and she celebrated her coming-of-age there, drafting her first important speech at the hotel.
Harrismith was not richly endowed with pubs. It had kroegs, but pubs, not so much. So before the Holiday Inn brought mid-West America to the Vrystaat vlaktes, we were forced to drink and drive.
In those days the Road Safety slogan was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk.
Not as snappy as Speed Kills but nevertheless a very valid slogan.
Favoured watering holes were Little Switzerland on the Oliviershoek Pass and, because after a skinful you want to actually negotiate a whole mountain pass, the Royal Natal National Park Hotel.
One legend of Harrismith District Mobile Imbibing was Rob, whose surname will remain a secret because he might have become sensitive to this well-deserved reputation earned during his lengthy youth later when he was probably telling his own kids to BEHAVE themselves. And Speed Kills, and Wipe Your Feet, and Two Drinks is Enough, and Abstain until you’re Married, you young ‘uns, and other things that would have raised a knowing grin on the faces of his old friends if they had overheard this theoretical speech.
I mean, his rollovers (how many?) culminated in his lying on his neck on the roof of Steph’s white VW Beetle and when Steph said “Rob! Are you OK?!” he murmured “Shh! My favourite tune is playing” as he adjusted the radio tuner which had gone off a touch as the vehicle bollamakissied.
Speaking of pubs, booze, cars and road safety:
The Catholics have it all wrong when they appoint Saints.
I mean NOT ONE of the barmen who put up with our shit has been nominated as far as I know – and they should be. They really deserve sainthood. Like the Little Switzerland barkeep who watched as we emptied the fine display of pampas grass in the foyer, stuck the stalks up our naked rears, set fire to the fronds and ran around the hotel corridors where innocent paying guests were slumbering, yelling “Flaming A’s! Call the Fire Brigade!” A pram was commandeered in the mock fire-fighting response – enough said, a grown man in a pram going Whee! Whaa!Whee! Whaa! – A fiasco.
Also a sainthood for Mother Mary, who loaned me her grey 1970 Ford Cortina to take an Aussie Exchange student there one night.
On the way back I thought I heard faint snoring and a swish-swish-swish sound from far away. I woke up to find I was going along at a fair rate with tamboekie grass hitting the windscreen, Yabsley the Oz asleep on the seat next to me. I slammed on the anchors and got out to look. I didn’t have a clue if I’d gone off on the right or the left of the road, but following our track back through the long grass we found the road above the pass, reversed and wound our way home much soberer. Had I killed Michael Yabsley I’d have changed the course of Aussie politics, as he went on to become an MP and the Aussie Liberal Party’s federal treasurer.
There should have been a law against drinking and driving.
I do tell my kids to BEHAVE themselves, but I have a hard time keeping a straight face.
I found a 1963 video of Royal Natal National Park.