Brookwood Military Cemetery & The Omen

When the Jews return to Zion
And a comet rips the sky
And the Holy Roman Empire rises,
Then you and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises,
Creating armies on either shore,
Turning man against his brother
‘Til man exists no more.

Question: What do 1960s anthropomorphic pop group The Banana Splits and the Antichrist have in common?

Answer: They were both directed by filmmaker Richard Donner.

All photos shot with Mamiya 645 Pro TL on Ilford FP4. Developed in Rodinal 1+99 for 60 minutes

Donner would go on to have great success with action blockbusters such as Superman (1978) and Lethal Weapon (1987). However, back in the early 70s he was known as a safe pair of hands with a solid body of TV work under his belt. He started his career in the late 1950s, gaining a reputation as a reliable TV director. Get Smart and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were a couple of the shows he worked on. Possibly most memorable, at least to those of us that grew up watching (reruns of) The Twilight Zone, was Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (watch). William Shatner, flying home after recovering from a mental breakdown, is the only person on the flight who can see a terrifying creature on the wing. Fearing the monster will bring the plane down, and realising everyone else thinks he’s crazy, he starts to wonder if he’s having a relapse. Air travel definitely hasn’t got any less stressful in the intervening years.

Although Donner directed a few features in his early career, it was the release of The Omen in 1976 that, in his own words, changed his life. David Seltzer was approached to write the screenplay in 1973. The Exorcist had been a huge commercial hit that year, and other studios were looking for their own supernatural horror to be The Next Big Thing. But although The Omen purported to be based on biblical prophecy, you’ll struggle to find verses like the one at the top of the page in the Bible. Seltzer made them all up.

American diplomat Robert Thorn is in Rome where his wife Katherine gives birth to a boy. Tragically, unknown to Katherine, the boy dies shortly afterwards. The hospital chaplain comes up with a cunning plan for Thorn to secretly adopt an orphan whose mother died giving birth to him. Thorn’s up for it, but thinks it’s best not to mention it to his wife. They name the child – insert thunder roll and lightning strike here – Damien. Thorn is later appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and moves to London with Katherine and Damien. After a series of grisly events, Thorn comes to believe his son is the Antichrist. Something I’m sure most parents can sympathise with.

There were a number of notable actors up for the part of Robert Thorn. William Holden turned it down, saying he didn’t want to be in a film about the Devil. Ironically, he went on to play Thorn’s brother in the 1978 sequel. Charlton Heston didn’t want to spend the winter in Europe. Roy Schneider was in the frame at one point, as was Dick Van Dyke. Van Dyke didn’t accept, undoubtedly fearing reprisals due to his appalling cockney accent in Mary Poppins. However, I was pleased to note his apology in 2017. Presumably there’s now an amnesty and it’s safe for him to set foot in London once again. Charles Bronson was another contender, although that would have made it a very different movie. “Charles Bronson would have made it a joke”, reflected screenwriter David Seltzer in 2014. No, what was needed was someone serious. An actor with gravitas and dignity, someone that could make this admittedly far-fetched script believable.

Gregory Peck wasn’t initially that keen. He didn’t like the idea of a horror film. Besides, he was battling his own demons at that point. His eldest son, Jonathan, was found dead in his home earlier that year, in what authorities believed was a suicide. But his friends, and particularly his agent, were worried about him and keen to get him working again. Donner pitched it to him as more a kind of suspense picture than a horror. There are no explicitly supernatural events in the movie. Everything that happens could just as easily be the result of tragic coincidence and religious mania. Thorn, driven mad by the horrific deaths of people around him, is convinced by some religious nutters that his adopted son is the Antichrist. We’ve all been there.

Peck loved it, and filming began in England in October 1975.

There are some striking scenes in the movie. David Warner’s character getting a permanent cure for headaches, for one (watch). But like all the best movies, it’s the final scenes that’s are some of the most memorable.

In the penultimate scene, Thorn is confronted by armed police as he attempts to kill Damien on a church altar with a set of sacrificial knives. He raises the dagger, plagued with self-doubt, unclear if he’s looking at an innocent child or the Devil.

“Please Daddy, no”, pleads the boy.

“Stop, or I’ll fire”, yells the cop.

With final resolve, Thorn grits his teeth. He plunges the dagger down. A shot rings out. The bullet leaves the gun barrel in slow motion. Fade to black.

The final scene was shot in Brookwood Military Cemetery, but the initial version is not what made it to the final cut.

The US president is presiding over a burial ceremony with three coffins. One each for Robert, Damien, and Katherine. When Alan Ladd Jnr, President of Twentieth Century Fox, saw the footage he asked if there was any to do it and keep the boy alive. No problem, said Donner. This required a pickup 1 shot that was filmed on the green at Shepperton Studios. In this final shot we see just two coffins. The camera pulls away from the backs of the President and his wife, revealing Damien standing between them. He turns to look directly to camera, before smiling and creating one of the creepiest moments in cinema history. Good call, Mr Ladd.

Watch the final scene with Donner’s commentary here.

Here is wisdom, let him that hath understanding, count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man and his number is 666.

– Revelation 13:18

1. A pick-up is a small, relatively minor shot filmed or recorded after the fact to augment footage already shot. When entire scenes are redone, it is referred to as a re-shoot. Both types of shots usually occur after continuity, logic, or quality issues are identified during the film editing process. In other words, such shots occur months after the sets have been struck, the costumes and props have been stored, and all the cast and most of the crew have moved on to other projects. If the issues had been identified during principal photography, the director would simply have asked for another take.

That Was The Month That Was: September 2018

Time for September’s round-up of photographic odds and ends…

It’s been an extraordinary summer, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that this has officially been England’s hottest since records began in 1910. That’s troubling for those of us that believe global warming is a reality. The human race is on the road to extinction, and the planet will soon become uninhabitable for all life. Except perhaps for a few mindless creatures, such as cockroaches and Nicotine Fromage. On the other hand, I’ve had some cracking weekends this year, so it’s swings and roundabouts really.

It’s probably been obvious from previous photos that there have been dogs in my life this summer. That’s made me very happy. And they love it when we take them to the pond. Even Daisy, who’s 15 and a bit unsteady on her legs, still enjoys a bit of a paddle.

Pentax KM / Kosmo Foto Mono / Semi-Stand developed in HC-100 1:160 for 45 mins

It’s not entirely accurate to say this is only the second roll of Kosmo Foto Mono that I’ve shot. It’s a re-badged rather than a new film, and as the website says, it’s an “existing emulsion made by a European film producer”. That might be all the clue you need to tell you where it comes from, but if you look at the development chart you’ll see that Arisata chemicals are predominately mentioned. And Arista film is also known to be repackaged from a well-known East European manufacturer….

Kosmo Foto Mono doesn’t quite have the biting sharpness and fine grain of something like Tmax 100, but that probably contributes to its somewhat vintage look. These shots were taken in the South Downs, where Coco The Cocker and Daisy The Springer live.

I’ve read that having dogs can have a positive effect on your health and well-being, and increase your longevity. I totally buy this and always feel incredibly happy and relaxed when I spend time with these guys. Apparently being married can have a similar effect, although that’s something I wouldn’t know. Nevertheless, it’s probably just a case of life just feeling like it’s going on longer. (I’m joking; I’m not quite that cynical. Yet.)

I live in Chertsey, right by the River Thames, which is great to cycle alongside. Upstream is Hampton Court and central London, but I usually head the other way, towards Windsor.

I finished up this roll as I walked back home one sunny afternoon. This was another opportunity for me to try out the Miranda 24mm Lens on the Pentax KM.

My Five Favourite Facts About Chertsey:

  • Chertsey was destroyed by Martian fighting machines in the afternoon of 8 June 1902. According to HG Wells’s novel War Of The Worlds, that is.
  • The One And Only 1990s teenage heartthrob Chesney Hawkes lives here. Please try to contain your indifference.
  • Chertsey has a spooky abandoned orphanage. I dodged the razor wire and surveillance cameras to make a surreptitious visit back in 2015.
  • Chertsey is home to The Great Cockcrow Railway. This is a miniature railway with over 30 steam – yes, steam – locomotives. These operate in exactly the same way as the full sized, pre-war steam engines they’re modelled on. The drivers stoke up the hot coals on these eighth-scale locos.
  • Charles Dickens visited Chertsey whilst writing Oliver Twist. He evidently thought so highly of the town that he used it as the location for where Oliver is forced by Bill Sykes to take part in an attempted burglary.

After my successful experiments stand developing 35mm film in HDC-110, I thought I’d try some medium format. FP4 is my go-to medium speed film in 120, and I usually stand develop it in Rodinal. HC-110 gives similarly pleasing results.

Mamiya 645 pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Semi-Stand developed in HC-100 1:160 for 45 mins

Finally, if there’s one thing that being on the internet for 25 years has taught me, you can never have enough cute dog pictures. Cheers, Coco.

Nikon F90X / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

All The President’s Tweets

I’ve read all the literary outpourings of an adolescent serial bankrupt and money launderer who played a successful businessman on a reality TV show. And now I’ve read the book by a world-renowned investigative journalist who was played by Hollywood legend Robert Redford in a blockbuster movie. I’m nothing if not balanced.

Nikon F90 / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

Bluebell & Ella

My life: now with added chickens. Four of them in fact. This one’s called Bluebell, and you can look forward to plenty of chicken related content in coming months. Not to mention some clucking awful poultry themed puns. You lucky people.

Nikon F90X / Kodak Tmax 400 / Developed in D76 1+1

Stand Development With HC-110

Several years back I gave Kodak HC-110 a go for developing my 35mm films. Up until then I’d mainly been using D76. But HC-110 is very economical, and in it’s undiluted, syrupy form it stays usable for many years. As it turned out, I found it to be less sharp and less contrasty than D76, which is why I’ve still got most of the bottle under the kitchen sink. But I had thought that one day I’d try and do some stand development with it.

Stand development is the process where film is left in a very dilute developing solution for an extended period of time, with little or no agitation. The theory is that the developer exhausts itself in areas which require greater development, while remaining active in less-exposed areas. In other words, the highlights don’t burn out whilst the shadows develop a bit more detail. Not all developers are suitable for this, but I’ve been using this method successfully for many years with Rodinal. I’ve found that I only get satisfactory results with traditional grain rather than T-grain films, which is why I mainly use FP4 and Tri-X rather than Tmax and Delta in 120 format. For 35mm, I find Rodinal too grainy, irrespective of the method used.

I came across a roll of exposed 35mm film that I’d slung in the back of a drawer and forgotten about. It was a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono so I knew it couldn’t be that old. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure what was on it or even what camera I’d used. But the very fact I’d forgotten about it meant it was unlikely to contain anything of consequence to rival the Zapruder film. So I thought it was worth taking a chance with.

After some rummaging around online I decided to give it a go with a dilution of 1:160 for 45 mins. I threw in a single gentle inversion at the halfway mark, so technically it’s semi-stand development, but it’s still development for lazy guys. I’m quite pleased with the results. Grain is very fine and contrast is well controlled but still punchy. Oh, and after seeing the pictures I think the camera used was my Nikon FE.

Camera: Nikon FE (probably) / Kosmo Foto Mono / Semi-Stand developed with HC-110 1:160

My dear friend Ella

Ah, double exposure. That’s Charles James Fox ( 1749 to 1806). Onetime local resident and the first ever British Foreign Secretary. Much like a more recent Foreign Secretary, he was an Old Etonian who had a reputation for being lazy, a womaniser, and having ridiculous hair. However, Fox was a passionate campaigner for abolishing the slave trade, which is not something I can imagine Boris Johnson wanting to waste his precious time on.


2018 is the year that racism has gone mainstream again. Apparently it’s now acceptable for senior British government members to have secret strategy meetings with a white nationalist like Steve Bannon. And nobody seems to bat an eyelid. I’m talking about you Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. And yes, that’s the same Steve Bannon who says his supporters should wear the term racism as a badge of honour. The same guy who co-founded racist, misogynist blog Breitbart (I’m not going to call it a news site), a site that helpfully has a black crime section and headlines like ‘Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy’.

I’m not proud of my country at the moment.

Coco the levitating cocker enjoying the beach at Camber Sands

Waston S T R E T C H E S

I thought it’d be interesting to see how this process handled a 400 speed film, and as it happened I had a roll of exposed Tri-X kicking around. These were shot on the Nikon F90X, and developed in exactly the same way: 4ml of HC-110 in 636ml of water to make a working solution of 640ml. That’s a ratio of 1:160. For a single roll of 35mm you only need 300ml of solution to cover the film in the tank, so I could probably have halved the amount. On the other hand, sometimes you need a minimum amount of developer per roll so any less than 4ml might not have been enough. To be honest, I can’t exactly remember how I hit upon these figures. Nevertheless, I’ve got the best part of a litre of HC-110 left, so at 4ml per roll that’s 250 films; I’m not running out anytime soon.

Camera: Nikon F90X / Kodak Tri-X / Semi-Stand developed with HC-110 1:160

My beautiful 1950s Franka Solida IIIe, with fantastic uncoupled rangefinder. This is the best implementation of an uncoupled rangefinder I’ve seen on an old folding camera. It’s bright and accurate, and you read the distance off a very large and clear scale on the top plate.

You get some weird looks photographing shopping trollies

The grain in the sky in these shots is very well controlled for Tri-X. This is the gym I go to, which is just 5 minutes walk from home. Because It’s important not to over-exercise.

These are the streets surrounding my home. When there’s blue sky they’ll always be an orange filter on my lens. It’s essential accessory for darkening skies and I have one for every single camera and lens I own. A step up ring is handy for cameras with obscure lens sizes, like the 43.5mm diameter of the Olympus Trip.

Daisy was dead chuffed to find out what great tonality she has when developed this way


So there you go. I’m happy with these. The price of D76 in 1 litre packs has shot up over the last year, so it looks like I might use up that bottle under the sink after all.

Useful links:

She Shoots Film: How To Develop Black & White Film The Lazy Way
J B Hildebrand Photography: Stand Development with Rodinal
HJLPHOTOS: An Introduction to Stand Development with HC-110