John Aldred, Soundman on 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Dr. Strangelove,' Dies at 99

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, Peter O'Toole, 1962
Everett Collection

'Lawrence of Arabia'

The two-time Oscar nominee also worked on 'The Four Feathers,' Hitchcock's 'Under Capricorn' and Chaplin's 'A King in New York.'

John Aldred, the two-time Oscar-nominated British soundman who collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin, David Lean and Stanley Kubrick across a 50-year career, has died. He was 99.

Aldred died Dec. 15 in a hospital in Worthing, England, after a short illness, his family announced.

When he was first starting out, Aldred contributed to such films as The Four Feathers (1939), produced by Alexander Korda; The Thief of Bagdad (1940), co-directed by Michael Powell; In Which We Serve (1942), co-directed by Lean; and The Way Ahead (1944), helmed by Carol Reed.

He received his Oscar noms for his work on Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), both directed by Charles Jarrott.

Aldred served as a boom operator on Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949) and did dubbing work on Chaplin's A King in New York (1957), on Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) — he helped record the sound of the motorcycle ridden by Peter O'Toole at the start of that film — and on Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Born in 1921 in Doncaster, England, Aldred on his birthday was invited to tour Shepperton Studios with John Byers, a family friend who was the head of the sound department.

"They were filming [the 1935 film] Sanders of the River [starring] Paul Robeson and Leslie Banks, and I spent a long time in the projection room watching the daily rushes," he said in a 1989 interview for the British History Project. A bit later, Aldred was hired as a playback operator for a pound a week.

During World War II, he was recruited by the Army Film Unit at Pinewood to assist with propaganda movies and dispatched to Northern Europe to record authentic sound effects of the war.

"We had the most impressive document, an identity card, and it was signed by Gen. Eisenhower," Aldred recalled. "It said no one, in great big capital letters, must interfere with this man in the execution of his duty as a sound engineer and recordist."

Hitchcock shot Under Capricorn in 10-minute uninterrupted takes (similar to what he had done a year earlier on Rope). The process was quite difficult to pull off and needed movable sets, a specially designed studio floor and numerous microphones. Rehearsing each take took full two days before shooting could begin on the third day.

Once, a still photographer interrupted a take eight minutes in, thinking it was rehearsal. "We never saw him again," Aldred said.

His credits also included Ivanhoe (1952), Mogambo (1953), Exodus (1960), The Guns of Navarone (1961), Tom Jones (1963), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) and The Italian Job (1969).

In addition to Pinewood and Shepperton, Aldred worked at MGM under seven-time Oscar winner Douglas Shearer and at Rank Film Labs and served as president of the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society.

Survivors include his children, Brian and Alison; 13 grandchildren; and 27 great-grandchildren. Donations in his name may be made to the hospice St. Barnabas House or to the British Heart Foundation.