Sydney Samuelson left school at 14 with no qualifications and his first job was at his local cinema in Lancing.

But he rose to become a double Bafta award-winning cameraman and was knighted for his achievements. This week he will be returning home to Sussex to talk about his life. Rebecca Drought spoke to him about 60 years in cinema.

Even though his mother gave him a penny for the bus fare, Sydney Samuelson walked to and from school every day. The 14-year-old did not get pocket money and quickly learned if he walked from his home in South Lancing to the Irene Avenue Council School he could spend his bus fare on a Milky Way bar.

It was 1939 and his route took him past the site of the town's brand new Luxor cinema. It was still being built later that year when he was old enough to leave school and get a job - something he was desperate to do.

"I loved the cinema and thought a job there would be better than the jobs other boys at the school had, as delivery boys or butcher's assistants, so I just walked in and asked the managing director, Basil Fortescue, for a job in the projection box. I wanted to be the rewind boy (rewinding film tapes after they were shown and checked for tears). I started on ten shillings a week before the cinema opened to help out."

It was not surprising Sydney, now aged 74, had an interest in films. His father G B 'Bertie' Samuelson was a pioneer producer of silent films, making more than 100 movies from 1910 onwards.

But just before the Second World War, he not only found himself unemployed but unemployable in the industry. His other business interests, in the Novel Libraries in Terminus Road, Eastbourne and Montague Street, Worthing organising day trips from London folded.

His wife Marjorie became the family's only breadwinner, running a drapers shop in Shoreham High Street to keep her husband and four sons. Speaking from his comfortable Golder's Green home Sydney said: "I came from a poor but happy and loving family so it came as quite a shock to be shouted at by the chief projectionist at the cinema. He was a perfectionist and seemed to think he wasn't doing his job if he didn't make me cry once a week. I was desperately unhappy. But I have always kept those high standards with me throughout my life."

On the chief projectionist's day off the kindly number two in the box would teach Sydney how to spot the cue spots on the screen and change the reels. When more and more staff at the cinema were called up to fight in the war he was the only one left able to work the projection equipment and was promoted.

"How lucky can you be?" he said. "We were really just waiting for invasion then in 1940. The bungalow town in Shoreham was blown up because the Government thought it was a possible landing point and railway tracks were put in the roads to stop invading tanks, but my wage went up to £1."

His father got a job in the Midlands and for a while the family moved up with him. Sydney worked as a holiday relief projectionist at cinemas across the black country before moving back to Shoreham and training as a film editor with Gaumont British News in Shepherd's Bush.

In 1943, he signed up to be a flight navigator and was given a six-month crash course by the RAF to make up for the education he had missed out on. Sydney said: "When I was de-mobbed in 1947 it never entered my mind to do anything other than rejoin the film industry."

He joined the British Colonial Office Film Unit as an assistant cameraman, making educational films about subjects like smallpox and farming and in 1950 he had only been married to his wife Doris for six weeks when he was sent to Nigeria for ten months.

The trip netted him £300, almost enough for a mortgage on a house. But the couple never quite saved the rest of the money needed as Sydney's wages were only enough to live on. So in 1955, he used the savings as a down payment on a Newman-Sinclair clockwork film camera.

He said: "I got paid more for bringing my own camera to jobs and when I wasn't using it, the camera earned us £10 a week. Then the BBC asked to rent it for ten weeks - that was worth £100 - when I needed it for another job."

Seizing the opportunity, Sydney's three brothers, David, Neville and Michael, each chipped in to buy another camera and the Samuelson Film Service was born. It became the biggest film, television and audio-visual equipment hire company in the world, and became a public company floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1966.

For years, Sydney continued to work as a cameraman for shows like World in Action for the BBC and Candid Camera for the independent television companies, working with the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Richard Attenborough.

He worked for his company in his spare time. But eventually the company became too big. "My wife would ring me on sound sets with technical questions she couldn't answer about the cameras. Once I was filming in a square in central Manchester and she rang the police box to try and contact me, then I knew I couldn't do as much."

Sydney describes his proudest moment as the day he and his brother David, also a cameraman, were chosen as two of the 13 cameramen working in Westminster Abbey to record the Queen's Coronation in 1953.

Over the years, through his work with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) of which he has been chairman, and various charities, he has met several members of the Royal Family several times.

He said: "I have no fear of an audience, whoever they are, and my experience of the Royal Family is how ordinary they are. At a concert once, I asked the Queen Mother if she would like the orchestra to play anything special, expecting her to say something like Land of Hope and Glory or the Orb and Spectre but she asked for My Blue Heaven and afterwards said how grateful she was because the tune meant so much to her and King George!"

In 1978 Sydney was awarded a CBE and in 1995 was knighted for his services to the British Film Industry. During his career he has amassed a huge list of honours and awards, including two Baftas for his service to the industry, Guild of Film Production Executives Award for Merit, been the subject of the BBC's This is Your Life and won the Freedom of the City of London.

But in 1991 he was given the ultimate accolade when he was chosen, on the recommendation of his peers, to be appointed the first ever British Film Commissioner by Lord Hesketh, minister of state at the DTI. His role was to encourage large film producers to make their movies in Britain.

He said: "There was no model for this type of commission anywhere in the world and I believe we did a good job. The British film industry is thriving, although British financed projects have a harder time."

In 1997, Sir Sydney finally retired but was immediately taken on as a consultant. As he stands in his large study, surrounded by his awards, film memorabilia and family photographs, he says he cannot envisage ever stopping working.

"I feel privileged to have done what I have done, it is a fantastic industry which five generations of my family have been a part of. How lucky can you be?"

Two of Sir Sydney's three sons, Marc and Peter are film producers and his niece Emma Samms is famous for her role in the hit American soap Dynasty.

Sir Sydney will be giving an illustrated lecture about his life to the Shoreham Society on Friday at 7.30pm in St Peter's Church, West Street, Shoreham. Tickets cost £2 for members, £3 for non-members.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.