Melanie Bell

Academic, historian, writer.

Beryl Mortimer

Beryl Mortimer was a sound technician in the British film industry. She entered films in the early 1950s and, after a brief career as an actress, specialised in providing Foley sound for feature films. She worked consistently in the profession for over 40 years, on a number of high-profile and memorable films.

Beryl Mortimer

Designed sound  for notable films such as  

Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

2001, A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Superman (Richard Donner, 1978)

Batman (Tim Burton, 1989

The Alien Franchise
The Bond Franchise

Mortimer also worked on non-mainstream classics such as The Gold Diggers (Sally Potter, 1983), Caravaggio (Derek Jarman, 1986) and Welcome to Sarajevo (Michael Winterbottom, 1997).

Known within the industry as ‘Beryl the Boot’ for her skills as a footstepper (the term historically used in Britain to describe Foley work), she was widely recognised by her peers and won a BFI Award for Sound Effects in 1981 and a nomination for a Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel award in 1995 for her work on GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995).

"when Omar Sharif comes out of the desert … the pad, pad, pad of the camel’s feet … wasn’t a real sound, but it added immeasurably to the silence of the desert, the size of it all […] the soundtrack ... is almost as important as the pictures". [1]

Lawrence of Arabia

Mortimer’s contribution to Foley Sound on Lawrence of Arabia (1962) was extensive. She was responsible for the sound of cloth movements (from stiff military uniforms to gossamer Arabian robes), armaments (including swords, guns and daggers), and animal sounds, principally camels.

She created the sound of the camel’s feet as it carried Omar Sharif across the desert and was recognised by the film’s director David Lean, who recalled;

 1 - David Lean in Kevin Brownlow, David Lean: A Biography (London: Faber and Faber, 1997), p. 474.

Lawrence of Arabia went on to win an Oscar for sound, with the ‘Sound Director’ John Cox receiving the honour, but Mortimer made a significant creative contribution to the film and her work on this and in British film history more widely is worthy of celebration.

Mortimer’s professional skills were also recognised by the Visual Arts with the artist and Turner-prize nominee Tacita Dean making Mortimer the subject of a sound installation Foley Artist, hosted at the then Tate Gallery in 1996.

Other significant creative contributions by women to Lawrence of Arabia include Costume Designer Phyllis Dalton and Editor Anne V. Coates, with Barbara Cole providing support as script supervisor.

Foley Sound

Other significant Foley women in British cinema include Jean Sheffield (Oliver!, Carry On, Brassed Off), Jennie Lee Wright (Shakespeare in Love, Die Another Day), Pauline Griffith (Waterland, Evita), Pam Finch (Hilary and Jackie), Diane Greaves (Orlando, Twelve Monkeys, Billy Eliot), Felicity Cottrell (Sexy Beast, 28 Days Later, Troy), Sue Harding (Quantum of Solace, Mission Impossible, Rogue Nation), Andie Derrick (The King’s Speech, Casino Royale, Band of Brothers) and Andrea King (The Martian, Jason Bourne).

Foley sound is ‘the art and craft of designing and recording performed sound effects in sync to the film’. [2]This includes not only footsteps but also the props and cloth movements of all characters. Foley artists are skilled at timing, improvisation and creativity and are credited with adding layers of nuance and texture to a film’s soundtrack. The art critic Richard Cork, responding to Mortimer’s work for Tacita Dean, described it as a form of ‘sonic sculpture’. 

 2 - Vanessa Theme Ament, The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games and Animation (Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2009), p. xiv.

3 -Richard Cork, Breaking Down the Barriers, Art in the 1990s (London: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 149.

You can find out more about ‘Beryl the Boot’ and other Foley and sound women in my article ‘Learning to Listen: Histories of Women’s Soundwork in the British Film Industry’ which is published by the journal Screen in December 2017.

© Melanie Bell