Strange Cargo. A 1952 Film

In my post on Audrey Noël Hume of 21 October 2014, I described a film made in the early 1950s which showed her tortoises as they hatched. According to Ivor, her husband, it was shown alongside African Queen in British cinemas. Thanks to the June-July 1952 issue of Water Life, I now know that it was entitled Strange Cargo.

This was the report in Water Life:

It would be interesting to know the number of our readers who saw that unusual documentary film “Strange Cargo”, the commentary for which was written and given by Richard Dimbleby. How many, I wonder, recognised Mr. Chas. Schiller who “starred” with his two baby alligators in the well-appointed lounge of his London flat. It was Mr. Schiller’s fish, including the Harlequins and Black-line Tetras, which appeared on the screen.

Perhaps, like me, many of you thought it strange to have eight and ten-feet alligators as pets. The woman who owns them shuns publicity, and would not let her name or address be given. She seems quite at home manhandling the Saurians [sic] which wallow in tiled baths and, occasionally, take exercise about the house. Four-year-old Pen Densham, the producer’s son, does not consider it unusual to enjoy riding round on the back of one of them.

To my mind, the most interesting feature was that of the young tortoises hatching out in a warm linen cupboard. The cameraman had to spend over twelve patient hours to get the excellent pictures of the eggs breaking and the youngsters scrambling out into a brave new world, unusually bright in outlook since in order to get good results on the film arc lights were in play.

The finished reels which represent only the best sections of thousands of feet of film are of absorbing interest. The film is the work of Ray Densham a free-lance producer and part-time cameraman with the B.B.C. Television newsreels.

We know who Charles Schiller was and of Audrey Noël Hume. But was was the publicity-shunning keeper of the large alligators? Is there anyone left who can remember?


2 thoughts on “Strange Cargo. A 1952 Film

  1. I was four years old when I rode Peter – a female alligator in my father’s movie Strange Cargo. I still have some strong memories of the day of shooting. My father, long gone now, befriended the lady you mention by bringing her a baby crocodile. (Not sure how he located that?) I remember he knowing she was quite private. But I have no idea of her name. I think we filmed in a home in Chelsea. The lady was very happy for me to sit astride Peter. Brush its teeth and light a cigarette in a holder. Or at least mimic that act. But I have clear memories of her sternly warning me to stay way back from a very large tank. Which had a crocodile in it. Apparently that animal was likely dangerous to me.

    I am now a successful Filmmaker living in Hollywood. In the genes I suppose?

    I even used a photo of me riding Peter on the cover of my book on creative screenwriting. “Riding the Alligator – strategies for a career in screenwriting…. And not getting eaten”.

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