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Walter C Stevens was born of working class parents in Woolwich in 1904, the oldest of five sons. He first began work at the age of 10, after school hours because his father, a labourer, had died and his mother was left with five mouths to feed. At the age of 12, the young Wally had won a trade examination.
Left: Stevens and Foulkes, the ETU President, meet strikers from their union outside the 1953 TUC in the Isle of Man.
At 13 years of age, Wally started in full-time employment. After serving his time in a film company, he worked in electrical contracting, but he returned to the studio as a sound maintenance engineer. As a young man, he became recognised as one of the finest technicians of the day, and was responsible for the installation in Denham Studios. The studios were founded by Alexander Korda, on a 165 acre in Buckinghamshire. When it opened, it was the largest facility of its kind in Britain. The studios were known by various names during their lifetime, including London Film Studios. Wally’s expert craftsmanship was allied to militant trade unionism, and London studio workers were soon to be completely organised by this determined cheerful Cockney. He was successively elected shop steward, branch secretary, branch president, and then full time area official with the Electrical Trades Union by the rank and file before becoming London secretary in 1940.
A minister was asked “whether he is aware that the general secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, Mr. Walter Stevens, is a declared and open member of the Communist Party, that this strike has already caused a great blow to our prestige and very great anxiety throughout the world?” It would by no means be the only time that Wally was put in the firing line but he never buckled.