World War II 75th anniversary: VP Day, Dancing Man and the potential spy who filmed him

DANCING MAN: This now-famous still from a newsreel features an anonymous man dancing on the street in Sydney, Australia, after the end of WWII. It was featured on a 2005 commemorative $1 coin.
DANCING MAN: This now-famous still from a newsreel features an anonymous man dancing on the street in Sydney, Australia, after the end of WWII. It was featured on a 2005 commemorative $1 coin.

It's is one of the most iconic moments caught on film in Australia's modern history, a 12-second clip of a man triumphantly dancing down a city street as a jubilant crowd celebrates the end of WWII.

The footage, dubbed Dancing Man, was part of a Movietone newsreel titled Peace: Australia Celebrates which filmed the revelry on the streets of Sydney during Victory in the Pacific Day on August 15, 1945.

It was narrated by radio personality of the time, Jack Davey and has been played countless times since its initial recording.

A still of the dancing man, from that newsreel, was featured on the 2005 commemorative $1 coin marking the 60th anniversary since the end of WWII.

Of course it's very special. I think the thing is that, in that day, he and those other cameramen and on other important occasions, they were just doing their job. They had no concept of how important that film would become in the country's history.

Patricia Taylor

And while it may be one of Australia's most well known clips of that time, it's also managed to generate a few mysteries of its own.

A number of men have claimed to be that dancing man and several women believe themselves to be the woman glancing over her shoulder, smiling at the camera.

Perhaps just as mysterious, is the man behind the lens - the cameraman who filmed a moment that will forever have a place in the nation's wartime narrative.

Croydon resident Patricia Taylor believes it to be her father, Jim Pearson, a prominent cameraman of that period who was known for daring feats such as strapping himself to the front of the Blue Mountains Express [train] and filming the journey at 50 miles per hour.

Movietone Newsreel: Peace: Australia Celebrates

It appears he also worked for British Intelligence at one time.

According to Mrs Taylor, her father was one of several men to film footage of the celebrations that day and it was he, who strapped himself to the front of the tram as Dancing Man gracefully and rhythmically paraded in front, waving his hat and smiling at the camera.

"It's been reported a bit in the newspapers and one report said it was Elizabeth Street, one said it was George Street and another one said it was Martin Place," Mrs Taylor said.

"When I look at the full newsreel it's obvious that some of it is in Martin Place, some of it's in George and Pitt Street, I'm not sure about Elizabeth Street.

"Trams used to run in those streets and crossed Martin Place.

"But the bit with the dancing man was definitely on a tram track and when I look at the full video clip it's obvious that there were a number of Fox Movietone cameramen in all those different locations and then it was edited and put together."

Mrs Taylor was just 10 years old when that footage was filmed.

'As far as I'm concerned, I was 10 when peace was declared, all it meant to me as a child was that we got a half holiday from school," Mrs Taylor laughed.

"The exciting thing at that time for a 10 year old living in Sydney was that we occasionally saw planes go overhead and it was such a rare event that we used to rush outside and watch them.

"How times have changed."

MOVIETONE MEN: An arrow points to Jim Pearson who stands among other cameramen who worked for the newsreel company. The caption in the photo reads '1935 line-up of Movietone staff. On the camera car: Wally bird, Bill Trerise, Ross Wood. Standing, left to right: Syd Wood, Hugh McInnes, Jim Pearson, Wal Sully, Harry Guinness, Col Hell, Eric Bierre, Kel Vaughan, Ted Martin.

MOVIETONE MEN: An arrow points to Jim Pearson who stands among other cameramen who worked for the newsreel company. The caption in the photo reads '1935 line-up of Movietone staff. On the camera car: Wally bird, Bill Trerise, Ross Wood. Standing, left to right: Syd Wood, Hugh McInnes, Jim Pearson, Wal Sully, Harry Guinness, Col Hell, Eric Bierre, Kel Vaughan, Ted Martin.

Jim Pearson, by his daughter's account, was a man who never gave too much away.

What he thought of that day, whether he knew how pivotal the footage of Dancing Man would become, and what exactly he was doing in Singapore just before it fell to the Japanese during WWII are things he never discussed with his daughter.

However, according to Mrs Taylor, a photo of a film canister addressed to the British government and labelled 'top secret' has offered some insight into his life of mystery.

"I knew he been in in Singapore because he used to send me these beautiful letters that I wish I had today.

"That was something I only found out after he died that he actually worked there for British Intelligence, undercover.

"I've got a photo of him sitting in a rickshaw and because it was secret intelligence he never spoke to any of us about what he actually did for them.

"I don't know why dad was chosen for this, whether there was any photographic element to his work, it must have had something to do photographic work.

MYSTERY: Jim Pearson on a rickshaw in Singapore in 1941. Picture: Supplied by Patricia Taylor

MYSTERY: Jim Pearson on a rickshaw in Singapore in 1941. Picture: Supplied by Patricia Taylor

"I have one relic of that time, it's a film can holder addressed to the British government labelled 'top secret'.

'But it's very difficult to really verify this because he never spoke to me about it.'

According to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia website which has much of the cameraman's work, 'James (Jim) Pearson was a director working in the 1930s and 1940s who was also an avid film collector. Pearson himself worked as a laboratory technician, director, editor, camera operator and producer for Movietone, and later the British Ministry of Information's Far Eastern Bureau.'

For Mrs Taylor and her five siblings, discovering more about their father's life and the fact that he played a role in capturing one of Australia's most celebrated historical moments, has been a great source of pride.

"Of course it's very special. I think the thing is that, in that day, he and those other cameramen and on other important occasions, they were just doing their job.

"They had no concept of how important that film would become in the country's history," Mrs Taylor said.

"For them, they were just doing their job, but for me it is just extraordinarily special to feel your father had an actual part in recording what has now become such an iconic part of Australia's history."

This story Dancing Man and the potential spy who filmed him first appeared on Port Stephens Examiner.