There was no tank big enough at Pinewood Studios to film the survivors struggling in the water to climb into lifeboats, so it was done in the open-air swimming bath at Ruislip Lido in London at 2:00 am on a cold November morning. Kenneth More recalled that when the extras refused to jump into the water, he realized he would have to set an example. But when he jumped into the water, he recalled: "I leaped. Never have I experienced such cold in all my life. It was like jumping into a deep freeze just like the people did on the actual Titanic. The shock of the cold water forced the breath out of my lungs. My heart seemed to stop beating. I felt crushed, unable to think. I had rigor mortis... without the mortis. And then I surfaced, spat out the dirty water and, gasping for breath, found my voice. 'Stop!' I shouted. 'Don't listen to me! It's bloody awful! Stay where you are!' But it was too late as the extras followed suit."
The creaking noises heard during the sinking weren't sound effects. They were sounds created by the set as it was winched up to create the tilting deck effect. The noises were picked up by the microphones. Roy Ward Baker thought they added a huge amount of realism, as they did indeed sound like the groaning noises a sinking ship would make, so he kept them in.
Second Officer Lightoller, the hero of the film, went on to serve with distinction in World Wars I and II, rescuing many men at Dunkirk. He died in 1952. Lightoller's son advised Kenneth More on how to play his father and his widow visited the set (and More) to observe the filming.
Walter Lord found 64 survivors in researching his book "A Night to Remember." The Rank Organisation found many more in making the film, and several visited the set, including Edith Russell, a dress designer who had with her a lucky stuffed pig that played music. During one of her many visits to the set, Miss Russell (along with her stuffed pig) had the chance to meet the actress (Teresa Thorne) who was playing her. She also had the chance to show her the stuffed pig, which was much bigger than the one used in the film. It was bequeathed to Walter Lord in her will.
Lawrence Beesley, a survivor from second class, was on the set during filming. At one point when the sinking was being filmed, he attempted to enter the scene and - perhaps symbolically - "go down" with the ship. Director Roy Ward Baker didn't allow this, as it would have been a union violation, which could have closed down production.
The character shown reading quietly in the First Class Smoking Room, is William Thomas Stead, a respected editor and writer who was seen reading in exactly the same place as the ship was sinking. On March 22, 1886 Stead wrote an article titled "How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor," in which a steamer collides with another ship and due to a shortage of lifeboats many people die. Stead wrote "This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats."
The footage used during the launching sequence of the Titanic is that of the 1938 launching of the Cunard Liner Queen Elizabeth, as no footage of the Titanic's launching actually existed. Despite the nearly thirty year difference in the two launchings, the substituted footage worked perfectly in conveying what a ship launch in the period was like.
During the scene of lunch at the Captain's table, the same menu was served as had been eaten by the Captain's guests. Roy Ward Baker said: "There was no need to do this, but some food had to be eaten and it might as well be correct. It all helped the atmosphere, which ... helped the actors."
The big model used in the sinking scenes was 35 feet long. The pool in which they filmed was only 15 feet deep, so the model was constructed in sections. As each section sank out of view, they removed it so that it wouldn't hit bottom.
Wireless Operator John Phillips mentions several time throughout the sinking that he has been in contact with a ship called the Olympic. The Olympic was the Titanic's older sister ship, entering service in 1911, and an almost identical copy of the Titanic. She was the first in a trio of sister ships built by the White Star Line to counter their rival company the Cunard Line and their new luxury ships the Lusitania and the Mauretania. Unlike the Titanic and the Britannic, (the third sister ship that was sunk by a mine during the First World War), the Olympic went on to have an illustrious career as a passenger liner and served proudly during the First World War as a troop transport gaining the nickname "Old Reliable". After nearly twenty five years of service the Olympic was taken out of service in 1935 and scrapped in the late thirties. Unfortunately on the night of the sinking the Olympic was five hundred miles away from the Titanic and unable to arrive to her aid in time.
It was only after seeing this film that James Cameron decided to make Titanic (1997). In fact, Cameron was so taken by this film that he lifted ideas, plot lines, conversations and characters, including a minor character similar to the one played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Walter Lord recorded that the painting hanging in the First Class Smoking Room was of New York Harbor and was called "The Approach to the New World". The painting was faithfully reproduced for the film and after completion it was presented by the Rank Organization to Lord, who later discovered that the painting had actually hung in the Titanic's sister ship, Olympic. It was a painting of Plymouth Harbor that hung in the Titanic.
The Shaw Savill Shipping Line agreed to allow exterior scenes to be taken on one of their ships, MV Dominion Monarch but shortly before filming was to begin, permission was withdrawn. The matter had come to the attention of the chairman of the line, Basil Sanderson. He was the son of Harold Sanderson, who had been the chairman of the White Star Line from 1913 to 1927 and was himself married to the daughter of J. Bruce Ismay. He did not want the matter reopened. Neither did the rest of the shipping companies, all of which refused co-operation. This led to the decision by Sir Frederick Rebbeck, chairman of Harland and Wolff, to also refuse any co-operation. The company issued a statement deploring the fact that a film company was seeking to make money out of the tragedy: "Too many people from the shipyard lost their lives that night and too many others as well. Why should we help to make an entertainment out of it." Producer William MacQuitty managed to get permission from the firm of Ship Breaking Industries to film on an old steamship, RMS Asturias, which was waiting to be broken up. It was repainted in the White Star Line colors by art students.
It wasn't until 1985 when the wreckage of Titanic was discovered, that they found out it had split in two while sinking in 1912. In this film the Titanic does not split in two, but goes down in one piece.
During the filming of the locations, while the indoor sets were being built at Pinewood, it was Rank's twenty-first birthday, but this was the only film being made. It required all of the 1,200 work force and for the first time, everyone was working on the same production.
This is the last Titanic film to be made exclusively in the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the real Titanic. S.O.S. Titanic (1979) did film in the UK (at Shepperton Studios, The Waldorf Hotel), but also filmed in the United States aboard the (former British) RMS Queen Mary. Titanic (2012) written by British screenwriter Julian Fellowes, features a British cast but was filmed in Hungary.
"A Night to Remember" premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square, in London on 03 July 1958. Among the survivors attending were 4th Officer H.G Boxhall, the widow of 2nd Officer Lightoller, and C.V. Groves who had been 3rd Officer of SS Californian.