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Documentary News Letter (1941) - Correspondence






SIR : In regard to the article. "Art and the Art Director" (documentary news letter, May, 1941), your correspondent's views on the "had old days of B.I.P." are based on an evidently brief experience at the studios which ended as early as December, 1928. That was only the very beginning; the studios were hardly getting into their stride. Certainly, some of the earliest efforts lacked ambition and imagination (even so, there was Hitchcock's The Ring), but few English films did not, in those days. The point is that Elstree was, in fact, the very cradle of the new English film industry — and most of the men to whom your correspondent refers with proper admiration, worked within its walls, and there developed their technique.

Alfred Junge was not just a "bright spot" — he was designer of a number of films of "the bad old Elstree days" including perhaps the last of the "great" silent films, Robison's Informer, with Lars Hansen and Lya de Putti.

Norman Arnold, David Rawnsley, Duncan Sutherland, to quote a few other names mentioned in your article, were all in their various times regularly on the pay-roll. To-day, whether it is directors, writers, art directors or cutters — a large proportion of key and leading craftsmen at all the studios will be found to have graduated at Elstree.

Mr. Rotha says the studios closed a few weeks after he left — not because of that, apparently — but "because sound was on its way across the Atlantic". The studios never closed. Blackmail, an excellent silent Hitchcock film, was simultaneously converted into the first British talkie  — a brilliant achievement, marking out its director genius for the world honours he has lately won in Hollywood.

Elstree, in these same bad days, was making the first bi- and tri-lingual films; it made the first Shaw films (too soon); it made the first opera film (a misfire, but the will to break new ground was there) It may be true that towards the end (as it proved to be) a more strictly commercial policy was pursued but, even so, it was still possible to maintain standards while marking time, as it were.

It was only a few weeks after the studio closed upon the outbreak of war and Government requisitioning in Autumn, 1939, that I received the following letter from the (now) Minister of State. Lord Beaverbrook :

"I have seen your film, Poison Pen. It is a magnificent production. You have done brilliantly and you deserve immense praise. That sort of film lilts up the industry in Britain to heights transcending Hollywood and Paris, too, for that matter." [6th November, 1939.]

I shall be grateful if you can publish these few notes. To say the least, it is no more than is due to the memory of John Maxwell, creator of the Corporation, and to whose initiative and constructiveness in the sphere of English films, so many people owe so much.

Yours, etc.

Hilltop, Deacon's Hill, Elstree.