The Independent (20/Aug/1999) - Obituary: Dallas Bower
- article: Obituary: Dallas Bower
- author(s): Kevin Brownlow
- newspaper: The Independent (20/Aug/1999)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Blackmail (1929), British International Pictures, Dallas Bower, Laurence Olivier, Ministry of Information, Peggy Ashcroft, Robert Donat, Val Gielgud
Obituary: Dallas Bower
Dallas Bower had several careers, and was a pioneer in virtually all of them. He began in radio, when broadcasting was a novelty. He moved to the cinema, recording sound when that too was brand new, and went to television in time to become the first producer-director of drama and opera for the BBC. As if that wasn't enough for one lifetime, he also directed feature films and documentaries, was the associate producer of Olivier's Henry V, and directed plays for radio.
Born in London in 1907, Bower - a great-great-great-grandson of Sarah Siddons - was named after a village in Moray, Scotland (the same Dallas that gave its name, via a wealthy emigrant, to the city in Texas). He was educated at Willington School in Putney, which counted among its pupils such as B.H. Liddell-Hart and Maurice Bowra - and Lynton House in Notting Hill Gate. At Willington he was taught Latin by a youthful Antonia White. He went on to St John's College, Hurstpierpoint, in Sussex, where an English master called Claude Gurney - who became a successful West End stage director - had considerable influence on him.
An uncle used to take Bower to the cinema, and during the First World War he saw D.W. Griffith's epics The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Both impressed him profoundly. His first job was in the early Twenties when, as a bench boy, he joined the Marconi Scientific Instrument Company, which had a radio transmitter at its Soho office even before the establishment of 2LO.
In 1927, he went to a better job at BTH (British Thomson Houston) in the Aldwych; here he encountered an American radio engineer, Harold Sundy, who was installing the sound equipment at the BIP (British International Pictures) studios at Elstree, in Hertfordshire. Sundy asked if Bower would care to work as a sound recordist in films. "No one knows how to do this. Would you like to chance your arm?" Bower knew at once that this was what he wanted to do.
One of his first jobs at BIP was to help out on Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929). He was asked to record a wild track - an unheard- of term in those days - of an actress repeating the word "knife". The effect made a great impact on the critics, and helped to establish Blackmail as the most imaginative and successful of early British talkies.
That year, Bower also recorded the first all-talking British film, Under the Greenwood Tree. "In those days," said Bower, "recording on the stage could be an absolute nightmare. There were no booms and to get the correct balance for the dialogue was incredibly difficult."
In the Thirties he became personal assistant to Paul Czinner, then making films starring Czinner's wife Elisabeth Bergner, such as Escape Me Never (1935) and As You Like It (1936). When Bergner fell ill, Czinner left the finishing of As You Like It to Bower. Laurence Olivier played Orlando.
Bower was appointed to the BBC Television Service in 1936 and made the BBC television demonstration film - a symposium of the first six month's programmes for morning transmission.
He directed an astonishing number of plays, ballets and operas between 1936 and 1939 for the BBC. During the Second World War, he was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals, and was selected to become the executive producer, Films Division, of the Ministry of Information, 1940-42.
He had already written Henry V for BBC Television but, when the war came, British television closed down. When Sir Kenneth Clark, his chief at the Ministry of Information, received pounds 500,000 from the government to make feature films, Bower rewrote Henry V as a film script. When a select committee recommended that the MoI stay clear of feature production, Bower took his script from one Wardour Street producer to another. None of them was able to produce it (few of them wanted to).
Fortunately, he met the Italian producer Filippo Del Giudice. Olivier had played Henry V on the radio: Del Giudice wanted him to play the lead in the film. Olivier declared he would also want to direct. Bower became the Associate Producer and was also responsible for setting up the Agincourt sequence in Ireland.
Before Henry V (1944), Bower had been in the BBC sound broadcasting features and drama department. His most notable productions were Alexander Nevsky (MacNeice/Prokofiev), and radio adaptations of Eisenstein's film starring Robert Donat and Peggy Ashcroft, and Christopher Columbus (MacNeice/Walton) starring Laurence Olivier.
After resigning from the BBC to make Henry V, Bower wrote two film scenarios with Val Gielgud for the Rank Organisation; Duff Cooper's Talleyrand and Winston Churchill's Marlborough. Neither was put into production, due to their potentially high production costs. The same fate overtook his film scenario with Louis MacNeice, Pax Futura, about the future of world peace.
In the early Fifties, in Nice and Paris, Bower directed a musical version of Alice in Wonderland (1951). It played successfully in France and the US, but not in Britain, due to censorship difficulties (the censor objected to Pamela Brown's portrayal of Queen Victoria). The film has since played on ITV and BBC television. Pioneering yet again, he produced the first 80 commercials for Independent Television, 12 of which he directed himself. He then made documentaries for the armed services and made two documentaries in Nigeria.
In 1936, Dallas Bower published his Plan for Cinema, which Graham Greene and others reviewed warmly. He was elected to the Savile Club in 1943, for which he remained "forever grateful".
Dallas Gordon Bower, film producer, sound recordist, editor and writer: born London 25 July 1907; married Violet Collings (one son, one daughter, and one daughter deceased; marriage dissolved); died Northwood, Middlesex 18 October 1999.