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The Telegraph (29/Jun/2011) - Obituary: Hugh Stewart




Obituary: Hugh Stewart

Hugh Stewart, who died on May 31 aged 100, spent a career in film extolling the virtues of kindly, slapstick comedy with movies starring Norman Wisdom and Morecambe and Wise; his most notable contribution on celluloid, however, was almost certainly made at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, when he insisted that the Allies record the horrors of the liberated concentration camp.

When Belsen was voluntarily turned over to the Allied 21st Army Group on April 15 1945, Stewart was head of No 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU). As such he was under strict War Office orders to remain with the British Army as it advanced further into Germany. But realising the significance of the scenes at the camp, he decided to go over the heads of his superiors and make a direct appeal to Eisenhower, arguing that it was vital to prepare a cinematic and photographic record.

Eisenhower overrode the War Office, and in the days after the liberation Stewart and his team undertook the harrowing job of filming the camp, with its piles of bodies being bulldozed into mass graves, its overcrowded barrack blocks and pitifully emaciated survivors.

Towards the end of his life Stewart said that not a single day had gone by without him remembering by sound, sight and smell of what he witnessed during those few days. Later he was consulted by the research team for the film Schindler's List.

The son of a clergyman, Hugh St Clair Stewart was born on December 14 1910 at Falmouth, Cornwall, and educated at Clayesmore School in Dorset and at St John's College, Cambridge, where he read English and was taught and influenced by FR Leavis.

After graduation he joined Gaumont-British on the apprenticeship scheme started by Michael Balcon, learning the business on Crazy Gang comedies. He cut together out-takes from Marry Me (1932) and worked as an assembly cutter on The Constant Nymph the same year.

Later he moved on to editing and worked with Victor Saville on Evergreen (1934). When Saville joined Alexander Korda at London Films, Stewart went with him as editor. There he impressed Alfred Hitchcock and was given The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) as his first job as supervising editor.

Other credits include Dark Journey and Action for Slander (both 1937); South Riding and St Martin's Lane (both 1938); and The Spy in Black (1939).

Stewart was editing at Denham when war broke out, and he immediately joined the Royal Artillery, though he was able to finish editing 10 Days In Paris (1939), with Rex Harrison. He was commissioned in the AFPU in December 1940 and led No 2 AFPU in covering the Allied landings in Tunisia in November 1942.

The following year he scripted the footage of that fighting into the documentary film Desert Victory, and was proud that all the combat scenes shown in the film were unstaged. He also worked on the Anglo-American Tunisian Victory (1944), which he co-directed with Frank Capra and John Huston, though much of the film was shot in the United States.

Later, as head of No 5 AFPU, Stewart and his combat cameramen covered the British D-Day landings, the Caen breakout, the Rhine Crossing and the Battle of the Ardennes — as well as the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. He was appointed MBE (military) in 1945 and demobbed in the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

On his return to England, Stewart joined Earl St John at Pinewood and began his career as an independent producer with the Rank Organisation, beginning with Trottie True (1949). He began to produce the films of Norman Wisdom, from Man of the Moment (1955) onwards, as well as films starring the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise. Stewart left Rank in 1966 and decided on a career change, becoming an English teacher at Uxbridge Technical College, where he covered the full range of the subject from functional literacy to A-level, although he continued to make films, part-time, for the Children's Film Foundation, of which Mr Horatio Knibbles (1971) and High Rise Donkey (1980) still get regular screenings.

He delighted in the company of his young students and was extremely annoyed when the college put pressure on him to retire after they discovered he was 85 and not the sprightly 60-something they had supposed him to be. After retirement he continued private coaching for several years.

In the Buckinghamshire village of Denham, where he and his wife lived from 1949, Stewart was an active member of the parish church and president of the Denham branch of the British Legion. He was also an ardent supporter of Norwich City Football Club and devoted much time to building up a collection of translations of Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussy Cat, which he published on the internet.

He married, in 1934, Frances Curl, and is survived by two daughters and two sons.