Basil Dearden - Director

Nationality: British. Born: Basil Dear in Westcliffe-on-Sea, England, 1 January 1911. Family: Married actress Melissa Stribling, 1947, two sons (including scriptwriter James). Career: Actor in repertory, toured United States with Ben Greet Company, late 1920s; general stage manager for Basil Dean (changed name to avoid confusion), 1931–36; production manager, associate producer and scriptwriter at Ealing studios, 1936–40; co-directed several Will Hay comedies, 1941–43; directed first film, The Bells Go Down , 1943; worked with producer Michael Relph, 1949–71 (TV director, 1960s). Awards: British Film Academy Awards, with Michael Relph, for The Blue Lamp , 1950, and Sapphire , 1960. Died: In auto accident, 23 March 1971.

Films as Director:


The Black Sheep of Whitehall (co-d)


The Goose Steps Out (co-d)


The Bells Go Down ; My Learned Friend (co-d)


The Halfway House ; They Came to a City


"The Hearse Driver" episode and linking story of Dead of Night


The Captive Heart




Saraband for Dead Lovers ( Saraband )


"The Actor" and "The Prisoner of War" episodes of Train of Events (+ co-sc, Michael Relph producer); The Blue Lamp


Cage of Gold ; Pool of London


I Believe in You (co-d + co-pr with Michael Relph, co-sc)


The Gentle Gunman (co-d + co-pr with Michael Relph)


The Square Ring (co-d + co-pr with Michael Relph)


The Rainbow Jacket (co-d + co-pr with Michael Relph); Out of the Clouds (co-d + co-pr with Michael Relph)


The Ship That Died of Shame (co-d + co-pr with Michael Relph, co-sc); Who Done It? (co-d + co-pr with Michael Relph)


The Smallest Show on Earth


Violent Playground


Sapphire ; The League of Gentlemen


Man in the Moon ; The Secret Partner


Victim ; All Night Long (co-d, co-pr with Relph)


Life for Ruth ( Walk in the Shadow )


The Mind Benders ; A Place to Go


Woman of Straw ; Masquerade




Only When I Larf ; The Assassination Bureau


The Man Who Haunted Himself (+ co-sc)

Other Films:


It's in the Air (Kimmins) (asst d); Penny Paradise (Reed) (asst d); This Man Is News (MacDonald) (co-sc)


Come on, George! (Kimmins) (asst d)


Let George Do It (Varnel) (co-sc); Spare a Copper (Carstairs) (assoc pr)


Young Veteran (Cavalcanti) (asst d)


Turned out Nice Again (Varnel) (assoc pr)


The Green Man (Day) (supervisor, uncredited)


Davy (Relph) (pr)


Rockets Galore ( Mad Little Island ) (Relph) (pr)


Desert Mice (Relph) (pr)


On DEARDEN: books—

Balcon, Michael, A Lifetime of Films , London, 1969.

Barr, Charles, Ealing Studios , London, 1977.

Perry, George, Forever Ealing , London, 1981.

Hill, John, Sex, Class, and Realism: British Cinema 1956–63 , London, 1986.

O'Sullivan, Tim, Paul Wells, and Alan Burton, editors, Liberal Directions: Basil Dearden and Postwar British Film Culture , London, 1997.

On DEARDEN: articles—

Tynan, Kenneth, "Ealing: The Studio in Suburbia," in Films and Filming (London), November and December 1955.

"Dearden and Relph: Two on a Tandem," in Films and Filming (London), July 1966.

Barr, Charles, "Projecting Britain and the British Character: Ealing Studios," in Screen (London), Summer 1974.

Ellis, John, "Made in Ealing," in Screen (London), Spring 1975.

* * *

Basil Dearden is, par excellence, the journeyman-director of British cinema, standing in much the same relation to Ealing (the studio for which he directed the greater part of his output) as, say, Michael Curtiz did to Warner Brothers. More than any other director, Dearden personified the spirit of Ealing films: concerned, conscientious, socially aware, but hampered by a certain innately British caution. Dearden was the complete professional, unfailingly competent and meticulous; his films were never less than thoroughly well-constructed, and he enjoyed a reputation in the industry for total reliability, invariably bringing in assignments on schedule and under budget.

Such careful craftsmanship, though, should not be equated with dullness. Dearden's films may often have been safe, but they were rarely dull (despite the allegations of some critics). His work shows a natural flair for pace and effective action: narrative lines are clear and uncluttered, and although in many ways they have dated, his films remain eminently watchable and entertaining. In the moral climate of the time, too, Dearden's choice of subjects showed considerable boldness. Dearden tackled such edgy topics as race ( Sapphire ), homosexuality ( Victim ), sectarian bigotry ( Life for Ruth ), and postwar anti-German prejudice ( Frieda ), always arguing for tolerance and understanding. It was perhaps inevitable, given his background and the ethos of the studio, that these "social problem" movies tended towards overly reasonable solutions. "Dearden's films," Charles Barr has pointed out in his definitive study Ealing Studios , "insistently generalize their moral lessons."

For most of his directing career Dearden worked closely with Michael Relph, who produced nearly all his films, collaborated with

Basil Dearden
Basil Dearden
him on the scripts, and occasionally co-directed; after the demise of Ealing, the two men formed their own production company. Their joint output covered a wide variety of genres, including costume drama ( Saraband for Dead Lovers ) and comedy ( The Smallest Show on Earth ), as well as large-scale epic ( Khartoum ). Dearden's flair for action was effectively exploited in the classic "heist" movie, The League of Gentlemen , and in The Blue Lamp , a seminal police drama and one of the first Ealing films shot almost entirely on location. Early in his career, Dearden also evinced a weakness for slightly stagey allegories in films such as Halfway House and They Came to a City , in which groups of disparate individuals are brought to a change of heart through supernatural intervention.

There can also be detected in Dearden's films, perhaps slightly unexpectedly, a muted but poetic vision of an idealized community—seen most clearly in his first film with Relph, The Captive Heart , a sympathetic study of prisoners-of-war. "The community," Charles Barr has noted, "is presented as part of a wider society involving all of us—and encompassing England." In his strengths and in his weaknesses—the restraint verging on inhibition, the competent versatility tending towards lack of directorial character—Dearden was in many ways an archetypally "British" director. Anyone wishing to understand the success and limitations of post-war British cinema, and indeed of post-war British society, could do far worse than study the films of Basil Dearden.

—Theresa FitzGerald

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