Star Archive

Basil Dearden (1911 - 1971)

Basil Dearden was born on Westcliffe-on-Sea. His father died in the war and Dearden was brought up in poverty. He started his working life as an office boy in an insurance company. He had worked as an actor during the school holidays for the Ben Greet company and joined the company as actor/administrator.

In 1932 he became production manager for Basil Dean one of the great theatrical impresarios of the age. Dean also had significant interests in cinema production and in 1937 Dearden moved to Ealing Studios and stayed when Dean left and was replaced by Michael Balcon.

Dearden co-wrote for George Formby and Will Hay and got his first co-director's credits with Hay. His first solo feature, The Bells Go Down, was typical of what would become his personal style: a tale of a group of men at work, in this case the fire service, with a realistic background but a melodramatic streak running through the storyline. His art director on this film was Michael Relph. Relph would continue to provide art direction on Dearden's films until he moved into production with The Captive Heart. Together they formed a team that would last until Dearden's death.   

The expensive period drama Saraband for Dead Lovers was a mis-step, but the massive hit that was The Blue Lamp kept the team's stock high with the public. Within Ealing however, Dearden and Relph were underappreciated. Balcon appears to have preferred his own protégés rather than Dearden who was Balcon's predecessor's. Critics also complained that Dearden's work was well crafted, but lacked true artistry. It is perhaps significant that he never got to make an actual Ealing Comedy during its golden period, with only the flop Benny Hill vehicle Who Done It? on his CV as Ealing gasped its last.

With Ealing no more, Dearden and Relph helped form Allied Film Makers and he got to make the nearest thing to an Ealing Comedy: The Smallest Show on Earth. He also continued to specialise in social melodramas that pushed at the envelope of liberal concerns: Violent Playground dealt with delinquent teenagers, Sapphire, the "colour problem" and most famously Victim was the first British film to deal with the law on homosexuality.

Dearden and Relph continued to work throughout the 60s. Dearden dabbled in TV, directing the pilot episode of The Persuaders, and his career was still healthy when he died in a car crash in 1971.

Dearden is seen by critics as a workmanlike director who so typified the norms of 50s cinema that he is hardly worthy of discussion. However, looking at his career overall from this distance it's hard to think of a director who so successfully anatomised post-war disillusionment.  

Still from The Black Sheep of WhitehallStill from The Goose Steps OutStill from FriedaSet photo of Saraband for Dead LoversStill from Saraband for Dead LoversPressbook cover for Train of EventsStill from The Blue LampStill from I Belive in YouStill from The Gentle GunmanStill from SapphireStill from SapphireStill from Sapphire


1941 The Black Sheep of Whitehall (co.)
1942 The Goose Steps Out (co.)
1943 The Bells Go Down
1943 My Learned Friend (co.)
1944 The Halfway House
1944 They Came to a City
1945 Dead of Night (co.)
1946 The Captive Heart
1947 Frieda
1948 Saraband for Dead Lovers
1949 Train of Events (co.)
1950 The Blue Lamp
1950 Cage of Gold
1951 Pool of London
1952 I Believe in You
1952 The Gentle Gunman
1953 The Square Ring
1954 The Rainbow Jacket
1955 Out of the Clouds
1955 The Ship That Died of Shame
1956 Who Done It?
1957 The Smallest Show on Earth
1958 Violent Playground
1959 Sapphire
1960 The League of Gentlemen
1960 Man in the Moon
1961 The Secret Partner
1961 Victim
1962 All Night Long
1962 Life for Ruth
1963 The Mind Benders
1963 A Place to Go
1964 Woman of Straw
1965 Masquerade
1966 Khartoum
1968 Only When I Larf
1969 The Assassination Bureau
1970 The Man Who Haunted Himself

Basil Dearden at Amazon UK  

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