Star Archive

Pat Jackson (1916 - 2011)

When Pat Jackson passed away he was about the last of the great team that formed at the GPO and created the British documentary film movement.

He was born in London and educated privately. Illness and a lack of interest in academic work meant he left school with no qualifications and little idea of what he wanted to do. He got a two-week job as a camera loader at Welwyn. When this ended his mother got him an interview with John Grierson at the GPO thanks to her mother's acquaintance with the Postmaster General. Jackson was taken on as a messenger boy in 1933 at the age of seventeen.

The GPO film unit was a relatively democratic outfit and people were expected to muck in with anything that came along. Jackson soon got an education in all aspects of film production. He had a hand in many classics of the period including Night Mail but his first film as a director was Horsey Mail.

He was keen on getting real lives onto the screen and that meant real people. Many of his works involved extensive casting sessions, none more than his masterpiece Western Approaches. This feature-length docudrama told of a trans-Atlantic convoy and the attempt to rescue the survivors of a torpedoed ship. The lengthy shooting schedule along the Welsh coast in the middle of a war was frustrating for all involved, including Jack Cardiff trying to use a bulky Technicolor camera in a tiny lifeboat. The effort proved worthwhile when the film was nominated for an Oscar.

This took Jackson to Hollywood. The frustrations of Western Approaches proved nothing compared to hanging around LA waiting for a project to be green lit. As his contract came to an end he finally got a film made but the experience was an unhappy one and the result poor.

He returned to Britain and made White Corridors which used professional actors as the leads, and amateurs as minor characters to give an authentic portrait of the 1950s NHS. He went back to the NHS for The Feminine Touch. His last notable film was What a Carve Up! which gained a second life as the starting point for Jonathon Coe's novel of the same name.

As his career wound down he moved into television directing episodes of The Prisoner, The Professionals and Man in a Suitcase.  


1938 Horsey Mail
1939 The First Days
1940 Welfare of the Workers
1941 Ferry Pilot
1942 Builders
1945 Western Approaches
1950 Shadow on the Wall (US)
1951 White Corridors
1951 Encore
1952 Something Money Can't Buy
1956 The Feminine Touch
1957 The Birthday Present
1959 Virgin Island
1960 Snowball
1961 Seven Keys
1961 What a Carve Up!
1962 Don't Talk to Strange Men
1964 Seventy Deadly Pills
1967 To Chase a Million
1968 On the Run

 Pat Jackson at Amazon UK