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Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)
 

Executive, Producer

Main image of Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)

Whatever limitations may now be ascribed to the Ealing Studios output of the 1940s and 1950s, it is undeniably at the centre of any account of the British film industry's most prestigious period - and is above all the achievement of Michael Balcon.

In an industry short of Hollywood-style moguls, Balcon emerges, along with Alexander Korda and J. Arthur Rank, as a key figure, and an obdurately British one too, in his benevolent, somewhat headmasterly approach to the running of a creative organisation.

Balcon entered the industry as a regional distributor in 1919, and in 1921 co-founded Victory Motion Pictures with Victor Saville. In 1924, he and Graham Cutts founded Gainsborough Pictures, which he presided over for twelve years, as director of production for Gaumont-British from 1931. During his incumbency, he oversaw production of some of Alfred Hitchcock's most charming entertainments, as well as Jessie Matthews' highly successful musicals.

After two frustrating years in charge of production for MGM-British, from 1937 until 1959 he was director and production chief at Ealing. When the studio was sold in 1955, he erected a plaque there proclaiming: "Here during a quarter of a century many films were made projecting Britain and the British character." This was the most fruitful period of his long career, marked by his capacity to assemble a creative team of writers, directors, actors and others, perhaps unparalleled in British film history.

Though it is the famous Ealing comedies, from Hue and Cry (d. Charles Crichton, 1946) through to The Ladykillers (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1955), which are most fondly remembered, the range also included such notable films in realist mode as San Demetrio London (d. Charles Frend, 1943), The Blue Lamp (d. Basil Dearden, 1949) and The Cruel Sea (d. Frend, 1952), a musical, Champagne Charlie (d. Alberto Cavalcanti, 1944), the costume romance Saraband for Dead Lovers (d. Dearden, 1948), and the adventure epic Scott of the Antarctic (d. Frend, 1948). The Ealing vein was played out by the later 1950s, but it is a major achievement.

In 1959 he formed Bryanston Films, and in 1964, amid much controversy, took control of British Lion. He was knighted in 1948. Jill Balcon, the actress, is his daughter, and S. Chandos Balcon was his brother.

Autobiography: A Lifetime in Films (1969)

Book: Ealing Studios by Charles Barr (revised edition 1993)

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

More information

FILM & TV CREDITS

From the BFI's filmographic database

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Studio

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Production Company