Derek Threadgall was born in 1938 the eldest of three children in Harwich, Essex.
Fate decreed that the largest and grandest cinema of the three cinemas in that area, the Regal, should be a two minute walk from his two-up, two-down terraced home. The 940 seats Regal cinema (now demolished) also introduced him to the cinema going experience. In 1947, the family moved farther along the coast to a seaside resort which also had three cinemas each of which would play a major part in his formative years. His interest in films was boosted by his weekly visits to the popular Saturday Morning Pictures in his local Odeon (also a two minute walk from his new home in the town centre. During his teenage years he visited his local cinemas six and even seven times a week. This was possible because cinemas’ weekly programming was changed in mid- week in order to run a fresh presentation for the remainder of the week. Soon these early film life experiences began to form his ambition to work in the film industry.
He was introduced to practical amateur film making in the mid-1950s by a local school teacher, Lew Broom, who had broken new educational ground by successfully introducing ‘film’ as an educational tool. Mr Broom also ran the local youth club film group which Derek joined. Mr Broom helped him gain his first employment in the film industry with the British Film Institute Film Appreciation Department in London. His appointment followed a meeting arranged by Mr Broom with Dr Roger Manvell, Director of the British Film Academy in London.
He later moved to the BFI’s National Film Theatre (NFT) in London’s south bank arts complex as a trainee projectionist (the NFT was the original Telekinema from the 1951 Festival of Britain. It was transferred to BFI management after the Festival had closed).
Derek worked with Air Ministry in London during his National Service with The Royal Air Force. He travelled throughout England and abroad with the RAF promotions and recruitment team and a mobile 16mm cinema. The team attended events such as The Royal Tournament and Ideal Homes exhibitions to promote The Royal Air Force. his team was also responsible for maintaining the RAF film library located in RAF Hendon. In return, the RAF paid for him to take a London University course on the History and Art of Film sponsored by the British Film Institute. After completing his National Service, he joined Rank Film Distributors in London from where he plotted his final push to work in a British film studio.
In 1960, he succeeded in joining the management team at Shepperton Studios working in the Operating Office (the nerve centre of the studio). In 1965, he left the studio to freelance as a writer and documentary producer for which he formed his own film company.
In 1968, he joined the London advertising agency, Ogilvy Benson and Mather, to manage their television commercials library. He later joined Haymarket Publishing as annuals production editor and writer for their ‘Film Making’ magazine. He continued writing for several media and consumer magazines including ‘Atlantic’ for the American Chamber of Commerce in London.
In 1972 Shepperton Studios was under threat of closure. He ran the 16 months public campaign to prevent the studio from being demolished for a housing development. Following the campaign’s
success in 1973 he formed his own public relations business specialising in financial PR and fund raising for registered charities. His first book, ‘Shepperton Studios – An Independent View’ (a corporate history of the studio) was published in 1994 by the British Film Institute. It was followed in 2019 by a companion book ‘Shepperton Studios – A Personal View’.
Over the past ten years he has enjoyed sometime lecturing on cruise ships highlighting ‘The Golden Age of Hollywood’ (1920s to 1960s). On dry land he has presented over 100 talks covering cinema going in the 1940s 50s and 60s.
In 1996 to commemorate 100 years of British film making he ran the team which ‘borrowed’ the Odeon, Leicester Square, in London, for ‘The Super Saturday Show’ a recreation of a 1950s Saturday Morning Pictures show. It aided the Children’s Film and Television Foundation, the Prince’s Trust and the Variety Club of Great Britain.
Now, long retired as a film and cinema historian and an industry veteran, he is a volunteer for The British Entertainment History Project based in London for which he interviews entertainers and employees from Film, Television, Radio and Theatre His interviewees have worked in front of or behind the camera or microphone, but importantly they have a story to tell.
Derek is married to Liz and has two children, Clare and Roy, and three daughters from a previous marriage.