Michael Relph

Michael Relph
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Interview Date(s): 
23 Jan 1990
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Born 1915 at Broadstone, Dorset. Schooling: Bembridge, Isle of Wight. Father was the actor George Relph; his mother’s second marriage took him into the Harker family who ran a theatrical scene painting and construction company. Wanted to be an architect, but of course, [training was] too long and expensive. Michael Balcon was a family friend and got him into the apprenticeship scheme which was starting at the Bush. [Shepherd’s Bush, home of Gaumont British]. After some general work in several departments he went into the art department under Alfred Junge, who was a great teacher along with Bill Andrews and Bill Bowden. Soon he was designing sets, some for Evergreen. Also in the Art Department was Peter Proud [BEHP Interview No 27]. He tells the story that if Junge liked a design done by one of his students, he would sign it and that was a great compliment to the Assistant! He started at the Bush on ten shillings [50 pence] a week, worked his way up to a pound and later got £3.

When Peter Proud left to go to Warners, he asked Relph to join him, but as he felt some loyalty to Mick Balcon, he went and asked Balcon if he should go and Balcon told him “of course”. Balcon resigned from the Bush more or less the next day to go to MGM. He talks about his Warner Brothers experience, which he said was an enormous help. He and Peter Proud were making a film (new) every fortnight. Two films going at a time, start Monday, finish at the end of the second week, and start a new film on the next Monday. He has so [many] amusing stories about Warners where he started on £7 a week, and finished at £20 a week in 1938.

After being out of work for a period he again went to see Balcon at Ealing, where he also met Walter Forde and Shan Balcon, two old friends; he got taken on, but Tom Morahan the Head of the Art Department was not very pleased; later Morahan left and Relph took over the Art Department.

He talks about The Bells go Down, with its amazing special effects, with Roy Kellino in charge of model shooting. He talks about his partnership with Basil Dearden; he also talks about Michael Balcon and how he (Relph) became a Producer. He discusses with Sid Cole the role played by Cavalcanti, and his influence on the direction. He said that Saraband [for Dead Lovers] was disappointing, it turned out to be rather dull and stodgy. He also talks about the use of colour by Douggie Slocombe [Interview No 68] and the Technicolor reaction. Then an amusing story about the start of Joan Collins in the film I believe in You, also an amusing story about The Rainbow Jacket. He then talks about Balcon, whom he says was a “great impresario”.


He continues talking about Balcon’s career from the Bush with his importing of a lot of German technicians (refugees), who raised standards, along with Americans, then to MGM where they made “mid-Atlantic” productions with fading stars etc., then to Ealing. He also talks about Tibby [T.B.] Clarke’s influence, the arrival of Sandy [Alexander] McKendrick on Peter Proud’s recommendation. He also talks about Balcon’s efforts to find the finance to make pictures and also about the Ealing Studios folding. He then goes on to talk about Bryanston Films, to make films under the Rank umbrella; then Allied Film Makers Ltd, a co-operative [with] [Richard] Attenborough, [Jack] Hawkins, [Guy] Green, [Michael] Relph [Bryan] Forbes and [Basil] Dearden. He then talks about Dirk Bogarde in Victim and The Mind Benders. Then his connection with UA [United Artists] and Woman of Straw. Interesting story about his writing of The Assassination Bureau, and Burt Lancaster, then how it was taken over by Paramount, but got lost in the power struggle. He then goes on to talk about his chairmanship of the BFTPA [British Film & Television Producers Association], and then later as their Chief Executive. He winds up with his thoughts over his career.



Father of Simon Relph, producer, and Emma Relph, actor