Sidney Gilliat

Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
15 May 1990
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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RF: You came into the industry through Walter Mycroft, going to BIP in 1928?

SG: I actually came up with him in his little car on New Year's Day, 1928. It was his first day and my first day.

RF: The story about him was that he was a fairly astringent critic and maybe Maxwell or somebody at the studio thought it was better to have him inside than outside the tent. Is that true?

SG: There may have been an element of that, I think the reason was, you have to allow for the fact that Maxwell, the men he appointed, pretty well everybody else with one or two exceptions knew nothing really about making films when it came to a new quota act. And consequently it occurred to them that people who write about films ought to know how to make them which is a tremendous fallacy. I don't think one of them really worked.

Mycroft was only one. And he had done a little work with Hitchcock. And therefore he, also he was a founder of the Film Society so he did have what you might call an interest in films, but the others really knew nothing.

The man appointed to the head of Elstree, full name John Heppleby Thorpe was a salesman, a distributor. He knew nothing whatsoever about making films. And they built the studios and had one possible two writers there. They then engaged people, sometimes without having the films, that's not new, it's old but not new.And they had one overall writer called Eliot Stannard who used to complain, "I'm the only, I have to rewrite everybody else's scripts, I'm the only really completely professional writer in the building apart from fly by nights and I've got a floating liver." And when you look at the credits of that time you'll find Stannard's name in nearly all of them. Then, of course, you have to remember the business was completely interna­tional. So when you walked on the stage, as I did on that first day, the two big stages, with no sound, of course, before that,

so you saw a big stage with even five films being shot on. And a babel of noise and contrasting music and everything else. And each one of those could possibly have a different nationality.

Dupont was making Moulin Rouge. Norman Walker was making Tommy Atkins. Hitchcock was finishing off The Farmers Wife. Syd Chaplin was doing A Little Bit of Fluff and Arthur Maude was either shooting or preparing a film with Jack Buchanan called Toni. They 're all going on on either the next stage or next door, the same thing. And it was far too many, too soon, supervised by people who didn't know anything about it.

RF: Why was that do you think, was the pre occupation of the producers with the literary aspects of British cultural history, they felt it had to be based on books and play rath than original writing. That's one. The other subject is the influence of the distributors on the production industry. Let take the first one first. Was there kind of ethos that only the printed page was respectable.


Sidney Gilliat (15 February 1908 – 31 May 1994) was an English film director, producer and writer.

He was born in the district of Edgeley in Stockport, Cheshire. In the 1930s he worked as a scriptwriter, most notably with Frank Launder on The Lady Vanishes (1938) for Alfred Hitchcock, and its sequel Night Train to Munich (1940), directed by Carol Reed. He and Launder made their directorial debut co-directing the home front drama Millions Like Us (1943). From 1945 he also worked as a producer, starting with The Rake's Progress, which he also wrote and directed. He and Launder made over 40 films together, founding their own production company Individual Pictures. While Launder concentrated on directing their comedies, most famously the four St Trinian's School films, Gilliat showed a preference for comedy-thrillers and dramas, including Green for Danger (1946), London Belongs to Me (1948) and State Secret (1950).