Michael Balcon


Michael Balcon is considered one of the most important figures in British Cinema it was his vision that brought international prestige to Gainsborough in the 20s and 30s. and he was a vigorous spokesman for the industry for most of his career.

Michael Balcon's career began in Birmingham in 1920, where, with Victor Saville he was a film distributor. Within two years they had begun producing feature films in London - Woman to Woman 1923 was the first. He formed Gainsborough Studios the following year. He visited the Ufa studios in Berlin in 1924 ,shortly after marrying Aileen Leatherman, and began a co-production association with The Blackguard that was to last 10 years. German technical staff populated Gainsborough films throught the 20s and early 30s giving them a slick, sophisticated veneer to match any produced in Hollywood, Balcon was aiming for a product of international interest unlike many other British studios in the silent and early talkie era. In 1928 the company came under threat of a takeover by Gaumont-British and this became a reality in 1931, however, Balcon remained joint production chief both at Gainsborough and at Gaumont-British until 1936.

He joined MGM's British production unit but didn't last a year there despite making three excellent films: A Yank at Oxford, Good-bye Mr Chips and The Citadel. In 1938 he joined ATP which soon changed it's name to Ealing Studios.

Balcon c1933
At the outset of the Second World War he put forward a plan to the Ministry of Information to rationalise the film industry and create a programme of propaganda films. (This was inevitably completely ignored). During the war he set Ealing on a steady track with films about relevant issues of the day. Such as Convoy 1940 - the merchant navy and Next of Kin 1942 - about security and spying in England. These were tempered with comedies starring George Formby and Tommy Trinder where the stars took swipes at Germany and the Nazis. The post-war films reflected the changed attitudes of the public and the relief of victory - Hue and Cry 1947 - a Boys' Own adventure caper and Whisky Galore 1949 - Scottish islanders outwit the excise men. Also the need for escapism in austerity England Another Shore 1948 - an irishman dreams of life on a South Sea Island and The Loves of Joanna Godden 1947 - a pastoral England in the near past is evoked as a taste of life to come.

Commercially and personally 1948 was a good year for Balcon Scott of the Antarctic starring John Mills was selected for the Royal Command Film Performance, and he received a knighthood from the King.

In 1951 he became Chairman of Group 3 which was a subsidiary of the National Film Finance Corporation who had a brief to develop new acting talent, which they did very well, films included Miss Robin Hood 1952 and The Love Match 1954.

After the closure of Ealing Studios in 1957 he became an independent producer forming Bryanston Films. He spent a troubled two years as Chairman of British Lion 1964-5 and was involved in the British Institutes Experimental Film Fund, he retired at the age of 72.

Autobiography - A Lifetime of Films. Hutchinson 1969

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