100 Great British Directors

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Jane Arden
Actress, Separation
Jane Arden was born in Wales in 1927 and left for London in her teens. She trained at RADA and quickly began working as an actress and playwright. It was there that she met her future husband, Philip Saville, who is now perhaps most known for his work Boys from the Blackstuff and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. They had 2 children, Sebastian Saville and Dominic Saville and one step- child, Elizabeth Saville...
 
4.
Leslie Arliss
Director, The Wicked Lady
Former journalist and film critic Leslie Arliss began his film career as a screenwriter in the 1930s, mainly for Gainsborough Pictures. He continued as a writer for ten years, leaving Gainsborough in 1941 when he was offered a chance to direct at Associated British. It wasn't long before he returned to Gainsborough and brought with him a young actor named James Mason...
 
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Robert Asher
Director, On the Beat
British director Robert Asher began his film career in 1934 as an assistant director, and in that capacity worked with such directors as Roy Ward Baker and Anthony Pelissier. He became a director in 1959 with the Norman Wisdom comedy Follow a Star. He and Wisdom were a good team, and Asher shot several more Wisdom comedies before making his last one with the comedian...
 
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Anthony Asquith
Director, Pygmalion
British film director Anthony Asquith was born on November 9, 1902, to H.H. Asquith, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his second wife. A former home secretary and the future leader of the Liberal Party, H.H. Asquith served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1908-1916 and was subsequently elevated to the hereditary peerage...
 
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Richard Attenborough
Lord Richard Attenborough was born in Cambridge, England, the son of Mary (née Clegg), a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Frederick Levi Attenborough, a scholar and academic administrator who was a don at Emmanuel College and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. Attenborough...
 
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Roy Ward Baker
Roy Ward Baker's first job in films was as a teaboy at the Gainsborough Studios in London, England, but within three years he was working as an assistant director. During World War II, he worked in the Army Kinematograph Unit under Eric Ambler, a writer and film producer, who, after the war, gave Baker his first opportunity to direct a film...
 
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John Boorman
Producer, Excalibur
John Boorman attended Catholic school (Salesian Order) although his family was not, in fact, Roman Catholic. His first job was for a dry-cleaner. Later, he worked as a critic for a women's journal and for a radio station until he entered the television business, working for the BBC in Bristol. There...
 
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John Paddy Carstairs
Writer-director John Paddy Carstairs was born Nelson Keys, the son of actor Nelson Keys and the brother of producer Anthony Nelson Keys, in London, England, in 1910. Beginning his career as an assistant cameraman, he worked his way up to screenwriter and made his directorial debut in 1933. While never at the front rank of British directors...
 
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Gurinder Chadha
Gurinder Chadha was born in Kenya, and grew up in Southall, London, England. She began her career as a news reporter with BBC Radio, directed several award winning documentaries for the BBC, and began an alliance with the British Film Institute (BFI) and Channel Four. In 1990, Chadha set up her own production company: Umbi Films.
 
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Lance Comfort
Director, Hotel Reserve
Director Lance Comfort began his film career as a camera operator. He also worked as a sound recordist and animator, mostly in British documentaries and medical training films. His first feature was the big-budget but slow-moving Courageous Mr. Penn, a biography of 18th-century political leader William Penn...
 
21.
Henry Cornelius
Director, Genevieve
Born in South Africa, Henry Cornelius traveled to Europe, where he worked as an actor and director in stage productions in Germany, France and England. In 1933, with the Nazi takeover of Germany, Cornelius left Germany for France, and studied at the Sorbonne. He hooked up with director René Clair and went to England with Clair for The Ghost Goes West as an assistant editor...
 
22.
Charles Crichton
Director Charles Crichton's film career began as an editor in 1935 with Alexander Korda's London Films, and in that capacity he worked on such productions as Sanders of the River, Things to Come and Elephant Boy (which introduced Sabu to movie audiences). He soon left London Films for Ealing Studios...
 
24.
Graham Cutts
Director, White Shadows
Graham Cutts' career in the film industry began in 1909, when he became a film exhibitor. It wasn't long before he got involved in the production end of the business, and became a director in 1922. He was a co-founder of the prestigious studio Gainsborough Films, and while at Gainsborough guided the career of matinée idol Ivor Novello...
 
27.
Basil Dean
Basil Dean first appeared as an actor on the British stage in 1906. He soon switched careers and began writing and directing plays. Turning to the film industry, he became a producer and director in 1928; many of the films he produced and directed were based on his own stage plays.
 
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Basil Dearden
Director, Dead of Night
A former stage director, Basil Dearden entered films as an assistant to director Basil Dean (he changed his name from Dear to avoid being confused with Dean). Dearden worked his way up the ladder and directed (with Will Hay) his first film in 1941; two years later he directed his first film on his own...
 
29.
Thorold Dickinson
Director, Secret People
Born in Bristol, England, Thorold Dickinson began his film career during the silent era as a writer. He went to work for Ealing in the 1930s, first as an editor and then as a director. He directed or produced military training films during World War II, and after the war he turned out a string of unique and well-received films...
 
30.
Clive Donner
British director Clive Donner was born in West Hampstead, London, England. By age 18 he was already working in the film business, as an office clerk at Denham Studios. He eventually became an editor and then graduated to the director's chair. After making a series of TV commercials, he made his theatrical directorial debut with The Secret Place...
 
31.
Maurice Elvey
Director, The Clairvoyant
Maurice Elvey was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England, the oldest son of William Clarence Folkard, an inspecting engineer, and Sarah Anna Seward Folkard (formerly Pearce). He never had a formal education, and was working on the streets of London by the age of nine after having run away from home...
 
33.
Terence Fisher
Terence Fisher was born in Maida Vale, England, in 1904. Raised by his grandmother in a strict Christian Scientist environment, Fisher left school while still in his teens to join the Merchant Marine. By his own account he soon discovered that a life at sea was not for him, so he left the service and tried his hand at a succession of jobs ashore...
 
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Harold French
Director, Trio
London-born Harold French made his name on the stage, both as an actor and director. He crossed over to films, making his acting debut in 1920. He became a director shortly before the beginning of World War II, debuting with The Cavalier of the Streets, and made a well-received adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's thriller...
 
37.
Charles Frend
Director, The Cruel Sea
British director Charles Frend started his film career as an editor, and worked on several Alfred Hitchcock films, including Secret Agent and The Girl Was Young. He later worked for MGM at Elstree Studios, where he edited such films as A Yank at Oxford and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. He made his directorial debut in 1942 and turned out several low-budget dramas and documentaries...
 
38.
Sidney Gilliat
Sidney Gilliat, the English director, screenwriter, and producer, was born on February 15, 1908 in Edgely, Cheshire, England. He began his screen-writing career in the silent movie era, writing inter-titles, going uncredited for his contributions to Honeymoon Abroad, Champagne, and Week-End Wives...
 
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Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam was born in Minnesota near Medicine Lake. When he was 12 his family moved to Los Angeles where he became a fan of Mad magazine. In his early 20's he was often stopped by the police who often suspected him of being a drug addict and Gilliam had to explain that he worked in advertisement...
 
41.
Guy Green
Director, A Patch of Blue
Guy Green, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer and director who was a co-founder of the British Society of Cinematographers, was born in Frome, Somerset, England, on Guy Fawke's Day (November 5th), 1913. A devoted cinema enthusiast as a child, Green said he spent so much time watching the silent movies on the big screen...
 
42.
Peter Greenaway
Peter Greenaway trained as a painter and began working as a film editor for the Central Office of Information in 1965. Shortly afterwards he started to make his own films. He has produced a wealth of short and feature-length films, but also paintings, novels and other books. He has held several one-man shows and curated exhibitions at museums world-wide.
 
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Val Guest
Val Guest began his career as an actor on the British stage and in early sound films. He ran the one-man London office of "The Hollywood Reporter" until an encounter with director Marcel Varnel led to a screen writing job at Gainsborough Studios. Guest's directing career began in the early 1940s with a Ministry of Information short about the perils of sneezing (!)...
 
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Robert Hamer
Robert James Hamer was born in 1911 along with his twin sister Barbara, the son of Owen Dyke Hamer, a bank clerk, and his wife, Annie Grace Brickell. He was educated at Cambridge University where he wrote some poetry and was published in a collection 'Contemporaries and Their Maker', along with the spy Donald Maclean...
 
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Cecil M. Hepworth
Cinematographer, Alice in Wonderland
Born in London, England, in 1874, Cecil Hepworth was one of the founders of the British film industry, directing and producing many films from 1898 into the late 1920s. Developing an early interest in films from following his father on lecture tours about the magic-lantern, he patented several photographic inventions and wrote possibly the earliest handbook on the film medium...
 
48.
Alfred Hitchcock
Director, Psycho
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, Essex, England. He was the son of Emma Jane (Whelan; 1863 - 1942) and East End greengrocer William Hitchcock (1862 - 1914). His parents were both of half English and half Irish ancestry. He had two older siblings, William Hitchcock (born 1890) and Eileen Hitchcock (born 1892)...
 
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Tom Hooper
Tom Hooper was educated at one of England's most prestigious schools, Westminster. His first film, Runaway Dog, was made when he was 13 years old and shot on a Clockwork 16mm Bolex camera, using 100 feet of film. At age 18, he wrote, directed and produced the short film Painted Faces, which premiered at the London Film Festival; it was released theatrically and later shown on Channel 4...
 
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Brian Desmond Hurst
Hailing from East Belfast, Northern Ireland, Hans Moore Hawthorn Hurst was a linen worker before joining the army during World War I. He was a private in the Royal Irish Rifles, and survived the slaughter at the disastrous Gallipoli landing in Turkey. He changed his name to Brian Desmond Hurst. On his...
 
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Nicholas Hytner
Miscellaneous Crew, The History Boys
 
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Roy Kellino
Roy Kellino was born on April 22, 1912 in London, England as Philip Roy Gislingham. He was a director and cinematographer, known for Four Star Playhouse, _Schlitz Playhouse (1951) (TV Series)_, and Charade. He was married firstly to Pamela Ostrer (later known as Pamela Mason), and secondly to Barbara Billingsley. He died unexpectedly on November 18, 1956 in Los Angeles, California, USA.
 
56.
George King
Producer/director George King began his career in the British film industry in the 1920s as an agent. He eventually moved into writing, then turned to producing and directing, mostly in the field known as "quota quickies" (films made to comply with the British government's requirement that a certain percentage of films shown in British theaters had to be produced in Britain)...
 
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Frank Launder
Frank Launder started as a scriptwriter in the 1930s on such classics as The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich. He joined forces with Sidney Gilliat and together they Wrote, Directed and Produced over 40 films. Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat are most famous for their St. Trinian's films.
 
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David Lean
An important British filmmaker, David Lean was born in Croydon in 1908 and brought up in a strict Quaker family (ironically, as a child he wasn't allowed to go to the movies). During the 1920s he briefly considered the possibility of becoming an accountant like his father before finding a job at Gaumont British Studios in 1927...
 
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Ken Loach
Unlike virtually all his contemporaries, Ken Loach has never succumbed to the siren call of Hollywood, and it's virtually impossible to imagine his particular brand of British socialist realism translating well to that context. After studying law at St. Peter's College, Oxford, he branched out into the theater...
 
61.
Alexander Mackendrick
One of the most distinguished (if frequently overlooked) directors ever to emerge from the British film industry, Alexander Mackendrick, was in fact born in the US (to Scottish parents), but grew up in his native Scotland, where he studied at the Glasgow School of Art. He started out as a commercial illustrator...
 
63.
Peter Medak
Director, The Changeling
Peter Medak is an international Film Director. Born in Budapest, Hungary and fled to England at the age of 18 during the famous uprising against the communist regime. He immediately began his Film career with associated British Picture Corporation in Borehamwood. He studied and worked his way through by being an assistant editor...
 
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Sam Mendes
Samuel Alexander Mendes was born on August 1, 1965 in Reading, England, UK to parents James Peter Mendes, a retired university lecturer, and Valerie Helene Mendes, an author who writes children's books. Their marriage didn't last long, James divorced Sam's mother in 1970 when Sam was just 5-years-old...
 
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Ronald Neame
A British filmmaker who, over the years, worked as assistant director, cinematographer, producer, writer and ultimately director, Ronald Neame was born on April 23, 1911. His father, Elwin Neame, was a film director and his mother, Ivy Close, was a film star. During the 1920s, he started working at famous Elstree Studios...
 
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Leslie Norman
Director, X the Unknown
Leslie Norman began his career as a 14-year-old in the laboratories and editorial rooms of Warner Brothers Teddington Studios. He worked his way up from sweeping cutting-room floors to supervising editor and then assistant director. After military service he joined Ealing, where he became involved in their Australian operation...
 
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Laurence Olivier
Actor, Rebecca
Laurence Olivier could speak William Shakespeare's lines as naturally as if he were "actually thinking them", said English playwright Charles Bennett, who met Olivier in 1927. Laurence Kerr Olivier was born in Dorking, Surrey, England, to Agnes Louise (Crookenden) and Gerard Kerr Olivier, a High Anglican priest. His surname came from a great-great-grandfather who was of French Huguenot origin...
 
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Alan Parker
Director, Evita
Prior to moving into film, Alan was noted as one of London's most talented advertising copywriters. He worked for the Collet Dickinson Pearce (CDP) ad agency in the 1960's and early 1970's, and began directing his own tvc scripts in their basement. Formed a partnership with David Puttnam as his producer (Puttnam had been a photographers' agent)...
 
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Sally Potter
Director, Orlando
Sally Potter made her first 8mm film aged fourteen. She has since written and directed seven feature films, as well as many short films (including THRILLER and PLAY) and a television series, and has directed opera (Carmen for the ENO in 2007) and other live work. Her background is in choreography, music...
 
71.
Michael Powell
Director, The Red Shoes
The son of Thomas William Powell & Mabel (nee Corbett). Michael Powell was always a self confessed movie addict. He was brought up partly in Canterbury ("The Garden of England") and partly in the South of France (where his parents ran an hotel). Educated at Kings School, Canterbury & Dulwich College he first worked at the National Provincial Bank from 1922 - 1925...
 
72.
Carol Reed
Director, The Third Man
Carol Reed was the second son of stage actor, dramatics teacher and impresario founder of the Royal School of Dramatic Arts Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Reed was one of Tree's six illegitimate children with Beatrice Mae Pinney, who Tree established in a second household apart from his married life. There were no social scars here; Reed grew up in a well-mannered...
 
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Guy Ritchie
Director, Snatch
Guy Ritchie was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK on September 10, 1968. After watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as a child, Guy realized that what he wanted to do was make films. He never attended film school, saying that the work of film school graduates was boring and unwatchable. At 15 years old, he dropped out of school and in 1995...
 
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Nicolas Roeg
Director, Walkabout
When he made his directorial debut in 1970, Nicolas Roeg was already a 23-year veteran of the British film industry, starting out in 1947 as an editing apprentice and working his way up to cinematographer twelve years later. He first came to attention as part of the second unit on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia...
 
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Ken Russell
Director, Tommy
When he was age 8 he was given a 9.5 mm projector for Xmas. He graduated to 35mm together with a box of silents that had been salvaged from the liner Mauretania when she was being broken up. He attended a nautical school where he made his first short film, trained as an Air Force electrician and tried unsuccessfully to break into the world of ballet and the theatre...
 
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Victor Saville
An art dealer's son, Victor Saville was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham. He served in the British Army during World War I, was wounded at the Battle of Loos in 1915 and invalided out the following year. His first involvement with the film business was as manager of a small theater in Coventry...
 
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Ridley Scott
Producer, Blade Runner
Ridley Scott is an English film director and producer. Following his commercial breakthrough with the science-fiction horror film Alien (1979), his best known works are the noir science fiction film Blade Runner (1982), crime drama Thelma & Louise (1991), historical drama and Best Picture Oscar winner Gladiator (2000)...
 
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Tony Scott
Producer, Man on Fire
Tony Scott was a British-born film director and producer. He was the youngest of three brothers, one of whom is fellow film director Ridley Scott. He was born in North Shields, Northumberland, England to parents Jean and Colonel Francis Percy Scott. As a result of his father's career in the British military...
 
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Don Sharp
Don Sharp was born on the island of Tasmania off of Australia, and began his show-business career there as an actor. After World War II he traveled to England and continued his acting carer. He became a director in the mid-1950s and turned out some low- and medium-budget musicals, such as the Tommy Steele vehicle The Dream Maker...
 
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Jim Sheridan
Jim Sheridan is a master story-teller, and an acclaimed film director of few films, but good films nevertheless. Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1949, Sheridan moved to America in 1982, meeting a man who invited him to run the Irish Arts Center. He found a place to live in Hell's Kitchen, New York City...
 
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Gerald Thomas
Gerald Thomas started his movie career as an editor. He then worked his way up to become a director and producer and, with his friend Peter Rogers went on to make the 'Carry On' series of British comedies.
 
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Ralph Thomas
Educated at Middlesex College, Ralph started working in films as a clapper boy. He gave up on the movie industry in 1934 going to work as a journalist. During WWII he served with the 9th Lancers cavalry regiment. After the war he joined the Rank organisation and soon became one of their directors.
 
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Tom Walls
Comedy farceur Tom Walls is indelibly associated with the popular Aldwych Theatre farces of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in 1883, this English gent was a former constable and jockey before making his stage debut in 1905. As the star and producer of a succession of witty spoofs typically denigrating society's uppercrust...
 
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Michael Winner
Director, Death Wish
Michael Winner was interested in film at an early age, especially writing, which brought him briefly to television. He then moved into directing at age 25, and after a few comedies and vehicles for pop stars, quickly switched to more dramatic films, attaining something of a trade mark for violence - frequently working with Charles Bronson...
 
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Arthur B. Woods
Hailed as one of Britain's most promising pre-war film directors, Arthur Woods' career was cut tragically short by his death in World War II at the age of 39. He was the only British director to serve in combat and to be decorated for valor. The only son of an Anglo-Argentine shipping magnate, Woods was educated at Downside School and Christ's College...
 
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Joe Wright
Director, Atonement
 
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Peter Yates
Director, Bullitt
Having seen Robbery and Bullitt, it comes as no surprise that Peter Yates started out as a professional racing car driver and team manager - albeit briefly - before turning his attention to film. The son of a military man, he was educated at Charterhouse School and trained at RADA, gaining his first experience as an actor with local repertory companies...
 
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Terence Young
Director, Dr. No
Born in Shanghai and Cambridge-educated, Terence Young began in the industry as a scriptwriter. In the 1940s he worked on a variety of subjects, including the hugely popular wartime romance Suicide Squadron, set to Richard Addinsell's rousing "Warsaw Concerto". His original story was devised while listening to a concert in an army training camp...
 
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Humphrey Jennings
Humphrey Jennings, born in 1907, was a writer, set designer, painter, editor and, perhaps most famously, a director of ground-breaking documentary films for the renowned GPO film unit: Listen to Britain, Fires Were Started and A Diary for Timothy, films that changed the face of public service broadcasting. Throughout...
 
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Harry Watt
Scottish-born director Harry Watt began his career in the 1930s, and directed several documentaries during World War II, most notably Target for Tonight. He went to Ealing Studios after the war, and the five films he made there were all shot in Africa or Australia. He turned to directing television in the 1950s, and afterward he went back to his roots and shot documentaries.