Francis Searle (1909-2002) b. Putney, London, England, UK
There can be few more dogged purveyors of programme-filler material than the British director Francis Searle. Beginning in 1936, he made one-reel ‘Cinemagazine’ shorts, two-reel documentaries, second features from 1946 until well after their heyday was over, and then 30-minute colour comedies into the 1970s. He began his career as a layout artist in advertising, but had entered the film industry by the early 1930s as a camera assistant at Highbury Studios. After cutting his teeth on dozens of ‘Cinemagazines’, Searle moved to Gaumont-British where he joined their instructional unit and made documentaries. One of the earliest of these, released in both feature and one-reel versions, was War Without End, a detailed and commendably down-to-earth examination of work in a (then) modern hospital. Searle returned to the theme of hospital life in his 1944 film Student Nurse, and then went into the commercial cinema. His first film, A Girl in a Million (1946), is also the only ‘A’ feature he ever made. With the reintroduction of the ‘B’ film in Britain in 1947, Searle became a man in demand. Most of the small films he made in this category over the next 16 years are thrillers of minimal value, but one or two – The Man in Black (1949), The Rossiter Case (1950), A Case for P.C. 49 (1951), Whispering Smith Hits London (1951), Cloudburst (1951) and Gaolbreak (1962) – are a little sharper than the rest. Some of them, especially such as Love’s a Luxury (1952), Wheel of Fate (1953), Undercover Girl (1957) and Murder at 3am (1953) among the worst of those tawdry dramas that gave British ‘B’ features a bad name.