January 2, 2017


Jack Lee. (1913-2002) b. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England.

Director and documentarian Jack Lee grew up as one of eight children in the village of Slad nr Stroud in Gloucestershire. Jack Lee learnt his profession in the hard-knock school of wartime documentaries. Lee, who had studied photography at the Regent Street Polytechnic, joined the celebrated GPO Film Unit as a cameraman at a propitious time in 1938. The outbreak of war shifted documentary-making from the margins to the mainstream and, in 1940, the company was renamed the Crown Film Unit, and it was incorporated into the official war effort. Lee took risks by shooting footage during the Blitz for the classic Humphrey Jennings-Harry Watt short London Can Take It (1940), and went on to direct others in the same mould: The Pilot Is Safe (1941), Ordinary People (1942) and Close Quarters (1944), the last about life on a submarine. In 1945, he was demobbed and finally managed to make his first fiction feature, The Woman In The Hall (1947) for a subsidiary of the Rank Organisation. A little earthier was Once A Jolly Swagman (1948), which had a miscast Dirk Bogarde as an ex-factory worker and layabout, taking up the dangerous sport of speedway. This was followed by The Wooden Horse (1950), exciting Boys’ Own adventure in a German PoW camp with British actors in uniform displaying their stiff upper lips.

Later films included Turn The Key Softly (1953), about 24 hours in the lives of three very different women, Yvonne Mitchell, Joan Collins and Kathleen Harrison, released from Holloway prison; and The Captain’s Table (1958), a mildly amusing comedy with John Gregson as an awkward captain presiding over the usual farcical passengers and crew. Jack had settled in Australia in 1963, where he had directed Robbery Under Arms (1957). On location, Lee met and fell in love with Isabel Kidman, although he was married at the time to Nora Dawson.

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