Star Archive

John Baxter (1896 - 1975)

Low budget British film making has always had a bad name but in the 30s its reputation hit rock bottom. The quota produced too many stagy films about rich folk with cut-glass accents done on the cheap. There was no connection with reality and no connection with the audience. John Baxter's films are an honourable exception to this. He never escaped the limitations of his budget, but he did at least try to show a reasonable picture of working-class folk.

He was born in Kent and started his working life on the railways. During the war he joined a concert party and when the war ended he took to singing professionally. He gradually drifted into theatre management. When talkies arrived his experience with actors and production gave him the chance to move into film making, first as a casting director for Sound City at Shepperton and then as a director.

His first film was little more than a glorified short with various minor music hall acts filling in the gaps between the plot. His second was Doss House, a sentimental melodrama about one night in a Doss House. This was far removed from the usual subject matter of quota films and got Baxter noticed (though more for the brave attempt than the execution). 

He soon moved to Julius Hagen's Twickenham Studios for a while and then set up his own production company Baxter and Barter productions which then became UK Films. When the Quota legislation collapsed taking many production companies with it he joined British National. He stayed with that company until 1943 and then drifted around various independent companies until he became involved with the founding of Group 3 in 1951and directed its first film. From then on he was largely concerned with production. From 1960 to 1968 he worked as managing director of TWW the ITV franchise serving Wales and the West. When it lost its franchise to HTV he retired.

John Baxter's films are rarely distinguished and many of them are difficult to watch today. His most famous film is Love on the Dole which was notorious for its depiction of poverty and for being based on a racy novel which the censors considered unsuitable for adaptation (poor people protest against government policy and Deborah Kerr sells herself to escape poverty).

The two themes that run through his work are the condition of the working class and popular entertainment. His handling of the first now looks faintly patronising, though at least he made the effort. It's the second theme that now fascinates. His films are full of the popular entertainers of the day such as Flanagan and Allen, Old Mother Riley, Arthur Askey; rare performances from Music Hall stars such as Florrie Forde and George Robey; and many of those bottom of the bill acts whose work would be lost without Baxter's efforts. 

Poster for Laugh It OffPhoto of Dreaming   

Filmography (as director)

1933 Taking Ways
1933 Doss House
1933 The Song of the Plough
1933 Say it with Flowers 
1934 Lest We Forget
1934 Music Hall
1934 Flood Tide
1934 The Kentucky Minstrels
1935 A Real Bloke
1935 The Small Man
1935 Jimmy Boy
1935 Birds of a Feather
1936 Here and There
1936 Men of Yesterday
1936 Hearts of Humanity
1937 Song of the Road
1937 The Academy Decides
1937 Talking Feet
1938 Stepping Toes
1939 Secret Journey
1939 What Would You Do, Chums?
1939 Laugh it Off
1940 Old Mother Riley in Society
1940 Crooks' Tour
1940 Old Mother Riley in Business
1941 Love on the Dole
1941 Old Mother Riley's Ghosts
1941 The Common Touch
1942 Let the People Sing
1942 We'll Smile Again
1943 Theatre Royal
1943 The Shipbuilders
1944 Dreaming
1945 Here Comes the Sun
1946 The Grand Escapade
1947 When You Come Home
1947 Fortune Lane
1947 Nothing Venture
1948 The Last Load
1949 Three Bags Full (serial)
1949 The Dragon of Pendragon Castle
1951 The Second Mate
1951 Judgment Deferred
1956 Ramsbottom Rides Again