Basil Dearden was born on Westcliffe-on-Sea. His father died in the war and Dearden was brought up in poverty. He started his working life as an office boy in an insurance company. He had worked as an actor during the school holidays for the Ben Greet company and joined the company as actor/administrator.
In 1932 he became production manager for Basil Dean one of the great theatrical impresarios of the age. Dean also had significant interests in cinema production and in 1937 Dearden moved to Ealing Studios and stayed when Dean left and was replaced by Michael Balcon.
Dearden co-wrote for George Formby and Will Hay and got his first co-director's credits with Hay. His first solo feature, The Bells Go Down, was typical of what would become his personal style: a tale of a group of men at work, in this case the fire service, with a realistic background but a melodramatic streak running through the storyline. His art director on this film was Michael Relph. Relph would continue to provide art direction on Dearden's films until he moved into production with The Captive Heart. Together they formed a team that would last until Dearden's death.
The expensive period drama Saraband for Dead Lovers was a mis-step, but the massive hit that was The Blue Lamp kept the team's stock high with the public. Within Ealing however, Dearden and Relph were underappreciated. Balcon appears to have preferred his own protégés rather than Dearden who was Balcon's predecessor's. Critics also complained that Dearden's work was well crafted, but lacked true artistry. It is perhaps significant that he never got to make an actual Ealing Comedy during its golden period, with only the flop Benny Hill vehicle Who Done It? on his CV as Ealing gasped its last.
With Ealing no more, Dearden and Relph helped form Allied Film Makers and he got to make the nearest thing to an Ealing Comedy: The Smallest Show on Earth. He also continued to specialise in social melodramas that pushed at the envelope of liberal concerns: Violent Playground dealt with delinquent teenagers, Sapphire, the "colour problem" and most famously Victim was the first British film to deal with the law on homosexuality.
Dearden and Relph continued to work throughout the 60s. Dearden dabbled in TV, directing the pilot episode of The Persuaders, and his career was still healthy when he died in a car crash in 1971.
Dearden is seen by critics as a workmanlike director who so typified the norms of 50s cinema that he is hardly worthy of discussion. However, looking at his career overall from this distance it's hard to think of a director who so successfully anatomised post-war disillusionment.
|1941||The Black Sheep of Whitehall (co.)|
|1942||The Goose Steps Out (co.)|
|1943||The Bells Go Down|
|1943||My Learned Friend (co.)|
|1944||The Halfway House|
|1944||They Came to a City|
|1945||Dead of Night (co.)|
|1946||The Captive Heart|
|1948||Saraband for Dead Lovers|
|1949||Train of Events (co.)|
|1950||The Blue Lamp|
|1950||Cage of Gold|
|1951||Pool of London|
|1952||I Believe in You|
|1952||The Gentle Gunman|
|1953||The Square Ring|
|1954||The Rainbow Jacket|
|1955||Out of the Clouds|
|1955||The Ship That Died of Shame|
|1956||Who Done It?|
|1957||The Smallest Show on Earth|
|1960||The League of Gentlemen|
|1960||Man in the Moon|
|1961||The Secret Partner|
|1962||All Night Long|
|1962||Life for Ruth|
|1963||The Mind Benders|
|1963||A Place to Go|
|1964||Woman of Straw|
|1968||Only When I Larf|
|1969||The Assassination Bureau|
|1970||The Man Who Haunted Himself|
Basil Dearden at Amazon UK
Basil Dearden at Amazon US