With scarcely more than a handful of films, all different and none major classics, Thorold Dickinson is an unlikely candidate for a cult director. Yet his reputation stands higher than most of his contemporaries and his work continues to inspire.
He was born in Bristol where his father was an Archdeacon. His education at Oxford was cut short when he was expelled for devoting too much time to his passion for films. He got into the film business through working as a translator for director George Pearson. He took a number of jobs in the 20s, including scenario writing, but settled down as an editor.
He became active in the Film Society and also an active trades unionist, helping to make the ACT a more powerful organisation. He established a reputation as a great editor at ATP and was given the chance to complete Java Head when its director fell ill. His first official credit was for The High Command for independent Fanfare Pictures. This lead nowhere so he went to Spain for some documentary reports on the Civil War.
His first success, The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, was a quirky whodunit whose box office benefited greatly from the presence of Arsenal's legendary 30s team. His next was Gaslight which proved such a hit it was rapidly remade by MGM in Hollywood. After the damp squib that was The Prime Minister he was lumbered with the military training film The Next of Kin. This was so popular with service personnel it was put on general release.
The Next of Kin gave him the chance to create a more personal project: Men of Two Worlds. This big-budget tale of colonial life failed to find an audience and so it was back to the life of a jobbing director for Dickinson. He took over The Queen of Spades a few days before the cameras were due to roll when its original director backed out, and it became his most admired work. Again, he used his success to help get a more personal project off the ground and again the project, Secret People, proved a disappointment.
Work then took him to Israel and from there to UNESCO where he became Chief of Film Services. With his career in practical film making over, he turned to teaching. He joined the faculty at the Slade School of Fine Art and became Britain's first Professor of Film in 1967, a post he held until his retirement in 1971.
|1936||The High Command|
|1938||Spanish A B C (doc short co-dir)|
|1938||Behind the Spanish Lines (doc short co-dir)|
|1939||The Arsenal Stadium Mystery|
|1940||Westward Ho! (doc short)|
|1940||Yesterday is Over Your Shoulder (doc short)|
|1941||The Prime Minister|
|1942||The Next of Kin|
|1946||Men of Two Worlds|
|1949||The Queen of Spades|
|1952||The Red Ground (doc short. Isr.)|
|1955||Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (Isr.)|
Thorold Dickinson at Amazon UK
Thorold Dickinson at Amazon US