10 interesting facts about the British film industry in the 1960s

Laura Mayne (@LauraJaneMayne)

The project is just over three months in, and so far our work has involved, amongst other things, the building of a database which lists all of the British films released between 1960 and 1969, with all sorts of accompanying production information. Extrapolating from this data has yielded some interesting, surprising (and not-so-surprising) results. To give a bit of a flavour of what we’ve been up to, here are 10 facts about the British film industry which readers may find interesting (if they can forgive the slightly Buzzfeed-style formatting!).

1. 14% of British films produced in this period were UK-American co-productions.

Of around 1000 films released in this decade, 144 were US/UK co-productions. Of course, Hollywood had long dominated the industry, but US money became an increasing feature of British film production as the decade wore on. American companies were also keen to produce films in the UK in order to take advantage of cheap labour costs and to qualify for tax breaks and subsidies (provided the film qualified as ‘British’ according to the definition set down by the Board of Trade).

dr no

The birth of a franchise: Dr No (Terence Young, 1962)

According to Robert Murphy in his book Sixties British Cinema, United Artists’ decision to back three films in the early 1960s (Dr No, Tom Jones and A Hard Day’s Night) was to have a ‘revolutionary’ effect on the British film industry.

 2. Around 20% of all British films were government funded.

Between 1960 and 1969 the state-backed National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC) funded 199 films. Usually providing ‘end money’, or the last 25-30% of a film’s budget, the NFFC rarely made its money back, as it was usually the last financier to recoup from any profits. Given that the types of films the NFFC funded were on the lower-budget end of the spectrum and were rarely commercial in tone, the corporation often suffered losses and funded fewer and fewer productions from the mid-1960s onward.

3. The most prolific production company was Hammer.

Hammer produced or co-produced 53 films in this period, though not all of them are exactly what you’d expect. Along with staples of the Hammer oeuvre like Kiss of the Vampire (Don Sharp, 1964) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (Terence Fisher, 1969) the studio also produced Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (Cyril Frankel, 1960), which deals with rather more serious themes. Set in Canada, the film follows a family’s attempt to prosecute an elderly paedophile who also happens to be a highly respected and influential member of the community. In its subject matter it tackles bold issues for the time, such as the sexual abuse of children and the difficulties inherent in exposing the crimes of those in power.

 Never_Take_Sweets_from_a_Stranger-880793310-large

Poster for Never Take Sweets From A Stranger

 4. The 60s killed the B-Movie…

After 1965, the B-movie sharply declined in popularity. At least until the middle of the decade, Merton Park Studios technically runs a close second to Hammer in terms of production, releasing an impressive 52 films between 1960 and 1966. 47 of these films belonged to the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series, produced for Anglo-Amalgamated between 1960 and 1964. The series varied in terms of quality, but by the mid-60s, despite calls from organisations like the British Film Producer’s Association for better standards in second features, the B-movie was looking stagnant and old-fashioned.

edgar

Still from The Edgar Wallace Mysteries (1960-1964)

5. …but gave birth to the British sexploitation film.

In the 50s and early 60s nudist films were a way to show skin onscreen while getting around the censors, but films like Naked as Nature Intended (George Harrison Marks, 1961) and My Bare Lady (Arthur Knight, 1963) cease production in the early part of the decade. However, from 1967 we see the appearance of sexploitation films, from Her Private Hell (1967) to George Harrison Marks’ historical sex romp Nine Ages of Nakedness (1969) which sees Marks playing himself and portraying several of his fictional ancestors and their luckless experiences with naked women.

nine ages

Poster for The Nine Ages of Nakedness (George Harrison Marks, 1969)

6. In the 1960s there were more musicals than war films.

At least, that’s going by Denis Gifford’s genre classifications in his British Film Catalogue. The war film, hugely important to British cinema in the 1950s, starts to decline in popularity into the 1960s, with 45 War films released in the decade compared with 47 musicals. However, it’s true that some films classified by Gifford as ‘war’ films could also come under the categories of historical drama, or thriller, so these genre classifications need to be taken with a pinch of salt. And sometimes the lines of demarcation can be especially blurred:

lovely war

Poster for Oh! What A Lovely War (Richard Attenborough, 1969)

7. Gerald Thomas directed the most films.

Whilst we want to get away from the persistent and wholly inaccurate idea that the sixties was all about Hammer and Carry On, the fact is that Gerald Thomas, director of the Carry On films, was actually the most prolific director of the decade, making a total of 19 films. Other prolific directors included Montgomery Tully (14 films), Freddie Francis (15), Don Sharp (14) and Basil Dearden (13).

 8. The most common genre throughout the decade was crime

279 crime films were released in the 1960s, closely followed by comedy (203) and drama (125). Horror and Fantasy/Science Fiction together account for 113 films.

Genre

9. One of the most active film producers of the era was a woman.

Betty Box produced 11 films throughout the decade, including Conspiracy of Hearts (Ralph Thomas, 1960) and Deadlier than the Male (Ralph Thomas,1966). Box had a flair for making popular films which appealed to contemporary audiences, as well as a flair for encouraging talents like Dirk Bogarde and Donald Sinden.

box

British film producer Betty Box pictured in 1959.

10. Lawrence of Arabia won the most Academy Awards

Lawrence of Arabia won 7 Oscars in 1963 including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. It’s also the case that Lawrence qualifies as a British film, but only barely. According to research carried out by Jonathan Stubbs, it was often convenient for the film to be registered as British based on the criteria set out by the Board of Trade, as British films could extract payments from a tax on box office receipts known as the Eady Levy (proportional to the success of the film). Other films qualifying as British included Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove (1963) as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Private Eye

 Still from Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

*Data taken from Film Index International, National Film Finance Corporation Annual Reports, Denis Gifford’s The British Film Catalogue (London, 3rd ed, 2001), Jonathan Stubbs ‘The Eady Levy – A Runaway Bribe?’ in Journal of British Cinema and Television 6:1 (2009) 1-20 and Robert Murphy, Sixties British Cinema (London 1992). 

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