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Adelphi Films

Production Company

Main image of Adelphi Films

In the postwar years the British film industry was dominated by the Rank Organisation and a handful of other major producers such as the Associated British Picture Corporation, who between them controlled the majority of British cinemas. Beneath them, however, were numerous smaller companies, such as Anglo-Amalgamated, churning out supporting features and short subjects and battling to fill the gaps in the programme. One of the smallest of all was Adelphi Films, a tiny, family-run film business, operating out of a cramped office in Wardour Street. Yet from this humble base, Adelphi produced and distributed more than 30 feature films and shorts in the 1940s and 1950s, boasting an impressive array of popular British performers. Modestly produced, Adelphi's output was nonetheless diverse and ambitious. Some of their films - despite their small-scale origins - were just as good as anything the big studios had to offer.

Founded in 1939, Adelphi was acquired in 1949 by Arthur Dent and his two sons, Stanley and David, to become an independent, family-owned film company. Arthur was already an industry veteran: in the silent era he had been a salesman for Famous Players-Lasky and, later, assistant to producer John Maxwell. By 1937, Maxwell was managing director of Associated British, while Dent, his right hand man, was also on the board. In 1940, Dent left to become UK representative of Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn. After the war, he struck out alone and bought Adelphi.

Arthur had tested his mettle as a producer with Comin' Thro the Rye (1947), released under the Advance Films banner (Advance was later subsumed into Adelphi). A short supporting feature, shot on a shoestring, it told the story, in song, of poet Robbie Burns. Adelphi's subsequent output - modestly budgeted, sometimes with partial funding from the National Film Finance Corporation - ranged from crime to melodrama; however, Arthur, who had trodden the boards himself, leant towards comedy, music and variety. Bless 'Em All (1948), now lost except for a trailer, combined these elements. A parade-ground comedy designed to appeal to those who had recently served in the forces, the film starred now-forgotten variety comic Hal Monty, and provided an early showcase for the musical talents of Max Bygraves.

The Dents had an eye for talent, and were always keen to give young performers a break - and upcoming artistes were less able to demand high fees. Adelphi shrewdly secured the services of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe for Penny Points to Paradise (1951), a breezy comedy about a pools winner on holiday in Brighton. On the cusp of fame with The Goon Show, the trio were, soon afterwards, out of the Dents' price range. Similarly, blonde bombshell Diana Dors appeared in four films for the company before she too rose out of reach.

Many Adelphi films were booked at cinemas as supporting features, or as half of a double bill, as part of the 'quota' (exhibitors' legal obligation to screen a certain percentage of British-made films each year); but Dent was keen to establish a reputation for quality drama. To this end he splashed out on The Crowded Day (1954). Impressively directed by a young John Guillermin, this engaging ensemble piece starred John Gregson and Joan Rice, two of Rank's top stars, subcontracted at considerable expense. An intelligent, bittersweet drama of shop floor intrigue, the film was definitely on a par with top-end British studio product of the time. However, Arthur - a staunch advocate of the 'little man' - had ruffled the feathers of the powerful exhibitors who controlled British cinemas. Despite its quality, the big chains refused to book the film as a first feature.

Arthur was disheartened and in declining health, but his ambition remained undimmed. In 1956 he unveiled the first Adelphi release in colour, Stars in Your Eyes, another musical comedy, but his death that same year curtailed further projects. The company continued, however, and remains in family hands to this day. Viewed in retrospect and with the company records still intact, Adelphi's output constitutes a fascinating case-study in independent British filmmaking outside the confines of the postwar studio system.

Vic Pratt

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Crowded Day, The (1954)Crowded Day, The (1954)

The lives and loves of department store workers during Christmas week

Thumbnail image of Fun at St. Fanny's (1956)Fun at St. Fanny's (1956)

Slapstick comedy in a boys' school, with one surprisingly grown-up pupil

Thumbnail image of Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary (1953)Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary (1953)

Diana Dors stars in this frothy farce about a marital mix-up

Thumbnail image of Let's Go Crazy (1951)Let's Go Crazy (1951)

Nightclub-set revue vehicle for Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan

Thumbnail image of My Wife's Lodger (1952)My Wife's Lodger (1952)

Comedy about a returning soldier usurped by his wife's new lodger

Thumbnail image of Penny Points to Paradise (1951)Penny Points to Paradise (1951)

Pre-Goons comedy with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe

Thumbnail image of Slappiest Days of Our Lives, The (1953)Slappiest Days of Our Lives, The (1953)

Peter Sellers voices an array of vintage silent comedy clips

Thumbnail image of Song of Paris (1952)Song of Paris (1952)

Comedy about a French cabaret star falling for a passing Englishman

Thumbnail image of You Lucky People! (1955)You Lucky People! (1955)

Successful Army comedy that did wonders for its star Tommy Trinder

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