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Gaumont-British Picture Corporation

Production Company

Main image of Gaumont-British Picture Corporation

Gaumont-British was a subsidiary of the French production company Gaumont, which had bought the land for a studio at Shepherd's Bush in 1912 and begun producing by 1914. It was a solely British company from 1922 (run by the Ostrer brothers), and was an exhibition giant in Britain by the late '20s, with 280 cinemas in 1929. With its distribution interests as well, it was a prime example of the vertical integration at work in the film industry.

In 1927 Gaumont-British teamed up with Michael Balcon's Gainsborough Pictures, with Balcon becoming director of production for both companies. Gaumont-British, the mother company based at Shepherd's Bush, produced 'quality' pictures, while Gainsborough's studios at Islington were dedicated to lower-status fare.

Under Balcon, Gaumont-British was responsible for some prestigious films, such as I Was a Spy (d. Victor Saville, 1933), Jew Süss (d. Lothar Mendes, 1934) and The Passing of the Third Floor Back (d. Berthold Viertel, 1935). Such films attempted to broaden contemporary definitions of national identity, and they experimented with new methods of set construction. In the less ambitious comedies, such as Cuckoo in the Nest (d. Tom Walls, 1933), or musicals such as Soldiers of the King (d. Maurice Elvey, 1933), Balcon left the team unhampered to produce cheap and profitable fare.

Under Balcon's aegis, both Gaumont-British and Gainsborough provided a link to Continental, and specifically German, film practices. Balcon had links with UFA, and in 1925 he encouraged Alfred Hitchcock to study German methods in situ. Gainsborough also specialised in the production of multilingual films in the late '20s/early 30s.

As the German industry became uncomfortable for some artistes in the '30s, both Balcon's companies offered employment to displaced personnel, including Conrad Veidt, Elizabeth Bergner, Berthold Viertel, Mutz Greenbaum and Alfred Junge. In 1936 Balcon left for MGM-British, and the internationalist days of Gaumont-British were over. The Gaumont-British studio at Shepherd's Bush was closed.

As well as feature production, Gaumont-British engaged in three other areas of filmmaking. Under the name of G-B Instructional, it was involved in documentary, specialising in films for the educational market. Mary Field was one of the most important of its directors, making her name in school films about biology and history. Second, Gaumont entered the competitive newsreel market with Gaumont-British News; its competent newsreeels had wide showings in circuit cinemas. Third, in the mid-1940s, Rank set up G-B Animation, under American David Hand, but this venture was less successful, never rivalling the popularity of its US competition.

Cook, Pam (ed), Gainsborough Pictures (1997)

Sue Harper, Encyclopedia of British Film

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Cuckoo in the Nest (1933)Cuckoo in the Nest (1933)

Ben Travers farce about a series of comical misunderstandings

Thumbnail image of Evergreen (1934)Evergreen (1934)

Jessie Matthews plays two roles in this Rodgers and Hart musical comedy

Thumbnail image of Fire Raisers, The (1933)Fire Raisers, The (1933)

Michael Powell 'quota quickie' about a gang of arsonists

Thumbnail image of Ghoul, The (1933)Ghoul, The (1933)

Early sound chiller starring Boris Karloff

Thumbnail image of Good Companions, The (1933)Good Companions, The (1933)

Adaptation of J.B. Priestley's popular play about a performing troupe

Thumbnail image of Jew Süss (1934)Jew Süss (1934)

Adaptation of Lion Feuchtwanger's novel about an ambitious Jew

Thumbnail image of Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1934)Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1934)

The original version of Hitchcock's classic man-on-the-run thriller

Thumbnail image of Man of Aran (1934)Man of Aran (1934)

Romantic and poetic portrait of the harsh lives of the Aran islanders

Thumbnail image of Red Ensign (1934)Red Ensign (1934)

A visionary shipbuilder strives to rescue the British shipping industry

Thumbnail image of Rome Express (1932)Rome Express (1932)

Delightful comedy-thriller set on a VIP-packed express train

Related Collections

Thumbnail image of Encyclopedia of British Film Encyclopedia of British Film

The exhaustive reference work from which this biography is taken

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)

Executive, Producer

Thumbnail image of Gainsborough Pictures (1924-51)Gainsborough Pictures (1924-51)


Related media

Thumbnail image of Lionel Banes: BECTU Interview Part 4 (1988)Lionel Banes: BECTU Interview Part 4 (1988)

Lensing for Alfred Hitchcock and film equipment at Gaumont Studios