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Krish, John (1923- )

Director, Producer, Writer

Main image of Krish, John (1923- )

John Krish is a filmmaker of considerable interest as both a 'case study' of aspects of the postwar British film industry, and as a unique talent in his own right.

Born in 1923 in London, he worked as a director, and often also a writer, in a huge variety of genres: fiction feature films (the science fiction film Unearthly Stranger (1963) was arguably the best); television programmes (he directed the famously stylish opening credits for The Avengers, ITV, 1961-69); and numerous advertisements and public safety 'fillers'. However, much of his most distinctive work was in documentary, and his career yields fascinating insights into the process by which most film documentary of the time made its way to the screen: to convey a message for its sponsors, whether official, commercial or independent.

Krish's roots in British documentary certainly ran deep: he was assistant editor at the Crown Film Unit - working with such talents as Humphrey Jennings and editor Stewart McAllister, for instance as uncredited assistant on Listen to Britain (1942) - and later worked with Richard Massingham. Then as a writer-director from 1948 to 1985, Krish directed shorts for a large number of the organisations involved in film sponsorship. Examples include British Transport Films (This Year - London, 1951); the National Coal Board (several Mining Review stories); the General Post Office (Counterpoint, 1959); the National Union of Teachers (Our School, 1962); various charities (They Took Us To The Sea, 1961, for the NSPCC); and the Central Office of Information, on behalf of several government departments (H.M.P., 1977).

Characteristic of Krish was his attitude to the 'briefs' given to him by sponsors. He frequently reinterpreted them - not to subvert their messages but to strengthen their impact on audiences. This sometimes brought him into conflict with his employers. Most famously, The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953), perhaps his best-loved film, was reputedly made in direct contravention of orders by Edgar Anstey, head of British Transport Films.

Krish's period working under the sympathetic producer Leon Clore was particularly fruitful. Though Clore also provided opportunities for contemporaries such as Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz, Krish's style was largely at odds with the rhetoric of Free Cinema. Though a deep and sympathetic humanism was one of the threads running through the director's diverse output, another was his compulsive desire to stretch the boundaries of the 'message' documentary, frequently by crossing arbitrary borders between fiction and non-fiction. In the case of films like Drive Carefully, Darling (1975) and The Finishing Line (1977), Krish conveyed a public safety message through bizarrely surreal narrative settings and shocking imagery.

At their best, Krish's films transcended their highly specific origins, and remain fresh, moving and - all too often - socially relevant today.

Patrick Russell

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Drive Carefully, Darling (1975)Drive Carefully, Darling (1975)

Very unusual public information film about road safety

Thumbnail image of Elephant Will Never Forget, The (1953)Elephant Will Never Forget, The (1953)

Classic documentary marking the end of London's tram system

Thumbnail image of Finishing Line, The (1977)Finishing Line, The (1977)

Shocking film intended to deter children from vandalising railways

Thumbnail image of H.M.P. (1976)H.M.P. (1976)

Film shadowing three trainee prison officers as they learn the ropes

Thumbnail image of I Stopped, I Looked and I Listened (1975)I Stopped, I Looked and I Listened (1975)

Road safety film aimed at the elderly pedestrian

Thumbnail image of I Think They Call Him John (1964)I Think They Call Him John (1964)

Compassionate portrait of the life of an elderly and neglected widower

Thumbnail image of Jet-Propelled Germs (1948)Jet-Propelled Germs (1948)

Enjoyable short information film about the health risks of sneezing

Thumbnail image of Our School (1962)Our School (1962)

Documentary insight into an early '60s Secondary Modern school

Thumbnail image of Return to Life (1960)Return to Life (1960)

Documentary on the resettlement of refugees in Britain

Thumbnail image of Unearthly Stranger (1963)Unearthly Stranger (1963)

Intelligent, understated sci-fi about a race of female alien invaders

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Postwar DocumentaryPostwar Documentary

A crucial and creatively fertile period long overlooked by historians

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