Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Tanner, Peter (1914-2002)


Main image of Tanner, Peter (1914-2002)

The first film Peter Tanner assisted on was Lorna Doone (1934), directed by Basil Dean during his time as head of Ealing Studios. Tanner returned to Ealing in the late 1940s and 50s to edit some of the most outstanding films produced under Michael Balcon's leadership. Prior to that he served his apprenticeship as assistant to Reginald Beck at Fox's Wembley Studios. Thanks to a training programme negotiated between Fox and the ACT, he went to Hollywood for several months and worked with editor Robert Simpson on Always Goodbye (US, 1938).

Although Tanner was young enough to be called up for active service during the war, producer Sydney Box secured him exemptions to work on various documentary projects. He edited We Serve (d. Carol Reed, 1942), a film designed to recruit women to the army, and Failure of a Strategy (d. David Lean, 1944), a newsreel compilation intended for exhibition in countries recently liberated by the Allies. With fellow editor Stewart McAllister, Tanner helped put together the first British documentary record of the newly liberated concentration camps for the German War Atrocities project.

Tanner joined Ealing for Scott of the Antarctic (d. Charles Frend, 1948), where he was closely involved in "matching [Ralph Vaughan Williams'] music to the rhythm of the cutting of the film". The project he enjoyed most was Kind Hearts and Coronets (d. Robert Hamer, 1949). During production Alec Guinness often visited the cutting rooms to remind himself, by listening to sound loops, of the different voices of the nine characters he was playing. Tanner spent ten years at Ealing, assisted initially by Seth Holt and later by John Jympson.

Most of Tanner's subsequent career was spent freelancing on various features, interspersed with occasional television work. One regret was never working with Hamer again: "I was going to do Lady Windermere's Fan with him just before he died, which would have been fascinating, because he would have been perfect for Wilde." John Cassavetes' Husbands (US, 1970) was a challenge because of its long, improvised shots where the conception of a scene might change from take to take. Tanner's favourite film of the later part of his career was the little-known Stevie (d. Robert Enders, 1978).

He occasionally published and lectured on his experiences as an editor, and emphasised that "you should never be too old to learn, as well as never too old to experiment... If it doesn't come off, nothing is lost, it just didn't come off. But there is always the chance that it will".

Roy Perkins/Martin Stollery, British Film Editors: The Heart of the Movie (BFI Publishing, 2004)

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Blue Lamp, The (1949)Blue Lamp, The (1949)

Classic Ealing police drama that introduced PC George Dixon

Thumbnail image of Cruel Sea, The (1952)Cruel Sea, The (1952)

Distinguished Ealing war film about the inexperienced crew of a naval warship

Thumbnail image of Gentle Gunman, The (1952)Gentle Gunman, The (1952)

Muddled but intriguing Ealing IRA thriller

Thumbnail image of I, Monster (1971)I, Monster (1971)

Unofficial but surprisingly faithful version of the Jekyll and Hyde story

Thumbnail image of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Deliciously dark comedy, featuring no fewer than nine Alec Guinnesses

Thumbnail image of Maggie, The (1954)Maggie, The (1954)

A wily old Scottish puffer boat captain outwits an American millionaire

Thumbnail image of Pool of London (1950)Pool of London (1950)

Two sailors on leave are caught up in a diamond smuggling racket

Thumbnail image of Scott of the Antarctic (1948)Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

Lavish recreation of Captain Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole

Thumbnail image of Avengers, The (1961-69)Avengers, The (1961-69)

Ultra-stylish '60s spy drama that all but invented cult TV

Related collections

Related people and organisations