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Frankel, Cyril (1921-)

Director, Writer

Main image of Frankel, Cyril (1921-)

Cyril Frankel's career in film and television has been neglected partly because his early years as a features director were spent at Group 3 and the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC). The output of these studios in the 1950s has received less attention from historians than the films of the so-called 1940s 'golden age' or the late 1950s and early 1960s New Wave. Documentaries produced during the final period of the Crown Film Unit, where Frankel worked from the late 1940s up to its closure in 1952, are also less well known than the Unit's wartime classics. Yet Frankel's career is of interest because of his place within the documentary tradition, his contribution to various popular film and television genres, and his direction of several noteworthy films.

Determined to enter the industry after being demobbed, Frankel progressed to documentary direction at Crown via brief stints in a film laboratory and an opening at Highbury studios. Man of Africa (1953), the film of which Frankel is proudest, expanded from a straight documentary to a documentary-inflected feature when John Grierson invited him to direct it for Group 3. Shot in Ferraniacolour on location in Kigezi, Uganda, it focuses, unusually for its period, entirely on African characters. Unfortunately, disagreement between Grierson and fellow Group 3 executive Michael Balcon about the film's commercial viability denied it a theatrical release. However, Frankel revived Man of Africa for the 1986 London Film Festival.

Frankel contributed to several popular genres in the 1950s: comedy in films such as Make Me an Offer (1954) and She Didn't Say No! (1958); the school musical in It's Great to Be Young! (1956), which he tried to infuse with a dynamism inspired by On The Town (US, 1949); the understated children's hospital weepie No Time for Tears (1957), with an impressive performance from Flora Robson. Frankel gained a reputation within the industry as a skilful director of children, while the comedies Alive and Kicking (1959) and On the Fiddle (1961) featured early performances by Richard Harris and Sean Connery before they became iconic 1960s working-class stars. Frankel's intermittent association with Hammer resulted in two of the studio's least typical films: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960), which dealt with child abuse, and The Witches (1966), a psychological horror scripted by Nigel Kneale.

From the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, with the film industry beset by financial difficulties, Frankel was one of a number of British feature film directors who shifted focus primarily to television. He extended his range to detective and spy series such as Gideon's Way (ITV, 1964-66), Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (ITV, 1969-70), and Department S (ITV, 1969-70). By the late 1960s, when he was well established in television, Frankel's role would often be, as he put it, to "set the style of the 'series" by directing the earlier episodes. Later in his career he also worked in the theatre. Frankel returned to documentary in the 1980s, this time for television, covering subjects such as the Old Vic theatre, Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, and the potter Lucie Rie. The latter was a particularly personal project. Alongside his career in film and television, and after retiring from both industries, Frankel has been active as a collector and promoter of modern pottery.

Marjorie Bilbow, 'End of Exile for Frankel's 'Man of Africa', Screen International, 15th November 1986.
Richard Dyer MacCann, 'Subsidy for the Screen: Grierson and Group 3/1951-55', Sight and Sound, Summer 1977.

Martin Stollery

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Thumbnail image of From The Ground Up (1950)From The Ground Up (1950)

A report on Britain's progress in postwar rebuilding and modernisation

Thumbnail image of It's Great to Be Young! (1956)It's Great to Be Young! (1956)

British musical in which teens rebel in defence of their music teacher

Thumbnail image of School for Scoundrels (1959)School for Scoundrels (1959)

Alastair Sim teaches Ian Carmichael how to be a cad like Terry-Thomas.

Thumbnail image of Witches, The (1966)Witches, The (1966)

Hammer horror about witchcraft in an English village

Thumbnail image of Champions, The (1969)Champions, The (1969)

Colourful fantasy drama featuring a trio of superhero spies

Thumbnail image of Department S (1969-70)Department S (1969-70)

Drama series about a trio of spies, one being crime writer Jason King

Thumbnail image of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-70)Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-70)

Private eye duo with a difference: one of them's a ghost

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