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Courtauld, Stephen (1883-1967)


Main image of Courtauld, Stephen (1883-1967)

Hailed by Ealing head Michael Balcon as the studios' 'Rock of Gibraltar', Stephen Courtauld ensured the financial support to keep the company going for more than two decades, during which time many of their most memorable films were produced.

Born in Essex, he was educated at Rugby and King's College, Cambridge. During the First World War he served in the Artists' Rifles and Machine Gun Corps, and was awarded the Military Cross in 1918.

Although heir to a textile empire built on the manufacture of rayon (artificial silk), he opted not to enter the family business. After training as a brewer, he used his wealth to pursue various hobbies, becoming an accomplished mountaineer and a noted patron of the arts. He was a trustee of the Royal Opera House, built Salisbury's National Art Gallery and undertook the extensive restoration of Eltham Palace in south-east London.

In 1930 he joined the board of Basil Dean's Associated Talking Pictures, providing financial backing for construction of the company's ambitious Ealing studios - incorporating Britain's first purpose-built sound stages - the following year. He was later instrumental in engineering the departure of Dean, who he claimed was concentrating too much on stage work, opening the door for the arrival of Michael Balcon as head of production in 1938. It was under Balcon that the company, now renamed Ealing Studios would enjoy its most commercially and creatively successful period.

Courtauld withdrew his financial support in 1952, having relocated to Rhodesia the previous year due to failing health – though he also cited his dislike of the emerging welfare state. His retirement precipitated the sale of the Ealing site to the BBC in 1955, leaving Balcon forced to struggle on from a new base at MGM's Boreham Wood studios before finally winding up Ealing in 1959.

Richard Hewett

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