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Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)

Director, Producer, Writer

Main image of Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)

Ian 'Dal' Dalrymple landed his first job in the industry as a film editor in 1927. Eventually, his work on Gainsborough hits such as Victor Saville's Sunshine Susie (1931) and Evergreen (1934) prompted Michael Balcon to bring him to Gaumont-British.

By the mid-1930s Dalrymple was concentrating on scriptwriting, particularly literary adaptations. Surprisingly, the shy intellectual thrived alongside flamboyant industry showmen like Alexander Korda, Anatole de Grunwald and Gabriel Pascal, for whom he worked uncredited on the Oscar-winning Pygmalion (d. Anthony Asquith/Leslie Howard, 1938). Of particular note were a series of successful, self-consciously 'English' pictures that Dalrymple made in tandem with Saville, including Dark Journey (1937), Storm in a Teacup (which he co-directed, 1937) and South Riding (1938).

On the eve of the Second World War, Dalrymple found himself lured into contributing to Korda's maverick propaganda epic, The Lion Has Wings (d. Adrian Brunel / Brian Desmond Hurst / Michael Powell / Alexander Korda 1939). Famously, Dalrymple dubbed sounds of sheep baaing over footage of a Nuremburg rally. His next project, Old Bill and Son (d. Dalrymple, 1941) put Bruce Bairnsfather's popular cartoon to patriotic use. Although it was not a box-office success, he was swiftly seconded to work under Jack Beddington at the Ministry of Information.

Dalrymple was now at the apex of his career. Responsible for overseeing the documentarists of the Crown Film Unit, he played movie midwife to hits like Target for Tonight (d. Harry Watt 1941) and Western Approaches (d. Pat Jackson 1944). While Stephen Tallents, John Grierson and Alberto Cavalcanti had been crucial to establishing the documentary tradition, it took the urbane but commercially-connected Dalrymple to plug the movement into the popular imagination.

Ian Dalrymple also played a crucial role in nurturing Humphrey Jennings' sublime talent. Sharing a Cambridge background and similar literary instincts, Jennings came to rely on his judgment, and at one point even moved in with the Dalrymples. Dal's understanding was rewarded by the extraordinary Listen to Britain (1942), Fires Were Started (1943) and A Diary for Timothy (1946).

After the war, Dalrymple set up Wessex Films with the intention of filming the novels of Thomas Hardy. However, intriguing projects such as Jennings' take on Far From the Madding Crowd fell through, while the Daumieresque Esther Waters (d. Dalrymple & Peter Proud 1948) gave Dalrymple "my first box office reverse in 21 years" and scared him off "dreary drama". Yet when Once a Jolly Swagman (d. Jack Lee 1948), a spivs and speedway tale starring the young Dirk Bogarde, failed to set audience pulses racing, Dalrymple abandoned the ailing Rank Organisation.

Dalrymple's return to London Films bore immediate fruit. Despite a horrendous falling-out with director Jack Lee, Dalrymple saw The Wooden Horse (1950) become his biggest financial success. This was followed by a competent adaptation of Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter (d. George More O'Ferrall, 1953) and Three Cases of Murder (d. David Eady / George More O'Ferrall / Wendy Toye, 1955). Though his career stretched into the sixties - for example, he wrote the Adam Faith vehicle Mix Me a Person (d. Leslie Norman 1962) - Dalrymple's creative powers had long diminished.

Nevertheless, he remained a respected figure, becoming a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a fĂȘted chair of the British Film Academy in 1957/8. Peers, such as Michael Powell, maintained that Dalrymple's movies understated the depth of his influence.

Scott Anthony

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Selected credits

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Prototype Ealing comedy about a conflict between rival breweries

Thumbnail image of Close Quarters (1943)Close Quarters (1943)

Gripping WWII propaganda film, re-enacted by a real submarine crew

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 Ferry Pilot (1941)Ferry Pilot (1941)

World War II documentary about the Air Transport Auxiliary

Thumbnail image of Fires Were Started (1943)Fires Were Started (1943)

Classic wartime documentary directed by Humphrey Jennings

Thumbnail image of Friday the Thirteenth (1933)Friday the Thirteenth (1933)

Drama about the lives of various people involved in a bus crash

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 Her Last Affaire (1935)Her Last Affaire (1935)

Relatively big-budget early Powell feature with a Hitchcockian flavour

Thumbnail image of Hunted in Holland (1960)Hunted in Holland (1960)

An English schoolboy stumbles on a diamond smuggling gang in Holland

Thumbnail image of Jack's the Boy (1932)Jack's the Boy (1932)

Comedy about an incompetent who joins the police force to prove his worth

Thumbnail image of Lion Has Wings, The (1939)Lion Has Wings, The (1939)

Patriotic drama made as propaganda for British air forces

Thumbnail image of Listen to Britain (1942)Listen to Britain (1942)

Humphrey Jennings captures the sounds of wartime Britain

Thumbnail image of Pygmalion (1938)Pygmalion (1938)

Oscar-winning adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's celebrated play

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

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

Thumbnail image of Sea Fort (1940)Sea Fort (1940)

Early Ealing documentary charting life on board a coastal defence installation

Thumbnail image of Target for Tonight (1941)Target for Tonight (1941)

Classic war documentary following a bomber crew's mission over Germany

Thumbnail image of Western Approaches (1944)Western Approaches (1944)

Wartime propaganda at its best, and a rare Technicolor treat for its day

Thumbnail image of Wooden Horse, The (1950)Wooden Horse, The (1950)

Three British POWs escape from the notorious Stalag Luft III

Thumbnail image of Words for Battle (1941)Words for Battle (1941)

A poetic call to arms from Humphrey Jennings

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Thumbnail image of Crown Film UnitCrown Film Unit

Film Unit