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Clore, Leon (1918-1992)


Main image of Clore, Leon (1918-1992)

Leon Clore's career barely figures in most accounts of post war British cinema, despite being one of its most fascinating and instructive. If he is remembered at all, it is usually for two contrasting associations. He produced or financially assisted with several of the Free Cinema films, and he nurtured the British career of blacklisted American director Joseph Losey. But Clore's career also encompassed public information documentaries of precisely the kind that Free Cinema claimed to despise, as well as natural history films, commercials, feature films and many points in between.

By combining so many tendencies into a single filmography, Clore provides a good reminder that in a film industry as small as the British one, the professional boundaries between different sectors and movements were not always clearly defined. Many of his productions prove that stylistic boundaries were no sharper. For example, Lindsay Anderson's Foot and Mouth (1955) is a succinct government information film: effective, but not easy to square with the Anderson of later Free Cinema fame. By contrast, Anthony Simmons' entertaining short films Sunday By the Sea (1953) and Bow Bells (1954) anticipated Free Cinema more closely but were never destined to be associated with it. Other Clore collaborators, for instance Sam Napier-Bell and Sarah Erulkar, are (unfairly) overlooked by film historians precisely because they continued to work in a more classical documentary vein, unconnected with more fashionable movements but still capable of bringing sensitivity and style to their work.

Clore briefly worked in the film business in minor technical capacities in the 1930s. Following his war service (including a spell at the RAF's photographic unit), he returned to the industry. He soon secured a position at the Crown Film Unit, the centre of state funded documentary. He was then invited to take charge of Basic Films, an independent unit, in flux at the time, which undertook projects for a wide variety of sponsors in the public, commercial and voluntary sectors. Clore later formed his own long-running company Graphic Films to take on similar work. But he also pursued several other types of filmmaking, seemingly starting a new company each time. With John Taylor and Grahame Tharp, both documentary veterans, he formed Countryman Films to make a series of theatrically released nature films in the Secrets of Nature tradition. Countryman also produced the prestigious feature length documentary Conquest of Everest (1953), and Virgin Island (1958), a gently charming fiction film by another experienced documentarist Pat Jackson. Yet another company, Harlequin Productions, produced independent work such as the Simmons shorts and the Losey feature Time Without Pity (1957). In the sixties, Clore's firm Film Contracts produced cinema and television advertisements, directed by the likes of Anderson, Karel Reisz, John Krish, Jack Gold and Freddie Francis. Later he moved more deeply into feature film production. Two of Reisz' best known features, Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), were produced by Clore. But meanwhile Graphic was continuing to turn out non-fiction shorts well into the 1980s.

Clore had himself briefly directed in his Crown days but concluded that it was not his natural role. Yet he seems to have considered the producer's duty as being to enable, rather than to constrain, directors, and this helps explain the divergent approaches of the films bearing his name. A comparison between two of Clore's productions provides a good illustration. I Want to Go To School (1959) and The Happy Adventure (1965) were both made by Graphic for the National Union of Teachers, about primary school life. Yet the former (directed by John Krish) is controlled and purposeful, where the latter (by John Fletcher) is looser and more spontaneous. Clore seems to have supported both directors in interpreting similar subjects in quite different styles. Krish has pointed out that Clore was particularly supportive of his directors whenever tensions arose with sponsors. The notoriously prickly Anderson enthusiastically praised Clore's generosity and encouragement. Joe Losey, who had at least as 'difficult' a reputation as Anderson, once claimed that Clore was the only producer that he had never fallen out with!

Patrick Russell

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bow Bells (1954)Bow Bells (1954)

Glimpses of London's East End accompanied by old music-hall songs

Thumbnail image of Conquest of Everest, The (1953)Conquest of Everest, The (1953)

Classic documentary following the Hillary/Tensing expedition

Thumbnail image of Dispute (1960)Dispute (1960)

A workplace dispute explored from multiple points of view

Thumbnail image of Every Day Except Christmas (1957)Every Day Except Christmas (1957)

Classic Free Cinema doc about Covent Garden market

Thumbnail image of Foot and Mouth (1955)Foot and Mouth (1955)

Lindsay Anderson documentary about the farmer's worst nightmare

Thumbnail image of Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

Seminal Swinging Sixties comedy about an artist and his problems

Thumbnail image of People at No. 19, The (1949)People at No. 19, The (1949)

Fascinating public information film about the perils of syphilis

Thumbnail image of Sunday by the Sea (1953)Sunday by the Sea (1953)

Impressions of a day at Southend, accompanied by music-hall songs

Thumbnail image of We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)

Free cinema documentary about South London teenagers

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Postwar DocumentaryPostwar Documentary

A crucial and creatively fertile period long overlooked by historians

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Reisz, Karel (1926-2002)Reisz, Karel (1926-2002)

Director, Producer, Writer