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Mander, Kay (1915-2013)

Director, Producer, Editor, Writer

Main image of Mander, Kay (1915-2013)

Kay Mander was a prolific and innovative director of documentary films during the 1940s and early 1950s. Her interest in film as a career began after working at the 1935 Berlin International Film Congress. On her return to Britain, Mander found employment at Alexander Korda's London Films as an interpreter. Over the next few years she worked in publicity and dialogue continuity for both Fox-British and London Films, becoming one of the first women members of the ACT.

Through informal contact with people in the documentary movement, she met the producer Arthur Elton, who offered her a job as a production assistant at the prestigious Shell Film Unit. Mander directed her first film, an instructional short, in 1941 and by 1943 had made films about fire service and civil defence procedures for the wartime homefront propaganda campaign. These instructional films are characterised by their clarity and humanity - a difficult task considering the frequently dry subject matter of such technical films.

Asked to make a film for Paul Rotha Productions, Mander directed Highland Doctor (1943) about the government subsidised Highland and Islands Medical Service. Using professional actors and local people, she successfully combined documentary and drama to promote the socialist ideal of a nationalised health service. She also made a recruitment film for the Ministry of Works, New Builders (1944) as well as directing several items for Rotha's wartime cinemagazine Worker and Warfront. Mander then moved to the Realist Film Unit where she co-directed one film, the documentary-drama Penicillin (1944).

In early 1945, Mander and her husband, the documentary producer R.K. Neilson Baxter, established Basic Films. After Homes for the People the company made educational and promotional films for government and industrial sponsors. In 1948 and 1949, Mander made a series of French language films for the Ministry of Education including La Famille Martin (1949), which won a British Film Academy Award.

By the end of the 1940s, both Mander and Neilson Baxter had left Basic Films. Neilson Baxter went to Indonesia to help set up a film unit and in the early 1950s Mander joined him there where she wrote and directed two short films: Mardi and the Monkey (1953) and The New Boat (1955). On her return to Britain, she directed a feature film for the Children's Film Foundation, The Kid from Canada (1957).

However, Mander decided she did not want to be pigeon-holed as a director of children's films nor did she necessarily wish to make just "women's" films. Frustrated by the lack of directorial opportunities, she returned to the feature industry, working in continuity on many films including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Vincente Minnelli, 1961), The Heroes of Telemark (Anthony Mann, 1965), Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1966) and Tommy (Ken Russell, 1974) until the late 1990s.

Haggith, Toby, Castles in the Air: British Films and the Reconstruction of the Built Environment 1939-1951 (London: I B Tauris, forthcoming 2003)

Sarah Easen

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Thumbnail image of Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 1 (1988) Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 1 (1988)

How Basic Films was formed, a putsch at the company and some highlights

Thumbnail image of Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1988) Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1988)

The making of Highland Doctor and views on the documentary tradition

Thumbnail image of Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 3 (1988) Kay Mander: BECTU Interview Part 3 (1988)

Memories of working at Shell Film Unit from start of career to 'Penicillin'

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Homes for the People (1945)Homes for the People (1945)

Impassioned documentary demanding more and better postwar housing

Thumbnail image of How to File (1941)How to File (1941)

Instructional film for metal workers, directed by Kay Mander

Thumbnail image of Plan To Work On, A (1948)Plan To Work On, A (1948)

An account of the project for the replanning of Dunfermline, Fife

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