Thorold Barron Dickinson

Blog / Jan 30, 2015

Thorold Dickinson edited ‘Shikari’ and ‘Karma’

16th November 1903 –14th April 1984

British film editor, director, producer, screenwriter, idealist and the UK’s first university Professor of Film. Thorold was born in Bristol where his father was the Archdeacon. After attending Clifton College in Bristol and studying history and French in Keble College, Oxford, Dickinson graduated from Oxford University.

He learned filmmaking and in 1927 was an assistant in the Welch-Pearson Company at Cricklewood’s Stoll Studios. Around 1929 he visited the USA to study American film and sound techniques in New York. Armed with his label of ‘US returned’, he joined Elstree’s British and Dominion Studios where he mastered film editing. Later, he returned as editor to the Stoll Studios where film director Sinclair Hill was in charge of film production.

In the early 1930s, Dickinson edited at least two Indian films. One was ablack and white film, Shikari (1932) and Karma (1933), directed by J. L. Freer Hunt, starring Himansu Rai and Devika Rani with music by Roy Douglas. His directorial debut came with a feature film, High Command. He directed about a dozen other films including Gaslight (1940), The Prime Minister (1941), The Next of Kin (1942), The Queen of Spades (1949) and Secret People (1952). He also made many documentaries. In the early 1940s, he organised the Army Kinematograph Service Production Group and produced 17 films pertaining to military training. From 1956 – 1960 as chief of film services in New York, he was film producer/ supervisor for the United Nations.

Dickinson went on a tour of India in 1946 and spent a few months touring various parts of the country during a highly troubled period of the concluding phase of the British Raj. After the end of his tour, he wrote a Reportsummarisinghis observations on the vast possibilities of western film companies making films on India for a world audience.

Dickinson was closely involved with the Film Society Movement in UK. He was, moreover, an intellectual who not only believed in a cinema of ideas but also wanted to develop film culture in the general public, including primary school pupils. His opportunity to bring some of his ideas to fruition came in 1956 when he was made a Senior Lecturerat the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London and was assigned the pioneering task of setting up the first ever unit for the study of cinema anddeveloping a course of film studies in a British University.In 1967 he became the first Professor of Film in Britain. He also managed to write books such as Soviet Cinema (1948), A Discovery of Cinema (1971) and sundry articles on film and the film industry.

Dickinson was showered with positions of eminence, honours and awards for his dedication to promoting film culture and education. Yet, towards the time of his death at Oxford in April 1984, he seemed to have been forgotten. It was to counter this trend, that Jeffrey Richards was inspired to write a book Thorold Dickinson and the British Cinema (1986), which, by highlighting the contribution of Dickinson, should help Dickinson win his rightful place in the annals of British and world cinema.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project – A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)

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