Cat no. 226501

British Cinema History Research Project Oral Histories: Joan Kemp Welch (actress/stage director/television director)


Recorded 25 November 1991

Joan Kemp Welch (23 September 1906 - July 1999)
Interviewed by Roy Fowler

One of the first women directors to work in British television, Joan Kemp-Welch began her career as an actor, working initially in the theatre and subsequently on screen. Her film credits include 'The Citadel' (1938) and 'Goodbye Mr Chips' (1939) and 'Busman’s Honeymoon' (1940), all for MGM-British. She spent much of the 1940s and 1950s directing for the theatre, and after the launch of Independent Television in 1955 she moved into television, working particularly as a director of television plays. Her credits include adaptations of Pinter’s 'The Birthday Party' (1960), Sophocles’ 'Electra' (1962) and a highly popular staging of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' (1964), starring Benny Hill as Bottom. She continued to direct into the 1980s, producing the 'Armchair 30' (1973) series of short plays and contributing to Granada’s 'Lady Killers' (1980-81) crime serial.

In this interview, conducted by Roy Fowler, Kemp-Welch proves to be a lively and engaging subject. She discusses her early life as a stage actor in various touring productions before addressing her work in cinema in the late 1930s and early 1940s. She reveals that her early success was partly due to a non-speaking role in 'The Citadel' which happened to feature prominently in a publicity image for the film. She describes her work as a stage director, and particularly the problems she faced as a woman in the profession, before giving an account of her move into television. Some interesting details are provided, but this latter section of the interview, to which fellow director John P. Hamilton also contributes, is rather less than coherent.