Cat no. 226502

British Cinema History Research Project Oral Histories: Philip Leacock (film and television director)


Recorded 28 October 1987

Philip Leacock (8 October 1917 - 14 July 1990)

Philip Leacock was born in London in 1917. He spent the early years of his life on the Canary Islands, before being sent to various boarding schools in England, including Bedales. At school he developed an interest in film, and soon after began to work for Harold Lowenstein on short documentaries such as 'Out To Play' (1936) and 'Kew Gardens' (1937). In 1938 he went to Spain working with Thorold Dickinson on two documentaries about the Spanish Civil War. During the War, Leacock joined the Army Kinematograph Service, making a range of documentaries, drama-documentaries and training films, including 'The New Lot' - the inspiration for 'The Way Ahead' (1944). After the War, Leacock worked at the Crown Film Unit, increasingly on drama-documentaries such as 'Out of True' (1951). He moved into feature film production, making 'The Brave Don't Cry' (1952) for Group 3, and 'Appointment in London' for Rank. 'Riders of the New Forest' (1946) - a series of shorts for Gaumont-British Instructional initiated a habit of working with children, and many of Leacock's Rank films of the 50s feature children in central roles including 'The Kidnappers' (1953), 'Escapade' (1955), 'The Spanish Gardener' (1956) and 'Innocent Sinners' (1958). From the late 1950s he worked increasingly in Hollywood, working for Hecht and Lancaster and later for Columbia on films such as 'Take a Giant Step' (1959) and 'Reach For Glory' (1962). Leacock also turned to television at this time, and his television output as director and producer remained steady through the 60s and 70s on shows such as 'Gunsmoke', 'Hawaii Five-O', 'The Waltons' and 'Dynasty'.

In this interview, conducted in 1987, Philip Leacock talks to Stephen Peet about his career in film. His discussion focuses mainly on his film work, with detailed material on his period in the Army Kinematograph Service and the Crown Film Unit, and his work for Rank. He talks very interestingly about the influence of his documentary experience on his feature work, particularly his conviction that films must contain a moral point as well as a story. He particularly recalls details of the production debates around 'The Kidnappers' and 'The Brave Don't Cry', and gives a fascinating account of the fate of 'Take a Giant Step' - a film about race relations which he suggests was not fully supported by United Artists. Not given to personal gossip, Leacock's account of his career is nevertheless full of fascinating material.

(Lawrence Napper, BCHRP)