Cat no. 226529

British Cinema History Research Project Oral Histories: John Krish (film director)


Recorded 22 March 1994

John Krish (4 December 1923 - )
Interviewed by Rodney Giesler

John Krish was born in London in 1923. His father, a Russian émigré, was the founder of the New Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Krish was inspired to enter documentary filmmaking after having seen 'Night Mail' (1936). He was accepted as a trainee by Ian Dalrymple at the Crown Film Unit. He worked as assistant on 'Target for Tonight' (1941) and as a runner on 'The Pilot is Safe' (1941). As an editor he worked on 'Ferry Pilot' (1942) and 'Coastal Command' (1942), and with Humphrey Jennings on films such as 'Listen to Britain' (1942) and 'Fires Were Started' (1943). Towards the end of the war, Krish worked as an editor at Merton Park with Cecil Musk and later with Richard Massingham on various documentary shorts and Ministry of Information trailers, including the ‘Food Flashes’. Titles discussed include 'Flying with Prudence' (1946), 'This is China' (1946), 'Health in Our Time' (1948). After the war, Krish joined British Transport Films as a director, making films such as 'A Works Outing', 'Away for the Day', and most famously, 'The Elephant Will Never Forget' (1953) about the end of the tram service in South London. Over this film, he fell out with Edgar Anstey and left British Transport Films. His first feature-length documentary 'Captured' (1959), was made at World Wide for the British Army as a training film on how to withstand interrogation under torture. The film was subject to security classification and as a result was only seen within the Army. Krish went on to work for Leon Clore on films such as 'I Want to Go To School' (1959) for the National Union of Teachers, and 'Return to Life' (1960) about refugees for the World Refugee Year. Other documentary films discussed in detail in this interview include 'I Think They Call Him John' (1964), about old age, 'Let My People Go' (1961) about apartheid, 'Drive Carefully, Darling' (1975), about road safety, and 'The Finishing Line' (1977) a controversial film made for British Transport to discourage children from trespassing on railway lines.

In this interview, John Krish talks to Rodney Giesler about his career in the film industry. He is an extremely engaging interviewee and he gives very detailed recollections of the film units and personalities he worked with, including Humphrey Jennings, Cecil Musk, Edgar Anstey, Harry Watt, Leon Clore, Julian Wintle. He is particularly interesting on his philosophy of documentary film-making and the often difficult ethical implications of making good documentaries. Krish began making feature films with 'Unearthly Stranger' (1963), and throughout the 1960s and 70s his documentaries were made alongside a string of feature films, as well as celebrated television series such as 'The Avengers' (1961) and 'The
Saint' (1962). The feature films discussed at length here include 'The Wild Affair' (1963) and 'Decline and Fall' (1968). Krish found feature film-making more stressful than documentary film-making, and particularly did not relish the working relationship with various producers. However, the interview concentrates mainly on his documentary work. NB The interview stops half way through, but arrangements have been made with Geisler and Krish to complete it.