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Sir Michael Balcon

Michael Balcon, who was often regarded as one of the pioneers of the British film industry, had courage and a flair for showmanship, to which was added a good business brain. He had a talent for producing both comedy and drama and the films which he produced at the old Ealing Studios combined originality, wit and humour in a way which made them a unique part of British film history.

Balcon, the son of Louis Balcon of South Africa and Birmingham was born in Birmingham on 19 May, 1896.

He was educated at George Dixon Grammar School, City Road, Edgbaston (remember P.C.George Dixon in the film The Blue Lamp and later in the famous B.B.C. television series Dixon of Dock Green?).

After World War I he joined another young Birmingham film enthusiast, Victor Saville, in forming a company called Victory Motion Pictures. At first they made short advertising films but then launched into the production of feature films in London.

Their first Woman to Woman was an immense success but a second film failed dismally. Balcon then founded his own company, Gainsborough Pictures, which was later to merge with Gaumont British.

Many of his films in the 1930s were extremely successful and included titles such as The Good Companions, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, and A Yank at Oxford.

In 1937 he became executive producer at Ealing Studios.

During World War II he produced many outstanding feature documentary films, including The Foreman Went to France, and San Demetrio London.

Then eventually came the famous series of Ealing Comedies - Kind Hearts and Coronets, Passport to Pimlico, Whisky Galore, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Titfield Thunderbolt.

Later came The Cruel Sea, The Ladykillers, and Dunkirk.

Balcon married Aileen Leatherman in 1924 and they had a son and a daughter, Jill (the actress widow of the poet Cecil Day-Lewis). He was knighted in 1948. The successful actor Daniel Day-Lewis is his grandson.