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Michael Smedley-Aston

Film producer Michael Smedley-Aston worked with MGM’s British organisation at Denham Studios in the thirties and forties and later with both the Rank Organisation, 20th Century Fox and United Artists. During his long career he was involved with more than 40 films and with several companies, including the government-controlled British Lion Corporation.

He was also responsible for giving a host of British actors their early breaks, including Oliver Reed in Life is a Circus (1957) and Michael Caine in The Wrong Arm of the Law (1961), as well as up and coming actors such as Peter Sellers, Lionel Jeffries and Glenda Jackson. He also brought the German actor Klaus Kinski to England for the first time.

Born on August 25, 1912 in Edgbaston he was educated at Marlborough College. He began his career at Elstree Studios, where he worked with Alfred Hitchcock and was an assistant director on such films as Dance Band, Royal Cavalcade and Drake of England (all 1935). In 1939 he worked on the classic film Goodbye Mr Chips, starring Robert Donat.

During the Second World War he served in the RAF in Canada and on being demobbed he worked for the Rank Organisation, notably on the production of David Lean’s classic film Great Expectations (1946).

As a close associate of directors Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, Smedley-Aston was involved with the famous takeover bid of the British Lion Film Corporation. The original company ran into trouble after accepting a National Film Finance Corporation loan in 1949. The loan was aimed at boosting production at a time when the quota for British films had been raised as a result of the 1948 Cinematograph Films Act.

Alexander Korda, manager of British Lion, found he was unable to pay back the loan and, as a result, Smedley-Aston, Launder and Gilliat were brought in to oversee the newly formed British Lion Films Ltd in 1955.

Korda died in 1956 but under the new management the company went on to produce several classic films such as Private’s Progress (1956), I’m Alright Jack (1959) and The Family Way (1966).

During the fifties Smedley-Aston also worked for United Artists as a producer on such films as Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), the musical comedy starring Jane Russell and Jeanne Crain. As an independent producer he was responsible for approving a screen test by Sean Connery for his first leading role in Another Time, Another Place (1958).

He worked on the hugely successful St Trinian’s films of the fifties and was associate producer of The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), starring Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford. He also produced films such as Theatre of Death (1966) with Christopher Lee and Evelyn Laye and Ooh, You Are Awful (1972), a comedy vehicle for the comedian Dick Emery.

He produced numerous television series including Navy Log (1957) and Graham Greene’s the Third Man (1959-61), which starred Michael Rennie and Rupert Davies. A joint UK proudction with the BBC/British Lion and the US, The Third Man was filmed both in the UK and in Hollywood.

Smedley-Aston retired from film producing in 1980 but continued to be involved in film finance. Three years ago he had planned to produce a TV series entitled Six Victorian Villains.

He died on January 23, aged 93. He is survived by his wife Thora, whom he married in 1972 after the death of his first wife, and by his son, Brian Smedley-Aston, also a film producer.

Patrick Newley

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