Michael Balcon
Sir Michael Elias Balcon (19 May 1896 – 17 October 1977) was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 film producer
Film producer
A film producer oversees and delivers a film project to all relevant parties while preserving the integrity, voice and vision of the film. They will also often take on some financial risk by using their own money, especially during the pre-production period, before a film is fully financed.The...

, known for his work with Ealing Studios
Ealing Studios
Ealing Studios is a television and film production company and facilities provider at Ealing Green in West London. Will Barker bought the White Lodge on Ealing Green in 1902 as a base for film making, and films have been made on the site ever since...



Born in Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

, Balcon was the youngest son and fourth of five children of Louis Balcon (c.1858–1946) and his wife, Laura Greenberg (c.1863–1934), Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who had met in England. Growing up in a respectable but impoverished setting, in 1907 Balcon won a scholarship to Birmingham's George Dixon Grammar School, where a plaque is erected, but had to leave in 1913 owing to his family's financial needs. He worked as a jeweller's apprentice, was turned down for service in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 because of defective eyesight, and joined the Dunlop Rubber Company's huge plant at Aston Cross in 1915, rising to become personal assistant to the managing director.

Film career

After the war, Balcon's friend Victor Saville
Victor Saville
Victor Saville was an English film director, producer and screenwriter. He directed 39 films between 1927 and 1954...

 suggested a partnership to establish a film distribution company. The company, Victory Motion Pictures, led to them settling in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, and an office in Soho
Soho is an area of the City of Westminster and part of the West End of London. Long established as an entertainment district, for much of the 20th century Soho had a reputation for sex shops as well as night life and film industry. Since the early 1980s, the area has undergone considerable...

 was opened in 1921. In 1923, their first feature film was released, the successful melodrama Woman to Woman
Woman to Woman (1923 film)
Woman to Woman is a 1923 British silent drama film directed by Graham Cutts, with Alfred Hitchcock as the assistant director. The film was adapted from the play Woman to Woman by Michael Morton.-Preservation status:...

, starring Clive Brook and Betty Compson
Betty Compson
Betty Compson was an American actress. Born Eleanor Luicime Compson in Beaver, Utah, she had an extensive film career. Her father died when she was young, and she was forced to drop out of school and earn a living for herself and her mother...

 and directed by Graham Cutts
Graham Cutts
Graham Cutts was a British film director who was one of the leading British directors in the 1920s. His fellow director A. V. Bramble believed that Gainsborough Pictures had been built on the back of his work. His daughter was actress Patricia Cutts...

. They leased Islington Studios and formed the more long lasting Gainsborough Pictures
Gainsborough Pictures
Gainsborough Pictures was a British film studio based on the south bank of the Regent's Canal, in Poole Street, Hoxton in the former Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch, London. Gainsborough Studios were active between 1924 and 1951. Built as a power station for the Great Northern & City Railway it...


The studio, recently vacated by the Hollywood company Famous Players-Lasky
Famous Players-Lasky
Famous Players-Lasky Corporation was an American motion picture and distribution company created on July 19, 1916 from the merger of Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company -- originally formed by Zukor as Famous Players in Famous Plays -- and Jesse L...

 (later Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film production and distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still...

) was small but well equipped and fully staffed. A young Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

 was one of its employees. Balcon gave Hitchcock his first directing opportunity, and Gainsborough gained a reputation for producing high-quality films.

By the late 1920s, Balcon's independence had eroded and Gainsborough became an extension of the Gaumont Film Company
Gaumont Film Company
Gaumont Film Company is a French film production company founded in 1895 by the engineer-turned-inventor, Léon Gaumont . Gaumont is the oldest continously operating film company in the world....

. Still, between 1931 and 1936, Balcon produced a number of classics, including a string of Hitchcock successes (like The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps (1935 film)
The 39 Steps is a British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on the adventure novel The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan. The film stars Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll....

) and Man of Aran
Man of Aran
Man of Aran is a fictional documentary by Robert J. Flaherty about life on the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland. It portrays characters living in premodern conditions, documenting their daily routines such as fishing off high cliffs, farming potatoes where there is little soil, and...

, known as 'Balcon's folly' for going well overbudget. He also helped individuals escape Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

, including the actor Conrad Veidt
Conrad Veidt
Conrad Veidt was a German actor best remembered for his roles in films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari , The Man Who Laughs , The Thief of Bagdad and Casablanca...

, who had starred in his 1934 film Jew Suss
Jud Süß
Jud Süß is a novella by Wilhelm Hauff based on the historical Jewish banker and financial planner Joseph Süß Oppenheimer. In Hauff's novella Joseph Süß Oppenheimer believes he is a Jew. His unfair business practices result in the betrayal of an innocent girl. Consequently, he is arrested and...

. By 1936, Gaumont was looking for an entry into the American market, Balcon spent several months in the country forming links with the big Hollywood studios. On his return, he found Gaumont in financial ruin and joined MGM-British Studios
MGM-British Studios
MGM-British was a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer initially established at Denham Film Studios in 1936. The films produced there were A Yank at Oxford , The Citadel , Goodbye, Mr...

 that November. The year and a half he spent there was a trying period for Balcon, who clashed frequently with studio head Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer
Louis Burt Mayer born Lazar Meir was an American film producer. He is generally cited as the creator of the "star system" within Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in its golden years. Known always as Louis B...


When Balcon was invited to head Ealing Studios
Ealing Studios
Ealing Studios is a television and film production company and facilities provider at Ealing Green in West London. Will Barker bought the White Lodge on Ealing Green in 1902 as a base for film making, and films have been made on the site ever since...

 in 1938, he readily agreed. Under his benevolent leadership and surrounded by a reliable team of directors, writers, technicians and actors, Ealing became the most famous British studio in the world, despite turning out no more than six feature films a year. Went the Day Well?
Went the Day Well?
"Went the Day Well?" is a British war film produced by Ealing Studios in 1942 as unofficial propaganda. It tells of how an English village is taken over by German paratroopers . Made during the war, it reflects the greatest potential nightmares of many Britons of the time, although the threat of...

, Dead of Night
Dead of Night
Dead of Night is a British portmanteau horror film made by Ealing Studios, its various episodes directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer. The film stars Mervyn Johns, Googie Withers and Michael Redgrave...

, Undercover (1943), and of course the Ealing comedies were released during his time there. Other films from the studio include Dance Hall
Dance Hall (film)
Dance Hall is a 1950 British film directed by Charles Crichton. Appealing mainly to a female audience, the film was an unusual departure for the studio, known at the time primarily for its classic comedies starring Alec Guinness.-Plot:...

(1950) with Petula Clark
Petula Clark
Petula Clark, CBE is an English singer, actress, and composer whose career has spanned seven decades.Clark's professional career began as an entertainer on BBC Radio during World War II...

 and Diana Dors
Diana Dors
Diana Dors was an English actress, born Diana Mary Fluck in Swindon, Wiltshire. Considered the English equivalent of the blonde bombshells of Hollywood, Dors described herself as: "The only sex symbol Britain has produced since Lady Godiva."-Early life:Diana Mary Fluck was born in ­Swindon,...

; and The Blue Lamp
The Blue Lamp
The Blue Lamp is a British crime film released in early 1950 by Ealing Studios, directed by Basil Dearden and produced by Michael Balcon. It stars Jack Warner as police constable George Dixon, Jimmy Hanley and Dirk Bogarde in an early role...

(also 1950), whose lead character, George Dixon, took his name from Balcon's school, and later resurfaced in the long-running television drama Dixon of Dock Green
Dixon of Dock Green
Dixon of Dock Green was a popular BBC television series that ran from 1955 to 1976, and later a radio series. Despite being a drama series, it was initially produced by the BBC's light entertainment department.-Overview:...

. In his 1969 autobiography, Michael Balcon Presents... A Lifetime of Films, he wrote that his years at Ealing Studios were "the most rewarding years in my personal career, and perhaps one of the most fruitful periods in the history of British film production."

Besides Hitchcock, he worked with Basil Dearden
Basil Dearden
Basil Dearden was an English film director.-Life and career:Dearden was born at Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. He graduated from theatre direction to film, working as an assistant to Basil Dean...

, Michael Relph
Michael Relph
Michael Relph was a British art director and producer. He was the son of actor George Relph....

, and many other significant figures of British film. He was knighted
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

 in 1948. Ealing declined during the 1950s, and Balcon's creative control at other companies waned considerably after it was sold.

In 1959 Balcon became chairman of Bryanston Films
Bryanston Films (UK)
Bryanston Films was a British film company formed by Michael Balcon and Maxwell Setton in mid-1959 following the collapse of his Ealing Studios. Neither a production studio, nor a distributor it released independent British films through British Lion Films In operation until 1963, it was intended...

, a subisdiary of British Lion Films
British Lion Films
British Lion Films Corporation is a film production and distribution company active under several forms since 1919. Until 1976 they were also film distributors as British Lion Films Ltd, with a distributor filmography of 232 films. As a production company they are still active and have produced...

. The firm went bankrupt in 1963 with Balcon taking over British Lion Films. Still, he was proud to be associated with the British New Wave
British New Wave
The British New Wave is the name given to a trend in filmmaking among directors in Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The label is a translation of Nouvelle Vague, the French term first applied to the films of François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard among others.There is considerable overlap...

; the last film on which he worked as executive producer was Tom Jones
Tom Jones (film)
Tom Jones is a 1963 British adventure comedy film, an adaptation of Henry Fielding's classic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling , starring Albert Finney as the titular hero. It was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular comedies of its time, winning four Academy Awards...

(1963), after which he continued to encourage young directors, serving as chairman of the British Film Institute
British Film Institute
The British Film Institute is a charitable organisation established by Royal Charter to:-Cinemas:The BFI runs the BFI Southbank and IMAX theatre, both located on the south bank of the River Thames in London...

 production board and funding low-budget experimental work.

Balcon was an avid theatre and opera goer, loved travel (especially to Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

), and had a wide circle of friends. In 1977, he died peacefully at Upper Parrock, the fifteenth-century house set on a Sussex hilltop near the Kent border where he and his wife had lived since the Second World War. He was cremated and his ashes buried there.

A pub in Ealing
Ealing is a suburban area of west London, England and the administrative centre of the London Borough of Ealing. It is located west of Charing Cross and around from the City of London. It is one of the major metropolitan centres identified in the London Plan. It was historically a rural village...

 is named in his honour.


On 10 April 1924, Balcon married Aileen Freda Leatherman (1904–1988), daughter of Max Jacobs and Beatrice Leatherman, born in Middlesex, but brought up in Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

. In 1946 she was appointed MBE
MBE can stand for:* Mail Boxes Etc.* Management by exception* Master of Bioethics* Master of Bioscience Enterprise* Master of Business Engineering* Master of Business Economics* Mean Biased Error...

 for her war work. Their marriage was happy and lasted until Balcon's death. They had two children: Jill (1925–2009), and Jonathan, born 1931. His daughter Jill Balcon
Jill Balcon
Jill Angela Henriette Balcon was an English film and radio actress. She made her film debut in Nicholas Nickleby , though she was best known for her stage, television, and radio work....

 became an actress, his son-in-law Cecil Day-Lewis
Cecil Day-Lewis
Cecil Day-Lewis CBE was an Irish poet and the Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. He also wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake...

 was an Irish-born Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate
A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events...

, and his grandson is the successful Oscar-winning actor
An actor is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity...

 Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis is an English actor with both British and Irish citizenship. His portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood won Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actor, and Screen Actors Guild as well as Golden Globe Awards for the latter...


Further reading

  • Balcon, Michael: Michael Balcon presents... A Lifetime of Films. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1969. Photo-illustrated autobiography.

External links

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