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James Hill (British director)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James H. Hill
Born(1919-07-09)9 July 1919
Eldwick, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Died7 October 1994(1994-10-07) (aged 75)
London, England, United Kingdom
Other namesJimmy Hill
OccupationFilm director, television director, screenwriter, producer
Years active1937–1993
Known forDocumentaries, children's, feature length and short films, director of Born Free
AwardsDistinguished Flying Cross
Academy Award
Berlin International Film Festival

James Hill (1 August 1919 – 7 October 1994) was a British film and television director, screenwriter and producer whose career spanned 52 years between 1937 and 1989, best remembered for his documentaries and short subjects such as Giuseppina and The Home-Made Car, and as director of the internationally acclaimed Born Free.

Hill also directed, produced and/or wrote such diverse films as Black Beauty, A Study in Terror, Every Day's a Holiday, The Lion at World's End (a.k.a. Christian the lion), Captain Nemo and the Underwater City, The Man from O.R.G.Y., and the children's television series' Worzel Gummidge and Worzel Gummidge Down Under.

Life and work

Early career

Hill was born in Eldwick, Yorkshire, England [1] on 1 August 1919, and attended Belle Vue Boys' School. He entered the GPO Film Unit in 1937 as an assistant, then served in the RAF Film Unit during World War II, receiving a DFC.[2] He is said to have been the model for Donald Pleasence' character Flight Lt. Colin Blythe ("the Forger") in The Great Escape (1963).[3]

After the war he became a documentary director, primarily of shorts, before graduating to feature length children's movies with The Stolen Plans in 1952.[4]

In 1955 Hill entered a new phase with the documentary The New Explorers, sponsored by the BP oil company who (following Shell Oil's example) produced a number of industry-related, independently produced documentaries and shorts.[2] Accompanying an oil exploration team around the world on its unsuccessful quest, Hill later wrote of his trek in the trade magazine Film User that he had "...travelled nearly 100,000 miles by car, jeep, train, liner, launch, dhow, canoe, catamaran, bicycle, aircraft, flying-boat, camel, helicopter, horseback and foot." Due to production costs and almost inaccessible locations the movie was shot on 16mm film, rather than 35mm film then in common use.[5]


In the 1960s Hill expanded his scope and firmly established himself as a mainstream director. In the words of Richard Chatten of The Independent:

"The British cinema of the Sixties was littered with the bones of directors who showed promise in the field of documentaries and shorts but came to grief in features; but James Hill was one of the most conspicuous exceptions."

Beginning with The Kitchen (1961), based on Arnold Wesker's play, it was quickly followed by two John Mortimer play adaptations, Lunch Hour (1961), showing the dire consequences of a lunch hour romance, and the legal satire The Dock Brief (1962); both essentially two-hander plays. Every Day's a Holiday (1964), for which he also wrote the screenplay, was a teenage pop musical typical of the era.[2]

At the same time Hill continued to make documentaries and children oriented shorts, including the immensely popular and Academy Award winning Giuseppina (1960), following young Giuseppina's interaction with the traffic that passes by and through her father's gas station in Italy. Another popular short, The Home-Made Car (1963), without dialogue, won two Berlin International Film Festival awards. Both films were regularly shown on BBC2 as Trade test colour films (a.k.a. fillers); in fact at 2:30 pm on 24 August 1973, Giuseppina was the last such film ever shown.[5][6]

The year 1965 began with A Study in Terror, pitting an imaginary Sherlock Holmes against real life Jack the Ripper. Considered to be one of the best films of its genre, it boasted an impressive cast which included John Neville, Donald Houston, Robert Morley, Anthony Quayle, Barry Jones and Judi Dench.[7]

Born Free and African wildlife

1965 was also the year of Born Free, an international hit starring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, based on the autobiographical book by Joy Adamson about Elsa the Lioness. In an interview with Doris Martin, writer Sid Cole reminisced: "On Born Free I remember getting a card from Jimmy Hill saying he was in Kenya entirely surrounded by lions. (laughter).”[8] Filmed on location in Kenya over a period of 9 months, with George Adamson as technical advisor, the shoot had a profound effect on the participants.

Closely associated with Travers, McKenna and Adamson, Hill followed up with three docu/dramas related to wildlife in Africa which he either directed, co-produced and/or wrote: The Lions Are Free (1967) on the fate of the Born Free lion-actors, An Elephant Called Slowly (1969), and The Lion at World's End (aka, Christian the Lion) (1971).[9][10]

Later work and television

In following decades Hill is best remembered for Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969), Black Beauty (1971), The Belstone Fox (1973), The young visitors (1984), and for the two children's television series Worzel Gummidge and Worzel Gummidge Down Under, almost all of which he either directed, wrote and/or produced.

Active in television throughout his career, his credits include episodes of The Human Jungle, Gideon's Way, The Saint, The Avengers, Journey to the Unknown, The Persuaders!, The New Avengers, and C.A.T.S. Eyes.[2]

Marriage and death

James Hill was married to Lucienne Hill (?-?).[11] He died in London on 7 October 1994, at the age of 75.[10]

Selected filmography

Year Title As Notes
1949 A Journey for Jeremy director
1952 The Stolen Plans director, writer
1953 The Clue of the Missing Ape director, writer a.k.a. Gibraltar Adventure
1955 The New Explorers director for BP
1960 Giuseppina director, producer, writer a James Hill Production for BP
see Awards below
1961 The Kitchen director
1961 Lunch Hour director composed main theme
1962 The Dock Brief director a.k.a. Trial and Error (US) starring
Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough
1963 The Home-Made Car director, writer, producer a James Hill Production; see Awards below
1964 Every Day's a Holiday director, screenplay aka Seaside Swingers (US),
The Adventures of Tim (UK: video title)
1964 The Golden Head co-director with Richard Thorpe
1965 A Study in Terror director a.k.a. Fog
1965 Born Free director see Awards below; trailer, [1]
1967 The Lions Are Free director, writer, producer trailer, [2]
1967 Die Hölle von Macao/The Corrupt Ones director a.k.a. The Peking Medallion
1967 An Elephant Called Slowly director, writer, producer
1969 Captain Nemo and the Underwater City director
1970 The Man from O.R.G.Y. director aka, The Real Gone Girls
1971 The Lion at World's End writer, producer aka, Christian the lion
1971 Black Beauty director, additional dialogue
1973 Jane Goodall and the World of Animal Behavior: The Wild Dogs of Africa producer
1973 The Belstone Fox director, writer a.k.a. Free Spirit
1975 The Man from Nowhere director
1976 London Conspiracy director
1979–1981 Worzel Gummidge director, producer children's TV series
1980 The Wild and the Free director
1983 Owain Glendower, Prince of Wales (TV) director, writer
1984 The Young Visiters director, screenplay, producer
1987–1989 Worzel Gummidge Down Under director, writer children's series, directed 16 episodes, wrote 3

Hill appeared as himself in:

  • The Lion at World's End (1971) a.k.a. Christian the Lion (US)
  • Without Walls Documentary (1992), episode "The Avengers"
  • Avenging the Avengers Documentary (archival footage) (2000)[3]


Year Status Award Category / Title
1960 Won Academy Award Best Documentary, Short Subjects for: Giuseppina (1960)
1963 Won Berlin International Film Festival:

Silver Bear

Special Prize: Short Film for: The Home-Made Car (1963)
1963 Honorable Mention Berlin International Film Festival:

Youth Film Award

Best Short Film Suitable for Young People for: The Home-Made Car (1963)
1964 Nominated Academy Award: Oscar Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects for: The Home-Made Car (1963)
1967 Nominated Directors Guild of America:

DGA Award

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for: Born Free (1966)
1980 Nominated BAFTA TV Award 'Harlequin' (Drama/Light Entertainment) for: Worzel Gummidge (1979)
1981 Nominated BAFTA TV Award 'Harlequin' (Drama/Light Entertainment) for: Worzel Gummidge (1979)
1982 Nominated BAFTA TV Award 'Harlequin' (Drama/Light Entertainment) for: Worzel Gummidge (1979)



  1. ^ "James Hill".[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d Chatten, Richard (11 October 1994). "Obituary: James Hill". The Independent. London. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  3. ^ a b c "James Hill". Internet Movie Database.
  4. ^ "The Stolen Plans (1952)".
  5. ^ a b "British Film Institute".
  6. ^ "BBC2 Trade Test Colour Films". Archived from the original on 6 January 2009.
  7. ^ "Movie Review - - The Screen::Burt Lancaster in 'The Professionals' Noisy Western Opens at 2 Local Theaters -".
  8. ^ "Doris Martin: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1988)". British Film Institute.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "James H. Hill – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  10. ^ a b FOLKART, BURT A. (15 October 1994). "James Hill; 'Born Free,' 'Avengers' Director Was 75". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ Coveney, Michael (17 January 2013). "Lucienne Hill obituary". The Guardian.

External links

This page was last edited on 31 January 2021, at 20:37
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