Anthony Hinds: Screenwriter and producer who transformed the fortunes of Hammer Films

 

The success of Hammer horror films in the late 1950s horrified critics, who were appalled at the public's sudden thirst for the little company's blood-soaked frighteners, all lurid colour and unfulfilled promises of sex. Like the Carry Ons, the films were reliable and repetitive, put together by a team of old pros who miraculously made entertainment that satisfied thousands of appetites out of loaves and fishes.

Of those old pros, Anthony Hinds was perhaps the most important. The creative head of Hammer (the name came from his father, who had founded the company after failing as half of a comedy double act, Hammer and Smith), Hinds produced more than 50 films and scripted nearly 20. It may seem inexplicable today that audiences who had lived through real-life wartime terrors were so disturbed by such fare, but their screams led Hinds laughing all the way to the bank.

Born in Ruislip in 1922, Anthony Hinds was educated at St Pauls. His father split from the family's F Hinds jewellery chain and formed Hammer Films in 1934 as a distribution company with his business partner Enrique Carreras. After war service in the RAF's photographic unit, Hinds was handed the reins, Carreras's son James becoming managing director. Once the young pair were settled they worked at breakneck speed on quota quickies.

The British had fallen in love with the cinema and went to see anything and everything. "People didn't even look to see what was on in those days, they just went," was his memory of the time. The casts were frequently headed by American actors flown in to give the films international muscle. Hinds was no-nonsense with plenty of get-up and go, and under him and Carreras Hammer was often described as being "a family", laying on a bus to take its staff each day from London to Bray Studios, a fantasy factory that churned out up to nine films a year and had everyone from carpenters to editors on permanent contracts. (It was this "family" feeling that allowed Christopher Lee to be guilt-tripped into returning reluctantly to the role of Dracula time and again, fearful of putting Hammer staff out of work.)

Early in his producing career Hinds snatched up the rights to Dick Barton, the detective who had a daily radio audience of over 20 million. Hammer produced three pleasantly surprising Barton yarns in the late 1940s, but it was in 1953, when Hinds caught the first episode of Nigel Kneale's sci-fi chiller The Quatermass Experiment on television, that Hammer became a major force.

The serial was emptying pubs across the nation, so he did a 50-50 deal with the BBC and brought the story to the big screen. He specifically requested an X certificate from the British Board of Film Classification, knowing that the way to tempt people into the cinema was by hinting that this was stronger meat than they would see on their television sets. The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) proved him right, and over the next few years he resurrected a whole host of out-of-copyright horror concepts to feed the public's amazement.

First off was The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), which, due to the threat of a writ from Universal, couldn't feature any of the traditions established in their films of the 1930s and '40s. While the re-imagined make-up didn't have the power of Karloff's, the putrid colour and frank violence and gore were eye-popping. Cast for his size and mime experience was the unknown Christopher Lee, and opposite him was the elegant and precise Peter Cushing as the Baron. Both this and Dracula (1958) were vast successes, and for the next 20 years Lee and Cushing were the twin faces of horror, their presence and finesse adding polish to the most leaden of yarns.

Curse of the Werewolf (1961) was Hinds's first crack at writing, with Oliver Reed going lupine in some impressive Mediterranean-flavoured sets which had been constructed for a planned film about the Spanish Inquisition which had been axed when Hinds had been tipped off that the Catholic Church would try and ban it. Because he was by now so versed in production strategies, he became one of Hammer's main writers, and even though it looked like an arrangement driven more by efficiency than vocation, his scripts were in fact imaginative and lively, if often great fun for cliché spotters.

An early gem is Captain Clegg (1962), an 18th century smuggling romp set on Romney Marshes with a fiendishly witty script and an alarmingly well-realised squad of luminous skeletons on horseback that scare off inquisitors. Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) was commendably ethereal, the Baron bottling the vengeful soul of a wrongly-executed man in the body of his beautiful lover. Martin Scorsese lists it as one of his favourite films, commenting, "the implied metaphysics are close to something sublime."

Hammer won a Queen's Award for Industry in 1968, finally earning the respect of the establishment, for their productivity if nothing else. However Hinds jumped ship shortly afterwards following a series of internal disputes. His absence left Hammer struggling to find a foothold in the 1970s, especially after the arrival of The Exorcist (1973). Kung-Fu vampires, 20th century vampires, even, surprisingly, schoolgirl lesbian vampires, just didn't catch the public fancy.

After a bustling career he turned his back on the film world, rather baffled by the passion that a little of each subsequent generation has shown for a major British success story of which he was a major author.

Anthony Frank Hinds, film producer and screenwriter: born Ruislip, Middlesex 19 September 1922; married 1956 Jean Knowles (two daughters); died 30 September 2013.

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