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Cy Young: Film historian, a BFI governor and an 'Independent' obituarist


Occasional visitors to BFI Southbank under Waterloo Bridge could not in recent years have failed to notice the white-haired gentleman asleep in the foyer near the ticket desks; some may even have wondered why security did not have him removed.

More regular visitors, however, would have known him to be BFI Governor Cy Young, resting between screenings or sessions at the microfilm projector in the BFI Reuben Library, tirelessly augmenting his already immense knowledge of the world of British entertainment, with which he was always unfailingly generous to fellow researchers.

Young, who died after several years spent with a weakened heart, was elected Member's Governor of the BFI in 2009, but his engagement with the medium had been lifelong. After youthful experience in cinema management on the Rank circuit, he joined Granada Television as personal assistant to network film buyer Leslie Halliwell, viewing feature acquisitions and later devising several editions of the company's junior film magazine, Clapperboard.

Following 12 years as a film and videotape editor for ATV in Birmingham he returned to London to freelance as a specialist researcher on numerous archive-based productions for the BBC, ITV and Channel Four, including Those Wonderful TV Times, Looks Familiar, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, British Film Forever and Heroes of Comedy.

A meticulous researcher gifted with an encyclopaedic memory and a lucid writing style, he regularly supplied entertaining and readable replies to the Daily Mail's Answers to Correspondents section as well as obituaries for The Independent, and served as a consultant and contributor to the Dictionary of National Biography. He penned articles on the early days of commercial TV for the periodicals Archive Zones and 405 Alive, wrote the first substantive history of newsreel theatres for The Journal of British Film and Television and contributed to the database BFI Screenonline.

When Young's original term as Governor last year he was reappointed for a 12-month term, which he held until September. It had been his intention to devote more time to writing, including his long gestating project, British TV Movies, a reference guide to filmed television dramas. This unfulfilled plan makes his passing, following a heart attack suffered on the premises of the BFI, even more deeply to be regretted. Both film scholarship and his many friends have lost someone special.

Richard Chatten

Cyril Young, film researcher and editor: born 5 December 1941; died Hammersmith, London 12 October 2013.