Obituary: Jack Davies

Jack Davies, scriptwriter, journalist: born London 25 November 1913; married (two sons); died California 22 June 1994.

JACK DAVIES was a writer of British film comedies, for over 40 years concocting vehicles for radio and stage stars of the Thirties, postwar classics like Laughter in Paradise and a string of Norman Wisdom successes and international blockbusters.

Born in 1913, Davies went straight from school at the age of 18 into the film industry, as part of the script department at the Elstree studios of British International Pictures. BIP had the largest studio in England in 1931, its nine stages covering 40 acres. Its productions included 10 films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, including Blackmail, but since the coming of sound its stature had waned. The Cinematograph Act of 1927, requiring that all British cinemas play a statutory amount of homemade product, had spawned a number of small companies turning out leaden low-budget films to feed distribution requirements - the infamous 'quota quickies'. BIP's product now filled the middle ground between these and the prestigious work of Alexander Korda, Michael Balcon and Herbert Wilcox at other studios.

When Davies joined their script department, they were turning out 30 films a year, modest but respectable programme pictures. He gained a solid groundwork in story construction and the ways in which best to exploit the particular talents of contract performers. He worked on vehicles for the opera star Richard Tauber (Heart's Desire, 1935), the stage star Gertrude Lawrence (Mimi, 1935, an underrated version of the La Boheme story), and the American singer 'Buddy' Rogers (Dance Band, 1934, and Once in a Million, 1936, a bright comedy that echoed Rene Clair's classic Le Million), plus a Somerset Maugham adaptation, The Tenth Man (1936), and an outrageously stylised comedy- thriller, Someone at the Door (1936).

Davies brought imaginative flair and innovation to many of these assignments. Radio Parade of 1935, starring Will Hay and showcasing radio stars of the day, had a finale filmed in Dufaycolour featuring a giant television screen in Piccadilly Circus, while Music Hath Charms (1935), starring Henry Hall and his orchestra, had an engagingly surreal approach, showing the startling effect of Hall's music on mountain climbers, African explorers, policemen and others that foreshadowed the films of the Beatles and the Monkees 30 years later.

Moving briefly to Gainsborough, Davies co-wrote the Will Hay comedy Convict 99 (1938). After war service writing training films in the RAF he became film critic of the Sunday Graphic but returned to scriptwriting in 1948, the same year that his son John Howard Davies became famous with his remarkable performance in the title-role of David Lean's Oliver Twist.

A productive partnership with the writer Michael Pertwee and the director Mario Zampi produced some of Davies's finest credits, notably Laughter in Paradise (1951), in which a millionaire specifies that in order to profit from his will his heirs must fulfil tasks at odds with their character - the imperious matron must work as a servant, the timid clerk must hold up a bank. In the most felicitous section, Alastair Sim, as a prim writer who has to get himself arrested, vainly tries to get caught shoplifting in Swan and Edgar's. 'Are you going behind the Iron Curtain?' asks his fiancee (Joyce Grenfell), when he advises her of his imminent secret absence. 'In a way, yes,' he replies.

Top Secret (1952), in which George Cole, designer of a new toilet filter system, is mistaken by the Russians for a defecting scientist, enabled the writers to have fun at the expense of bureaucrats and the cold war, while Happy Ever After (1953) took an unconventional approach to Irish shenanigans and included an off-beat role for David Niven as a roguish squire.

The sole writer of the comedy with music An Alligator Named Daisy (1955), Davies was one of four writers on the Norman Wisdom vehicle Up in the World (1956), but established such a rapport with the star that he was principal writer on six more Wisdom films. 'He did the storyline,' said Wisdom, 'and then would leave it to me to put my two-penn'orth in.'

Davies acknowledged the comedian's gag contribution by insisting that he share screen credit. The Square Peg, Follow a Star, The Bulldog Breed, On the Beat, A Stitch in Time and The Early Bird were not praised by critics, but were perfectly tailored for the star's talents and enormously popular with his fans.

Davies moved into the international market when he collaborated with the director Ken Annakin on the big-budget Cinerama film Those Magnifigent Men in their Flying Machines (1965), followed by Ronald Neame's caper movie Gambit (1966) and another all-star Annakin spectacular, Monte Carlo or Bust (1969). He was sole writer on Doctor at Sea, the last in that series, and was reunited with both Annakin and David Niven when he wrote the original story and screenplay for Paper Tiger (1975), after which he retired to California.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate