I FIRST saw Lindsay Anderson at an Oxford University Film Society screening in 1946, writes Penelope Houston. The film was silent, Swedish and impenetrably glum; the print was dark and scratched; the seats were hard. A small audience found what entertainment it could in tittering at the titles. A few rows ahead of me, someone stood up, almost falling over as he became entangled in his very long, slightly ragged army greatcoat. 'Shut up]' he bellowed. This was Lindsay Anderson, already in full and unmistakable cry.
Post-war Oxford was an interesting jumble. Some of us had come straight from school; many, including Anderson, had been in the services. Kenneth Tynan was imposing his personality, Sandy Wilson writing revues, Tony Richardson producing plays. In 1947, a small group of us took over a new magazine called Sequence, which had been tentatively launched by the University Film Society. Sequence 2 appeared in Winter 1947; Sequence 14, the last issue, in New Year 1952. The magazine was penniless (Oxford printers in those days seemed infinitely patient about waiting for payment), embattled, opinionated and startlingly influential. In the early days we would patrol the Oxford bookshops, surreptitiously shifting piles of copies to more prominent positions. But the circulation crept up from 600 copies to 4,000 before Sequence finally admitted that its position was financially impossible.
My own editorial involvement ended in 1948, when the magazine moved from Oxford to London. Gavin Lambert joined the team; later, Karel Reisz. But it was Lindsay Anderson who dominated, from the days when editorial meetings tended to take place, on his instructions, over lunch at one of the Oxford cinemas, cafeteria food punctuated with blasts of music when the auditorium doors opened. Long before the expression 'auteur cinema' was coined, Sequence was defiantly auteurist. Anderson's own particular heroes were, and remained, John Ford and Humphrey Jennings. He laid down the law in Sequence 2. 'If you enjoy L'Eternel Retour (he did) you may enjoy also King Kong, but not Black Narcissus. If you enjoy Black Narcissus you cannot enjoy L'Eternel Retour. (If you think you enjoyed both, you are wrong.)'
Sequence did enjoy a great many films, and attacked a great many. It was devoted to Hollywood musicals, and disappointed by much British cinema of the day. Its judgements were usually sweeping, biased, enthusiastic and confident. It signed off with an Andersonian flourish. 'Has anything been accomplished in those 14 issues? Not much, beyond the satisfaction of having said a say . . .' Savageries had snarled from the pages: 'Our only excuse is that the sentiments were at least sincere: those films hurt us as much as our comments hurt their makers.' Sequence launched Lindsay Anderson in the way he would go: professionally, as journalist and film-maker, and personally, he could enjoy the satisfaction of having said a say.