Obituary: Reginald Beck

Reginald Beck, film editor, born St Petersburg Russia 1902, died 12 July 1992.

VSEVOLOD PUDOVKIN, the Russian director and cinema theorist, described editing as 'the foundation of film art'. He might also have added that editing is the only facet of film-making that is peculiar and specific to cinema, for all other aspects - directing, writing, acting, photography, sound - also exist outside the craft. At its finest, film editing is invisible, seamless, and totally subservient to the style of the particular film, influencing both rhythm and pace. At its worst, it is obtrusive, flashy, and irritating, and it is this latter that the public tends to notice, and to refer to as 'editing'.

In his now-classic textbook The Technique of Film Editing (1952), Karel Reisz enlisted the experiences of the masters of film editing - 'Names,' wrote Reisz, 'that will need no introduction.' The list, which included David Lean and the great Jack Harris, was headed, by dint of alphabetical order, by Reginald Beck.

Reggie Beck was one of the very best of film editors. Like his two surviving younger contemporaries, Ralph Kemplen and Russell Lloyd, Beck began as a fully fledged editor in the Thirties. Death at Broadcasting House is his first traceable screen credit, and This Man Is News (1938) was his first sizeable success, leading to Carol Reed's The Stars Look Down (1939).

Two features directed by Anthony Asquith brought Beck to the attention of Laurence Olivier, then about to embark on the wartime propaganda feature Henry V (1944). Noel Coward had nabbed David Lean to edit his own wartime opus In Which We Serve (1942), and Olivier opted for Beck. Beck's contribution to both Henry V and Hamlet is so immense, so considerable, that film historians today tend to gloss over it, not fully understanding the role of the editor in addition to physically cutting the film. Beck aided Olivier throughout, helping with set-ups, pacing the tempo, selecting the size of shot (close, medium, long) and generally holding Olivier's hand. In return, Olivier accorded Beck one of the most memorable of screen credits. On Henry V the end title reads: 'Produced and directed by Laurence Olivier in close collaboration with the editor Reginald Beck.' On these four clearly separated lines of credit, Beck's contribution is uniquely acknowledged. On Hamlet (1948), Beck is credited as Associate Producer (Helga Cranston as Editor). Hamlet brought four Oscars home to Britain, including Best Picture.

Between the Olivier masterpieces, Beck edited for John Boulting (Journey Together, 1945) and Alberto Cavalcanti (They Made Me a Fugitive, 1947). The Olivier connection continued with Peter Brook's The Beggar's Opera (1952) and then a trio for Herbert Wilcox, at that time Britain's leading film producer. But Beck took a stab at directing in The Long Dark Hall (1951), with Anthony Bushell as co-director, a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson and William Fairchild and Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer in the lead roles. Beck's modest, taciturn manner did not lend itself naturally to direction, and, although immensely popular with fellow technicians and artistes, he never directed again.

Reggie was chosen to edit Darryl F. Zanuck's first independent production, the prestigious Island in the Sun (1957), and other CinemaScope films followed, including the seriously undervalued Harry Black (with its complex flashback story-within-a-story), and Serious Charge (1959), which featured the screen debut of Cliff Richard.

In 1958 Beck first edited a movie for Joseph Losey. Their professional and personal relationship was regarded as one of the great screen partnerships, although at the time of The Gypsy and the Gentleman neither Beck nor Losey could guess that they would work on 17 films together, two of which, The Romantic Englishwoman (1975) and Modesty Blaise (1966), would be televised, by coincidence, in the week following Beck's death.

Perhaps the most popular film to come from this collaboration was The Go-Between (1971), but in Secret Ceremony (1968) and, particularly, the Harold Pinter-scripted Accident (1967), Losey and Beck reached their peak. There is a sustained exterior hold in Accident that is totally of the cutting room: it is breathtaking in its audacity, and became influential in its style.

When Losey died, Beck confided that he had 'lost a friend', but amazingly Beck outlived not only Joseph Losey, but also the star (Diana Dors), and his own first assistant (Mike Campbell), on Steaming (1985), the last film Losey directed and the last film Beck edited.

Beck was a wise, kind and generous man, and, as an editor, a marvellous teacher. His former assistants, like 'Bunny' Warren, Alan Bell, and Michael Ellis, have all gone on to distinguished careers in the cutting rooms. When not working, Beck took pleasure in running a public house, The Jolly Woodman in Burnham Beeches, though the pub was really managed by his wife Rene, who predeceased him by a year.

Thorold Dickinson has written that, 'Only those who know the craft can estimate the essential contribution of the editing process not only to the art but also to the physical (and that means also financial) economy of the film.'

It was a privilege for me to have worked in the same studio at the same time as Beck, and to have travelled with him daily from Waterloo to Shepperton in the summer of 1966.

Reginald Beck gave life to Modesty Blaise, caused Steve McQueen to send for Peter Yates after Robbery and imbued Losey's adaptations of Brecht, Ibsen and Tennessee Williams with life. But, above all, it is for his immense contributions to Henry V and Hamlet that the British film industry is forever in his debt.

(Photographs 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

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003