Three Cheers for Basil Dean, C.B.E.

There are more reasons to know the name Basil Dean (1888-1978) than you have fingers. but I’m betting you don’t (as I once didn’t). We’ll cut to the chase, then give you his background. Dean was the co-founder of Ealing Studios (originally called Associated Talking Pictures) and he co-founded and led the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), the British equivalent to the U.S.O., during World War 2.

Prior to those major benchmarks, Dean had done…everything! Starting in 1906 he was a stage actor, but then he began writing his own plays and became an important theatrical producer and director. In 1907 he became a member Annie Horniman’s Gaiety Theatre in Manchester. Four years later he was Controller of the Liverpool Repertory Theatre, later known as the Liverpool Playhouse. In 1919 he formed the Reandean company with Alec Rea. Dean directed and presented works such as Galsworthy’s The Skin Game (1920), A Bill of Divorcement (1921, later best known in its adapted form as Katharine Hepburn’s first film), the 1924 Broadway Peter Pan starring Marilyn Miller, a 1925 Drury Lane production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Edith Evans, and The Constant Nymph (1926), which he adapted from the original novel. He would continue his stage work for decades after he began working in cinema. One of the best known later stage productions was the original 1946 British production of J.B. Priestly’s An Inspector Calls, with Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness (soon to be a major star at Ealing). In 1948 Dean organized the first British Repertory Theatre Festival.

In 1928 Dean produced a silent film version of The Constant Nymph, his first foray into filmmaking. This was followed by The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) with Clive Brook, which he also directed. In 1933 he remade The Constant Nymph as a talkie with his wife Victoria Hopper and Brian Aherne. Overall, he produced 38 films over the years, and personally directed 16.  Stars he frequently worked with included Gracie Fields and George Formby. A 1970 TV version of the verse play Hassan with Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, and Corin Redgrave was his last screen credit.

For information on vaudeville including British music hall entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,