Bladon Peake

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(b. Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, 24/01/1902 – d. Grahamstown, 07/09/1972). British-born director, writer. As a young man Edward Clifford Bladon Peake worked in the Insurance Section of the City of Birmingham’s Treasurer’s Department, but was already engaged in theatre and broadcasting. He acted as theatrical correspondent for various newspapers, including the Manchester Guardian and the Sunday Times, and was involved in a number of regional theatrical groups, amongst them the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich (1920-22), the amateur Birmingham Municipal Players (1924) and Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre (1931-34). His training at Maddermarket under Nugent Monck led to a season at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (1934-35), where his productions of Molière’s School for Wives and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author were much admired. This was followed by three years at the Northampton Repertory Theatre, where he worked with the renowned set designer Tom Osborne Robinson.

His experience in the theatre led him to the film industry, first at Welwyn Studios and then at Strand Films in London, the first privately owned company to make sponsored documentaries. Paul Rotha was the Director of Productions and those involved included a number of talented filmmakers, including Stanley Hawes, the future Head of the National Film Board of Australia, who had also been a member of the Birmingham Municipal Players. In 1939 he is said to have worked with Robert Flaherty and when, in 1941, Paul Rotha Productions was formed to produce films for the Ministry of Information, Peake joined the company. After that he went freelance, directing, researching and scripting a number of documentaries for a variety of companies and organisations. One of his British shorts as director, Defeating Diphtheria (1941) can be watched online on the website of the Wellcome Trust.

In 1950 he was invited to come to South Africa to direct two Afrikaans features for African Film Productions, a somewhat curious decision as he clearly did not speak the language. The first was the Schlesinger Organisation’s Golden Jubilee film, Hans-die-Skipper (1952), based on the novel by D.F. Malherbe. It featured André Huguenet in the title role, who also returned for the second film, Inspan (1953), as did Wena Naudé en Gert van den Bergh. After that his name doesn’t appear in the credits of many other films, though he did write the commentary for Emil Nofal’s documentary on the Blue Train, Tickets please! / Kaartjies asseblief! (1955), as well as for Italo Bernicchi’s Friendly Touchdown (1964), about the 1963 Australian rugby tour of South Africa. However, his arrival did spark off a new debate about the introduction of a subsidy system for films. His approach to the authorities and their reluctance to deal with an individual resulted in the founding of the Motion Picture Producers Association (MPPA) that could negotiate on behalf of the industry. He also retained his interest in the theatre and between 1953 and 1969 he directed various stage productions for the East Rand Theatre Club, including Philip King’s popular farce See How They Run (1955).

His son, Tony Peake, is a well known novelist, short story writer and the author of a major biography of the filmmaker Derek Jarman. (FO)


Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm

Tomaselli, Keyan - The cinema of apartheid: race and class in South African film

Welch, Robert - The Abbey Theatre 1899-1999: form & pressure

Private correspondence

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