J. Blake Dalrymple

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J. Blake Dalrymple (b. Glasgow, 13/07/1912 - d. East London, 08/12/2011) was a documentary filmmaker.


James Blake Dalrymple, the son of the general manager of a large Scottish mining group, was educated at Sedbergh School in Cumbria. Initially he thought he might like to be a mining engineer and worked as an apprentice to a firm in Glasgow. However, after four years down the coal pits he changed his mind and as he had become interested in film, he contacted the Glasgow Education Authority, which had begun to experiment with films in the classroom. To start with he took a projector, film prints and a screen around many of the city schools, but eventually he and a teacher called John C. Elder teamed up to do the filming themselves. He spent a few months learning the ropes under John Grierson at the Empire Marketing Board and then, as Elder-Dalrymple Productions, he and Elder made over a hundred silent educational shorts, covering various activities all over Scotland.

In 1935 he travelled up the Amazon, filming as he went, but after his equipment was confiscated he returned home. The following year he and Elder embarked on an ambitious plan to sail around the world, once again making films. The first stage was a trip into the Baltic to Poland and North Germany, but by the time they returned the Spanish Civil War had broken out and no insurance company would take them on. He and John Elder went their separate ways and, together with journalist J. Stirling Gillespie who had also been on the yacht, Dalrymple embarked on a new adventure, this time a Cape to Cairo journey. They purchased a second hand car and set off in October 1936. Some 450 days later they arrived in Egypt. The result was another array of shorts, about 25 of which are thought to survive. One of them, Land of the White Rhino, was originally made for the Glasgow Education Authority, but was then purchased by the Strand Film Company and was released commercially.

After spending a year in Scotland, he and Gillespie decided to go back to the Amazon, but this time they only got as far as Spain, where they learned that World War II had broken out. During the war he served in the Royal Corps of Signals and the 11th Armoured Division, receiving the Military Cross for work connected with the immobilisation of civil communications in Germany. In 1948 he served on the Executive Committee of the British Kinematograph Society. Subsequently he and his family moved to what was then Rhodesia. They settled on a small farm near Gatooma (Kadoma) and established a film studio. His partner in Films of Africa was his brother-in-law, Dick Peel. Because of local problems with processing, he and George Groom of Cineunion decided to set up their own plant, purchased equipment from a laboratory in Nairobi that was closing down and, taking on Vernon Whitten in the process, transported it all to Gatooma in an ex-army lorry. During this time that he produced many documentary, training and advertising films, including the very popular The Stolen Cigarette (1952).

In 1956 Cineunion moved down to Johannesburg, where it expanded and became one of the most successful documentary companies in the country. When South Africa became a republic, it was decided that Cineunion didn’t sound quite right and Films of Africa became the flag bearer until Raymond Hancock joined the company and the Independent Film Centre (IFC) was founded. In the years that Dalrymple was involved, almost their entire output consisted of sponsored documentaries for organisations like Shell South Africa, various mining companies and the Ministry of Information. His most famous film was The Captive River, which told the story of the building of the Kariba Dam and was produced by the Rhodesian Films of Africa. For many years it was used by the BBC as a trade test colour film during intervals when no regular programming was scheduled and it has been estimated that because of this it became the most frequently transmitted film of all time.

In 1943 Blake Dalrymple had married Charmian Désirée Barker and the couple had two children. He retired from active filmmaking round about 1973 and moved to Gonubie, near East London, where he still did some scriptwriting. He died at the age of 99. (FO)


(Zimbabwean & South African credits only)

1950 – The Two Friends (Films of Africa for Stork Margarine), 1952 – Mary’s Lucky Day (Producer & Director) (Films of Africa for Lux Toilet Soap), 1952 – Mutiny in the Laundry (Director) (Films of Africa for Unilever), 1952 – The Stolen Cigarette (Producer & Director) (Films of Africa for Tom Tom Cigarettes), 1953 – A Plan for Progress (Director + Photography with Vernon Whitten) (Films of Africa for Gwelo and District Publicity Association), 195* - Livingstone on the Zambezi (Cameraman) (no director credited) (Cineunion for Shell), 1960 – The Captive River (Producer & Director) (Films of Africa for Shell Rhodesia), 1962 – The West Wits Line (Producer & Director) (Cineunion for West Witwatersrand Areas / Golds Fields of South Africa), 1963 – Open road / Ope Pad (Associate Producer with George Groom) (Cineunion for Shell South Africa), 1964 – On the Move / Opsaal (Director) (Films of Africa for Department of Information), 1964 – Gone fishing / Viswater Toe (Associate Producer with George Groom & Nic Bodenstein) (Films of Africa for Shell South Africa), 1965 – The Gallaher Story (Producer) (Director: John Armstrong) (Films of Africa for Gallaher Limited), 1966 – The Castle / Die Kasteel (Devised & Director) (Films of Africa for Shell South Africa), 1966 – The Light Ahead / Die Lig Vorentoe (Producer with George Groom) (Director: Antony Thomas) (Films of Africa for Department of Information), 1968 – The Gold Miners / Die Gouddelwers (Writer & Director) (Films of Africa for Chamber of Mines of South Africa), 1969 – A Mine in the Making / Begin van ‘n Goudmyn (Writer & Director) (Films of Africa for Gold Fields of South Africa), 1970 – Hollard Street story (Director) (Films of Africa for Johannesburg Stock Exchange), 1970 – The Spirit of Man: Restoration – Buildings / ‘n Nasie se Erfenis: Restourasie van Eeue-oue Geboue (Director) (Films of Africa for Department of Information), 1971 – The Day They Stopped the Orange / En Toe Tem Hulle die Oranje (Member of Production Team) (Films of Africa for Shell South Africa), 197* – The Burgeoning Years / ‘n Land Ontluik (Producer) (Director: James Robb) (Films of Africa for Shell South Africa), 1972 – The East Driefontein Story (Producer) (Director: Edgar Bold) (Films of Africa for Gold Fields of South Africa), 1972 – South Africa’s Floral Heritage / Ons Blomme-erfenis (Director) (Films of Africa for Ministry of Information), 1973 – African Powerhouse / Nywerheidsreus in Afrika (Producer with George Groom) (Director: Edgar Bold) (Films of Africa for Ministry of Information), 1973 – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: the Story of Carlton Centre / Gister, Vandag en ook Môre (Producer) (Director: Edgar Bold) (Films of Africa for the Anglo American Corporation of South Africa in association with Barclays National Bank), 1975 – There Lies Your Land (Writer) (no director credited) (Raymond Hancock Films for Department of National Education), 197* - Durban Refinery (Associate Producer with George Groom) (no director credited) (Films of Africa for BP Southern Africa).


Mangin, Geoffrey - Filming emerging Africa (1998)

Ogterop, Freddy - A conversation with J. Blake Dalrymple (The Cape Librarian, March 1975)

The British Film Yearbook 1949-50

Archives at the Western Cape Provincial Library Service






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