Idols of the Odeons

Post-war British film stardom

Author: Andrew Roberts

The volume encompasses seventeen chapters, each devoted to an individual actor who represents a diverse aspect of post-war British cinematic stardom. The approach is one of a cinephile academic and although the time frame ranges from the 1940s to the 1980s, the focal point is the 1950s. It was in this decade that the film industry faced increasing competition from television and the involvement of Hollywood monies in UK-based pictures. By the end of that period, the ‘star system’ maintained by the Rank Organisation and Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) was being succeeded by independent productions using Pinewood and Elstree Studios and censorship was being relaxed. Many actors took the opportunity to escape, or even transcend, their previous casting limitations or stereotyping.

Of the subject matter, Jack Hawkins, John Mills, Kenneth More are ‘senior leads’, Laurence Harvey and Stanley Baker are ‘younger leads’ and the ‘leading ladies’ section contains chapters on Sylvia Syms and Diana Dors. ‘The comics’ details the work of Norman Wisdom, Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips. The careers of Sidney James, James Robertson Justice, Margaret Rutherford and Hattie Jacques are considered in terms of the art of the leading character actor and the work concludes with tributes to Peter Finch and Peter Sellers.

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