Production Personnel Biography
Page 9 of 9

   

Julian Wintle

Producer, 1964-67

by David K. Smith

From the first draft script, through all stages of production, to the final dub, success or failure rests largely in the hands of the producer. Experience in this field does not come overnight. Rather it is born out of long years of creative and technical know-how, and above all a love for the job and all that goes with it, together with the ability to choose the right talent with which to surround himself.

—Julian Wintle

As a film producer Julian Wintle is described as an earnest and consummate professional, not to mention a true gentleman. These rare qualities are made more extraordinary in light of his courageous, lifelong battle with a debilitating and often life-threatening disease—hemophilia, which he endured in an era when it was barely understood.

He was born 17 October 1913 to an upper-middle class couple, Francis Edward Wintle, Deputy Governor of Walton Jail, Liverpool, and wife Irene Ridley. Growing up in a Governor's mansion was a relatively idyllic setting that likely helped him survive the genuinely hazardous childhood of a hemophiliac, since the slightest bump or scrape could cause him to bleed to death. Schooled at Winton House, Berkhamsted, and then at Durham, he was deeply influenced by his Saturday nights watching silent films. After reading an article by a noted film critic, Wintle chose film for his career, and at the conclusion of school applied for a newly-offered two-year training course at Polytechnic.

Wintle was only one of two students of the short-lived Polytechnic course to make good. At the age of nineteen he and a friend traveled to Holland and made the color film Behind the Dykes, which was eventually shown commercially. 1934 found him working in the cutting room at Beaconsfield Studios with Arthur Tavares; the following year he left to become assistant editor with David Lean at Welwyn Garden City Studios.

War broke out when he was 26 and, unable to join the armed forces for painfully obvious reasons, he found himself unemployed for the first time. Highly frustrated at seeing both his brother Derek and sister Hilary enlist, he finally scrounged up work as a senior assistant for the BBC's Recorded Programmes Department, Wood Norton, Evesham, during which time he remained as close as possible to both the war effort and the film industry by following the production of newsreels. Two years later he was at last able to return to film, joining the Film Producers' Guild and working as supervising editor for Verity Film at their Oxford Street studio, while still putting in weekend stints for the BBC Radio Newsreel.

At one point he tried his hand at directing (Country Town, 1945) and apparently the role did not suit him to his satisfaction. However, his potential was clearly recognized as he was eventually offered his first chance at production with Call-Up, a semi-documentary about army recruits. This was followed by a highly regarded series of similar war-related films. "If I had made a career as a director, rather than a producer," Wintle wrote, "then I think I should have turned more towards documentary than to feature production."

1949 saw the release of his first feature, The Dark Man. By 1951 he was offered a producer's contract with the Rank Group at Pinewood Studios, where things got under way with Hunted, which won considerable critical acclaim. He soon learned that critical acclaim did not always pay the bills, and strove to make the production of quality films profitable—something his peers regarded as futile. He also learned a valuable lesson in distribution tactics with The One That Got Away, a true story of Franz von Werra, a captured Luftwaffe pilot and the only German prisoner-of-war to escape: the film performed better as an export than it did at home, clearing 3 million in Germany alone.

Success eventually inspired Wintle to move out of Pinewood and, together with a partner, Leslie Parkyn, he returned to Beaconsfield Studios in 1958—this time as a producer rather than an apprentice cutter. A one-stage studio owned by King's College, Cambridge, Beaconsfield became so busy that by 1960 a second stage was built. Fifteen feature films, twenty one-hour dramas, three documentaries and a television series emerged from Beaconsfield within a five year period, during which time Wintle discovered and nurtured a great deal of new talent including directors Peter Graham Scott, Sidney Hayers and Wolf Rilla.

Sometimes disparaged for the number of second-rate productions he helmed, Wintle demonstrated that it was for reasons of practicality: the acclaimed The Fast Lady and This Sporting Life, for example, were only made possible by financially successful "B" films such as Circus of Horrors. The first of only two television series produced by Wintle, The Human Jungle, was mounted by him based on a concept he devised. The series presented the case histories of a London psychiatrist, Dr. Roger Corder, played by Herbert Lom, and proved highly popular in the States—a fact that did not escape Wintle's notice.

Idle for only four days out of an otherwise intensely busy five years, Beaconsfield was finally closed in 1963 owing mostly to Wintle and Parkyn's collective burnout. At the pinnacle of his professional career, a bleeding gastric ulcer brought Wintle to within inches of death. And Parkyn, weary of the relentlessly hectic pace, retired to Spain. During the subsequent lull in activity, Wintle contemplated a move from Buckinghamshire back to London, but then a surprise offer for the position of executive producer with Pinewood Studios made the move to London essential.

Howard Thomas, Managing Director of ABC Television, selected Wintle to produce The Avengers based on the quality of the Beaconsfield productions as well as the international success of The Human Jungle. Having by this time accumulated considerable knowledge of industry talent, Wintle straight away assembled a team of professionals for The Avengers, including Brian Clemens as associate producer and story editor, Albert Fennell in charge of production, composer Laurie Johnson, art director Harry Pottle, and Roy Baker heading the team of directors. Following the lead of The Human Jungle, a conscious decision was made to tailor The Avengers for sale overseas, in particular to the Americans.

With shooting under way in late 1964, Wintle was quickly faced with a serious problem. One afternoon, Elizabeth Shepherd, who played Emma Peel, spent quite a long time with Wintle at his flat discussing the show, after which he drove her home and returned none too pleased. In the words of his wife,

He and Howard Thomas looked at the rough cuts and rushes of the first three episodes, and found them impossible. The actress wasn't right for the part. The sum of 120,000 had already been spent, but production had to be halted till a replacement could be found. More screen tests followed, with further headaches. Then a casting agent asked Howard to look at an actress who had played in an Armchair Theatre comedy. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, attractive and intelligent, with a keen sense of comedy. She went to Elstree Studios for a film test in a scene opposite Patrick Macnee. Instant chemistry, and Diana Rigg was signed up on a long-term contract to play the role. Diana also came to the flat, sat in the centre of the couch, was cool, poised, and left in the quarter of the time of her predecessor.

Casting issue solved, production of The Avengers continued apace until Diana Rigg decided to leave. By then, another series of serious illnesses, coupled with a protracted court battle over the film Bitter Harvest, precipitated Wintle's departure from Pinewood, and after his recovery joined Lew Grade for three years to make movies for American television. Although he cited these as the "happiest years of my career," he remained immensely proud of the international success of The Avengers, which had earned in excess of 5 million in overseas sales.

In 1972 Wintle decided to pursue independent movie production and renewed his relationship with the Rank Organisation. The Belstone Fox, two years in the making, was to be the only film of note he completed during this period, and his attempts to mount three more productions came to naught. One of them, a film entitled Kitten with Blue Eyes, was to star Bette Davis (with whom he had worked on Madame Sin); after she proved too expensive, the role went to Twiggy before the project was finally scrapped. Like his health, Wintle's career was ebbing away.

Faced with mounting financial issues, he and his wife moved to a small flat in Brighton. By this time his health was quite poor: he could not walk unassisted, most of his teeth had had to be removed, he suffered increasingly frequent hemorrhages, and his kidneys were failing. Now in his sixties, his survival was due almost entirely to his stoic, stubborn nature and his unwavering determination never to yield to his disease. He never complained of the nearly perpetual pain he endured, and only once expressed regret at being unable to walk freely amongst the rest of humanity. Of course, it must be added that an attentive and devoted wife surely contributed to his remarkable longevity.

Julian Wintle died on 7 November 1980 of a brain hemorrhage—the same fate that befell his father. He was survived by his wife of 37 years, Anne Francis, a writer, and their sons Christopher (b. 1945) and Justin (b. 1949). Efforts to create an award in his name were unsuccessful; there is, however, an armchair at the Run-Run Shaw Theatre in London bearing his name. Further donations were made to the Katherine Dormandy Trust at the Royal Free Hospital, named for a doctor who had cared for Wintle and was greatly instrumental in the development of effective therapies for hemophilia.

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This website Copyright 1996-2017 David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.
Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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