British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview

Being a film reviewer
in the 1950s

ISABEL QUIGLY

`THE PAST IS a foreign country.' This magical first sentence from The Go-Between (1953) was the opening line of the first novel I was ever sent to review. The Manchester Guardian, as it was then, had sent me a parcel of books and after reading L. P. Hartley's masterly tale of love and snobbery and guile and much else I felt that if this was reviewing, it was a wonderful way of earning, not perhaps a living, but at least a crust. Soon afterwards I was asked, out of the blue, to be film critic of the Spectator, and entered what now seems a very foreign country indeed, the film world of the 1950s, in which I stayed for ten years. It was a past separated from us today not just by the changes in films and film-making, but by the social upheavals between then and now; its climate altogether different from ours, with attitudes and behaviour unrecognisable now, a past closer to the world of The Go-Between (which was set at the turn of the nineteenth century, just a hundred years ago) than to our world today. Foreign, even exotic, that 1950s world now seems.

My time in the film world spanned the crucial decade of change, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s (so that some of the films and events I mention will go a little beyond the 1950s). I said I was asked out of the blue by the Spectator, and this was the amateurish way things were done in those days. It would never happen now. All they knew of my tastes and interests and knowledge came from an article I had sent in (again out of the blue), which

____________________
Isabel Quigly was born in Spain and has lived in Sussex for many years. She has published a novel, The Eye of Heaven (Collins), called The Exchange of Joy in America (Harcourt Brace), and several books of criticism and social history; including The Heirs of Tom Brown: The English School Story (Chatto & Windus; in paperback, OUP). She edited the Penguin Shelley, still in print after 45 years, introduced and edited Stalky & Co in the World's Classics (OUP), and has translated about 100 books, mostly from Italian, some from Spanish and French. For a decade she was the Spectator's film critic and wrote Charlie Chaplin: The Early Comedies (Studio Vista; in USA, Dutton). Until recently, for 12 years, she was literary adviser to The Tablet. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has served on its Council.

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