Obituary: Leslie Shepard

By R. Dixon Smith | The Independent (London, England), September 14, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Leslie Shepard


R. Dixon Smith, The Independent (London, England)


Writer, editor, film-maker and collector

LESLIE SHEPARD, film-maker and collector, writer and editor, once wrote, "I am rather like the young hero in Stephen Leacock's story who leapt on his trusty steed and galloped madly in all directions!" Of the many diverse aspects of his life, it was for his devotion to early cinema, however, that he was best known.

Shepard's film collection was as renowned as his various book collections, for he owned numerous early titles generally unavailable elsewhere. Unlike many collectors, however, he was immensely generous in sharing his rarities, and enriched the lives of hundreds of collectors throughout the world. "It gives me great pleasure," he maintained.

He was born in 1917 in West Ham, London, leaving the Day Continuation School for Commercial Subjects in 1933. His passion for cinema had begun early, from experience with 9.5mm film and Pathe's library of abridged classics, and from having been taken to see F.W. Murnau's 1926 Faust at a local picture palace; he remembered its full orchestral accompaniment for the rest of his life. In 1941, he joined Paul Rotha Productions, working in the cutting room; while there, he met the legendary German screenwriter Carl Mayer.

A conscientious objector during the Second World War, Shepard served on a Civil Defence stretcher party. He embraced no formal religion but was sympathetic to the basic truths of many religions, and was a self- described "unpolitical humanitarian". Later, instead of Christmas cards, he would send chap-books to his many friends - short monographs on such topics as yoga, economic perils or "The Search for Wisdom" (the last originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4's "Thought for the Day" in 1977).

From 1942 to 1944 Shepard was assistant organiser and scriptwriter of a bi-monthly newsreel for the Ministry of Information. He helped found Data Film Productions, London, serving from 1945 to 1948 on its board of management. In 1947 he became production manager for Mining Review, a monthly news film produced for the National Coal Board, and in the Fifties worked on various industrial and educational films for industry and the Central Office of Information. He became production controlling officer and supervisor of documentary films and Public Service Television items for BBC and independent television.

He collaborated with the German singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn, with whom in 1956 he issued an LP on the Folkways label in America, Vox Humana, on extending human vocal range and interpreting its psychotherapeutic effects on dramatic performance.

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