Humphrey Jennings (1907-50) is now remembered primarily as a documentary film-maker, associated with the Grierson school in the 1930s and creator of a series of influential patriotic films during the war. In histories of the cinema he is catalogued as the quintessential British director: 'he had his theme, which was Britain; and nothing else could stir him to quite the same response'. 1 More precisely, he was the voice of war-time Britain, 'for it was the war that fertilised his talent and created the conditions in which his best work was produced'. 2 It was against this martial background, Erik Barnouw argues, that Jennings-'Virtually a wartime poet-laureate of the British screen'-'performs his speciality: the vignette of human behaviour under extraordinary stress'. 3 According to Lindsay Anderson, upon whose interpretation of Jennings' films the critical orthodoxy has been built, he 'is the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced'. 4 But, Anderson adds, 'it needed the hot blast of war to warm him to passion', for 'by temperament Jennings was an intellectual artist, perhaps too intellectual for the cinema'. 5 Poet, patriot, intellectual-these epithets identify the eccentric location of Humphrey Jennings in British film histories.
But alongside the celebratory paeans to Jennings the incomparable film-artist, one also frequently detects an uncomfortable note. There is the feeling that Jennings was only ever coincidentally a film-maker and that his real interests lay elsewhere. Jennings' friend Gerald Noxon has suggested that his real interest was in painting and that 'if Humphrey had inherited anything like an adequate independent income, he would have left film work and gone back to painting as the main occupation of his life'. 6 Charles Dand believes that 'Jennings was interested in film for art's sake', 7 and sees in him the 'painter's eye, poet's imagination, and critic's mind-a powerful combination of gifts. Too powerful perhaps'. 8 The common sentiment here is that Jennings' restless and protean talent could not be held within the confines of documentary film-making. What both Noxon and Dand are seeking to identify is the scope, originality and complexity of Jennings' intellectual and aesthetic endeavours. And, despite its somewhat romantic