Herbert Wilcox

A distinguished producer and director, who was one of the leading figures of British film from the 1920s until the '50s.
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Artist Biography

b. Herbert Sydney Wilcox, 19 April 1892, Cork, Eire, d. 15 May 1977, London, England. A distinguished producer and director, who was one of the leading figures in the British film industry from the 20s through to the 50s. The date and place of birth given here are those usually accepted, but other sources have suggested that Wilcox was born in Norwood, south London, in 1890. However, it is generally agreed that he went to school in Brighton and appeared as a chorus boy in one of the local theatres. Then he worked as a journalist for a time before serving as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. After becoming an invalid and leaving the forces, he entered the film business in 1919, and produced his first picture, The Wonderful Story, in 1922. He had a hit in the following year with a silent version of Chu Chu Chow, and from then on produced and/or directed (and occasionally wrote the screenplays) for a string of highly successful pictures. Among the comedies, dramas, and historical features, many of which starred his wife, Anna Neagle (they married in 1943), were several musicals. These included Say It With Music (1932), Yes, Mr. Brown, Goodnight Vienna, (USA: Magic Night), Bitter Sweet, Limelight (USA: Backstage), This’ll Make You Whistle, and London Melody (USA: Girls In The Street) (1937). In 1939 Wilcox went to Hollywood to produce and direct several films. Included among them were the screen adaptations of three famous Broadway musicals: Irene, No, No, Nanette, and Sunny. Neagle played the lead in each of the trio.

On returning to Britain, she co-starred with Michael Wilding in Wilcox’s celebrated ‘London’ films: Piccadilly Incident, The Courtneys Of Curzon Street (USA: The Courtney Affair), Spring In Park Lane, and Maytime In Mayfair (1950). These were enormously popular romantic comedies, containing just the occasional song. During the rest of the 50s, as well as making other acclaimed dramatic movies such as Odette, Wilcox worked on British musicals such as Lilacs In The Spring (USA: Let’s Make Up), King’s Rhapsody, The Lady Is A Square, and The Heart Of A Man. The latter was his final film. Changes in public taste, several box office flops, unwise financial investments, and the advent of commercial television in Britain, are just some of the reasons given for Wilcox’s subsequent financial decline which culminated in his much-publicized bankruptcy in 1964. He was discharged two years later, and, a year after that, his wife opened in the long-running musical comedy Charlie Girl, which was resident at the Adelphi Theatre in London for almost five and a half years. Wilcox is said to have suggested (uncredited) ideas for some of the songs, but otherwise he remained in retirement until his death in 1977. During his long career, he won numerous national and international awards, including the Gold Cup of All Nations at the Venice Film Festival in 1937. Although not considered an outstanding director, his flair and showmanship as a producer put him in the same league as the Hollywood greats.