Samuel George Herbert Mason
|Died||20 May 1960|
|Other names||Maj. Herbert Mason, Bertie, Garry, Werb|
|Occupation||Film director, film producer, actor, army officer, presenter, stage manager, stage director, choreographer, production manager, playwright|
|Spouse(s)||Daisy Fisher (circa 1914 – 1960; his death)|
|Parent(s)||Samuel George Mason (father)|
Amy Mason (née Collins) (mother)
|Relatives||Ellen Terry (possibly great aunt)|
Edward Terry (uncle)
John Gielgud (distant cousin)
|Unit||16th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment|
|Battles/wars||First World War|
Samuel George Herbert Mason army officer, presenter of some revues, stage manager, stage director, choreographer, production manager and playwright. He was a recipient of the Military Cross the prestigious award for "gallantry during active operations against the enemy." He received the gallantry award for his part in the Battle of Guillemont where British troops defeated the Germans to take the German stronghold of Guillemont.(1891 – 20 May 1960) was a British film director, producer, stage actor,
Mason began his theatrical career at the age of 16 and appeared in several productions at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre including Barry Jackson's The Christmas Party. During the 1920s he stage managed some of the largest shows in London (including many of André Charlot's musical revues) and began his film career with the arrival of sound in motion pictures. Mason was the Assistant director for I Was a Spy, which was very successful in the box office and voted best film of the year. He made his debut as director in 1936 with The First Offence. His most prominent film was A Window in London a dark thriller set in the London Underground, which was a remake of the original French drama film Metropolitan. Another successful film included Take My Tip, in which he directed Jack Hulbert whose "dances [were] beautifully staged."
Several rising actors and actresses (including Vivien Leigh) made their film debuts in some of his films before they rose to prominence. He worked for several studios and production companies including Gaumont British, Gainsborough Pictures, London Films and MGM-British Studios. Mason directed 16 films (from thrillers to comedies), moved into producing for the rest of his career and authored some plays with his wife Daisy Fisher, a novelist and playwright also with a background in theatre.
His films were generally very well received, and some of them were marked out for the inventiveness of the plot, locations used for shooting and humour. Some of his films are remembered for introducing rising actors and actresses to the screen before they became famous.
Samuel George Herbert Mason was born in 1891, in Moseley, Birmingham the third of four children of Samuel George Mason (a Brass Founder at Samuel Mason Ltd) and Amy Mason (née Collins) and a nephew (by marriage) of the famous Shakespearean actress – Ellen Terry. His grandfather Samuel Mason was also a Brass Founder. The firm was originally called Mason and Lawley – makers of balance cocks for clock movement. It was later renamed Samuel Mason Ltd specialising in bar equipment. Mason was educated at Solihull Grammar School and left aged 14. Mason was apprenticed in the family brass foundry prior to beginning his career as an actor in about 1907. He was a Stage Manager at the Palace Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre (up to 1914) where he appeared in The Critic and The Christmas Party. Both the plays also starred Felix Aylmer and Frank Clewlow.
Mason was an Officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment from 1914 and then in the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War. He joined the army about two months after marrying a chorus girl Daisy Fisher. On 17 November 1914 he received his commission as a temporary Second Lieutenant. He rose to the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross for his great personal outstanding gallantry when commanding the 59th brigade machine gun company at the taking of Guillemont during the Battle of the Somme. The report written on 7 September 1916 (from the Public Record Office and the National Archives in Kew) is Mason's description of the battle. The 59th machine gun company had 16 machine guns and about 170 men. About half the men died in the battle. While his unit was waiting in line, he occupied himself doing a self-portrait using oil paints, which were presumably left by a French officer in the trench. Mason served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment with the brother of Michael Balcon (who worked with Mason on The First Offence, I was a Spy and Take My Tip as Producer). Additionally he served in the Machine Gun Corps with Clive Brook who later became an actor and a friend. Mason spent the whole four years in the Western Front, and was awarded the Mons Star – the medal of those who were in it at the beginning.
Stage career in London (1918–27)
After the war Mason resumed his career in the Theatre. In the 1920s he stage directed and stage managed many stage revues at Vaudeville Theatre including Yes! and Puppets! In 1921–22 Mason staged managed and starred in Pot Luck! with Beatrice Lillie, Herbert Mundin who is best known for his role as Much the Miller's Son in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Mason also staged managed London Calling! a musical revue, which Fred Astaire assisted with the choreography. The play is famous for being Noël Coward's first publicly produced musical work. In 1924 Mason staged and choreographed The Punch Bowl, which starred Fisher and Eric Coates. In 1925, the play was later transferred to His Majesty's Theatre, London and Vaudeville Theatre. During the performance at Vaudeville Theatre he was one of the proprietors. After the production, the theatre was closed on 7 November 1925 and reconstructed. In 1925 he was an Assistant Producer for Still Dancing and choreographed Bubbly, which was performed at the Duke of York's Theatre. In 1926 he produced Yvonne a successful musical comedy (staged by George Edwardes at Dalys Theatre, London). Mason choreographed Vaudeville Vanities, which was performed at the Vaudeville Theatre from 1926–27 and went on tour at the Royal Theatre, Rochdale in 1929. In 1927 he presented, produced and starred (as Shipwright) in Daisy Fisher and Harold Simpson's The Cave Man.
Film career (1928–45)
In 1928 with the arrival of sound, Mason began to make his mark in the film industry by presenting stage shows for the Gaumont – British cinema circuit. He respected and worked with Victor Saville on I Was a Spy as an Assistant Director. The producer Michael Balcon mentions in his memoir, that he "told [Mason] to take the script [for I was a Spy] to Belgium, find Mrs McKenna, and get her to approve [the script] by page" and Mason came back "with every page approved." Although the film was very successful in the Box Office this however was not Saville's reaction; when he watched the completed I was a Spy with Mason he was devastated but Mason reassured him that it was his "best to date." The film starred Herbert Marshall, who previously had a role in Daisy Fisher's comedy Lavender Ladies. A few decades later I was a Spy was shown at the National Film Theatre, London. The following year. Mason worked with Saville on Evergreen as a Unit Manager.
In 1936 he made his first film as Director; The First Offence (Bad Blood), a spy thriller in which he directed the young John Mills. It was filmed in London and was inspired by Mauvaise Graine directed by Billy Wilder. He also directed the famous actor George Arliss just before Arliss retired from the stage. He directed a dozen engaging films including a 'diplomatic thriller' – East Meets West. During filming for East Meets West a group of film extras went on a strike however Mason successfully resolved it "by offering each extra an additional pound and a blanket." Dr Mitchell refused to allow Mason to direct Doctor Syn because Fisher had German Measles; so Roy Neill replaced Mason as Director.
In 1939 Mason directed The Silent Battle, a thriller set on the Orient Express. The film starred Rex Harrison and was the film debut for Megs Jenkins, who had a small role. She later had roles in It's in the Bag and John and Julie.
Mason changed his pace from perky musicals to dark drama with A Window in London (Lady in Distress) about a man who believes he has witnessed a murder from a passing train. However his films became lighter again including Back-Room Boy – a comedy set in a lighthouse starring Arthur Askey. Robert Murphy describes the film as "the funniest if the least original of the Askey comedies" in his book Realism and Tinsel. This view is shared with John Howard Reid who mentions in his book that it, "is also highly successful in delivering both laughs and thrills."
Additionally Michael Hodgson mentions in his book that "A Window in London was a dark and disturbing remake of Maurice Cam's French circular drama Metropolitain." The film starred Michael Redgrave who previously played Christopher Drew in Fisher's comedy A Ship Comes Home at the St Martin's Theatre in May 1937.
Before the Second World War Mason combined with some others to buy a country house, Cuffnells (the family home of Alice Liddell). They brought it and originally planned to convert it into an upmarket hotel. However, when the war broke out in 1939, Cuffnells was requisitioned by the army. By the time the war ended it was in such poor condition that it had to be demolished. Filming for Dr. O'Dowd took place in the summer of 1939 and was completed after the war started. Dr. O'Dowd was the film debut for Peggy Cummins. The film was successful and described as "one of the best films of Ireland ever made." Felix Aylmer also appeared in Dr. O'Dowd, The Briggs Family and Once a Crook.
Mason (like Basil Rathbone and many others) offered his service in the war but was turned down because he was too old. However he was awarded a medal for his services as a member of the Home Guard. Despite moving into film making Mason continued to work in the theatre on some occasions. In 1940, Mason presented Peril at End House, which was written by Arnold Ridley and performed at the Vaudeville Theatre. It was an adaptation of the book by Agatha Christie and Isabel Dean's London debut. 2 years later he produced Herbert Farjeon's The Big Top, which starred Beatrice Lillie, whom Mason previously appeared on stage with.
During the war in A Yank in the RAF a "British camera team [consisting of] (Ronald Neame, Jack Whitehead and Otto Kanturek [worked] under the direction of Mason to take footage of Spitfires being rearmed." With complete co-operation from the RAF, as well as extensive use of stock RAF footage, the studio was allowed to film actual battles shot by a camera equipped aircraft – an old Anson – large enough to carry the camera team. Mason did not fly with the crew. He was credited as Maj. Herbert Mason. It is likely that the reason for this was to make it more appealing to a wartime audience, since the film was about military service and made by people who understood the forces.
Mason directed and produced the musical comedy Flight from Folly, which was his last directorial credit. It was also the last film made at Warner's Teddington Studios before it was bombed in 1944 and the film debut for Pat Kirkwood. His career as Film Director known in Italy are only two films: East in Revolt (original title: His Lordship), an adventure film of 1936 and The Mystery Guest of a Detective (original title: Strange Boarders) in 1938.
Rest of his career (1945–60)
After directing Flight from Folly, Mason joined London Films as an Associate Producer and produced some films with its founder Alexander Korda including Bonnie Prince Charlie and Anna Karenina. Mason and Daisy Fisher financed and were authors of the play of Lend Me Robin, which was performed in the Embassy Theatre, London from 5 October 1948 a few years before it was sold to the Central School of Speech and Drama. It was a comedy about a wife who tries to win back her philandering husband by taking a lover. The play starred Charles Goldner as the husband, Sonia Dresdel and William Mervyn. When it opened it did very well but then one reviewer came to the play drunk. He wrote an unpleasant review and it folded up after only three weeks. Three years later Mason and Fisher worked together on 'an eternal triangle Thriller Dangerous Woman' which was shown at Wimbledon Theatre. The play starred Thora Hird; the following year she had a role in Time Gentlemen Please! and later Background, both produced by Mason. Fisher also wrote the story for Things Are Looking Up, which Mason worked on as an Associate Producer. Vivien Leigh who is best known for her leading role in Gone with the Wind made her film debut in an uncredited role as a schoolgirl. Thirteen years later she appeared in Anna Karenina, which Mason also worked on as an Associate Producer.
Mason was with MGM and Fox British and produced several films with John Grierson's Group Three Productions at Southall Studios including Background (U.S Edge of Divorce) and Child's Play during the 50s. Another project as producer during that period included Lewis Gilbert's Cast a Dark Shadow.
Charles Allen Oakley mentions in his book that, "The post-war era ended for the British cinematograph industry almost indeterminately during 1952 and 1953." John and Julie a comedy produced by Mason in 1955 (two years after the Coronation) was about 2 children wanting to go to see the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It is a moving snapshot of a war weary country coming alive – an unrecognised classic and undiscovered sociological resource. He produced his last film – The Blue Peter, which was later retitled Navy Heroes, which was released in November 1955 (UK) and December 1957 (USA). The film is about youth seamanship at the original Outward Bound in Aberdyfi, Wales, a programme similar to Sea Scouting or Sea Cadets.
On 20 May 1960, Herbert Mason died in London at the age of 69.
Personal life and family
Mason was known to his friends as 'Werb.' He was called "Bertie" by his family. His mother's brother was called Bertie Collins. Mason first met his future wife when they were both in a play about David Garrick with him taking the lead. Afterwards she and others called him 'Garry.'
Mason's family had lived in Birmingham for several generations (approximately from the end of the 18th Century). For a long time Mason's family worked at the brass foundry – a business, which Samuel Mason set up in the 1860s. In 1860 Thomas Lucas Birch and James Birch separated themselves from Yates and formed a partnership with Samuel Mason. Birch & Mason specialised in pewter goods and bar equipment. On 9 May 1862 the partnership was dissolved and Mason continued the business alone under Samuel Mason Ltd. However the firm competed with a rival firm Gaskell & Chambers until it faced bankruptcy in 1910. Gaskell and Chambers then purchased Mason's bar fitting trade however Harry Mason (Samuel Mason's son) who had been running Samuel Mason Ltd, restarted it under the name of Harry Mason Ltd from about 1910. It can be assumed that Harry Mason took over Samuel Mason Ltd after his nephew left to begin his career in the theatre. Today Harry Mason Ltd specialises in cellar equipment and beer.
In 1914, before the outbreak of the First World War, Mason married Daisy Fisher, a chorus girl, actress, lyricist and singer who also had a background in theatre and later became a novelist and playwright. She survived him with their daughter and son - Jocelyn Mason and Michael Mason (b. December 1924). Their son Michael Mason became a Senior Radio Producer at the BBC.
Edward Terry, an actor and theatre director (who later became known as Edward Gordon Craig) was an uncle. John Gielgud (the grandnephew of Ellen Terry and grandson of Kate Terry) and Edward Carrick (the art director of several film companies) were distant cousins.
Mason was a keen fisherman and very interested in birds. He was a good artist (he once did a self-portrait of himself as a clown during the First World War) and was very stylish in his own dress and got many of his clothes from Hawes and Curtis. Through Billy Cotton, the band leader (a friend of his who was also an amateur racing driver), he took an active interest in cars and car racing. he was intrigued by any new mechanical device.
Currently Dr. O'Dowd, It's in the Bag and Flight from Folly are three of the BFI 75 Most Wanted Films (list of 75 most sought – after British Future films not currently held in the BFI National Archive). In May 2014 It's in the Bag was given a DVD commercial release by Renown Pictures Ltd however this version is 17 minutes shorter than the original version. In 2015, for the first time in 75 years, A Window in London has been made available for viewing to a wider audience. It is included on Britain on Film via the BFI Player.
|1933||I Was a Spy||Yes||Assistant director|
|Friday the Thirteenth||Yes||Unit Manager|
|Aunt Sally||Yes||United Production Manager, Released as Along Came Sally in USA|
|1935||Things Are Looking Up||Yes||Associate Producer|
|1936||The First Offence||Yes||His directorial debut|
|His Lordship||Yes||Released as Man of Affairs in USA|
|East Meets West||Yes|
|1937||Take My Tip||Yes|
|1939||The Silent Battle||Yes||Released as Continental Express in USA|
|1940||A Window in London||Yes||Released as Lady in Distress in USA|
|The Briggs Family||Yes|
|1941||A Yank in the RAF||Yes||directed RAF flying sequences|
|Mr. Proudfoot Shows a Light||Yes||Short film|
|Once a Crook||Yes|
|1943||The Night Invader||Yes|
|1944||It's in the Bag||Yes|
|1945||Flight from Folly||Yes||Yes||Last directorial credit and first film as producer|
|1948||Bonnie Prince Charlie||Yes||(uncredited)|
|Anna Karenina||Yes||Associate Producer|
|1952||Time Gentlemen, Please!||Yes|
|1953||Background||Yes||Released as Edge of Divorce in USA, July 1954|
|1954||Conflict of Wings||Yes|
|1955||Cast a Dark Shadow||Yes|
|John and Julie||Yes|
|The Blue Peter||Yes||Released as Navy Heroes in USA, December 1957|
|1913–14||The Critic||Richard Brinsley Sheridan||Birmingham Repertory Theatre|
|1914||The Christmas Party||Barry Jackson||Birmingham Repertory Theatre|
|1921||Pot Luck!||Ronald Jeans||Vaudeville Theatre, London|
|1927||The Cave Man||Shipwright||Daisy Fisher and Harold Simpson||Theatre Royal (first performance) and Savoy Theatre, London|
|Year||Title||Theatre(s)||Stage manager||Stage director||Producer||Other||Notes|
|1920||The Shop Girl||Gaiety Theatre, London||Yes|
|1921||Fun of the Fayre||London Pavilion||Yes|
|Pot Luck!||Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes|
|1922||London Calling!||Duke of York's Theatre, London||Yes|
|Snap||Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes|
|1923||Rats||Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes||Yes|
|Yes!||Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes|
|1924||Puppets||Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes|
|Our Cabaret||Victoria Palace Theatre, London||Yes||Yes||Presenter|
|1924–25||The Punch Bowl||Duke of York's Theatre, His Majesty's Theatre, London and Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes||Yes||Choreographer and proprietor|
|1924–25||Charlot's Revue ||Prince of Wales Theatre, London||Yes|
|1925||Bubbly!||Duke of York's Theatre, London||Yes||Yes||Choreographer|
|1925–26||Still Dancing||London Pavilion||Yes||Assistant producer|
|1926–27||Yvonne||Dalys Theatre, London||Yes|
|1926–27||Vaudeville Vanities||Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes||Yes||Choreographer|
|1927||The Cave Man||Theatre Royal (first performance) and Savoy Theatre, London||Yes||Yes||Presenter|
|1940||Peril at End House||Vaudeville Theatre, London||Yes||Presenter|
|1942||The Big Top||His Majesty's Theatre, London||Yes|
|It's About Time||The Comedy Theatre, London||Yes|
|1948||Lend Me Robin||Embassy Theatre, London||Yes||Yes||Playwright (with Daisy Fisher)|
|1951||Dangerous Woman||Wimbledon Theatre, London||Yes||Playwright (with Daisy Fisher)|
- "Herbert Mason". BFI. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 21 April 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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Herbert Mason's unjustly neglected film deserves viewing not just for its engaging plot but also for its fine location shootingCS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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She entered films with a small role in Herbert Mason's exciting thriller...the first of over 50 films in which she was featuredCS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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...,presented to the said Court by Samuel Mason and Samuel George Mason, trading as Samuel Mason, of Dale End, Birmingham.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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For conspicuous gallantry in action. He brought up machine-guns under intense fire, and organised the machine-gun section defence of each object as gained, displaying great courage and initiative. He greatly assisted our holding the position when gained.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Balcon, 1969, p. 74
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I was only young when I made Dr. O'Dowd, my first ever film...recalled Peggy Cummins
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... as Scottish clansman storm the rocky heights of Tor Choicht during the taking of a scene in "Bonnie Prince Charlie", a Korda film being made near Fort William, Scotland, under the direction of producer of Herbert Mason.
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