British Universities Film & Video Council

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Leslie Mitchell

Profile

Born
4 October 1905
Death
November 1985
Dates
1931-1975
Role
Commentator
Newsreels / Cinemagazines
British Movietone News
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Notes
Leslie Mitchell was interviewed for Jonathan Lewis’ film ‘Before Hindsight’ (1977), and for the IWM Dept. of Sound Records - Access number 5138/2.

Career

Leslie Mitchell originally trained as a clerk on the London Stock Exchange, but gave this up to work as an actor. Mitchell had a part in the first production of R. C. Sherriff’s ‘Journey’s End’ in 1929, and a small part in the Gracie Fields film ‘Sally in Our Alley’ (1931). However, his acting career never took off, and he got a job with BBC radio as an announcer. In 1936 Mitchell transferred to the BBC’s fledgling television service as ‘Senior Television Announcer,' and this appointment received a lot of press coverage. As a result of this exposure he was recruited as a commentator for British Movietone News, where he was featured in the titles from the start - his first credit being for ‘TELEVISION: Leslie Mitchell Guides You Around Alexandra Palace’ in British Movietone News No.378A of September 1936. Regular BBC television transmissions began in November 1936, where the news content was supplied by issues of Gaumont British News and British Movietone News. Mitchell recalled that, after the opening, Movietone ‘invited me to comment regularly on other subjects and the BBC gave their blessing, provided my work at Alexandra Palace was given priority’: ‘As my Movietone commitments increased...I found myself working late through the night at Movietone’s headquarters in Soho Square after I had finished uninterrupted days of television at Alexandra Palace.' Norman Fisher [qv] of Movietone recalled that both Mitchell and Eric Dunstan [qv] were particularly useful for ‘solemn occasions,' and in November 1936 Mitchell was commentator for ‘ARMISTICE DAY 1936: Spoken by Leslie Mitchell’ in No.388A.

Mitchell’s television work remained of importance, and in December 1937 the World Film News described him as an ‘ex-actor, whose main job is BBC television announcer.' Mitchell appeared in front of the camera in ‘LESLIE MITCHELL REVIEWS THE NEWS PAGEANT OF MOVIETONE’ in British Movietone News No.457A, and in the same feature in No.458, both from March 1938. In June 1938 ‘LESLIE MITCHELL’S WEDDING’ was featured in No.470, and shortly afterwards Mitchell left the BBC to become a full-time commentator for Movietone - on a salary three times that paid by the BBC. In September 1939 Mitchell was one of the British Movietone News editorial staff evacuated to Denham, although they returned to Soho Square after producing only sixteen issues - ‘in time,' as Mitchell recalled, ‘for the start of the really heavy blitz.' Mitchell worked for Movietone throughout the war, and was also commentator on the War Pictorial News, which began production in 1940. Gerald Sanger [qv], the editor of British Movietone News, recalled that during the war they reduced the number of stories in the reel, and ‘we also turned British Movietone News into a one-voice reel, Leslie Mitchell delivering the entire commentary, with Lionel Gamlin [qv] coming in to replace him one reel [sic] in four.' Gamlin’s regular work as Mitchell’s replacement seems to have begun in June 1944, and the system of relieving him for one week in every four began in September 1944. Mitchell did not write the scripts, however, for these were written by Cecil Burge [qv]. Mitchell also continued to do freelance work for the BBC, confessing later that his need for money ‘did lead to my accepting almost any job offered me.'

After the war Mitchell continued to work for Movietone as a commentator, and also appeared as interviewer in a number of items such as ‘BRITISH FILM FESTIVAL’ in British Movietone News No.874A from March 1946. In March and April 1946 Mitchell was in the United States, and in January 1947 he took a more extended break from commentating, when he became Alexander Korda’s director of publicity at London Films. Movietone meanwhile gave the job of principal commentator to Gamlin. In October 1947 Mitchell resigned from London Films after a disagreement with Korda, and returned to freelance BBC work. Then, in November 1948, he returned to commentating for British Movietone News with issue No.1013, alternating as commentator with Gamlin. In October 1951 Mitchell interviewed Anthony Eden for the Conservative General Election television broadcast. In 1954 Mitchell provided the commentary for Movietone’s ‘The Flight of the White Heron,' the film of the Queen’s Commonwealth Tour taken by Paul Wyand [qv] and Reg Sutton [qv]. Mitchell was afterwards recruited as Head of Talks Features for Associated-Rediffusion, which in June 1955 resulted in another break from commentating, enabling David Jacobs [qv] to do some work for Movietone.

Associated-Rediffusion began broadcasting in September 1955, but Mitchell did not get on with the manager of the company, and by July 1958 he was back with Movietone to provide the commentary for British Movietone News No.1520A. This work was quite irregular, but Gerald Sanger [qv] offered Mitchell more regular employment alongside Jeffrey Shearley [qv] and Geoffrey Sumner [qv], and this began with No.1666A in May 1961. By December 1961 Mitchell was once again Movietone’s principal commentator, voicing almost every issue. He continued commentating until No.2379A of January 1975, after which British Movietone News became a weekly reel in full colour, voiced by Leonard Martin [qv]. Mitchell returned in June 1975 to commentate for a couple of special Second World War issues - the Dunkirk anniversary issue ‘THE RETURN OF THE LITTLE SHIPS’ in No.2400, and the Channel Island issue ‘VISIT OF HM THE QUEEN MOTHER’ in No.2402. Mitchell described himself as ‘first and foremost an opportunist,' but he was also a stylish performer, which was his major contribution to the newsreels.

Sources

World Film News, December 1937, ‘Newsreel Rushes,' p.39: G. Sanger ‘The Story of British Movietone News in the War Years,' c.1946, copy in BUFVC: J. Ballantyne (ed) ‘Researcher’s Guide to British Newsreels’ (BUFVC, 1983), p.89: J. Ballantyne (ed) ‘Researcher’s Guide to British Newsreels: Vol.III’ (1993), p.21: L. Mitchell ‘Leslie Mitchell Reporting...' (London, 1981), passim.

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