BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Entertainment
Front Page 
UK Politics 
TV and Radio 
New Media 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Monday, 19 March, 2001, 16:53 GMT
Film director Ralph Thomas dies
Ralph Thomas: Director of distinction
Ralph Thomas, the director of the Doctor films during the golden era of British films, has died at the age of 85.

Thomas was one of the most representative British film-makers of the 1950 and 60s.

His films, almost invariably made for the Rank Organisation, included the series of Doctor comedies as well as popular adaptations of The 39 Steps with Kenneth More and A Tale of Two Cities, featuring Dirk Bogarde, one of his regular stars.

Together with producer Betty Box, Ralph Thomas brought high production values, as well as good box office, to his works which were enjoyed by millions of filmgoers.

Film trainee

Ralph (it was always pronounced 'Rafe') Thomas was born in Hull in 1915. Educated at Hull Grammar School and Middlesex University College, he worked in a lawyer's office and as a journalist on the Bristol Evening World.

Dirk Bogarde in A Tale of Two Cities
Dirk Bogarde in A Tale of Two Cities
After covering a visit to Bristol by Oscar Deutch, the owner of the Odeon chain of cinemas, Ralph Thomas was invited by Deutch to become a trainee at Sound City - later Shepperton - studios.

Working his way up from the bottom, Ralph Thomas mastered camera, sound and editing and worked as an assistant to David Lean before World War II intervened.

After service in the 9th Lancers, in which he saw action at Alamein and earned himself the Military Cross, Ralph Thomas joined the J Arthur Rank Organisation which by then was dominating the British film industy. He directed his first feature film, Miranda, in 1948.

Joining forces with the producer Betty Box, he directed The Clouded Yellow, an acclaimed detective thriller starring Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons.

Though Miss Box had to mortgage her house to provide funds, the film's success established the Thomas/Box partnership.

Doctor series

James Roberston Justice
The redoubtable James Roberston Justice
The Doctor series, which began with Doctor in the House in 1954, proved a huge success. With Rank contract players like Dirk Bogarde, Kenneth More and the redoubtable James Robertson Justice playing comedy roles, many for the first time ever, the series ran to seven films, although Bogarde left after five episodes.

Other notable productions included the politically-charged No Love For Johnny, which won Peter Finch a British Academy Award and The Iron Petticoat, a Cold War comedy starring Bob Hope and Katherine Hepburn.


Ralph Thomas believed that directors should make films for audiences, not for critics. "I am not anxious to make films that have a message," he once said. "Generally speaking, I look for a story that is a relection on the modes and manners of the times."

Jean Simmons in The Clouded Yellow
Jean Simmons in The Clouded Yellow
A member of Britain's only film dynasty, Ralph Thomas's brother Gerald directed the Carry On films, which were produced by Peter Rogers, the husband of Betty Box.

Ralph Thomas's son, Jeremy, won an Oscar as producer of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Entertainment stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Entertainment stories