Frank Launder, screenwriter, 1906-1997

Frank Launder was born in Hitchin on 28 January 1906. You may not have heard of Frank Launder but you will be familiar with some of his prolific work. He began working as a screenwriter on British films at Elstree in the 1930s, and in 1937 contributed the story for the classic comedy Oh, Mr Porter! starring Will Hay. Then in 1938 he co-wrote, with Sidney Gilliat, the script for Hitchcock’s film The Lady Vanishes. Two years later the duo scripted Carol Reed’s film Night Train to Munich and in 1942 The Young Mr Pitt. Launder and Gilliat set up Individual Pictures which became one of a number of production companies making films for Independent Producers, for J. Arthur Rank.

Launder and Gilliat, now often overlooked, made a huge contribution over three decades to British cinema. According to the British Film Institute, they wrote “some of the wittiest screenplays in British cinema history”, but Launder not only wrote scripts, he also directed and produced some very successful British films including the massive box-office successes The Blue Lagoon in 1948 and the outrageous St Trinian’s films. Frank Launder drew “career-best performances from Rex Harrison, Margaret Rutherford and especially Alastair Sim”.

Frank was born Frank Sydney Launder, son of James and Alice Launder, in Hitchin and his brother Victor James was born in Baldock three years later. Their father was a “traveller” working in the building trade. Frank was educated in Brighton, after which he joined the Civil Service in the Bankruptcy office. He joined Brighton Repertory Company, which gave him his introduction to the scenario department of British International Pictures at Elstree in 1928. He is said to have married Alicia Quayle in 1937 and had two children, but they divorced a few years later. He met his second wife Bernadette O’Farrell while he was filming Captain Boycott in 1947, in which Bernadette played Mrs Fagan, and he died in Monaco on 23rd February 1997 aged 91 years and 1 month. His long life is certainly one to celebrate.