Ken Annakin – Film Director

My previous post concerned Denham Film Studios  and in a way there is a connection with this British Film Director  because in his autobiography ‘So You Wanna Be a Director’ he describes how in 1951 he drove through those large gates into the studios to begin work directing Walt Disneys The Story of Robin Hood which was released in 1952 and starred Richard Todd and Joan Rice.

Ken Annakin’s previous films had been good small budget British films such as The Huggetts and Quartet but this represented a big jump forward to a very large scale colour production – in fact the most expensive film to have been made in England up to that time.

                                                               

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Ken Annakin was educated at Beverley grammar school in East Yorkshire and on leaving he took a job locally in Hull as a tax inspector. Then, happily, he won £100 on the Derby and travelled to Asia, Australia and the US.   He did various jobe to make ends meet  and then  during the second world war he joined the RAF. He was transferred to the Ministry of Information following an injury he received fromshrapnell.

                                                                                                 

Here  he worked alongside such professionals as Carol Reed on many documentaries, thus gaining experience in the movie industry.

Then in 1947 he made his feature debut with Holiday Camp. This was at a time when resorts such as Butlins offered families a great holiday and lots of fun. The film was a comedy drama set at a Butlins resort on the Yorkshire coast at Filey.

                                                                            

There is one brilliantly old fashioned piece of dialogue in Holiday Camp which occurred in the above scene. Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison play an older married couple with a grown up family all at the Holiday Camp. In this scene Kathleen Harrison (Mrs. Hugggett) asks her husband if he fancies any of the bathing beauties around the swimming pool. And his response is that he does like the look of them but he ‘prefers something plain in the home’ – for which she thanks him and feels happy and assured.   Different times I think.

It spawned the Hugget series, based on the central characters memorably portrayed by Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison. Here Come the Huggetts was released in 1948, followed by Vote for Huggett and The Huggets Abroad.

                                                   Ken Annakin

Ken Annakin with Walt Disney – Above.

His career spanned half a century, beginning in the early 1940s  and ending in 2002 with a feature film about Genghis Khan which was never completed.   His career peaked in the 1960s with large-scale adventure films. He directed nearly 50 pictures.

In one of his best-known, The Longest Day Ken  Annakin — with Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki — was one of three credited directors. Adapted from Cornelius Ryan’s best-selling book about D-Day, it featured an all-star cast led by Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Sean Connery Richard Todd and Peter Lawford.  Ken concentrated on directing the British exterior sequences – and in one of these we have a quite astonishing story.

In the film Richard Todd played Major John Howard who led the paratroopers attack on Pegasus Bridge – but in real life a number of years before the film was made, Richard Todd had himself been a paratrooper on this very mission. In fact he had been scheduled to be in aircraft number 33 but at the very last minute he was switched to aircraft number one and so he was the first man out – so effectively  he was the first paratrooper on the ground in that operation. Then when Pegasus Bridge had been captured and secured in the film there is a sequence wher Major John Howard played by Todd is talking to a young paratrooper who in real life would have been Richard Todd.

 Peter Lawford,Richard Todd, and Leo Genn in The Longest Day

Three years later his work on The Longest Day put Annakin in line to direct another war film, Battle of the Bulge, when the studio’s original choice for director, Richard Fleischer, turned down the job. Meanwhile, Ken Annakin had shot The Fast Lady (1963) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), the screenplay for which (co-written with Jack Davies) earned him an Academy Award nomination, and the similarly-titled action comedy Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969).

His other comedies included The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968),  starring Robert Wagner, and Monte Carlo Or Bust (1969). He also directed Call of the Wild, a 1972 adaptation of Jack London’s adventure, starring Charlton Heston, and in 1957 his own personal favourite  - Across the Bridge with Rod Steiger.

                                                                                                                                                                    

His best-loved film was probably Swiss Family Robinson, one of a series of “family adventures” Annakin made for Walt Disney starting in the 1950s. Shot on the island of Tobago, with a cast including  tigers, snakes and elephants, the film starred John Mills and Dorothy McGuire as parents of a family battling pirates and struggling to survive after they are shipwrecked. Disney’s nephew, Roy Disney, considered it one of the greatest family adventure films that the Disney studio had ever done.

Above – Ken Annakin chats to Patricia Plunkett on the set of the film ‘Landfall’

He died at his Beverley Hills home and was survived by his wife, Pauline, daughter Deborah, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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