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Leslie Halliwell died on Saturday, 21st January, 1989.  The following Monday most of the major newspapers carried obituaries and other tributes.  Here are some of them, all reproduced with the permission of the publications themselves.   Thanks are also due to the National Newspaper Archive in Colindale.




Leslie Halliwell, programme buyer for the ITV network and for Channel 4 until his retirement in 1986 and author of standard reference books on cinema and television, died on January 21 at the age of 59.
            To the public he was best known for his Filmgoer’s Companion, a general encyclopaedia of the cinema which first appeared in 1965.  It grew out of a casual conversation with a publisher at a cocktail party, during which Halliwell suggested the need for such a book and proposed that a committee should be formed to compile it.
            He ended up by doing the job himself, producing every word on a typewriter with just his two index fingers.  From modest beginnings, the Companion grew into a magisterial reference book of enormous scope and impressive accuracy.  The ninth edition, which appeared towards the end of last year, contained a million and a half words.
            In 1977 Halliwell started a complementary volume, the Film Guide, containing entries on individual films.  This, too, was frequently revised and updated.  The latest edition contains 16,000 entries and is, Halliwell calculated, equivalent to the length of 20 novels.
            Halliwell’s books were not just catalogues of facts but spiced with his own, often idiosyncratic, comments.  He was an unashamed apologist for the golden age of cinema, the 1930s and 1940s, and made no secret of the fact that he often found recent films crude, violent and pretentious.
            His capsule summaries of films were often a delight, particularly when he expressed disapproval.  Look Back in Anger became the story of “a bad-tempered man with a grudge against life and the government, who runs a market stall, lives in a squalid flat and has an affair with his wife’s best friend”.
           Another indispensable work, Halliwell’s Television Companion, first appeared in 1979.  In later editions his collaborator was the television critic, Philip Purser, and many of the entries were enlivened by the two men’s very opposing judgements on particular programmes.


           Leslie Halliwell was born in Bolton on February 23, 1929, and saw his first film at the age of four.  His passion for the cinema, charmingly recorded in his autobiographic memoir Seats in All Parts, started with regular visits in the company of his mother.
            At school, in the army and at Cambridge University, he ran film societies and when he left university he became a journalist on the film magazine, Picturegoer, while also acting as programme manager for a group of cinemas in Cambridge.  He was briefly with the Rank Organisation before going into television.
            Halliwell joined Granada as a film researcher, but soon switched to what became his main job of buying programmes from outside companies, including American series and feature films.  From 1968 his responsibilities covered the entire ITV network.
            He became films buyer for Channel 4 from its inception in 1982 and organised several highly-praised seasons of classic and rare films.  One of these seasons, a masterly compilation of features and documentaries under the title The British at War, he introduced himself.
            Apart from his reference works, Halliwell was responsible for several other books about the cinema which reflected his passion for individual films and for popular genres like comedy and horror.  He also produced three volumes of ghost stories and a novel, Return to Shangri-La, a sequel to one of his favourite books and films, Lost Horizon.
            In 1958 he married Ruth Turner and had one son and two step-children.




LESLIE HALLIWELL, the authority on the cinema who has died aged 59, turned his Bolton boyhood passion for “the flicks” into a lucrative career.
            In fact, he developed two parallel careers.  He was film buyer for Independent Television for nearly 20 years (in which capacity he would visit Los Angeles twice a year in order to choose the best new television series and “TV movies” as well as negotiate the rights to feature films) and he also drew on his prodigious knowledge for the nostalgic seasons of classic and forgotten films which he masterminded for Channel 4.
            At the same time Halliwell maintained an ever-growing range of reference books and studies of cinema genres which he began in the 1960s with The Filmgoer’s Companion (now in its 9th edition) and went on to include The Filmgoer’s Book of Quotes, Halliwell’s Movie Quiz, Halliwell’s Film Guide (now in its 5th edition), Halliwell’s Hundred, Halliwell’s Harvest, The Dead that Walk (horror films) and (with Philip Purser) Halliwell’s Television Companion.
            It was a measure of Halliwell’s achievement that his surname entered the English language rather in the manner of those other remarkably dedicated individual chroniclers, Pevsner and Partridge.
            Halliwell’s superbly concise and encyclopaedic works of reference proved indispensable to all students of the cinema and indeed to newspapers – for example, the short obituary printed below of Norma Varden would not have been possible without Halliwell’s “bible”.


            The reference books were updated every four years, with minor amendments for the paperback editions between, so that Halliwell always had at least two works in hand. On top of all this he edited anthologies of ghost stories, wrote fiction and plays of his own and published a charmingly evocative cinematic autobiography, Seats In All Parts (1985).
            Leslie Halliwell was born at Bolton in 1929, and grew up, as he was fond of recalling, against an industrial background in which splendid new cinemas contrasted oddly with the poverty, unemployment and grime of real life.  He saw his first film at the age of four, was allowed to go to the cinema by himself at nine and two years later began keeping a critical diary noting every film he saw.
            He was educated at the local grammar school and St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, running film societies at both institutions as well as during his National Service in the Army.  He then became a journalist on the magazine/booker of the Rex, a specialist cinema in Cambridge, before joining the publicity department of Rank.
            In 1959 he joined Granada as a film researcher and within nine years had risen to become programme buyer for the entire ITV network.  Halliwell was the man behind Granada’s long-running Cinema series and its junior version, Clapperboard, on which his avuncular presence would sometimes appear – for instance, explaining to younger viewers how King Kong was made.
            In recent years he became disenchanted with the amount of violence, bad language and sex in films which made them unsuitable for screening on television and he dreaded the arrival of the satellite era with its threat of standards slipping still further.  He much preferred the films of the “Golden Age” (circa 1935-55, in his view) and his exhaustive scholarship proved invaluable to Channel 4.
            In 1987 he retired from programme buying but remained a film consultant to ITV and Channel 4.  He wrote a television column for the Daily Mail and also contributed to Sight and Sound and other periodicals.
            Through his trips to Hollywood, Halliwell became an afficionado of the Californian desert.  His recreations included chess and collecting books.
            He had a mentally-handicapped son and was a tireless worker on behalf of charities for the mentally handicapped.  He is survived by his wife, the former Ruth Turner, and their son.



Here is a further tribute from the Telegraph, by Jeffrey Richards.




FOR a legion of film fans, the death of Leslie Halliwell on Saturday will come as a personal blow.  For although they may never have met him, they will have felt they knew him.  For he had become an indispensable part of their lives.  He it was who provided the standard reference works, regularly updated, that enabled you to discover the birth date of Joan Crawford, the real name of Cary Grant or how many actors had played the Count of Monte Cristo, the kind of questions that regularly exercise the minds of film buffs.
            But the facts were also laced with opinions, which you could check out against your own.  “Forgettable leading man” was his description of one hapless American actor.  When it first appeared in 1965, “Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion” (now in its ninth edition) filled a real gap in film literature and it was later joined by – among others – “Halliwell’s Film Guide” and “Halliwell’s Television Companion”.  As “Bradshaw” was for the 19th century – a generic name for an essential compendium of information.
            It was to Halliwell that journalists and preview writers turned automatically for capsule verdicts on films.  This ensured that his opinions reached an even wider audience than those who possessed his books.
            For almost 20 years he was ITV’s chief buyer of films and mini-series.  But he reserved his special enthusiasm for acquiring old films and when Channel 4 came into being he was able to schedule what in effect became a National Film Theatre in the home.
            He decisively demonstrated the richness, breadth and artistic excellence of what highbrows often used to dismiss as “those awful old films”.  For lovers of the golden age of the cinema like myself, Channel 4 became a source of unalloyed delight as time and again one encountered films one had only ever read about and never expected to see.
            It must have given Halliwell particular pleasure to have been able to programme the long unseen complete versions of his childhood favourites, “Lost Horizon” and “Frankenstein”.  But no rarity was beyond his range and he sedulously sought out such apparently lost films as “The Passing of the Third Floor Back” with Conrad Veidt and “Big Fella” with Paul Robeson.
            His greatest love was for those genres most despised by highbrow critics – horror and slapstick comedy.  He would regularly insert in the schedules – to the delight of fellow aficionados – the minor films of Tod Slaughter or Boris Karloff and the rough and tumble comedies of Frank Randle and Old Mother Riley.  He also wrote about the genre with affection and erudition.
            He was no academic film historian and was rather scornful of “the egghead student of film culture who shuns the commercial entertainments in favour of Middle European or Oriental masterpieces which never got further than a very few art houses”.
            He was also out of sympathy with much modern cinema, writing in 1984: “I have not seen a new film for several years which can give the perennial thrill of a midnight revival of ‘Casablanca’ on the box.”  He was in fact an amateur in the best sense of the word – a lover of the films of the golden age who sought always to share his enthusiasm, to win converts to the cause and to show today’s telly watchers the cinematic world they had lost.
            He provided his greatest testament in his autobiography “Seats in All Parts”, published in 1985.  Subtitled “Half a Lifetime at the Movies”, it was a vivid, heart warming recollection of a film-obsessed childhood in 1930s Bolton.
            He indelibly recaptured that now half-forgotten world of uniformed commissioners and queues, the A picture, the B picture, and “full supporting programme,” the mighty Wurlitzer organ, buttered crumpets at the Odeon café, surreptitious visits to the “flea pit” or the “bug hutch”.  It was a world dominated by such legendary deities as Laurel and Hardy, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery, Tom Walls and Ralph Lynn, a world of innocence, warmth and certainty.
            It became clear when reading the book that he had seen Channel 4 as a way of recreating for all of us the joys of that childhood in Bolton long ago when the silver screen had given him golden dreams.  He was its chronicler, its champion and its celebrant.  He will be irreplaceable.


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