A British film director, famous though not as famous as he should be, for his realistic documentary studies of everyday life particularly in the Second World War. He was born in 1907 and died in 1950 after an accidental fall on the Greek island of Poros, where he was filming. Later great directors such as Lindsay Anderson regarded him as possibly the greatest of them all, and Anderson called him the only true poet of the cinema. He was also an influential critic and editor, among many other things.

Born in Walberswick in Suffolk on 19 August 1906, he was educated at Cambridge, and in 1934 joined the GPO film unit led by John Grierson, who was first to use the word "documentary" for non-fictional short films. Jennings was one of the leaders of the social survey programme Mass-Observation, founded in 1937 to record everyday lives of people. This anthropological interest is what informs his films: where his opposite number during the War, Leni Riefenstahl, produced idealised pictures of perfect Aryans striving their utmost, Jenning's picture of London under the Blitz was of people with their foibles and humours trying to get on with their normal lives, and the heroism that came through this. His works were renowned for not patronising or polarising the working classes, and were accepted by them the way mere propaganda was not: it is often said that he moved people to tears.

The wartime work he did with the Crown Film Unit was therefore successful propaganda, but of a kind it is still a delight and an astonishment, not an embarrassment, to watch. His masterpiece is regarded as being Fires Were Started, following the traumatic efforts of the Auxiliary Fire Service in the bombed docklands.

I see a thousand strange sights in the streets of London
I see the clock on Bow Church burning in daytime
I see a one-legged man crossing the fire on crutches
I see three negroes and a woman with white face-powder reading music at half-past three in the morning
I see an ambulance girl with her arms full of roses
I see the burnt drums of the Philharmonic
I see the green leaves of Lincolnshire carried through London on the wrecked body of an aircraft

He was also a leader of the British Surrealist movement, helping organise the 1936 London exhibition that introduced us to the likes of Dali and Magritte. He was painter and photographer himself, and a stage designer, and a poet. His study of Thomas Gray was much admired by T.S. Eliot, and he edited Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis in the original spelling. In Paris he designed textiles; he taught in a public school; and he compiled materials for a social history of the Industrial Revolution, finally published in 1985 as Pandaemonium.

But amid all this activity it is his films, which Jennings called "camera poems", that have made the most lasting impression:

1934  	Locomotives
1934 	Post Haste
1935 	The Story of the Wheel
1936 	The Birth of a Robot
1938 	Penny Journey
1938 	Her Last Trip
1938 	Speaking from America
1938 	Design for Spring
1938 	English Harvest
1939 	Spare Time
1939 	The First Days
1939 	Spring Offensive
1940 	Welfare of the Workers
1940 	London Can Take It
1941 	Heart of Britain
1941 	Words for Battle
1942 	Listen to Britain
1943 	Fires Were Started
1943 	The Silent Village
1944 	The True Story of Lilli Marlene
1944 	The 80 Days
1945 	A Diary for Timothy
1946 	A Defeated People
1947 	Cumberland Story
1949 	Dim Little Island
1950 	Family Portrait

"Victory on the home front" by his biographer Kevin Jackson, in The Guardian 06.11.04

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