Ronnie Neame CBE BSC - Cinematographer/Director/Producer. Photo credit: Cornell Lucas
23.4.1911 - 16.6.2010
RONALD NEAME CBE BSC
Ronald Neame's parents were the photographer Elwin Neame and the actress Ivy Close. He studied at University College School and Hurstpierpoint College. His father died in 1923 and Neame took a job with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company as an office boy. Later, through his mother's contacts in the British film industry, Neame started at Elstree Studios as a messenger boy. And later was fortunate enough to be hired as an assistant cameraman on Blackmail (1929), the first British talkie, directed by a young Alfred Hitchcock and photographed by Jack Cox. Not only was it Britain’s first talking picture but it was one of the first films to make use of movement through by using the wheels on an early dolly. Rising through the ranks from tea boy to clapper boy, operator, cinematographer, producer, scriptwriter and director he was regarded as the consummate Film Maker.
As a cinematographer one of his most important contributions was through the use of Technicolor on David Lean’s films This Happy Breed (1944) and Blithe Spirit (1945), noted for the warmth of the colour images and his skill of the use of light.
He also wrote the screenplays for both films and later co-wrote Lean’s Great Expectations (1946) and Brief Encounter (1945) based on a Noel Coward stage play. It was in his collaboration with Noel Coward, David Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allen and the formation of Cineguild, funded by Arthur Rank, that Neame was able to craft his most distinguished work as a cinematographer. David Lean, by the early forties regarded as a great British director, used Neame as one of only four cinematographers in his fifty year career.
Neame’s enthusiasm for filmmaking led him eventually to producing and finally making his directorial debut under the Cineguild banner, with Take My Life , which was enriched by the cinematography of Guy Green BSC, one of the other four cinematographers favoured by Lean. The film was released by British producer J. Arthur Rank's General Film Distributors in the United Kingdom in 1947 and by Rank's Eagle-Lion Films in the United States in 1949.
Neame then began a transition to the American film industry at the suggestion of Rank, who asked him to study the Hollywood production system. As a director, he worked again with Alec Guinness (whom he had worked with on Great Expectations and Oliver Twist), on three films: The Card (1952) photographed by Ossie Morris OBE BSC, The Horse's Mouth (1958), photographed by Arthur Ibbetson BSC and Tunes of Glory (1960) also photographed by Arthur Ibbetson. Neame has described Tunes of Glory as "the film I am proudest of". He received two BAFTA Award nominations for the film. Neame and Guinness worked again on the 1970 musical Scrooge (1970) photographed by Ossie Morris OBE BSC with Guinness playing the ghost of Jacob Marley to Albert Finney's Ebenezer Scrooge.
Neame also directed I Could Go On Singing (1963), Judy Garland's last film, co-starring Dirk Bogarde and photographed by Arthur Ibbetson BSC, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) photographed by Ted Moore BSC, which won Maggie Smith her first Oscar.
Neame was recruited to direct The Poseidon Adventure (1972) photographed by Harold E. Stine after the contracted director left the production. He later characterised it as "my favourite film" because it earned him enough to retire comfortably. He enjoyed a long friendship with Walter Matthau, whom he directed in two later films, Hopscotch (1980) photographed by Arthur Ibbetson BSC and First Monday in October (1981) photographed by Fed J. Koenekamp.
Neame's final feature-length film, Foreign Body, a comedy starring Victor Banerjee, photographed by Ronnie Taylor BSC, was filmed in England and released in 1986.
In 1996, Neame was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for his contributions to the film industry. He had homes in Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara, California. In 2003, Neame published an autobiography, Straight from the Horse's Mouth. (ISBN 978-0810844902)
Neame married Beryl Heanly in 1933. They legally separated in 1971 and divorced in 1992. The couple had one son, Christopher, a writer/producer. Sadly, Christopher died exactly one year after Ronald's death. Ronald's only grandson, Gareth Neame, is a successful television producer, who represents the fourth generation of Neames in the film industry. Ronnie Neame's second marriage took place in Santa Barbara on 12 September 1993. His wife, Donna Bernice Friedberg, is also in the business – a film researcher and television producer, who worked on his 1979 movie Meteor. He referred to their meeting as a "coup de foudre" [love at first sight].
Neame died on 16 June 2010 after suffering complications from a broken leg. The break required two surgical procedures from which Neame never recovered.
In an interview in 2006, he jokingly stated, "When people ask me about the secret to my longevity, I say the honest answer is two large vodkas at lunchtime and three large scotches in the evening. All my doctors have said to me, 'Ronnie, if you would drink less, you'd live a lot longer.' But, they're all dead, and I'm still here!