Leslie Howard and Adrian Brunel

Leslie had a first-class brain and, in spite of his inclination to roam, he had a great concentrative ability. Before he began to direct a scene, we would usually discuss its shape; he would outline his plan, using me as a sounding-board and getting my technical reaction. Or sometimes, I would get in first with my ideas. But whichever way we worked, there never seemed to be any disagreement. Then he would either go from his dressing room, where our discussions often took place, or he would break away from our huddle in a corner of the studio, and take charge on the floor. Finally, he would go over his own lines, if it was a scene in which he appeared, and by a tremendous power of concentration, would speak the lines without fault. When we came to photograph a scene, the lines came from him with such apparent naturalness and effortlessness, with such clarity, sincerity and mastery of meaning, that it was a revelation. He was a really great artist.

I was never truly interested in the subject [“Spitfire”]; my interest was in what Leslie made of it, and, of course, in him. And so I worked on and on — the longest picture with which I had been associated. When I became anxious about the time and money involved, Leslie shook his head. “Money is the least important thing in life,” he said, and then launched into his theories about the first essential — a good picture — and the fallacy of conventional economics in war-time.

I can add little to what the public said about Leslie. All are agreed that his death was an irreparable loss, but only those who were close to him know what a great blow it was to the British Film production industry. He would have directed more and acted less — if the public would let him — and eventually he would have become the leader of the industry. His brain, his wide sympathies, his great artistic integrity, would have swung British film from the war-time purpose to a new aim; they would have set an example that could have ensured for us the lead in the world’s film production.

Quotes from Nice Work: The Story of Thirty Years in British Film Production, by Adrian Brunel. London, Forbes Robertson, 1949

Filming The Gentle Sex on location. Adrian Brunel, in the back row; seated on ground, Leslie Howard

Filming The Gentle Sex on location. Adrian Brunel, third in the back row; seated on ground, Leslie Howard