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Elizabeth Dilys Powell (20 July 1901 – 3 June 1995) was a British journalist, author and film critic.

She was born into a middle class family in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. Her mother was Mary Jane Lloyd; her father, Thomas Powell, a bank manager. She went to Talbot Heath School in Bournemouth and afterwards obtained a first class honours degree in modern languages at Somerville College, Oxford. While at Oxford she met an archaeologist, Humfry Payne, whom she was to marry in 1926. After graduation Powell spent a period as personal assistant to Ottoline Morrell before being appointed to the literary department of The Sunday Times in 1928.

In 1929 her husband was appointed director of the British School of Archaeology at Athens and from 1931 until his death in 1936 (they had no children) Powell spent part of each year in Greece, frequently attending excavations where her husband was working. She continued these visits when she was able until the Second World War intervened. On her return to Britain Powell was appointed film critic on The Sunday Times, and in 1941 she found war work with a Greek connection in the Political Warfare Executive, which oversaw Britain's propaganda in occupied Europe. In June 1943 she married Leonard Russell (1906–1974), an executive at The Sunday Times.

Powell was one of the founder members of the Independent Television Authority (ITA) from 1954, despite initial concerns about her possible conflicts of interest (she wrote for a newspaper that was backing one of the ITV franchises, but its bid was eventually withdrawn). She resigned her post at the ITA in 1956 in protest at the government's refusal to come up with funding which it had promised to the authority in the 1954 Television Act.

Her journalism led a change in the writing of cinema criticism. To quote from the British Film Institute: "... she was open to new directions in cinema and was not constrained by the middle class shibboleths of "good taste", unlike her rival C. A. Lejeune, film critic for Observer newspaper from 1928 to 1960". She remained as film critic at The Sunday Times until 1976; her collected reviews were published in 1989. She later became film critic for Punch until its first closure in 1992, and she continued to write for The Sunday Times, now commenting on films being shown on television, until the week of her death.

She had a gift for the pithy comment, and her memorable phrases about films and the people of the film world are still frequently quoted by other journalists. In addition to her journalism she appeared on radio, as a contestant on the BBC radio panel game My Word!, and wrote books about film and travel, particularly about Greece.

Writing by Dilys Powell

  • Descent from Parnassus, (1934), London: Cresset Press (Essays on modern poets).
  • Remember Greece, (1941), London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • The Traveller’s Journey is Done, (1943), London: Hodder & Stoughton, (Humfry Payne at the British School of Archaeology at Athens).
  • Films since 1939, (1947), London: Longmans, Green & Co (for the British Council).
  • Coco, (1952), London: Hodder & Stoughton (a biography of a dog).
  • An Affair of the Heart, (1958), London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • The mirror of the present, (1967), London: John Murray, (Presidential address to the Classical Association at the University of Reading).
  • The Villa Ariadne, (1973), London: Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-17770-5.
  • The golden screen : fifty years at the films, (1989), London: Pavilion, ISBN 1-85145-342-3 (ed George Perry).
  • The Dilys Powell film reader, (1991), Manchester: Carcanet, ISBN 0-85635-912-2.

Sources

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