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Jane Arden
Born 29 October 1927(1927-10-29)
Twmpath Road,Pontypool, Wales
Died 20 December 1982 (aged 55)
North Yorkshire, England
Occupation Film director, actress. screenwriter, playwright, songwriter, poet

Jane Arden (29 October 1927 – 20 December 1982) was a Welsh-born film director, actor, screenwriter, playwright, songwriter, and poet.




Early career

Jane Arden (née Norah Patricia Morris) was born in Twnpath Road, Pontypool, Wales. She studied acting at RADA and began her career in the late 1940s on television and in the cinema. Arden appeared in a TV production of Romeo and Juliet in the late 1940s, and then went onto star in two British crime movies: Black Memory (1947) directed by Oswald Mitchell— which provided iconic South African-born Carry On actor Sid James with his first screen credit (billed as Sydney James)—and Richard M. Grey's A Gunman Has Escaped (1948). There are copies of both films in The National Film Archive but the copy of A Gunman Has Escaped is incomplete.

Writing and theatre

In the 1950s, after her first spell in America and following marriage (to the director Philip Saville) and children, Arden concentrated on writing for the stage and for television. Her stage play Conscience and Desire, and Dear Liz (1954) attracted interest, and her comedy TV drama Curtains For Harry (1955), starring Bobby Howes and Sydney Tafler (1916-79), was broadcast on 20 October 1955, making it one of the first programmes transmitted by the newly-established ITV network. The latter also featured future Carry On star Joan Sims, and Arden's co-writer on this piece was the American Richard Lester, who went on to become an internationally renowned film director who is still perhaps best remembered for his work with The Beatles on A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965).

From the late 1950s, Arden worked with some of the key figures of British theatre and cinema. For example, in 1958 her play The Party, an intense family drama set in Kilburn, was directed at London's New Theatre by Charles Laughton. It turned out to be Laughton's last appearance on the London stage and, in contrast, provided Albert Finney with his first role in the theatre. Her 1959 television drama The Thug provided a powerful early role for actor Alan Bates. In 1964, Arden appeared with Harold Pinter in a TV production of Jean-Paul Sartre's Huis Clos, directed by Phillip Saville.

Feminism, film and radical theatre

Arden's work became increasingly radical following her growing interest and involvement in feminism and the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s. This is particularly evident from 1965 onwards, starting with the TV drama The Logic Game, which she wrote and starred in. The Logic Game, which was directed by Philip Saville, also starred the distinguished British actor David de Keyser who worked alongside Arden again in the film Separation (1967). Arden, again, wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by her creative partner Jack Bond (born 1937). Separation, which was photographed in atmospheric black and white by Aubrey Dewar, also featured music by the chart-topping British group Procol Harum.

Arden and Bond had previously worked on a 1966 documentary Dali in New York, which mainly consists of the renowned surrealist artist Salvador Dali and Arden walking the streets of New York discussing Dali's work. This film was resurrected and shown at the 2007 Tate Gallery Dali exhibition.

Arden's television work in the mid-sixties included appearances in Philip Saville's Exit 19, The Interior Decorator by Jack Russell and the popular satirical programme That Was The Week That Was fronted by David Frost.

Arden's work in experimental theatre in the late 1960s and the 1970s coincided with her return to cinema as actor, writer and director (or co-director). The play Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (1969), starring Victor Spinetti, (who had worked with Richard Lester in both of his films featuring The Beatles), and Sheila Allen, played to packed houses for six weeks at London's Arts Lab. It was described by Arthur Marwick, in his mammoth study The Sixties as "perhaps the most important single production" [1] at the venue during that period. Also around this time Arden penned the drama The Illusionist.

In 1970, Arden formed the radical feminist theatre group Holocaust and then wrote a play called The Holocaust. This would later be adapted for the screen as The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). Arden directed the film and appeared in it uncredited; screenings at film festivals, including the 1972 London Film Festival, caused a considerable stir. The film depicts a woman's mental breakdown and rebirth in scenes at times violent and highly shocking; the writer and critic George Melly described it as "a most illuminating season in Hell", while the BBC Radio journalist David Will declared the film to be "a major breakthrough for the British cinema".

Throughout her life Arden's interest in other cultures and belief systems increasingly took the form of a personal spiritual quest. In the 1970s, she spent much time in ashrams in India and Morocco and in an August 1978 interview in the Guardian with the journalist Angela Neustatter she spoke of her openness to all ideas for personal evolution: "I believe in trying anything and everything. That's my advice to everyone: explore all the possibilities for mobilising your energy".

Following The Other Side of the Underneath, there were two further collaborations with Jack Bond in the 1970s: Vibration (1974), described by Geoff Brown and Robert Murphy in their book Film Directors in Britain and Ireland (BFI 2006) as "an exercise in meditation utilising experimental film and video techniques", and the futuristic Anti-Clock (1979), which featured Arden's songs on the soundtrack and starred Sebastian Saville. The latter opened the 1979 London Film Festival.

In 1978, Arden published the book You Don't Know What You Want, Do You?, and supported its publication with public readings and discussions, such as that at The King's Head Theatre in London on 1 October 1978. Although loosely defined as poetry the book is also a radical social and psychological manifesto which has been compared with R.D. Laing's Knots. By this time Arden had moved on from feminism to a view that all people needed to be set free from the tyranny of rationality.

Death and legacy

Arden took her own life at Hindlethwaite Hall in Coverdale, Yorkshire on 20 December 1982. She is buried in Darlington West Cemetery. She had two sons, Sebastian and Dominic. Sebastian runs Release the UK centre of expertise on drugs, the law and human rights. Dominic is the CEO of 3DD Entertainment a UK film distribution and production company.

Having been largely neglected by most chroniclers of Post-War British film and theatre, there is now renewed interest in Arden's work on stage and screen, although her films are, as yet, seldom seen and her books—poetry and plays—are currently out of print.

In July 2008, Arden was one of the topics discussed in the Conference of 1970s British Culture and Society held at the University of Portsmouth.

Jane Arden 2009

Major developments in Jane Arden's film legacy have occurred in 2009. The British Film Institute has restored and remastered the three major feature films Arden made with her creative associate Jack Bond: Separation (1967), The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) and Anti-Clock (1979). The films became available on DVD and Blu- ray in July 2009 and each disc contains many extras. Jack Bond was involved in the restoration and reissue processes, and the release of the films was accompanied by exhibition of the restored features at the National Film Theatre and The Cube Microplex in Bristol.

In view of the neglect of Arden's work by most critics and commentators on post-war British culture, and in particular British cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, the new availability of her work is likely to prompt revision of many texts and courses previously deemed to be accurate. The reavailability of The Other Side of the Underneath alone will mean that solo credits for British '70s feature film direction can no longer be inaccurately presented as an exclusively male domain.

Selected works

  • 1940s Romeo and Juliet (BBC TV) (actor)
  • 1947 Black Memory (film) (actor)
  • 1948 A Gunman Has Escaped (film) (actor)
  • 1954 Conscience and Desire, and Dear Liz (theatre) (playwright)
  • 1955 Curtains For Harry (ITV) (co-writer)
  • 1958 The Party (theatre) (playwright)
  • 1959 The Thug (ITV) (writer)
  • 1964 Huis Clos (BBC TV) (actor)
  • 1965 The Logic Game (BBC TV) (writer, actor)
  • 1965 The Interior Decorator (actor)
  • 1966 Exit 19 (a commentator)
  • 1966 Dali in New York (BBC TV) (interviewer)
  • 1968 Separation (film) (writer, actor)
  • 1968 The Illusionist (writer)
  • 1969 Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (theatre) (writer)
  • 1971 A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches (aka Holocaust) (theatre) (playwright)
  • 1972 The Other Side of the Underneath (1972 film) (writer, uncredited actor, director)
  • 1974 Vibration (film) (writer, co-director)
  • 1978 You Don't Know What You Want, Do You? (poetry) (writer)
  • 1979 Anti-Clock (film) (writer, composer, co-director)


  1. ^ Marwick, Arthur (1998). The Sixties. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 352. ISBN 0192881000.  


  • Film Directors in Britain and Ireland (BFI 2006) edited by Robert Murphy
  • Unknown Pleasures: Vertigo Magazine online August 2007 [1]
  • Arden and Dali Loiter in the Streets: Vertigo Magazine online [2]
  • Jane Arden, Jethro Tull and 1973: Vertigo Magazine online August 2008 [3]

External links


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