History of Arthur Dent and the Family Businesses.
The films have interesting content on social history: The Adelphi film catalogue comprises over 40 ‘lost’ British films, stored for decades in a London suburban garage in the Dent family home, their existence only known to film enthusiasts.
Adelphi and its production company Advance, were major producers and distributors of British films throughout the 1940s and 1950s. This collection represents a classic period of British film-making, and features practically every British star of the period. The cast list is a ‘whose-who’ of British acting and comedy talent – Dennis Price, Prunella Scales, Ronnie Corbett, Stanley Unwin, Thora Hird, Diana Dors, James Mason, Max Bygraves, the Goons, Bill Kerr, Fred Emney, Cardew Robinson, Alfred Marks, Ted Ray, Wilson Kepple and Betty, Dora Bryan, Tommy Trinder, Brian Rix, Joan Hickson, Sidney James, John Gregson, David Tomlinson, Joan Sims, and many more. Many ‘Carry On’ stars and writers started their careers with Adelphi.
Arthur Dent in 1926
The films are highly entertaining and also provide insight into social history, including sport and corruption in ‘The Great Game’ the position of women and the problems of unwanted pregnancy in ‘The Crowded Day’; an indictment of class divisions and snobbery in ‘High Jinks in Society’; the stigma of prison in ‘Father and Son’ to name but a few.
Arthur Dent and Googie Withers
Adelphi Films is a family business established in 1939 and managed by Arthur Dent and his sons Stanley – Business Manger – and David – Producer. A third son, Harry, was killed during WW2.
Arthur Dent was known throughout the film industry from the ‘teens’ of the 20th Century until his death in 1956. He was a hugely popular and charismatic figure, universally respected for his astute business ability. He was a generous benefactor to the film and the Jewish communities, and a devoted family man.
Arthur Dent and Diana Dors
Arthur was born in 1888, the son of poor immigrants in London’s East End. He became a travelling peddler and later an actor in a travelling theatre stock company. From there it was a short step to the newly booming film industry.
In 1914 he became the Scottish salesman for Famous Players-Lasky – later Paramount Pictures. (He was unfit for active service during WW1) Paramount paid commission only, but Arthur was so successful that Paramount wanted to put him on a salary – so he decided to move on.
He set up a distribution company in Glasgow called Waverely Films. During this time he met and worked with a local solicitor and cinema owner called John Maxwell, who went on to produce some of Alfred Hitchcock’s early films. In 1924, John Maxwell acquired Wardour Films in London and he persuaded Arthur to move to London with his family to manage it. Wardour Films expanded to become the Associated British Picture Corporation and by 1937 Arthur was on the Board of the ABPC as Sales Director – with John Maxwell as Chair of the Board.
Arthur left ABPC in 1940 to become Sam Goldwyn’s UK representative. He established Advance Films in 1946.when his two remaining sons returned from the war. Shortly afterwards, production began in earnest. Adelphi Films, founded in 1939, was acquired by the Dents in 1949 to be the family run distribution company. Advance Films was eventually subsumed into Adelphi. The Dents invested in and distributed the productions of a number of small film companies, many of which were absorbed into the Dents’ family businesses.
The Dents’ companies produced and distributed a fascinating, diverse variety of British films throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In retrospect, their wide output provides a fantastic snapshot of a particularly rich period in British film-making, and features many well-known British stars of the era – some of whom were captured on celluloid here at the very beginnings of their careers. Adelphi also distributed other major productions including ‘Fire Over England’ with Lawrence Olivier, Vivian Leigh and Flora Robson.
Portrait of Arthur Dent
Adelphi was operating in post war Britain – a difficult time for the British film industry. Arthur Dent was a staunch advocate and lobbyist on behalf of independent film production, and sometimes this caused friction with the powerful exhibition chains that dominated the British cinema industry of the 1950s. His death in 1956 brought the first chapter of the Adelphi story to a close. Although Adelphi’s days as a production company had come to an end, the company remained a going concern through subsequent decades under the careful guidance of David and Stanley Dent.
Adelphi is now managed by Arthur Dent’s granddaughter, and the company retains rights and ownership of the collection. Adelphi’s original film materials are now safely preserved at the BFI National Archive.