Jack Cardiff was born early in the First World War to parents who happened to be working in Great Yarmouth as music hall entertainers. The house where he was born was perilously close to where a Zeppelin air ship dropped bombs on the town in the first fatal air raid on Britain on 19th January 1915.
Cardiff followed his parents as an actor, both in music hall and in silent films. At the age of 15 years he began work as a camera assistant, a clapper board boy and a runner for British International Pictures. Some of these films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
By 1935, Cardiff had graduated to be a camera operator and occasional cinematographer working mostly for London Films. He was the first man to shoot a feature length film in Technicolor in Britain. This was The Wings of the Morning in 1937. During the Second World War he was employed as cinematographer on the Public Information Films, most notably on India.
Powell and Pressburger hired him as second unit cameraman on their famous wartime film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, in 1943. Cardiff’s talents clearly impressed them as they made him cinematographer for their first Technicolor film made in Britain. This was A Matter of Life and Death made in 1946. Their collaboration continued with Black Narcissus in 1947, which won him an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The success of the film, The Red Shoes, made in 1948 displayed Jack Cardiff’s talents to a wide audience and his services were in high demand.
The arcane world of early film production was much more of a craft during the early days of film making, as cameras and film stock were unforgiving and much less automated than today. Scenes had to be lit very precisely by powerful spotlights with constant readings of the light meter. Movement had to be continuously altered by focusing the camera lens. Clearly Jack Cardiff became a master of this science in a very competitive field.
Cardiff went on to direct films and had his greatest success with his 1960 adaption of D. H. Lawrence’s book, Sons and Lovers, which was a critical and financial success earning seven Oscar nominations and he won a Golden Globe for Best Director.
He worked with many famous film directors such as Hitchcock, John Houston, King Vidor and Lawrence Olivier and became friends with many stars of the cinema producing brilliant photographs of them, including Sophie Loren and Audrey Hepburn. Jack Cardiff died in Ely aged 94 years in 2009.
The blue plaque was unveiled in combination with the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival Committee, who arranged the showing of some of Cardiff’s films at St. George’s Theatre.
Jack Cardiff’s awards.