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  Kenneth Cooper Annakin (1914–2009), by unknown photographer, c.1959 Kenneth Cooper Annakin (1914–2009), by unknown photographer, c.1959
Annakin, Kenneth Cooper [Ken] (1914–2009), film director, was born on 10 August 1914 in Grovehill Road, Beverley, Yorkshire, the only child of Edward Cooper Annakin (1882/3–1941), government surveyor and valuer, and his wife, Jane Hannah, née Gains (1885–1930), daughter of a farmer. He was educated at Beverley Grammar School, leaving at sixteen. He spent four years as an income tax clerk in Hull and also attended a drama course at Hull University. After winning £100 on the Derby, he travelled abroad doing a series of odd jobs in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. His resourcefulness and adaptability were also in evidence after he settled in London, including working for a travelling show.

In 1939 Annakin joined the Soho Auxiliary Fire Service, then the RAF as a flight mechanic, teaming up with the playwright Ron Delderfield to direct amateur pantomimes. Injured in a bomb blast in Liverpool, he was invalided out of the RAF. He was recruited by the Ministry of Information and attached to Sydney Box's Verity Films, where he learned the craft of film-making through assisting various experienced directors, including Carol Reed, as a camera operator. He directed several short instructional films before writing and directing London 1942 (1943), an effective morale-boosting film about the blitz. He also made more extended documentaries for the British Council including We of the West Riding (1946), which revealed his eye for evocative compositions. Annakin received advice from the Czech documentarist Jiří Weiss, who introduced him to a Nazi refugee, Blanka Kovanda (b. 1912/13), a former secretary in the Austrian embassy in Prague. She was the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Karl Müller, an Austrian army officer, and the former wife of Oldřich Kovanka. They had one daughter, Jane (b. 1943), and married on 4 August 1944.

In 1946 Box, now head of Gainsborough Pictures, hired Annakin to direct feature films, surrounding his protégé with experienced crew from whom he learned quickly, beginning with Holiday Camp (1947), which combined comedy and melodrama with documentary realism, and was shot on location at the Butlin's camp in Filey. Its stars, the quintessentially ordinary Huggett family, proved so popular that Annakin directed three further comedies about them. He showed he could handle more sophisticated comedy with Miranda (1948), starring Glynis Johns as an amorous mermaid, topical thrillers (Broken Journey, 1948), and melodrama, including ‘The Colonel's Lady’, an episode of Quartet (1948), an adaptation of Somerset Maugham short stories.

On loan at Disney, Annakin made The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953), Third Man on the Mountain (1959), and Swiss Family Robinson (1960), the last a huge hit. Annakin came to appreciate the effectiveness of the Disney system of total pre-planning for larger, more complex films. Concurrently he continued to work for Rank, alternating action adventures in exotic settings—including The Planter's Wife (1952, shot in Malaya), The Seekers (1954, shot in New Zealand) and Nor the Moon by Night (1958, shot in Africa)—with light comedy including Hotel Sahara (1951), starring Peter Ustinov, and three films scripted by Jack Davies: Very Important Person (1961), Crooks Anonymous (1962), and The Fast Lady (1962). His independent adaptation of a Graham Greene short story, Across the Bridge (1957), though unsuccessful commercially, was critically acclaimed and remained his favourite film. Meanwhile his first marriage had ended in divorce. He met his second wife, Pauline Carter, while filming in South Africa in 1958. They married in 1960 and adopted one daughter.

Ambitious for more prestigious productions, Annakin worked for Darryl F. Zanuck and Twentieth Century Fox directing sections of the war epic The Longest Day (1962), and Battle of the Bulge (1965) for Warner Bros. He raised the pre-production finance and co-scripted (with Davies) Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), based on the 1910 London to Paris air race. Its combination of light comedy and sweeping action sequences showed Annakin at the height of his powers, and he received an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. It was a huge hit, unlike Monte Carlo or Bust! (1969), the rather tepid follow-up. After that failure Annakin became a director-for-hire, taking on various film projects including The Call of the Wild (1972), and television productions, notably Harold Robbins' The Pirate (1978). The most successful of his later films was The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1988), which he wrote, produced, and directed. He worked on Genghis Khan in 1988, but its producer, Enzo Rispoli, went bankrupt and the film remained unreleased.

Annakin was a tough-minded and determined director who relished location work, often in difficult conditions, with large casts and crew. He worked well with even the most temperamental actors, respecting their creative input. He was proud of his ‘straightforward “on the nose” approach’ to direction (Annakin, 20), believing the story was sovereign and the director its servant, qualities that enabled him to achieve considerable success on both sides of the Atlantic.

Annakin published his autobiography, So You Wanna Be a Director?—described by one obituarist as ‘engagingly egocentric’ (The Guardian, 25 April 2009)—in 2001. He died from a heart attack and stroke on 22 April 2009 at his home in Beverly Hills, where he had lived since 1978. A memorial service was held at Westwood Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Boulevard. Jane, the daughter of his first marriage, predeceased him in 1998, but he was survived by his wife, Pauline, and their adopted daughter, Deborah. He had been made an OBE in 2002 and received a posthumous honorary doctorate from Hull University in May 2009.

Andrew H. Spicer


L. Frewin, ‘The tramp makes good’, 1949?, BFI, microfiche ref. 2 8449/DEE · The Times (2 Aug 1969); (25 April 2009) · M. Box, Odd woman out: an autobiography (1974) · National Film Theatre programme, July 1998 · K. Annakin, So you wanna be a director? (2001) · S. Box, The lion that lost its way (2005) · A. Spicer, Sydney Box (2006) · A. Simon, ‘Ken Annakin gets his day’, Venice Magazine (May 2006) · M. Bulter, ‘Ken Annakin’, Directors in British and Irish cinema, ed. R. Murphy (2006) · B. McFarlane, An autobiography of British cinema (1997) · B. McFarlane, The encyclopedia of British film, 3rd edn (2008) · Los Angeles Times (22 April 2009) · New York Times (24 April 2009) · The Guardian (25 April 2009) · The Independent (25 April 2009) · Glasgow Herald (25 April 2009) · Daily Telegraph (27 April 2009) · Variety (27 April 2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert. [1944]





BFI NFTVA, news footage · BFI NFTVA, performance footage




S. Harper and V. Porter, interview with Ken Annakin, 20 July 1998 · A. Spicer, interview with Ken Annakin, 15 May 2001


photographs, 1955–68, PA Images, London · photograph, 1957, Rex Features, London · photographs, 1957–2003, Getty Images, London · photograph, c.1959, priv. coll. [see illus.] · E. Kocian, group portrait, photograph, 1974 (with David Niven), Camera Press, London · J. Watson, group portrait, photograph, 1984 (with wife Pauline), Camera Press, London