British film industry mourns Sir Sydney Samuelson

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British film industry mourns Sir Sydney Samuelson

With 50 years of experience in the industry, Sir Sydney was awarded a knighthood for services to the British Film Commission in 1995.

Credit: BAFTA
Credit: BAFTA

UK Jewish Film honorary life patron Sir Sydney Samuelson, who was also the government’s first British film commissioner, has died at the age of 97. 

With 50 years of experience in the industry, Sir Sydney was awarded a knighthood for services to the British Film Commission in 1995.

He began his career at 14, working in a cinema projection booth. During the Second World War he was a flight navigator for the RAF, later joining the film unit of the British Colonial Office as a trainee cameraman. He was part of the camera team recording the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey in 1953.

Alongside his wife Doris, he set up Samuelson Film Service in 1954. Known affectionately as ‘Sammies’, the company rented out equipment to film professionals and worked on 13 James Bond movies, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and Norman Jewison’s Fiddler On The Roof.

Sir Sydney became the first president of UK Jewish Film in 1997. He played a pivotal role in the history of BAFTA, serving as its chairman, vice-chair of film and founder trustee.

BAFTA tweeted: “We’re saddened by the news that Sir Sydney Samuelson – former BAFTA Chair, Fellow and Special Award recipient – has died. Sir Sydney was a dedicated ambassador for the screen industries, who helped nurture new talent and played a vital role in our history.”

UK Jewish Film tweeted: “Sir Sydney was the first real supporter of what was then the Brighton Jewish Film Festival in the first months of 1997. We benefitted enormously from Sydney’s vast experience as the first British Film Commissioner and a former Chairman of BAFTA. Sir Sydney always remained a loyal supporter who felt extremely proud of our growth and success over the years. We will miss Sydney deeply and send his family our wishes for ‘long life’ and strength in their sadness.”

Film producer David Puttnam said: “Sir Sydney’s contribution to our industry has been as long as it’s been remarkable. My deepest sympathies are with his sons, Marc, Peter and Jonathan.”

Film London and British Film Commission Chief Executive, Adrian Wootton OBE tweeted: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the first ever British Film Commissioner, Sir Sydney Samuelson CBE, without whom the British Film Commission would not exist. His life and career are part of the fabric of British film history, and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Sir Sydney was a marvellous personality. It was a privilege to know and work with him. Our thoughts and very best wishes are with his family at this time.”

He is survived by his three sons, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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