Life and work
Born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, the descendant of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, Maschwitz was educated at Arden House preparatory school, Henley in Arden, Repton School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
As a lyricist, Maschwitz wrote the screenplays of several successful films in the 1930s and 1940s, but is perhaps best remembered for his lyrics to 1940s popular songs such as "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" (music by Manning Sherwin and Jack Strachey) and "These Foolish Things" (music by Jack Strachey). Maschwitz was romantically linked to the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong while working in Hollywood, and the lyrics of "These Foolish Things" are evocative of his longing for her after they parted and he returned to England.
Maschwitz started his stage acting career in the early 1920s, playing Vittoria in the first successful modern production of Webster's The White Devil (Marlowe Society, Cambridge ADC Theatre, 1920). He joined the BBC in 1926. His first radio show was In Town Tonight. While at the BBC he wrote a radio operetta Good Night Vienna with the popular song of the same title. In 1932 it was adapted as a film starring Anna Neagle.
From August 1939, he was a postal censor in Liverpool. From November 1939, he served with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)/MI-6 D Section (sabotage). In 1940, he briefly worked to establish a resistance organization in Beverley, Yorkshire, and for Army Welfare in London before being assigned to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). In 1940 he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps. He was then sent to New York City to work for the British Security Coordination (BSC). In 1942, he returned to London, briefly supervising radio programmes for the troops. He then transferred to the Political Warfare Executive (PWE). He ended the war as chief broadcasting officer with the 21st Army Group, leaving the army as a Lieutenant-Colonel. Maschwitz, along with Major John Macmillan, (members of "No 1 Field Broadcasting Unit") was responsible for taking over the "Reichssender Hamburg" on May 3, 1945. (See p. 50 "Die Briten in Hamburg", Ahrens, 2011, Döllin und Galitz Verlag).
In 1958, near the start of the BBC/ITV ratings wars, he rejoined the BBC as Head of Television Light Entertainment. About the job he said, "I don't think the BBC is a cultural organisation. We've got to please the people. The job of a man putting on a show is to get an audience." By 1962, he was serving as assistant to the BBC's Controller of Programmes, and it was in this capacity that he requested the recently formed BBC Survey Group to examine possible ideas for a science fiction drama series for children; the results of the study led to the creation of Doctor Who the next year.
Maschwitz left to join the rival ITV in 1963.
During the course of his varied entertainment career, Maschwitz also adapted French comedies such as Thirteen For Dinner; wrote the book and lyrics for numerous musicals, amongst them Balalaika, Summer Song, which used the music of Dvorak, Happy Holiday (based on Arnold Ridley's play The Ghost Train), and Zip Goes a Million, which was written specially for George Formby; and he was the creator of the radio series Café Collette. He also edited the Radio Times, and even turned his hand to the detective novel: Death at Broadcasting House, co-written with Val Gielgud and published in 1931, revolves around a radio play disrupted by the murder of one of the cast.
Maschwitz was married twice: first to Hermione Gingold, who was granted a divorce in 1945, and then immediately to Phyllis Gordon, who remained his wife until his death.
His autobiography, No Chip On My Shoulder, was published by Herbert Jenkins in 1957.
He was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1936.
- Eric Maschwitz at the Internet Movie Database
- The Guide to Musical Theatre Musicals of Eric Maschwitz