Jane Arden (director)

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Jane Arden
Jane Arden director.jpg
Born Norah Patricia Morris
(1927-10-29)29 October 1927
Pontypool, Monmouthshire, United Kingdom
Died 20 December 1982(1982-12-20) (aged 55)
North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actress, film director, playwright, poet, screenwriter and songwriter
Spouse(s) Philip Saville
Children 2

Jane Arden (29 October 1927 – 20 December 1982) was a Welsh film director, actress, screenwriter, playwright, songwriter, and poet.

Early life, education and early career[edit]

Arden was born Norah Patricia Morris at 47 Twmpath Road, Pontypool, Monmouthshire.[1]

She studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England, and began her career in the late 1940s on television and in the cinema.

She appeared in a television production of Romeo and Juliet in the late 1940s, and then starred in two British crime films: Black Memory (1947) directed by Oswald Mitchell – which provided South African-born actor Sid James with his first screen credit (billed as Sydney James) – and Richard M. Grey's A Gunman Has Escaped (1948). There are copies of both films in the BFI National Archive, but the copy of A Gunman Has Escaped is incomplete.

Writing and theatre[edit]

In the 1950s she married the director Philip Saville, and after a short spell in New York where she began writing, the couple settled in Hampstead and had two sons. Arden then wrote several plays and television scripts, some of which her husband directed.[2]

Her stage play Conscience and Desire, and Dear Liz (1954) attracted interest, and her comedy television drama Curtains For Harry (1955), starring Bobby Howes and Sydney Tafler, was transmitted on 20 October 1955 by the newly established ITV network. The latter featured the Carry On actress Joan Sims. Arden's co-writer on this piece was the American Richard Lester, who was then working as a television director.

Arden worked with some leading figures of British theatre and cinema in the late 1950s.

In 1958, her play The Party, an intense family drama set in Kilburn, was directed at London's New Theatre by Charles Laughton. It turned out to be Laughton's last appearance on the London stage, while it provided Albert Finney with his first theatre role.

Her television drama The Thug (1959) provided a powerful early role for actor Alan Bates.

In 1964, Arden appeared with Harold Pinter in a television production of Jean-Paul Sartre's Huis Clos, directed by Saville.

Feminism, film and radical theatre[edit]

Arden's work became increasingly radical following her growing interest and involvement in feminism and the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s. This is particularly evident from 1965 onwards, starting with the television drama The Logic Game, which she wrote and starred in. The Logic Game, which was directed by Saville, also starred the British actor David de Keyser who worked alongside Arden again in the film Separation (1967). Arden, again, wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by her creative partner Jack Bond (born 1937). Separation, which was photographed in atmospheric black and white by Aubrey Dewar, also featured music by the chart-topping British group Procol Harum.

Arden and Bond had previously worked on the documentary film Dalí in New York (1966), which mainly consists of the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and Arden walking the streets of New York City discussing Dalí's work. This film was resurrected and shown at the 2007 Tate Gallery Dalí exhibition.

Arden's television work in the mid-1960s included appearances in Saville's Exit 19, Jack's RUssell's The Interior Decorator, and the satirical programme That Was the Week That Was, hosted by David Frost.

Arden's work in experimental theatre in the late 1960s and the 1970s coincided with her return to cinema as an actor, writer and director (or co-director).

The play Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (1969), starring Victor Spinetti, and Sheila Allen, played to packed houses for six weeks at London's Arts Lab. It was described by Arthur Marwick, in his book The Sixties as "perhaps the most important single production"[3] at the venue during that period. Also around this time Arden wrote the drama The Illusionist.

In 1970, Arden formed the radical feminist theatre group Holocaust and then wrote the play A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches. The play would later be adapted for the screen as The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). Arden directed the film and appeared in it uncredited; screenings at film festivals, including the 1972 London Film Festival, caused a considerable stir. The film depicts a woman's mental breakdown and rebirth in scenes at times violent and highly shocking; the writer and critic George Melly described it as "a most illuminating season in Hell",[4] while the BBC Radio journalist David Will declared the film to be "a major breakthrough for the British cinema".[5][unreliable source?]

Throughout her life Arden's interest in other cultures and belief systems increasingly took the form of a personal spiritual quest.

Following The Other Side of the Underneath, there were two further collaborations with Jack Bond in the 1970s: Vibration (1974), described by Geoff Brown and Robert Murphy in their book Film Directors in Britain and Ireland (British Film Institute 2006) as "an exercise in meditation utilising experimental film and video techniques",[6] and the futuristic Anti-Clock (1979), which featured Arden's songs on the soundtrack and starred Sebastian Saville. The latter opened the 1979 London Film Festival.

In 1978, Arden published the book You Don't Know What You Want, Do You?, and supported its publication with public readings and discussions, such as that at The King's Head Theatre in London on 1 October 1978. Although loosely defined as poetry the book is also a radical social and psychological manifesto which has been compared with R.D. Laing's Knots. By this time, Arden had moved on from feminism to a view that all people needed to be set free from the tyranny of rationality.

Personal life[edit]

She had two sons with Philip Saville: Sebastian and Dominic. Sebastian runs Release the British centre of expertise on drugs, the law and human rights. Dominic is the chief executive officer of 3DD Entertainment, a British film distribution and production company.

Death and legacy[edit]

Arden took her own life at Hindlethwaite Hall in Coverdale, Yorkshire on 20 December 1982. She was initially buried in Darlington West Cemetery, but on 14 February 2011, her remains were exhumed and moved by her family to Highgate Cemetery in London.

In July 2008, Arden was one of the topics discussed in the Conference of 1970s British Culture and Society held at the University of Portsmouth.

In 2009, the British Film Institute restored the three major feature films Arden made with her creative associate Jack Bond: Separation (1967), The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) and Anti-Clock (1979). The films became available on DVD and Blu-ray in July 2009. Bond was involved in the restoration and reissue processes, and the release of the films was accompanied by exhibition of the restored features at the National Film Theatre and The Cube Microplex in Bristol. Her books – poetry and plays – remain out of print.

As a tribute to Arden, the experimental-music group Hwyl Nofio, fronted by Steve Parry from Pontypool, included the song "Anti-Clock" on their album Dark (2012).

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Jane Arden at babylonwales.blogspot.com.
  2. ^ "Arden, Jane (1927-82)". "Screen Online". 
  3. ^ Marwick, Arthur (1998). The Sixties. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 352. ISBN 0-19-288100-0. 
  4. ^ Vertigo Magazine: Unknown pleasures: By Sean Kaye-Smith. Retrieved August 2007.
  5. ^ CUBE archive.
  6. ^ Horizon Information Portal: Summary.


  • Film Directors in Britain and Ireland (BFI 2006) edited by Robert Murphy
  • Unknown Pleasures: Vertigo Magazine online August 2007 [1]
  • Arden and Dalí Loiter in the Streets: Vertigo Magazine online [2]
  • Jane Arden, Jethro Tull and 1973: Vertigo Magazine online August 2008 [3]

External links[edit]