Born at 24 Chester Road, Kidderminster, along with his twin Barbara, the son of Owen Dyke Hamer, a bank clerk, and his wife, Annie Grace Brickell. Hamer was educated at Rossall School, an independent school for boys near the town of Fleetwood in Lancashire, and won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge but was sent down (expelled), and began his career in 1934 as a cutting room assistant and from 1935 worked as a film editor involved with such films as Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939) co-produced by Charles Laughton. At the end of the 1930s, he worked on documentaries for the GPO Film Unit.
When his boss at the GPO, Alberto Cavalcanti, moved to Ealing Studios, Hamer was invited to join him there. He gained some experience as a director by substituting for colleagues and contributed the 'haunted mirror' sequence to Dead of Night (1945). He followed this with the three Ealing films under his own name for which he is best remembered: Pink String and Sealing Wax (1946), It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), both featuring Googie Withers, and the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), with Dennis Price and Alec Guinness.
Hamer was an alcoholic, who by the time of his last film as director, School for Scoundrels (1960) was "often battling terrifying DT hallucinations" (i.e. alcohol withdrawal symptoms, occurring only in patients with a history of alcoholism). BFI Screenonline writes that Hamer was "a recovering alcoholic" and that "he fell off the wagon during production [of School For Scoundrels], was sacked on the spot ... and would never work in the industry again." Hamer was also homosexual in an era when it was illegal in the UK. He died of pneumonia at the age of 52 at St Thomas's Hospital in London, and is buried at Llandegley.
- Murphy, Robert. "Hamer, Robert James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40384. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Ephraim Katz The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1998, London: Macmillan, p585
- "Hamer, Robert (1911-63)", BFI screenonline website
- Kidderminster Civic Society Newsletter Another Famous Son of Kidderminster February 2011 p1 suggests that he was suspended for homosexual activities but did eventually graduate
- Brian McFarlane The Encyclopedia of British Film, 2003, London: BFI/Methuen, p281-82
- John Patterson "There's more to Robert Hamer than Kind Hearts And Coronets", The Guardian, 19 October 2012
- David Thomson The New Biographical Dictionary of Cinema, 2002, London: Little, Brown, p.367