Thank you for having me!

This blog post, the second in our series, summarises the University of Manchester’s ongoing research project on film critic Caroline Lejeune, with reference to the contents of her archive held at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library.

The second instalment in our series focused on discovering the treasures of the C.A. Lejeune archive by ECR fellow Dr John D. Ayres.

Black and white image of a group of people in academic dress. C.A. Lejeune standing at the front left.
C.A. Lejeune [front far left] receiving Honourary Doctorate from the University of Durham, 7th July 1961

Born in Manchester, attending the University of Manchester and finding her first journalistic work at the Manchester Guardian, journalist and film critic C. A. Lejeune’s archive has found its rightful place in the holdings of the John Rylands Research Institute and Library. She spent over 30 years as the film critic for the Observer newspaper, becoming one of the first writers in her field to be taken seriously for the content of her analysis rather than just the forcefulness of her opinion. Her archive is being explored as part of the University of Manchester research project ‘Revisiting women’s creative labour in the UK film industry’.

A cave of wonders?

A handwritten note in blue ink from S. N. Gupta to C. A. Lejeune.
Letter from S. N. Gupta to C. A. Lejeune excerpt, 4th April 1953

The archives of both Caroline A. Lejeune and her son, writer Anthony Lejeune, were acquired in mid-2021 by the John Rylands Research Institute and Library. They were purchased from the latter’s estate with aid from the Friends of the National Libraries, an organisation awarding grants to regional, specialist and national libraries.

The Caroline Lejeune materials are split into two sequences of items, with Sequence I manifested in twenty-eight boxes covering the period from the mid-1940s to 1960, the year she retired from writing for the Observer newspaper, and Sequence II covering the period from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. I had responsibility for establishing the contents of Sequence I, while project leader Dr Victoria Lowe (University of Manchester) did the same for Sequence II.

Exploration of the first sequence has shown that the materials therein are made up of a multiplicity of items. These include the undated final proofs of Lejeune’s reviews for the Observer, The Sketch and Britain To-day, the undated final proofs of her extended topic pieces for the Observer, handwritten review notes, typed review notes, cuttings from newspapers The Times, The Sunday Times, The Evening News and the Daily Mail, cuttings from trade publication To-Days Cinema and the New Yorker and Time magazines, reader and industry correspondence, production company communiques and pressbooks.

‘A Sixpenny Mind…’

Sheet of paper with handwritten notes by Lejeune for a Q&A with M. Mathieson
Handwritten notes excerpt for a Q&A conducted with Muir Mathieson

The archive’s first sequence shows evidence of Lejeune’s focus on subjects of particular interest to her as one of the country’s foremost thinkers on cinema at the time. These include the famed musical director and conductor Muir Mathieson, who worked on projects as various as Alexander Korda’s The Four Feathers (1939), Laurence’s Olivier’s Hamlet (1948) and Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo (1958). The collection contains hand-typed notes for a profile she wrote on Mathieson in 1953 (presumably for publication in the Observer), which appears to be based on hand-written notes from a question-and-answer session that she conducted with the man himself.  

Lejeune opens the piece by asserting that, ‘Muir Mathieson, the musical director who has done more for British film music than any other man in these islands, attributes his success to the fact that he has a “sixpenny mind”’. The subsequent writing covers biographical information relating to the early influence of his music-loving grandfather David, the role played by noted viola player William Primrose in Mathieson ending up at the Royal College of Music and his first work in film for Alexander Korda on The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), among other topics.  

These notes and pieces of writing in her archive show a focus from Lejeune on figures who might be overlooked in examination of cinema, with Oscar-winning screenwriter T.E.B. Clarke, Irish actor Kieron Moore, child prodigies, producer Gabriel Pascal, stand-in performers and Mathieson himself just some of the myriad subjects that she wrote both short and extended pieces on. These bear some resemblance to early reflective columns she wrote for the Manchester Guardian, and this despite the decline of these kinds of writings after her move to the Observer.  

Following on from the C.A. Lejeune panel at the recent Northumbria University academic conference ‘Rethinking Histories of Popular British Film and Television’, I have written an article expanding on the holdings of the C.A. Lejeune Archive Sequence I, which will be forthcoming in the Journal of British Cinema & Television (2024). Project leader Victoria Lowe’s research on the Lejeune archival holdings at the Rylands continues and will appear in future blog posts.

John Ayres

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