Few movie critics can boast that they have been employed to choose winners on the races earlier than doing likewise for films, however Derek Malcolm, who has died aged 91, was the Guardian’s racing correspondent earlier than he turned its longest-serving movie critic, between 1971 and 1997, following this with a stint on the London Night Commonplace from 2003 till 2015.
He put his expertise as a critic to good use when he turned director of the British Movie Institute’s London movie pageant for 3 decisive years within the mid-Eighties, making this a livelier, extra inclusive occasion, helped by such novelties as a shock movie, and screenings exterior London.
Derek outlined himself as a reviewer slightly than a critic, having began at a time when extra judgmental figures have been leaving the sector. Amongst many selection anecdotes, he recalled that certainly one of his predecessors on the Guardian, Richard Roud, was fired for dismissing The Sound of Music in a one-word overview: “No”.
But when Derek was extra inclined to steadiness unfavorable with constructive evaluation – his even-handedness would irk some cinephiles – he additionally had notable enthusiasms. One in all these was Indian cinema, particularly the motion often known as Parallel cinema within the 70s and 80s, headed by such administrators as Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ketan Mehta and Mani Kaul.
Serving on the Fipresci jury at Cannes in 2007, when the important prize was awarded to the austere Romanian movie 4 Months, 3 Weeks and a couple of Days, Derek lamented the absence of any movies from India. Usually broadminded, he had co-authored Bollywood, a guide on standard Indian cinema, in 2002, however was thwarted in plans for a significant Indian retrospective on the BFI by the shortage of accessible prints from an business with a notoriously scant regard for its historical past.
The many years of Derek’s tenure on the Guardian noticed main shifts within the movie enterprise, of which crucial was in all probability the arrival of dwelling video within the early 80s. In Britain, this was accompanied by an outbreak of ethical outrage, largely directed in opposition to low-budget horror movies with provocative titles, collectively dubbed “video nasties”.
As the concept that these may irrevocably injury kids gained traction, particularly amongst Conservative MPs and campaigners comparable to Mary Whitehouse, Derek discovered himself testifying in court docket on behalf of the film titled Nightmares in a Broken Mind.
When he described it as “not a basic, however well-executed”, he may scarcely consider the choose’s response: “So was the German invasion of Poland.” Such was the hysteria that accompanied the arrival of video, which might result in a tightening of Britain’s draconian movie censorship. However Derek had many alternatives to defend difficult movies of vastly higher integrity, together with Ken Russell’s The Devils throughout its protracted battle to be seen as initially supposed.
Derek’s personal youth was not untouched by violence and controversy, albeit of a distinctly English selection, as revealed in his 2003 memoir Household Secrets and techniques. He was born in London, the one youngster of aged mother and father, Dorothy (nee Taylor) and Douglas Malcolm. His father belonged to a rich Scottish household and had been an officer with the Royal Artillery. Fifteen years earlier than the arrival of younger Derek, Lieutenant Malcolm had shot his spouse’s lover, earlier than turning into the primary man in British authorized historical past to be acquitted on grounds of justifiable murder. Regardless of the inevitable scandal, Dorothy and Douglas remained married, though residing eccentric and largely separate impoverished lives in Bexhill, East Sussex.
Derek found the scandal as a schoolboy, when he discovered a guide about well-known authorized circumstances in his father’s research with a chapter ripped out. Deeply embarrassed, his father felt he needed to confess. “He informed me he had one thing to inform me, and he dreaded it. I simply stated I knew, fairly understood, would have achieved the identical myself.” Derek had obeyed his father’s request and never talked about it to his mom, so regretted by no means listening to her facet of the affair.
When younger, his mom had been a advantageous singer and occasional performer, who had impressed Arturo Toscanini, and she or he continued to have many admirers, certainly one of whom would later assist Derek enter Merton School, Oxford, the place he studied historical past.
Earlier than that, he had attended Eton, the place the scandal was by no means talked about. Writing his memoir, reluctantly, on the prompting of his second spouse, the journalist and historian Sarah Gristwood, whom he married in 1994, was an try to beat the lurid prejudice of the unique reporting, “portraying my mom as an fool, with this dastardly Jewish brute [her lover] pursuing her, whereas my father was a hero, a gentleman, for shielding her honour.”
The memoir data Douglas’s kindness, despite the fact that Derek had realized shortly after his loss of life that the Italian ambassador to Britain was his organic father. There have been additionally happier recollections, one maybe foreshadowing the route that led to movie criticism. In 1947, Dorothy took her teenage son to see Laurel and Hardy acting on stage on the London Coliseum.
Derek’s account of assembly them after the present reveals a shrewd economic system and sensitivity, particularly describing their enterprise with a bun. “Hardy took a bun from the tray, positioned it on his chair and sat on it. It was, after all, squashed flat. I’m fairly positive he did it to amuse me. However you by no means knew with Hardy, who most popular taking part in golf to working. Laurel seemed horrified, particularly when Hardy supplied the flat bun to me. He was the grasp of most conditions and the pair’s administrators invariably deferred to him on set.”
Amongst different roles earlier than journalism, Derek was an beginner nationwide hunt jockey and spent three years performing in provincial rep. He arrived on the Guardian in 1962, through the Every day Sketch and the Gloucestershire Echo, and recalled that “transferring from subediting to horse racing after which to the cinema could appear an odd progress. However in these days it was not so peculiar. The Guardian had a practice of its writers being all-rounders.”
Regardless of being on the centre of Britain’s movie tradition for 50 years, and taking part in vital roles in worldwide critics’ associations, Derek remained exceptionally approachable, modest and enthusiastic. At a birthday gathering final yr, he plied me with suggestions of latest movies to see (in addition to keep away from).
Talking lately to his successor, the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, he defined that he had retired as a result of he “couldn’t stand the mediocre movies”, including, with attribute self-deprecation: “It was the key of my lack of success.” But for numerous film-makers, and particularly for distributors of overseas and unbiased movies, Derek was the epitome of a trusted supporter and information.
He’s survived by Sarah, and by a daughter, Jackie, from his first marriage, to Barbara Ibbott, which resulted in divorce in 1966.