JENNINGS, Frank Humphrey Sinkler

1907 - 1950

Humphrey Jennings

Born at ‘The Gazebo’, Walberswick, Suffolk on 19 August 1907, elder of the two sons of Frank Jennings (1877–1949), an architect, and of his wife, Mildred Jessie née Hall (1881–1955) [Hall q.v.], an amateur painter, who married in 1906. In 1916 Jennings entered Perse School, Cambridge, when the classicist Dr William Henry Denham Rouse (1863-1950) was headmaster and Caldwell Cook (1885-1939), author of 'The Play Way', was a teacher of English and drama. Jennings excelled both at work and at games and showed promise as an actor, set designer, and poet. In 1926 he won a scholarship from Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read for the English tripos. He painted a great deal, designed sets for many theatrical productions, including the first British performances of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale and Honneger's King David and, together with fellow undergraduates Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) and William Empson (1906-1984), founded and wrote for 'Experiment', a student magazine. He married on 19 October 1929, Cicely Mary W R, daughter of Richard Synge Cooper, a civil engineer. Shortage of money caused him to take short-term employment, as a schoolteacher in Salisbury, as a textile designer in Paris and as a set designer at the Festival Theatre in Cambridge. Finally, in 1934 he joined the General Post Office film unit, later renamed the Crown Film Unit, which gave him training as an editor and director. For a short period he became a leading figure of the British surrealist movement and with others, organized the famous International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936 in which his collage 'Minotaur', an unflattering portrait of Lord Kitchener, was one of the notable exhibits. One of his principal publications for Faber and Faber was 'May the Twelfth: Mass-Observation Day Surveys' 1937, a collage account of George VI's coronation. Jennings's first distinctive film, 'Spare Time' (1939) marked Jennings's full-time return to the General Post Office film unit, where he remained until after the Second World War during which time his works included 'Listen to Britain' (1942), 'Fires were Started' (1943), and 'A Diary for Timothy' (1945) and after the war 'A Defeated People' (1945), 'The Cumberland Story' (1947), 'The Dim Little Island '(1949), and 'Family Portrait' (1950). He continued to work tirelessly at accumulating texts on science and industry for Pandemonium and completed dozens of paintings. His main post-war employer was Wessex Films and in 1982 held an exhibition of paintings and films at London's Riverside Studios. Jennings was appointed an OBE in 1946, for contributions to sustaining morale at home and for publicising the British cause abroad. He died on the Greek island of Poros, after falling from a cliff while scouting locations for a film about health services in Europe, on 24 September 1950 and buried in the Protestant cemetery in Athens. His wife Cecily who was born on 25 April 1908, died at St Pancras, London in 1975.




Works by This Painter