Arthur B. Woods

Arthur Bickerstaffe Woods (17 August 1904 – 8 February 1944) was an English film director with 27 credits between 1933 and 1940. Woods' films were mainly quota quickies but were diverse in style, from light comedy and musicals to dark crime thrillers. His most acclaimed film is 1938's They Drive by Night. By the end of the 1930s Woods was gaining a reputation as one of Britain's most promising and versatile young directors, but put his career on hold to volunteer for war service in the Royal Air Force, the only British film director to do so. He was killed while on active service in February 1944, leaving his potential largely unfulfilled.

Arthur B. Woods
Born(1904-08-17)17 August 1904
Liverpool, England
Died8 February 1944(1944-02-08) (aged 39)
Emsworth, Hampshire, England
Cause of deathMid-air collision
OccupationFilm director
Years active1933–1940

Early life

Born into a wealthy shipping family in Liverpool, Woods was educated at the exclusive Downside School in Somerset before enrolling to study medicine at Christ's College, Cambridge at the behest of his father. Before completing his studies however, he dropped out to join a travelling repertory company. Aged 22, he obtained employment with a documentary film unit and gained experience over the following few years.[1] In 1929 he picked up his only screen acting credit in the film Lost Patrol. On 27 August 1932 at the Brooklands School of Flying he was awarded the Royal Aero Club aviator certificate #10735.[2]

Directing career

In 1933, Woods joined British International Pictures, becoming the company's youngest director. His first solo assignment On Secret Service was well received. This was a thriller, but Woods spent the next four years making comedies and musical films (including three with popular singer Keith Falkner which represented Falkner's entire screen output) before starting also to take on crime films, starting with The Dark Stairway, made in 1937 and released in early 1938. Many of his films involved collaborations with producer Irving Asher, cinematographer Basil Emmott and screenwriter Brock Williams, while another frequent association was with actress Chili Bouchier. As was the case with many non-prestige British films of the 1930s, little attention or care was given to Woods' films after their original cinema run, and most of his films from the mid-1930s are now considered lost.

In 1938 Woods returned to the thriller genre with They Drive by Night. This was still a quota quickie, but exceptionally dark and bleak in tone and execution. They Drive by Night has survived, and later assessments rate it very highly. Paul Moody of the British Film Institute summarises the film as: "(London) is presented as the site of all that is wrong with society – a place where a convict is the closest one can get to a hero, where a young girl can be murdered in her own home, and where a pillar of the community is actually a murderer."[3] Time Out reviewer Robert Murphy wrote: "The fusion of quirky British realism and slick Hollywood melodramatics produced a real gem. Woods...takes the workmanlike story of a petty criminal...and invests it with an atmosphere of unrelenting wind, rain and gloom which makes the average American film noir look bright and breezy by comparison."[4]

Woods' reputation was further enhanced by the 1939 spy drama Q Planes (co-directed with Tim Whelan) and his final film Busman's Honeymoon, a Dorothy L. Sayers adaptation.[1]

World War II

Woods, already a skilled pilot, joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1939 as a Navigator. He was involved in the Battle of Britain later that year, and in 1942 was awarded the Air Force Cross. On 8 February 1944, Flight Lieutenant Woods was killed in a mid-air collision over the Hampshire coast, aged 39. Woods and his pilot Norwegian Jan Otto Bugge were flying a de Havilland Mosquito night fighter when it collided with a Vickers Wellington and crashed at Emsworth, killing them both.[5]

Filmography (director)

♦ These films are confirmed by the British Film Institute as currently missing and believed lost.[6]


  1. "Liverpool on Film" Archived 5 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine Parkinson, David. Film in Focus, 11 November 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2010
  2. Royal Aero Club index card for Aviators Certificate 10735
  3. They Drive by Night Moody, Paul. BFI Screen Online Retrieved 14 August 2010
  4. Murphy, Robert. Time Out Film Guide, Penguin Books London, 1989, p.596 ISBN 0-14-012700-3
  5. Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
  6. Missing Believed Lost Article Archive
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