Dave Berry, Wales’ finest

It is sad indeed to have the report the sudden death of Dave Berry. Dave was the great champion of Welsh cinema. His monumental Wales and Cinema: The First Hundred Years (1994) is as fine a national film history as exists, and it brought him much acclaim and awards. It is brimful of intelligent enthusiasm, a clear and disciplined work (for all its great size) which charts a very particular film history from the travelling showmen of the 1890s, through the key films (How Green Was My Valley, The Proud Valley, Only Two Can Play) and actors (Ivor Novello, Stanley Baker, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins) to the rise of Welsh television in the 1980s and the great boost it gave to Welsh filmmaking.

Dave was knowledgeable across all points of Welsh film history, but his great enthusiasm was for the early years. The lives of pioneers such as Arthur Cheetham, William Haggar and John Codman thrilled him and indeed it was very much due to his passionate engagement that such lives were rescued from obscurity. He championed the few films of Welsh life that survived from the silent era and dreamed of the rediscovery of such lost titles as A Welsh Singer (1915), Betta the Gypsy (1917) and Gwyneth of the Welsh Hills (1920). So there was no one who rejoiced more when the great masterpiece of silent Welsh cinema, The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918) was rediscovered in 1994, a film whose history he documented (with Simon Horrocks) in David Lloyd George: The Movie Mystery (1998). The last time I saw Dave was last summer when he introduced a screening of the film at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, at the IAMHIST conference. His passion for the film was such that he could hardly bring himself to stop introducing it, so anxious was he that we appreciate fully its cinematic panache and visionary fervour.

The Life Story of David Lloyd George

Dave was a writer and critic, for a long time film critic for the South Wales Echo. He served as a consultant and researcher for the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and the Wales Film Council (later Sgrîn), organising screenings, festivals and other such events, continually seeking to find out more, always keeping the flame burning for the cause. He wrote and devised the 1986 HTV four-part television series on Welsh film history, The Dream That Kicks (the phrase is from Dylan Thomas’ poem on cinema, ‘Our Eunuch Dreams’). He was given the Anthony Hopkins Award for outstanding contribution to Welsh film culture in 2002.

I’ve been taking long, engrossing phone calls from Dave for years, helping to pin down some lost film, trying to confirm whether some film fragment was a previously unrecognised part of Welsh film heritage, planning the next project and the next. He was a regular at the British Silent Film Festival and Pordenone, revelling in silent cinema from whatever part of the globe, before cornering you at a pavement cafe and telling his latest discovery about William Haggar. He has been such a part of the scenery for those in Britain who care about silent film that his loss will be felt greatly. Happily for posterity he has left us with Wales and Cinema, the kind of film history that will last. But more than that, he was just a nice man. Thank you for everything, Dave.

34 responses

  1. It was shocking news to hear of Dave’s passing. When I last met him in April 2009, he was doing some research and I was pleased to loan him my signed copy of ‘Grierson on Documentary’. In March 2009 Dave also talked to members of the Kinetechnik society at their new base – the Odeon Cinema in Newport. At that meeting he was delighted to show extracts from the restored Lloyd George film. I’m glad that I took some video footage of Dave drawing the raffle at that event.
    He was a supporter of Kinetechnik and their aims of setting up a cinema museum in Wales, having appeared in a short promotional DVD made by me in 2007.
    Dave you were a star and we will miss you.

  2. Dave Berry wasn’t just interested in film history, but also passionately championed young Welsh filmmakers based at Chapter, of whom I was one at the time. I always felt that he single-handedly created a community of film-makers, because it was through Dave that we got to know each others work.
    It was a delight to talk film with Dave because his knowledge was so catholic and his excitement was so infectious. He would travel to the ends of the earth to see a film and come back always firstly extolling its virtues.
    The last time I saw him was some years ago and we bumped into each other at Chapter. I probably hadn’t talked to him in a decade but we grabbed chairs, sat, and started chatting about film as if we were continuing a conversation from the day before.
    He will be missed.
    Christopher Monger, Los Angeles

  3. Dave Berry was many things as Luke has demonstrated not only was he an early film historian of international standing but also a long standing champion of Welsh film history in Wales. As a person he was charming, passionate about cricket, football in particular Bolton and of course Rugby League the sport that he loved with a passion. Wales was his home but he was always a proud Lancastrian and never took an opportunity to entertain, talk and be the last man standing at many film concerences and festivals. Talking to Dave was an education and a pleasure and for over fifteen years I have counted his a dear and beloved friend and colleague always eager to share and help others with their research. Part of the early film brotherhood (and sisterhood) he was one of the pioneers whose work had such an impact that it would be impossible to study early film or Welsh cinema without looking at his immense body of scholarship. Dave will be missed, he brought joy and humour to our life with his gentle and kind nature and his wicked sense of humour. Pordenone and other festivals will be never be the same and I for one am indebted for his help and support over the years with many things especially the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection and fairground cinema. Rip in Peace my old friend.

  4. We were talking about Dave just a couple of hours ago, after one of the Slapstick Festival events, wondering where he was. This is such sad news, a distinguished and erudite man yet with an engaging sense of humour, and an ability to communicate his passion that energised our own. We are all going to miss him badly here in Bristol, where he was an important supporter, at the BSFF and in Italy. A true gentleman….we’ll be toasting his memory tomorrow.

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  6. Very sorry indeed to hear this. I was recently re-reading parts of Cinema and Wales in connection with an article on Paul Dickson I’m currently researching, and was struck yet again by how Dave managed to get the balance between scope and detail just right in that book. Dave was a rare and lovely example of one of those people in this business who had absolutely no chips on his shoulder or axes to grind, and he’ll be deeply missed.

  7. This is sad news. While Dave was film reviewer for the South Wales Echo, I was reviewing for sister paper, The Western Mail. We watched hundreds of films together, discussed and debated them, everywhere from Chapter to Edinburgh via Rhiwbina.

    It was always ‘a sherry for Mr Berry’ before the midnight screenings.

    Dave was a meticulous journalist, an enthusiast for sport and good writing, as well as film. It took him years to write his book – just as well it was worth the wait.

    I would always ring Dave when I visited Cardiff, and we’d meet from time to time over the years. Now I know why there was no answer on my last call – and there will not be again.

  8. I don’t know that I can add much to the above apart from saying that it’s all true. I saw Dave at Pordenone for many years and it was always a real pleasure to meet him anew each time. He was a really nice person as well as being truly knowledgable and expert in his field. Leo E’s comment that Dave had ‘no chips on his shoulder or axes to grind’ is so right. This is sad news indeed.

  9. I was his partner for twelve years. Strange he had no support while he was alive.
    Gerhild Ursula Krebs (Saarbruecken).

  10. Dave came to Wales, took a close look at our film heritage and shook us by the shoulders. Showed us what we had and helped us hold our discoveries up to the light. He taught us what to look for and how best to celebrate what we unearthed, and never let us be indifferent. As a sometime colleague of his used to say, his mispronouncing oft quoted by a delighted Dave – a true ‘classic of the genre’ (pronounced ‘gain-re’).

  11. It was a shock to learn of Dave’s death. That mishievous twinkle in his eye immediately came to mind along with numerous images of past exchanges, enthusiastic discussions and moments of humour that we had shared.

    We first met at his home in 1989, when Iola (Baines) and I were in the early stages of setting up the Wales Film and Television Archive and desperately needed his help. He was in the throes of writing ‘Wales and the Cinema’, but was delighted to share his vast knowledge.

    His warm, enthusiastic and very endearing character immediately touched me and he very quickly became not only a friend of the Archive, but also someone I valued greatly for his human qualities.

    I’m so very glad our paths crossed.

  12. I am sorry to hear about Dave´s death. We only met on silent film festivals during the last ten years, but it was always like meeting an old entusiastic friend. The conversations between films in Pordenone and at the British Silent Film Festival will never be the same.

  13. It was with great sadness that we heard of Dave’s death. I had only met him for the first time when he helped us with the programme,judging the competition and lecturing at last year’s Denbigh Film Festival. He was very “not well” at the time -I presume with a viral or other infection on top of his general problems – so not well that I and Peter and Menna Jonses, with whom he was staying, had fears of something worse but on the morning of his talk he seemed to come alive and all were most impressed. We were going to ask for his help again. I knew that he was in hospital and that there was a group of friends who were waiting to get him home to feed him up a bit, so it was a sad surprise to hear the worst.
    The committee of the Denbigh Film Club send their sicerest condolences to all his friends and family.

  14. Just read the South Wales Echo obit. Slightly off topic, but I don’t think Dave would have minded: what is it with South Wales and sherry?! My maternal grandmother, a native Bristolian, defected across the river (in the days before the Severn Bridge was built, no less!) and spent most of her life in Chepstow. My adiding memory of the Christmas and Easter visits to St. Lawrence Road I made as a child in the 1970s was of Granny guzzling enough dry Amontillado to prop up, single-handedly, Spain’s balance of payments figures in the dying days of the Franco regime.

    Loved the anecdote about Porky’s 2: though Collins isn’t totally correct to say that the midnight press show is a thing of the past. Working as a projectionist at Exeter and York from 1996-2001 we often ran combined press and staff previews that began shortly after the last public show finished (i.e. around midnight), which served the triple function of (i) encouraging local reviews, (ii) ensuring that staff had seen it before it opened, so they were well briefed to answer ‘What’s this film like?’ type queries at the box office, and (iii) enabling me to undertake a technical rehearsal make sure everything was right when the film opened to the public. It’s almost ten years since I’ve left the biz, though I’m told by friends who are still in it that late-night staff and local press screenings are still a regular fixture.

  15. We can now confirm the arrangements for Dave’s funeral. It will take
    place on Friday 12th February at Thornhill Crematorium, Cardiff, at 11
    a.m. in the Wenallt Chapel. As some of you have forseen, we are also in
    the position of having to appeal for contributions towards the funeral
    costs – you will discover the reasons for this, and guidance on how to
    make a contribution, by clicking on this link:

    http://sites.google.com/site/daveberryfarewell/

    A heartfelt thanks to everyone for their kindness, patience and offers
    of support.

  16. I was desperately sorry to hear of Dave’s death. I first got to know him when setting out on my quest, in 1997, to find out more about my great-grandfather, William Haggar. Dave was kind enough to send me a copy of a lecture he gave about William, and a copy of my great-aunt Lily’s family memoir. Much later, I met him at Nottingham 2007, and was able to give him the first copy of my book. He was then kind enough to give me a glowing tribute at my book’s launch at the National Library of Wales, and a very good review. I last met Dave when we and Tony Fletcher were searching for possibly Haggar films at the BFI, and we went to The Oval together, to see if Ramprakash would get his hundredth 100 (he didn’t that day). I rang him last October to tell him that my cousin Roy Haggar had died: Dave couldn’t come to that funeral because he was putting on the show in Denbigh (see a previous comment), so I took his condolences to the Haggars. I grieve that I cannot attend Dave’s funeral: I have lost another good friend.

  17. Frances Gallaher says:

    Sad to hear the news about Dave’s passing.
    I first met Dave in 1974 when we instantly became friends through our mutual interests of film and journalism A year later I introduced Dave to my future husband Geoff Thomas. He showed considerable interest in his work as an independent film maker. Dave gave encouragement and enlightenment to so many people.

    Dave was a forensic critic of the highest calibre. His reviews and comments in his definitive book ‘Wales and Cinema’ will always be treasured. We will miss his sweet nature, dry wit, humour, but above all his genuine kindness. REQUIESCAT IN PACE

    Frances Gallaher and Geoff Thomas

  18. The death of Dave Berry is a deep loss to the film and arts community not only in Wales, but globally. I first interacted with Dave as an MA student at Newport Film School and was deeply struck by his book ‘Wales and Cinema.’ His lectures were always informative and inspiring. Our discussions together only grew in enthusiasm. Dave attended a few of my lectures on Indian cinema in Wales. Not onyl did he provide me useful critique, but I was amazed by his in-depth knowledge of early cinema even in a far away country as India. I am deeply saddened by this news and I send thoughts to him and all bereaved.

  19. Dave was, without doubt, the most important and influential figure in the Welsh film Industry.

    His support, enthusiasm and knowledge were legendary. His writing – wonderful.

    He was unique, quixotic and beautiful.

    Gonna miss you fella.

  20. Word is that the sum for Dave’s funeral costs has been met by the appeal for contributions (see comment above from Iola Baines) and exceeded. Bravo everyone.

  21. There is to be a memorial event to Dave Berry which will take place at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on Friday 23rd April. There will be a matinee screening of ‘Only Two Can Play’, then the memorial itself in the evening, from 6.15 – 8pm. I’ll post something on this soon.

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  23. Here are details of the memorial event on 23 April:

    Dave Berry Memorial Event
    Fri 23 April • Gwe 23 Ebrill
    Join us for a celebration of the life and work of our dear friend and colleague Dave Berry who died earlier this year at the age of 66. The event starts at 2.30pm with a screening of Only Two Can Play.
    The evening session at 6.15pm includes personal contributions from his friends and colleagues and clips from some of Dave’s favourite films.
    All are welcome.
    “A moment in Dave’s company was something to treasure. Acerbic, fun, funny and generous, he was one of the great practitioners of journalism in Wales as well as one of its great characters. Our feelings for him went way beyond friendship and affection — but he was too self-effacing to recognise that. He’d interviewed everyone from the Rolling Stones to prime ministers. And of course he loved films. He was an original – and irreplaceable.”
    Steve Groves, Western Mail.

    + Only Two Can Play
    Fri 23 April • 2.30pm • Gwe 23 Ebrill
    UK/1962/106 mins/PG . Dir: Sidney Gilliat.
    With Ken Griffith, Peter Sellers, Richard Attenborough.

    Described by Dave Berry in his book Wales And Cinema: The First Hundred Years, this is “undoubtedly the funniest of all Welsh screen comedies, a coruscating, almost sardonic view of Welsh insularity and punctured male vanities.” Sellers is on great form as John Lewis, a bored librarian, henpecked at home until the wife of a local councilor sets her sights on him.

    We hope that this event will be introduced by Dave’s partner Gerhild Krebs, an archivist and film historian.

    You can book for both events in advance, should you wish. This might be advisable as the cinema’s capacity is approximately 200.

    1. The general public will be charged for the matinee but fund contributors can enter free of charge – give your name/s to the box office when booking and / or collecting your ticket/s as they will have a list of the contributors.

    2. There will be no charge for the evening event but again give your name/s to the box office when booking or collecting your ticket/s.

    For information see attachment or click here:

    http://www.chapter.org/18907.html

    Place the cursor in the centre of the screen on the image of the April Magazine and Calendar, ‘View in fullscreen’ will appear, click on this to enlarge the image; there is a small white arrow in the middle, on the right hand edge of the image, level with the table top – click this until you arrive at page 29.

  24. I am very sorry to hear of the passing of Dave Berry. I like many others have been encouraged and inpsired by him knowledge of Welsh cinema. It was Dave who gave me the background information I needed on wealth of Black Cinema in Wales when I first met him at the Sgrin’s office, he was able to back decades and cross genres wow!

    He was always very willing to share information Dave will be greatly missed.

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  26. Pingback: Remembering Dave Berry « Archif Genedlaethol Sgrin a Sain Cymru / The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales

  27. Pingback: Cofio Dave Berry « Archif Genedlaethol Sgrin a Sain Cymru / The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales

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