Lord Brabourne

Born: 9 November, 1924, in Bombay.

Died: 23 September, 2005, in Kent, aged 80.

PROFESSIONALLY, John Brabourne was a respected film producer whose movies included Sink the Bismark!, four ritzy Agatha Christie adaptations and A Passage to India. Many, however, will sadly recall the poignant images in 1979 of the wreckage of a bombed fishing boat off the Sligo coast. The Provisional IRA had planted a bomb and had set it off by remote control. It blew up his father-in-law (Earl Mountbatten), his mother, his son and a local worker. Brabourne and his wife were seriously injured and the event left a deep scar within the family that probably never healed. The Mountbatten family had holidayed in Ireland for 35 years and they never returned. When their eldest son married, two months later, they were determined that the service should proceed as planned. Lord and Lady Brabourne, showing typical fortitude and courage, were ferried to the ceremony in an ambulance and arrived in wheel chairs.

John Ulick Knatchbull was the son of the 5th baron who was governor of Bombay and was sent back to England to be educated at Eton and Oxford. During the war, he was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards and served in India under General Slim and then Admiral Mountbatten. It was then that he met Mountbatten's daughter Patricia. In 1945, it was confirmed that his brother had been killed in Italy and Brabourne succeeded to the title.

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He proposed to Patricia at the end of the war and the wedding in 1946 was one of the first glamorous post-war social events. The two young princesses (Elizabeth and Margaret) were bridesmaids and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth attended: the King proposing the toast to the couple (with a glass of sherry) after the ceremony at Romsey Abbey.

Brabourne had set his mind on a career in the film business and started in 1947 as an assistant on The Wooden Horse. He worked his way up the ladder (assisting Herbert Wilcox on such pot boilers as Odette, Trouble in the Glen - with Orson Welles in a kilt of obscure tartan, The Lady With the Lamp, The Beggar's Opera and Trent's Last Case) until in 1956 Michael Powell promoted him to production manager on Battle of the River Plate. The following year he was billed as sole producer in an Indian adventure called Harry Black starring Stewart Grainger.

Three years later he produced Sink the Bismark! with a star cast lead by Kenneth More and Dana Wynter. It was well received and is still often shown on television - although the story away from the naval chase is a touch flimsy. It fits happily into the stiff-upper-lip school of films and Brabourne followed it with commercial successes such as Up The Junction, HMS Defiant and The Tales of Beatrix Potter.

Not so financially viable was Brabourne's venture in 1960 into pay TV in the home. He set up British Home Entertainment and filmed many stage hits of the era - Laurence Olivier in Chekhov's Three Sisters and his famous Othello at the National theatre - but the government limited the number of subscribers and this made the project unworkable. It cost Brabourne 1m and he commented "we were years before our time."

Returning to the film studios Brabourne set up the acclaimed production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Franco Zeffirelli, which proved a huge success at the box office.

The Seventies confirmed Bradbourne's position in the UK movie business. He eventually bought the rights of the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient Express in 1974 and cast it with stars throughout. Albert Finney delivered a beguiling Poirot and was nominated for an Oscar. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her enchanting performance as Wendy Hiller's maid. Many critics sniffed at the glamour and unending stars but the film made money and gave immense pleasure.

As did Death on the Nile four years later with Peter Ustinov as the little Belgian detective. Again stars abounded. David Niven told the story how he and Sean Connery were so nervous the night before shooting began that they had a dry evening and went to bed early. Arriving on set the next day they found Bette Davis bemoaning how she hadn't slept, as she wracked with nerves. Two other Christie adaptations followed (The Mirror Crack'd and Evil Under the Sun) neither of which quite matched the previous two for style and atmosphere.

For ten year Brabourne had been in talks with King's College, Cambridge who owned the rights to EM Forster's novel A Passage to India. In 1980 he obtained the rights and asked David Lean to direct. The epic story worked well on the big screen with a cast lead by Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox and Art Malik. It was acclaimed by critics and public alike although Alec Guinness was never happy in his role of Godbole and tried to leave the production. Lean and Guinness had some problems during the filming and Brabourne - who had worried about the casting from the outset - had to smooth some ruffled feathers. In his diary Guinness wrote, "John Brabourne was right in his original objection to the casting."

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However the film went on to win two Oscars and nine nominations: Brabourne being nominated for Best Picture. His last picture was a six-hour epic of Dickens' Little Dorritt.

After the devastation of 1979 Brabourne made some documentaries for television but seldom returned to the film studios. He was active in furthering BAFTA and through his endeavours the award ceremony has gained in importance both commercially and as a prestigious event. He was chairman of Thames Television (1975 - 93) and served as a governor of several schools including Gordonstoun (1964 - 94). He was appointed a CBE in 1993.

At the centre of Brabourne's life were his wife and family. He had been married for 60 years and despite the horrific experiences of 1979 the Brabourne's felt no bitterness to the Irish. "Bitterness" he once said "is such a corrosive emotion."

He is survived by his wife, Countess Mountbatten, and their four sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Norton, Lord Romsey, inherits the title.

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