George Frederick William Daniels (Fred Daniels) 1892-1959 was one of the pioneers of photography in the UK film industry. Daniels was born in Churchover and attended Bablake School. His father was a coachbuilder and his mother a school mistress. His studies were completed in Paris under the guidance of Scottish colourist J.D. Fergusson and he was encouraged to take up painting. He also attended summer schools at Harlech, Dinard, Pourville and Cap D’ Antibes organised by Margaret Morris and hosted by George Davison between 1921 and 1925.
One of his first patrons was the dancer Margaret Morris and he photographed her dance company using a plate camera. They capture the sense of grace with nature. In 1926 Morris published a book with Daniels entitled Margaret Morris Dancing. Daniels then returned to England and his camera studies appeared in the Tatler and Bystander and his work was noticed by the film industry. In 1929, he photographed Anna May Wong, Gilda Gray and King Hou Chang at Elstree Studios during the filming of Piccadilly. The German émigré Ewald André Dupont hired Daniels on two other pictures these were Atlantic 1929 – based on the Titanic disaster starring Joan Barry and John Longden and Two Worlds starring Norah Baring made in 1930.
After leaving British International Pictures, Fred then worked for Herbert Wilcox and British and Dominions Film Corporation. In 1932 he was assigned to photograph Brigitte Helm during The Blue Danube, Helm was the former star of UFA and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Wilcox was married to Anna Neagle and she became the vehicle of all his major pictures. Daniels was their star photographer and he photographed Anna Neagle during Good Night, Vienna 1932, Bitter Sweet 1933, Little Damozel 1933, The Queen’s Affair 1934, Nell Gwynn 1934, Peg of Old Drury 1935, and Victoria the Great 1937.
Despite the success enjoyed at BDFC Fred decided to go it alone as a portrait photographer and set up his own studio at 17 Coventry Street in central London. Daniels’ first assignment as an independent stills photographer was for Thorold Dickinson during The Arsenal Stadium Mystery in 1939. During the war he was involved in air reconnaissance and it is also marked the high point of his professional life. In 1941 he met the independent producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger known as the Archers. He was assigned to photograph Laurence Olivier during the filming of The 49th Parallel. In quick succession Daniels took stills of all the key actors hired by the Archers during the period 1941-1950 these included Pamela Brown during One of Our Aircraft is Missing 1942, Roger Livsey in Life and Death of Colonel Blimp 1943, Sheila Sim during A Canterbury Tale 1944, Wendy Hiller in I Know Where I’m Going! 1945, Kim Hunter during A Matter of Life and Death 1946. Deborah Kerr during Black Narcissus 1947 and Jennifer Jones during Gone to Earth 1950 and David Niven in The Elusive Pimpernel 1950. His association with the Archers continued thereafter and he took portraits of Powell and Pressburger in 1955 to promote The Battle of the River Plate.
In 1951 Mona Inglesby commissioned Daniels to create photo montages of the International Ballet using a complex multiple exposure technique which requires tremendous skill. A striking souvenir booklet to celebrate ten years of the company (1941-1951) was printed and serves as one of the finest published collections of his work.
In 1956 Daniels shared his Coventry Street studio with Billie Love and encouraged her to become a professional photographer. Love used several of his techniques and set up her own business as Amanda.
He was an artist and did not bow to commercial pressures and throughout his life he suffered from ill health and he died of a heart attack in 1959 at the age of 67. After his death National Portrait Gallery bought a selection of his work. In 2012 National Portrait Gallery in London staged an exhibition of his work and the foundation created a limited edition photo book available from Twarda Sztuka Foundation.
copyright text / Twarda Sztuka Foundation
copyright image of Fred Daniels outside the White House / scanned from the original negative with permission of the Fred Daniels Estate.