The BAFTA’s first president and the nation’s first film commissioner, Sydney Samuelson, a pioneer of the British film industry, passed away on December 14. He was 97.

He started his career 

Samuelson began working in the industry in 1939 at 14 in the projection booth at the Luxor Theater in Lancing, West Sussex. He later worked for ABC Cinemas as a relief operator in a number of theatres around the Midlands. Then, at Gaumont British Newsreel in London, he completed his studies to become a film editor.

In 1943, he joined the RAF to 

work as a flight navigator. He joined the British Colonial Office’s film branch as a trainee cameraman after being freed from the gang in 1947. In 1943, he joined the RAF to work as a flight navigator. He joined the British Colonial Office’s film branch as a trainee cameraman after being freed from the gang in 1947. At a movie club’s 1946 showing of “Pride and Prejudice,” he first met his future wife, Doris. Before her passing away in April 2022, they were married for 72 years.

Together, they established Samuelson Film Service, which offered specialized tools, round-the-clock crew support, high-end lighting, grip, sound, camera, and crew transportation equipment. Samuelson’s brothers joined them in this endeavor.

He started his Business

The accessibility of this location made it possible for multinational films to start filming internationally and led to growth in the U.K. production industry. The Company established branches in several nations, including South Africa, Australia, Holland, and the United States.


All of David Lean’s films, including “Doctor Zhivago,” 13 James Bond films, “Gandhi,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Amadeus,” Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi,” Richard Donner’s “Superman,” Fred Zinnemann’s “A Man for All Seasons,” Norman Jewison’s “A Man for All Seasons,” and many more, made use of the technology. Samuelson also helped the Panavision Group become a leading technology company.

Samuelson had a long association with BAFTA and was instrumental in developing the Cinema and Television Veterans, the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund (now the Film and TV Charity), and the annual Royal Film Performance. He played a key financial leadership role in constructing the academy’s offices on Piccadilly in London and the installation of Princess Anne and Run Run Shaw auditoria in 1976 while acting as BAFTA’s founding trustee, chair, and vice-chair of film.

Following negotiations with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Attenborough at Downing Street in 1991, Samuelson was selecte as the first British film commissioner. In this role, he directed advertising efforts to promote the U.K. as a premier site for international film production and as a source of top talent and resources. He also demanded the creation of a national network of film commissioners and adopting a tax break for international productions that use U.K. crews, talent, and production services based there.


In 1985, Samuelson received the Michael Balcon Award from BAFTA for Outstanding British Contribution to Film. He also got a BAFTA Fellowship for his work in the film and television industry in 1993 and a British Film Institute Fellowship in 1997. His contribution to cinema was honor with a CBE in 1978 and a knighthood in 1995.

His family care in the last days

He is left in the care of his sons Peter, Jonathan, and Marc and their families, which comprise eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

BAFTA CEO Jane Millichip and chair Krishnendu Majumdar expressed their gratitude to Sir Sydney in a statement. “We remain thankful to Sir Sydney for the vital contribution he made to some of the most major milestones in BAFTA’s growth and for his steady support to the organisation, over so many decades,” they said.

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