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Jennings, Frank Humphrey Sinkler, 1907-1950 (film-maker, painter and writer)



Frank Humphrey Sinkler Jennings was born on 19 August 1907 in Walberswick, Suffolk, to Frank Jennings and Mildred Jessie Jennings, née Hall. From the age of eight he was educated at the Perse School in Cambridge. In 1926 he won a scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied for the English Tripos, as the honours BA is known, and received a first class pass in the examinations for both parts of the Tripos in 1928 and 1929 respectively. As an undergraduate Jennings designed scenery and costumes for a number of productions, including Dennis Arundell’s production of Honegger’s ‘King David’. Jennings also acted, painted and contributed to the student magazine ‘Experiment’ alongside Jacob Bronowski and William Empson. After graduation, Jennings attempted to forge an academic career at Cambridge. With a scholarship from the Goldsmith’s Company and under the supervision of I.A. Richards, the eminent English lecturer and fellow of Magdalene College, Jennings researched the poetry of Thomas Gray. His research interests also extended to Christopher Marlowe, plagiarism or literary borrowings, and imagery, symbolism, procession and triumphs in Renaissance literature. His thesis was never completed and although T.S. Eliot considered publishing an extract on Thomas Gray in ‘The Criterion’, Jennings’ only published work in this period was a critical edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Venus and Adonis’ (Cambridge: The Experiment Press, 1930). After a series of short-term jobs, Jennings joined the General Post Office film unit in 1934 (later the Crown Film Unit). He made a number of short documentaries in the following years; his first stand-alone film, ‘Spare Time’, was produced in 1939. His well-known films include: ‘Listen to Britain’ (1942); ‘Fires were started’ (1943); ‘A diary for Timothy’ (1945); ‘Family Portrait’ (1950). In the late 1930s, Jennings was associated with the fledgling surrealist movement in Britain. Together with Roland Penrose, Herbert Read and others, Jennings was part of the organizing committee for the International Surrealist Exhibition held in June 1936 at the New Burlington Galleries in London. An exhibit of Jennings’ own work, ‘le Minotaure’, attracted a good deal of press attention. In 1937, Jennings co-founded Mass-Observation, a project to document popular life, with Charles Madge and David Gascoyne. In 1938, Jennings gave a series of talks on the radio on poetry and national life. After the Second World War, Jennings continued to paint, to submit articles to the Times Literary Supplement and other publications, and to gather material for his book ‘Pandaemonium’ (published posthumously in 1985). After leaving the Crown Film Unit, he worked with the producer Ian Dalrymple. He died following an accident whilst scouting potential film locations on the Greek island of Poros on 24 September 1950 and is buried in the English cemetery in Athens. Jennings married Cicely Cooper (d. 1975) on 19 October 1929. They had two children: Marie-Louise (born 1933; later Mary-Lou Legg) and Charlotte (born 1935).

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Humphrey Jennings Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.10097
Scope and Contents This collection comprises the academic and literary papers of Humphrey Jennings, for the most part dating to his time as a postgraduate researcher at Cambridge in the early 1930s. The papers consist of draft writings and notes on Thomas Gray, the main focus of Jennings's research, and on other areas of research interest including plagiarism and literary borrowings, Christopher Marlowe's 'Tamburlaine' and Renaissance literature. The papers include material gathered by Jennings for his...
Dates: 1929-late 20th century; bulk 1929-1939
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (