Note from The Wolverhampton Lamp editor, Quintin Watt:

This article was produced by Bill Kelly, our membership secretary. He is presenting a talk on the history of Goodyear, on Tuesday 29th October, 2019 at Linden House, so please come along. 

If you like what you see, please consider buying the full magazine, details can be found at the end of this article.

Thank you

Miles Mander: from Wolverhampton to Hollywood

Miles Mander, sometimes credited as Luther Miles, was born Lionel Henry Mander on the 14th May 1888 in Wolverhampton.  He was the second son of Theodore Mander, of Wightwick Manor, and the younger brother of Geoffrey Mander, the Liberal MP for Wolverhampton East.

Wightwick Manor – former home of the Mander family.

Lionel was educated at Harrow School in Middlesex, Loretto School in Musselburgh, Scotland and McGill University in Quebec. 

Apparently uninterested in the world of business and philanthropy, he spent his twenties in New Zealand, farming sheep with his uncle, Martin Mander.  He then became an early aviator, advancing to the rank of Captain in the Royal Army Service Corps during the First World War.  He was also a boxing promoter for a while.

Finding His Calling

Miles Mander, in later life.

Mander started working in the British Film industry in 1920, as a writer, producer and actor.  His first performance was as an uncredited actor in the silent drama, Testimony.  After this he went on to act in several more British silents.  

He began producing films in 1923, co-producing with Ivor Novello, who also starred in The Man Without Desire.  He wrote and also appeared in Lovers in Araby, in 1924 and debuted as a director with a Phonofilm short called The Whistler, in 1926.  Phonofilm was an early system for adding a synchronised sound-track onto a film.  However, it was of poor quality and never as good as the other systems which soon became the preferred standard.

In the years 1926 to 1927, Miles Mander made a short series of pioneering sound films working with Deforest phonofilms, based in a tiny studio in Clapham, south London.  This outfit was managed by West End showman Vivian Van Damm (who later became the manager of the Windmill Theatre).

A still from The First Born, 1928. Written, directed by and starring Mander.

Phonofilms made short films comprising music hall sketches, songs and extracts from plays.  These ‘talkies’ were shown in the supporting programmes at British cinemas in the Autumn of 1926, almost a year before The Jazz Singer opened.  Sadly, none of these phonofilms are believed to have survived.

Mander the Show Runner

Mander made another twenty or so films, as actor, producer, writer or director, or indeed a combination of all these roles.  For instance, in 1928 he made The First Born, which was a late British silent film starring himself and a local actress called Madeleine Carroll, from West Bromwich.  Mander wrote, directed and produced this film.  According to Henry K Miller, The Guardian’s film critic, it was,

“a topical tale of a hypocritical, philandering politician who exploits his wife to mop up the women’s vote.  It was released just after the 1929 “Flapper Election”, which brought women under 30 into the franchise for the first time, and in which Miles’s brother Geoffrey became an MP.”

Geoffrey Mander, Liberal MP for Wolverhampton East and Miles’ brother.

The Move to Hollywood

In the mid-1930s, Miles Mander moved to America and began making films in Hollywood.  He usually played dramatic roles, like upper crust gentlemen or ‘oily cad’ types.  He worked alongside Hollywood stars as diverse as Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple, Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, among many others.  

Miles Mander was a prolific film-maker: acting in some 108 films, between 1920 and 1946,  directing fourteen films, between 1926 and 1936, writing nine films, between 1924 and 1936 and producing four films between 1923 and 1945.  He also found time to write three books: Oasis A Novel (1927), Gentleman By Birth (1933) and To My Son- In Confidence (1934).  His last book was indeed a mixture of memoirs and advice to his son.

A 1940 film featuring Mander.

Mander won a Special Recommendation at the Venice Film Festival of 1937 and was nominated for the Mussolini Cup for the Best Foreign Film at the same festival for the film The Flying Doctor, which he made in 1936.  He appeared in three unrelated Three Musketeers films, each time in a different role.  During the Second World War, British Intelligence tried to recruit him as Bernard Montgomery’s double because of his remarkable likeness.  However, at six feet in his socks, Mander was too tall and Meyrick James was chosen instead.  As yet, I have been unable to find out when or why he changed his name to Miles.

Personal Life

In his personal life, Miles Mander was married twice.  His first wife was an Indian Princess called Prativa Devi, but very little is known of this marriage.  He remarried in 1923, to Kathleen French, an Australian woman with whom he had a son, Theodore. Miles Mander died suddenly of a heart attack in The Brown Derby Restaurant, Los Angeles, on 8th February 1946, aged 57.  He is buried in Ocean View Cemetery in British Columbia, Canada.

Local Interest Archive Films Online

In recent years some of the major film organisations have made their archive content available to be seen online for free.  These include British Pathe and the British Film Institute.  To access these archives, please log onto the following sites and type your interests into the search box:

www.britishpathe.com  which has lots of free local interest and historical clips.

www.bfi.org.uk/archive  has a lot of free films from an extensive archive, covering most of the British Isles.

www.macearchive.org  is the Media Archive of Central England site, which has some free local to view, although much of their archive is still being digitalised.  They do have several local area DVDs for sale.

www.youtube.com  has archive film to view for free.  Just use the search box to identify items of interest, e.g. Wolves V Honved, 13 December 1954.

The above are just a small sample of the many archival sites now available.

Bill Kelly


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