By 1933 Brian was ready to return to the UK and settled in Belgravia from the 1930s to his death in 1986 although often returning to Ulster to visit relatives for "a spiritual bath". Wilfred De'ath, Punch, 8 October 1969, p.575, 576

His early Irish work is attracting historic interest with Synge's Riders to the Sea (1935) and the Irish War of Independence love story Ourselves Alone (1936) proving to be historically important. Quite significantly, Brian's Irish Hearts (1934) "is certainly one of the main contenders for the first Irish sound feature film" according to Brian McIlroy in 'British Filmmaking in the 1930s and 1940s' (see essays in the archive section).

Riders to the Sea was shot in Connemara where Brian used the actors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and "the film reflects the disparity between the two, with the actors delivering their lines in a highly technical manner whilst the camera revels in the bleak, natural beauty of the coastline and sky. Hurst's visuals are invariably compared with those of his mentor, John Ford, and the opening shots of Riders... are markedly Fordian in their elementary quality". (Ruth Barton Irish National Cinema, Routledge, 2004, p.52, 53)

Ourselves Alone is now recognised as one of the defining films in Irish cinema history. It was banned in Northern Ireland at the time of its release in 1936 although it has now achieved the recognition it deserved and is shown in museums and other public access points in Northern Ireland. It appears to have been misunderstood. At the time Brian pointed out the original story had been written by an British army officer and Brian claimed that the film was 'pro-British' according to John Hill "'Purely Sinn Fein Propaganda': the banning of Ourselves Alone", Historic Journal of Film, Radio and Television, University of Ulster, p.317, 327 (see the essays section for links to the full article).

Brian's earliest English films include The Tenth Man (1936) and Glamourous Night (1937).

In 1937 Brian was retained by Alexander Korda on a resurrected project to direct "Lawrence of Arabia". In "Filming TE Lawrence Korda's Lost Epic" it was noted that "Hurst was a Northern Irishman who could speak Arabic... Brian was about to leave on a trip to Jerusalem to scout locations when Korda cancelled the trip, saying that the Palestine government refused to permit large gatherings of Arabs and they could not make the film without crowds of Arab extras. The last version of Brian's screenplay (co-written with Miles Malleson and Duncan Guthrie) dated 4 October 1938 is reprinted in "Filming TE Lawrence Korda's Lost Epic pages pages 33 to 127." For further information please see the Essays section.

Brian at home 1948


Brian then had the distinction of being selected by Alexander Korda to help co-direct Korda's bit for the war effort The Lion Has Wings (1939) featuring Ralph Richardson which was described by one critic as "Hurst's most celebrated film of the 1930s". (Brian McIlroy "British Filmmaking in the 1930s and 1940: The Example of Brian Desmond Hurst", in Wheeler Winston Dixon (ed.) Re-viewing British Cinema 1900 - 1992: Essays and Interviews, State University of New York Press, 1994, p.28, 33, 35.)

The historic importance of The Lion has Wings is understood when it is realised that Korda was a close friend of Winston Churchill and had made a promise to Churchill to get this movie out within a month of war being declared. The review on Imdb.com comments that "This first of its kind in propaganda films of World War II, shows the might of the English Empire and its eagerness to stand up to the oppressors of morality and free will. Crude but effective propaganda cinema that sets the tone for things to come. With its stiff upper lip attitude...". (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031575/plotsummary)


Throughout the Second World War Brian lived at number 9 Kinnerton Studios, Bradbrook House just off Kinnerton Street in Knightsbridge.  Brian also had a house in the country, Wardrobe Lodge in Princess Risborough, Buckinghamshire.


Copyright © Allan Smith


The photograph above right shows Brian relaxing at Wardrobe Lodge in Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire. Above Brian is the painting of St Brigid of Ireland that Brian painted in 1928 when he was in Hollywood.


The Times, in its obituary of Brian in 1986, commented that Dangerous Moonlight (1941) was "his best known picture", "a big popular success" which "launched a cycle of pictures with concerti as their theme music" because of its successful utilisation of Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto.

Brian worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War for whom his films included A Call to Arms (1940), Miss Grant Goes to the Door (1940) and his homeland movie A Letter From Ulster (1942) where Brian and Terence Young (scriptwritter) and his fellow Ulsterman and Producer William MacQuitty created a film to help ease the tensions that were arising between the people of Northern Ireland and the quarter of a million troops from the USA based in Northern Ireland at the time. Brian McIlroy explained that "Hurst was able to persuade one Catholic and one Protestant soldier to write letters home, explaining their impressions of their stay. From these letters, Terence Young, the scriptwritter, was able to construct a sequence of activities that revealed the different traditions of Ireland"

Shaun Terence Young was given his very early breaks by Brian working together on On The Night of the Fire (1939), Dangerous Moonlight (1941), A Letter from Ulster (1942) and in 1947 after Terence's war service in Hungry Hill (1947). Terence went on to direct the eraly Bond films including Dr. No (1962) From Russia with Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965). Brian and Terence remained lifelong friends and Terence and his family attended Brian's 90th birthday party at BAFTA (see archive section for more information)

A interesting fact about Brian's Hundred Pound Window (1944) was that it featured a young Richard Attenborough obtaining his first credited role (playing Tommy Draper). A year later in 1945 saw Roger Moore getting his first role in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) after Brian was brought in to assist with the direction of this film.

Brian's favourite movie was Theirs is the Glory (1946) where he took 200 members of the 1st Airborne back to Arnhem and Oosterbeek to direct and 'remake' their role in the Battle of Arnhem. Every single person in that movie served with the 1st Airborne or was a civilian from Oosterbeck or Arnhem. It was the biggest grossing second world war movie in the UK for over a decade. The premier was on the second anniversary of the battle in September 1946 and was attended by the Prime Minister and the King commanded a private screening at Balmoral. With the benefit of time the film is now being recognised as one of the greatest tributes to the Airbourne and the people of Arnhem/Oosterbeek that has ever been made.


Copyright © Allan Smith
Courtesy of the BFI

Brian in his prime in the late 1940s when he stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the world's leading movie directors as you will see from the Two Cities Board meeting that is also shown above and featuring David Lean, Peter Ustinov, Carol Read, Filippo Del Giudice and Anthony Asquith and also features Laurence Olivier. 


Brian's post-war career included producing and directing the definitive Christmas movie Scrooge (1951) which is the "best of the many screen versions of Dickens's warm-as-mince-pies Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge incarnate: his miserly humbuggery is a delight. So is Michael Hordern's ghastly Jacob Marley, and the snowy, atmospheric photography of CM Pennington-Richards" (Paul Howelett, The Guardian, 19th December, 2009).


By the early 1950s Brian had moved to 24 Grosvenor Cresent Mews which today is Belgravia’s only gated mews with a porter.  The area attracted attention more recently when Nicole Kidman offered to buy number 21 when the asking price was £12 million as reported in The Daily Telegraph on 10 June 2009. The archive section of this site contains a letter dated 9th April, 1951 written by Brian to John Ford from this address.

Copyright © Allan Smith

Brian went on produce Tom Brown's Schooldays (1951) and to direct the box office successes Malta Story (1953) featuring Alec Guinness as an RAF pilot helping to defend Malta, Simba- Mark of the Mau Mau featuring Dirk Bogarde (1955) and The Black Tent (1956) featuring Donald Pleasence, Anthony Steel and Donald Sinden. In his late 60s Brian returned to John Synge and adapted the script, produced and directed Playboy of the Western World (1962), his last film.

Brian in his favourite armchair at his home at 87 Kinnerton Street, December 1968 - Copyright © Allan Smith

From the 60s up to Brian’s death in 1986 he  lived at 87 Kinnerton Street, Knightsbridge which was literally 30 paces from his old Bradbrook House studio and a minutes walk to The Berkeley of Knightsbridge.  This was a large house set over 3 stories and Brian ‘believed’ the kitchen was somewhere down on the basement level but always liked to maintain that he never ventured down there.

Copyright © Allan Smith
Copyright © Allan Smith

Brian relaxing on a bench on the Serpentine Road in Hyde Park just a few hundred yards from his home in Kinnerton Street.  You can find the bench (as seen below) by going to the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen in Hyde Park, crossing to the other side of the Serpentine Road and walking about 200 yards in the direction of Marble Arch .

Copyright © Allan Smith

Brian at a dinner in Capeners Close, just off Kinnerton Street - Photograph by Allan Warren - Copyright © The Allan Warren Collection

Brian's Guests at his 90th Birthday Bafta Celebration - Courtesy of Allan Smith
Brian's Obituary in the Belfast Telegraph, 29 September, 1986 - Courtesy of Allan Smith
Brian's Obituary in The Times, October 2nd, 1986 - Courtesy of Allan Smith

More detailed information on the films made by Ireland's most prolific director of the 20th Century can be found in the Filmography section.