The Flying Doctor 1936

An Historical 'Lost Film'

Concept and Pre Production by the Gaumont-British Team

The first Australian-British co-production film, it was from the British side, a Sir Michael Balcon production 'project'. Described at inception as an 'experiment' to promote Australia as an international force in the film world. Previously Michael Balcon and JOC Orton had successfully worked together on the Anglo-Swedish Film Alliance in the late 1920's. So, the optimistic film team who sailed over were the 'best of' Gaumont-British (G.B). A little known fact was that the Studio also engineered and bankrolled the build of Pagewood Studios Sydney, complete with its state-of-the-art soundstage. National Productions was the Australian co-producer of the initiative. Sir James Murdoch was one of the local businessmen on its Board of Directors. The lead male actors were from USA and UK. The two female stars Australians, both inexperienced, but talented and photogenic. In a bid to captivate 'the world', iconic landmarks of the day were beautifully shot in black & white 35mm. Included are: The Blue Mountains, Trocadero, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the 'only' footage of Donald Bradman playing cricket.

The original book, written by Robert Waldron - Foreward by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith - was the inspiration for the story and script but filmically became barely recognisable as far as the characters and romance action, which were redrawn into a more mysterious and satirical tale. Possibly one of the reasons for its box office disappearance at the time, along with negative press about the 'tourist footage'. Standard visual 'statements of place' nowadays. This issue is dicussed in Interview 1 (below) and credit has to be given to JOC Orton (a keen cricketer) for making the scenario choices, which in 2019, seem to have redeemed the film. Source: The West Australian, 4 Nov 1935. On the upside, 1936 press clippings stated that donations to the actual Aerial Medical Service surged after the film's release!

Awards: The Flying Doctor in 1937 won the 'Special Recommendation' award and was Nominated for 'The Mussolini Cup' for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival. Recent Recognition: In 2011, at the 55th BFI London Film Festival on Day 9 Video Highlights, The Flying Doctor was referenced in the Archive Gala Program as directorial credence for Miles Mander. IMDB.

Preservation Status: The 35mm nitrate reels reside with the National Film and Sound Archives in Canberra. NFSA has published the Donald Bradman section of footage online in 2019. The film in its entirety has not as yet been restored.

Two Pre Production Interviews with JOC Orton in Australia in 1935

In Sept 1935, JOC Orton set sail for Sydney from England and on the voyage he wrote The Flying Doctor screenplay - arriving in Perth in Nov.

1. 'Australia has a Big Story to Tell': 7 Dec 1935 - The Exhibitor's Monthly, Page12. Source: Orton Family Archives.

2. 'A Scenario Writer at Work - As an Australian Girl Saw Him': 12 Dec 1935 - Sydney Morning Herald by Fyvie Dawson. Source: Orton Family Archives

sssG.B.Unit arrives at Pagewood 1935: left to right - T D Connachie, Miles Mander, JOC Orton, Alan Williamson.

UK Version
A dramatically shortened version of the film was shown in London the following year. The original production crew by then were with different film studios. It is not clear who edited it in 1937 and by then both production companies had effectively ceased to exist.

What happened to the cast and crew of The Flying Doctor in 1936 and beyond?

By 1936, Gaumont-British had been looking for an entry into the American market and whilst The Flying Doctor was being made in Australia by G-B's 'A' film making team (Miles Mander as Producer and Director) Balcon spent several months in the United States forming links with the big Hollywood studios. On his return to London however, he found Gaumont in financial ruin and joined MGM-British Studios that November 1936. The year and a half he spent at MGM was a trying period for Balcon, who clashed frequently with studio head Louis B. Mayer. [2]

Miles Mander left The Flying Doctor shoot on 30 March 1935, the day after a heavily publicised, costly court case with fines for dangerous driving at 'terrific' high speeds past a police car on Parramatta Road, Auburn. In the USA he resumed acting and Mander is better remembered for his character portrayals of oily villains. He was still acting in 1946 when he died suddenly of a heart attack at the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles, aged 57. He mentored the 17 year- old Mary Maguire and her family who joined him in USA in late1936. Although her career never shone or became significant, the dramatic story of her gaoled Fascist husband has been well documented by Nick Murphy, September 2018. Of note, Mander never directed again, but thanks to the BFI, is now renowned for his early1920's silent, directorially creative and technically advanced, films.

Charles Farrell retired from romantic lead in films in the early 1940s, but TV audiences of the 1950s would see him as Gale Storm's widower dad in the popular US television series My Little Margie (1952). Second female lead Margaret Vyner went from a model to actress in The Flying Doctor and ended up in a successfull script writing partnership for such films as The Grass is Greener with Cary Grant.

JOCO stayed on for post production as Editor after Mander flew out, photographed with Mary Maguire in Brisbane a few days later. He has credits for two more films released in the UK that same year and resumed as Staff Writer for Gainsborough until 1944. He also branched out making a few films with Warner Brothers UK, Twentieth Century Productions Ltd and eventually with Michael Balcon as Producer when he became Head of Ealing Studios from 1938. JOCO also collaborated on films for the war effort, screen writing for the Mininstry of Information (MOI) on films such as For Those in Peril and Bon Voyage (1944).

sssLead Actors: left to right - Charles Farrell, Mary Maguire, Margaret Vyner, James Raglan, and Sydney's 'well-known society people' .

Of the cast of hundreds of extras were the society ladies of Sydney who were called in for the scenes at The Trocadero nightclub in George Street and Charles applied their make-up. There were also local Sydney professional wrestling scenes and, of course, the cricket ground with Sir Donald Bradman batting. Additional extras of musicians in a Cloncurry pub as yet un-named. A snapshot of the times it would seem in retrospect.

References and Further Reading:

Press Clipping: The West Australian - 5 Nov 1935.

'FILM INDUSTRY, Australian Enterprise. PREMIER'S SPEECH' - Sydney Morning Herald, Sat 21 Sept 1935. Defining National Productions role in the making of the film. (Sir James Murdoch on the Board.)

2. Balcon, Michael. (1969). Michael Balcon presents... A Lifetime of Films (Photo-illustrated autobiography). London. Hutchinson & Co.

3. Forgotten Australian Actresses website: 'Mary Maguire – The filmstar and the fascist, 1919-1938'. WebLink: Published by Heathcote Pursuit. August 18, 2018

4. Sydney Truth - 5 April 1936 - 'No Slow Motion for Film Men' - double page spread of Dangerous Driving down Parramatta Road from Leura to Pagewood. Page 1 | Page 2

5. Knights in Whites, Major Men, by Mike Davage. Who's Who of Norfolk Cricket 1876-2011 ©2011

6. Two clips featuring Bradman’s cameo, as well as a detailed story of the film and its recovery, are available on the NFSA website:

A Short Background Bio - who was JOC Orton?

J.O.C. Orton was born in 1889 in London, England as John Overton Cone Orton. He was a scenarist, a screen and script writer, who also directed silents during the 1920s and wrote original satirical stories. It seems he was known best for films such as Born for Glory (1935), comedies such as Hi Gang! (1941) and Oh, Mr. Porter! (1937), which broke box office records in Britain. As a Writer he has 43+ Credits (IMDB) and thanks to the British Film Institute (BFI), at least 12 more MIA unearthed/restored silent film credits as Director, Assistant Director and Scenarist. The restored Shooting Stars (1928) is a great example. Co-scenarist with Anthony Asquith (he was credited as John Orton despite script initials being AA and JOCO). From 1930-1948 he became Staff Writer for Gainsborough. In Sept 1935, he set sail for Sydney from England and on the voyage he wrote The Flying Doctor screenplay - arriving in Perth in Nov. Notably, JOCO was a keen cricketer himself and as scenarist for the film, it was no surprise that he included Donald Bradman in his selection of 'all things Australian' to showcase. (See interview 1.). He had the opportunity to meet the Minister for Customs in 1935 at a welcoming dinner by politicians for the British Gaumont crew. There he sat next to Col Thomas Walter White, who had also been an aviator in WW1 besieged at Kut el Amara where JOCO dropped supplies to the garrison. This story is told on the Siege of Kut web page.


Obscure film fact

Bon Voyage 1944

Bon Voyage, for which only Alfred Hitchcick is credited (as Director) was produced by the WW2's Ministry of Information (MOI) as a propoganda film for the French Resistance. It is both spoken in French and uses the Molieres Players - who had escaped to England during the German occupation. It was not, however, released until the1990s and had been languishing in th MOI Archives along with the Nazi Concentration Camp footage shot by British soldiers after the Nazi surrender. That documentary, Night Will Fall, had been catalogued and partially edited by Hitchcock, but not completed until recently. (The above link tells a similar story). (BTW...There are several versions of reasons why the prison camp doco was shelved).


Hitchcock had returned from his Hollywood base to Britain to contribute to the war effort. Both he, JOCO and Miles Mander had been mentored by Michael Balcon as far back as the silent films of late 1920s when they were all Directors. They all also had all worked for Gainsborough and British Gaumont Studios in the 1930s when Balcon was in charge.


JOCO who was the screewriter for Bon Voyage, later worked under contract for Hitchcock when he returned to Hollywood in 1946 and Selznick Studios in 1947. Of note, the screenplay for Bon Voyage had twists, turns, betrayals and untimely deaths as did The Flying Doctor, although the settings/scenarios were dramatically different, obviously. But I found JOCO's screenwriting formula recognisable within the genres of that time and wonder how much his lengthy military career affected his storytelling as well as that of his peers living through the two world wars.


As can be imagined, Britain after World War 11 was concerned with post war rebuilding and thus war film initiatives may have been halted due to this. Luckily they have been restored and made available since then.

-- --

Edited and Authored by: Chrystine A Walter, BA Comms UTS. Grandaughter of JOCO.

Additonal Source: 'Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened'. Geoffrey Macnab @TheIndyFilm
Wednesday 8 January 2014.

Notes: A 'Scenario' is: a written outline of a film, novel, or stage work giving details of the plot and individual scenes; a postulated sequence or development of events; a setting, in particular for a work of art or literature. A Scenarist is a writer of Scenarios. Often associated with Film Noir or from an era with a low-key, black-and-white visual style.

The Flying Doctor (1936)

JOCO for Original Screenplay, Scenarist and Editor. A B&W 35mm film set in Australia at the beginnings of sound on film.

Press Clipping of the Day

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